The Best Fluorescents For Aquariums

Within aquarium lighting, aquarium fluorescents are the most traditional alternative … until a very few years ago, it was the option that full aquariums brought by default.

I would highlight the
main characteristics of fluorescent tubes:

  • They are lighting systems that need a transformer and the inevitable lamp holder.
  • They are quite cheap, being their costs significantly lower than the system with led screens .
  • They are simple to install, they do not require specialized labor, anyone can change a fluorescent lamp.
  • Another advantage is that it is easy to calculate the amount of light they emit , always taking into account the relationship between watts and liters of water in the aquarium.

Normal or specific fluorescent for aquarium

The fluorescent ones are just fluorescent. We have to learn to identify the data that manufacturers provide us, to understand if the fluorescent tube that we are going to buy is adapted to what we need for our aquarium.

We are going to find an abbreviation such as this:

T5 HE 28w / 830 115 cm 3000k

  • T5, refers to the fact that it is a (T) fluorescent tube of a certain diameter , in this case 5. The most common for aquariums are the t5 and t8 tubes, as I will comment on below.
  • 28w, is the electrical power consumed.
  • 830, refers to the color temperature and color rendering index (CRI). It is a code consisting of three digits.

    For a planted aquarium, it is good if the first number is 8 or higher.
    The 8 tells us that the colors we appreciate are very close to those we would see in natural light.

    The next two digits refer to the color temperature, in degrees Kelvin.

    Thus, 65 (6500k) is a white light equivalent to midday light, 50 (5000k) is natural white light, 40 and 27 refer to warm light, equivalent to sunrise and sunset.
  • The 115 cm, obviously, refers to the length of the fluorescent tube.
  • The 3000k, are incorporated in the reading of the three digits and refers to the type of light.

A fluorescent 830 would have evening lighting, rather warm and not suitable for a planted aquarium.

Types of fluorescent for aquarium. Difference between t8 and t5 tubes

If you want to install fluorescent lighting, or you want to change your burned out fluorescent, you will find that there are two different options on the market, the t8 tubes and the t5 tubes.

Sometimes the difference between one and the other is not very clear, basically it is that the t8 tube is larger in diameter than the t5, and it is less efficient in terms of lighting and energy consumption:

  • Fluorescent aquarium t8: This type of fluorescent tube is the most common.

    They are traditional tubes, with a diameter of 26 millimeters, because they are very popular and cheap, they are the usual ones in aquarium kits.

    They are the least efficient, they use a lot of watts per lumen.
  • Fluorescent aquarium t5: it is the alternative that is created to improve the electrical consumption of fluorescent tubes type t8.

    They emit better light and have an optimal penetration into the water column.

    Its appearance is smaller with a diameter of only 16 millimeters.
    They take up little space.

These two models are the most common aquarium fluorescent lamps.
However, there are other variables to take into account:
fresh water, salt water, if the aquarium is planted and the recent combination between fluorescent lamps and LEDs.

Fluorescent lamps for freshwater aquariums

In the freshwater aquarium it is very important to take into account its height, to determine what type of fluorescent is the most appropriate.

In the case of fish tanks that do not exceed 60 cm in height, it is best to
use t5 fluorescents, since these luminaires are compact and do not take up much space in a small aquarium .

On the other hand, if the aquarium is very tall then it is necessary to opt for the fluorescent type t8.

The reason?
Well, these luminaires have more capacity to illuminate in the density of water. In addition, it is easier for them to emit luminosity for the plants to do the photosynthesis process.

After all, an aquarium is usually planted and it is a more complex kind of ecosystem.

Fluorescents for saltwater aquariums

In this case, it is necessary to meet certain characteristics. For this, it is necessary that fluorescent tubes emit the light called «actinic».

What is actinic light?
Well, it is a light that oscillates between 400 and 480 nm. It is the type of illumination that corals and saltwater algae have in the upper reaches of the oceans.

It should be made clear that
this light is also often used in planted aquariums. And it is that it is ideal for aquatic plants.

Similarly, if actinic aquarium fluorescents are used excessively, unwanted plants may also appear.
On this particular matter, we are going to give some considerations below.

Fluorescent tubes for planted aquariums

Keep in mind that contemporary aquariums tend a lot to landscaping . Not only do you have the fish, but you also try to recreate a natural environment, concealing the glass walls as much as possible. There are aquariums where corals and a large number of plants can be appreciated , where the fish move as if they were in their natural ecosystem.

The fluorescent lamps for planted aquariums must
ensure that plants generate photosynthesis, creating a balance between CO2 and oxygen necessary for fish to live naturally.

Fluorescents, in these cases, adapt to certain measurements that are usually called «pairs» in the aquarium universe.

These pairs are types of lights used to promote the growth of certain aquatic plants, as well as to prevent the appearance of others.

Such pairs are the ones mentioned below:

  • 380-450 nm: it is a light located in the violet and bluish zone of the light spectrum. For this reason, the use of the blue fluorescent tube for aquariums is very frequent. This light helps most green algae.
  • 650-750 nm: concerns the orange and reddish range of the light spectrum. It is used by plants with red tones, which instead of chlorophyll have a substance called carotenoids.

The aforementioned aspects must be considered in the fluorescent lamps for aquariums with plants.

Aquarium led fluorescent tubes

In recent times «led fluorescent tubes» have appeared . What does it consist on? They are tubes that have a light emitting diode that tend to replace conventional fluorescent tubes.

They have a lot of advantages.
That is why many times there
is a tendency to change fluorescent lights for aquarium LEDs.


It happens that an aquarium led fluorescent tube works without a transformer (ballast).

To this is added that
they do not have the dangerous mercury that the typical aquarium fluorescent lamps have that have been used for so many decades in the aquarium universe. To better explain this, we indicate the advantages of this novel fish tank lighting technology:

  • They allow to save 60% of energy. This happens because they eliminate the ballasts and primers.
  • Their useful life is longer: they last up to 35,000 hours, that is, 5 times longer than conventional aquarium fluorescent lamps.
  • They offer great luminosity , being highly effective in aquariums with pronounced height dimensions.
  • They can be obtained both in fluorescent t8 led aquarium formats and also in fluorescent t5 led aquarium.
  • They turn on immediately . They also don’t have the problem of flickering light.
  • They offer a wide range of light options: cold, neutral and «even».
  • They are completely free of toxic substances and are less polluting in the environment.

As can be seen, it happens that
the alternatives of fluorescent lamps for aquariums are very wide. Therefore, it is necessary to know how to evaluate them and know the advantages of these lighting systems in aquariums.

It goes without saying that they
are also very inexpensive, making it an excellent alternative for those with tight budgets.

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