Acrylic Aquariums

I’m generally not too keen on acrylic aquariums but I must admit, the first time I saw one, I was amazed at its clarity.

It was a large 250 gallon Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR) tank with a few large leather soft corals and several species of angelfish, butterflyfish and tangs. The water seemed almost invisible and the fish seemed to hover, as if in mid-air.

And the joints on this acrylic tank were seamless and clear — quite a world apart from traditional glass tanks that are held together by silicon rubber.

Acrylic Aquariums | Durability

Unlike glass aquariums, acrylic aquariums are extremely tough and resistant to leakage and breakage. The slightly flexible nature of acrylic makes it ideal for very large or unusually shaped tanks.

acrylic aquarium

Large and deep acrylic aquarium

Glass cannot flex as much as acrylic, so the same amount of force exerted on a piece of acrylic would simply shatter glass. So if you happen to live in an earthquake-prone region, acrylic aquariums will also survive severe tremors that would crack or shatter an all glass aquarium.

And because of the clarity of acrylic, extremely large tanks can be built with very thick acrylic, without affecting visibility — think huge public aquariums, or the killer whale exhibit at SeaWorld.

Constructing An Acrylic Aquarium

All joints on an acrylic tank are bonded together with acrylic solvent to form a perfect leak-proof seal. This solvent, a water-thin liquid, is applied with a needle and syringe between the two surfaces to be bonded.

The solvent actually softens the two pieces of acrylic and once the solvent evaporates, the molecules of the two pieces of acrylic intertwine, literally fusing the pieces together within minutes. The bond achieves maximum strength after 24 to 48 hours.

Custom-Built Acrylic Aquariums

If you are planning on getting your aquarium custom built, make sure that the vendor is an experienced aquarium tank builder.

Companies that do acrylic signages might also dabble in small acrylic aquariums for freshwater systems on the side.

But if I was getting an acrylic tank built, I would prefer to have it done by a reputable tank builder, just to be on the safe side. Building a large acrylic aquarium is precision work — the edges to be ‘welded’ together must be must smooth and be at perfect right angles to form a clean, strong bond. This calls for years of experience at building acrylic aquariums.

Main Disadvantage To Acrylic Aquariums

But as mentioned in our article on Ready-Made Aquariums, acrylic aquariums are easily scratched which makes keeping the panes clean of coralline and green algae particularly challenging. Using traditional metal blade scrapers — a non-issue on glass aquariums — will scratch acrylic and leave unsightly marks on the the viewing panel.

But it doesn’t take just a metal scraper to mar an acrylic aquarium. One LFS in my area had a beautiful, thriving 8′ x 3′ x 2.5′ acrylic aquarium — 450 gallons! The fishes cavorted happily in their large environment and the corals never ceased to amaze me with their vibrant colors and continued growth. Talk about having a slice of the ocean!

But sticking out like a sore thumb on this perfect tank was an 8 inch long scratch running right down the middle of the front viewing panel. This scratch was one of the first things that caught my eye when I first saw this tank, and it is prominent to the point of being distracting.

It was only at around my tenth visit to this store that I mustered up the courage to ask the owner about the scratch, which starts out as more of a gouge for the first couple of inches before tapering into a long thin scratch.

Breathing a heavy sigh, the LFS owner told me about how he was adding some large pieces of live rock to the tank. He was standing on a chair to place the rock on the sandbed when he slipped slightly and lost grip of one of the pieces. The rock made it down onto the sandbed, leaving the huge scratch in its wake as one of its edges grazed the acrylic.

I could feel his pain.

Acrylic Aquarium Maintenance

Acrylic aquariums need to be cleaned with specialized cleaning pads, but as you can imagine, using these cleaning pads on tough algae involves a lot of patience and elbow grease.

acrylic aquarium

Acrylic aquarium with 1″ thick panels

If you decide to invest in an acrylic aquarium, just know that you will have to clean the viewing panels virtually every other day. The key is not to let any hard green algae, or coralline algae take hold. And in a high calcium, high alkalinity reef environment, coralline algae runs rampant if left unchecked — those little pink spots develop into larger spots quite quickly.

Buffing Out Scratches And Marks On Acrylic Aquariums

Let’s say you chanced upon a really good deal on a used acrylic aquarium. It’s seen better days and is covered with scratches inside and out.

Acrylic buffing compounds work wonders at removing scratches — everything except a deep gouge, of course.

The only problem is that the buffing compound is toxic to aquarium livestock, and to use it the tank needs to completely empty and dry. The tank needs to be thoroughly rinsed out after buffing, before it can be filled again and the livestock introduced.

There is a new non-toxic acrylic buffing solution that recently came on the market. According to the manufacturer you can even pour it into a tank full of livestock with no adverse effects. I’ll take their word for it, but I would be reluctant to try that on any of my tanks.

But like most buffing compounds, it can used only on dry acrylic surfaces, which means that it can’t be used on scratches inside a filled aquarium.

Would I Invest In An Acrylic Aquarium?

The simple answer is ‘no’. The risk of scratches and the chore of daily cleaning is just too much of a hassle. Factor in the higher price tag of an acrylic aquarium over an all glass aquarium and my choice is to go with glass every time.

And you might say that seeing that huge scratch on the tank at my LFS all those years ago made me swear off acrylic aquariums for good!

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