Glass vs. Acrylic Aquariums – Which One is a Better Choice?

Glass aquarium or acrylic aquarium, freshwater tanks, or saltwater tanks- the jargon of aqua scaping is close to boundless.  As a sophisticated ancient art with a rather modern title, the elements of aqua scaping have evolved with more fluidity. But one dilemma remains: glass vs. acrylic, what to choose? The aquarium products and designs did not escape the progression either.  Glass aquariums manufactured in the 80s were rather sturdy yet burdensome with their metal frameworks.  Let us be honest, those heavy metallic railings did not allow for the aquarium to be a quintessential center of attention in your living room. 

Thanks to the upgrades, aquarium types have become more portable, convenient, and pleasing to the eye.  One of the biggest breakthroughs came with the incorporation of acrylic for the manufacturing of aquariums.  Moreover, the switch to non-metallic frames ensures better seam adhesion and are portability.  These changes were exciting for aquascapers who were looking for an all-in-one aquarium design for their aquarium

Take a look at the following video to go over the pros and cons of glass and acrylic, to help you see which would be better for you:

Besides the materials you want your aquarium to be made from, you also need to think about the size of your tank.  When you go to buy your aquarium, you will need to consider how much space you can spare for an aquarium.  Most experts will tell you to get the largest aquarium for which you have space and that you can afford.  To begin with, you should go with a 10-gallon tank for a freshwater tank and 20 to 40-gallon tank for a marine aquarium.  Contrary to the consensus, larger aquariums are easier to maintain as the colossal water volume leaves little margin for error.  Any imbalance in the water chemistry is restored quickly in a larger tank due to better dilution.

Glass Aquariums

The fully stacked glass aquariums are a famous choice for a freshwater aquarium among aquascapers.  These tanks are constructed on a glass plate which is then sealed with less toxic silicone material.  Adapting to the requirements of fish hobbyists, manufacturers use tempered glass.  This means that your glass fish tank is sturdier but light as a feather.  Ok, that was an exaggeration.  But when you compare it to the traditional the new tempered glass, these aquariums feel significantly lighter. 

The frames on the traditional glass tanks were built like your little finny friends were conspiring a fish-tank-break.  But fortunately, that is not the case, hence the new plastic frames on the glass fish tanks is a nice integration.  You can buy these frames in different colors and fanciful designs. 

Glass tanks are desirable to aquascapers because it does not retain any scratches for a long time.  Who does not enjoy watching their little ecosystem thriving through the clear exotic looking glass?  It is rewarding to see your efforts with such a clear perspective, isn’t it?  You can even purchase glass tanks with pre-drilled holes, meant to hold aquarium equipment and hoses.  This is a great option as it makes it easier to hide the wirings inside of a normal cabinet without the need for routing everything out of the glass aquarium.  Pre-drilled tanks are comparatively expensive and intended for experienced aquascapers.  Drilling holes in your aquarium is certainly an advantage, but not a prerequisite for glass aquariums.

If you decide to build a glass aquarium yourself, you can be as creative as you like. For instance, in the next video, you can see how to create a multi-level glass aquarium:

One major pitfall with glass aquariums is that they are on the heavier side when compared to other types.  This could be even more of a quandary because you then must build or buy an equally sturdy stand that will hold the glass fish tank.  You also need a strong floor in the space where you are placing the tank, that will hold the entire system.  Because if the aquarium falls and shatters, it is certainly not a pretty sight neither is it fun to do a clean up after.  We advise you to hire a contractor to investigate the floor material.  This will give more clarity on whether it can hold the weight of a large glass fish tank.

Acrylic Aquariums

Acrylic fish tanks quickly became a hype among aquascapers immediately after they were introduced in the market.  They are lightweight, and you have a lot of options to choose from including shapes and sizes.  In terms of weight, the battle of glass vs. acrylic is won by the latter, by a large margin. They are two times lighter than their glass variants.  Another noteworthy fact about the acrylic fish tank is that they are more resistant to crack and damage.  You do not need to ponder much over the support system to keep these tanks because they can tolerate drops and knocks much better than any other type. 

They are customizable, which is one of the biggest factors behind its popularity among fish hobbyists. Acrylic is a very fluid material; it can be manipulated into an array of shapes.  You can experiment with a lot of shapes and sizes.  It is not hard to find acrylic fish tanks shaped into hexagons, pentagons, round spheres, bullets, columns, etc. 

Here is an example of how to build your own acrylic tank:

For fish hobbyists who prefer to house tropical fishes, acrylic tanks are a better choice since they provide a higher grade of insulation.  This is not applicable for fish that prefer lower temperatures.  Or reef tanks where insulation plays little role in keeping the system healthy.  These tanks can retain 20 percent of the heat within the system.  Making it easier for your aquarium’s heating system to keep up the optimal temperature. 

The most common sizes for acrylic fish tanks typically within the range of 10 to 90 gallons.  Before you decide on an acrylic fish tank, you need to remember that a long and wide tank is always better than a tall one.  The volume remains the same, the only difference is that acrylic aquariums that are wider and longer provide more surface area for better oxygen exchange.  The only exception, considering what type of fish species you prefer to keep, angelfish do better in taller tanks because they need more vertical space.

CLARITY [light transmission]82% light transmission93% light transmission
DISTORTION [refraction of light]1.53n- comparatively less clear than acrylic1.49n – Clearer
IMPACTLess impact resistantMore impact resistant
TENSILE STRENGTH [the amount of pressure can a material hold before losing its shape]Comparatively StrongerComparatively less strong
INSULATION [heat transmission rate]Better rate of heat transmissionComparatively lower rate of heat transmission
DURABILITYfairly durablemore durable
SCRATCH RESISTANCELess scratchesMore scratches
LONG TERM [Seams]Silicone seams- shorter lifeNo seams/welded edges-longer life
SHAPESLimited shapesMore shapes

Also read – How to Build Your Own DIY Fish Tank – A Step by Step Guide

The Middle Ground – Plastic Aquariums

It is always good to have a third choice, if it’s too hard to choose between glass vs. acrylic. But this one might not be as good as the other two. Plastic fish tanks are usually not as popular among fish keepers because of the obvious drawbacks.  This is also the reason why they are so inexpensive. Plastic aquariums have become obsolete due to the following reasons:

They retain scratches easily – Plastic fish tanks are more delicate than you would expect them to be.  Moreover, once the damage is done, it is hard to repair them.

Discoloration – As plastic aquariums age, the wear and tear and other factors cause the plastic to discolor to an almost yellowish hue.  No matter how clear your water is, the yellowish tinge does make it visually unappealing.

It can melt easily – In most of the aquariums, it is necessary to implement a heating system for your fishes.  This can be a problem for plastic aquariums as any contact with a hot surface can make them prone to melting..

Our Verdict

Yes, we are the Masters of Diplomacy, but in this article, our inherent qualities do not matter much.  Both glass aquariums and acrylic aquariums each have their unique personas. It is more dependent on the kind of fish you wish to do.  If you are more creative and love options, acrylic aquariums should be perfect for you.  But if you like classy and quaint styles, and your fishkeeping is lifelong cultivation, investing in a glass aquarium is a good choice. Well for plastic aquariums, they are redundant, and so that option is pretty much out of the window.  You must create a list of all fish keeping factors including what type of fish species will live in the aquarium, how far your commitment goes, your resources, etc.  Answering these questions will help you land on the best choice of the aquarium for your finny friends. At the end, when it comes to glass vs. acrylic, it’s a personal decision after all.

Also read – Self Cleaning Fish Tanks That Actually Work

Glass vs. Acrylic Aquariums – FAQs

What glass is used for aquariums? Standard glass with a green or aqua hue is used to build glass aquariums.  Glass has an inherent higher distortion, due to the high iron content.  For more transparency, a special variant of the glass often marketed by the name ‘sapphire glass’ is used.  It is clearer as it contains comparatively less iron than standard glass.

Can a glass aquarium break easily? Glass aquariums are strong and made to stand the test of time.  However, an accident may happen while moving the tank or during maintenance when the aquarium topples off.  In that case, it might shatter.  There have been exceedingly rare cases in which a glass aquarium broke on its own.

How thick is a glass aquarium? A typical fish tank is built using a glass that is 6 millimeters thick, which has a safety factor of 2.92 units.  Typically, the thickness of the glass depends on the manufacturer’s preferences. Due to the strict manufacturing process, the strength of your glass aquarium can vary by a small margin.  The most common safety factor is 3.8, but this is not an absolute rule.

Is aquarium glass tempered? Most glass aquariums have tempered glass at the bottom of the tank.  Since, tempered glass cannot be drilled, it is not used for the walls of your aquarium.  You can make a special request to your manufacturer if you want a complete non-tempered glass aquarium.  You can also customize the location and number of holes you need to setup the equipment in the tank.

How long does a glass aquarium last? A typical lifespan of a glass aquarium is 7 to 10 years.  However, with proper care, it can surely last longer.  There have been many instances when fish keepers kept their glass tanks for 40 years and longer.  Comparing the longevity between glass aquariums and acrylic aquariums, acrylic is a clear winner.

Why are acrylic aquariums better than glass? An acrylic aquarium is more durable, lighter, and cost-effective when compared to a glass aquarium.  This is the reason why many fish keepers prefer acrylic aquarium over their glass counterparts.  The immortality of an acrylic aquarium is phenomenal.  It does not scratch as easily, and it can take light impacts without shattering to pieces.

How long do acrylic aquariums last? Acrylic aquariums are infamous for their longevity as compared to glass.  With proper care, an acrylic aquarium can last for a lifetime.  The durability factor is high.  Moreover, these aquariums do not yellow as they age, unlike the plastic ones.  Neither do they chip nor scratch which is a nuisance with glass tanks.

Can acrylic aquariums leak? The edges of an acrylic aquarium are welded together, unlike their glass counterparts, which have silicone seams that need constant repair.  Acrylic aquariums are less prone to leakage.  In case your aquarium is indeed leaking, you can get it repaired without a hassle. You can also DIY the repairs, using an adhesive to seal the edges that were causing the leak.

Also read – How to Clean a Saltwater Fish Tank (A Step by Step Guide)

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