The decision to choose between glass or acrylic aquariums can be a difficult one. Both have their pros and cons, so it is important to weigh the benefits of each before making your selection. Glass aquariums are heavy and ridged, but they also do not turn yellow over time, stay visible with a quick cleaning, are less expensive than acrylic tanks and are hard to scratch.
Acrylic aquariums, on the other hand, are light, flexible, and less customizable (curvature) than glass tanks; however, they are also prone to scratches due to how soft they are compared to glass. Along with being far more porous, which means that bacteria and chemicals will absorb into them which could be an issue depending on what lives in them (almost always a non-issue, though).
Glass vs Acrylic Aquariums
First and foremost, the large increase in the popularity of Acrylic can be attributed to a couple of things. First, Acrylic is much easier to deal with than glass. The tools required for glass cutting are fairly hefty in price and require diamond-tipped tools. That’s not so for acrylic, as you just need quick knife mark lines on both sides of the plane and you can snap it clean with relative ease.
Another advantage of Acrylic is that it is much lighter than glass aquariums and therefore easier to carry around for cleaning or other purposes. This lightness also increases its value for worldwide shipping, which affects bottom-line prices, Even if you don’t order it online. it becomes much cheaper in that regard.
However, even with that massive discount, Glass still tends to be cheaper than acrylic because it’s always in demand, thus always being produced. That’s not so for acrylic, at least to the same extent.
Acrylic is also more prone to scratches, which leads to a secondary issue of poor visibility, But the worst disadvantage by far is that it tends to turn yellow with age and use. This effect is sped up considerably with the use of any UV or direct sunlight. This lack of color-fastness makes Acrylic much less desirable than glass aquariums because many people want their tanks in clear sight.
The production of glass is nearly flawless because we’ve refined it and have been refining it for a very long time. This is not so for the fabrication of acrylic. Especially so when used in aquariums.
Acrylic often takes up small flaws that normally would never be accepted in glass production. This is normally fine if their is no weigh on the acrylic, but in use as aquarium panels, large amounts of weight are often on the panels.
So not only are you competing against the flaws from the factory floor, but You’re also compounding potential problems with how acrylic needs to be welded together. Human error is the biggest cause of acrylic tank failures. When welding the panels together, It’s very difficult to avoid trapping in air bubbles and other random malformations.
When a lot of pressure is put upon these flawed joints, They tend to fail spectacularly. And while it may be fun to watch in Gif format or on youtube, It’s certainly no fun when it’s you! Especially if you paid for it!
While we’re certainly not trying to make this article seem anti-acrylic, it’s true that we prefer glass more. Even after everything we said, it’s not to say acrylic is bad for aquariums. For the smaller average joe homeowner who just wants a nice tank in his living room, A 10 or 20-gallon acrylic tank should probably do you just fine. It’s only when you start to think about longevity that the argument starts to sway in glass’s favor.
There are, of course, some other issues that need to be mentioned, which unfortunately are also not in acrylics favor.
Acrylic is a porous material. What!? But it’s so smooth, How could that be. Well, it’s true. You might not actually see water leaking through it, It is, very slowly. Well, that’s not really the right way to describe it. What it’s actually doing is absorbing the water inside of it, and then expelling it on the other side.
Not just water, but bacteria and chemicals and medications as well. And that’s not all, It goes both ways. The outside atmosphere is also doing the same in reverse. This makes acrylic very poor for clean rooms!
And, while I’m going to be honest here, This isn’t the biggest deal ever. The side effects of this are faster deterioration of the acrylic panels which is something to be more concerned about than the chemical leech. Although that is something you need to keep in mind depending on what you have in it.
Between the porous degradation and the UV degradation, with potential welding and manufacturing flaws, You start to paint a picture of the issues acrylic faces, at least for aquariums.
Glass, on the other hand, has none of these issues. That’s why, in our opinion, it is the superior material to build your aquarium out of.
At the end of the day, the glass aquarium is your best bet. The negatives of acrylic are too many to list and outweigh any positives it does have in comparison with a more durable material like glass.
If you intend to only have the tank for a short-term project or intend on upgrading after a couple of years, Acrylic should be fine. If you want a long-term tank you can rely on for the next decade or 2, glass is the way to go.