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If you have a studio apartment or want to keep a saltwater reef tank in a bedroom, a nano reef tank is your best bet.

They are tricky to maintain, though, so be sure to read below and make sure you’re ready to invest the time, money, and energy into your reef tank kit.

Below, we review the top 5 best nano reef tanks.

Best Nano Reef Tank Quick-Find Table

Image Product
  • Beautiful viewing from the excellent curve shape
  • Extremely high-quality make
  • Affordable and reasonably complete kit
  • Beautiful viewing from the excellent curve shape
  • Extremely high-quality make
  • Affordable and reasonably complete kit
  • Kit comes with pretty much everything you need to start
  • Easy to set up kit
  • High-quality product for reasonable price
  • Kit comes with pretty much everything you need to start
  • Easy to set up kit
  • High-quality product for reasonable price
  • Comes with one of the best filters available
  • Great option for beginners
  • Great price for a quality starter kit
  • Comes with one of the best filters available
  • Great option for beginners
  • Great price for a quality starter kit
  • Half the weight of glass aquariums
  • Incredibly clear visuals
  • Scratch and impact resistant
  • Half the weight of glass aquariums
  • Incredibly clear visuals
  • Scratch and impact resistant
  • Extremely attractive small saltwater aquarium set up
  • Perfect for tight spaces
  • Super great lighting system with sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and daylight settings
  • Extremely attractive small saltwater aquarium set up
  • Perfect for tight spaces
  • Super great lighting system with sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and daylight settings

What is a Nano Reef Tank?

Basically, a nano reef tank is a tiny bit of ocean that can fit on your desk. They include everything that a larger saltwater aquarium holds, just on a much smaller scale.

They’re smaller in size – gallons of water included – and have smaller critters – i.e. no Clown Triggerfish or Eels – that thrive in a small aquarium that fits neatly into small spaces.

There are technically two kinds of nano aquariums.

A true nano reef tank, which is anything smaller than 40 gallons (though debates rage on what exactly constitutes a “nano” tank), and a Pico reef tank, which is 5-gallons or smaller.

I don’t recommend a 5-gallon tank Pico or Micro reef tank for beginners, however, as these are even more delicate and won’t be nearly as versatile for the types of fish you might want to keep.

Why Keep a Nano Reef Tank?

Nano reef tanks are awesome. They’re small, beautiful, and convenient for folks in tight spaces. But here are some of the more in-depth reasons you want to consider a nano reef.

1. Nano Reefs are Less Expensive than Larger Saltwater Aquariums

Many experts recommend beginner aquarists should start with a tank between 30 and 75 gallons in size. The larger volume of water admittedly adds stability to the environment.

But they’re pretty pricey to purchase, set up and maintain.

A nano reef tank is much more suitable to a smaller budget, though they’re still more expensive than a freshwater tank.

They require additional equipment, but not as hefty equipment as a full-size reef tank does.

2. Nano Fish Tanks are Easier to Break Down and Move

If you expect to move anytime in the next year or two, a nano tank is also a better bet for your home. They’re easier to tear down and move from one location to another, which can be a great selling point for anyone who’s renting but planning to “move up” in the real estate world soon.

3. Nanos Don’t Usually Require Sump Pumps

Because a nano tank is a more bare-bones operation, you don’t need as much equipment to keep your tank flowing and happy. Specifically, you don’t need a sump in most situations. You’ll just use a powerhead or wavemaker to keep the flow rate adjusted and working well for your tank. 

You also won’t need one of the larger filters and can use a nano protein skimmer and hang-on-back filter instead. This saves space and money, as well as hassle. 

Drawbacks of Nano Reef Tanks

1. They’re Not for Absolute Beginners

Nano tanks are admittedly not for absolute beginners who aren’t ready to spend a lot of time in study, testing, and learning how to care for a delicate saltwater environment.

Corals and small fish tend to be very delicate and require special care that easy critters like hermit crabs and goldfish don’t.

If you’re ready to put in the time, though – especially beforehand – you’ll be keeping a pro aquarium right away.

Even if you are able to put in the time, you’ll likely to lose some fish and coral along the way, because you’re learning how to care for your unique environment.

Things you’ll need to understand:

  • Salinity
  • Temperature
  • Nutrients
  • Toxins

These things are critical not just for the mere survival of your aquarium, but for the happiness and health of your critters. If you’re not ready to invest the time, go freshwater.

2. Your Fish Options are Limited

Despite the common belief that small fish don’t need large “bodies” of water, a lot of the most popular tropical fish actually do require more gallons than a nano tank provides. You’ll need to carefully study your fish species of choice before finalizing your decision on a nano tank versus a larger saltwater aquarium.

Check out lists of fish that do well in a small environment and only plan on keeping those few species around. 

3. Nano Tanks are Primarily for Coral Keeping, Not So Much the Fish

If you’re a huge fan of fish and want those beautiful colors darting around your tank, go bigger.

Corals are much more conducive to nano environments than most fish. You’ll be able to keep some, of course, but the coral is going to be your primary focus in these kinds of tanks.

How to Choose Your Nano Marine Aquarium Kit

Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned hobbyist, you’ll need to keep the same few things in mind as you shop for your new nano reef tank.

1. Make Sure it Fits Your Budget

The first – and easiest – thing to look at is your budget. Before you set your budget though, it’s important to look at your current monthly expenses, any expected big purchases coming up, et cetera.

It’s also important to look at the current prices of nano reef tanks to see what kind of cost you’ll be looking at for those and the various equipment items, fish, corals, and supplies that you’ll need to purchase for a full set up.

Many nano tanks come as a kit, which means several pieces of equipment and supplies come included. These often reduce costs, though you may not always get the best quality in the accessories. Be sure to carefully read reviews on the accessories to determine if you’ll also need to budget for those or if what comes with the kit works well enough for your needs.

2. The Size Tank You Need – One Size Doesn’t Fit All

For beginner aquarists, I wouldn’t really recommend starting with an aquarium smaller than 20-gallons. Smaller than that may seem like a cool idea, but you’re likely to run into devastating issues. As you develop your saltwater care skills, you’ll be able to attempt smaller tanks.

3. Design Matters More than Style

That awesome little aquarium that looks super cool may not be a great option for your set up. Be sure to look into how the aquarium works before you buy. You also need to understand the fish you plan to stock before you click that buy button.

Make sure the aquarium fits your needs for feeding, fish size/type, and, of course, whether or not it will fit in the space you have for keeping the aquarium.

nano reef tank with LED lighting

What Equipment do You Need for a Nano Tank?

For a 20-gallon nano tank, you’ll need the following equipment to get things going and keep everything healthy, safe, and happy in there. 

How to Start a Nano Reef Tank

Before studying the reviews, let’s look at one last bit of information that can help you do this thing right.

Select the Right Kit

Below you’ll find a series of reviews on kits and tanks that you’ll want to look into for your nano reef kit. Be sure to look for exactly the kind you need, though, with the right dimensions, included accessories, style, et cetera. Don’t go with a  “second best” for your situation – you’ll regret it.

Use Live Rock and Live Sand

If you’re not familiar with the concept of live rock and live sand, pay special attention to this. Live rocks and live sand provide your aquarium with a naturally built-in collection of colonies of beneficial bacteria that your tank needs to thrive.

Without this, the water that you’ve run through the purifier and taken special care to prepare won’t be enough to sustain your reef tank.

Choose live sand and live rock for the best combination, but you can also include some quality dry sand to flesh out the substrate and save a little. Follow the instructions for set up very carefully.

blue tang and clown fish in a nano reef tank

Make Daily Observations and Testing

Not everyone loves to journal but keeping a small notebook nearby is a good idea for helping you jot down the test results and observations you make daily. These things will help keep your aquarium healthy and thriving throughout its existence.

You’ll know when to make water changes, if live sand or other supplies are doing their job, et cetera.

Make Small Water Changes Weekly

Finally, make small water changes weekly. This should be between 10 and 20% to help maintain good water quality. And don’t forget to change the filter media!

Reviews of the Best Nano Reef Tanks

We wanted to make sure that we only recommended the best kits and aquariums possible, so we dug through a ton of tanks and reviews to craft this list of the best nano coral tank options possible. What we looked for included all of the following, to provide you with the best AIO nano tanks and stand-alone aquariums.

  • Well-trusted brand for guaranteed quality
  • High ratings from people who know what they’re talking about
  • Leak-proof glass and seals
  • The right size for nano reef tanks (dimensions and gallons) for the best results
  • Included accessories
  • The best shapes for various setups
Fluval Premium Bow Front Aquarium Kit

The Premium Bow Front Aquarium Kit with LED comes from a well-trusted brand that’s got a reputation for some of the finest fishkeeping products in the world.

This kit comes with several accessories that help you get started, but the shape and design give you some of the absolute best viewing possible of any mini reef tank around.

The bow-front literally functions as a sort of magnifier to enhance views, while the built-in light adds to that all the more.

Here’s the specs:

  • Gallons: 45 gallons
  • Dimensions: 36” x 16” x 20”
  • Shape: Bow front rectangular
  • Material: Glass
  • Includes: Filter, heater, fish tank, hood, light

What We Loved

We love that the kit comes with a lot of high-quality accessories to get any beginner aquarist started right. The Fluval C4 filter, for example, uses industry-leading 5-stage filtration. The kit also comes with a submersible M heater, and a low-profile canopy with a powerful LED lighting built-in.

The aquarium itself is made of super high-quality glass that won’t leak or easily scratch.

The lighting system itself is also something to talk about. The hood doesn’t take away from the overall aesthetics and design, and the lights are powerful enough to keep you low and medium light plants healthy and happy.

The filter is top-notch as well as is the heater. So, honestly, the accessories are just fantastic.

What We Didn’t Love

There really wasn’t anything I could find about this kit that I didn’t love.

The accessories are all top-notch, the size is great for beginners, and the aquarium itself is really well-made.

Our Verdict on the Fluval Premium Bow Front Kit with LED

For anyone looking for best nano reef tank setup over 20 gallons, this is your best direction. This is beautifully designed, comes with really high-quality accessories, and overall just does more than practically anything else you can find.

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#2. Aqueon

Aqueon Fish Tank Aquarium LED Kit

The Aqueon Fish Aquarium Starter Kit is basically the most complete kit you’ll find on the market, which makes it your best bet for the best all in one reef aquarium or AOI aquarium.

We couldn’t find anything that included as much gear that will get a beginning aquarist started on a nano reef tank. It’s a 10-gallon kit that comes with a filter and heater, hood, light, water conditioner, and more. Plus, it’s made of high-quality glass that won’t leak and the light is a pretty great one that simulates natural daylight.

Here’s the specs:

  • Gallons: 10 gallons
  • Dimensions: 20.2” L x 10.5” D x 13.3” H
  • Shape: Rectangular
  • Material: Glass
  • Includes: Tank, low-profile hood, filter with medium cartridge, preset heater, premium fish food, water conditioner, stick-on thermometer, fish net

What We Loved

You can’t beat the quality of this aquarium. The fish tank itself is made of high-quality glass that won’t spring a leak any time soon. The completeness of the kit is another huge positive. The heater’s a high-quality product, the low-profile hood makes this a great option for nano tanks in small spaces, and the thermometer, water conditioner, and other accessories make this almost everything a beginning hobbyist needs to get started with a nano reef aquarium.

We love the lights that simulate daylight for a more natural environment and we love that the filter has a red light that flashes when the media needs changing.

What We Didn’t Love

The only real issue I found with this kit is the that the heater is preset. It hangs between 75 and 78-degrees Fahrenheit.

For many aquariums, this temperature is perfect, but for some, not so much.

Our Verdict on the Aqueon LED 10 Aquarium Kit

All-in-all, this kit has just about everything you need for starting a marine aquarium. It’s on the smaller side, so study up your materials heavily before venturing here.

It’s perfect for tight spaces, comes almost complete, and is super high-quality manufacture. Just know the pH that your coral and tropical fish need and be sure to also grab a test kit to keep track.

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#3. Marina

Marina Aquarium Kit 20 gallon Fish Tank

For a great, mid-sized nano reef aquarium kit, the Marina LED kit is a really great option. The kit comes with a high-quality aquarium built by well-trusted manufacturers of fishkeeping products, and includes a really great filter – the Marina Slim S20 – that clips onto the back of the aquarium for a less intrusive setup.

Here’s the specs:

  • Gallons: 20 gallons
  • Dimensions: 24” L x 12.5” W x 16.5” H
  • Shape: Rectangular
  • Material: Glass
  • Includes: Filter, filter media, daylight LED lights, water conditioner, biological supplements, fish net, aquarium fish guide

What We Loved

First off, we love the value of this kit. It’s a fairly complete combination of things you need to get started, and overall is pretty inexpensive. This means you’ll have a great start all at once for a small budget.

We also love the accessories this kit comes with. They’re high-quality, useful, and great for beginners to start up with. You don’t have to go digging around for other items as much, and can get things set up reasonably quickly.

The aquarium itself comes from a well-trusted brand and is built to last, so you don’t have to worry about leaks or scratches.

And finally, we love the quietness of the filter. It’s already good quality, but toss in quiet, and we’re sold!

What We Didn’t Love

There’s really only one thing we saw any kind of consistent issues with this one. Obviously, this is a fairly small tank so you can’t keep certain critters – specific corals included – but the lighting can be a bit strong for certain species.

Be sure to only use this if you’ve got fish, plants, corals, et cetera who like bright daylight effects.

Our Verdict on the Marina LED Aquarium Kit

For those looking for a mid-sized small reef tank, this is your best bet. The kit comes complete with almost everything you need – grab a skimmer and heater to complete the set up – and the lights are really bright – great for coral growth.

While we don’t generally recommend such a small size for beginners, this one is actually a great option for those determined to do this thing. Just be sure to study loads before getting your fish and corals to avoid some of the common pitfalls of small reef tanks.

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SeaClear 29 gal Show Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set

Acrylic isn’t my favorite material, I’ll admit, but when it comes to aquariums for homes with kids and clumsy pets, I’m on board. And the SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Kit is a great option for these kinds of situations.

The kit is fairly simple – only coming with the aquarium and light fixture – so it’s also great for anyone looking to explore other filters, heaters, et cetera than those typically included with a given brand kit.

Here’s the specs:

  • Gallons: 29 gallons
  • Dimensions: 30” x 12” x 18”
  • Shape: Rectangular
  • Material: Acrylic
  • Includes: Aquarium, 24-inch reflector and electrical light fixture

What We Loved

While we do love a full kit, we also love the freedom that a simpler kit provides without the heater, filter, et cetera built-in. This is a great option for customizable nano reef tank kits that you build for yourself.

We also love that the acrylic tank is about half the weight of a glass tank and is extremely strong and durable. It can handle impacts with many objects, and it’s scratch resistant – assuming you use the right cleaning supplies. It’s safe for both saltwater fish and freshwater use, too.

The tank is also extremely clear, which means better viewing than practically anything else out there besides a bow front aquarium.

What We Didn’t Love

There are two things we don’t love about this.

The first is more important – the lid doesn’t fully detach. While this is convenient for moving and such, it’s not so great for cleaning.

Secondly, the lighting fixture is just okay and not really what we’d recommend. We highly recommend LED lights instead that will provide multiple benefits for your best reef tank set up.

Our Verdict on the SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Kit

Basically, this is your aquarium-only purchase, despite coming with a light fixture. We love the aquarium itself, though, which is why recommend it to anyone looking for mid-sized reef tank set up that’s going to resist the smears, smudges, scratches, and bumps that your kids and energetic pets provide. It’s got super clear viewing and high-quality materials, so you’ll enjoy this for years to come.

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#5. Coralife Biocube

Super great lighting system with sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and daylight settings

For a small saltwater aquarium for tight spaces and specific aquatic life only, you’ll find the Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium LED kit is a fantastic option.

This Coralife fish tank has some of the best lighting included for a kit – and note, it comes in a few different sizes (many listed as 5-gallon reef tank when they’re not), which vary greatly, so read the fine print!

Here’s the specs:

  • Gallons: 5+
  • Dimensions: 15” x 16.8” x 17.5”
  • Shape: Nano cube
  • Material: Glass
  • Includes: Lighting, hood, filtration system, circulation pump

What We Loved

There are several things we love about this modern, sleek little aquarium. The looks, of course, are one of them. This is about as modern and attractive as you can get. The unique shape and design add to the viewing quality.

We absolutely love the lighting system that comes with it, too. It allows for 24-hour timers with three independent channels for bright white, sparkling blue, and color-enhancing LEDs. You can program for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonlight, daylight, and more for your most natural biorhythm lighting possible for your fish and corals.

We also love that the compact and customizable built-in filtration for the best possible setup and maintenance.

Finally, we also love the submersible pump and dual intakes and adjustable return nozzle for a great water flow in your aquarium.

What We Didn’t Love

The only real issue we’ve found with this is that the equipment is a little noisy. So, if noise is an issue, you may want to look elsewhere or think of a less intrusive place to keep the aquarium.

Well, technically, the other issue is that it’s hard to identify which size aquarium you’re getting. The sizes aren’t very intuitive, as they’re not based on gallon-size, so it seems.

Our Verdict on the Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium LED Kit

Overall, this is just about the best small reef tank you’ll find. It comes with great accessories – especially the lighting – and almost everything you need to keep your aquarium going well. Just be sure to read the fine print to find the right size for your needs.

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1 thought on “The 5 Best Nano Reef Tanks – Reviews and Ratings of the Top Nano Reef Aquariums”

  1. I really like the FLUVAL PREMIUM BOW FRONT, but I’m a beginner. Can I take care of them? Can you give me some advice?

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