Best Freshwater Aquarium Lighting

When setting up your aquarium theres a lot of equipment you need to gather. Everyone knows about heaters, the three main types of filters along with aeration, but what about the lights?

Seeing so many different numbers and units like Kelvin ratings can get confusing. Sometimes we just want to know what the light can and cannot support.

This quick guide will make sure you get the best freshwater aquarium lighting without going completely overboard.

Here are the best freshwater aquarium lighting picks of 2016

Finnex Planted Fully Automated Aquarium LED & Controller

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Size Fits Aquariums Size Watts LEDs
20″ 17″-21″ 16.8 Watts 32 7,000k, 16 RGB, 48 LEDs Total
24″ 22″-25″ 24.5 Watts 38 7,000k, 24 RGB, 62 LEDs Total
30″ 38″-31″ 29 Watts 56 7,000k, 28 RGB, 84 LEDs Total
36″ 34″-37″ 35.8 Watts 72 7,000k, 36 RGB, 108 LEDs Total
48″ 46″-49″ 46.2 Watts 96 7,000k, 48 RGB, 144 LEDs Total

For those who want your aquarium to be a vibrant, eye catching centerpiece, The Finnex Planted LED is an amazing choice.


  • Securely fits all tanks between 20-48 inches in length
  • Beautiful 7,000k Light Spectrum
  • Automatic day/night cycle
  • Moonlight, thunderstorms, cloudy weather settings along with fully customizable red/green/blue settings
  • Built in memory
  • Water Resistant
  • Plants: All
  • Corals: Softies/Low Light Only


  • Heavy/short power cord makes drip loops difficult
  • Legs, while durable, can be difficult to remove

This light comes in five different sizes, allowing it to sit comfortably on almost any aquarium. The legs are a sturdy aluminum, easily out doing the normal plastic arms you will find on most lights. They can stretch to fit your tank perfectly, clamping securely onto the sides of the rim.

The lights body is very low profile, measuring at a tiny .3 inches thick. Despite being so thin, the body is actually made of metal so you can forget accidentally breaking this light. The Finnex Planted LED light is built to last.

Heres where the cool features start. The light provides slightly above sun strength, allowing the bottom of the aquarium plants to thrive as if they were right on top. This doesn’t mean more shallow tanks will be burnt to a crisp, as the light has an amazing amount of customization. I don’t mean the usual bright, dim, night time setting you will usually see on LEDs. This light actually allows you to control the red, green, blue levels of its color as well as intensity. You can actually make your own colors using the light!

As fun as our purple aquarium was, setting the light into its 24 hour cycle is just too effective and realistic to pass up. The light will adjust itself throughout the day, giving your fish and plants a realistic amount of light. As the day progresses you will see dawn break and a dusky night time following the end of the day. Beauty aside, the 24 hour setting will help reduce in tank algae problems. The softer lighting morning and nights decrease the time algae has to grow while providing an excellent freshwater aquarium lighting schedule.

A demonstration of the day/night cycle

The Finnex also allows you to use cloudy days and thunderstorms, but the flashing lights are likely to startle fish. If you do plan to use the lightning feature please ensure you have a tight lid so no one jumps out. The lightning looks natural and can be used to impress visitors. For stress free fish I just like to keep normal looking lights, sometimes playing with the color to liven up the cycle.

The light produced by the Finnex light supports plants up to 30″ deep. For bigger tanks multiple light strips will have to be utilized. Even with its high light output the Finnex Planted LED light will stay cool to the touch on the low settings while getting warm on the highest settings. The heat is not enough to affect your water temperature.

Ultimately this is the best freshwater aquarium lighting featuring an LED strip. Even if the controller was not included the Finnex Planted LED Light would likely be our favorite, so you can imagine the added delight of changing your fish tanks lighting from anywhere in the room.

Plants will grow strong, algae will decrease with the use of the 24 hours setting and users will be happy to sit back and watch the sun go down in their home aquarium.

Deckey White & Blue LED Light

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Fits Aquariums Size Watts LEDs
12″ to 20″ 6 Watts 30 White LEDs, 6 Blue LEDs, 36 LEDs Total

Fitting all fish tanks within the 12″-20″ range, the Deckey LED light is the absolute perfect 10 gallon freshwater fish tank lighting choice. This is one of the easiest and cheapest freshwater aquarium lighting set-ups you can get that both grows plants and gives your fish a stunning nighttime display.


  • Fairly high quality at a crazy low price
  • Long power cord
  • Energy efficient design
  • Plants: Medium
  • Corals: Very Low Only


  • Not water proof
  • Extendable leg brackets lack safety stoppers
  • Barely fits on 20″ tanks
Light Strength

The LED set-up in this light comes with 30 white lights and 6 blue lights. This makes the blue light not quite strong enough to be used in bright settings, but in most soft yellow lit housing will show its color just fine.

At night the blue will cut through the darkness with ease. When combined with the 30 white LEDs the light becomes a strong white that covers many aquatic plants lighting needs.

As the light is not meant for long, larger tanks, plant growth is highly dependent on your tanks dimensions. More shallow tanks, including the best 10 gallon fish tanks, will see wonderful growth for medium light demanding plants. On the other hand 10 gallon talls may struggle with more demanding plants.

For saltwater aquarists I cannot recommend this light for growing any corals. It can sustain some low light softies, but expect very little if any growth.

My primary concern on this light are the arms. When placing the light you will notice the arms are a bit weak. While ours has not broken over its two years I wouldn’t risk placing anything on top of the lights. These arms do stretch all the way out to fit a 20 inch tank. The light itself is about 10 inches wide, giving you plenty of light so long as you don’t put anything too tall near the ends of the light. The entire unit is not water proof but the light does come with a splash guard, protecting the LEDs from all mist and splashes.

Please take caution when moving the light as the extendable leg brackets do not come with stoppers. Pulling on the legs could drop the light into the water. To combat this problem, preserve tank temperature and reduce on evaporation I recommend the use of clear glass lids. Very little light is lost and if your light happens to be knocked down your tank and equipment will be kept safe.

When setting up the Deckey, many owners notice the cord is actually a decent length unlike many higher priced lights. It measures at just under 5 feet giving you ample room for a drip loop.

Lifetime & Warranty

The Deckey freshwater aquarium light comes with amazons 30 day no questions asked warranty. Over this time you will easily be able to see any defects the light may have, or if it’s simply not strong enough for your tank.

When proper care is taken of the Deckey it will last between 2-3 years. During the last year you can expect a few bulbs to burn out before the whole light finally goes. To ensure you reach the full three years I recommend a glass top between the light and tank to reduce water damage. The lifespan might not be the longest ever but it does last awhile for being such a low cost freshwater aquarium lighting option.

Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Light

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Having four sizes that span from 18″-60″ the Current USA LED light has a size tailored to fit your specific lighting needs.

Taken directly from Current USA

The color temperature on this light is 6500k on the light lights and 455nm from the blue lights. The blues are ideal, as usable light drops off heavily after 460nm. This gives your freshwater aquarium plants the perfect light to have healthy growth. Even in three foot deep water plants will still get strong enough lighting to continue growing. If you ever wondered what is the best light for aquarium plants, Current USA could be your answer.

The included controller even lets you switch between 8 different light settings, ranging from full sun, light dawn and even blue midnight settings. This allows you to bring down the light level when it seems too bright yet you are not ready to switch to the night setting.

A note we have for you here is to treat the controller gently as it is not the sturdiest piece. If it does break Current USA will send out a replacement free of charge.

This brings us to the lifetime of the light. The LED bulbs have had their durability measured for an average of 50,000+ hours. Given normal circumstances of 8-10 hour days they will last over 11 years of use. If anything should happen to your light you are free to use the Current USA warranty for up to a year.

The casing of the Current USA freshwater aquarium lighting is constructed of a powerful aluminum housing. While this does let the light heat up a little more than plastic casing, it is far more durable and resists water damage well. The light itself is IP65 water resistant.

The light is distributed at a 120 degree angle, giving the light a healthy spread to cover our tanks with light. Try to position the light in the center of the tank to avoid light being wasted on the floor. Located at the bottom of the light is an acrylic splash guard that protects the light from water without blocking out much of the lights strength.

As nice as standard lights are there’s no way you won’t be playing with the controls. By pressing the blue and white buttons you will select which portion of the light you are controlling. Next you can use the + and – buttons to change the lights strength. Hold the blue/white button for four seconds to turn off the blue/white light. Pressing the Mode button will cycle between preset modes. Here’s a quick rundown on the modes:

  • Mode 1 – Both white and blue lights on
  • Mode 2 – Moonlight/blue lights only
  • Mode 3 – Cloudy weather with fading lights
  • Mode 4 – A more intense cloudy effect
  • Mode 5 – Strong lights with rolling clouds
  • Mode 6 – Gentle rain with lightning effects
  • Mode 7 – Powerful lighting storm(Not Recommended)

The light has been in production for over three years, being updated as new technology is available. Across all three years the light has received rave reviews and still holds sturdy in our small local fish store.

Speaking of pet stores, this light demolishes pet store prices even when upgraded to larger sizes. Typically larger lights such as this are over $150, and that is without the custom light settings. If you really want a long, bright and cost effective light strip for larger than a 10 gallon, this is the light for you.

All Glass Aquarium Economy Hood, 20-Inch

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Fits Aquariums Size Watts Bulbs
20″ x 10″ 10-20 Watts Two 5″ Screw Ins

As the name implies, this is one great value hood. Coming with two florescent bulb slots, the All Glass Economy Hood provides sufficient lighting for fish and low light aquarium plants.

First and foremost we must warn you: the bulbs require great care to change. If done incorrectly the sockets can be broken, turning the lighted hood into a normal hood. Take a little extra time and they’ll be fine. The bulbs will last for 6 months to a year when properly cared for. This makes the hood better suited for new tank owners who are unsure if they want to stick to the hobby.

A second note is that the hood does not come with the bulbs included. We actually liked this because we could choose stronger bulbs than most hoods come with. However the best grow lights tend to be full length bulbs rather than the two small ones this hood is designed for. We still got good use from the Marina 15 watt bulbs suggested underneath the item on amazon. The bulbs needed are 5 inch screw ins. Try to stay under the 20 watt mark or the hood will heat up quickly.

The small feeding compartment allows for easy, you guessed it, feeding. The back of this hood comes with break away plastic sections, allowing you to insert the needed equipment onto the back of your tank without disturbing your hood. The lights are protected by a splash guard, making your lights last as long as you do not handle the hood or sockets too roughly.

Overall this hood is a good choice if you are worried about your budget and are starting a brand new tank. It will provide both good lighting and the hood reduces evaporation. Just don’t be careless with the hood and it will last for years.

Marineland LED Light Hood

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Fits Aquariums Size Watts LEDs
20″ x 10″ 2.7 Watts 22 6,000k White LEDs, 3 Blue 60mW LEDs, 25 LEDs Total

To round off our lighting article we have the Marineland LED hood. Practical, affordable, multiple sizes and easy to use, this hood is our top choice for hooded tanks. This features a more modern look with a low profile height, making it a great freshwater fish tank lighting choice that can fit in any room.

The hood affixes to the back rim of the tank, resting on the top of your tank and swings upwards when opening the tank. With this feature replacing normal the feeding hatch you can easily access the entire tank at any time, allowing for easy substrate cleaning and equipment adjustments.

The back of the 30″ comes with two break away sections that are side by side. Combined their length comes to just over 15″, with the left being 10″ and the right 5″. the depth of the break away section is 2.5″, so be sure your equipment will fit with the hood. The 20″ hood only has one break away section that measures 6.5″ by 2.5″.

As for the lights strength, I would only recommend up to medium light requiring plants. While bright, there simply aren’t the number of LED bulbs we like to grow high light plants such as micro sword.

Lifetime & Warranty

The longevity of this hood and light combo is quite high. In fact you are more likely to need to replace your hood long before the LEDs burn out. Tested to last an average of 50,000 hours, your lights should never fail you.

The customer service provided by Marineland is excellent, and not only on this item. If your light turns out to have a fault that outlasts the amazon warranty, Marineland will often fix your problem free of charge. Simply contact their customer service and let them know what’s troubling you. The normal warranty time for this hood is one year, but you can still contact them after this time has ended.

Now that you are equipped with all the proper knowledge buying the right freshwater aquarium lighting will be a breeze. Take into account all your plants needs as well as your tanks depth and width. With each light listed having a no questions asked warranty ordering is always risk free!

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If you still want more lighting options feel free to read our led aquarium lighting page.

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