Best Aquarium Filters

By June 2, 2018Aquariums

If you’re looking for the best aquarium filter on the market, you’ve come to the right place. Aquarium filters are a must-have product for marine and freshwater aquariums. Their primary role is to keep the water quality at a high level. It’s obvious that if you want to take a good care of the fish and plants in your fish tank, using a fish tank filter is a must. The market is full of aquarium filters, but it is worth mentioning that not all of them are the same.


When people are looking for an aquarium filter, they must think about all the components that make an aquarium healthy, attractive, and successful. The filters used in an aquarium are definitely among the most important elements. In this article, we will analyze the importance of filters in an aquarium setup and suggest a few that have proven to be efficient.

But, before we look at these filters, many people may have this question in their mind: Why do I need an aquarium filter?

It turns out that your aquarium pets look pretty but pollute the water they live in. They pass waste in the water, and the water also holds their food. With that combination, you not only end up with a dirty aquarium but a life-threatening one; don’t forget about a bad odor that will result in the mix. With these in mind, fish tanks and aquariums make it to the list of hard and high maintenance features. And, that is where a filtration system comes in.

When looking for a good fish tank filter, you want to get one with with at least a three-way filtration system. That’s an aquarium filter that filters biologically, mechanically, and chemically.

  • Biological function: removal of ammonia excreted by fish since ammonia is toxic to fish.
  • Mechanical function: removal of excess food, waste, visible debris, and dust particles.
  • Chemical function: removal of impurities in water given that water comes from different sources and it may contain hard metals which could be toxic to fish.

A filter isn’t only for cleaning fish waste, it filters out chemicals that could potentially harm your fish and it keeps your water thriving with necessary bacteria to keep your fish alive.

Without further ado, here is the list to answer all of your “which is the best filter for my aquarium” questions…

1. Fluval Fx6 – Best Canister Filter

Fluval Canister Filter, FX6 Filter (400 Gal)
  • Multi-Stage Filter that produces healthy aquarium water, freshwater or marine aquariums
  • Features Smart Pump Technology for optimal filter performance, efficiency and management
  • Self-starting filter-just add water and plug in. Head height (maximum): 3.3 m (10.8 feet)


The 400-gallon capacity of this aquarium makes it suitable for use in large fish tanks. This FX6 filter is a real workhorse, and it makes fishkeeping easier. Despite its compact size, it’s super-capacity canister allows for processing and re-circulation of up to 563 US gallons of water hourly. The canister also accommodates stacks of media baskets with a maximum capacity of 1.5 gallons of media. The best part is; even with its enormous capacity, the canister with a height of 21inches is short enough to fit under the largest aquariums.

Wondering if all the power of the canister will make the filter loud? Well, no. The filter has been precisely engineered with a bearing that minimizes the impeller vibrations while its cover reduces the noise emitted.

While the ring gasket may require replacement and one of the lift-lock clamps leaking, the use of this filter is effortless thanks to features like the multi-directional output nozzle. You can easily adjust the twin-output nozzle to create a specific water flow allowing water to reach all the corners of the aquarium. You also have the electronic circuit board that lets you monitor the impeller’s pump power and speed continuously for optimum output and energy use efficiency. The motor shuts down automatically in case the impeller gets impeded.

You also get the indicator dials that remind you of the last date of water change and maintenance and the aqua-stop valves which simplifies maintenance by letting you stop water flow with a simple 90-degree turn of the valve’s lever. Other features that enhance the efficiency of the filter include the self-priming instant-start system, the purge valve, and the multi-directional flared output sending multiple streams of purified water to all parts of the aquarium. You will also like the clog-proof intake strainer that will siphon water out fast.

Self-priming filter
Smart pump technology
Water changes are easy
Best filter for large aquariums (100+ gallons)
Anti-clog strainer
Replacement parts hard to find
Price tag

2. AquaClear Power Filter – Best Hang on Back Filter

AquaClear 110 Aquarium Power Filter - for 60 to...
  • Refiltration system that offers superior contact time with filter media and energy efficient pump...
  • Quick and easy installation
  • Filtration volume is up to 7 times larger than comparable filters


With a capacity of between 60 and 110 US gallons, this aquarium filter is popular in homes. Its installation is also quick and easy.

The unique feature of this filter is its refiltration system which offers premium contact time with the filter media. Its energy efficient pump lowers the operating costs, hence its popularity.

Enhancing the performance of this fish tank filter is the AquaClear Foam, BioMax, Activated Carbon, and the Cycle Guard all of which allow for continuous biological filtration while offering high water quality. Cycle Guard offers optimal multi-stage filtration providing optimum chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration. This system keeps the beneficial bacteria otherwise removed by cartridge filtration systems. The filter has the AquaClear foam at the bottom, AquaClear Activated Carbon at the middle and AquaClear BioMax Filter at the top for the provision of a surface for beneficial bacteria, removal of odors and removal of ammonia and nitrites, respectively. You need to clean the foam weekly though.

The unique design of the filter allows filtration of 6 times more media volume as well as the longest water to media contact.

If you have any trouble with this filter, it comes with a 2-year warranty.

Quietest aquarium filter
Great for fresh & saltwater filtration
Keeps beneficial bacteria in the tank (thanks to the multistage filtration system)
Different sizes available for small to large aquariums
2-year warranty
Smaller models may be too strong for the tank size listed

3. Pennplax 1500 Elite Canister Filter

Penn Plax Cascade 1500 - 350GPH Canister Filter
  • Large capacity stackable media trays allow for multi-stage filtration
  • Quick & easy push-button primer and two independent 360 degree rotating taps
  • Flow rate shut-off valves adjust water flow and provide for easy maintenance.


If you are looking for a filter that works well with freshwater plus saltwater aquariums, try this Pennplax 1500. The canister is multifunctional, and it can handle different types of aquarium up to 200 gallons.

The 350gph of flow bolsters the power and efficiency of this filter. You might also like this filter since it allows you to combine a variety of media while delivering a high degree of mechanical, biological and chemical filtration yielding crystal clear water.

For easy start-ups, the filter has a quick-push button primer, and two independent and directional 360-degree rotational valve traps for ease of use. The swimming pool style hose clamps and the flow-rate control valves simplify set up and adjustment. Proper flow comes from the air-tight seal.

Different sizes to accommodate your tank
Spray bar that support water circulation
High-quality connectors & tubes
3-stage filtration
3-year warranty
Little more electricity usage than typical filters

4. Penn Plax Cascade HOB Filter

Penn Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter With...
  • Hang on aquarium filter quietly delivers 300 gallons per hour of crystal clear water for your fresh...
  • Revolutionary Bio-Falls Quad-Filtration system provides efficient filtration with anaerobic bacteria...
  • Activated carbon cartridge removes harmful chemicals, toxins, odors, discoloration, and other...


A cascade 300 with a quad filtration system, this is one of the best aquarium filters for small filters with a capacity of between 55 to100 gallons. It delivers up to 300 gallons of crystal clear water hourly keeping your fresh or saltwater fish.

This filter features the revolutionary Bio-Falls Quad-Filtration system which provides an efficient filtration system with anaerobic bacteria enhancing the efficiency with which ammonia and nitrites are removed, thereby enhancing oxygenation.

The filter’s activated carbon cartridge will remove harmful chemicals, odor, discoloration, toxins, and contaminants. The internal sponge, on the other hand, optimizes the colonization of the beneficial anaerobic bacteria. Polyfiber floss cartridge will trap floating particulate matter.

To reduce filtration during feeding, the filter comes with an adjustable flow knob.

Self-leveling case
Easy to maintain
Simple setup
Great for freshwater and marine life
May become loud if you don’t maintenance it regularly

5. Fluval External 406 Filter

Fluval 406 External Filter
  • Multi-stage filtration for healthy fresh & saltwater aquariums
  • Suitable for aquariums up to 100 gallons. Flow Rate: 1450 LPH (383 US GPH)
  • Sound dampening impeller design for a quieter operation. The Fluval 406 Canister Filter has a unique...


With a flow rate of 1450LPH and its ability to clean fish tanks with capacities of up to 100 gallons, this external filter by Fluval could be all you need for your small aquarium.

It’s highly efficient thanks to the multi-stage filtration system which allows the use of the filter in fresh, as well as saltwater environments. This canister filter has a unique square-shaped design which can hold 35-50 percent more water than the round-shaped canister filters with the same capacity. The square-shaped canister allows for better water flow through the complex cleansing path which also maximizes the contact of the filter with the filtration media.

It’s powerful thanks to the advanced motor technology. Luckily, it’s not loud thanks to the cover and the sound dampening impeller design.

For ease of use and improved performance, it features a clog-proof intake strainer plus a dual-layer foam screen.

You might also like that it’s built with the patented Aquastop valve, rim connector assemblies, and multiple assembly baskets. To top it off, it comes with a 3-year warranty.

Unique and efficient priming method
Durable construction design
Lift-lock clamps secure the motor housing and for better operation, as well as strength while in operation.
Runs quietly
Independent modules for mess-free and easy removal of dirt from the filter.
Aquastop valve, great when cleaning the filter
The impeller isn’t the strongest element, may cause noise issues

6. EHEIM Classic External Filter

EHEIM Classic 2215371 External Canister Filter...
  • Permo-elastic silicon sealing ring fixed on the pump head for easy and safe closing after cleaning
  • Equipped with filter sponges and/or loose filter media
  • Accessories included: spray bar, inlet pipe, hose and installation accessories


This 92-US Gallon Eheim External Canister Filter comes complete with its aquarium filter media for convenience and ease of use.

Its silicon sealing ring that’s fixed on its pump head allows for easy and also safe closing once you finish cleaning. The sponges and the loose filter media enhance the use of the filter while preventing leakages. Other accessories included include the inlet pipe, spray bar, hose, plus installation accessories.

The extra loose filter media enhances the efficiency of the filter
Comes with EHEIM-specific filter media.
Flexible and easily customizable
Durable design
Instructions aren’t clear

7. Hydor Professional Canister Filter

Hydor Professional 600 External Canister Filter,...
  • The hydor professional 600 Aquarium External 345GPH Filter is a complete eco-system in a box
  • All the biological, mechanical and chemical filtration that any environment requires for a healthy...
  • From the easy priming feature to the telescopic intake tubes, everything had been made easy


This is another example of a popular and efficient aquarium filter that has become a best seller in the last few months. Hydor is a reputable company and without any doubt, this is one of their greatest filters. The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter comes with extremely porous Bio Rings, filter wool that provides outstanding mechanical filtration supported by the sponge with large pores.

This IL-listed model of aquarium filter is very easy to use and even complete beginners can use it in both freshwater and marine aquariums. The compact design has shown that it can be very energy efficient. In addition, this is also a filter that doesn’t cause a lot of noise. Those who have more experience with aquarium filters will be glad to hear that this model comes with a few advanced features based on the latest technological advancements in this industry.

If youve been looking for a professional 600GPH aquarium filter, you might want to get this Hydor Professional External Canister Filter. It comes with a high price tag, but this filter is a complete ecosystem within itself.

It offers premium biological, chemical and mechanical filtration required by any environment for a healthy and a lasting aquatic experience.

You might also like it for its simple priming feature and the telescopic intake tubes.

Simple installation
Durable design
Quiet & No Vibrations
Many sizes to fit your tank
Equipped with efficient safety lock system
Easy to setup & maintain
Disconnecting valves incorrectly may trigger leaks

8. Marineland Penguin Power Filter

Marineland Penguin Power Filter, 50 to...
  • Certified flow rate of 350GPH, perfect for all aquariums up to 70-gallon, uses two Rite-Size C"...
  • Delivers easy, three stage mechanical, chemical, and biological aquarium filtration
  • Convenient Penguin Rite Size Cartridges come ready to use with each filter


With a certified flow-rate of 350GPH, the filter works perfectly for all aquariums with a 70-gallon maximum capacity. It uses 2 Rite-Size C filter cartridges for a higher level of performance. The cartridges are ready for use out of the box.

The filter also delivers easy 3-stage mechanical (Penguin Rite-Size Filter Cartridge Floss), chemical (Black Diamond Premium Activated carbon), and biological (patented BIO-Wheel) filtration. This involves screening of debris and dirt, removal of odor, discoloration, or impurities, and elimination of toxic nitrites and ammonia to grow beneficial bacteria, respectively.

Easy setup and maintenance
Relatively quiet
Fits medium sized aquariums holding 20 to 70 gallons of water.
100% water contact
Great at maintaining beneficial bacteria
Can’t adjust water flow

9. Tetra Whisper Power Filter

Tetra Whisper Power Filter for Aquariums, 3...
  • Designed for Use in Smaller Aquariums Up to 60-Gallon, Uses Large Whisper Bio-Bag Cartridges
  • Uses Large Whisper Bio-Bag Cartridges
  • Three filters in one for cleaner water and healthier fish


Any small aquarium could use this filter as it offers mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration in the aquarium of between 20 and 60 gallons.

It makes use of the large Whisper Bio-Bag Cartridges. It has a unique filtration design with 3-in-1 filters which leave your animals healthier thanks to the clean water.

Easy to clean & maintain
Simple troubleshooting procedures
Durable build
The motor gets loud if filter isn’t cleaned regularly

10. Fluval C4 Power Filter

Fluval C4 Power Filter
  • Power filter featuring 5 stages of filtration for aquariums between 40 to 70 gallons
  • Filters 264 gallons per hour
  • Equipped with cleaning indicator for when the polyfoam needs to be rinsed


It costs more than your usual aquarium filter but, looking at the features; it makes sense why. The filtration system consists of a power filter that features 5 stages of filtration in aquariums of medium capacities – between 40 and 70 gallons. It can filter up to 264 gallons hourly.

You might also like the fact that this aquarium filter comes equipped with a cleaning indicator that will let you know when the polyfoam needs rinsing. For quick and simple maintenance, it’s a clip-on filter. By helping you maintain crisp and fresh water in the aquarium, it helps offer a stress-free environment.

Its patented system lets you control the flow rate, without compromising the filtration efficiency.

The 5-stage filtration system consists of stages 1 & 2 – the mechanical stage with porous foam and dense polyester to trap large and fine debris.

Stage 3 has the chemical-activated carbon insert for adsorption of undesirable impurities. The activated carbon removes unwanted odor, impurities, and discoloration.

Stage 4 has the biological Bio-Screen for removal of debris before dripping into the biological chamber with the C-nodes.

Stage 5 has the Biological C-Nodes which is a complex pore system providing an optimal living space for beneficial bacteria to thrive. It also removes ammonia and nitrites creating a healthy aquarium environment.

Crystal clean water
Patented 5-stage filtration system
Flow control
Adjustable intake tube height
Cleaning indicator
Any filter media can be used
Maintenance is a breeze
The largest model only support up to 70 gallon aquariums
This concludes our Top 10 List of Best Aquarium Filters, below is in-depth information about fish tank filters.

What does an aquarium filter do?

As the name suggests, an aquarium filter cleans the water of toxic accumulation which usually consists of nitrates and ammonia, removes the debris, and provides air to the water which means helps the fish breathe. This is a must-have component for every aquarium.

By choosing the best filter for your aquarium, you will not only save time, but money too. You can also be sure that your fish and plants in the aquarium are thriving well. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that once you install the filter you’ll get a chance to forget the maintenance of this item. On the contrary, you will have to clean, change and maintain the aquarium filter regularly, but this task is quite simple.

Types of Filtration

There are a few different cleaning techniques that aquarium filters rely on. The most important ones include Biological, Mechanical and Chemical.

Biological function

According to many experts, this is actually the most important part of the process of filtration. Of course, the other filtration techniques are important too. The biological function is here to break down the compounds of ammonia found in the water. If too much ammonia is left in the aquarium, it can cause poisoning or even kill your fish.

With the help of biological filtration, the potentially dangerous ammonia is turned into nitrite while toxic nitrite is turned into ordinary nitrate. It’s worth mentioning that nitrate is actually a relatively safe compound, but in case it’s not eliminated from the aquarium with the help of water changes on a regular basis can lead to health complications in fish. This situation can also affect the appetite of fish and proper supply of oxygen.

While we are talking about the biological function, we should mention the Nitrogen Cycle too. This is a process that supports the formation and balance of useful bacteria in the tank and in the filter itself in order to speed up the conversion of ammonia into nitrite and from nitrite to nitrate. It usually takes between 2 to 6 weeks for this process to be finished. There are special aquarium test kits that can help you check and analyze the nitrogen cycle.

Mechanical function

The mechanical function and filtration is all about the removal of floating particles/debris from the water. Thanks to the freshwater mechanical filter, users will be able to collect fish food that was not eaten, fish feces, parts of the aquatic plants that have fallen off and other pieces and particles that should not be in the aquarium water.

Chemical function

Finally, the chemical function will eliminate wastes that are already dissolved in the water. As you’ve probably guessed, this unwanted waste comes in the form of molecules that are practically invisible to the naked eye. Chemical cleansing usually consists of using carbon or purigen.

Types of Aquarium Filters

When you first own an aquarium you wouldn’t believe there would be so many types of filters. However, once you’re deep in the hobby you’ll discover there’s more than just a hang on back filter.

Hang on Back Filters


As the name suggests, these filters hang on the back of the tank and use a special intake tube to suck aquarium water. Once it is processed, this water is delivered back in the tank with the help of some sort of waterfall or a specially designed return spout. There is no doubt that hang on back aquarium filters are simple to use and very convenient, but what is even more important is that they are very cheap. Even if you need a filter for a large aquarium you won’t have to break the bank.

A hang on back aquarium filter is actually a specific version of a power filter that is ideal for those interested in a filtration system that doesn’t need special maintenance and cleaning. This low-maintenance type of tank filter doesn’t include many elements – the housing/filter body, the filter media basket and the intake tube. It’s interesting that older filters of this kind usually had detachable motors. However, the vast majority of new hand on back filters come with fully incorporated motors so there is no need for removal and cleaning. Some of these filters have one or two so-called return sprouts used for bringing back the processed water back to the aquarium, but their presence and their number is related to the size of the aquarium filter. The aforementioned filter basket is here to support the biological, chemical and mechanical filtration. There are also hang on back filters that have detachable bio-wheels for improved biological filtration.

Hang on back aquarium filters are popular for many reasons. To start with, they are cheap. Next, they are very simple to use. All it takes to install an aquarium filter like this is to assemble the filter basket and the intake tube and hang the filter at a suitable place before plugging it in. If you are interested in using an older model of this type of filter keep in mind that they should not be used dry.

Canister Filters


Canister filters are units that work under strong pressure making them one the best aquarium filters. They are usually mounted under the aquarium and conduct all three forms of filtration. In other words, with their help, you will get complete filtration. It’s also worth mentioning that they come in two different sub-types – a complete canister filter which comes with an independent pump and a modular canister filter that needs an additional pump. The latter is especially helpful when used together with other types of filters like the wet/dry filter.

On the other hand, complete canister filters rely on –tubes for water intake and a spray bar for the return of the water. When the canister filter is mounted on the aquarium, a siphon is activated. This siphon allows the water to circulate from the aquarium to the filter. So, the water will first enter the filter and go through a mechanical media and reach the chemical media. Once the chemical filtration is finished, the water goes to the final chamber that has the biological media and this is where the nitrogen cycle is finished.

Internal Filters

One of the main characteristics of internal filters is that this type of aquarium filters is used in relatively small fish tanks. These submersible filters are driven by a powerhead style motor, a powerhead or air bubbles. The bottom of the aquarium close to the substrate is the place where these filters are usually placed. They are relatively cheap, but as we said before they are inefficient for bigger aquariums.

Under-gravel filters

Under-gravel filters are actually very simple filters, but they are also one of the most effective filters too. As the name suggests, they are placed under the gravel and their intake tube is connected to an efficient air filter. With the help of this specific filter, you can get aeration and boost the number of bacteria. Siphoning the gravel is a must whenever you change the aquarium water because otherwise it can get clogged with feces. The under-gravel filters are perfect for mid-sized aquariums; we only recommend using it on fish tanks below 35 gallons.

Sponge filters

Here’s another popular type of aquarium filter. If we compare them to most of the filters used today, they will appear weaker. However, they are powerful enough to cleanse the water in aquariums hosting house fry and other similar tiny species like shrimp. Air driven filters deliver biological filtration and some are designed to offer chemical filtration as well. However, if the fish are releasing a relatively high amount of poop, these filters are inefficient. They are however the best option for shrimp tanks.


Sump filters are receptacles that have all the necessary media for filtration, a heater and a water pump. In the past, sumps were used only in saltwater tanks, but today they are used in different tanks that have large sizes. They have a simple design, but they are very efficient. It’s also worth mentioning that sumps or sump filters are great because they have an ability to store different media. With their help, aquarium owners can bring additional water to the system which is certainly beneficial for the tank.

Demonstration of a sump:

Every Tank Needs an Appropriate Filter

As you have probably concluded by now, every tank size needs an appropriate filter size. Using a small filter in a large tank and vice versa can sometimes bring more harm than good. In order to determine the right size of the filter, it is highly recommended to take the capacity of your tank into consideration.

Generally speaking, the entire water content from the aquarium should be able to pass through the aquarium filter four times per hour. For instance, a 60-gallon aquarium needs a flow rate of 240 gallons per hour. In case you can choose between a 200-gallon per hour and 250-gallon per hour aquarium filter, choose the 250-gph model. The good news is that the market is full of filters that have different sizes and aquarium filters with different properties.

Why do Small Aquariums Need a Fish Tank Filter?

When it comes to smaller aquariums, maintaining quality of the water can be difficult due to the low water volume. Adding a small aquarium filter not only helps keep your tank clean, it adds water volume to your tank. It may not be much but “a little goes a long way”. There are some filters that don’t offer extra water volume – these are known as internal filters and sponge filters.

Hang on the back filters and canister filters do!

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter what kind of aquarium species or plants you have, using a filter is a must. Fish and plants found in aquariums generate waste and this waste must be treated. If you are ignoring this waste you can expect many problems. In some cases, a dirty (nitrate filled) aquarium water can lead to the death of the living beings found in your aquarium. A good aquarium filter should eliminate the waste and create a suitable environment inside the aquarium.

There are different methods and functions of filtration and the basic ones include – mechanical, biological and chemical. There are also many different types of aquarium filters. The decision which type of filter you will use depends on the fish and plants you are planning on growing, the size of the tank and few other factors. It is important to remember that each filter comes with certain advantages and disadvantages so choose carefully. It is also good to mention that the size of the filter is determined by the size of the aquarium too.

Please make sure if you are looking for the best aquarium filter in the market, it is the best idea to stick to the ones that are made by reputable companies. Any questions please feel free to drop a comment, we (or if another reader beats us to it) will be gladly help you.