Looks like you’ve decided on an aquarium tank and after a lot of deliberation over the hundreds of options available to you, you’ve carefully chosen every single fish and plant that goes in there. But have you spared a thought or two about the best way to look after your fish?
Think of it this way – would you rather stay in a polluted, unclean neighborhood that stinks or a lush green, pristine landscape where you breathe clean, pure air? You need to ask yourself the same question for your fish.
And just how do you make sure your fish have a healthy environment to thrive in? By investing in a good aquarium filter, which is absolutely essential for an aquarium tank full of clean water.
While you’ve probably read about how aquarium filters work, as well as the different kinds of aquarium filters present in the market, we’ve made it even easier to pick a filter by putting together this neat little guide.
Here, we’ll tell you about the best aquarium filters available in the market, along with their key features, followed by a list of things to consider before you buy your new aquarium filter.
So here are our recommendations for top aquarium filters from those currently in the market, along with a sneak peek into their features. To make this even more helpful for you, we’ve picked our top products in both categories: HOB (hang on back) as well as canister filters.
Best Power Aquarium Filters
Best Canister Filters
Let’s quickly sum up what you already know about power filters, also known as HOB (hang on back) filters. These are filtration devices that hang on the top of your aquarium tank, with the filtration end submerged in water and are externally connected to a power source.
Power filters work exceptionally well for small to mid-sized tanks, and are a great option if your aquarium is in a small space and does not come with additional storage space.
These are usually the preferred choice for beginner aquarists, since they are compact, easy to set up and can be left to do their job without needing a lot of monitoring. Power filters usually come with built-in slots for filtration media, and are limited to one slot for each kind of media - mechanical, chemical and biological.
Best Power Aquarium Filters
Below are our top two picks for power aquarium filters, along with a third option that’s in a slightly high price range. Read through and see if these fit your aquarium needs!
The Winner: AquaClear 110 Power Filter
If you want a super-effective power filter for your aquarium that’ll cost you less than $26, your search ends right here. The AquaClear 110 power filter is our top pick because it is a simple, sturdy, value-for-money aquarium filter that delivers on what it promises: an aquarium tank that is clean, toxin-free and crystal clear.
For starters, we love the fact that this power filter has a unique re-filtration system that keeps the water circulating within the different filtration media for much longer than other brands in the market. This prolonged contact time means that the AquaClear 110 can filter every last particle floating in your tank, no matter how tiny it is.
This unique re-filtration system has top-quality inserts (foam, activated carbon and BioMax) which work together to keep your tank free of ammonia, nitrates, particulate matter and absolutely any other waste.
Unlike with other aquarium filters, with the AquaClear 110, you only change one insert at a time instead of the whole cartridge, which means that all the beneficial bacteria growing on your filter doesn’t get thrown out each time you get a new cartridge. This way, the overall biological makeup of your aquarium stays the same, giving your fish an environment that’s consistent and healthy.
With the AquaClear 110, you can also control the water flow to suit your aquarium, which is a big plus, especially if you have delicate fish and plants which require a more gentle water flow. The best part? Even with reduced flow, the water gets processed within the filter chamber multiple times which means that even when you reduce the flow, the quality of filtration that you get remains unaffected.
You can see why we like the AquaClear 110 power filter - it is absolutely the best at giving your aquarium tank the one thing it needs more than anything - clean, pure and healthy water. Once you buy this aquarium filter, you’ll never change brands again!
The Runner-Up: Aqueon Quietflow 50
The second best aquarium power filter that we found for you is this super-quiet, technologically enhanced HOB (hang on back) filter from Aqueon - the QuietFlow 50 power filter. If there was a contest for innovative aquarium filters, this one would have definitely won a spot.
Well, let’s talk filtration first. In addition to the usual 3 layers (mechanical, chemical and biological), the Aqueon QuietFlow 50 has an added fourth layer called a ‘diffuser grid’ that adds more oxygen to your water before it returns to the tank, giving you a filtration experience that is super-effective, with no loud noises.
In addition to being super-quiet and extremely effective, the Aqueon QuietFlow 50 also has some interesting features, such as an LED indicator that blinks when you need to change the filtration media, and a self-priming pump.
While we (and some users) really like the self-priming pump, since it saves precious time and effort, we’re not so sure about the LED indicator. Based on reviews, this indicator seems to be a little too active, causing users to get alarmed and change their filtration media much sooner than it actually needed to be changed.
While there’s no doubt about the filtration quality of the Aqueon QuietFlow 50 power filter, we’re not so sure about paying over $30 for added features that aren’t too helpful, making it our second choice. However, if you like the idea of uninterrupted filtration between power cuts, you can buy this power filter from Amazon at a great price.
Alternative Choice: Marineland Penguin Power Filter
If you don’t mind spending upwards of $35, this power filter from Marineland might work as yet another option for you. With a 350 gph flow rate, this power filter is perfectly compatible with nearly all aquariums up to 70 gallons in size.
This power filter is easy to set up, and offers optimum filtration for a long duration, along with a smooth, effective 3-stage filtration process. While this could be a solid product, there have been mixed reviews about the noise it makes, with some users stating that it is quiet when new, but turns into a fairly loud machine after a few months of being installed.
If you’ve owned a product from this brand before, it might be a safer bet to go back for a second purchase, but when compared against the other two products, it seems a little unfair to pay nearly $10 more for the same filtration process and no additional features.
Best Canister Filters
Canister filters are the more traditional, heavy-duty kind of aquarium filters. They sit in a separate space, plugged into the bottom of your aquarium tank and use gravel or a similar substance for the intake and output of water to and from your tank.
Although canister filters are larger as compared to power filters, they free up considerable space inside your aquarium tank, since they’re positioned on the outside, making them a preferred choice for tanks with a higher population of fish. Since canister filters don’t come with space restraints, they offer a greater flexibility in terms of the media you can use inside them.
Canister filters are also the popular choice with aquarists who own breeds of particularly temperamental or delicate fish.
Temperamental species of fish don’t take too well to constant interruptions in the water, and might be affected if you have a power filter that is constantly whirring inside your tank, which you will also be required to remove for maintenance and cartridge replacements.
Below are our two top picks for canister filters, shortlisted for their high-quality filtration, ease of use and most importantly, competitive pricing.
The Winner: Flexzion HW-302 Canister Filter
When it comes to canister aquarium filters, our top choice is the Flexzion HW-302 canister filter - a sturdy, dependable product that gives you round-the-clock filtration and a smooth, quiet experience.
To begin with, the Flexzion HW-302 comes neatly packed with all the valves, hoses and tubes it needs. Secondly, it has a powerful self-priming pump, which means you can simply put together all these components (including filtration media of your choice), and your tank will be only minutes away from crystal clear water.
Now the most important bit - the filtration experience. With the Flexzion HW-302, you get 3 trays designed to hold different media, allowing you to pick and use the filtration media that best suit your tank water and your fish. In addition, this highly effective filtration system is only enhanced by the adjustable spray bar, which allows you to control the output flow from the filter.
If all this wasn’t good enough already, there’s more. The Flexzion HW-302 doesn’t stop with just a superior filtration system - it also comes with a built-in 9-watt UV sterilizer, which zaps out harmful bacteria and algae spores, giving you cleaner, purer water while also reducing the growth of unnecessary algae in your aquarium tank.
Priced at a little more than $80 on sites like Amazon, this canister filter is a solid buy - think of it as a one-time investment that will ensure a cleaner, healthier tank for years to come.
The Runner-Up: Penn Plax Cascade 1000 Canister Filter
The second spot for the best canister aquarium filter on our list goes to the Penn Plax Cascade 1000 - a slightly cheaper but effective product from Penn Plax, a leading brand in the world of aquarium maintenance products and systems.
There is something decidedly attractive about the cobalt blue color of this particular canister filter, but that’s not why we picked it as our second choice. First, it allows you to mix and match filtration media of your choice, with 3 trays designed to accommodate varied types of media.
Other than being extremely effective at all three kinds of filtration (mechanical, chemical and biological), the Penn Plax Cascade 1000 is probably the most advanced canister filter when it comes to a customizable water output.
From its flow-rate control valves to its swimming-pool style clamps, this canister aquarium filter has an enhanced water flow system which ensures that water returns to the tank only at the flow you choose, making it an excellent choice with owners of aquarium tanks with smaller, more delicate fish and plants.
Like our first choice, the Penn Plax HW-302 comes with a self-priming pump, which promises a hassle-free start to your filtration process, but user reviews mention that this can get a bit tricky, needing manual priming at times.
Overall, this is a great option for your aquarium tank, especially if your budget is slightly lower, but you still want a sturdy, durable product that is at par with the filtration and flow rate offered by the more expensive brands currently in the market.
Common Aquarium Issues: Something’s Fishy
Depending on what you see in your aquarium, you should be able to identify what problems you’re facing with it. Is the water too cloudy? Too much algae growing in your fish tank? Are your fish getting sick?
While each of these problems ultimately links back to impure water, there are different impurities that could be causing each of these problems, and it’s crucial that you know and understand these differences.
For instance, if your fish are falling sick, or dying, or if you see ammonia burns on them, it’s a sign clearer than filtered aquarium water – the organic waste in your aquarium tank isn’t getting filtered properly, and is decomposing into ammonia and nitrates that are essentially the fish equivalent of a smoke-clogged neighborhood.
A quick clarification – you might see nothing wrong with your aquarium tank, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and upgrade to a filtration system that will give you even better results. Whether you see some problems with your water or not, why should anything stop you from giving your fish the healthiest tank they’ll ever live in?
Now that you’ve absolutely made up your mind to get your aquarium tank the best filter that’s out there, here are a few ideas on what to consider before you make a choice. The market’s flooded with hundreds of products that will leave you confused and if you don’t think this through, you’re only fishing for trouble! Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out more!
The first thing you must consider while buying an aquarium filter is the size of your tank, for varied reasons. Different filters come with varied motors designed to pump and filter water at different speeds, which also means that the volume of filtered water flowing back into your tank will change from one filter to another.
An aquarium filter that’s too large or too powerful could cause splashing or spillage especially if your tank isn’t too deep. In addition, water flowing in excessive volume and speed could disrupt the movement of your fish, as they may require gentler water movement.
In contrast to this, if you end up buying a filter that is not powerful enough for a big tank, you could end up with incomplete, inadequate filtration since the volume of water in your tank is too much for the filter pump to handle. This means you’ll end up wasting electricity and filter media without actually getting the clean, pure water you were hoping for.
If your filter is ineffective in completely filtering out all kinds of waste and toxins because the water flow is too much, it will return the water to your tank with harmful substances still present in it, putting your fish at risk of poisoning from ammonia and other toxins.
How much space do you have, inside your tank and around it? Both, power filters and canister filters require space to function – the only difference is that one saves you space outside your aquarium, the other, on the inside.
If you have a small-to-medium tank that has a lot of fish, adding a power or HOB (hang on back) filter might not be the best idea – you’re better off getting a nice canister filter that will sit at the bottom of your tank, freeing up every last inch of space for your fish to swim about in.
If you live in a tiny apartment that has its own space constraints, maybe consider getting a slightly less crowded tank, or a slightly bigger one where your fish, plants and an HOB or power filter can all exist in harmony, without any need to find additional space or storage under your tank.
Count Your Fish
Yes, count them and get to know them too. The kind of aquarium filter that you should get for your tank depends, to a great extent, on how many fish or amphibians you have in the tank and what kind they are.
If you have more active fish, for example, you’ll need more oxygen in your aquarium as they will need it to move about, so you might want to look for a filter that adds more oxygen to the water as it filters.
Certain kinds of fish may be particularly sensitive to ammonia and nitrates, in which case you’ll need a filter that offers additional protection and absorption against these substances. Plus, as mentioned earlier, too many fish in your tank might be a problem with a power filter as there would be practically no space then, and this might be a good reason to invest in a canister filter instead.
Noise Levels: Keeping It Calm
Any aquarium filter – be it a HOB (hang on back) or canister filter, will have a motor and a pump, and both make noise. While it’s normal for an aquarium to come with a little gushing and humming, which is pretty pleasant by itself, you most certainly don’t want the tranquillity of your aquarium to turn into non-stop whirring or buzzing, which can get extremely irritating after a while.
An aquarium is all about relaxing and calming down as you pass by it, and definitely not about having to close your ears before you can even look at your fish properly.
At their most basic best, good aquarium filters will clean your water of particles, debris, organic waste and harmful toxins.
At their most innovative, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice between aquarium filters that are integrated with some pretty cool features, from LED lights that blink when you need to replace a cartridge, and filter pumps that prime automatically at the press of a single button, to valves that allow you to monitor and control water flow and specially designed grids that boost specific kinds of filtration.
The question is, what do you want in an aquarium filter and how much are you willing to pay for it? Once you’ve given all of these considerations some serious thought you’ll be absolutely clear on what kind of aquarium filter you want to buy.
Now that you’ve read everything you needed to read about aquarium filters - from what they do, and why you need them, to what you should keep in mind before picking one, there’s clearly little left for you to do other than to go ahead and buy your new aquarium filter.
Just remember, your fish deserve an environment as healthy and clean as you do, and as a fish-lover, you should make sure your aquarium filter doesn’t let even a single drop of impure water make its way to your fish.
There’s nothing worse than walking over to an aquarium tank filled with beautiful, exquisitely-colored fish, only to find them swimming in cloudy, murky water. With the right kind of aquarium filter, you’ll never have to worry about this. So, are you set to give your aquarium an upgrade that makes heads turn?