The Dirty Truth About The “Best Self-Cleaning Aquarium” in 2024

Buying the a self-cleaning fish tank makes it easier to keep fish with less commitment and maintenance, right?

Wrong.

NoClean or self-cleaning fish tanks are not suitable to house fish. They tend to be very small and can’t provide the environment you need to house healthy fish.

And, they’ll require more maintenance, not less.

How?

Well, in this article, you’re going to discover why ‘self-cleaning’ fish tanks are a marketing gimmick–they don’t actually clean your tank for you and are a waste of your time and money.

I’ll then share with you the basics all experienced hobbyists know when it comes to owning a fish tank and the maintenance it will require.

Key Takeaways:

  • Self-cleaning fish tanks aren’t suitable
  • You’re setting yourself up for failure
  • Harder to maintain stable water parameters
  • A larger tank 5-20 gallons is much easier to maintain

I recommend one of the following kits instead:

Preview Product
Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit, 5-Gallon, White Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit, 5-Gallon, White
Fluval Flex 15 Aquarium Kit - Fish Tank for Fish & Plants - Comes with LED Lights, Filtration System & More - 16' x 15' x 15' - 57 L, 15 Gal. - Black Fluval Flex 15 Aquarium Kit - Fish Tank for Fish & Plants - Comes with LED Lights, Filtration System...
Marina Aquarium Kit - 20 gallon Fish Tank - LED Marina Aquarium Kit - 20 gallon Fish Tank - LED

Last update on 2024-05-23 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Most People Don’t Realize About Self-Cleaning Fish Tanks

The big problem is companies advertise tiny self-cleaning fish tanks to beginners, children, or innocent people who do not realize the damage they’re doing to fish.

Look at this advertising:

screenshot of no clean fish tanks website

Human friendly? Yeah… if you like having regular funerals for your family pet. And fish friendly… we’ll get to that.

screenshot of noclean aquariums website

ased on nature? Please, tell me what fish in the wild is confined to a space that small. Bettas could not survive living long term in a tiny area like that.

Not to mention, Bettas need a water temperature between 78°F and 80°F. Unless your room temperature stays within these parameters year round, you would need to add a heater to the tank, which there is no room for.  

What you need to know is, the size of your fish tank really does matter. Tanks this small are cruel to fish. Think of it this way, you could survive for quite a while confined to a space the size of an elevator, while also trapped in there with your decomposing poop and pee, but you certainly wouldn’t be happy or thriving in there. 

The main reasons people buy self-cleaning fish tanks is because they think it’s going to be a low-risk way of giving a child a pet or think it will require less maintenance.

You’re setting children (or yourself) up for failure and heartbreak.

Self-cleaning fish tanks are very small. This one advertised by NoClean Aquariums isn’t even one gallon.

And guess what? Small fish tanks are much more difficult to care for. In fact, they’re so difficult to maintain, it’s recommended only the most experienced hobbyists use small aquariums.

Here’s why:

Harmful Toxins Build Up Faster In Small Tanks

When you eat, you produce waste. It’s the same with fish, except–they have to live in it.

When the ‘NoClean’ ‘self-cleaning’ aquariums were made, clearly, no one had any understanding of the nitrogen cycle and its importance in providing your fish with a healthy environment.

When your fish produces waste or uneaten food is left to rot, it produces a substance called ammonia. This is extremely toxic to fish. And when in a small aquarium, you don’t need much to harm your pet.

On a larger tank, you can add on a filter that will help convert ammonia to the much less toxic substance nitrate, something called the nitrogen cycle. You’ll still need to perform routine water changes, but not nearly as much with a tiny tank.

When you have a small volume of water, these can build up to dangerous levels very quickly and there isn’t enough water to dilute the waste. Resulting in your fish contracting diseases and dying prematurely.

Read for more information on common fish diseases and cycling your tank.

The only way to stop this from happening in a tiny, unfiltered tank is to change the water out every single day. You can change out some water on a bigger tank once a week. So the tiny tank actually means more work, a daily chore versus a weekly one. 

The Water Parameters Are Unstable

When it comes to fish keeping, one of the first things any experienced hobbyists will tell you is, you need stable water parameters. Get this right, and you’re on the right track to success.

Which is exactly why these small self-cleaning fish tanks are so bad.

You have almost no leeway when it comes to mistakes. And you’re going to make mistakes–trust me. Having a small volume of water means any changes in pH or temperature increases the chance of stressing your fish.

And stress is one of the main causes for most fish diseases.

Your fish will be able to act ‘normal’ and adapt for a short period of time.

However, their energy reserves will become depleted, increasing their chance of contracting a disease.

There’s a Lack of Oxygen

Smaller tanks means less water, less water means less oxygen. Small tanks have limited surface water and no water movement, which can prevent enough gas exchange taking place between the water and the atmosphere.

Filters, water pumps, and air pumps are some of the best ways you can create more water movement and therefore keep the water properly oxygenated.

But, guess what, just like the advertising said… a tiny self-cleaning tank cannot accommodate any of these.

Self-Cleaning Tanks Are Less Work Though, Right?

Here’s what the ‘experts’ say over at NoClean Aquariums:

screenshot of noclean aquariums website of people pouring water into a vase

Owning a pet is a serious responsibility. Not something we look to do out of ‘convenience‘.

I do laugh sometimes, because you know, “self-cleaning” fish tanks don’t clean the tank. Think about it for a second: how do they work?

They use a pump to siphon out dirty water from the bottom as you add clean water in at the top. You add the water. So they’re not self-cleaning at all.

‘Self-cleaning’ or ‘no-clean’ are a gimmick. Designed to lure innocent, unsuspecting people into thinking they don’t have to look after their pet.

You still have to perform 50% water changes everyday on one of these tanks. And if you don’t keep on top of these regular changes, ammonia will build up and kill your fish.

In fact, even if you keep on top of these, you’re still not going to prevent most of the problems mentioned above. And consistently stress your fish.

Whereas if you get a proper beginner tank (10 gallons or larger), you’ll only be performing one 20-25% water change per week.

It’s true, it will take you a bit longer to perform a 20-25% water change on a 10 gallon tank, compared to one on a 1 gallon. But, really it’s not hard at all.

What’s easier to stay on top of? Seven times a week or once a week?

And actually, contrary to popular belief, the majority of regular maintenance work does not require twice as much time for twice the size.

For example, a regular once a week water change may require one more bucket of water to be replaced in a larger tank. However, that doesn’t translate into twice as much work–you already have the bucket and siphon ready in your hands.

What I Recommend You Buy

Don’t buy a small bowl, vase, or “self-cleaning” tank.

If you really, really want to keep fish or buy one for a child, why not look into buying a complete kit? You can get aquarium kits that come with most of the essentials you need to run a healthy aquarium.

Here are some of the benefits:

Proper Filtration

Proper filtration will encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your tank, lowering the chance of you experiencing a toxic spike in ammonia.

Hey, even if you do make a mistake or your filter breaks, because you’re dealing with a much larger body of water any chemicals are diluted. Meaning, it’s much less likely you’ll harm your fish while you fix the problem.

You Have More Options

Bigger tank means more options when it comes to choosing how many and what type of fish you want. Most beginner fish, which are easier to take care of, do much better in schools of about 6 and require at least 20 gallons tanks.

Because you can safely add a heater, you can keep beautiful tropical fish.If you end up really enjoying yourself, and I promise you will, you can then start to venture off into the wonderful world of aquascaping.

Stable Conditions

When you’re dealing with a larger volume of water, any change in the environment is going to be less intense than if it was in a small one.

And actually, it’s much easier to regulate. You can now safely use a thermometer and heater, to ensure the temperature of your tank is stable.

It’s More Fun

When you’re not consistently burying the family fish, it becomes a much more enjoyable experience.

Bigger Is Better

Now, this certainly isn’t true for every aspect of life. However, when it comes to fish tanks–it’s 100% fact.

Self-cleaning fish tanks don’t even clean your tank, you still have to change out the water. 

If you’re serious about wanting a fish tank with less maintenance, go bigger, and get yourself a starter kit. Your chances of success will be improved 10 fold.

Happy fish keeping!

Product Suggestions

Here are some great tank kits that are awesome for beginners.

Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit

This nifty little 5 gallon (19 liter) aquarium is the perfect home for a Betta or a small school of guppies, although you will need to add on a heater. It has a light that’s more than powerful enough to grow live plants. The filtration is hidden in a panel on one side. My Dad has had one for years. It’s great.

Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit, 5-Gallon, White
Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit, 5-Gallon, White

    Last update on 2024-05-23 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    Fluval Flex 15 Aquarium Kit

    I own a Fluval Flex, and I love it. It comes in a 9 gallon (41 liter) or 15 gallon (57 liter) version. All of the filtration is hidden by a panel in the back. You will need to purchase a heater separately to keep tropical species. I keep ornamental shrimp in mine. The front glass is bowed, giving you a better view of everything inside. The light is great for live plants and has a cool color changing feature you can control with a remote.

    Fluval Flex 15 Aquarium Kit - Fish Tank for Fish & Plants - Comes with LED Lights, Filtration System & More - 16' x 15' x 15' - 57 L, 15 Gal. - Black
    Fluval Flex 15 Aquarium Kit - Fish Tank for Fish & Plants - Comes with LED Lights, Filtration System & More - 16" x 15" x 15" - 57 L, 15 Gal. - Black

      Last update on 2024-05-22 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      Marina 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit

      If you’d like to go for a full 20 gallon (76 liter) tank, this little Marina setup is pretty cool. Again, if you want to keep tropical species, you’ll need to add on a heater. But, this tank gives you quite a bit of room for customizing your decor to your liking and keeping a few more fish.

      Marina Aquarium Kit - 20 gallon Fish Tank - LED
      Marina Aquarium Kit - 20 gallon Fish Tank - LED

        Last update on 2024-05-23 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

        Christopher Adams
        Christopher Adams

        Hey there, my name is Christopher, and I've successfully ran freshwater aquariums for the past few decades. The mission of this site is to make it simple for anyone to run their own freshwater aquarium.

        6 Comments

        1. Thank you Mr Adams, actually makes perfect sense.

          One of my daughters has asked for some pet fish for her birthday, my initial thought was small self cleaning tank.

          I can assure you that’s no longer the case. Easy & educational read, thank you.

        2. Thank you very much Adams!!!
          I was thinking about getting 2 self-cleaning fish tanks to surprise my kids. I am very glad that I have come across your very educational article. Thinking about it, we like to travel when the kids are off school; so, small self-cleaning tank would not work for us. Again, thank you very much!

        3. Hi,
          ? bigger is better! But other reasons for failure are adding fish too soon and trying to keep more fish than the tank size will handle.

        4. Yep. Was researching the “easy-clean” tanks and now I’m rethinking the whole thing. Definitely needed to read your article. Thank you! GTO

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