Remote filter system in the aquarium, under the aquarium cover
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Best Aquarium Filter: Your 2023 Trusted Guide [TRIED & TESTED]

Quality aquarium filtration is necessary for keeping healthy fish. But when it comes to choosing good aquarium filters, the sheer amount of options available can leave fish owners overwhelmed.

You have to consider numerous factors including the tank’s size, the inhabitants, your budget, and personal preferences…and this can be quite difficult, especially for novices.

So to help you out, I compiled a comprehensive list of the best aquarium filters I’ve come across and personally tested over many years of keeping fish. This list contains different types of aquarium filters in various sizes for small, medium, and large tanks, so we’ve got something for everyone.

Table of Contents

How To Choose The Best Aquarium Filter

Before we dive deeper into the best aquarium filters for 2023, here’s a brief guide to choosing the best aquarium filters to guide you:

Filtration Needs

Your aquarium’s inhabitants may require various filtration types such as chemical filtration, biological filtration, or mechanical filtration. Because of this, you’ll need a tank filter that can perform different types of filtration.

Capacity

An aquarium’s filter’s capacity determines the volume of water it can filter at once. So a higher capacity means more filtration per hour. The ideal filter capacity for you depends mainly on your tank size and the fish’s needs. Let me explain further.

Generally, we can classify aquarium tank filters into internal or external filters. Internal filters usually have less capacity than external filters like canisters. A small aquarium can do well with a suitable internal filter, but a larger tank may benefit more from larger external aquarium filters like canisters or power filters for faster and more efficient filtration.

As for the fish’s needs, we mainly consider the following:

  • Population: A higher population of fish or a larger total fish mass translates to an increased requirement for filtration capacity.
  • Display: Because a display tank is constantly seen, you won’t want clunky internal filters that can steal the show from your beautiful fish, making the aquarium less appealing. Instead, you may prefer HOB filters or canisters that are out of the fish’s view.
  • Specialist pets: Other aquatic pets like turtles can create a lot of mess in short periods and can benefit more from filters with faster filtration.

Flow Rate

The flow rate is a crucial factor in determining which aquarium filter to choose. Tank filters with proper flow rates will efficiently prevent debris accumulation and maintain proper water circulation while avoiding overly disruptive currents.

We measure a tank filter’s flow rate in GPH (gallons per hour), which is the amount of water that runs through the filter within one hour. For the best results, I recommend you get a filter with a GPH of at least 4-6 times the tank’s volume.

For example, a small 10-gallon tank should have a filter with at least 40-60 GPH. A larger tank will obviously need a larger filter with a higher flow rate, but you may opt for two smaller filters instead.

Maintenance Levels

Aquarium filter maintenance is important, but it can be time-consuming and stressful for both you and your fish. So, I recommend that you stick with aquarium filters that are both easy to maintain and don’t require overly frequent maintenance.

But keep in mind that the filter maintenance frequency does not depend on the filter alone, but also on the tank’s bioload.

Ease Of Setup

When filter shopping, I can’t overstress how important it is to pick an easy-to-install tank filter. Think about it: won’t you prefer a tank filter that’s easy to set up and easy to disassemble and reassemble when you need to clean or repair it? 

Preferences

Some people prefer aquarium filters with an in-built heater to save costs and space. But for optimal performance, I find it better to have a separate filter alongside one of these best aquarium heaters.

Other preferences may include whether you want an internal or external tank based on display preferences.

Best Aquarium Filter for Small Tanks (1-10 Gallons)

05/23/2024 11:50 pm GMT

Small tanks usually have a low biological load, and thus, less filtration needs, so they’ll do quite well with small filters that take minimal space. Depending on the exact size and fish’s filtration needs, you can go for anything from a small internal filter, an under gravel filter, a sponge filter,  or a HOB (hang-on-back) filter.

Below are my 3 picks of aquarium filters that would be great for your small 1-10 gallon tanks.

AquaClear 20 Power Fish Tank Filter (Top Pick)

As I said, small tanks don’t need a powerful filter. But the reason I choose the AquaClear 20 Power Fish Tank Filter as my top pick for small tanks is that I love its huge bio media capacity and its 3 stages of filtration, which is something the smaller sponge and under gravel filters lack.

Also, I like that it hangs on the back and doesn’t take up any space inside the small fish tank. Lastly, it’s budget-friendly and energy-efficient, plus the setup and maintenance is a breeze. The AquaClear is everything you want in a small fish tank.

Pros

  • Best for small tanks of 5-10 gallons
  • Great capacity and flow rate for optimal filtration
  • Provides all 3 stages of filtration

Cons

  • Not as compact as I’d like for small tanks below 10 gallons
  • Not self-priming

Marina S10 Power Filter

The Marina S10 Power Filter is a slim HOB filter that fits nicely on even the smallest of tanks. There are a couple of things I love about the Marina S10. For one, the filter is transparent so it’s easy to see when the filter media needs a change. 

But, I must add that its transparency can support algae growth. So, my trick is to keep it in a cool and dry place. 

I also like that it’s self-priming and can easily be used with reusable filter media. And despite being affordable, the Marina S10 is very durable.

My close friend and fish hobbyist has been using this model for many years without problems.

The downsides for me are its vibration and noisiness plus its increased maintenance costs compared to the AquaClear.

Pros

  • Highly durable
  • It’s self-priming

Cons

  • It vibrates and can be a bit noisy
  • Maintenance can be a hassle

Tetra Whisper Internal Tank Filter

The Tetra Whisper Internal Filter is a small but mighty filter built for nano aquariums up to 4 gallons. Its compact design only takes up minimal space in small tanks. Not to mention, the Tetra Whisper has an exceptional flow rate of 26 GHP which is ideal for tanks below 5 gallons.

Tetra also produces mesh filter cartridges for you to slot into your filter. Each cartridge comes with activated charcoal to catch debris and trap the bad aquarium odors. 

However, the Tetra Whisper Internal Filter has an incredibly strong intake. So, I’d recommend using a strip of pantyhose to avoid hurting your aquatic life.

Pros

  • Ideal for nano tanks
  • Small and compact

Cons

  • Not suitable for tanks above 5 gallons
  • May need a mesh to protect small fish from accidents.

Best Aquarium Filter for Medium Tanks (20-40 Gallons)

05/23/2024 09:40 pm GMT

Medium tanks can accommodate any type of aquarium filter, but I find that HOB filters are the best option in terms of filtration capacity,  space, and price. And for tanks with significantly higher bioloads, a canister filter works best 

Here are 3 of my favorite aquarium filters for medium tanks between 20-40 gallons:

Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter (Top Pick)

My top pick for 20-40 gallon tanks is the Penn Plax Cascade Canister because my medium tanks are usually highly stocked and this canister has the right flow rate and capacity while remaining small and affordable.

I also really like the design of the Penn Plax. It’s transparent so you can see what’s happening inside. The valves can rotate 360° making them flexible and easy to fit under the tank. Also, there’s a big handle on top that makes opening it and maintenance easier.

Pros

  • Affordable while providing great value
  • Ideal for medium tanks with high bioload
  • Convenient design

Cons

  • Not self-priming
  • Chemical and biomedia are sold separately

Fluval C2 Power Filter

Fluval is known for making great products and this C2 model doesn’t disappoint. The Fluval C2 Power Filter is a perfect choice for medium tanks of 20-30 gallons. And like other Fluval products, this one also offers their signature 5-stage filtration for optimal filtration performance.

The C2 is thoughtfully designed with a separate chamber for each filter media plus handles on each component that makes it easier to remove. The biomedia space is smaller than I’d like, but that’s not much of a problem.

Pros

  • Efficient mechanical filtration
  • Thoughtfully designed

Cons

  • Needs to be primed
  • Biomedia space is kind of small

AquaClear 50 Power Filter

I’ve come across different brands over the years, and AquaClear has always been highly reliable and durable. This AquaClear 50 Power Filter is made for 20-50 gallon tanks, so it’s more than enough for medium aquariums.

This filter has a huge filter media compartment with space to fit a lot of biomedia if required. And for tanks with shrimp or fry, you can easily customize it with a sponge pre-filter to make it safer. But what I dislike with this model is the impeller tends to stick and it’s a hassle to loosen it up. 

Also, you need to fill the filter with water to prevent it from running with air in its tub 

Pros

  • Ideal for all medium tanks between 20-40 gallons
  • Large filter media compartment
  • Highly reliable and durable

Cons

  • The impeller can get stuck
  • Needs to be primed

Best Aquarium Filter for Large Tanks (50-150 Gallons)

05/23/2024 10:02 pm GMT

The best aquarium filters for large tanks should have a high flow rate, plenty of room for filter biomedia, and a high filtration capacity overall.  Canisters are great for this, and so are HOB filters. 

Below are my top 3 picks for large tanks:

Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter (Top Pick)

It’s not the cheapest filter around, but the Fluval 407 Performance Canister is definitely among the best you can buy for large aquariums. With its flow rate of 383 GPH, this canister can handle tanks of up to 100 gallons. But that’s not all.

The manufacturers say this model is 25% quieter than its predecessors and noise level tests on this canister put it at just 51.9 decibels. Another thing I like is its ease of maintenance. But the installation is a hassle, and I wish it was self-priming so I wouldn’t have to check up on it from time to time.

Self-priming filters don’t require you to fill up the filter basket or monitor it. It is designed to do those tasks automatically.

Pros

  • It’s quiet
  • Has immense biomedia capacity
  • Maintenance is simple

Cons

  • Installation can be a hassle
  • Not self-priming

Aqueon QuietFlow 155/400 Canister Filter

Those looking for an aquarium filter for really large tanks up to 150 gallons should go with the Aqueon QuietFlow 155/400 Canister. The best part is it gives you a higher capacity than the Fluval 407 but for a lesser price.

Besides its high filtration capacity, I like how easy it is to install and maintain. But a huge turnoff for me is the stress of getting the filter to start up again after cleaning it out and unplugging it. Plus filling this canister up and monitoring it can be time-consuming.

Pros

  • Great for very large tanks
  • Cost-effective
  • It’s very quiet

Cons

  • Priming is manual and the process can be time-consuming
  • Starting it up can be stressful sometimes

Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Filter

The Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Filter has been a top seller for many years. It features the regular 3-stage filtration, but its patented bio-wheel tech provides excellent wet/dry biological filtration. 

Although this HOB filter is a bit noisy and I don’t like having to prime it, overall, it’s a great cost-effective filter that’s easy to set up and maintain. Just keep in mind that the Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin is best for 50-75 gallon tanks, so you’ll need something like the Fluval 407 or Aqueon QuietFlow canister for larger tanks up to 150 gallons.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Superb biological filtration

Cons

  • Not for tanks above 75 gallons
  • Not self-priming
  • A bit noisy

Best Canister Filter

05/23/2024 11:04 pm GMT

Canisters are all about more power and higher filtration capacity. But in the long term, you’d want to consider its versatility, energy consumption, and maintenance cost. Here are 3 canisters that I recommend:

Fluval FX6 High Performance Aquarium Canister Filter (Top Pick)

The Fluval FX6 High-Performance Aquarium Filter might be the mother of all canisters. It’s powerful, yet surprisingly quiet and easy to maintain. The canister boasts of up to 400-gallon support, but I think it’s better suited to 100-200-gallon tanks.

The Fluval comes with mechanical, chemical, and biological filter media which makes it versatile. And since I hate having to lift heavy buckets, I find the bottom drain quite convenient. The problem you might have with this beast is its price and lengthy installation, but this is expected from a filter of this quality and capacity.

Pros

  • Great for very large tanks and can handle up to 400 gal.
  • Quieter than most canister filters out there
  • Maintenance is easy

Cons

  • Installation is challenging
  • Takes up space
  • No spray bar(You can use a spray bar to agitate the water’s surface and increase oxygenation)

EHEIM Classic 2215 External Canister Filter with Media for up to 92 US Gallons

The Eheim Classic 2215 Canister is another powerful filter that likes to keep things simple. This canister is basically just a large and open tub that’s filled with filter media. This convenient design makes the installation and maintenance of this canister straightforward and super easy.

In addition to its overall simplicity, the Eheim Classic stays quiet throughout and you’ll hardly notice it running. There’s almost nothing to dislike about this canister except its very limited mechanical filter media, which includes filter, floss, and foam.

Pros

  • Simple to install and maintain
  • Quiet and hardly noticeable

Cons

  • Comes with very limited mechanical media
  • Needs to be primed manually

Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of the Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter due to its challenging installation process and noiseness, but it gets the job done and comes at a decent price. So I included it for those looking for a canister with similar features to the Fluval FX6 but at a lower price.

On the upside, the Marineland Magniflow canister is easy to maintain, and priming this filter is simple even though it’s manual.

Pros

  • Decent bargain in terms of price and quality
  • Easy to maintain
  • Nice quick connect/release valve

Cons

  • A bit difficult to install
  • Slightly noisier than other options
  • Doesn’t have enough mechanical filter media

Best HOB/Power Filter

05/23/2024 11:34 pm GMT

The best hang-on-back filters tend to have an equal balance of high capacity, compact size, energy efficiency, and cost efficiency. This allows them to be versatile enough for small, medium, and large tanks.

Here are 3 high-quality HOB/Power Filters I recommend:

Seachem Tidal Power Aquarium Filter (Top Pick)

When it comes to HOB/Power filters, I find it hard to beat the Seachem Tidal Power Aquarium Filter. I love that it has an amazing amount of room to fit as much filter media as I want. And it comes with a large reusable sponge and mesh bag with Seachem Matrix Biomedia.

The Seachem is self-priming so it will start itself without any assistance even after power outages and water changes. And I must mention that the Seachem filter is also very quiet for a HOB filter.

My only problem with the Seachem is the slots on the skimmers are too big and allow for shrimps and fry to easily pass. So you’ll have to find a DIY solution like gluing a mesh to cover the slots.

Pros

  • Huge filter media capacity
  • No priming is needed
  • Stays very quiet

Cons

  • Not friendly for shrimps and fry
  • Sometimes the surface skimmer can suck in fish food

Fluval C4

Coming in close second is the Fluval C4 HOB Filter. The C4 filter is a combination of high biomedia capacity with an exceptional flow rate similar to canisters. But you maintain the lower price and ease of cleaning/maintenance of an HOB filter to give you the best of both worlds.

When it comes to the actual filtration, this Fluval C4 filter goes over and beyond with its 5-stage filtration process that eliminates all unwanted waste, debris, ammonia, and everything else. What I didn’t like about the C4 is that it needs to be primed and checked on after power outages.

Pros

  • Efficient filtration
  • High biomedia capacity
  • Easy to clean and maintain

Cons

  • It requires priming
  • Can be a bit loud

Aquaclear Power Filter

Another high-quality HOB filter I must include is the Aquaclear Power Filter. It has a great biomedia capacity like the Seachem and C4. But unlike the Seachem, the Aquaclear can easily be made shrimp/fry-friendly by adding a pre-filter. 

It doesn’t have the self-priming feature of the Seachem and is not as quiet. But the Aquaclear is a solid, reliable, and easy-to-maintain HOB filter that will run for many years. Whether you have a small, medium, or large tank, the AquaClear Power Filter has a size for you.

Pros

  • Lots of space for filter media
  • Comes in sizes for small, medium, and large tanks.
  • Easy to maintain

Cons

  • Needs to be primed
  • Sometimes it can be difficult to get started

Best Sponge Filters

05/24/2024 12:49 am GMT

Sponge filters are best for small tanks. For larger tanks, they can work alongside a more powerful aquarium filter, although you can find some of the higher quality sponge filters in bigger sizes for medium and small tanks. 

Here are 3 of the best sponge filters around:

Lustar Hydro-Sponge Filter (Top Pick)

The Lustar Hydro-Sponge Filter is my favorite sponge filter for a couple of reasons. First of all, I like that it comes in different sizes for tanks of 10-125 gallons. Secondly, I like the weighted foot design that keeps the sponge in place when air is pumped through. The weighted foot also allows you to position the filter anywhere in the tank.

I must say the Hydro-Sponge can be loud as large bubbles shoot through the lift tube. But you can add a diffuser to make it quieter,

Pros

  • Comes in different sizes for tanks of up to 10-125 gallons
  • A diffuser can be added
  • Weighted foot design allows for convenient repositioning

Cons

  • Noisy without a diffuser
  • May be unattractive inside the tank

Hygger Aquarium Double Sponge Filter

Sponge filters usually aren’t great for multi-stage filtration, but the Hygger Aquarium Double Sponge Filter is an exception. It contains a sponge filter as well as bio-ceramic media balls for beneficial bacteria to quickly grow. This Hygger filter is a great fit for small tanks under 10 gallons but will do well in tanks of up to 20 gallons. 

As for its downsides, they aren’t much. But for one, the filter makes some noise when the spout is below water and you can’t attach a diffuser to lower the noise.

Pros

  • Bio ceramic filter media included
  • 2 extra sponges included
  • Super easy to assemble

Cons

  • Can be a bit noisy when spouted below water
  • A diffuser cannot be added

Pawfly Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter

The Pawfly Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter might be the most affordable sponge filter you’ll find. The Pawfly extra small design makes it ideal for nano tanks under 5 gallons and makes it easy to hide from view. But it comes in larger sizes for up to 60-gallon tanks.

Although the Pawfly isn’t quiet, the sound is manageable but can be made less noisy with air stones. I also find that this sponge filter occasionally floats, which can be annoying.

Pros

  • One of the cheapest sponge filters
  • Suitable for nano tanks
  • Comes in different sizes for up to 60 gallons

Cons

  • It may float
  • It’s fragile and can easily break
  • Can be noisy

Best Underwater/Undergravel Filter

05/24/2024 01:34 am GMT

Undergravel aquarium filters sit under the gravel and pull debris from the tank downward into the substrate, thereby making the substrate a sort of filter medium. However, this can be problematic as decomposing debris can release toxins into the water. In addition, this type of filter requires frequent cleaning which can be stressful.

Undergravel filters are not as popular as the rest and I personally don’t like them. But if you’re interested, here are my top 3 picks:

Penn-Plax Premium Undergravel Filter (Top Pick)

The Penn Plax Premium Undergravel filter is a high-quality UG filter and a popular product for good reasons. It’s budget-friendly and comes in different sizes ranging from 5-50 gallons with each as easy to set up as the last.

Every component you need comes right out of the box except an air pump which is sold separately. Make sure to purchase an air pump that’s suitable for your tank’s volume, however, because a mini air pump won’t do well for a 50+ gallon tank.

Pros

  • Comes in sizes for small, medium, and large tanks
  • Easy to set up
  • Good price

Cons

  • The plate’s plastic clips are fragile and may break easily
  • An air pump is not included

Lee’s Premium Undergravel Filter

Don’t let the low price tag fool you. Lee’s Premium Undergravel Filters are among the best and deserve every right to be on this list. They’re made from a highly durable plastic that won’t crack under the gravel. And the filter’s one-plate design makes installation easy.

Lee’s Undergravel Filter comes in different sizes for 10 gallons and up to 125-gallon tanks. The kit comes fully loaded with lift tubes, air stones, and replaceable carbon filter cartridges. But you’ll still need to purchase an air pump.

Pros

  • Made with crack-resistant plastic
  • Compatible with parts from other brands

Cons

  • The price is affordable but slightly higher than other under gravel filters
  • No air pump included.

CORISRX Aquarium Undergravel Filtration Bottom Circular Bar

The CORISRX Aquarium Undergravel Filtration Bottom Circular Bar is a unique type of undergravel filter that utilizes pipes for filtration and aeration. The design is perfect if you don’t have enough space to place large boards on the tank floor.

I like the flexibility of the filter’s pipes as it allows you to mold the ideal shape to fit your tank’s floor. The major problem I have with this unique filter is the confusing installation process. Besides that, it’s a decent buy. Do keep in mind that the CORISRX UG Circular Bar isn’t powerful so it’s better suited to small tanks.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Flexible pipe design

Cons

  • Assembly can be confusing
  • Not suitable for medium to large tanks

Tips for Maintaining Your Aquarium Filter

It may already be obvious, but a good number of people still ask:

  • Should I clean my aquarium filter?
  • Is it safe to clean aquarium filters?
  • And how often should I clean my aquarium filters? 

The answers are:

  • Yes, you should clean your aquarium filter,
  • Yes it’s safe to clean aquarium filters, and
  •  How often you clean it depends on how often it needs to be cleaned.

We go into more details in our aquarium filter cleaning guide, but here are four tips to get you started on filter maintenance:

  1. Clean regularly: Aquarium filters should be cleaned regularly to keep them working properly.
  2. Change filter media: Mechanical, chemical, and biological media lose efficiency as they get clogged with debris over time. So, they need to be changed every three to four weeks.
  3. Keep the filter moist: Don’t allow filter media to dry out during cleaning to prevent helpful bacteria from dying.
  4. Check for leaks: Over time, your filter may begin to develop faults and start to leak which can cause filtered water to waste or cause unfiltered water to return to the tank.

Common Aquarium Filter Problems and Solutions

Noisy Filters:

  • Check the water level: Some filters can start to make noise when the water level is too low.
  • Add a diffuser or air stones: A diffuser or air stone can significantly reduce filter noise. Keep in mind that not all filter types can work with a diffuser or air stone.
  • Clean the impeller:  A clogged impeller can start to make noise. Unclog and clean the filter regularly to prevent clogging.
  • Check for air bubbles: make sure the filter is properly sealed and check the tubing for any air leaks.

Leaking Filters:

  • Check for damage: Check for any cracks or signs of damage that can cause a leak. Replace the necessary parts.
  • Examine the O-rings: The O-rings can wear out over time and start to leak. Swap them out If necessary.
  • Check the tubing: Loose tubing will most likely leak. So ensure the tubing is connected and tightly.

Filters Not Working:

  • Check the power source: Ensure the filter is connected to a working power source and plugged in correctly.
  • Try priming it: Some filters need to be primed to work and re-primed to continue working after a power disruption.
  • Check for clogged impeller: An overly clogged impeller can prevent the filter from working altogether. So, inspect the impeller and remove any dirt or debris you find.
  • Check for air leaks: Inspect the tubing for air leaks which can prevent the filter from functioning properly.

The Right Aquarium Filter Can Make All the Difference

As you can see, there are more aquarium filters than you can keep track of. And with a lot of overlapping similarities and identical models, it can be hard to decide which one is best for your fish.

That’s why we created this comprehensive guide with the best aquarium filters listed in multiple categories to help you make an informed choice before splashing your cash. Whether you want a filter for a small, medium, or large aquarium or a specific type of aquarium filter, it’s all here in this guide.

Finally, if you have any suggestions or decide to purchase one of these filters, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the product in the comment section. And if you found this guide to be helpful, be sure to share it with fellow fish enthusiasts.

Best Aquarium Filter FAQs

What is the most effective type of aquarium filter?

The most effective type of aquarium filter would be canister filters due to their higher filtration capacity and ability to be customized to satisfy various filtration needs. In addition, canisters can be used for both small and large tanks making them versatile.

What is the best filter for crystal-clear aquarium water?

Depending on your tank size and fish population, most aquarium filters with an appropriate flow rate and filtration capacity will be enough to provide crystal-clear water. But more powerful filters like canisters and HOB filters may be more efficient at providing and maintaining crystal-clear water in your aquarium.

How do I choose a filter for my aquarium?

When choosing an aquarium filter, you need to consider the following:

  • Filtration needs: Consider whether your aquatic inhabitants require mechanical, chemical, or biological filtration.
  • Capacity: Bigger tanks or aquariums with a high fish population will need more filtration capacity.
  • Flow rate: Aquariums need a flow rate of about 4-6 times their size. So a 20-gallon tank will need a flow rate of 80-120 GPH.
  • Maintenance levels: Filters with high maintenance requirements are less desirable. However other factors determine how frequently a filter needs to be maintained.
  • Ease of setup: An easy-to-set-up filter allows for easy installation and easy disassembly and reassembly in times of maintenance and repair.

Is a canister filter worth it?

Yes, a canister filter is worth the money if you have a large tank or aquarium with a high fish population. In this case, a canister with a high flow rate and large filtration capacity will provide the best results.

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