29 Of The Best Aquarium Filters You Should Know About!

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29 Of The Best Aquarium Filters You Should Know About! 2017-10-16T11:31:39+00:00

Welcome To The Best Aquarium Filter Selection Guide!

The filter is one of the most important (and sometimes most expensive) pieces of equipment you’ll buy for your aquarium.

If this is your first tank, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed or intimidated by all the options. Beginners, have no fear–you’ve come to the right place.

With all the different types of aquarium filters, the different brands, the different flow rates and media types and gallon ratings, it’s easy to get turned around and confused.

We’re here to help.

In this complete guide to choosing the Best Aquarium Filter we will walk you through the best filters available in each filter category.

You’ll learn how to pick the best aquarium filter–the one that works best for your tank and your fish.

This is an unapologetically long guide. It’s designed to cover everything a beginner would need to know, but there’s stuff in here that experts could learn from, too.

Here’s the table of contents–feel free to jump to the section that is most relevant. If you aren’t sure which section that is, start at the beginning!

Or, if you already know what kind of fish tank filter you are looking for, skip directly to our helpful product reviews to save some time.

You’ll find the reviews below!

Looking For An Internal Filter?

If you know you want an internal tank filter, these reviews can help you make the right decision (the first time!):

Looking For A Canister Filter?

If you’re putting a big fish tank together (40 gallons and up) you know you need a canister filter, get the skinny on the market’s most popular canisters here:

Looking For A HOB Filter?

If you know a hang-on-back filter is the answer to your dirty tank problems, use these reviews to pick the best HOB filter for your needs:

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about what actually makes a good filter.

1. What Makes A Good Aquarium Filter?

Best Aquarium Filter considerations.Quote Via: www.drsfostersmith.com

Who makes the best aquarium filter? And why is it considered “the best”?

Most people consider clear water to be the number one indicator of a good filter. And while water clarity serves as the most obvious indicator of the filter doing its job, there are many other factors that you should consider when deciding which filter is the best for your fish tank.

We’ve got you covered.

Here’s what we recommend you look for during your fish tank filter search (in no particular order):

  • The price of the filter
  • The type of filter (i.e. HOB, internal, canister, sponge, undergravel…There are others but these are the most popular)
  • The types of filter media used (i.e. mechanical, biological, chemical, or a combination of these)
  • The ease of installation
  • How quiet or loud the filter is
  • The ease of maintenance (How complicated is the cleaning/maintenance process, and how often do you need to do that process?
  • The flow rate, input, output, and media parameters for the filter
  • The filter’s flexibility and customization options for flow rate and media
  • The recommended application of the filter (some filters perform better in certain environments/tanks and with certain fish)
  • “Quality of life” features that make the filter stand out from others in the market

A quiet filter is better than a loud filter, obviously… But what about the harder questions that you might not know the answers to? What about differences in flow rate? Which media types are best? How do you know which type of filter is best for your specific tank?

Those questions (and more) are answered throughout this guide. By the end, you’ll know:

  • If you should use a sponge or HOB filter, or spring for a canister filter
  • Which media filter combination is best
  • Which filters have worked for us and come highly recommended
  • And more–the answers are in this fish tank filter guide

2. What Are The Most Popular Aquarium Filter Types [Video]

We get it–not everyone wants to read these days. If videos are your thing, this video from Howcast will scratch you where you itch.

It briefly describes what you can expect from certain filter types, and also has some handy, actionable tips for picking a filter you’ll actually be happy with.

It’s a quick watch (just 2 and a half minutes–even a goldfish could watch it) and it’ll prepare you for what’s to come in the rest of this guide!

3. Which Aquarium Filter Is Best For My Tank?

You want to do your research up front, so you aren’t wasting time and money with multiple filters. We’ve done that part for you!

Every filter has its pros and cons.

Canister filters typically cost the most but are the most effective at all 3 types of filtration. An undergravel filter may be the cheapest way to go, but it requires the most amount of maintenance and only provides biological filtration.

The money vs maintenance tradeoff is just the beginning–the world of fish tank filters is full of tradeoffs and sacrifices (depending on how dramatic you are).

This simple table can give you a quick idea of what you can expect from each type of aquarium filter. But this isn’t an exhaustive list–don’t assume all HOB filters or all canister filters are made equal.

choosing_an_aquarium_filter

From That Pet Place

4. Most Popular Fish Tank Filter Brands

Time to be candid–In my opinion, the best aquarium filter brand is Fluval. That’s 20 years of fishkeeping talking….

But, ultimately, it’s still just a personal preference. What works best for my tank setup and my fish might not work for yours. There are many great aquarium filter brands out there. This guide takes a look at a selection of the best options.

Here are the most popular aquarium filter brands;

5. What Are The 3 Best Aquarium Filters? (Our Top Picks)

Not everyone likes meticulously researching and cross-referencing features between different filters.

If you’re more interested in simply getting your tank up and running, take a look at these three filters–they’re three of the most popular aquarium filters on the market today:

Top Pick #1: Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

fluval-fx6-best-price

The best aquarium filter (spoiler alert: this is still my opinion) is the Fluval FX6. The Fluval FX6 won’t make sense for a ten gallon tank. But if you have a serious fish tank setup going and you want a great canister filter, the Fluval FX6 can make your water cleaner and clearer, and your life a lot easier than other filters.

Check out 7 reasons why the Fluval FX6 and FX4 Canister Filters are beasts.

Wath this video from Fluval that details all the great options the Fluval FX series has to offer:

Of course, we live in a free market society! We the people need options! And just like with filter brands, there are many great filters available…

Top Pick #2: Marineland Emporer Penguin Power Filter

best-hob-filter-marineland-emporer-400-power-filter

Crystal clear water and healthy fish are a hallmark of this Marineland Power Filter. The high flow rate, efficient filtration, and dual Bio-wheels combine to make this one of the best filters on the market.

If you’re looking for efficiency, high water flow, and the best in biological filtration available, then you should be looking at the Marineland Emperor 400 Pro Series Bio-Wheel Power Filter .

Watch this great video from Big Al’s about the Marineland Penguin HOB Filters:

Top Pick #3: Aqueon QuietFlow Internal Filter

best-internal-fish-tank-filter-aqueon-quietflow-internal-filter

The Aqueon is a great small filter that is ultra quiet and it’s design and can fit discreetly into any tank. It will also work in as little as 2 inches of water, so it would be great for a wide variety of uses.

Based on its low price, it’s ability to filter 66 gallons per hour and great reviews from all users the Aqueon QuietFlow Internal Filter would be a great choice for any 10 – 15 gallon set ups.

Watch this unboxing of the Aqueon Internal filter from life with pets: 

If you’re someone who wants to look at all the options before making the best choice for your filter, you’ll want to keep reading. We break it all down for you while we compare the best filters on the market–and we recommend our top picks in each category!

6. Here Are The 29 Best Aquarium Filters

So far we’ve looked at what makes a good aquarium filter, the different types of filters, the best brands for tank filters, and we’ve seen a few of the most popular aquarium filters.

It’s now time for the main event–Buckle up for our  look at the 29 best aquarium filters and stick with us as we recommend the best fish tank filter from each of the following types of fish tank filters:

  1. Canister Filters
  2. Hang On Back (HOB) Filters
  3. Internal Filters
  4. Small Tank Filters
  5. Sponge Filters
  6. Undergravel Filters

You’ll continue to see helpful links to all our reviews for the filters shown in each category. When you see a filter you like, just click the link to get the full scoop!

You’ll also learn the different functions and the pros and cons for each type of filter. And you’ll get our expert recommendation for the top filter in each category!

Let’s dive in!

7. Our Pick For The Best Canister Filter: Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

Canister filters pack some serious punch in the filtration department. We went whole hog and reviewed 10 of the best canister filters, just for you.

If you read the Most Popular Fish Tank Filters section earlier in the guide, you already know how we feel about the Fluval FX6. It should come as no surprise that the Fluval FX6 is our number one pick.

Just in case you missed it, there are seven reasons why the Fluval FX6 is the best on the market (their nifty self-start feature is just the tip of the iceberg). Get the full scoop with our Fluval FX6 review.

Click here to read our full review of the Fluval FX6.

If the Fluval FX6 isn’t doing it for you, you can click the links below to see full reviews of some of the best canister filters also on the market:

  • Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter  
    • A great filter if you’re looking for good value, with plenty of trays for excellent media flexibility.
  • Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter
    • A whisper-quiet filter that’s way cheaper than it should be!
  • SunSun HW-302 Canister Filter
    • Transitioning from HOB filters and want a canister filter at an entry-level price point? Give this canister filter a look.
  • Fluval 406 Canister Filter
    • Very low maintenance, big filtration capacity, 3-year warranty–these are just a few reasons why this canister filter is worth a look.
  • Eheim Classic Canister Filter
    • Looking for a filter that will run longer than you? It’s hard to beat the durability and reliability of the EHEIM Classic canister filter.
  • API Filstar XP-L Canister Filter
    • Easy to prime, easy to clean and maintain, and a good value for the price.
  • Hydor Canister Filter
    • This canister filter is another great value, plus it comes with the necessary filtration media and an expandable spray bar to fit your tank’s dimensions.
  • Eheim Pro 4+ Review and Unboxing
    • Pay less on your energy bill, enjoy your tank for longer periods between cleanings, and a few other benefits make this filter worth a look–plus you can watch an unboxing!
  • Best Canister Filter For A 20 Gallon Tank
    • For all you small-tankers out there looking for a powerhouse canister filter for the ultimate clean tank, this article is the one for you.

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.

8. Our Pick For The Best HOB Filter: Marineland Emperor 400 Power Filter

We reviewed 5 of the best HOB filters available, because that’s what we do around here.

Our top choice is (cue drum roll) the Marineland Emperor Power Filter. If you’re in the market for a great hang on back aquarium filter, the Marineland Emperor Power Filter is a great choice.

Why do we love it?

It has the best biological filtration on the market. It runs quietly. It’s durable. It’s affordable. That’s just the beginning–Read our full Marineland Emperor HOB filter review to learn everything you need to know about this HOB filter powerhouse.

Marineland Emperor 400 Pro Series Bio-Wheel Power Filter Review.

There’s more to HOB filters than just the Marineland Emperor Power Filter. Here’s the rest of the lineup:

  • AquaClear 70 Power Filter
    • Quiet, efficient, affordable, reliable…it hits all the marks and it’s worth a look.
  • Fluval C4 Power Filter
    • Easy to install, easy to maintain, and has a powerhouse filtration system–your water will be clean and clear.
  • Tetra Whisper Power Filter
    • This is a great buy if you want an affordable HOB filter that’ll still keep your tank clean and your fish happy

About HOB Filters

The Hang on Back Power Filter is the most common filter you will find because it’s easy to set up, and it’s easy to use and maintain. Plus, it does a great job filtering your aquarium.

How HOB Filters Work:

The filter itself never enters the water.

As the name suggests, HOB filters hang on the back of your aquarium and suck tank water up a long tube.

The water then goes through the filter media. There are typically three chambers in HOB filters where nitrate and other toxins are removed from the water. The filter then sends the water back into the tank, clean and clear of toxins.

HOB Filter Pros:

It provides great filtration of aquarium water. It’s simple to assemble and fairly easy to maintain. Plus, with the HOB filter hanging outside your tank, there’s no bulky filter to incorporate into your tank’s internal aesthetic, and no bulky filter to hide in a cabinet underneath your tank.

HOB Filter Cons:

You remove the good bacteria colony every time you replace the cartridge. It will always grow back, but it takes time. HOB filters have multiple cleaning steps, so they do take a little more maintenance than some other types of filters (like sponge filters, for example). And one of the most common complaints about HOB filters is the noise (They have gotten much quieter over the years, there’s still hope!).

If you missed our HOB filters review link earlier, you’ll want to check it out now.

  • The Best HOB Aquarium Filters-This article will show you:
    • Five of the best HOB filters on the market today
    • The best way to clean your HOB filter to ensure your tank stays clean and clear (and your fish stay happy and healthy)
    • The most reliable brands for hang on back filters

9. Our Pick For The Best Internal Filter: Aqueon QuietFlow

Internal filters are great if you have a small tank, want your tank flush against a wall, or need some extra filtration in a larger tank.

Instead of hanging off the back of your tank or hiding in a cabinet, internal filters go inside your tank. Who could have seen that one coming?

We like to make it easier for you, so we reviewed  8 of the best internal fish tank filters, and our number one pick is…. The Aqueon!

best-internal-fish-tank-filter-aqueon-quietflow-internal-filter

Internal filters are quiet, inexpensive, and great for a smaller beginner’s tank. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, check out our other links to get a complete look at the best internal tank filters.

  • 8 best internal fish tank filters.–If you didn’t click this link earlier, you’ll want to read it now. You’ll learn:
    • How to be sure you’re getting the right “media” for your filter
    • The best place to put the internal filter in your tank
    • Why the Aqueon Quietflow is the best filter for your 10-15 gallon tank setup
  • Selecting The Best Betta Mini Internal Fish Tank Filter–Read this and learn:
    • The three things you need to consider when you’re looking for a mini tank filter
    • Which five filters could give the Rio a run for its money
  • Rio 90 Mini Internal Fish Tank Filter Review–In this review, you’ll learn:
    • The standout feature that makes the Rio an excellent internal filter option, especially at its current price
    • Seven reasons why the Rio 90 Mini internal filter comes so highly recommended
    • A few of the things you should be aware of before you invest in the Rio

About Internal Filters

An internal filter is typically used in aquariums holding 20 gallons or less. The filter is mounted inside the aquarium with suction cups that keep the filter in place (like we mentioned–this is great if you want your aquarium to be flat against the wall).

Internal filters typically sit at the bottom of the aquarium to help prevent debris from building up or settling on the bottom of the tank. If you have a larger tank and there’s a spot that your current filter doesn’t quite reach (known as a “dead spot”), an internal filter is a great way to bring water circulation to that area.

Internal Filter Pros:

If you do your research you can find great internal filters for a great price. They are ideal for smaller aquariums with small numbers of fish.

Some versions of internal filters use air pumps and airlines, which help produce oxygenated bubbles (a good thing!).

Internal Filter Cons:

Internal filters are only recommended for smaller aquariums (unless you have a dead spot). So if you have a lot of fish in a large aquarium, you’ll have to spring for a bigger filter. If you have a really large aquarium, take another look at these excellent canister filters.

10. Our Pick For The Best Small Fish Tank Filter: Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Power Filter

Aqueon 06080 QuietFlow 10 Power Filter, 100GPH
List Price:$17.90
Price:$10.99
You Save:$6.91
Price Disclaimer

When it comes to “small” tanks, we’re referring to any tank under 20 gallons. The smaller the tank, the faster the toxins build up–which means having a good tank filter is really important.

We reviewed 5 of the best small fish tank filters and (spoiler alert) the Aqueon was our number one pick.

If you want to see the other small fish tank filters we reviewed, then check out the articles linked below.

  • Top 5 best small fish tank filters. — This is worth a look if your tank is 20 gallons or less, and you want to learn:
    • Which tank filters are best for different small tank sizes
    • My one tip for picking a filter that can actually handle your tank’s needs
    • The ideal filtration rate for your small tank
  • Best Filter For Betta Fish –Read this article if your tank is in the 3-10 gallon range and you’re curious about:
    • One of the biggest pitfalls most new Betta owners experience–and the surprising cause
    • The unfortunate trade-offs of not using a filter in your small Betta fish tank
    • The five best filters for small Betta fish tanks

11. Our Pick For The Best Sponge Fish Tank Filter: Hydro 3 Sponge Filter

About Sponge Filters

The Sponge filter is the most simple to use and easiest filter to understand. Its most common use is for small sensitive fish like the Betta. It’s gentle performance is also perfect for newborn fry after breeding. It can really come 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:

The sponge filter is relatively cheap and very easy to set up. The design of the sponge filter actually allows good bacteria to live on the sponge. This means that, in addition to the mechanical filtration taking place, your tank is getting biological filtration, too.

Sponge Filter Cons:

Sponge filters can look large and bulky in your tank. Some air pumps can be pretty noisy, too. Most sponge filters are rated for tanks up to 10 gallons in size, which limits options for larger tanks. But there are solutions out there–multiple sponge filters in a single tank could provide adequate filtration rates. And some sponge filters pair well with certain HOB filters.

We reviewed the best sponge filters and the Hydro III Sponge Pro Filter  was our number one pick.

If you would like to see the other sponge fish tank filters we reviewed, you’ll want to check out our Best Sponge Filters guide.

  • Best sponge filters –In it, you’ll learn:
    • Why your Betta fish is safest with a sponge filter
    • How other filters could spell disaster for a baby Betta
    • Which style and size of tank work best with a sponge filter
    • The best sponge filter options to consider when starting your search

Or, if you’re handy around the house and want to build your own, check out our DIY sponge filter article:

  • DIY Sponge Filter –In it, we cover:
    • The 6 (surprisingly simple) things you need to build your own sponge pump
    • The 9 (surprisingly easy) steps to building and installing your very own sponge filter

12. Best Undergravel Fish Tank Filter: Penn-Plax Premium Undergravel Filter

About Undergravel Filters

Undergravel filters sit below the gravel (yet another filter name that leaves nothing to the imagination) and suck water and debris through the gravel. The idea is that the debris will get trapped in the gravel. Then the debris-free water passes up through the tubes. An airstone and air pump are attached to the top of the tube to create the suction.

Under Gravel Filter Cons (getting right to the point):

With undergravel filters, most beneficial forms of filtration don’t even occur.  It’s a hard filter to clean, and typically results in debris build-up at the bottom of your tank. That can lead to high levels of hydrogen sulfide…which you don’t want.

Typically we don’t recommend this type of filtration for large community tanks or tanks with live plants.

13. The Best Fish Tank Filter Survey

There was an interesting and enlightening survey from ThePetPlace.com and decided to include it (just for the halibut).

What good is an opinion if it’s not coming from an expert?

The survey asked for responses from 100 customers on which fish tank filter they prefer, which fish tank filter brand they prefer, and their top 3 recommendations.

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–when you’re looking for a great aquarium filter, go with the advice of people who’ve actually set up their own tanks!

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 the ability to handle dirty aquariums (that’s what we like to see).

75% of those surveyed preferred either a HOB Power Filter(35%) or a Canister Filter (40%).

Here are the results from the surevey;

The Top 5 Preferred Filter Brands Were;

  • Marineland (Almost 50%)
  • Fluval
  • Eheim
  • Eshopps
  • API

Best Fish Tank Filters – The Top 3 Picks;

  1. Marineland C-360 Canister Filter
  2. Marineland Power Filter
  3. Fluval 306 Canister Filter

Looking For More Filter Options?

There’s always more to *sea*! Check out these other articles on TFCG: