Whether you’re buying a saltwater or a freshwater aquarium, you really need to check out the reviews first. That way, you can identify the top rated models and get it for yourself. But you have to understand that these things will need constant maintenance and cleaning.
And that’s why for many people a self-cleaning fish tank is a top priority.
We’re not just talking about an easy clean fish tank that requires very little effort on your part. This is the kind of fish tank you’ll start to dream when you’re stuck with a fish tank that you need to clean frequently. If you’re an old hand at taking care of fish, you already know what I’m talking about. But for many newbies, this still remains a surprise.
Who Is It For?
It’s practically for everyone.
It’s not for you only if for some reason you actually enjoy the ritual of cleaning a fish tank on a regular basis. If that’s the case, then more power to you. But for the rest of us (whom I consider more regular folk), a maintenance free fish tank is a gift from the Almighty, or at the very least some very saintly people.
It’s for you if:
- You hate cleaning the fish tank.
- You don’t have time to clean the fish tank because there are so many other things you can do besides such a tedious job.
- You keep forgetting to clean the fish tank. This may be part of your hatred for the task if you can look at it objectively.
- You want to give a fish tank to a child, who tends to be irresponsible and neglectful of their responsibilities as a fish owner. That’s a description that you can apply for some adults as well if we’re being honest.
So basically, it’s for everyone who isn’t crazy.
Types of Self-Cleaning Fish Tank
Basically, you can categorize self-cleaning tanks into two main categories, depending on the system of maintenance it uses.
One type is gravity-based. It uses a pump to pull out the dirty water, while you add clean water. This system isn’t strong enough to take out your fish along with the dirty water if you’re worried about that. So you just pour in clean water while you place a contained by the pump so you can catch the dirty water.
The other type uses a water garden approach. It’s an aquarium with a small garden floating at the top of the water. The water doesn’t get dirty from the fish waste since that’s used to fertilize the plants.
So let’s tally all the advantages you get with this type of aquarium.
First it saves you from a lot of effort. If you’re the lazy sort of person who prefers less work (and that’s basically all of us) you end up expending only a very minimal or infrequent set of tasks to do to make sure your aquarium water remains clean.
Then it also saves you a lot of time. Even if you’re the hardworking type, you probably focus more on work. You may not have time to engage in really protracted cleaning sessions when you don’t have extra time on your schedule.
Finally, the self-cleaning aquarium is also great for your fish. These tanks keep the water clean, and that keeps the fish healthy. It’s not all about you, you know!
Perhaps the main drawback of these things is that there’s always a chance that they don’t work as advertised. So if you rely on them and it turns out they didn't exactly clean the fish tank, then you may end up with a useless fish tank, with the dead fish to prove it.
Self-Cleaning Tank Reviews
1. Back to the Roots Water Garden
This isn’t just self-cleaning, but it’s also sustainable. In other words, you actually get to create your own miniature ecosystem that grows its own food using the principle of aquaponics.
Everything you need is already part of the purchase.
You get a 3-gallon tank with a water pump, organic seeds, all-natural aquatic supplies, 5 grow pots, some fish food for your fish, and even a discount coupon so you can buy a Betta fish for the aquarium.
With this system, the plants use the waste produced by the fish that can make the water dirty and toxic for the fish. So that means you don’t have to replace the water yourself, as it’s automatically done for you by the helpful plants. All you need to do is to make sure that you feed the fish, and even that’s provided by your purchase.
- You can use it to teach children about the cycle of life—the aquaponics version.
- It comes with 4 slots for power cords, which you can use for lights, heaters, or whatever accessories you may want to put in.
- There have been quite a few complaints about the build quality, although most of them were posted before the manufacturer made some improvements.
- It’s still possible that the water can get dirty because of other issues, so if that’s the case you’ll still need to replace the water and clean the tank.
2. EcoQube Aquarium
If you’re looking for an aquarium that doesn’t really need a lot in terms of maintenance, then the EcoQube (nice spelling, by the way) may be the aquarium you’re really looking for.
It’s a desktop aquarium kit designed for betta, and it’s a nifty decorative piece for the home or even for your office.
This is marketed as not just a low maintenance aquarium, mind you. The manufacturer insists that it is the lowest maintenance aquarium of all time. Say what you want about these guys from Aqua Design Innovations, but they do have guts.
It’s hard to argue with their assertions, however. They came up with a unique aquaponics filter that essentially works without your help. All you need to do is to feed your fish up to 6 times a week and top off the water once or twice a month. You won’t have to change the filter or change the water at all.
- It really is low-maintenance, so it’s the perfect gift for people who like to look at fish but hate the amount of effort (and cost) needed for maintenance. You won’t have to constantly worry about how your friend isn’t doing their job to take care of the aquarium properly. Of course, this can always be a gift for yourself too.
- It’s small enough so that it works as coffee table or work desktop decoration.
- It really is beautiful. It’s handmade, and the clear acrylic panels can really show off what’s going on in the water.
- It also comes with LED lights come with special presets. Just push a button, and it can simulate a clear day, a cloudy sky, or even stormy weather. You can customize it too, and there’s also some greenery inside.
- It’s even pretty quiet, so it won’t disturb your work or your TV viewing.
- It’s made by a new startup, so customer support may be a bit iffy.
- Where you buy your EcoQube will matter, since some sellers may sell an older version and you may not get all the accessories that usually come with it.
3. BiOrb FLOW 8 Gallon
Let’s say you’re not prepared to exert much effort for your aquarium at all. You just want to keep a small fish or two (or maybe shrimp).
If that’s the case, the biOrb Flow may be more to liking. It comes with everything you need to start. It includes an 8-gallon acrylic tank, a transformer, an air pump, and an Airstone.
You also get 2 pounds of ceramic media, which for lazybones are simply superior to smooth gravel that can clog easily with dirt. This ceramic media offers a super-efficient biological filtration system that keeps the water clean and oxygenated. The excess waste is then collected in a filter cartridge.
- It’s great for those who just want some decorative piece with a single fish or two. It really does look great, and the acrylic really shows you a great sight with no green tint to mar the view. The overall aesthetic is very modern.
- Maintaining this biOrb is simple. Every 4 weeks, you just have to replace the filter cartridge, and change about a third of the water. And then you—wait, actually that’s it.
- There’s a gap in the front which you can use to feed your fish. Or it you want, you can use that gap to open the lid when it’s feeding time.
- You can also put in a heater if you want. There’s a separate gap for the heater cord.
- It comes with a built in LED light plus an air pump, and both are low-voltage. They also come with a 1-year warranty.
- It can be a bit noisy, which can be bothersome if you’re trying to sleep or watch TV.
- It’s not really for beginner hobbyists who want to know more about proper aquarium setups.
- It’s also somewhat expensive for a small tank (although if you think of it as a decorative interior design piece, it’s wonderfully affordable).
4. biOrb Aquarium Kit
For some people, having to put in water every other day can be a chore. There’s just no pleasing some people. But if that’s the case with you, then perhaps the biOrb is more to your liking.
This looks like a traditional fishbowl, you can have a look at the 4-gallon version. That has a 13-inch diameter, which is just small enough for some of the larger work desks.
But you can also get either the 8-galon or the 16-gallon version as well. They all come with a silver trim that really makes them eye-catching.
But while this may look old-fashioned, it also comes with several modern features. In fact, it uses a revolutionary filtration system built in. It uses a 5-stage self-cleaning method that includes chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration.
All the supplies you need are already included, including precise instructions on what you need to do. It also has a pretty light to really make it shine.
- You only need to replace the filter every 4 weeks instead of replacing the water every other day.
- It looks cool.
- It works great.
- It’s not good for very small fish, as they can get sucked into the filter.
- It can be expensive having to replace the filters every 4 weeks.
- It may be too complicated for young children, or for adult owners who don’t really care much about the need to learn about aquarium maintenance.
5. AquaSprouts Garden
Now if you have a 10-gallon tank, this is a viable aquaponics option. But you need to get that tank separately. It’s totally legit, unlike some kits or setups that come from hole-in-the-wall companies.
In fact, it was even been covered by the New York Times and then it became a commercial item through Kickstarter.
As this involves both plants and fish, with the fish waste feeding the plants while the plants clean the water so the fish can thrive.
It’s great for teachers and students, for aquarium lovers, and for those with a taste for exotic gardening.
- This kit includes a garden bed that snaps together with the support legs. It looks good with the black matte design.
- The light mount is removable, and you can put in any 2-foot grow light.
- It also features a submersible pump with a 160 gph flow rate. This comes with a mechanical plug timer with adjustable 15-minute increments to control the flood and drain cycles. These items come with a 1-year warranty.
- The durable grow media doesn’t downgrade at all.
- The customer support team is outstanding, and they’re really determined that you succeed with this kit.
- It works well for Angel fish, tetras and bettas. Just make sure that you get the garden going well first before you put in your fish. As it’s a 10-gallon tank, you only can get a few small fish to thrive here.
- The price is fantastically low, and yet it works beautifully.
- The setup can be a little confusing for a few (most people seem to have no problem). If the instructions aren’t enough for you, you have to find their website and their videos first. Read the blog too before you start setting up.
- It can get a bit noisy. The water splashes from the top garden back into the fish tank on a regular basis. So your bedroom isn’t an ideal place for this unless you can sleep through the noise. It may even distract you from your TV viewing.
6. ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Kit w/ Dual T5 Grow Light
Wanna learn something new? This Eco-Cycle Aquaponics kit can be used by teachers in a classroom setting, and you can send an email to ecolifeconservation.org for the STEM K-12 curriculum. But maybe it’s high time for some self-study.
First of all, you’ll need a standard 20-gallon tank, or at the very least an aquarium with a 12 by 24-inch footprint.
You can then use this aquaponics kit to turn that barren setting into an actual product garden.
It uses the aquaponics principle of raising fish and plant life together so that the waste product of becomes needed nutrients for the other (and vice versa).
It’s such an effective educational tool that many teachers have written rave reviews about the kit. It’s great for raising basil and it’s a fun way to learn about how ecosystems work.
- It comes with just about everything you need, except for the actual tank. It has lights and a filtration system.
- It’s basically a “plug and play” system that doesn’t need a lot of prep. Setting it up is easy, once you watch the setup video.
- It looks great. Even if you’re not a teacher, you can use this as home or workplace décor.
- It doesn’t really need a lot of maintenance at all, despite the seemingly complex system of raising both fish and plants. You just need top off the water occasionally, and have some water changes every now and then.
- The components are of high quality and well-made, so you won’t have issues about some flimsy parts breaking down.
- The customer support is great, and if you happen to a broken piece then it’ll get replaced without any annoying red tape crap.
- You may have some trouble putting in an automatic feeder.
- If you really want to clean the tank, it can get very complicated. So if you wish to clean the grow bed area, you have to deal with the light fixture, the pump tubing, and the electrical cord before you can take off the top of the tank.
7. As Seen on TV My Fun Fish Tank
If you’re planning to give a child a fish tank, then it better be easy to take care of, unless you’re the type of family whose idea of family bonding is having regular funeral parties for dead fish.
And for that, My Fun Fish Tank is perfect. This half-gallon freshwater fish tank resembles a transparent plastic pitcher. It measures about 4.5 inches on all sides of the area, and it is 10 inches high.
Just put a single fish in the water (like a Betta fish) and it’s basically ready to go.
It already comes with an aquatic plant and aquarium rocks, so it doesn’t exactly look like you’re buying a simple pitcher that’s been labeled an aquarium. It also has a LED light you can turn on or off, and it even comes with the 2 batteries needed for the light.
Also, it uses gravity cleaning technology so that it essentially cleans itself. All the child needs to do is to regularly put some clean conditioned water in, and then the dirty water goes out the disposal tube. Your child just needs to remember to keep a water container by the disposal tube to catch the dirty water.
- It’s very inexpensive.
- It’s ideal for first-timers and for young children because it doesn’t take much to maintain.
- It works wonders as a decorative item, and it’s even small enough for a work desk.
- You’ll need to assemble it, which may be not so easy for some of the DIY-challenged.
- You still need to put in specially conditioned water, which a child may forget.
8. NoClean Aquariums New GravityFlow Self-Cleaning
Now we’re back to the gravity-based model, and this one’s just a tad bigger than the My Fun Fish Tank at 11 inches high. And it’s also made of glass.
This was reputedly the first of the self-cleaning aquariums, but now with several competitors in the market, they’ve made some improvements on the original.
The nice thing about the glass is that it offers a good view inside, and it’s also heavy-duty so you don’t really have to worry that it can’t take the weight of the water. It’s a kit, so you also get an IllumaFlex LED light inside as well as some polished stones.
Cleaning it requires just a single minute, so it’s easy enough for even a child to do. It just needs maybe a couple of cups of treated water every other day, while you place the aquarium over the sink. Or you can collect the dirty water in a container and then use it to fertilize and water your garden.
Again, this one is great for children, and you can also use this to decorate a living room or a desk at work.
- It’s also very easy to maintain.
- It really looks pretty, especially at night with the light.
- The customer service is very professional.
- It comes with a substantially higher price than the My Fun Fish Tank.
If you’re a newbie, then you probably have other questions too. Here are some answers you may want to get:
Does water have to be treated?
If you’re going to add it to your aquarium, then the answer is a definite yes.
Tap water will kill your fish in all likelihood.
How can I warm the water?
This is a common question if you have a Betta fish and you actually read about their need for warm temperatures.
Fortunately, the answer is not all that complicated.
You can just buy the Marina Betta Submersible Heater and you’re all set. This is the best option if you have a small aquarium that doesn’t go past 1.5 gallons.
If you get one of the bigger ones, then you can get two of these.
This 8-watt heater is simple to use. It emits the same level of heat, so its effect on the temperature depends on the size of the tank.
There’s no timer, but you can just buy one to remind you to turn off the heater when the waters too warm for your fish. You’ll know that the temperature is too warm when your lively Bettas become quite lethargic.
Can I use aquatic plants?
Sure, especially if you have bettas in your fish tank. These plants make their environment seem more natural. And the tank looks prettier too.
But the real question here is whether you should use real or plastic plants. There’s quite a lively debate going on online about this very issue, so you can just Google it to find out what others are saying.
Personally, if you’re a newbie or you’re giving a fish tank to a child, you’re better off with plastic plants. It’s hard enough to take care of the fish when you’re new to this hobby, so there’s really no need to complicate the issue right away.
So let’s get back to the issue of the self-cleaning fish tank to get. Now if you’re a real newbie or you’re getting one for a child, you’re best off with the My Fun Fish Tank. It’s the ultimate starter tank in my opinion, and that’s partly because it’s so inexpensive. You don’t have to splurge right away when you’re not sure yet that such a hobby will suit you (or your child’s) personality.
If even changing the water every other day feels like a chore, then it’s definitely not a good hobby for you. All the other options are either more expensive or more complicated, which for newbies are into exactly ideal.
Thank you for great article. I`m considering about buying ecoqube, because it looks like a decent quality for that price range 🙂
Such informative post it was. I am planning to buy a new tank for my bettas as my betta family is increasing day by day and i want to provide them best possible care. Was planning to buy EcoQube Aquarium and now i have even more better option. Thanks a lot for helping me out.
Willie, glad it helped! Bob
Hi Bob! I have been doing some research on self cleaning tanks. There is one called Avo, which is not on your list. Is it not a good tank? Also, most of the self-cleaners show only fish and plants. Are they safe for corals as well? What I really want is a clown fish that is bonded to either a coral or anemone. Thanks!
Hi Marisa, as far as I know the Avo is a failed project, if you check out their Kickstarter page you will see many complaining about never receiving it. If you want a saltwater tank you will need something like an all in one tank, I cover a few of them in here – have a look!