It’s time for a new tank! You’ve decided on the fish, the plants, and the decorations… but what about the type of aquarium you want? Have you ever thought about the acrylic vs. glass aquarium comparison?
Not all people know that there are two types of aquariums: Glass one and acrylic one. Most people consider glass one to be the standard, without realizing they have options.
While your fish will be more interested in water parameters and aquarium interior, you might find some tank materials better than others. But how can you know which one might work better for you?
When it comes to differences between acrylic and glass tanks, here’s everything you need to know:
Acrylic Vs Glass Aquarium Rundown
While both glass and acrylic aquariums might look the same at the first glance, there are many things that set them apart.
Glass aquariums are considered standard due to their affordable price and ease of use. Most of the tanks you’ll see at the store are made out of glass!
Acrylic tanks, on the other hand, are more expensive, but they have fixed many flaws glass aquariums have – although they are not perfect.
Before we get into more details, here’s a short rundown of the acrylic vs. glass aquarium differences:
Of course, a table can only show the short version of the features, but it’s a good start.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s start explaining the key differences more:.
Whether you’re buying a 5-gallon tank that can only fit a small number of fish or a much larger, 40-gallon tank that can accommodate a large fish colony, choosing the right type of aquarium can make all the difference.
From durability to ease of use, many things can change how you feel about the aquarium you have and, with it, the hobby itself. Not to mention how you might be able to save time on maintenance!
Below you can find an overview of all the important features a tank might have, and how both of these products stand in comparison.
Weight can be really important when deciding a tank. If the tank is too heavy for you to lift on your own, let’s not even imagine how heavy it will be once you add the substrate and the water!
One time, I bought a large, 60-gallon tank to fit my entire kribensis cichlid colony at the time. It all seemed to work amazingly until I realized I cannot move the tank from the stand to clean it properly!
This is why it’s really important to think about the weight of the tank before you make a purchase. Otherwise, regular maintenance might become a real mess!
In general, glass tanks tend to weigh much more than lightweight acrylic models. According to many fish keepers (myself included!), this might be the biggest flaw of glass aquariums.
Acrylic tanks are fairly lightweight and easy to carry around. Sure, they’ll become heavy when you add tens of gallons of water in them, but they’ll still be much lighter than their glass counterparts.
Resistance to Scratches
There’s nothing more annoying than when you scratch your favorite tank. Scratches can make the tank look old and dirty, and this can ruin your view of the fish. Not to mention how algae and limescale might build up on the scratches much easier than on a flat surface!
Despite their higher price range, acrylic tanks are in no way scratch-resistant. It isn’t unheard of for an acrylic tank to arrive scratched during transport!
It’s really easy to scratch the acrylic surface. All it takes is to brush something remotely sharp or pointed on it and you can already see some scratches!
Not just that, but even tank inhabitants might scratch it – especially if you have snails! If a snail brushes onto an acrylic wall while attempting to go through a tiny hole between the decoration and the edge of the tank, there will likely be scratches.
Cleaning the tank glass with a scrubber or a razor? That’s not a possibility here! You need to be especially gentle when making sure your tank glass is as clean as can be.
A glass tank is much more resistant to scratches. Many people will never have scratched their tank glass!
However, there is one catch: If you do happen to scratch a glass tank, you won’t be able to repair the scratch, at least not as easily as you could repair an acrylic tank.
Ih the end, it all comes down to your personal priorities. If you’re someone who keeps lots of decorations or prefers cleaning with a scrubber, then the glass tank might be better for you.
On the other hand, if you are fairly careful with your tank, acrylic glass might be safe enough for you.
The main thing when it comes to durability of tanks is how resistant to impacts they are and for how long they can last. I believe the first one is rather straightforward, but I’ll go over everything just in case.
It goes without saying that glass is rather fragile and brittle. It doesn’t take much for it to break or chip!
Opposite of that, glass panels are fairly rigid, especially compared to the acrylic ones. However, they are not prone to as many fabrication flaws.
Acrylic, while prone to scratches, is much more durable when it comes to physical damage. It can withstand much more pounding than a glass tank.
You don’t need to think too much where you’ll put an acrylic tank. It doesn’t matter if you bump it a lot, it will likely stay in one piece through it all.
Unfortunately, it is a non-rigid material that is prone to fabrication flaws. This can greatly impact its lifespan and durability.
While we’re at the lifespan, glass tanks can last forever – provided that you don’t break them in the meantime.
Acrylic ones, on the other hand, have a lifespan. This lifespan can be very long. Many fish keepers have the same acrylic tanks for a decade! But, one day, it will break down and become brittle.
The verdict would be that it’s important to be very mindful of the manufacturer. You need to be certain that you’re purchasing a well-made product without any bubbling or joint mistakes.
Otherwise, you won’t have to knock on your acrylic tank for it to break. It would likely start leaking on its own!
You might think that tanks don’t need any maintenance, other than a bit of cleaning every now and then. While you’re partially right, it’s also important how often you need to maintain your tank, whether that be cleaning or various repairs.
In general, glass is the more sterile of the two. It doesn’t require as regular cleaning, as dirt and algae won’t easily cling onto it. The biggest issue you have is limescale.
On the other hand, acrylics are more prone to becoming dirty. Also, there are many other things you need to be mindful of, such as how much light it’s getting, keeping it away from sharp materials and animals, and so on.
However, there is another catch: If you happen to scratch acrylic, you’ll be able to fix it without any trouble, at least most of the time.
The same cannot be said for glass. If you scratch or break the glass, it’s over. While there are some temporary solutions to make a glass tank useful again, there is no true way to fix it.
This is yet another feature that might be a bit tricky. Are we talking about light distortion or are we talking about transparency?
If it’s the first one, then the winner would be acrylic tanks. Acrylic tanks aren’t prone to light bending, something I’ll talk more about when I mention the issues with round tanks.
On the other hand, glass tanks are prone to light distortion, which can ruin your viewing experience.
When it comes to transparency, this one is easy. Glass is designed to let the light through and to be as transparent as possible!
Variability in Shape and Size
Many fish keepers, especially more experienced ones, want to have lots of fun with shapes and sizes of their tanks. Unfortunately, there are many limitations, especially when it comes to glass tanks.
Glass is rather difficult to shape. This is why you can only find glass aquariums in rectangular, square, or round shape.
However, even a round shape isn’t recommended, as it leads to distortion due to light bending. This will prevent you from getting a realistic picture of the tank’s interior, and it can make your fish look funny.
Also, keep in mind that round glass tanks might not be the most humane option for your fish, but this is a topic for another day.
On the other hand, acrylic is much easier to mold. While rectangular acrylic tanks are still a norm, you can find them in almost any shape you can think of. This gives you more freedom when choosing the proper tank for your house.
Not just that, but acrylic doesn’t lead to as much light bending as glass does. This will help you to have a better view of your fish, no matter the aquarium’s shape.
If you’re looking for a material that will stay transparent or in a single shade until the end of time, then glass is certainly a better option.
Glass is the only material that is truly UV-proof. No matter how old it is or how much light is around it for years and years, glass will stay as transparent as it was the first day.
Of course, I’m not counting algae, limescale, and other types of dirt. You can clean these with ease.
On the other hand, acrylic cannot be UV-proof. Sure, I too have seen many acrylic tanks with UV-resistant labels, but, truth be told, the manufacturer didn’t lie. Acrylic can resist UV rays to a certain extent, but it isn’t UV-proof.
Sure, acrylics might hold their transparency for years. I have a 6-year old acrylic tank that still hasn’t become cloudy! Eventually, though, the color will become yellow.
The reason why my acrylic tanks last that long is because I am not keeping it under direct sunlight (let’s face it, fish don’t need it, anyway) and I am using it for fish species that don’t require too much light. This can help prevent cloudiness as much as possible.
Ease of Use
Do you love DIY projects or are you expecting to move your tank a lot? Then acrylic tanks are the right choice!
You can easily modify acrylic aquariums. If you need to drill them, you can do this without any hassle.
Also, you can move them around whenever you like, as they’re lightweight and not fragile.
The only issue I can see with acrylic tanks is that they require bottom support. They aren’t as strong as glass tanks, so you might want to ensure you always place them on a stand.
While, technically, you can drill glass tanks, this isn’t an easy process. Drilling through glass requires much effort, and a single mistake can cost you your entire tank.
Also, due to its weight, you cannot just move glass tanks around – especially if you have a larger unit, such as a 40-gallon breeder tank. But, hey, at least it doesn’t require bottom support!
Ease of Cleaning
I’ve already mentioned that glass will stay clean for a longer while. But is it easy to clean once it gets to this point?
Actually, yes! Glass is much easier to clean, and there are several reasons behind this.
First and foremost, glass isn’t as easy to scratch. If you want to clean acrylic aquariums, you’ll need special acrylic-safe tools. Anything that can cause even the slightest abrasions is a no-no, as it will cause damage to your tank.
You should never use regular glass sponges for cleaning an acrylic tank! Even the standard household sponge might scratch the acrylic tank. Yes, that’s how fragile it is.
With a glass tank, you can use most tools, even a razor blade!
A good way to ensure your tank doesn’t need regular cleaning is to invest in algae-eaters and the clean-up crew, which includes snails, plecos, and many shrimp species, such as the popular amano shrimp.
This can be especially useful if you have an acrylic tank, as each cleaning carries a risk of harming the sensitive panels.
Finally, we get to the cost of these two tanks.
While I’d like to say that price shouldn’t be the main factor when choosing the best product, I am aware that all of us have a specific budget, especially for something that is ‘just a hobby’. As such, I’d dare to say that the price might be detrimental.
In general, glass tanks are a more affordable option compared to acrylic tanks. A typical cost for a 30-gallon glass tank is anywhere between $100 and $150, but you can find models that are even more affordable.
On the other hand, acrylic tanks cost much more, and you can expect to pay $200 or more for a tank of the same size.
The only occasion in which a glass tank might end up costing more than an acrylic one would be if you are purchasing a particularly large tank. This is due to the shipping costs.
As glass tanks are much heavier than acrylic ones, it can be extremely challenging to ship a glass tank of 150 gallons or more. This can result in very high transport costs.
Which One Is the Better Choice?
There is no real answer when it comes to choosing a winner in the acrylic vs. glass aquarium match.
Both acrylic and glass aquariums have their own pros and cons. It all comes down to your personal preferences.
If you’re a beginner, I would always advise buying a glass tank. Not only is it more affordable, but it’s easier to maintain and you won’t have to worry that much about damaging it.
Also, as you’re bound to make some mistakes, especially if this is your first tank, you won’t beat yourself up if you ruin the tank by accident.
On the other hand, if you’re an experienced fish keeper that would like to have some more fun with the tank, acrylics are the way to go.
It is easy to modify and you can have more freedom in making your perfect tank – and you likely know how to maintain it properly.
In the end, don’t let anyone make the decision instead of you. As someone who uses both types, I’ve tried my best to list all the possible features, so you can make the choice that seems more suited for your own situation.
You know that calming feeling of tranquility and thrill while looking at a gorgeous, perfectly functioning tank? That’s why I became an aquarist.
To make a very long story short, I’m Noah, and I’ve started this site aiming to share the most helpful advice on creating thriving habitats for fish and underwater animals.