The debate between glass and acrylic fish tanks is actually a debate between glass and plastic aquariums because acrylic is a type of plastic.
In fact, acrylic is a type of plastic meant to mimic glass. That being said, acrylic has some unique benefits that glass does not.
Ultimately, the type of fish tank you choose is totally up to you. Both glass and acrylic fish tanks work wonderfully, and it all depends on your preference.
If you don’t have a preference yet, our blog will help you decide on one!
Factors To Consider When Choosing a Tank
When choosing between an acrylic or glass fish tank, you should consider factors like:
- Durability (how resistant it is to damage)
- Longevity (how long it lasts)
If you want a fish tank with a unique shape, for example, acrylic may be a better choice for you, but if you want your tank to be crystal clear at all times, you should go with glass.
Ask yourself how much you want to spend on your aquarium, whether you want it to be heavy or light, and what you want it to look like (rounded corners or lightweight tank).
These questions will help you decide between a glass tank and an acrylic one.
Why Are Glass Tanks So Expensive?
Glass is expensive to produce and handle. It also has to be tempered (made stronger) when used for fish tanks. As a result, glass fish tanks can be expensive.
Acrylic tanks are usually less expensive because they are more durable and easier to produce. Plastic is also a cheaper material than glass.
Of course, you get what you pay for.
As long as you don’t drop them, glass aquariums last much longer than acrylic tanks.
Glass tanks stay clearer longer, whereas acrylic aquariums scratch easily and can have a cloudy, yellowish appearance over time.
How Long Do Glass Tanks Last?
According to the fish keeping forum, Michigan Reefers, glass tanks last an average of seven to 10 years. A high-end glass fish tank may last for up to 25 years!
That’s a long time for a fish tank, especially when compared with acrylic aquariums.
How Long Will an Acrylic Aquarium Last?
The vast majority of acrylic aquariums need to be replaced every few years and last an average of five years before they start to develop problems. Even the best acrylic aquarium will only last for about 15 years.
Some problems include the fish tank getting scratched or losing clarity over time.
Do Acrylic Tanks Turn Yellow?
Yes. Acrylic tanks are sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) rays — also known as sunlight.
Therefore, an acrylic tank exposed to sunlight (even just the light coming through your window) will turn yellow and brittle over time.
Glass, on the other hand, blocks rays from UV light and won’t be too affected by the sun (this is why we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes).
Additionally, acrylic tanks are made of plastic, and plastic is porous. This means your acrylic tank will absorb your fish’s “dirt” more than a glass tank would… kind of like when you put red pasta sauce into a plastic food storage container, and the container gets stained.
Does Acrylic Scratch Easier Than Glass?
Yes. Acrylic (plastic) is softer than glass and will scratch more easily. Acrylic does not shatter like glass, but it is still a fragile material.
Sadly, acrylic is also vulnerable to scratches, so anything from aquarium gravel to a rough sponge could scratch up your plastic tank and make visibility worse.
Acrylic tanks may work better with leaf litter or another soft, organic substrate. They also work better for fish that need a warm, plant-heavy environment, like bettas.
Always be careful when cleaning, and use a clean microfiber cloth and scrub gently with an animal-safe cleaner. Otherwise, you will end up with scratches.
Is an Acrylic Tank Lighter Than Glass?
Yes. Glass tanks can be up to 10 times heavier than acrylic tanks! This is one reason why acrylic actually works better for large aquariums with high volumes of water.
If you are going to purchase a big fish tank, acrylic may be much more manageable for you due to its lighter weight. Lifting, moving around, and cleaning as needed will likely be easier.
Acrylic is also much easier for manufacturers to work with if you want a fish tank with an interesting shape. It can be moved and manipulated in ways glass cannot due to its flexible non-rigid material.
(For example, glass is very difficult to curve, and acrylic is not).
Unique Benefits of Acrylic Tanks
Acrylic is great for custom tanks. It bends and curves much better than glass, so you can get some interesting designs.
For large fish tanks (mentioned above), acrylic holds weight better, too. Water is extremely heavy, and glass simply cannot hold up at some weights, especially because tempered glass is so vulnerable at the corners/ points of connection.
While acrylic tanks may need to be replaced more often, they don’t have as many problems with leaks and cracks as glass fish tanks do.
Do Acrylic Fish Tanks Leak?
Not usually. Acrylic fish tanks rarely leak and leak far less often than glass aquariums.
Some acrylic fish tanks are even marketed as leak-resistant.
However an acrylic fish tank is not scratch resistant, and it is more likely to turn yellow or get scratched than it is to leak.
A few scratches on the tank won’t hurt your fish, but a leak or crack definitely could.
Do Acrylic Tanks Crack?
As a material, glass chips and cracks much more often than acrylic does. While an acrylic tank may get scratched up, it is unlikely to crack or leak because it has high impact resistance.
Also, acrylic doesn’t shatter, so even if you drop an acrylic tank, you will be left with less mess than aquarium glass.
Just in case, always remove your fish from your tank before you move it (for cleaning or any other purpose).
In some ways, acrylic tanks are much more durable than their glass counterparts which simply don’t last as long. Acrylic tanks win in durability, but lose in longevity.
Can You Use a Heater in an Acrylic Fish Tank?
Yes, and one additional benefit of an acrylic tank is that acrylic retains heat better than glass! Heaters may work up to 20% better in an acrylic tank.
An acrylic tank means your heater will work less hard if you have fish that prefer warmer water.
You may have to replace your acrylic tank sooner than a glass tank, but your heater will last longer, so maybe it evens out…
Note: there are some rumors that an aquarium heater will melt an acrylic fish tank, but if you use your heater correctly, this is not true.
What Is the Best Material for a Fish Tank?
It depends. For a larger, uniquely shaped, or custom-made aquarium, acrylic is the best material for a fish tank because it can be adjusted to have round corners.
For a standard, everyday tank, however, glass is probably the best material for a fish tank — simply because it lasts longer and stays clear over time.
If I was going to choose a new fish tank today, I would probably choose one made of glass. Nevertheless, my needs — and budget — may be much different than yours.
(I just want a little fishy friend on my desk to distract me from work, but you may be building an impressive aquarium maze or a giant display for your Bala shark).
Both glass and acrylic fish tanks work perfectly well, so carefully consider the pros and cons and choose the aquarium that works best for you and your lifestyle.
Whichever tank you choose will work just fine for your fish — as long as you maintain it well.