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Why Choose Acrylic Aquariums?

Updated on July 27, 2010

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic, or polymethyl methacrylate is a plastic. It is a manufactured polymer formed from hydrocarbon molecules that produces a clear plastic that looks exactly like glass. However, in many ways it can be considered to be superior to glass because it is both less dense and brittle.

It is often referred to by its popular brand names such as Plexiglass and Polycast and is made in two basic different ways. Extruded acrylic plastic is made in a continuous cast fashion and is cheaper to produce. However, it is much softer and can scratch very easily. On the other hand cell cast acrylic is of a much higher quality being much harder.

Acrylic plastics have many applications where transparent plastic can be utilised. Popular examples are bathroom doors and enclosures, windows and most applications where glass could be used but there is preference for a shatterproof product that is easier to work with.

Acrylic for aquariums?

Aquariums made from glass are either square in shape or rectangular. With careful cutting it is possible to manufacture other shapes such as triangular and octagonal tanks. It is possible to utilise curved glass plates but these are extremely expensive and availability of shapes somewhat limited.

As aquariums get bigger, their weight, even without water and substrate, increases substantially. Large aquariums in houses, offices and public displays often require water depths of 5 feet or more, some reaching depths of several yards. In these cases glass tanks need to be built with glass that can be up to a couple of inches thick, with single walls weighing several tons. Glass is more than twice the density of acrylic and because of its brittle nature needs to be used in thicknesses greater than would its equivalent acrylic replacement.

Acrylic fish tanks are lighter, stronger and can be manufactured easily in a range of different sizes and unusual shapes. They are almost exclusively used these days for the larger public aquaria removing the danger of damage being done by an errant member of the public.

The best thing about acrylic aquariums is that you can buy an aquarium kit in a box that you can easily carry to your car. These self contained kits, such as the biOrb 30 or the biOrb 60, can be filled with water once you get home and within 24 hours ity is possible to add the first fish. With a glass aquarium you will need to consider carefully how to get the heavy item home, how to support the brittle base and how to ensure that any small children in the house can be prevented from bashing the glass tank walls with their toys!

Buying a complete aquarium kit

One of the best ways to get into the fish keeping hobby is to purchase a complete fish keeping kit like the excellent ones produced by Reef One - the biOrb series of acrylic tanks. These come ready with cartridge filter, heater, aeration and lighting. You set them up, put the ceramic media in the bottom of the tank and fill with tap water.

After 24 hours they are ready to take the first fish. However, take care only to introduce one fish in the first month, then add more slowly until you reach the recommended stocking levels for each size of tank. This is because the biological filtration that takes place needs the bacteria to build up on the ceramic substrate until it is at a level that can easily digest the waste products from a few fish in your tank.

In addition to biological filtration that you would expect to find in any fish tank, the biOrb fish tanks in common with other ready to go packages have a replaceable cartridge filter system. This mechanical and chemical filter compliments the biological filtration resulting in crystal clear water and health happy fish. The filter must be changed every 6 weeks depending on fish population otherwise harmful substances may leach back out of it and into the tank water.

Acrylic - the way forward for fish tanks

All the large public aquaria have now moved over the past 15 to 20 years to using acrylic plastic for their enclosures and tanks. This shows that there is an overall benefit to using acrylic to construct aquariums. However, it is the cost of acrylic that is a minus in a whole series of plus benefits of using the material. It does cost more and there is no argument for it lasting longer. A glass aquarium will last a lifetime whereas an acrylic tank will need a lot of care if it is to match this performance.

Acrylic is softer than glass when it comes to abrasion, and therefore if badly treated it can become worn looking. However, unlike glass the odd scratch can in fact be polished out quite easily.

On balance acrylic tanks are the way forward. They perform better and are easier to set up and use. With care, they will last as long as glass aquariums and there is less likelihood of a complete failure as when a glass tank cracks and floods 100s of gallons of fishy water all over the new carpet!


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    • Mark Jenner profile image

      Mark Jenner 5 years ago

      Just remember the commitment needed - thanks

    • profile image

      Dolly 5 years ago

      Wow! it looks very beautiful, I would like to have such aquarium at my home.