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Fish tanks are expensive. It can be very discouraging for a newcomer wants to get involved in something like a saltwater tank and then finds out how expensive the hobby is to get started. Is there such thing as cheap fish tanks? There definitely is if you know where to look and are patient to wait for good deal. Today’s post breaks down 5 tips to get you the best deal on cheap fish tanks.
How To Get The Cheap Fish Tanks (And 5 Tips)
1. The dollar per gallon sales
A few times every year, the chain pet stores, namely Petco, have a dollar per gallon sale. These dollar per gallon sales have tanks from 10, 20, 29, 40, and 55 gallon tanks all selling for $1 per gallon. You might actually get lucky in your area and have 75 gallon tanks available for $1 per gallon. These tanks are made by Aqueon, which is a quality aquarium manufacturer that has been around for years. You need to be aware of when these stores have their sales, but luckily there is one site that publishes the dates of these sales.
While you will get the tank itself for cheap, you may still be spending quite a lot of money on suitable equipment. For those looking for a cheap fish tank that has most or all of your equipment need. There is a better option.
2. Buy Used
Buying used is the best way to acquire cheap fish tanks. There are three sources I’m going to list here and explain why they are great way to get a tank
- Aquarium Clubs
- Friends and Family
- Facebook groups
Craigslist can be a cheap fish tank goldmine. You will want to search for “fish”, “aquarium”, and “tank” and then look at all the recent listings. Craigslist is a real-time classified so check often. With Craigslist, the larger the tank, the better the deal as many of these people selling are looking to off load their aquarium as soon as possible. Here are a few examples of craiglist listings that I found looking around:
- 180 gallon 6 foot long aquarium complete reef setup with lacquer stand and canopy – $750
- 120 gallon 6 foot long reef ready aquarium with canopy and stand – $450
- 46 gallon bowfront tank with canopy and stand – $99
Aquarium clubs are another great resource. The advantage with aquarium clubs is that you will usually get a high quality setup that is complete and well taken care of. You would need to check on the forums of these clubs to see if there are any tanks anyone is selling. You can check out our list of aquarium clubs to see a list of clubs in the US that are close to you.
Friends and family are potentially an avenue to get a free tank. A lot of the time these aquariums are sitting in an attic in a garage. Friends and family are usually happy to have you take their tanks. This was actually how I started out in the hobby many years ago from a 65 gallon aquarium that was sitting in an uncle’s garage unused. Nothing beats a free fish tank. You never know what is out there unless you ask around.
3. Know What Questions to Ask and What to Look Out For
Buying a used fish tank requires a some due diligence on your part to ensure you purchase a good tank. Here are a few questions to ask and what to inspect.
Questions to ask:
- Ask for dimensions and references dimensions with this calculator – It is common for Craigslist posters to post the incorrect tank volume
- Ask what the aquarium was used for and what it housed – do not purchase a tank used to house rodents or reptiles as these tanks may not be watertight or have damage to their seals
- Has the tank been drilled – watch for glass patches if they have been covered up
- Ask for a leak test – if the seller balks consider walking from the deal as most sellers should not mind this request
- Glass or acrylic tank – Acrylic tanks will be easier to repair scratches
- Where has the tank been stored? Tanks stored in a hot garage or outside are red flags as the heat can affect the silicone and cause leaks down the road.
What to inspect:
- What does the glass look like? Is it scratched, cloudy? How bad is the damage?
- Check for cracks – obvious cracks are easy to see but check for hairline cracks as well. These can go unnoticed and can hold water, but spell long-term disaster
- If glass, check the silicone seals – look for beads that are solid and pliable
- If drilled, inspect the drill sites for cracks
- Bring a flashlight with you – this will allow you to inspect cracks and scratches more easily
- Look at the stand for signs of warping, cracks, or mold damage. Scratches or peeled finish is fine as you can refinish the tank.
- For acrylic tanks, inspect the bracing and for visible signs of bowing.
4. Don’t Purchase the Livestock
Often times you will see a listing where the seller is trying to sell a complete setup with fish, coral/plants, live rock, etc included. I would advise against purchasing the livestock unless you are experienced with handling an aquarium move. Moving an aquarium, especially a large aquarium is one of the most stressful activities you can undertake in the hobby. If the seller has a rare fish or coral that you want, consider purchasing it separately and quarantining it until your tank is established. I would not factor in the price of livestock on a listing. Try to negotiate with the seller to purchase only the equipment.
Often times, the seller can give the livestock to a local fish store or advanced hobbyist who has the means to handle the move. If you chose to purchase livestock, the safest livestock to purchase would be live rock (Amazon Affiliate links ahead). Live rock can be stored in a black stock tank with cheap power heads and an aquarium heater (food grade buckets work for smaller live rock purchases). Corals can be safe to purchase as well, but given the availability of frags these days, I would recommend just getting frags from a local reefer when your tank is ready.
When purchasing live rock. The best way to move it in a display tank is to “cook” the live rock. Melev’s Reef has a great video explaining the process. The reason why we want to do this is to reset the live rock. This prevents all the pests that and the nuisance algae from entering your display tank. This also effectively quarantines the live rock from parasites if you cook it long enough (6-8 weeks while switching out containers every transfer like in the video).
5. Prices Are Negotiable
Prices for listing are often not firm – especially on craigslist. If you find a listing that is new and listed under the title of a moving sale or “must sell quickly” jump on it right away. The newer the listing, the better the chance you will have at negotiating a better price. Many of people who list on Craigslist just want to get the aquarium out of their hands as soon as possible versus getting the best price for it.
Even if they have a price listed, ask the seller what they would take for it to get it off their hands that day. You would be surprised how often you will get a lower number than what it is originally listed for. The worst thing that can happen is they say no and you just wait another week for a good listing to pop up. People exit the hobby all the time and good deals are literally a dime a dozen especially if you live in a big city.
Negotiating off an aquarium club listing is harder to do because often times the seller is willing to wait it out or knows the value of the equipment they are selling. For these listings, it may be better to consider purchasing separate components of the setup as these sellers are more open to doing this. This is a really great way on getting quality equipment. The best equipment to buy used would be:
- Protein Skimmers
- Calcium Reactors
- Reverse Osmosis Systems
- Dosing Pumps
Cleaning the Tank and Equipment
If you purchased a used tank setup, it will likely not be cleaned and you will need to get it ready to be used. The best cleaners to use on an aquarium and equipment would be distilled white vinegar that you can pick up cheap at a store like Target.This should be able to get most of the equipment looking like new after an overnight bath in the solution. It should be able to handle most used aquariums. I’m going to suggest some products below. Please note, affiliate links will be included for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase)
For really bad stains and dirty tanks, Bar Keepers Friend Powered Cleanser would be a good safe solution to use on the aquarium only.
An excellent way to deep clean used aquariums. A safe solution that handles the toughest of jobs!
For aquarium stands, it’s going to be depend on the condition of the stand. If it is in good condition, a simpler cleaner like Feed N Wax should make it looks like new again.For stands that are not in good shape, you may want to consider refinishing the cabinet with an oil based primer and paint. We recommended Kilz Oil-Based Primers and Java Gel Stain for refinishing projects. You can seal stain with Spar Urethane.
Choosing New – Cheap Aquarium Packages
While searching for a used tank can save you money, sometimes buying new makes more sense. Below are two examples for freshwater appropriate starter kits that are smaller and will get you started on your way.
Tetra 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit – Starter kit for the freshwater beginner
A reasonably priced 20 gallon kit by Tetra. It's a cheap way to get started if you would rather buy new
Tetra glass tanks are made in the USA and this 20 gallon starter kit comes with several things to get you started. It has an LED hood, a UL rated heater, and Tetra Whisper filter, one boxwood plant mat, and four artificial plants to get you started. The 20 gallon tank has good dimensions being 24″ in length and 16″ in height and should serve a good beginner freshwater tank. The nice addition is Tetra’s aquarium app, which provides guidance, recommendations, and reminders to help you succeed! While the whisper filter isn’t the best powerfilter out there, it is a reasonable filter for a beginner and can be upgraded later.
Aqueon 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit
A 20 gallon aquarium kit by Aqueon. Equipped with Aqueon's power filter and a plug and play heater.
Aqueon’s 20 gallon kit has a higher end power filter with Aqueon’s Quietflow 10, but it is a little undersized for the package. The heater is a plug and play preset heater configured to 78 degrees. You get to choose your plants and rocks with this kit as it does not come with either.
Easy to Find if You Are Patient – Tell Us Your Story
Tell us your story below in the comments about how you purchased a cheap fish tank. We also know that not all listings will include the equipment you want or need so after you purchase a used tank you can come check out our aquarium supplies for new equipment from top-quality brands. Let us know your thoughts and stories in the comment below. See you next time :).
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.
I have a betta and a molly in a 5 gal and I think they deserve more space. I want to upgrade to a 10 gallon, but really don’t want to pay more than $40.