Think of an aquarium mat as a mattress for your fish tank.
It gives your aquarium a comfortable spot to rest, away from harm.
While it might not look like much, this extra piece of padding is an essential piece of equipment for many fish keepers.
And today, I’ll explain why.
Do you need a mat underneath your aquarium?
If your tank is braced, then no, you can skip the mat completely…
But, if you have a rimless aquarium, a mat is a must!
Many fish keepers skip the mat entirely, mostly because they don’t know better.
In fact, I have seen beginners throw away the mat that came with their new tank because they thought it was part of the packaging!
But I am going to get you started the right way! So, before you begin to fill your new aquarium with water and decorations, place a mat underneath.
Trust me, it’s much easier to place a mat down now rather than when your aquarium is fully set up. A filled aquarium is heavy! Unless you have a small tank or are Hercules, it’s going to be impossible to lift the tank to place a mat underneath.
Why do you need a mat under your aquarium?
Like I said above, a fully setup aquarium is heavy.
On a rimless tank, most of this weight is placed on the bottom panel of glass. Not a problem – the bottom panel is up to the task of holding all that weight…
As long as the surface the tank sits on is level.
Here’s where it gets tricky – most surfaces aren’t perfectly level.
Heck, I have seen brand new aquarium stands with uneven surfaces – screw heads and knots are just some of the surface imperfections that your tank can rest on.
Not something you want pressing against the bottom of your tank, right?
The weight of your tank will be focused on any high points on the surface, placing the bottom panel of glass under focused stress.
You won’t even notice your aquarium straining against the uneven surface.
Over time, as pressure is continually applied to these points, your glass will finally give way….
Your worst nightmare – a cracked tank.
But it doesn’t have to be like this…
The spongy material of your mat absorbs those high points so that they do not apply pressure to the bottom of your aquarium.
This is why they are often referred to as leveling mats – it helps smooth out any bumps that hide below your aquarium.
It is completely possible that your tank may be just fine, even under all that pressure. But it’s an expensive risk.
And, considering just how cheap an aquarium mat is, there is little excuse not to use a mat at the base. For peace of mind, it’s worth it.
Personally, I use some kind of mat every time I set up a new aquarium.
Now, I must stress that a foam mat is only useful for raised surfaces – bumps, not gaps.
If your aquarium stand has gaps, then a foam mat is going to compress into those gaps. And, you know what that means? That’s right, uneven pressure on the base of your tank.
If gaps are the reason your aquarium isn’t level, then a mat isn’t going to help at all – you need to find a way to flatten out the surface.
Which is the best mat to use under your aquarium?
It’s funny, in Europe, you can commonly find foam aquarium mats on the shelves of local fish stores. But in America, it’s a different story. There are only a couple of brands, such as Mr. Aqua. While these are great mats, they are typically aimed at smaller aquariums.
I personally go the DIY route. When it comes to mats under my aquarium, I use something like these…
Camping mats are designed to keep you comfortable on uneven surfaces when camping. Those rocks and pebbles on the ground? Camping mats absorb them so that they don’t apply pressure to your body while you sleep.
And, they work just as well for your aquarium!
Oh, and they come in nearly any color you can think of, if that’s your thing.
While camping mats are my go-to my choice, any padded material with a bit of give can be used…
I know many hobbyists who use yoga mats as padding. If you have a short wife, maybe she won’t notice if you slice a piece off! Otherwise, cheap yoga mats can be found at any retailer.
Others use a cork mat, a popular drawer liner that can easily double as an aquarium mat.
Sometimes I even hear Styrofoam recommended for use under aquariums, but I avoid this since it crushes easily.
Whatever material you use as a mat under your aquarium, make sure that it has some give – this is what makes the mat absorb any irregularities on the surface.
Just remember that larger, heavier tanks need a denser foam since they will compress the mat more than a smaller tank.
Once you choose your mat, simply cut it to size. This way, it will be mostly hidden from view.
I have seen some hobbyists skip the foam mat because they don’t like how it looks under their aquarium.
Trust me, if you cut away any excess foam, it is hardly noticeable. I have never once had a guest comment on the foam underneath my tanks. They are too fixated on what is going on inside the tanks to notice.
Do you use a mat as a base for your aquarium? Tell me what kind and why in the comments below!