hacker holding a tank

Outside-of-the-box thinking seems to be a reoccurring theme in many aspects of our lives these days. Using your own ingenuity and intellect to change something to suit your needs can really make an impact. Applying this outside the box type thinking to our aquariums has led us to all kinds of cool advancements such as the Ecotech Marine Vortech pumps, WiFi controllers, and even a robotic algae cleaner!

We put together a list of some of the most popular ways to hack up your nano tank with the intention of not only making your life easier but also sparking some of you to use your own ingenuity and modify your nano tank in a way that you might have never thought was possible.

Remove The Hood

While most modern Nano tanks take on a rimless design, the classic Oceanic Biocube and JBJ Nano Cubes of days past came with full plastic hoods. The lighting was mounted inside the hood itself and also covered the filtration compartments on some tanks. 

Removing the hood from your old nano aquarium can allow you to upgrade the lighting to something more modern like LED lights and can give you access to the filtration compartments making it much easier to add equipment and perform maintenance. You will also get the additional benefits of increased gas exchange and much more efficient heat dissipation.

auto top off sensor

Add An ATO - Auto Top-Off System

Adding an automatic top-off system (ATO) to your nano tank is a huge benefit. It saves you time and creates a much more stable environment. With small aquariums, change happens quickly and even the slightest lapse in topping off your tank can cause problems.

When adding an electronic ATO system to your nano tank, the most important factor is the placement of the sensor. You will always want to place the sensor in the pump chamber where the water level will actually change as water evaporates. 

view of coral from top of tank

Add A Media Reactor

Media reactors are beneficial to aquariums as they drastically increase the contact time with your filter media, whether it be carbon, GFO, biopellets, or some specialty media, the same theory applies. Increased contact time makes for more efficient filtration.

Water is actively pushed through the media inside a reactor whereas in filter media bags; water will simply flow around the bag taking the path of least resistance. While these filters may seem bulky and unnecessary for small aquariums, they can have drastic effects on the health of your tank. Thankfully, many media reactors offer a hang-on bracket making it easy to add a reactor on the back of your nano tank. If you are lucky enough to have some room, they even make in-tank reactors such as the Innovative Marine MiniMax Reactors allowing you to easily place the entire reactor in the back filter chamber of your aquarium.

protein skimmer on tank

Install A Protein Skimmer

Protein skimmers help reduce organic waste in your aquarium. With the popularity of nano aquariums in our hobby, many manufacturers are making skimmers specifically sized for nano aquariums. Both hang-on the back and in-tank skimmers are available in a size to fit just about any nano aquarium.  

Learn More: BRS Recommended Nano Protein Skimmers

A few things to consider when adding a skimmer are will it fit and will it function. Ensuring the skimmer has enough room to hang off the back of your tank or inside the filter chambers are important. Take careful note of the footprint which is advertised with most skimmers and then measure the area of your tank where you plan to place the skimmer to ensure it fits.

Possible malfunction is something many people overlook with a nano skimmer and sadly may not realize until a problem occurs. For example, if you only have enough room to place the skimmer in your pump chamber, you will probably end up with constant micro-bubbles being blasted into your display. In this case, you might want to consider a hang-on skimmer to avoid the problem or choose a skimmer that fits in a different chamber.

When using a hang-on skimmer, water level inside the filter chamber or aquarium will be important for proper function so be sure to place the skimmer intake in a chamber that has a constant water level. This way the skimmer will stay primed and function continuously without problems.

powerhead attached to tank glass

Add A Powerhead

Powerheads increase water flow in your display aquarium directly making for a more natural environment. Flow helps to deliver food and nutrients to the anchored corals and also keeps debris suspended making it easier for your filtration to remove this debris.

Choosing the right powerhead can be a little tricky as you are limited on space but need to ensure you supply sufficient flow throughout the tank. Fortunately, some great solutions do exist. A controllable pump such as the Ecotech Marine MP10wES or Controllable Koralia pumps are your best bet as they allow you to dial in the flow specifically to your tank's needs. When using a powerhead with a set flow rate, you are stuck with what you get whether it creates a sand storm or not.

media basket

Install A Media Basket

Media baskets are one of the best upgrades for AIO-style tanks, so much so that most AIO tanks include a media basket right out of the box. They allow you to customize your filter media and make for easy maintenance. You can also save money by purchasing larger containers of bulk filter media and using refillable media bags to hold the media in your basket.

Media baskets can quickly be pulled from the tank, cleaned, refilled, and placed back into the tank within a matter of minutes. You do not need to turn off the filters or shut down pumps to do a simple media change.

The most common media to use in a media basket will be a coarse sponge and filter pad, a bag of activated carbon, and biological filter media of some kind. You should be replacing the carbon every 7-10 days and rinse your sponges/filter pads every 2-3 days or as needed. The biological media can stay inside the basket indefinitely, just rinse it in saltwater on occasion to remove collected debris.

** Pro Tip – Always place the filter media in proper order. Mechanical filtration goes on top, then chemical media, and finally biological media on the bottom.

Create a refugium

While this option may be reserved for the “DIY” hobbyist, it is something all of us should consider when keeping a nano tank. Natural filtration in a refugium can really be your best friend; it requires little maintenance and will always remain effective and stable so long as you maintain it. Since change happens so quickly in small aquariums, anything you can do to increase stability will help and a refugium is a great way to accomplish this.

Fortunately, many nano tank manufacturers make it quite easy to turn one of the back filter chambers of your aquarium into a refugium. All you have to do is pick a chamber in the back of your tank, place a refugium light on top of the chamber or shine it through the back wall, fill it with macroalgae, and watch it grow. Harvest macroalgae on a regular basis always keeping a little room for more growth. After all, the macroalgae remove nitrate and phosphate as it grows, if it runs out of room to grow it will no longer pull out nutrients. 


cobalt MJ-900 pump and packaging

Upgrade The Return Pump

Ever had a loud pump in your nano tank? Well, imagine what this sounds and feels like to your fish! Using a higher quality pump will result in less vibration, increased flow, less heat transfer, and reduced electricity consumption. The Sicce Syncra Silence pumps are a hobby favorite, the Lifegard QuietOne is also a great choice. The Innovative Marine MightyJet pumps are compact DC controllable pumps that give you the ability to adjust the pump speed which is a unique feature.

Choosing the right size is quite easy; just take a look at the flow rates and water volume. You want to accomplish about 5-10 times total tank turnover per hour. For example, a tank of 28 gallons in size should have a pump flow rate of 140 – 280 gallons per hour (GPH). 

Of course, be sure to measure the pump chamber first and be sure the pump of choice will fit inside. Consider the tubing connections as well, most nano tanks have 1/2" tubing or something close to it, just be sure to check the specifications of the particular pump and measure the inside diameter of the tubing you have on your tank.