Anyone fish owner knows that the glass and other surfaces below the water can start to get grime buildup pretty quickly. A film of algae and other substances in the water is unhealthy for the fish and looks messy. Fortunately, low maintenance self-sustaining fish tanks can make it easy for you to keep your fish happy and healthy.
Traditional aquariums need you to renew the water in them every few weeks to accommodate your aquatic pets. You can avoid this labor and time-intensive requirement with self-sustaining tanks like a water garden aquarium. They are great for people who find themselves too busy with work, frequent travel, or other responsibilities. There is also less stress placed on the fish since you will not have to clean around them as often.
This article will go over the best “no-clean” aquariums on the market and provide more information about the benefits of owning one.
This post may contain affiliate links that could result in a commission to this website
(at no additional cost to you). See our Disclosures Page.
Best Self Sustaining Aquarium Reviews
The AquaSprouts Garden approach to an autonomous tank includes an attractive aquaponics kit designed for a 10- gallon aquarium. It comes with a pump, light bar holder, garden space that sits above your tank, and a growth medium. Water from the tank circulates through the hydroponics bed where they grow medium filters out waste and debris that then becomes fertilizer for the plants.
There are nitrospiras and nitrosomonas bacteria in the garden bed medium, which break down any ammonia in the dirty water so that it returns to your fish with lower levels of the toxic substance. You will still need to clean the tank every three or four weeks since there is no way to remove all ammonia entirely, but it does an excellent job of clearing much of it from the water. The pump pulls up water every 15 minutes to be filtered.
The light bar holder fits most 2ft light bars, and it is removable. You do not need to use the light bar if you have access to natural lighting to keep the plants healthy. This water garden kit is fantastic for anyone who wants to try their hand at aquaponics without any previous experience and limited space.
- It fits any standard 10-gallon fish tank
- The process is entirely automated once it is set up so you can focus on enjoying your beautiful aquarium fish.
- There is a gap to feed the fish at the back, which gives it a flush, attractive appearance from the front while still providing access.
- The aquaponics’ filtration ability will increase as your garden matures, making it more effective as time goes on.
- Does not come with a grow light
- The tank is noisy when water levels are low
Penn Plax AquaTerrium Planting Tank
The Penn Plax AquaTerrium self-sustaining tank is built in a waterfall shape with a garden located at the back of the tank. The water is pumped up and runs through the garden, clearing the water of debris and waste. It comes in several sizes (e.g., .8 gallons, 1.85 Gallons, and 2.65 Gallons) with approximately half of the tank size available for fish or other aquatic creatures, meaning you will need to go with smaller animals such as a goldfish, guppie, or zebrafish.
It comes with a glass tank, aquaponics waterfall, plant pack, and a rockscape that includes planting pods. A pump and filter are incorporated directly into the tank that pulls up water to run down the plants where it is naturally re-filtered. As the plants mature, the effect will increase.
The manufacturer recommends using the high powered LED growing light located on the top of the tank. However, natural lighting will work to keep the plants growing strong. You will want to research which herbs or other plants to include in your water garden to ensure that they will not be toxic for the fish and can get enough nutrients to survive.
- The tank is 18 pounds and is meant to be placed in smaller spaces, so it works perfectly for an office or apartment.
- There is a dial on the waterfall for increasing the flow, making it easier to keep the water clean and fresh as the plants are developing.
- The filter has a protective seal over it in case the fish wiggles around the rockscape to the back, so it is entirely safe.
- Customers are reported that it naturally keeps the tank clean for long periods, so you will not need to take out the rockscape and substrate often.
- There is no “lid” for this tank. It is entirely open to the air, which means that you cannot use it for water pets like crabs and snails, which will escape easily, and other pets (e.g., dogs, cats, etc.) can reach inside.
- The planter pods are approximately 2 inches in size, which means they can only accommodate smaller plants.
Back to the Roots Water Garden
Back to the Roots has this adorable single fish tank with a little garden that sits on top of the covering. It is a mini-water garden that is perfect for home offices, college dorms, or work desks. The kit comes with a small 3-gallon tank, pump, microseeds, grow stones, D-Klor and Zym-Bac for ammonia and nitrate balance, as well as nutritious fish food and some coupons for future purchases.
Add the fish and your preferred substrate or decorations, and everything else to get started on your first hydroponics water garden is included in the package.
- Easy to set up and maintain for beginner aquarists
- This is a great educational tool for homeschoolers or classrooms
- Plants grow quickly
- When the plants are mature, customers report that it can go a month or longer between more substantial cleanings while still having fresh water for your fish
- There is no protective seal over the pump, so you may have to fashion your own seal or weak/sick fish may be pulled up into it
- The feeding hole is very small
BiOrb Flow Aquarium
The BiOrb Flow Aquarium comes in 4 gallons or 8 gallons and can include either LED or MCR lighting. This is a streamlined, minimalist acrylic tank that looks lovely and can fit several micro-fish or other small animals. The kit comes with the tank, light, pump, filter, and bacteria liquid.
The filtration system has five stages of increased sustainability. They are mechanical (pump/filter), biological (ceramic substrate), chemical (bacteria), as well as water stabilization and oxygenation. The manufacturer recommends this aquarium for use with smaller fish or shrimp.
- The light comes with sixteen pre-sets of color and brightness and is remotely controllable.
- Cleaning is a snap. Replace a third of the water and the filter once every 4 to 6 weeks.
- The minimalist, attractive nature of the tank itself makes it great for decoration in an office setting.
- The bacteria liquid takes care of removing waste byproducts from the water without the need for additional features like plants or rockscapes, giving you more room for fish, shrimp, or other happy creatures.
- Customers have reported that a full tank water change may be required once a year if you feed your fish more than the recommended amount.
- The replacement filters might seem expensive to some, and they are required every 4 to 6 weeks.
ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Garden System
The Eco-Cycle Aquaponics brings a lot more gardening into your fish tank. The kit is designed to accommodate a 20- gallon tank and makes it unnecessary for you to do any full water changes, which is a massive plus for anyone with a larger tank. This is a fully sustainable, closed-loop system for growing plants like herbs and vegetables while keeping your fish and other aquatics living in a clear, clean environment.
The kit comes with an LED light and controller and a lid planter for a 20-gallon tank.
- The size is a huge benefit for this kit.
- The Eco-Life Conservation brand takes care of their customers and provides many educational resources so that new fish owners can get the most out of their system.
- It comes with an LED light that has several settings for optimal plant growth. There is also a remote control and timer option.
- You can use this system for aquatic frogs and reptiles (warning: do not eat any plant life grown with these animals in the tank as the risk of salmonella poisoning is high).
- The tank is not included.
- The growing lights are very bright. If you intend to use them instead of natural lighting, you will want to place it in an area where the brightness will not irritate.
VIVOSUN Aquaponic Fish Tank
The Vivosun Aquaponic Tank comes with a thermostat, pump, power adapter, top planter, automatic siphon system, and various rocks for hydroponic plants are also included. It also has an extra thermostat for checking the water temperature at any point. This is a great little system for a single small-sized fish or shrimp and holds a bit over 3 gallons.
The process works by drawing water up into the plant bed at the top of the tank and filtering out any waste to become nutrients for your choice of small herbs or other plants. Then it is returned to the tank with significantly less water toxicity. You will still need to introduce some clean water every 4 to 6 weeks.
- Cleaning is a snap, with only a minimal amount added every 3 or 4 weeks to replace evaporated levels.
- The size makes it convenient for small apartments, bedrooms, offices, and college dorms.
- You can use it with tropical fish, but you will need to research and make sure that the chosen plants will respond favorably to saltwater.
- The manufacturer reports that this tank system can support up to 150 different kinds of plant life (e.g., peppermint, dill, basil, rosemary, and asparagus).
- The small size means even a tiny amount of overfeeding can cause the entire system to collapse because there will be too much toxicity in the water. It is not ideal for the first time aquaponic user.
- Difficult to attach the pump to the bottom of the tank when taking the top on and off.
Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden Aquaponics Fish Tank
This adorable little Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden is going to let you keep your self-sustaining tank looking great. The kit includes a 3-gallon tank, sprouting tray for the top, pump, filter, and Caramsite. There is not much information from the manufacturer on this product, but they recommend what kinds of water, fish, and plants to use for the best results.
Fish should be three inches or smaller, and you should only use sprouts from plants that are known not to cause any problems for the fish or other pet that you purchase.
- This tank is excellent for a single small fish or shrimp.
- You can reduce the filter noise by slightly lowering the water level (e.g., three-fourths is recommended).
- It is perfect for small spaces and can be a good educational tool for children or classrooms.
- The tank has an interesting tidal-like feature as the water is filtered.
- The manufacturer does not recommend using tap water.
- The pump may suck up very short fish and other objects if you do not add some form of a protective seal.
Shrimp Bubble Ecosystem Kit
This is a truly unique ecosystem built into a bottle-shaped tank that holds up to four mini-shrimp. It is designed to be fully close-looped with algae, shrimp, oxygen, and various micro-organisms keeping this mini-world healthy. All it requires is the occasional water change but otherwise can be left to self-sustain indefinitely.
The aesthetic is eye-catching, with a bottle shape and removable stopper at the top. It is fantastic for office locations, living rooms, and other places where a bauble of living shrimp can be a good conversation starter. It comes pre-assembled, and all you need to do is add the shrimp to their new living space.
- This distinctive ecosystem kit makes a great gift or decorative addition to any room.
- “Live on arrival” guarantee included with every purchase.
- Able to open and care for shrimp if needed. Other brands offer completely sealed ecosystems.
- The whole thing weighs only one pound, making it perfect for any location.
- You will need to initially monitor the algae growth to find the perfect amount of natural light to keep it from growing too fast or slow. It also works off artificial light if you have it placed in an office or other location without sunlight access.
- There is a delicate balance to everything inside this self-sustaining ecosystem, so any additions, no matter what they are (e.g., moss, more shrimp, snails, etc.), may throw it out of balance and cause the system to fail.
What is a Self Sustaining Aquarium?
Now that you know more about what features the top brands have to offer, we have a brief explanation for what precisely a self-sustaining aquarium is and how it works to your advantage. A combination of specific equipment and plantlife can create an environment that self-cleans in a sustainable way for certain fish species. You will want to make sure that this type of tank is right for your fish before you get started.
A self-sustaining aquarium involves creating an ecosystem inside your tank that will keep the water cleaner and make sure the material at the bottom and the glass requires minimal upkeep. This is established by creating a carefully balanced food chain so that everything from the fish to the plants is responsible for removing some of the debris. A few of the elements that you will need to focus on include the following.
- Tank materials and quality (e.g., the glass will need less work than plastic to keep clean, etc.)
- Correct filter setup
- Live plants that can lower nitrate levels and increase oxygen while breaking down some of the debris
- Fish for cleaning the algae and other waste off the tank (e.g., Siamese Algae Eater, Plecostomus, shrimp, snails, etc.)
Which of those you will need will depend entirely on what kind of fish you intend to keep in your aquarium. With those features in place, you can double or triple the amount of time between changing the water. This ensures your fish or other aquatic pets have a comfortable, pristine space to live in.
Types of Self-Cleaning Aquariums
Several systems are used to self-clean fish tanks. Gravity-based and water gardens are the two most popular.
The gravity-based aquarium process is designed to pour clean water into the top, and the system takes care of everything elseâ€”no need to do time-intensive changes to the tank. Instead, you can let the system you set in place do the whole thing for you. There are quite a few advantages, especially with how quickly it can be done.
Unfortunately, this can only keep the water clean and wash out some residual waste, but it will not get any layers sticking to the sides, decorative items, or within the substrate. It works by siphoning off the old, dirty water using gravity when you put in new, clean water. However, if you have a few suckerfish, snails, or other hungry little guys swimming around sucking up the algae and other film, then a gravity-based aquarium should do the trick.
Water Garden Approach
The water garden no-clean system is a full little ecosystem in a fish tank. Every part either feeds or sustains another part, and what one species considers waste another sees as food. These are by far the hardest to set up but, once complete, the easiest to maintain.
You will need to make sure that the fish, plants, micro-organisms, and creature that keeps the glass and decorations clean can all live in harmony. You also must ensure that they can co-exist within the same type of water and temperature. Most pet stores can provide information about setting up a healthy water garden, and once you get it in place, the cycle of life held within the tank will keep things green, clean, and looking great.
Benefits of a Self Sustaining Fish Tank
We have already mentioned the convenience and time saved by using this type of tank, but there are other benefits for you to enjoy. There is less stress on the creatures living in your aquarium, and their environment stays clear longer. They get to enjoy living in a biological community with other animals and living plants instead of the plastic decorative ones that are often featured in most tanks. It also looks beautiful to have various creatures and hydrophytes living together.
Frequently Asked Questions about Self Sustaining Aquariums
Do you need to clean a self-cleaning fish tank?Â
You will still need to do some minimal cleaning at least once a month to ensure that your pets stay healthy. However, the amount you have to clean and how often is substantially decreased compared to a traditional aquarium setup. There are just some waste substances that cannot be broken down through a natural ecosystem, so they will have to be removed. The water balance will also need to be monitored to ensure your fish or other creatures get enough oxygen and all the nutrients they need.Â
Does the aquarium water have to be treated?Â
You will still need to clean and treat the water and substrate but not as often. One reason for this is that you will most likely use tap water when you refresh the water in your aquarium. It comes with chemicals from your local treatment plant that can sometimes be harmful to delicate fish and other animals or plants. It is essential to treat the water to ensure that your pets will not be harmed when you change out the water regardless of the no-clean system you are using.Â
Are there any drawbacks to a self-cleaning fish tank?
While you have read about all the benefits of a self-cleaning tank system, there are also a few drawbacks to consider. They take careful planning, and you need to coordinate everything together for them to work as expected. Some people do not want to take the time to do this properly and choose instead to follow traditional cleaning methods.Â u003cbru003eu003cbru003eYou should consider how much space the plants and other creatures will take up in addition to the fish. They all need room to live comfortably and thrive, so a tiny plastic tank is not going to cut it if you want a fully functioning self-sustaining aquarium. It will not have to be lavish, but you should make sure there is enough space for the plants to grow and the fish to swim comfortably.Â
Now, you know what types of top quality no-clean aquarium kits are available for you to use and why they are beneficial. In the end, whether these are right for you or not and which one is going to work best for the fish that you want to own will depend on several things, including your setup, tank quality, and what form of self-cleaning aquarium you intend to build.
Looking for more gear for your aquarium? Head over to our Aquarium Gear section to see more reviews.