Why Are Glass Aquariums so Expensive?

Updated on December 23, 2016

Why is it that a 10 gallon tank can be $10 or $15, a 20 gallon is around $40, and a 30 gal. is in the $70's (at the lowest prices available)? If an aquarium is $10 dollars for 10 gallons, shouldn't the 20 gal. be $20, and so forth? *Prices for aquariums have gone up since I wrote this.

I have read these questions before on various forums, and the usual response is something along the lines, "If you can't afford the aquarium, you can't afford the animal; choose a different hobby."

Well, that does not answer the question, and it is a legit one. Why do some people get worked up when pet owners talk about animal expenses? It doesn't mean the person doesn't love their animal if they want things cheaper. For a long time I wondered this myself. Why does the price triple and quadruple, and so on as the gallons increase? Why can't I find a 75 gal. tank for less than $130? Why do five glass sheets glued together cost so much? It is just glass.

Well, glass is not that cheap to begin with, at least not compared to plastic (excluding Acrylic, which I will get to in a moment). Taking a natural element like sand and melting it between1,099 °F and 1,501 °F takes a lot of energy, and in some factories they must keep glass in liquid form for lengths at a time.

Okay, but that does not explain the unbalance of price as they get bigger.

Well, there are one of two reasons why the price sky-rockets as the gallons increase: Material and Thickness.

Left: 20 gal. Right: 10 gal.
Left: 20 gal. Right: 10 gal.
Notice how the 20 gal. is about twice as thick as the 10 gal.
Notice how the 20 gal. is about twice as thick as the 10 gal.


The bigger the tank, the more water that glass has to hold. Water is pretty heavy and it is asking a lot for five glass sheets to stick together without succumbing to the pressure. So in some cases the glass has to be thicker.The photos on the right show the difference of thickness between 10 gallons. This explains why the price more than just doubles; the manufactures have to also compensate for the thickness and not just the length and width of the sheets.


Sometimes the glass just being thicker isn't enough. There are two common types of aquarium glass: tempered and plate glass.

Tempered (toughened) is glass that was melted and cooled quickly, resulting in stronger glass that can hold more gallons. The downside to this glass is if it ever cracks, it shatters, so no drilling. This glass is vulnerable at the edges, but otherwise it holds up well for larger tanks.

Plate glass (flat glass, sheet glass) cannot hold as much water, but it certainly suffices for the smaller aquariums. This material can be drilled and cracked without shattering.

Tempered glass is more expensive than plate glass, and so that is why bigger aquariums jump in price; they're made of the strong stuff, tempered.

Some small aquariums are not even made of glass, like a typical 5 gallon fish tank can be made of cheap plastic, resulting in an even cheaper alternative. And then there is a plastic called Acrylic that is stronger than tempered glass and way more expensive too.

Acrylic resembles glass, but it is stronger, lighter, and can be bent during manufacturing so it comes in different shapes and not just the standard five sheet rectangle like most aquariums. Although acrylic fish tanks can come in all sizes, the extremely big tanks, like 200 gallons, would more than likely be acrylic because they can withstand such weight more than tempered glass.

And so this is why aquariums can be and usually are pricey. When comparing two aquariums and wondering why one is more expensive than the other, it is not just the size that plays a factor. Large aquariums are thicker and made of more expensive material than smaller tanks in order to withstand the pressure.


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    • mariekbloch profile image

      mariekbloch 3 days ago

      If they seem like the same price, it may be because reptile tanks have additions to them that make them more expensive, like a screen top, lamp heads with special UVB bulbs, and sliding doors. But a simple aquarium could be used for aquatic animals and reptiles.

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      MrInsomniac 9 days ago

      If so why are reptile tanks that don't need to worry about water pressure, have the same price as the ones that do?

    • mariekbloch profile image

      mariekbloch 20 months ago

      I actually don't like bow fronts, only straight glass. Mainly because it distorts what the fish can see. Thanks for commenting.

    • Edward Belli profile image

      Edward Belli 20 months ago

      I agree that a glass aquarium is very expensive, especially for bow front aquarium.

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      John 2 years ago

      Its a racket. All industries are essentially rackets. They price things according to what sells and the most they can make for it. Capitalism does not work in such a fashion that something costs x dollars and they add 20% for profit. It's more like it costs $10, but they can sell it for $150, so they sell it for $150 rather than $20 (and still make a 50% margin, and still pay great wages and benefits). It's all about the rich getting even richer.

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      elephant 6 years ago

      ok, good

      makes sense