Over 11 million American households have freshwater fish as pets.1 That’s more than seven times the number that has saltwater tanks. The cost of marine fish is undoubtedly a significant factor, as well as aquarium setup and water chemistry maintenance.
With freshwater tanks, you only have to monitor the basics of temperature, pH, and compounds in the nitrogen cycle. Saltwater aquariums add requirements for salinity, specific gravity, and calcium concentration. Then, there are the supplies, which are more expensive because they must be able to handle the salt.
Our guide focuses on freshwater aquariums. We discuss the necessary maintenance involved with keeping an aquarium with a stable environment for your fish, and there are reviews of the best products available to get you up and running quickly.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
|Best Overall||Aqueon LED Fish Aquarium Starter Kit||
|Best Value||Marina LED Aquarium||
|Premium Choice||Fluval Spec Aquarium||
|Tetra Crescent Aquarium Kit||
|Tetra ColorFusion Aquarium||
The 10 Best Freshwater Aquariums — Reviews 2021
1. Aqueon LED Fish Aquarium Starter Kit — Best Overall
The Aqueon LED Fish Aquarium Starter Kit covers the basics of setting up a tank, with a heater, filter, and hood included with your purchase. All of these items are of decent quality. The hood has LED lights, which is an excellent option for a tank of this size. It won’t heat up the water, but it will provide pleasing low-light conditions for your aquarium.
The kit also includes a fishnet, thermometer, water conditioner, and fish food. They’re helpful to have, but not all of them are high-quality products. However, the price is right to get you started. The LED hood is a welcome touch too.
2. Marina LED Aquarium — Best Value
The Marina LED Aquarium is one of the best freshwater aquariums for the money. It includes a 20-gallon tank, which makes pre-planning vital because of its greater weight. This kit has the basics, with a filter, heater, and LED hood. You’ll also find a fishnet, water conditioner, and a biological supplement.
The latter is a great addition because it supports jumpstarting the nitrogen cycle in your tank. The accessories are of good quality. The price is right too, if you want to take the plunge with a larger aquarium. The larger volume also creates a more stable environment for the health of your fish. However, the setup is more complex, given the size.
3. Fluval Spec Aquarium — Premium Choice
The Fluval Spec Aquarium is an attractive item if you’re looking to set up a tank in your office or child’s room. It is only 5 gallons, so for the price, it’s expensive. It also limits the number of fish that you can have.
The kit includes a filter, pump, and a hood with a 7500K LED light. That color temperature puts it well in the daylight realm with a bright light. That’s something to keep in mind when deciding where to place it. We like that the manufacturer stands by its product with a 2-year limited warranty.
4. Tetra Crescent Aquarium Kit
Tetra Crescent Aquarium Kit is an excellent choice for a child getting their first pet. It has a small footprint of only 5 gallons. Unlike many tanks, it doesn’t have a rectangular shape. Instead, it’s angled, which can make it easier to place on a desk. The kit also has an LED hood and filter. However, it doesn’t come with a heater.
Overall, the tank is good-looking. The curved front makes it seem larger than it is. While it’s reasonably priced, it has a flimsy feel that could put it in the dealbreaker category. We can see using it for turtles or other pets.
5. Tetra ColorFusion Aquarium
The Tetra ColorFusion Aquarium is not a product for everyone because it pushes the bounds of what many may expect in a tank with its color-changing LEDs. The kit does include a filter, heater, thermometer, and hood. The manufacturer added water conditioning products.
The tank’s size is ideal if you have the space. It’ll give you enough room to add a decent number of fish. The LED light ensures that the water temperature stays stable because of its low heat output. Unfortunately, the filter is a bit noisy.
6. Hygger Horizon LED Glass Aquarium
The Hygger Horizon LED Glass Aquarium looks wild at first glance, with its odd shape and unusual volume. We consider it more of a decorator piece than an everyday tank. It has a color LED that buyers may or may not like. It also comes with a rocky 3D background. This looks great but does require more maintenance to keep it clean.
The kit includes the hood and filter but no heater. That could put it in the dealbreaker category because of the water volume and risk of temperature fluctuation. Unfortunately, the rock background takes a big chunk out of the available space. Otherwise, it’s a good-looking aquarium if you only need to keep a few fish.
7. GloFish Aquarium Kit Fish Tank
The GloFish Aquarium Kit Fish Tank takes color-enhancing LED lights and puts them in a standard tank to create special effects. The kit has the basics, with a filter, heater, hood, and décor. It also has fish food and water conditioner samples to get you started. Overall, it’s reasonably priced for what you get.
Unfortunately, the filter isn’t the best. It doesn’t clean a full-populated, 20-gallon tank as well as it should. It’s also a bit loud. The included décor is okay but perhaps not some people’s first choice for what they’d put in an aquarium. The heater works, but it seems too small to keep the tank’s temperature stable in cooler locations.
8. Tetra Aquarium Fish Tank
The Tetra Aquarium Fish Tank covers the basics with a decent lineup of accessories, including a plant mat that’s not obtrusive and makes a good addition to the tank. It’s a standard, 20-gallon tank that’s easy to assemble. We liked that the filter was quiet and simple to use. The kit also includes a few samples, a digital thermometer, and a fishnet. The accessories are not high-quality, unfortunately.
The tank is well-made in the U.S.A. The hood is also of excellent quality and comes with standard lighting provided by LEDs. The kit is a bit pricey for what it includes. However, it works well for a starter option and can be set up quickly with little fuss.
9. Marineland Portrait Glass LED aquarium
The Marineland Portrait Glass LED aquarium looks attractive with its vertical shape. Unfortunately, the low surface area ratio is a flawed design that can lower the number of fish that it can support. On the positive side, the layout puts the focus on the fish and décor. There aren’t tubes and filters blocking your view.
The hood has both white and blue LED lights to simulate a day-night scenario, which we like. It also has a three-way switch that allows you to control the lighting. However, the footprint of the tank can be problematic because it needs overhead clearance to be opened. It measures 17 inches in height, which can make it hard for children to do maintenance on the tank. While attractive, it’s not as practical as some other products.
10. Aqueon Black Aquarium
The Aqueon Black Aquarium only includes the tank and no accessories. The price is what we’d expect for a 10-gallon tank. However, it seems to be rather low quality and not as sturdy as we’d like. The sealing is poorly done, with globs on the glass. Quality control is a definite issue with this brand. On a positive note, it does include a 90-day warranty to protect your purchase.
The redeeming factor with this product is that it gives you a chance to set up the aquarium your way. One of the negative things about kits is the included poor-quality accessories that most people end up replacing quickly. Still, we think that this tank is better suited for other pets, like turtles or hamsters, because of its construction.
Setting up an aquarium requires pre-planning. After all, once you’ve filled it, it’s almost impossible to move again. Even a partially filled tank can crack if moved. The ideal location is draft-free, with enough nearby outlets to power all the devices that you’ll need. Bear in mind that most aquariums include a light, which you’ll have to leave on for 12 hours a day.
However, you should not place the tank in direct sunlight. That can interfere with the water’s temperature and create conditions for unsightly — and unhealthy — algae bloom. The problem is three-fold.
First, it’ll lessen the amount of light getting into the tank. That can affect the wellbeing of fish that thrive in well-lit environments. Second, the algae will eventually die. The decaying plant material will raise the ammonia in your tank to unhealthy levels. Finally, some algae species are nearly impossible to clean off of some aquariums’ décor. Your only option is to replace these items.
The other thing to consider is the platform on which you will put the tank. Water weighs 8 lbs. per gallon. That’s not taking into account the weight of the aquarium and all the accessories, including the gravel or substrate. A 10-gallon tank could weigh well over 100 lbs.
Getting a freshwater aquarium kit is a smart way to go if you are new to the hobby. It takes the guesswork out of getting the right heater, filter, and other necessary items. They are often more affordably priced than buying everything separately.
It’s essential to realize that you’re looking at a greater investment than the price of the kit.
The general rule-of-thumb is to plan on 1” of fish per gallon of water. Remember that you’re creating a closed space where your setup has to control the water quality and keep living conditions stable. Filling a tank with more fish than it can support will kill them.
A 10-gallon tank is an excellent first aquarium. It’ll give you — or your children — enough space to get a decent number of fish to start. You’ll find that the maintenance costs are affordable too. These include filter cartridges and water conditioners, as well as fish food.
Routine maintenance includes monthly partial water changes. Inevitably, some water will end up on the floor. Make sure to take that into account when choosing where to put your aquarium.
Fish require a stable environment, which includes the water temperature. Remember that many of the tropical fish you may add to your tank live in large bodies of water where things don’t change that quickly. A heater ensures that the temperature stays in the optimal range for your fish.
If the kit doesn’t include a heater, you’ll need to get one, especially if it’s a smaller tank. The temperature is likely to fluctuate more often and quicker in these aquariums. Changing conditions can stress your fish and make them more vulnerable to parasites and disease.
A filter is a must-have. Otherwise, pollutants will build up in the water, creating an unhealthy environment. It will also stink after a while. This device does several things that benefit the fish and the aquarium.
A filter will physically remove suspended waste before it has a chance to foul the water. That means a cleaner tank and less maintenance for you. It also agitates the water to release dissolved oxygen to maintain the optimal chemical balance. You may also find that the filter has a pleasant sound, not unlike white noise.
A hood will provide the necessary light source for your tank. Fish vary in the amount and intensity of light that they prefer. It’s wise to choose species that have the same needs. The hood will also keep dust and other debris out of the water so it can stay cleaner longer. The other factor is the fish. Some are jumpers and may even land outside of the aquarium.
Other things included in the kit vary. Some manufacturers add things like water conditioners or fish food to help you get started. Often, we find that these items offer marginal value. As you get more into the hobby, you’ll likely find other products that you prefer to use.
Some of the more useful accessories are for routine maintenance. As long as they are of decent quality, they’ll add to the value of your freshwater aquarium kit.
Setting Up Your Freshwater Aquarium
Most products include a setup guide to help you get started. The essential thing to understand is that it’s not a matter of merely filling your tank and adding fish. For example, the water will likely become cloudy after you add gravel and décor. It will need time to settle. It’ll also take the heater time to get the tank to the recommended temperature. The water must be stabilized before you add fish to it.
We recommend waiting at least 48 hours before you add your first fish. We also suggest proceeding slowly. Don’t fill it up right away. Instead, add a couple of fish and give them time to accumulate to their new surroundings. That will allow the nitrogen cycle to kick in as the animal’s waste gets things rolling with the action of the filter.
Another consideration when buying a freshwater aquarium is maintenance. They are not self-cleaning, even with a filter running. Most products have replaceable cartridges. You should swap the old ones out based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. Bear in mind that the more fish you add, the sooner you’ll have to get another cartridge.
It’s essential to the health of your fish to do monthly water changes. Recommendations vary from 10% to 25% of water replacement. The ideal amount has to do with the balance of the organic compounds in the water. Remember that most aquarium fish aren’t adapted to handle sudden changes in their environment, including fluctuations in the water chemistry and its temperature. Doing this task can help you decide where to place your freshwater aquarium and its size.
Another thing to think about is the design. The shapes of some tanks may make it more difficult to clean corners. The same precaution applies to what you add to the tank or what décor is included. A build-up of waste and debris can create unhealthy living conditions for your fish.
While hiding places are essential, you should choose ones that are easy to clean. Ones with multiple nooks and crannies will make it more difficult. When manufacturers include these products in their aquarium kits, it’s usually about catching your eye instead of creating the best environment for the animals living in your tank.
Based on our reviews, the Aqueon LED Fish Aquarium Starter Kit is on top as the best freshwater aquarium. We like that it includes the basics, with decent quality products. The LED hood is an excellent option too. It fits on the tank securely while providing a pleasing light that isn’t too bright.
While the price may seem high, the Marina LED Aquarium is actually affordable, with a tank that is quite large. It includes the essential accessories, along with a decent lineup of water care products. It’s well-made and is a worthwhile purchase.
Setting up a freshwater tank is an excellent way to introduce your children to the responsibilities of owning a pet. They will learn that it requires dedication and a bit of elbow grease to keep a healthy aquarium. Your entire family will enjoy gazing into the relaxing environment of your fish tank.
Featured image credit: GloFish Aquarium Kit Fish Tank with LED, Amazon