Most people consider clear water to be the number one indicator of a good filter. However, there are many other factors that should be considered when deciding which filter is the best for your fish tank.
In no particular order here are a few things that you should consider;
The price of the filter.
The Type of filter, HOB, Internal, Canister, Sponge, Under gravel…There are others but these are the most popular.
Types of filter media used, mechanical, biological, chemical,
Ease of installation
How quiet or loud is the filter
Ease of maintenance, how often and how complicated it is to maintain
Flexibility, flow rate, input, output, media
Application, some filters perform better in certain environments.
Features what makes it better than the others
Now that you know what makes a good filter, it’s time to explain all the different types of aquarium filters you could buy.
[Video] Popular Fish Tank Filter Types
This is a great video from about.com that covers all the different types of aquarium filters, how they work and how to use them.
Which Aquarium Filter Is Best For My Tank?
As you might expect every filter has it’s own pros and cons.
Canister filters typically cost the most but are the most effective at all 3 types of filtration. While an undergravel filter may be the cheapest way to go, it requires the most amount of maintenance and only provides biological filtration.
Still not sure what to expect from each of the above fish tank filters, use this simple table to give you an idea of what you can expect from each type of aquarium filter.
Or, use the canister filter comparisson chart directly below this section.
About Canister Filters
The Canister filter is the most popular option for larger aquariums (40 gallons or larger.) Although, you can find them for smaller aquariums as well.
This type of filter does not enter the water and is typically kept below the aquarium in the tank stand.
Canister Filter Pros:
Canister filters provide the best mechanical, chemical and biological filtration. They also provide superior filtration as most canister filters are pressurized so water is forced through a fine material which traps smaller particles.
Canister filters are best for larger aquariums with larger/dirty fish like Cichlids, Koi or saltwater and plant aquariums.
Canister Filter Cons:
They are much larger compared to other filters and can come with a bigger price tag.
The Sponge filter is the most simple to use and understand. It’s most common use is for small sensitive fish like the Betta, newborn fry after breeding and also comes in handy when your fish are sick and you set up a hospital tank.
A sponge filter is used with an air pump, which pulls water through the sponge capturing debris.
Sponge Filter Pros:
Typically this filter is relatively cheap and very easy to set up. The sponge allows good bacteria live on the sponge, allowing biological filtration to take place along with the mechanical filtration.
Sponge Filter Cons:
When used with a noisy air pump and it can look large and bulky in your tank.
Under gravel filters sit below the gravel and suck water and debris through the gravel where it gets trapped. The clean water then passes up through the tubes. An air stone and air pump is attached to the top of the tube to create the suction action.
Under Gravel Filter Cons:
Most beneficial forms of filtration don’t occur at all. It’s also very hard to clean and typically results in debris build up at the bottom of the tank causing high levels of hydrogen sulfide.
Typically we don’t recommend this type of filtration for large community tanks or tanks with live plants.
The Best Fish Tank Filter Survey
As with anything in life, it’s always good to know what the experts would use when looking for a great aquarium filter.
With experts in mind below is a quick summary of a survey that was completed by the pet place.com.
They surveyed 100 customers on which fish tank filter they prefer, which fish tank filter brand they prefer and a top 3 recommendation.
On average over 50% of those surveyed had between 5-10 years of experience.
This is awesome because we know we are getting some solid advice from experienced aquarists.
More than 60% had a freshwater tank size of 35-100 gallons with a medium bio-load.
This means that the preferred filters were strong enough for large tanks with ability to handle dirty aquariums.
75% of those surveyed preferred either a HOB Power Filter(35%) or a Canister Filter (40%).