Aquarium Filtration Systems

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Most aquarists understand the importance of good water filtration in their aquarium. A decent filter can dramatically improve water conditions inside of your tank and thus the well-being of your fish. Granted you will still need to make regular water changes but a good filter can reduce the frequency significantly as well as improve the clarity of your water.

There are many types of filters available and each has its pros and cons. I have spent hours and hours researching some of the best filters on the market and have listed my favorite for 6 different categories, using factors such as cost, effectiveness, quietness, quality, and ease of use.

Recommended Aquarium Filters 2020

Best Hang On Back FilterAqua Clear Fish Tank Filter

Hang on back filters or HOB filters are pretty much the industry standard and the Aqua Clear has been a leading model for years now. It’s not hard to see why.

It boasts an impressive filtration media capacity that exceeds other comparable filters by up to 7 times! Foam, activated carbon, and ceramic rings are included for effective multistage filtration but the simple and open design allows all media to be interchangeable to suit the user’s preference.

It is straightforward to service compared to some other HOB filters as you can easily remove the media without having to disassemble it or even remove it from the back of the tank.

The product is virtually silent when in use and energy-efficient for a low running cost. This versatile filter comes in several sizes, meeting the needs of almost any aquarium out there. Good for fresh or saltwater.

If I could only recommend one filter to people, this would be it.

Best Sponge FilterPowkoo Super Biochemical Air Sponge Filter

Sponge filters are probably the simplest filters out there. Their simplicity also makes them some of the most reliable, with no moving parts there is very little that can go wrong with them. They are also cheap to purchase and will continue working until the cows come home.

If you have a multi-tank setup they are ideal as you can run many sponge filters from just one air pump. They are also great for breeding tanks as there is little to no risk of fry being sucked up into the mechanism.

The Powkoo sponge filter is a quality product with glowing reviews. It provides brilliant biological filtration and mechanical too. The unit is easily assembled/disassembled as all parts are detachable for easy cleaning. No need for an airstone either.

All in all a great purchase and available in various sizes to suit your needs.

Best Submersible FilterFluval Underwater Filter

If you have little space around your aquarium or you just want to place it as close to a wall as possible, submersible filters may suit your needs.

Having the filter inside of the tank has some additional benefits such as a reduced loss of bacteria if you have a power cut and zero chance of leaks outside the tank. The Fluval Underwater is also one of the quietest filters out there.

The unit can be mounted vertically or horizontally. This is great for shallower tanks such as in turtle aquariums when the water level must be kept low.

The flow can be adjusted in a number of ways. There are nozzles you can add to change the direction of the flow, or you can switch to the inbuilt spray bar for a gentle flow rate (ideal for plants or fish such as bettas).

Additionally, you have the option of adding an air intake tube so that air can also be pumped into the jet stream for extra oxygenation.

It includes a mounting bracket that allows the unit to be removed from the tank without having to re-fit the suction cups. Furthermore, the main filter has a flip lid which makes the media easily accessible without removing the unit from the water

Again, this filter comes in several sizes to meet your requirements and is suitable for use in fresh or saltwater.

The Fluval Underwater Filter is a great piece of kit and is reasonably priced for all of the functionality it provides.

Best Canister FilterPenn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

Canister filters are a great option for reducing clutter inside of your tank while offering superior filtration compared to most in-tank or HOB filters.

The Penn Plax Cascade has multiple media trays ranging from 2 to 5 depending on the model you have selected. It comes with all the filtration media you need including filter floss separators for each media section.

As with most canister filters, it’s highly customizable and so it is entirely up to you if you want to source your own media types and use different combinations.

The unit comes with all the components you require so you can set it up immediately without having to purchase any extras. You can choose between a spray bar or a standard outlet spout with a directional nozzle.

One minor negative with this filter is that the packaging is not great and so there have been reports of the product turning up damaged. This is just something to be aware of and keep an eye out for.

The product is suitable for both salt and freshwater applications. All in all, it provides great value for money with other comparable filters costing much more. The performance for the price is fantastic.

Note – Canister filters can also be used in conjunction with an in-line heater to provide even heat distribution throughout your aquarium and further reduce in-tank clutter. The ISTA In-Line External Aquarium Heater (Amazon) is a fantastic option. Select the 5/8″ model for compatibility with the Penn Plax Cascade tubing.

Best Wet-Dry FilterEshopps WD-75CS Wet Dry Filter

Wet-dry filters work by exposing filtration media to the water from inside your aquarium and the outside air. This results in superior bacteria growth which in turn provides phenomenal biological filtration.

Particularly favored for saltwater setups (although suitable for freshwater too), wet-dry filters are more expensive than the other types of filters that I have recommended here. They may also be overlooked sometimes as they can be a little more challenging to get set up but the results are fantastic.

The Eshopps wet-dry filter takes some of the stress out of wet-dry filtration as it comes with everything you need to set up your rig excluding a return pump. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • overflow box
  • 3 ft. x 1-1/4″ flex hose
  • drip plate cover
  • filter pad
  • drip plate
  • bio balls
  • egg crate
  • 1″ bulkhead
  • return nozzle with vinyl tubing

Normally you would purchase most of these components separately and this can wind up costing you more money in the long run.

Another bonus is that the intake has a unique breather tube fitted. This prevents the slurping or glugging sound that often occurs with wet-dry setups.

All in all, the Eshopps WD-75CS Wet Dry Filter is a quality product and good value for money. The 75cs is rated for tanks from 10 to 75 gallons but larger models are available also.

If you need to purchase a compatible return pump, I recommend using the Rio Plus 1400 Aqua Pump (Amazon). The flow rate is quoted as 420 gph which is higher than the Eshopps overflow at 300 gph. However, due to the provided fittings and hose diameter, along with the effect of gravity, you will see a return flow rate more in the regions of 240 gph. This should provide efficient filtration and the Eshopps overflow should still be more than capable of handling it.

Best Undergravel Filter – Lee’s Premium Undergravel Filter

Undergravel filters optimize bacteria growth within the gravel in an aquarium. As the main part of the filter is “under gravel” it means that they are quite discrete too. They work particularly well when matched with a secondary filter. All you need is to attach an airline which in turn will help with water oxygenation.

On the downside, it isn’t a good idea to use under gravel filters with fish that tend to dig. If they dig holes and uncover portions of the filter it significantly reduces the efficiency as the water will only flow through the path of weakest resistance.

The under gravel filter plates are of solid construction and are especially resistant to splitting or cracking. This makes the product particularly well-suited for saltwater applications but it does equally well in freshwater applications too.

Lee’s Premium Under Gravel Filter is unobtrusive and of great quality, particularly when compared with other filters of its type.