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Ahhh, self-cleaning.

Magic words when shopping for appliances, litter boxes, and more.

Now, does it apply to aquariums?

You can find self-cleaning fishbowls advertised in a lot of places, but are they really worth the investment? Do they actually clean themselves? And, most importantly, are they safe for fish and plants?

Let’s take a look into these questions on no-clean fish tanks and AVO fish tanks and how they work before we dive into the reviews of the best self cleaning aquariums themselves. And then, we’ll dive into alternatives and how to do it better with better options.

Best Easy-Clean Aquarium Quick-Find Table

Image Product
  • Great for folks just starting out
  • Great lighting system included
  • Easy to set up and use, with complete, clear instructions for everything
  • Great for folks just starting out
  • Great lighting system included
  • Easy to set up and use, with complete, clear instructions for everything
  • Perfect for 2 or 3 goldfish, aquatic plants, and more
  • Comes with a great filtration system
  • Easy to set up and use in most spaces
  • Perfect for 2 or 3 goldfish, aquatic plants, and more
  • Comes with a great filtration system
  • Easy to set up and use in most spaces
  • 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

The Truth About Auto Clean Fish Tanks

Self-clean aquariums sound like a fantastic idea. After all, who wouldn’t want a pet to clean up after itself? Fish have fins and gills, though, so it would be a bit difficult. However, an aquarium that could clean itself, now that’s a splendid idea.

But you see, the big problem with these aquariums is that well, they either typically don’t work or if they do, they can actually kill your fish.

best self cleaning aquarium with girl pointing to fish

What the Adverts Claim Versus Reality

Yes, most advertisements rave about the “natural” way the aquarium uses gravity to siphon the muck and slime from the fish tank. “Human friendly! Fish friendly!” the advertising plugs shout.

The idea is that fish can stay in their fish tank while the aquarium is cleaned automatically by the self-cleaning aquarium system.

1. Fish Stay in the Aquariums

First off, fish should be kept in the aquarium for maintenance cleaning anyway.

Removing them causes undue stress and presents health hazards that may actually lead to premature death of your fish.

2. Natural Environments

Secondly, there is nothing natural about the way these self-cleaning fish tanks “as seen on TV” work.

They claim to be natural simply because there is no electricity, batteries, or cords involved. But fish don’t naturally live in environments such as aquariums, so the premise is false to begin with.

On top of that, most of the self-cleaning fish tanks are actually much too small for fish to live in safely.

Betta fish, guppies, and goldfish, for example, are notoriously kept in tiny fish tanks – many of which aren’t even 1 gallon in size – which is a giant no-no for the health of your fish.

A single adult fish needs a minimum of 5-gallons for a healthy environment. Many species require much larger aquariums.

3. Clean Water In, Dirty Water Out

Thirdly, the idea that “clean water goes in,” while dirty water is pushed out sets up most folks for failure.

Not realizing they’re introducing toxins into the aquarium by this simplistic idea, many people often send their fish to an early grave.

Aquarium water cannot be straight up tap water. Nor can it be distilled, purified, or other bottle water options. You see, an aquarium requires s very specific balance of elements to help your fish thrive.

Things like pH, CO2, nitrates, nitrites, et cetera must all be controlled, monitored, and dealt with regularly. This simple “in and out” principle negates all those necessities your aquarium water needs.

The Size of the Tank Matters

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-take care of aquarium for a beginning aquarist.

You might be looking for a small fish tank or desktop aquarium to put in the home office, the kids’ bedroom, or maybe even the side table by the couch so the kids will enjoy some simple responsibility while reaping the benefits of watching a gorgeous betta or goldfish hanging out in their swanky homes.

tropical fresh water aquarium with gold fish self cleaning

But the reality is, those tiny tanks and adorable little decorative fishbowls are harmful for fish. They need more water and space than the small micro-sized tanks permit.

Small aquariums can technically be used, but only be extremely skilled aquarists who know how to precisely maintain all the levels, et cetera, for their fish.

You see, small tanks are actually much harder to maintain than tiny tanks, even if that may seem counterintuitive.

Why the Size of the Aquarium Matters

The size of your aquarium is truly critical to the health and life of your fish. There are several reasons why beyond just fish liking space and needing some exercise – which they can’t get in too small a space.

1. Toxic Build-Up

Toxins in the aquarium build up over time.

Large and small aquariums have issues with these things, no matter the type of tank, position of the aquarium in a room, the amount of light, et cetera.

Fish produce fish waste – which releases ammonia into the water – and often times, they don’t eat everything that’s fed to them. This is known as overfeeding.

That overfeeding also results in rotten food wasting away at the bottom of the tank, releasing nasty toxins into your water.

Larger tanks still have the issue, but not as quickly.

Small amounts of water equals a smaller space for the toxins to spread out. In larger tanks, something called the nitrogen cycle can take place. Ammonia is converted into nitrite – which is also toxic to your fish – but then converts into nitrates, which are not as toxic in small amounts.

This cycling doesn’t eliminate the dangers, but it does drastically reduce the parts per million that contain the dangerous substances that kill fish.

But in small tanks, there isn’t enough space to do this cycling, which means a quickly approaching death for your finned friends.

2. Unstable Water Parameters

Another huge issue with fish keeping is that the water parameters are critical for the health of your fish. And this is the reason that the concept of small fish tanks that clean themselves isn’t the best.

You have almost no leeway when it comes to this and as a beginner aquarist, you’ll make some mistakes. They’re inevitable. But a system that “cleans” itself for you won’t help – in fact, it will make it worse.

First off, fish get stressed when there are changes to anything in their home. And this means they secrete different hormones that increase their blood sugar, which results in a burst of energy. That flight or fight mode kicks in.

After this happens, an inflammatory response takes place. This response is designed to help your fish fight diseases, but they’re suppressed by these hormones that they’ve released.

The water balance in your aquarium becomes disrupted due to the changes, and that means your fish absorb excess amounts of water. They over-hydrate. Saltwater fish do the opposite and lose water, becoming dehydrated.

But all of this will happen without you noticing. The little swimming guys will seem perfectly fine for a little while. But they’ll soon deplete their energy, kick out more hormones, which will produce further imbalances, which will suppress their immune system even more. And on, and on.

Ultimately, it will resulting in the fish contracting some kind of disease or outright dying from the issues associated with dehydration or over-hydration.

Now why this is all relevant is because your self-cleaning fish tank causes imbalances and changes to your water parameters.

This is due to the near constant changing of water – in order for them to work, you have to change out water every 2 to 3 days – which completely throws off the ecosystem of your aquarium.

It eliminates the beneficial bacteria you need to keep the water clean and healthy, causes stress for your fish, and knocks out the pH levels, et cetera.

male guppy fish low maintenance fish tank

3. A Lack of Oxygen

Another reason why such small fish tanks are dangerous for your pets is that there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. The less water, the less oxygen, naturally. There’s a limited surface space on the water and less movement, thanks to the small gallon count, and that prevents enough gas exchange taking place between the water and the atmosphere or air.

You can increase the oxygenation in your aquarium by use of filters, water pumps, air pumps, air stones, et cetera, but the tiny self-cleaning tanks generally are too small to accommodate these alternatives.

All That Aside, Do Self-Cleaning Aquariums Work?

Owning a pet, no matter what type, is a serious responsibility. And typically that means you’re going to be investing some actual time into keeping that pet around.

And, let’s face it, if you’re looking for a self-sustaining aquarium, you may feel like you don’t have a lot of time to take care of fish.

Or you’re looking for an easy-care option for your kids.

There’s nothing wrong with that! Most of us have little to zero time to spare outside of our normal duties of work, keeping the house in shape, getting the kids fed and in bed on time, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And this is where the advertisers come in with their hopes of purchasing their self-cleaning aquariums.

But the reality is, they aren’t really self-cleaning.

They’re more like low-maintenance or lazy aquariums.

You’re still the one that adds the water every couple of days. The system does, admittedly, do the work of pushing the old water out, but you’re still doing the other half of the work.

You also have to do it pretty often for them to actually keep your aquarium clean. Like every 2 to 3 days. A normal aquarium requires small water changes every 7 to 10 days instead, so you’re honestly not cutting down on your work much, if any.

Plus, the consistent, large volume water changes – they recommend 50% every 2-3 days – stresses out your fish, which starts that unpleasant cycle we spoke of above.

Experienced Aquarists Recommend These Things Instead

Instead of wasting your time and effort on a tiny fish tank that isn’t large enough for your fish in the first place, or an ineffective ‘self cleaning’ fish tank, try these things that will not only benefit your fish more, but also make keeping them easier.

1. Buy the Right Size Tank

Make life easier on yourself, your kids, and your fish by buying the proper size fish tank. You don’t need some massive, huge thing that will take up your entire dinner table, but you do need at least a 5-gallon tank per single fish.

Preferably, use a 10 gallon or 20 gallon tank to be able to have a few fish for your kids to enjoy taking care of and learning about.

goldfish in small bowl
Don’t put your fish into a tiny bowl!

2. Get an All-Inclusive Setup Kit

The easiest way to figure out your easy clean fish tank is investing into a full setup kit.

It should have the fish tank itself, a filter, maybe a heater or some other devices that keep things more balanced in the aquarium environment, and a hood and light, depending on your desired setup.

These kits don’t cost loads, but they include everything you need for a pretty basic, low-maintenance aquarium setup.

3. Choose the Right Fish to Stock

Finally, it’s important that you pick the right fish for your aquarium.

Make sure they’re fairly low maintenance species – think guppies, goldfish, bettas, platties, mollies, and swordtails, to name a few – and study up a little on them before buying your kit.

You’ll want to make sure you’re getting a heater if they need one.

The right food is important. And you’ll also want to know what the water parameters needed are so that you can get the right gear to keep them healthy and happy.

Reviews of the Best Best Low Maintenance Fish Tanks that are Easy to Clean

Ok, so here’s the deal. As we’ve outlined above, we don’t love actual self-cleaning fish tanks. They’re just not great for your fish. Instead, we’ve put together a list of quality, beginner-friendly options that are easy to clean and easy to maintain, while being a perfect size.

To make sure you’re finding the right aquarium kit for your family, we’ve looked for these criteria in our options. Then, we’ve carefully reviewed each aquarium for the best and easiest fish tank to maintain to recommend.

  • Large enough for healthy fish
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • High-quality materials
  • Self-filtering fish tank (where appropriate)
  • Reasonably priced
  • Easy to set up

#1. Marina LED Aquarium Kit

Marina LED Aquarium Kit

There is no such thing as a totally maintenance free aquarium, but the Marina LED Aquarium Kit comes pretty close.

It’s made of extremely high-quality materials – a solidly built glass fish tank – and comes with the Marine Slim S20 filter, which is one of the best in the industry.

It has a great lighting system included, along with replacement filter cartridges, a canopy – or hood – water conditioner, a fish net, cycle biological supplements, and basic fish care guide.

It’s perfect for first timers looking for an easy introduction into fish keeping.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Type: Freshwater, saltwater
  • Materials: Glass
  • Size: 20 gallons
  • Includes: HOB filter, replacement cartridges, LED lighting system, canopy, fish food samples, water conditioner, cycle biological supplement, fish net & care guide

What We Loved

First off, this is one of the lowest maintenance fish tank options around. It comes with practically everything you need to get started, which also makes it a sound investment all at once.

The filter is really high-quality, which also makes this a super easy fish tank for beginners. You just have to turn everything on, and it’s good to go, with little maintenance.

The lighting system on this kit is also one of its best features. It simulated natural daylight and comes incorporated into the canopy for easy removal. The bulb is bright enough to give that needed daylight effect without being so bright that it disrupts the life of your fish.

Plus, it’s an energy efficient light that adds some color to the water for a more pleasurable viewing atmosphere.

What We Didn’t Love

There’s not really anything we don’t love about this kit.

It’s pretty much perfect for beginner aquarists!

Our Verdict on the Marina LED Aquarium Kit

For anyone wanting a self-contained fish tank kit, the Marina LED Aquarium Kit is your best bet. It’s super easy to set up, maintain, and keep clean.

It comes with a great filter and lighting system more advanced in quality than the usual self-starter kit, but it all works easily enough that practically anyone can use it, including kids.

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#2. Fluval Premium Bow Front

Fluval Premium Bow Front Aquarium Kit

The Fluval Premium Bow Front Aquarium Kit is a stellar option for keeping your goldfish in.

It’s got beautiful viewing space – that bow front is perfect for magnifying your views of the interior of the aquarium without disturbing your fish – as well as enough space for several goldies to get along happily inside.

It’s 45-gallons, so it’s large enough for a couple of goldfish to happily swim and live in vibrant live plants with other naturally safe creatures.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Type: Freshwater, saltwater
  • Materials: Glass
  • Size: 45 gallons
  • Includes: 5-stage filtration system, heater, light, hood, water conditioner, fishnet, care guide, thermometer, sample fish food

What We Loved   

The Fluval Bowfront Aquarium kit comes with everything you need to get started with an aquarium.

It’s got a great filtration system, comes with a heater, light and hood, water conditioner, thermometer, fish net, and care guide, which all add up to fantastic for beginning hobbyists.

It’s not technically a self-cleaning goldfish fish tank, but it practically is one. Just maintain with the proper equipment, and you’ll barely do anything.

We also love the quality of the accessories that come with the kit. The C4 Power filter provides multiple stages of filtration for the healthiest water possible, while the canopy is very low profile and comes with the LED light built in for easy access.

The aquarium itself is really well made. It won’t leak or crack or break easily, and the design itself is phenomenally beautiful. The bowfront shape is perfect for easy viewing with magnification that make it more enjoyable to watch the fish without disrupting their home.

The heater that’s included in the kit is also fantastic. It’s fully submersible and made from shock resistant glass and mirror tech that helps to keep your fish in the perfect temperature zone.

What We Didn’t Love

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

The accessories are all great, the size is perfect for beginners wanting more than a couple of fish, and the aquarium itself is well-made.

Our Verdict on the Fluval Premium Bow Front Aquarium Kit

The Fluval starter kit is pretty much complete with everything save the fish and plants you might want to keep.

The lighting is easy to adjust and upgrade, the filtration system is fantastic, and the heater and fish tank themselves are both top-quality goods.

Overall, this is a super great, easy-to-maintain aquarium kit that will make beginners have an easier time keeping their fish healthy.

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#3. Aqueon LED Aquarium Kit

Aqueon 10 Gal LED Aquarium Kit

For those looking for a much smaller tank that’s still safe and healthy for your fish keeping adventures, the Aqueon 10-gallon tank LED Aquarium Kit is perfect. It’s incredibly easy to keep clean and maintain the upkeep on and comes with just about everything you need to get you started with your new fishkeeping efforts.

The kit comes with a built-in LED light that can simulate daylight. It also comes with a filter with a flashing red-light indicator when it needs to have the media changed.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Type: Freshwater, saltwater
  • Materials: Glass
  • Size: 10 gallons
  • Includes: Tank, low-profile hood, filter with medium cartridge, preset heater, premium fish food, water conditioner, stick-on thermometer, fish net

What We Loved

As mentioned before, the kit is just about as complete a kit as you’ll get in a 10-gallon starter kit. It has a heater, a filter, LED lights that simulate daylight, a filter light that indicates the media needs changing, and the whole thing is easy to set up.

We love that the Aqueon 10-Gallon Kit is super high-quality material and make. It comes from a very well-trusted brand that knows their stuff and comes with the guarantee to back it up.

We also love that the kit is pretty much complete. Just add fish, water, and plants and you’re all set.

The LED lights are fantastic. They simulate daylight for a more natural setting for your fish. And the filter is an excellent choice for aquarists just starting out. Plus, the filter comes with a light that indicates when the media needs changing, making it that much easier to keep the aquarium clean and happy.

What We Didn’t Love

The only potential issue I have with this kit is that the heater is set to a specific temperature that cannot be adjusted.

This means it’s great for African cichlids that love temps between 75 and 78 degrees, but not so much for Danios and goldfish that want a cooler water temperature.

Our Verdict on the Aqueon Fish Aquarium Starter Kit

If you’re interested in keeping tropical fish, either freshwater or saltwater, this is the perfect small aquarium kit to get you started.

The pre-set heater is perfectly set for warm water fish, and the kit comes with everything you need to get started, save your plants, fish, and the water – or reef salt, if you’re going reef tank.

Just set it up accordingly, and you’re good to go with little regular maintenance.

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