Small aquariums have come a long way from the fishbowl and critter keeper era of the 1990s. You no longer have to choose between having a compact nano tank set-up and a proper aquarium! Great things do come in small packages, so learn all about choosing and using the best nano aquariums for freshwater and marine fish.
Quick Comparisons of the 5 Best Nano Aquariums
|Marineland 5 Gallon Portrait Glass LED Aquarium Kit||View Product|
|Fluval Spec Aquarium Kit||View Product|
|Coralife BioCube Aquarium with LED||View Product|
|Penn Plax Radius Curved Corner Glass Aquarium Kit||View Product|
|Tetra Crescent Acrylic Aquarium Kit||View Product|
Guide to Small Nano Aquariums
I’m not sure when I first heard the word “nano” used to describe a small aquarium, but without question, these tiny tanks are very popular and fashionable right now. If anything, the trend towards compact aquariums is picking up steam, and there’s no sign that this is a passing fad. What are nano tanks and how do they work?
What is a Nano Tank?
A Nano tank is simply the modern name for a small, compact aquarium. They differ from fishbowls in that they are usually fully equipped and come with a filter, hood, LED light and sometimes a heater as well. Nano tanks are typically suitable for both freshwater and saltwater set-ups.
- The term “nano” tank is used around the world but there’s no real agreement about the maximum size a nano tank may be, and the use of the term varies widely by country and region.
- In the US, we usually consider tanks 30-gallons and smaller as nano aquariums.
- Nano aquariums can be set-up by buying your tank and individual pieces of equipment, but the most popular way to start one is with an all-in-one nano tank kit!
Benefits of Nano Aquariums
Nano tanks offer a lot of benefits for their small size. Many of these tiny set-ups easily fit on a desk, table or bookshelf and most tanks don’t require a special aquarium stand. Nano tanks are also in the ideal size range for a starter tank, which is 20 to 30 gallons, and make an especially good choice for children’s aquariums.
Unlike fish bowls, nano aquariums don’t skimp on filtration or water circulation, so your fish and plants stay much healthier with less maintenance. You’ll still have to do water changes, but a simple bucket and siphon should make that weekly task easy and mess-free, and for small tanks under 5-gallons you might not even need that.
You won’t be limited to just a few snails or shrimp in your tank, either, since there’s a wide variety of animals suitable for nano tanks, and with the high-quality kits on the market it’s easy to design a beautiful planted or themed mini tank. It’s a lot less expensive to get a nano tank kit than to start a 20-gallon from scratch, too.
Drawbacks of Nano Tanks
These small set-ups also come with a few drawbacks, although they vary depending on the specific kit you’re considering. It also depends on your capacity preference, since larger nano tanks usually suffer from fewer size-related issues than the smallest versions. Nano tanks have the same problems as all small aquariums:
- Smaller tanks are harder to maintain than larger tanks because their water parameters can shift quickly.
- Missing weekly maintenance or overfeeding your fish can lead to poor water quality within days or even hours in a very small set-up.
- When things go wrong in a nano tank you may not have much warning before you lose fish, plants or corals.
- It’s harder to source the highest-quality equipment for tiny tanks.
- There’s fewer options for small nano fish, shrimp and corals than there are for larger tanks.
- While nano tanks typically weigh less than their full-sized cousins, they can still be hefty and larger tanks may require sturdy furniture for support.
- A filled 10-gallon nano tank easily clocks in at 111 pounds in weight!
|Benefits of Nano Aquariums||Nano Tank Drawbacks|
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Types of Nano Tanks
There aren’t really different types of nano tanks like there are different types of aquarium filters or lights. Most nano tanks support both freshwater and marine set-ups, although you may have to purchase extra equipment like a heater or protein skimmer if you want to keep certain species of fish or corals.
Freshwater Nano Aquariums
Most nano tanks are freshwater aquariums, and nearly all nano kits are suitable for setting up this type of tank.
- These kits usually include a decent multi-stage or internal filter in addition to a basic LED light and cover/hood
- Nano tank kits are different from starter tank kits, since you’ll likely have to buy substrate, decorations and any extra equipment you’ll need, like a heater.
- They are available over the widest range of capacities, from 0.5 to 30 gallons, and in many shapes and materials!
These are the ideal kits for housing a Betta fish with a few tank mates, and larger nano’s are perfect for a Betta sorority or small group of fancy goldfish. You don’t need to buy a premium nano kit for a simple freshwater tank, but if you’re interested in a more intricate set-up you may need additional or higher quality equipment.
Aquascaped and Nano Planted Tanks
Aquascaping is a form of underwater gardening that’s very popular in nano tanks.
- In an aquascaped tank, the plants and hardscape are the focus and there may only be a few fish to bring the picture together.
- Aquascapers prune the plants and arrange hardscape to mimic natural ecosystems or other similar themes.
If you plan on growing a lot of plants in your nano tank or would like to get into aquascaping, look for a kit with a high-quality LED light to support rigorous plant growth. Many nano kits lack robust lighting, since it’s not needed for healthy fish, but planted and aquascaped tanks require more light at the right spectrums.
Saltwater Nano Aquariums
Small marine aquariums were once a rare thing to see, but it’s fairly easy to find saltwater-ready nano kits with some basic equipment.
- Saltwater nano tanks are usually larger, in the 15 to 30-gallon range, simply because there isn’t a whole lot of ocean fish that don’t quickly outgrow the smaller tanks.
- Fewer kits are available, since the demand for marine nano tanks is lower than for freshwater and planted set-ups.
- Not ideal for novice saltwater fish keepers, but much less expensive to start and maintain than a large marine tank and could be a good size for a learning tank if you’re diligent in your maintenance.
While I don’t recommend nano-sized saltwater tanks for those who’ve never kept marine fish before, that’s simply because managing a marine tank requires a special set of knowledge and skills. If you stick with the larger tanks over 20-gallons, a marine nano kit could be a good size to learn on.
Nano Reef Tanks
One of the most challenging types to design and maintain is the nano reef tank. Tiny reef tanks are perfect for showing off a small group of coral frags, and may include a few small reef fish such as a clownfish or goby.
- These marine aquariums often have a small sump system for biological filtration and a much higher quality light to support the growth of hard and soft corals.
- If you’re interested in having a small reef tank, check out my coverage of the best nano reef kits here!
Styles of Nano Tanks
This is where the nano tank market really shines! I remember when there were only two options for 10-gallon nano tanks: standard and tall. These days, tanks come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and designs, including:
- Curved and Bowfront tanks, which make it easier to see into the interior at an angle.
- Portrait, Tall and Cube-shaped tanks, which enhance your decor and are an excellent option for aquascaping, planted or reef tanks.
- Rimless and/or Cornerless tanks, which don’t have a frame to block the view and make the aquarium look like it’s floating on your table or shelf.
How to Set Up a Nano Tank
There’s really no difference in setting up a nano tank compared to a larger aquarium. It takes several weeks to establish the good aquarium bacteria in your tank, so don’t add fish, challenging plants or corals until your tank has finished cycling:
- Unbox your tank and equipment, and remove any labels.
- Rinse your substrate and place it in the bottom of the tank.
- Set up your filter and any other equipment and place it in your tank.
- Fill the tank with water, and turn on the filtration system.
- Cycle the tank for 3 to 6 weeks until the nitrogen cycle has stabilized, and then start gradually adding your fish to the tank.
How to Care for Your Nano Aquarium
Caring for a nano tank is similar to taking care of a full-size aquarium. You’ll carry out the same kind of maintenance on your filters, and will need to refresh the filter pads and media on a regular schedule to keep water moving through unobstructed.
Unlike large fish tanks, however, toxins build up quickly in nano tanks. Filtration systems reduce the number of water changes needed, but weekly attention is still required! Follow these tips to get the most out of your nano tank kit!
- Check your tank and filter daily and change the water on a regular schedule
- For tank 5-gallons and under, change at least 20% of the water once to twice a week, and more often if needed
- For tanks from 5 to 10-gallons, aim for weekly water changes
- For tanks 10-gallons and up, you may only need a water change 1 to 2 times a month
- Don’t add too many fish to your tank, and limit yourself to about 1-inch of fish per gallon of water in the tank
- Avoid overfeeding your fish and choose a high-quality and varied commercial diet
How To Choose Your Nano Aquarium
Now that you know all about the different types and styles of nano tanks and how kits vary based on the kind and quality of equipment they include, how do you pick the ideal nano tank for your home?
Glass vs Acrylic Tank
The first thing to consider is whether you want a classic glass tank, or if you’d prefer acrylic or cheap plastic aquarium instead. Glass tanks are considered the best because they are strong, sturdy and are not easily scratched by decor. The glass won’t turn yellow with age or when exposed to sunlight.
Glass tanks are about twice as heavy as acrylic and plastic tanks, which is one reason folks often opt against them. But once you’ve accounted for your substrate and water weight, there isn’t really a substantial difference. A 10-gallon acrylic tank still weighs over 100-pounds when filled with water.
Acrylic tanks are much higher quality than the cheap plastic versions, but they are also more expensive than glass tanks. Both acrylic and plastic tanks are easily scratched and turn yellow over time. Glass is always my first pick, but a good acrylic tank could still be a solid choice, and you’ll have more options in size and shape.
Tank Shape and Size
As I mentioned above, there are many styles available in nano tanks and the shape of your tank will alter how your aquarium appears. Longer 10-gallon nano tanks are ideal for fish that need room to school and swim, while tall or portraits highlight plants and decor. Nano tanks are often taller than they are wide, unlike full-sized aquariums.
When it comes to size, the capacity of nano tanks varies by manufacturer. I’ve seen nano tanks that only hold a half-gallon of water, and some of the largest kits may top 32-gallons. I recommend getting the largest capacity tank you can, but be sure your desk or table can handle the weight and any extra room needed for equipment.
Should You Buy a Nano Tank Kit?
Whether you go with a nano tank kit or buy your aquarium and equipment separately is a personal decision, but it’s often much less expensive to go with a kit. If you don’t already have a pile of used equipment handy, you’ll probably find it’s easier to get a kit than hunt down tiny, high-quality equipment one piece at a time.
This decision also varies depending on the size you’ve decided to go with. If you’re considering a nano tank under 20-gallon in capacity, getting a kit makes a lot of sense, but for larger aquariums it’s not as difficult to find a range of budget and premium options in filters and lights.
Another option is to get a basic kit that includes your tank, filter and lights and then modify anything that doesn’t meet your needs. I’ve often changed the set-up of a filtration compartment or added baffles to a nano tank, and modifying these tanks is a popular pass-time for some hobbyists.
Top 5 Nano Tank Kit Reviews
What makes a nano tank kit stand out in a crowded field? It’s a great question, because there are so many of these on the market that it can be challenging to choose between them. These are some of the best options for smaller sized nano tank kits, and even the most expensive is a bargain when you see what’s included!
1. Marineland 5 Gallon Portrait Glass LED Aquarium Kit
- Tank Type and Style: Glass Portrait
- Capacity: 5 Gallons
- Dimensions: 11.8 x 11.8 x 16.8 inches
- Kit includes: Glass tank and lid, LED light, 3-stage filtration system
If you’re looking for the best 5-gallon nano tank, then you may just love this beautiful kit from Marineland. The portrait-style tank has curved sides and a glass lid which really highlights the fish and decor inside. The 3-stage filter sits in its own hidden rear compartment and can be adjusted and modified further.
The basic LED light hangs over the tank and has a moonlight setting for nighttime viewing. It’s not a terribly robust light, however, and would not be suitable for corals or growing challenging freshwater plants. Easy low-light plants would work fine, though.
This is an excellent option for a fish-only freshwater tank and would work well for a Betta or a few small tetras if the flow-rate was modified down a bit. I wish the lid hinged instead of sliding back, but other than that this is a really nice nano tank!
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2. Fluval Spec Aquarium Kit
- Tank Type and Style: Glass Classic
- Capacity: 5 Gallons
- Dimensions: 20.5 x 11.6 x 8.7 inches
- Kit includes: Glass tank and lid, LED light, 3-stage filtration system
If you prefer a Fluval nano tank, then this 5-gallon Spec kit could be the perfect pick for your home or office. You’ll get a high-quality glass tank in the classic rectangular style, and it has one of the best LED lights of any on my list. The Spec also has a separate filter compartment on the side of the tank, where it’s easy to access.
I’m really impressed with the LED light fixture on this tank. It’s easily powerful enough for the most common aquatic plants, and this is a tank that would look lovely aquascaped. The downside to the light it is isn’t programmable and the on/off switch is manual, so you may not be able to use a timer with it.
Those are small annoyances, because overall this is a great nano tank kit and definitely the best option for planted tanks on my list. It’s a bit too small for an ideal saltwater set-up, but you could make a brackish tank and keep a pufferfish inside if you wanted too.
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3. Coralife BioCube Aquarium with LED
- Tank Type: Glass Portrait
- Capacity: 16 Gallons
- Dimensions: 15.0 x 16.7 x 17.5 inches
- Kit includes: Glass tank, plastic hood, programmable LED light, multi-stage filtration system
If you’d like the best nano cube aquarium, then the large 16-gallon Coralife BioCube could be the way to go. This tank is suitable for freshwater and marine set-ups and would even work for a reef tank! If you want a versatile nano tank, this would be my first choice, and it’s definitely my favorite nano tank kit on the list.
The glass tank is high-quality and has a low-profile hood with the integrated LED light built right in. You won’t need a separate timer, either, because you can program the light with sunrise/sunset and even weather and nighttime effects. This is a superb option for planted and fish-only communities as well.
Grow lush freshwater plants or easy LPS/soft corals all over the tank, or you can raise the more challenging plants and SPS corals near the surface if you choose. At 16-gallons capacity, there’s really nothing small about this nano tank, and the price is practically a bargain considering the quality.
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4. Penn Plax Radius Curved Corner Glass Aquarium Kit
- Tank Type: Glass Rimless
- Capacity: 5 Gallons
- Dimensions: 13.75 x 8.75 x 11 inches
- Kit includes: Glass tank, hinged lid, clip-on LED light, internal filter
Bargain-hunters may single-out this Penn Plax tank because it’s one of the least expensive kits on the list. This rimless glass aquarium with curved corners has no frame and looks like it is floating on your shelf or desk. You’ll have a great view inside no matter what angle you’re looking in from.
It’s a very attractive design, but this budget price kit presents other challenges. The hinged lid is clear but can be tricky to open and close, since the clips don’t fit very tightly. The simple internal filter is nothing special, and I would upgrade it unless I was only keeping a few shrimp in the tank.
The LED light clips onto the tank, but it’s another feature I’d probably upgrade. It isn’t powerful enough for most aquatic plants and is minimal for even lighting your fish. Although it’s one of the cheapest nano tanks, this wouldn’t be a good pick for kids since the rimless design makes it more delicate and liable to break.
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5. Tetra Crescent Acrylic Aquarium Kit
- Tank Type: Acrylic Curved
- Capacity: 5 Gallons
- Dimensions: 16.6 x 11.2 x 13.2 inches
- Kit includes: Acrylic tank, clear lid, LED light, Whisper filter
Tetra has long been a by-word for entry-level aquatics, and their curved-front, seamless Crescent tank is no exception. Of all the options on the list, this would be my pick for a children’s kit or a tank for a teenager or college students. The acrylic tank is lightweight and surprisingly durable given the construction materials.
The Tetra uses a simple 2-stage Whisper filter with replaceable cartridges and has room to hold biological filter media as well. It’s easy to find standard replacements, and you can even DIY them at home to save money. The LED light produces a bright white light that makes fish and low-light plants pop in the tank.
This isn’t a perfect tank and there are some design flaws that detract from its appeal. The cover leaves a gap of a few inches on the top of the tank, which an active fish could jump through. The LED light isn’t programmable, either. But this is a very good nano tank kit for the price.
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There’s nothing small about the topic of nano tanks! These tiny tanks are more popular than ever before, and one of the easiest ways to set up a nano aquarium is by purchasing an inclusive kit. You can always upgrade or modify the equipment if you don’t like the way it functions, and it’s the most cost-effective way to start a tank.
Did you enjoy this guide to nano tanks, and were you able to find the perfect option for your home on my list? We’d love to see your thoughts in the comments, or you can join the fun on our social media pages.
In summary, my pick for a nano tank kit would be the Coralife BioCube, since it’s the largest and has the best LED and filtration system. If you prefer a smaller option, the Marineland is the top 5-gallon kit and looks beautiful as well. The Tetra is an excellent budget pick and would make a good choice for kids or teens, too.