Fish tank filters are one of the most important aspects when it comes to home aquariums. A fish tank is a delicate ecosystem that requires special equipment if you want to keep your fish alive, healthy and happy.
Before everything else you buy for your aquarium, the fish tank filter will probably be the most important on the list. Proper care for your fish comes down to a few fundamentals and the most important of these is the quality of your water. Without proper filtration, your fish will not flourish, suffer and not last long at all.
Caring for your fish is much like caring for any pet. You are responsible for feeding and cleaning up after them to keep them healthy. This is where the filter for your tank becomes important. All the feeding and waste that your fish produces causes fluctuations in your water’s quality. Obviously, you want the quality of your water to be perfect and the filter plays a huge part in this. After all, it is the equivalent of the air you breathe.
Understanding this is obviously why you are here and because you love your fish, the question becomes…
What Are The Best Fish Tank Filters?
Purifying and cleaning your tank properly is essential and for this, you will want to find the best fish tank filter available. Not all filters on the market today are equal and you will want to be armed with information so you can buy the best fish tank filter.
First, you will want to know how fish tank filters work and what their functions are. If you already know the basics, feel free to skip down to our fish tank filter reviews, but if you need a little insight, continue reading so you can make an informed choice for your tanks water quality and fish health.
Purposes of a Fish Tank Filter System
Before you spend your hard earned money on a filter system for your aquarium or tank, you will want to learn more about the basics of what the purpose “really” is for a fish tank filter system.
There are a total of 3 main types of functions that keep your fish alive in a filter’s lifespan. This will help you narrow down your choice.
The first function of a filter is the biological function. Exactly as it sounds. Fish create ammonia as they breathe in and out through their gills. On top of this, ammonia is also created from the excrement that the fish release into their ecosystem. As ammonia builds in the water, this element has nowhere to go and as a result, can be deadly to your fish.
In order to combat this, the biological function of a fish tank filter is to aid in the elimination of ammonia buildup. Proper filtration is the best way to continually remove fish waste from your tank and fish die-off can be easily averted.
The chemical function of a fish tank filter is simply to remove heavy chemicals from water. There are a variety of filters that can remove contaminants from water, but they rely on different methods for doing so. Depending on where you live, your water could be good or bad. Still, having the best filter for handling water impurities, is important regardless of your water’s quality.
The mechanical function of a fish tank filter is geared towards the removal of excess debris left in the tank. A good filter will be able to siphon out these water impurities.
Food particles and other dust particles tend to accumulate over time in a fish tank. The best filters will be able to purify and remove these, resulting in purified water that is perfectly aerated that will leave your fish healthy and happy.
Once you understand these functions and once you begin to pick out the best fish tank filter for your fish tank, you will literally see thousands of different models on the market. Below, we have reviewed some of our favorite models to help you narrow the field.
Fish Tank Filter Reviews
1) Hydor Professional External Canister Filter
This fish tank filter from Hydor comes in a variety of models based on the size of your fish tank. It fully encompasses all functions of a filter from biological, chemical and mechanical so it is able to create a perfect eco-system for your fish. It is designed with ease of use in mind. The intake tube diameter for the inlet side is 3/4″ and the outlet measures at 5/8″. Again this fish tank filter is easy to use and maneuver around with your aquarium. Unlike other filters, you won’t have to move the aquarium away from the wall to position it.
Set up is straight forward, perfect for beginners and everything you need comes with this filter. Pretty much plug and play for the most part. Once the filter is set up, simply press the primer a few times to fill the chamber and simply turn it on.
Once the fish tank filter is turned on, you’ll notice that it is very quiet. With it running, you will want to adjust how much water it processes. This little filter does a great job of cycling water through the tank you may have to adjust the overall speed which is not a bad thing. It weighs roughly 18 pounds and is 11 x 9 x 24 inches.
- Easy to set up
- Very efficient in filtering and cycling the tank’s water
- Very quiet
- Durable and long lasting
- A bit pricey
2) Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter
The Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter series seems to have a big fan base, due to the versatility of this fish tank filter. It accommodates both salt water and fresh H2o fish tanks. It is also a beast when it comes to the variety of sizes that this fish tank filter can work with, all the way up to 200-gallon aquariums.
Pushing out at around 350 gallons per hour of clean water when put to the test of filtration. The key to this filter is to keep it maintained for maximum efficiency. This fish tank filter has the ability to rotate at 360 degrees, thus it creates better than average filtration compared to the same in class filters from other manufacturers.
The extra large capacity trays create a multi-stage filtration process and allow for control over your water flow via its flow rate shut off valves, which also helps with the easy maintenance of your system. The primer is an easy push button that starts up the filter fast and with little ease to get the water flowing. This special design also makes it easy to replace filters by suspending waste matter and creating pristine water conditions for optimal fish health.
Weighing in at 15 pounds with the dimensions of 20.5 x 12 x 11 inches, it can easily be set up, moved and cleaned. It is a turnkey system if you are nervous about jumping into a canister fish tank filter. Everything is included when you buy it. From media, hoses, clamps, suction cups, etc., so you can jump right in. Because of this, we recommend this tank filter for its value and ease of use.
- Great value that includes everything you need to start proper fish tank filtration
- Ergonomic design that allows for easy cleaning and installation
- Very sturdy
- Powerful filtration at 350-gph
- Easy for beginners to use and understand
- Quiet operation
- Canister filters can be a bit intimidating
3) Fluval External Fish Tank Filter
The Fluval External Fish Tank Filter comes in 4 different varieties. I recommend spending the extra dollars on the 406 which really is not much more expensive. This fish tank filter is suitable up to a 100-gallon fish tank and can filter water at a rate of 383-gph (gallons per hour). It is designed to work quietly with an impeller design which dampens ambient sound. Your fish will appreciate that.
Because of its square design, it holds around 50% more water than a typical canister fish tank filter. This allows for increased water flow and efficiency when filtering out the bad particles that your fish leave behind. The square-shaped filter system also allows for maximized touch points with the filtration media, thus cleaning the water with great results.
The filter is very sturdy and should last a long time. If you are worried about its longevity, don’t fret. It comes with a 3-year warranty.
The intake for this filter is also virtually clog-free and designed with a drip loop that keeps water away from your plugs. A well thought out design that creates clear water and filters out the “bad” in your tank fast.
Another nice aspect is that it also can be used in saltwater fish tanks. It is a versatile filter system that other competitors simply can’t match at this time. From set-up ease with one-touch start-up and requiring zero siphoning of a manual nature.
- Quiet operating sounds dampened by its impeller technology
- Affordable and complete system considering its durability
- Powerful filtering ability and water cycling
- A bit hard to clean
4) Aqueon Quietflow LED PRO Aquarium Filter
As the name suggests, the Aqueon Quietflow Filter is extremely quiet. There are many quiet filters on the market but this one also has a high-flow rate that rivals in this niche, just can’t match. It is usually a trade-off between water flow versus how quiet a filter can be. Not in this case. I was very impressed at the low noise output combined with its ability to cycle water fast.
It is a self-priming filter that is less costly than others on our list. So this fish tank filter is great if you are on a budget but want decent filtration for your tank. It covers all the functions (biological, chemical, and mechanical) when combined with Aqueon’s specialty filter pads.
One super-nice feature is that it includes LED indicators letting you know its time to change cartridges when they become clogged. Another nice feature is that it has an auto-start option in-case you are not around and something causes the electricity to stop such as a power outage. So rest assured if you are away at work or on vacation, and the power goes out, your fish will survive.
It is a very powerful filter considering its size. Keep this in mind if you have delicate fish or slow swimming fish, as the suction and flow could hurt them in a smaller tank.
- Powerful flow
- Very affordable
- Very quiet operation
- Nice design and well thought out
- Easy to install
- Flow can damage fragile swimmers such as Betta fish
5) Fluval FX6 Canister Fish Tank Filter
This is truly one of the best canister filters on the market in my humble opinion. The Fluval FX6 has made the list for good reason. This filter is not for smaller tanks, so forget it if you are running anything under a 10 to 20-gallon fish tank. Now if your tank is large, this may be the best fish tank filter that money can buy. It can handle up to a 400-gallon fish tank. One of those aquariums that fish lovers dream of having in their homes.
Extremely well designed, the FX6 has a multi-stage filter that can easily handle large capacity fish tanks. Again, this is for bigger tanks. The performance of this filter is engineered with efficiency in mind. For example, it has a self-starting filter in which all you do is add the water and turn it on. It also reminds you about monthly cleaning in case you forget. The filter circulation pumps out at 563 gallons per hour which creates very clean water through its multi-stage process, keeping your fish healthy in their environment.
Its smart pump technology monitors everything via its circuit board. Everything from impeller speed and water force are carefully tuned by its computer brain. It even goes as far as eliminating air that can build up upon detection within the filtration system. It does this every 12 hours by pausing operation to allow the air to escape. Pretty darn cool, if you ask me.
It is roughly 21 inches in height and can fit in most aquariums with ease.
- Giant Capacity
- Superb filtration means crystal clear water for your fish
- Starts up fast and easily
- Very reliable based on the reviews of this filter
- Quiet for a large filter capacity and powerful output
- A bit heavy and clunky
- Very powerful – Can suck your fish up
6) EHEIM Classic External Canister Fish Tank Filter with Media
The EHIEM Classic External Canister Filter is a great choice for the budget minded. This canister has an aesthetic appeal in that it is made from a translucent green plexi, making it look kind of cool. A typical fish tank filter has that awkward appearance. The EHIEM, on the other hand, looks nice once installed.
This filter comes in a variety of sizes to accommodate most tanks from 40 gallons to 92 gallons depending on your needs, but no matter your choice, they all come standard with the same items needed for getting your filter up and running.
The internal workings allow you to choose your favorite filter media and are also without cartridges so there is little limit to its size. This filter uses biological and mechanical filters but if you need a chemical purpose filtration, no worries. You can add into the mix.
- Decent water filtration and cycling
- Easy maintenance
- last a long time with proper upkeep
- leak resistant
- Affordable filtration
- Instructions are not straight forward
- Not 220v compatible
7) AquaClear Power Filter For Fish Tanks
This little back of tank filter is perfect for strong filtration. It allows for almost full media contact with water. The AquaClear Power Filter works at 110v’s saving you money on energy costs and is relatively easy to set up.
It is also well constructed and should last a long time. If not, no problem. It comes with a 2-year warranty but because it is a reliable filter you probably won’t need it, but peace of mind is always nice when it comes to fish tank filters. This filtration system comes with the Biomax cycle, AquaClear foam, and its cycle guard. The activated charcoal will also give you enhanced biological functions for your fish.
This pump is suitable for a tank up to 110 gallons, effectively cleaning water the way it’s supposed to. The install process is fast and straight forward for those who are not technically savvy. Of course, the easy to understand instruction manual is pretty useful on top of that. Prime your filter after plugging in and presto! – you are ready to go. You may want to adjust your H20 flow but that is about it.
It is also moderately quiet for a pump this size and offers a 3 stage filtration process. Overall, when compared to other filters of this price-point, this filter does a better job of cleaning fish tank water.
- Consistent and certified flow rate
- Energy efficient
- Bigger tanks won’t filter as fast
Choosing The Best Fish Tank Filter For Your Specific Aquarium
After you understand the importance of filter functionalities we discussed at the beginning of this article you will want to understand how to find the right filter for your fish’s tank.
You will also want to understand the basic features offered by different filter manufacturers if you want the best water quality and outcomes for the fish. By examining the efficiencies, functions, and options with each filter you can make an informed decision.
What Are The Different Types Of Fish Tank Filters Available?
Fish tank filters come in a variety of styles and operational differences. Here are a few examples of the kinds of filters available on the market:
Canister Fish Tank Filters – These types of filters are sought after for their ability to be used in both freshwater tanks as well as saltwater tanks. On top of that, you can also install them in tanks for turtles, reef style tanks because they simply do the job they are intended for. They tend to be well constructed and utilize all functions; biological, chemical and mechanical. They also have, in general, an easy installation process so they are great for beginners. Typically they are also easy to clean, quiet running and their mechanical functions are outstanding.
Power Fish Tank Filters – These types of filters use a pump to move the water through the tank and into the media to clean the water. They hang on the tank above the water using a lifting tube to suck the water from the tank and into the filtration media. Be sure to see what types of functions these filters use as they can vary from model to model. They come with a variety of stages and can use different types of media for proper functions that you may need.
HOB (Hang on Back) Fish Tank Filters – They are also known as hanging filters as they attach to the back of the tank and arch into the water with hoses. They can tend to look a bit weird, standing above the tank, however, their popularity seems to be increasing as the years go by. The real key to these is they are easy to clean and maintain along with their good efficiency and performance.
When choosing the proper filter for your fish tank, size does matter. You will want to consider the capacity of your tank and combine that with the ability of the filter. Not enough filtration and water movement and your tank can become quite nasty. To much power and your fish can become compromised. Sucked up into the filter and killed. No one wants that!
Not every filter will work in every tank. Always look at the manufacturers suggested tank sizes compared with the filter you buy. They will always list it somewhere in the product description.
Measured in gph or gallons per hour, the flow rate is the measure of how fast (or slow) a filter can fill your tank replacing it with fresh clean water. Different filters offer a different flow rate. Strong swimming fish can handle faster flow rates, but delicate fish like Betta Fish or goldfish will absolutely struggle.
Check Out Fish Tank Filter Reviews
Don’t take our word for it. Look and see what others say about the fish tank filters they like and don’t like. This is a great way to also learn about filters, the mistakes you can make when buying a fish tank filter as well as help you narrow down which filter is right for your aquarium.
Finding the right fish tank filter comes down to a few factors. Once you understand these factors, the choice will be much easier. There are literally thousands of filter systems to choose from. We have listed a few of our favorites, but if there is one you are considering not on our fish tank filter reviews list, let us know and we are happy to give you our thoughts.