Welcome To The Best Fish Tank Filter Selection Guide

Because the filter is one of the most important pieces and in some cases the most expensive pieces of equipment for your aquarium, buying one can be intimidating, especially for beginners.

With so many different types of aquarium filters, different flow rates, brands and capacities available you want to be sure you’re buying the right one.

This guide will help walk you though all the different filters available and help you select the best aquarium filter that’s right for your tank and fish.

This is a very long guide, so you can click to open up this table of contents and jump to a specific section.

Or, if  you already know what you are looking for here are some helpful links to all our product reviews, to help save you some time.

Here they are;

Looking For An Internal Filter?

BEST INTERNAL FISH TANK FILTER

Looking For A Canister Filter?

Best Canister Filter

Looking For A HOB Filter?

Best hob aquarium filter

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s review what exactly makes a good filter.

What Makes A Good Fish Tank  Filter?

Who makes the best fish tank filter and why?

Well, that depends on what you are looking for.

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.

For example;

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.

choosing_an_aquarium_filterFrom That Pet Place

Most Popular Fish Tank Filter Brands

In my opinion the best aquarium filter brand is Fluval.

However, that is a personal preference and there are many great aquarium filter brands.

Here are the most popular aquarium filter brands;

Most Popular Fish Tank Filters

Again, this is my preference. But, in my opinion the best aquarium filter is the Fluval FX6.

If you are looking for a great canister filter read our review;

However, just like filter brands, there are many great filters available. You can find links to many of our reviews at the start of this guide.

Here are three of the most popular aquarium filters.

Fluval FX6

Marineland Emperor 400

Aqueon Quietflow 30

Here Are The 29 Best Aquarium Filters

So far we have gone over what makes a good aquarium filter, the different types, the best brands and shown you a few of the most popular aquarium filters.

It’s now time to look at the 29 best aquarium filters and recommend the best fish tank filter from each of the following categories;

  1. Canister Filters
  2. Hang On Back (HOB) Filters
  3. Internal Filters
  4. Small Filters

In each of the sections below you will find helpful links to all our reviews for each filter shown in every category.

We will also explain the function along with the pros and cons for that type of filter as well as recommend the top filter in that category.

Let’s begin.

Best Canister Filter: Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

We reviewed 10 of the best canister filters and the Fluval FX6 was our number one pick

fluval-fx6-best-price

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

If you would like to see more options click the links below to see full reviews of some of the best canister filters.

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.

Canister Filter Comparison Chart

MODELFILTERTYPEGALLONS PER HOURTANK SIZERATINGPRICE
Marineland ML90751 Magniflow Canister 360 FilterCanister Filter360 gphUp to 100 gallons4$$$
Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter, 100 Gallon, 265gphCanister Filter265 gphUp to 100 gallons5$
Ehm Fltr 2217 Classic 264gCanister Filter265 gphUp to 150 gallons3.5$$
Fluval Fx6 Aquarium Canister FilterCanister Filter925 gphUp to 400 gallons 4.5$$$$
SunSun HW-302 264GPH Pro Canister FilterCanister Filter264 gphUp to 75 gallons4.0$
Fluval 406 Canister FilterCanister Filter383 gphUp to 100 gallons4.3$$
Eheim Pro 4+ Canister FilterCanister Filter265 gphUp to 160 gallons4$$$
API Filstar XP-L Canister Filter350 gphUp to 175 gallons4$$
Hydor Professional 250 External Canister FilterCanister Filter225 gphUp to 40-75 gallons
Finnex PX-360 Compact Canister FilterCanister Filter/HOB95 gphUp to 25 gallons4$

Best HOB Filter: Marineland Emporer 400 Power Filter

We reviewed 5 of the best HOB filters available and the Marineland Emperor Power Filter would be a great choice for anyone looking for a solid hang on back aquarium filter.

Based on its low price, its ability to filter 400 gallons per hour and an overall rating of 4.2/5.

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

Click here to read our full review of the Marineland Emperor 400

If you don’t think the Marineland HOB filter will suit your needs, Click the links below to see full reviews of all the HOB filters.

Or, check out the HOB filter comparison chart directly below this section.

About HOB Filters

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

The filter itself never enters the water, it is hung off the back of your aquarium and sucks water up a long tube.

The water then goes through filter media, typically three chambers where nitrate and other toxins are removed. The water is then sent back into the tank.

HOB Filter Pros: 

It provides great filtration of aquarium water. It is also simple to assemble and is hidden from view.

HOB Filter Cons: 

When replacing the cartridges the good bacteria colony is also removed.

HOB Power Filter Comparison Chart

MODELFILTERTYPEGALLONS PER HOURTANK SIZERATINGPRICE
MARINELAND EMPEROR 400 POWER FILTER - UP TO 75 GALLONSHang On Back (hob) Power Filter400 gphUp to 90 gallons4.2$$
Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Power FilterHang On Back (hob) Power Filter250 gphUp to 50 gallons4$
AquaClear 70 Power FilterHang On Back (hob) Power Filter300 gphUp to 40-70 gallons4.3$$
Tetra 25774 Whisper Power Filter 40, 40-GallonHang On Back (hob) Power Filter250 gphUp to 60 gallons 3.9$
Fluval C4 Power FilterHang On Back (hob) Power Filter250 gphUp to 40-70 gallons 4.3$$

Best Internal Filter: Aqueon QuietFlow

We reviewed 8 of the best internal fish tank filters and the Aqueon was our number one pick.

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

Click on one of the links below to see all the internal fish tank filters we reviewed.

Or, check out the comparison table directly below this section.

About Internal Filters

The Internal filter is typically used in aquariums under 20 gallons. The filter is mounted inside the aquarium with suction cups that keep the filter in place.

They typically sit at the bottom of the aquarium to help prevent debris from building up or settling on the bottom of the tank.

Internal Filter Pros:

Usually they are small and cheap. They are great for smaller aquariums with small numbers of fish.

Some versions of internal filters need an air pump and airline which also help produce oxygenated bubbles.

Internal Filter Cons: 

This type of filter is recommended for smaller aquariums only

Internal Filter Comparison Chart

MODELFILTERTYPEGALLONS PER HOURTANK SIZERATINGPRICE
Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter 20iInternal Power Filter100 gphUp to 20 gallons3.7$

Elite Underwater Mini FilterInternal Power Filter15 gphUp to 3 gallons3.8$
Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter 3iInternal Power FilterN/A1- 3 gallons3.5$
Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter 10iInternal Power Filter50 gphUp to 10 gallons 4.5$$
KollerCraft TOM Aquarium Mini Internal Filter
Internal Power Filter45 gphUp to 10 gallons 4.0$
Penn Plax Cascade 600 Internal FilterInternal Power Filter175 gphUp to 45 gallons4.3$$
Fluval Underwater Filter
Internal Power Filter60 gphUp to 15 gallons4.0$$$
Aqueon QuietFlow Internal Filter - Small
Internal Power Filter66 gphUp to 15 gallons4.5$

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

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

If you would like to see the other small fish tank filters we reviewed then click one the links below;

Or, check out the comparison table below.

Small Fish Tank Filter Comparison Chart

MODELFILTERTYPEGALLONS PER HOURTANK SIZERATINGPRICE
Aqueon QuietFlow 10Hang On Back Power Filter100 gphUp to 20 gallons4.0$
Marineland Penguin 100 Power FilterHang On Back Power Filter100 gphUp to 20 gallons4.0$
Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter 3iInternal Power FilterN/A1- 3 gallons3.5$
Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter 10iInternal Power Filter50 gphUp to 10 gallons 4.5$$

AquaClear 20 Power FilterHang On Back Power Filter100 gph5 - 20 gallons 5.0$$

Best Sponge Fish Tank Filter: Hydro 3 Sponge Filter

About Sponge Filters

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.

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 then click one of the links below;

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

About Under Gravel Filters

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

Best Fish Tank Filter Survey Infographic

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%).

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?

Check out these articles on TFCG;

Best Canister Filter
Do Goldfish Need A Filter
Best Filter For Betta
Betta Mini Internal Aquarium Filters
Best Sponge Filter
Rio-Mini 90 Internal Power Filter