Owning an aquarium is an enriching experience for most, but some aquarists question their involvement in the hobby when it comes time to clean their tank. Cleaning and performing water changes are essential for maintaining healthy water, but it’s a time-consuming and dirty process in most cases. Self-cleaning fish tank options can make fishkeeping easier.
That’s where a self-cleaning fish tank can be beneficial. Recent advancements in fish care technology have introduced aquarists to low-care and even no-care tank options. These aquariums deliver all of the enjoyment of tank keeping without the hassle of cleaning and performing maintenance.
We’ve tested many different self-cleaning aquariums, and our buyer’s guide and reviews below will help you choose the best one for your needs.
Recommended Self-Cleaning Fish Tank Options:
What is the Best Self-Cleaning Fish Tank?
Our all-around favorite self-cleaning fish tank is the Back To Roots Water Garden Self-Cleaning Fish Tank. It’s small and compact, has an exciting and appealing shape, and provides you with plenty of entertainment as well as a conversation piece. It also allows you to grow organic herbs and other plants with minimal effort.
Types of Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks
There are two types of self-cleaning fish tanks: garden bed varieties and gravity systems.
Garden bed self-cleaning fish tanks couple an aquarium with a small garden bed up top. The plants pull the natural nitrates and nitrogen from the water below as fertilizer, thereby cleaning the water and making it safe for your fish. This system is nearly self-sufficient, only requiring that you feed the fish daily and top off the water every so often.
Gravity systems require a bit more work because they don’t use plants to remove dangerous compounds from the water. Instead, they include a tube that collects dirty and contaminated water from the substrate.
To perform a water change, you simply add water to the top. Once the water level gets high enough, water flows through the discharge tube and out into a sink or bucket, pulling the fish waste and leftover food particles with it.
How Do Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks Work?
The main goal of self-cleaning fish tanks is to provide a low-effort or no-effort solution to performing water changes. Every aquarium relies on the nitrogen cycle, which begins with ammonia from fish waste that gets broken down to nitrites and then nitrates that are far less toxic to fish.
Once nitrates accumulate in the tank, a water change limits the levels in your aquarium and keeps the water safe for your tank inhabitants.
In garden bed self-cleaning fish tanks, the plants above the water pull out nitrites and nitrates from the water, removing the need for water changes. In gravity systems, adding fresh, dechlorinated water forces the contaminated water up the discharge tube and out of the tank, making the water change process very straightforward and effortless.
Advantages of Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks
There are many advantages to self-cleaning fish tanks that aquarists of any experience level will enjoy.
Low Or No Maintenance
Of course, the most significant benefit to choosing a self-cleaning aquarium is that the effort required from you to clean and maintain the water will be diminished or eliminated entirely. Any tank keeper will be able to tell you that owning aquariums is very time-consuming, and having a tank that cleans itself can cut down on your working time significantly.
Maintains Healthy Water
Unfortunately, many beginner aquarists don’t fully understand the importance of keeping up with routine water changes and tank cleaning. A self-cleaning fish tank will help maintain healthy water for your fish and other tank inhabitants so that they can thrive and be happy even if you don’t do extensive research on how to care for your tank.
Great for Beginners
New tank owners often don’t realize how much time and effort goes into owning a fish tank. For those who want the enjoyment and beauty of an aquarium but might not be prepared for the time commitment, a self-cleaning tank can be the ideal introduction to the hobby.
Disadvantages of Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks
No aquarium is perfect, and that even goes for tanks that clean themselves! There are some downsides to self-cleaning fish tanks.
Not Always “No Maintenance”
Firstly, those looking for a genuinely no-maintenance tank won’t find it in a self-cleaning aquarium. Even garden bed tanks that use plants to remove dangerous chemicals from the water require water quality testing with a test kit, dechlorination, and occasional water treatments to manage pH and other levels.
Most self-cleaning fish tanks are under 10 gallons, which means you’ll have very few options if you want an aquarium larger than that.
What to Look for When Buying a Self-Cleaning Fish Tank
When you’re shopping for a self-cleaning fish tank, make sure you consider the below factors to ensure you get the best one for your needs.
First, you’ll want to decide on the size you want. Most self-cleaning tanks are under 10 gallons, but you can choose a small one to fit into small countertop spaces or a larger one for placement on a dedicated table or stand.
You should note that small tanks are often more challenging to keep than larger ones because water quality and temperature can change more rapidly. A larger self-cleaning tank will be best for beginners.
Self-cleaning tanks come in many different shapes. Most glass options are rectangular or bowl-shaped, while acrylic tanks have rounded edges, seamless corners, and unique shapes that aren’t plausible with glass.
The shape of the tank will be purely aesthetic, so make sure to choose one that matches your home’s decor and your preference!
You’ll also need to choose between a garden bed tank and a gravity system. Garden bed tanks might not be appealing to you because you need to ensure two living things are taken care of. Additionally, you’ll always need to be growing herbs or other plants to help maintain your aquarium.
Gravity systems require more work than garden bed systems, as you’ll have to perform water changes regularly. The process is significantly more manageable with a self-cleaning tank, but it will still take some time and effort from you.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the accessories that come with your self-cleaning aquarium. Some come with an LED light that can help keep your fish happy and beautify your setup. Others include a heater to help maintain a healthy water temperature for your fish. Most accessories aren’t necessary, but they can make owning your tank even easier and more enjoyable.
Best Self-Cleaning Fish Tank Options:
- Back to the Roots Water Garden, Self-Cleaning Fish Tank, 3 Gallons
- biOrb FLOW 30 Aquarium with LED Light – 8 gallon
- Penn Plax Aquaponic Fish Tank Promotes Healthy Environment for Plants and Fish, 1.4 Gallon
- AquaSprouts Garden, Self-Sustaining Desktop Aquarium Aquaponics Ecosystem Kit
- ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Garden System with LED Light Upgrade
- Marineland Portrait Glass LED Aquarium Kit, 5 Gallons, Hidden Filtration
This garden bed tank is relatively small at just 3 gallons, so it’s ideal for countertop placement. The appearance is very clean and sleek, so it will likely add to the decor in your kitchen.
It includes everything you need to set up your tank and an herb or microgreen garden above. However, there are no accessories, so you’ll have to buy a light and heater separately if you want or need them.
This is a nearly self-sufficient tank that requires just feeding the fish and topping off with dechlorinated water.
- It features a beautiful and sleek design
- It allows you to grow microgreens or herbs with little effort
- This is the lowest-maintenance tank we tested
- It includes everything required to get started
- It’s relatively expensive
- It doesn’t include any accessories
This 8-gallon tank is stunning to look at and will undoubtedly serve as a conversation piece in your home. It’s very expensive, but the double purpose makes the price tag seem more reasonable.
This isn’t technically a self-cleaning aquarium but instead uses water scrubbers and air-infused filtration to remove particles and chemicals from your tank water. You will need to replace the cartridges and perform cleanings about once every 6 weeks.
This tank comes with an LED light to illuminate your setup.
- It has a very sleek and exciting appearance
- The state-of-the-art filter keeps the water healthy for long periods
- It requires very little maintenance compared to standard tanks
- It includes an LED light for illumination
- It’s very expensive
- It requires more maintenance than other self-cleaning options
This tank is just under 1½ gallons, so it’s ideal for those who want a tank that takes up minimal space in their homes. However, it’s a bit small for many common fish species, including Bettas.
This is a garden bed-style tank that uses a plant to scrub the water clean of dangerous chemicals from fish waste and leftover food.
It’s very affordable. However, it doesn’t come with any accessories, so you might want to add to the setup with a light or other decorative options.
- It uses a planter for filtration, which is visually appealing
- The small design makes it ideal for countertops
- It requires very little maintenance once it is set up
- It’s very affordable
- It doesn’t include any accessories
- It’s a bit small for some common fish species, like Bettas
This is an add-on kit meant for use with existing 10-gallon aquariums, so it doesn’t include a tank. However, it instantly converts your tank into a hydroponic garden where you can grow herbs or microgreens.
The garden bed-style setup means you’ll do little to no maintenance, saving you time and energy.
It’s relatively expensive, but it includes a pump to water the garden, a timer, and a light bar to make your conversion to a garden bed set up seamless.
- The kit adds beauty and sophistication to your existing tank
- It includes automation features to make growing your garden a breeze
- It requires very little to no maintenance from you
- It includes an LED light to illuminate your tank and feed your plants
- It’s very expensive
- It’s a conversion kit that doesn’t come with a tank
This is a kit that you can add to an existing 20-gallon tank, so it doesn’t include an aquarium. It adds a garden bed above your tank that pulls impurities out of the water and helps maintain a healthy environment for your animals with no cleaning required.
This kit comes with a powerful and programmable LED light to illuminate your plants and fish. However, the tank light and grow light use the same timer, so you’ll have to coordinate your plants’ growth with the needs of your fish.
It’s one of the most expensive self-cleaning tanks we tested.
- It includes a programmable light for all stages of plant growth
- The design adds intrigue and beauty to any room
- It requires almost no maintenance from you
- It grows herbs or microgreens while maintaining clean water
- It’s very expensive
- The light for your fish is linked to the plant light
This self-cleaning aquarium uses water scrubbers and powerful filter cartridges to remove hazardous chemicals from your water. It’s not truly self-cleaning, but the cartridges will keep your tank clean for several weeks without requiring water changes or cleaning.
It includes a hidden filter for a sleek, clean appearance and an LED light with several lighting options.
The tank is very affordable, but the cartridges are expensive and will add up over time.
The curved glass design is gorgeous and will bring beauty to any room.
- The curved design is stunning
- The included LED light has several customization options
- It’s very affordable
- The filter is hidden for a clean appearance
- The cost of filter cartridges will add up over time
- It does require some maintenance and cleaning from you
Self-Cleaning Aquarium FAQs
How Do You Clean A Self-Cleaning Tank?
The cleaning process for your self-cleaning tank will depend on the style. For a garden bed tank, no cleaning will be required. You simply feed your fish each day and test your water to ensure the plants are keeping the water sufficiently clean.
For a gravity system, you’ll perform simplified water changes every week or two. Remove about 20% of the water using the discharge tube and replace it with dechlorinated tap water.
Is There a Fish Tank You Don’t Have to Clean?
No tank will be entirely self-sufficient, so any self-cleaning aquarium you purchase will require some maintenance from you. Even in the most efficient garden bed-style tanks, the plants won’t be able to remove all debris, so regular cleanings might be required.
However, a self-cleaning fish tank might need a cleaning every two months, whereas a standard tank will require one every week or two. Self-cleaning options save you time and effort.
What Are The Drawbacks To Owning A Self-Cleaning Fish Tank?
Self-cleaning fish tanks tend to be very small, which means you’ll be limited in the number and species of fish you can keep.
Additionally, small tanks are more susceptible to temperature changes and spikes in ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. As such, they can be more challenging to maintain, especially for beginner aquarists.
What is the Best Self-Cleaning Tank for a Betta?
Despite what many people think, Bettas should only be kept in a tank that is 5 gallons or more. Our overall favorite self-cleaning tank falls under that threshold, so we would recommend the biOrb FLOW 30 Aquarium with LED Light. This is an 8-gallon tank that will be sufficient for Bettas and will severely limit the amount of maintenance you need to perform.
Self-cleaning fish tanks are a fantastic option for those who want the beauty and enjoyment of an aquarium without all the hard work and time commitment. Some styles also offer a unique opportunity to see symbiosis between plants and fish.
Our top pick for a self-cleaning aquarium is the Back to the Roots Water Garden, Self-Cleaning Fish Tank. This small tank is sleek and clean-looking and will add intrigue and excitement to any room. Plus, it requires almost no maintenance and lets you grow herbs or microgreens as well.