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How to heat a plastic fish tank; Will it melt the tank?

Is how to heat a plastic fish tank without endangering yourself and your pet(s) freaking you out? Won’t the heater melt out the plastic aquarium? The truth is, you still can safely heat your plastic fish tank. How you ask? Well, the plastic tank heater won’t melt the plastic provided there is no contact of the heater and the tank’s surface. This is also true with aquariums’ plastic decors and plants. It’s that simple.

I trust you now won’t have to fear anymore.

How to heat a plastic fish tank

Well, because necessity is the mother of inventions, aquarists have even sort means on how to warm up a fish tank without a heater. On a light note, I suppose it was the “genius” work of hobbyist fearing to use heaters in plastic fish tanks. Others in self-consolation have argued that fish don’t need heaters. But do they?

Why you can heat a plastic fish tank without a worry;

Heat resistance of the plastic tank make-up materials;

A fundamental thing to appreciate is that the aquarium heater temperature won’t heat-up the water to hot enough points of melting the aquarium.

Having said that, plastics used to make fish tanks differ in temperature tolerance, with the lowest being 149°F. This temperature level is comfortably withstood by both high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Further, a polypropylene tank withstands temperatures as high as 176°F. They are therefore suited for high-wattage heaters.

Now, for identification, these plastics are symbolized as numbers 2, 4 and 5 respectively. Be sure to check out for them, usually at the bottom of the tank.

Having said that, and because aquarium heater temperature range is below the lowest plastic’s tolerance point, they pose no risk to the tank. This is however if properly placed.

Caution nonetheless is, keep-off titanium and/or high wattage heaters. They can and do reach very high temperatures. They are therefore made and best suited for large and super-sized aquariums. You can check out here for aquarium wattage calculation.

The good thing however is, most plastic fish tanks are small and medium sized.

Insulation characteristic of water;

First, besides water being a good distributor of heat, it’s a good insulator too. For this reason, heat is evenly spread round the tank by water movement.

As a result, no part of the tank has too hot water concentration to have effect on the plastic.

All you need to do is ensure the heater is a few centimeters off the plastic surface.

Can you put a heating pad under a plastic tank?

In your many possible trials on how to heat a plastic fish tank, placing a heating pad beneath it is not one of them. While a heating pad may not have an effect on the plastic, it nonetheless will warm the substrate. Unfortunately however, just like with substrate heaters, it will be ineffective in heating the water. This is because unlike water, substrate is a poor heat conductor.   

What is the best heater for a small plastic fish tank?

For small plastic tanks mostly 5 – 15 gallons, the ideal heater should be submersible. In addition, its heat settings should be adjustable and able to automatically switch off at overheating point.

Besides, instead of glass housing, it should be aluminum made. This guard against glass shuttering risk incase of sudden temperature changes.  

It is also very ideal where space is limited.

How to place a heater in a plastic fish tank:

For safety reasons, reading manufactures’ instructions before using any electrical equipment or machinery cannot be over emphasized. So it is too before running an aquarium heater or any other electrical aquarium accessory.

I suppose the next obvious concern is “how to install aquarium heater in a plastic tank”. Well, first but still unplugged, lower the heater into the water. Give the heater’s heating element a few minutes for its adjustment to the aquarium’s waters temperature. You now can plug and start it to run. Likewise, on switching it out, allow it time to cool down before evacuating it out of water.

Incase of any malfunction or incorrect installation, you risk glass shattering or even plastic tank melting from overheating. In the extreme case, electrocution of self or fish is also a possibility. It a high stakes risk.

Fully or partially submerged heaters are ideally the heaters recommendation for plastic tanks.

These guarantee high efficiency and effectiveness in evenly heating up the water. Besides, the risk of damaging aquarium plants is minimal.  However, it is a little pricey.

On the contrary, partially submersible heater overhangs the tank from the side. The heating system’s electronic part sits above the water. Unlike the former, they are less efficient. In addition, they risk overheating the fish tank walls and are somewhat difficult to install. They are also not fully waterproofed. One positive about them is they are less costly.

Closing thoughts:

With this information, I am certain that how to heat a plastic fish tank is now not a hidden dark secret. If you don’t have a big budget for a glass aquarium, you still can have the glamour of a fish tank, albeit made of plastic. You also can safely heat it for the good of your pet fish should there be need to.

Have a happy fish keeping.

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