How to Select the Optimal Lighting Options for Your Fish Tank

By PetcoBlogger on Jun. 27, 2017


Pet parents often like to spend time looking at their fish tank and watch their fish swimming and interacting. It may be difficult to enjoy your tank if you do not have lighting to illuminate it. It’s almost impossible to see your fish in a dark tank. But beyond aesthetics, if you have live plants in your tank, then you must have lights so the plants have the energy to grow.

The light you select can impact your aquarium plants as well as the cost and maintenance required for the tank. Instead of simply grabbing the first light bulb you see in the store, it’s important to understand the needs of your aquarium and the correct lighting option that will meet those needs. Taking the time to create the best environment for your fish will help them meet their physical, mental, social and emotional needs.

Here are four general options for fish tank lights:

Incandescent Lights

While incandescent lights were popular in the past, Aquarium Fish International, an organization for fish owners, does not recommend them because the lights waste about 95 percent of input energy and do not provide the spectral output for photosynthesis. Additionally, this type of light doesn’t enhance the colors of your fish for viewing as well as other lighting options do. While incandescent bulbs are inexpensive, the bulbs also burn out quickly, which can create extra maintenance and expense. If you go this route, it is essential to use a wattage that is designed for the aquarium hood, such as 25 watt bulbs or less. Higher wattage bulbs can damage the aquarium hoods and be a potential fire hazard.

Fluorescent bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs are often recommended for both freshwater and saltwater tanks because they provide a natural light that enhances the colors of the fish.  Many pet parents choose fluorescent bulbs because they can be inexpensive to use and last longer than some other lighting options. Because the bulbs come in multiple spectral outputs and some fixtures allow for multiple bulbs, pet parents can select the best spectral output for the aquatic life in their tank.

Metal halide light systems

Some aquatic pet parents opt for this high intensity discharge (HID) lighting system that produces intense light from a single point source. This lighting choice is popular with reef aquarists because it most closely replicates sunlight and the natural reef environment.  Pet parents can also choose from a large variety of spectral outputs based on the type of aquatic life in their aquarium. Additionally, the systems provide a good environment for photosynthesis, making it a popular choice for aquariums with live plants and corals. Because metal halide lamps generate a high output point source light, this type of lighting is a good option for large tanks and those deeper than two feet.  Metal Halide lighting generates a lot of heat, so depending on the size of your tank and the number of lamps, you many need to install a fan and /or chiller on the tank to keep the water from becoming too hot.

LED lighting

A relatively new option in aquarium lighting is LED lights. Due to the high energy efficiency rating and longevity, these fixtures are very popular with pet parents. Additionally, LED lighting emits a bright single point source light, which effectively illuminates the aquarium with adding a shimmer effect to the tank. The lights do not generate a lot of heat, which reduces the chance of overheating the tank.


Shop for aquarium lighting on or learn water tips for reef aquariums

0 Kudos
‎05-09-2017 09:50 PM

I love the led lights I have two with my ten gallon tanks and would love to get one for my 200 gallon tank but don't have the money 

I love the led lights I have two with my ten gallon tanks and would love to get one for my 200 gallon tank but don't have the money 

Posted on May. 9, 2017
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