Last Updated: October 5, 2023 by Flora Gibbins
There are several schools of thought about how to gain the best self-cleaning fish tank. I align strongly with those who say “keep it as close to nature as possible”.
Yes, I believe so.
While you can use chemicals to create a self-cleaning fish tank, aquaponic systems offer much more, especially if you have limited space.
The Pennington Aquagarden is the best low-maintenance fish tank because it takes into account all factors required for a natural balance.
- The 5 Best Self Cleaning Fish Tanks and Accessories Reviewed
- Factors To Consider When Buying Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks
- Frequently Asked Questions
The 5 Best Self Cleaning Fish Tanks and Accessories Reviewed
1. Pennington Aquagarden – Best Overall
The Pennington Aquagarden aquarium kit holds 89 gallons of water, making it the largest self-cleaning fish tank option.
In every category, the Pennington Aquagarden leaves every other self-cleaning fish tank in the dust.
The waterfall feature includes a spray bar which gives you a more pleasing appearance than just a single cascade of water falling into the tank.
Since this tank is considerably bigger than anything else on the market, you can grow a wider range of water-based edibles or decorative plants.
This includes edible water chestnuts as well as decorative water lilies. You can just as easily grow more traditional aquaponic edibles such as herbs, lettuce, and spinach.
The tank also makes an ideal habitat for most tropical freshwater and coldwater fish. It is large enough to hold 3 – 4 goldfish or several schools of smaller fish.
These let you see the entire body of the fish as you would in a conventional tank.
Self-cleaning tanks usually don’t include filters that resemble what you use in a conventional tank setup. This can spell disaster if the plants aren’t ready to take up where nitrifying bacteria leave off.
The Pennington Aquagarden includes a 3 stage filter that ensures the water remains clean and clear regardless of the age of the setup.
Even if you don’t need the filter after the plants are established, it offers a perfect emergency filter if all the plants die off.
- Designed with auditory and visual relaxation points in mind
- Provides a perfect combined habitat for aquaponic plants and fish
- Largest tank size for self-cleaning options.
- Can see the fish from the same orientation as you would a conventional aquarium.
- Some may find this difficult to assemble
- Doesn’t include aquaponic baskets
If you are planning on installing a larger aquarium indoors, the Pennington Aquagarden will give you the best of multiple worlds. You can easily keep larger fish in the tank and also grow several aquatic plants to manage fish waste.
2. AquaSprouts Garden – Best for Conversions
As I case in point, I’ve been known to have as many as 15 setups going at any given time depending on species and aquascaping interests.
Trying to keep up with all the work that goes into a conventional tank can be difficult, especially when you have a busy schedule.
I have a lot of tricks for maximizing water quality with minimal effort without using aquaponics.
Nevertheless, I found the AquaSprouts Garden aquarium kit especially helpful in getting more time in each maintenance cycle.
If you already have a 10-gallon tank, you can easily convert it to a self-cleaning fish tank regardless of the age of the setup.
In fact, if you have an older tank with creeping nitrate or hardness levels, this accessory may be just what you are looking for to tame those numbers.
With this setup, you can easily choose plants that pull certain minerals or contaminants from the water.
You can also choose plants that will release molecules into the water through their roots. This can be beneficial to the fish, especially if the molecules kill off harmful fungus, bacteria, viruses, mold, and parasites.
Just make sure the molecules in question are safe for the species of fish you will be keeping in the tank.
- Can be used with new and established tanks to create a self-cleaning system.
- Includes a light bar, so that you can set up the tank and grow plants anywhere.
- Has it’s own stand, so the lid doesn’t rely on the tank for support.
- Once installed, you won’t be able to see through 2 walls of the tank.
- May not fit on an aquarium stand where there is no extra room for the legs.
The AquaSprouts garden is perfect if you have an established tank and want to give self-cleaning methods a try. Since this kit has independent legs, you can also grow larger plants with less concern for their weight.
3. Aquascape Pond and Waterfall Kit – Best for Multitasking
At first glance, you wouldn’t think a pond-style tank would work well in a home setting.
Not only do you get a beautiful place for fish to live and thrive, but the aquarium kit also includes a waterfall and baskets for growing plants.
Unlike conventional aquariums with HOB filters, the Aquascape Pond leaves plenty of room between the water outlet and the water surface. This generates a pleasing waterfall effect and sound.
You can use different colored LED lights to enhance the color of the waterfall. The height of the water is also set so that you can enjoy the relaxing sound of water falling into the tank.
Since this kit allows for aquaponic growing, it is easier to maintain than conventional aquarium setups that require filters and routine cleanings. Once the tank is cycled and the plants established, you won’t need to do much beyond top off the water from time to time.
- Provides auditory and visually relaxing stimulation for indoor or outdoor settings.
- Gives you a unique view of the upper body of your aquatic pets.
- You can grow edible plants, houseplants, or water-based plants easily in this setup.
- Does not include a lid, meaning fish can jump out.
- Can’t see the sides of the fish as you would in a conventional fun fish tank.
The Aquascape Pond is a perfect introduction to multiple aquarium care specialties including ponds and aquaponics. It is also perfect for anyone that wants a self-cleaning tank with the perks of homegrown aquaponic foods at the same time.
4. Back To The Roots Water Garden – Best for Beginners
Choosing your first fish tank is always complicated because there is so much to learn. Adding aquaponics to the mix can seem like an even more daunting task.
The Back To The Roots Water Garden offers a complete aquaponics system in a small aquarium format.
Each kit comes with a specially designed lid with individual baskets for growing plants. All you have to do is add the growth media and seeds.
The tank itself is small enough to easily fit in an office, bedroom, or another place where you would like to combine aquatic pets and plants.
Even though this tank doesn’t come with a filter that needs changing, you may still need to clean the inlet port from time to time.
As with conventional aquariums, you can decorate this one any way you please with the exception of adding a large number of live plants.
The whole beauty of the Back To The Roots Water Garden is you can grow whatever you want in the lid area and still enjoy the water quality benefits of live plants in an aquatic habitat.
- Comes with everything you need for a functional aquaponics and fish care system.
- The size is big enough to accommodate freshwater shrimp, guppies, and other small schooling fish.
- Very easy to set up and maintain.
- The hood doesn’t have a lighting feature to illuminate the fun fish tank.
- Filter intake may be too strong for some fish types.
This 3-gallon kit supplies just about everything you need to get started with both aquarium care and aquaponics. All you have to do is cycle the tank and add the fish.
5. Betta Fish Tank, 1.6 Gallon Aquarium – Best Budget Option
Over the years, I’ve known many people that chose Bettas as pets because they were short on space.
The Betta Fish Tank is ideal for housing one betta and a few snails or freshwater shrimp.
You can also use it as a hospital tank for small fish that need shallow water or confined space to recuperate in.
This kit also gives you an excellent introduction to aquaponics without spending a fortune.
Since this is a fairly small tank, this extra filter space may come in handy, especially if you decide to keep more than one creature in the tank.
In this setup, water is pumped up from the lower region of the tank into the filter area before spreading over to the plant area.
There should be very little if any loss of effectiveness if you decide to add activated carbon or other porous material to the filter.
- Cheapest self-cleaning aquaponics fun fish tank available.
- The small size makes it useful for rooms where other pets won’t fit.
- Has enough filter space available in case plants can’t do the whole job.
- Uneven weight distribution across the bottom may cause the tank to crack or leak.
- The plant growing area is very small and won’t accommodate most plants.
Male Bettas make ideal pets for a limited space. When you want to combine them with a nice house plant, the Betta Fish Tank will easily meet your needs.
Fun Fact: There are many advantages of owning a self-cleaning fish tank. However, if you want to be a hands-on, 100% DIY aquarium owner with a cheaper tank, then try purchasing one of best fish tanks for beginners to get you started!
Factors To Consider When Buying Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks
Introducing Chemically Based Self-Cleaning Aquariums
When it comes to the best low-maintenance fish tanks, most people agree that means eliminating water change and filter management.
Chemically based systems rely on any number of additives to reduce nitrates, lock up ammonia, or manage other types of fish waste.
For example, if you want to keep a betta in a 1-gallon fishbowl, there are chemicals you can use to achieve that goal.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can keep tanks that hold hundreds to thousands of gallons using the same or similar chemicals.
From a learning perspective, once you learn how to use these additives, it is very easy to adapt them for use in other setups.
In particular, when combined with plants, you will have a very useful low-maintenance setup. This applies to saltwater tanks as well as freshwater ones.
The only place where I’ve ever completely gotten away from using occasional chemicals is with an aquaponics system.
Aquaponics Self Cleaning Tank Basics
Most people are very surprised to find out it doesn’t take hundreds of gallons of water to create a self-sustaining, ecologically balanced system.
In nature, an aquatic system can be as small as a shoebox and sustain itself for years on end.
The key to natural systems is always about taking waste from one organism and using it to grow another one. In these systems, that means using plants in balance with fish.
As with terrestrial plants, water-based ones also shed leaves, need pruning, and have a life cycle of their own.
Depending on the plant species, you may need to add carbon dioxide or fertilizer to the water. This can pose a risk to the fish, especially if the system goes out of balance.
By contrast, when you use an aquaponics system, there is never a need to add more carbon dioxide. You will also have far fewer worries about fertilizers.
Managing non-fertilizer needs will always involve putting your hands in the tank to remove dead leaves or to divide plants as they propagate.
Even if you include one or two fish that like to snack on plants, it is impossible to eliminate the need to remove aging or dead leaves.
This is why aquaponics is very appealing. Since the plant grows outside the tank, you can trim with minimal effort.
Propagating is also much easier and doesn’t require interaction with the tank water.
Brackish Water Self-Cleaning Tanks
One thing that surprises me most is how many aquarium keepers don’t realize live-bearing female fish need a little bit of salt in their water.
Without this salt, there is a much higher risk the fry will not exist at the time of birth. If fry dies within the mother’s body, eventually an infection will start and kill the fish.
They were also equally surprised when the same problem didn’t occur after adding salt.
Typically, live-bearing fish are considered freshwater fish because the salt amount isn’t enough to cause problems for purely freshwater fish living in the same tank.
In fact, decades ago, aquarium salt was the number one method for preventing illness in commercial pet store tanks and home aquariums.
This tiny bit of salt won’t harm many commonly used freshwater aquatic plants. Terrestrial-based freshwater plants are another story entirely.
Therefore, if you want to use an aquaponics setup in combination with brackish water, make sure the plants can tolerate the water.
Saltwater Self-Cleaning Tanks
Today, saltwater tropical fish are readily available to home aquarium keepers.
If you keep saltwater fish, then you already know how challenging it can be to maintain a healthy ecosystem in the tank.
For these tanks, you would need to use plants that will thrive in salty water.
Beyond that, the care methods and needs aren’t so different from what you would use in a freshwater aquaponics system.
Insofar as certified disease-free fish and other stock, it may be a bit of a challenge to find them. While supermarkets often house live lobsters and other crustaceans, fish is another story.
Fish Diseases And Edible Aquaponic Gardening
I’ve always had what some call paranoia about hygiene when it comes to my tanks.
This extends to things outside the tank or fish bowl-like toxins from room air and insects.
As a case in point, even if you aren’t watching, you’d be amazed at the number of insects that will be drawn to a fish tank after dark. This includes crickets, roaches, beetles, house flies, and mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, this is also the time when they can transmit disease into the tank from their saliva, eggs, or waste deposits.
Even with the advent of UV lights and other treatments, the specter of transmissible flukes, TB, and other zootonic diseases is daunting without adding edible plants to the mix.
For example, in the following video, you can learn how liver flukes can easily transfer from snails to fish, and then foods you might eat from a home aquaponics setup.
The whole matter of snails is why it took me a good while to embrace aquaponics as a means of creating self-cleaning fish tanks.
It is also hard to verify if ornamental or fun fish breeders used snails in the tanks.
They may be a little more expensive and harder to get, but you will be safer as long as you don’t introduce disease through some other vector.
You will also need to do a bit of research on reliable disease control methods. This may include using additives in the water and fish-safe pesticides around the tanks.
At a minimum, you should also be mindful of safe and effective “kill steps” when used to prepare food.
Where you might feel safe microwaving or using just one process for non-aquaponics foods, I would say use a variety with home-based aquaponics.
Your other option is to simply not grow edibles on top of your fish tank. Many beautiful houseplants clean the air and would work well in these systems.
For example, Pothos is best for removing different kinds of toxins from the air. It is also one of the safest for growing in an aquaponic system.
In this way, you will get some tangible benefit from the plants even if you aren’t able to eat them.
Spider plants are also a good possibility. Lilies and snake plants are not safe because they can be poisonous to the fish.
Choosing The Best Fish And Plants
If you read a self-cleaning fish tank review, you may click away wondering what kind of fish and plant combinations will work best.
The best thing to do is consider your interests insofar as the merger between aquaponics and a home aquarium.
This includes whether or not you want purely ornamental or fun fish, or ones you can eat.
Even if you don’t consume the fish, you will have a better chance of avoiding several zootonic diseases.
One of the easiest fish to grow in smaller edible hydroponics systems is catfish.
You can choose a catfish species that fit in your self-sustaining aquarium. These fish are common in edible aquaponics, so you will have an easier time finding certified disease-free fish.
If you aren’t planning on consuming the plants, you can choose just about any ornamental or fun fish of interest.
Fantails produce a large bioload, as do Cichlids. In smaller setups, you can use tetras, tiger barbs, betta fish, or any other species of interest to you.
With regard to the plants, look for ones that grow fast and don’t mind being trimmed often. Vining plants such as pothos are perfect because they also clean the air.
I’ve been known to grow sweet basil using aquaponics because it provides a delightful scent to the room.
Even if I don’t consume the basil, it is a fast grower and improves fish health as well as the air quality in the room.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I grow Non-edibles on top of my self-cleaning fish tank?
Yes, in fact, this is advisable until you get a good grounding in aquaponics.
Later on, you can try edibles, once you know how to avoid zootonic diseases and have developed a good and robust hygiene practice around your tanks.
This includes making sure that other vectors such as insects do not get into the system.
What are the benefits of a self-cleaning fish tank?
The biggest advantage is you won’t have to put your hands into the tank water as often. From a disease point of view, this is very important.
You will also find that your fish and other aquatic pets will be far less stressed when their water and other habitat elements are constantly being changed.
It is very important to realize that tropical fish have a life cycle and psychology just like any other animal.
When they are already in an unnatural setting, it makes it very hard for them to remain in good health.
In many cases, the number one cause of immune system collapse and subsequent disease development is stress.
No matter whether the fish nicks itself on an ornament while darting, or other damage to the slime coat occurs, the outcome is the same.
Do I need any Special Lighting for a self-cleaning fish tank?
If you are planning to keep live plants in the tank, those will still need lighting suitable for their needs.
In addition, you will also need to address the lighting needs of any plants in the aquaponics portion of the setup.
Today, there are many LED plant-growing lights that can meet this need. You can also choose shade-loving, or low-light plants as long as they aren’t poisonous to the fish.
As skeptical as I was of aquaponics aquariums, I quickly found them very useful for developing maintenance-free tanks.
In my research for this self-cleaning fish tank review and experience, I found the Pennington Aquagarden works best. It is ideal for anyone looking to start a new tank and wants to keep a larger number of fish in a community habitat.
That all being said, I also like the AquaSprouts Garden because it enables any aquarium keeper to convert an existing tank to an effective self-cleaning function.