Last Updated: September 17, 2023 by Flora Gibbins
If you have an aquarium, you know how important filtration can be.
Did you know:
The best aquarium filter can vary depending on many things including the size and stocking of your fish tank as well as your maintenance habits, light levels, and even the available space outside of the tank.
Keeping all the variables in mind, we chose the Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter as the best fish tank filter because it excels in a variety of situations.
Let’s take a look at some top-rated filters and find the best filter for your fish tank.
- The Top 5 Best Aquarium Filters Reviewed
- Factors To Consider When Selecting The Best Freshwater Aquarium Filter
- What Are The Three Stages of Filtration And Do I Need Them All?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- The Bottom Line
The Top 5 Best Aquarium Filters Reviewed
1. Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter – Best Overall
The Fluval 07 series filter is an improvement on the famously reliable 06 series which was widely known as one of the most reliable canister filters ever built and the 07 series is the best-selling canister filter in the world.
This product has multiple media chambers with room to add your favorite filtration media for biological filtration, a prefilter sponge for mechanical filtration, and a relatively easy to access chamber for chemical filtration.
I love how this filter features locking valves to prevent the hoses from disconnecting accidentally. My old canister filters used to disconnect and spray water all over the place every time I moved them.
This filter comes in 4 different sizes depending on your needs; suitable for aquariums starting at 10 gallons and going all the way up to 120 gallons.
- Plenty of room for media
- Low noise
- High quality 3 stage filtration
- Locking valves
- Energy efficient
- Canister Filters are harder to clean than other filters
If you’re looking for high-end filtration and cost is not an issue, the Fluval 07 series is the filter for you. This filter is without a doubt the best canister filter I have used.
2. Fluval C Series Power Filter – Best Adjustable Filter
The Fluval C series power filter comes equipped with five-step, three-stage filtration and a patented refiltration system. This filter offers performance that is comparable to a canister filter with the easy installation and maintenance of a hang-on back.
This product has an indicator that pops up when the filter starts to get clogged, letting you know it’s time for cleaning.
Fluval’s C series power filters have several filter cartridge compartments making them easy to clean without damaging the biological filter.
Another great feature of this filter is the separate filtration stages that can be accessed and cleaned without needing to change all of the stages at once. The biological filtration is located in a trickle chamber and can be filled with the media of your choice.
- Easy to use and maintenance
- Patented refiltration system
- Cleaning indicator
- Room for custom filter media
- Mechanical filtration clogs easily and needs frequent cleanings
This hang-on back or hob filter is powerful, reliable, and easy to use. You can easily adjust the water flow rate without compromising the extensive filtration process.
3. AquaClear Fish Tank Filter – Best Budget Filter
The AquaClear Fish Tank Filter is well known for both its durability and filtration capability, AquaClear has been the best-selling hang-on-back filter worldwide for many decades.
Like the Fluval C series power filter, this fish tank filter also has patented refiltration technology and water flow rate control allowing for flow rate adjustment without a loss of filtration.
This power filter uses CycleGuard filtration technology that allows for all the stages of filtration to be accomplished in a single chamber while still allowing each stage to be changed independently to preserve beneficial bacteria.
This product was designed for efficiency, the filter media basket forces all of the water through the media and uses a waterfall design to maximize aeration.
I find this filter to also be the best filter for filling with custom filter media because it was designed to be used that way and maintains all of its features regardless of media choice.
There are 5 different size options.
- Low cost
- Easy to set up and maintain
- Refiltration and CycleGuard technology
- Room for custom filter media
- Magnetic impeller
Aqua Clear filters are perfect for when you need a quick and easy setup. It’s great value for money, is very reliable, and if you use both biological and chemical media, it will do all three stages of filtration efficiently.
4. AQUANEAT Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter – Best for Breeding
If you keep a shrimp tank or are trying to breed fish, the AQUANEAT Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter is a perfect choice; the sponge surface creates a grazing area for small fish, shrimp, and fish fry.
My favorite thing about the AQUANEAT Bio Sponge Filter is that it can be attached to the intake of a hang-on back or canister filter, which increases the function of both.
Like all sponge filters, this filter is not capable of chemical filtration and the mechanical filtration is not the best, but the biological filtration of this product is amazing.
This filter makes a great filter for a betta fish tank or other nano tanks. It produces very little water movement and the mechanical filtration is more than good enough in a smaller aquarium.
- Provides ample grazing area for fry
- Can be used as an intake for other filters
- Safe for fish and shrimp fry
- Very good at biological filtration
- Does not have chemical filtration
- Takes up space in the tank
- Requires an air pump if not used with another filter
This sponge filter is one of the best freshwater aquarium filters for biological filtration and is perfect for shrimp and fish fry.
5. OASE Indoor Aquatics Bioplus Thermo – Best Internal Filter
If you don’t have room for a hob filter or canister filter and you still need all three stages of filtration the OASE Indoor Aquatics Bioplus Thermo could be the internal filter for you.
This internal filter is suitable for any aquarium up to 55 gallons with adjustable flow up to 170 GPH and takes less space in your tank than other comparable internal filters.
Although suitable for smaller tanks, it does take up a lot of space in anything smaller than 10 gallons.
Like the other top-rated filters, this product has multiple compartments for filtration media and can be used with custom filter media.
This product is available in three sizes with each size adding one tray for filter media.
- Built-in heater
- Looks nice in a tank and doesn’t take up too much space
- Easy to clean
- Comes with a 3-year warranty
- Internal filters take up space in the tank
The Bioplus Thermo looks nice and fits well in an aquarium if your aquarium is between 10 gallons and 40 gallons and you do not have room for an external filter. Then, you can’t beat this filter.
Fun Fact #1: If you are into a specific type of aquarium water filter (i.e. internal filter), then visit our post regarding the Top 7 Best Internal Aquarium Filter Options ( For Any Tank) to learn more!
Fun Fact #2: Since you are already considering purchasing an aquarium filter, then it is only proper that you know how to lower nitrates in aquarium, as well! High amounts of nitrates present a danger to any of your pet fish. Read our article now.
Factors To Consider When Selecting The Best Freshwater Aquarium Filter
When I am looking for the best aquarium filter for my tank, I always have to determine the needs of the specific tank.
I’ve put together a list of the important things you should consider when picking your filter:
Just the number of gallons gives you a great starting point at what size of filter you need,
When looking at gallons per hour(GPH), most aquariums want the entire volume of the aquarium to be filtered completely somewhere between 4 and 10 times an hour.
The filtration speed not only affects biological filtration but also determines water flow rate which is what your filter relies on for mechanical filtration.
Substrates and Plants
If you grow aquatic plants in your aquarium, this can affect your filtration needs.
A heavily planted tank, especially one with dirt and sand as substrates, is capable of processing nitrates making anaerobic filter media less important for heavily stocked tanks and aquarists that don’t do weekly water changes.
If you are using a dirt tank or have deep sand, you should have something moving under the substrates to sift the sand and prevent the buildup of toxic gas. Rooted plants and Malaysian trumpet snails are both great for that job.
A type of aquarium filter that I did not review is an undergravel filter sometimes called a gravel filter. This type of filter pulls water through the substrates causing the beneficial bacteria to live in the gravel. Although undergravel filters are not usually the best, with the right substrates they can be a cheap and effective option.
What are you planning to keep in the tank and how heavy will the bioload be?
Some fish prefer different amounts of water flow and the filter creates that flow, for example, bettas don’t like a lot of flow and prefer a very slow filter but hillstream loaches want the water to flow at river speeds and would be happier with a much faster filter.
If fish or shrimp will be breeding inside the tank, you will need a sponge filter or sponge prefilter on whatever filter you use, the sponge not only prevents the fry from being sucked into the filter but also gives them a surface to graze off of.
The other thing to consider is bioload, if you are only keeping one fish in the water, you only need a small filter and if you’re planning to have a packed tank you will need extra filtration.
Ease of Cleaning
All of the filters on this list are designed to be easy to clean without sacrificing functionality.
There tends to be a trade-off between how easy it is to clean and how often it needs cleaning because the longer you go without cleaning something the dirtier it is, that is why regular maintenance is recommended for almost all filters.
Most quality products are designed with the idea that you will need to clean them to maintain the water flow rate.
It is always important that you can clean some of the filter media without cleaning all of it because cleaning or replacing all of your media at once will remove the biological filter and can result in dead fish.
Price is almost always a factor, it’s okay to buy what you can afford as long as it will meet the needs of your aquarium. I included some pretty low-cost options in this list; the best doesn’t mean the most expensive.
What Are The Three Stages of Filtration And Do I Need Them All?
In aquariums, there are three types of filtration: Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical. When properly set up an aquarium filter will do the filtration in that order.
This is the physical filtration of small particles out of the water. Mechanical filter media is usually a sponge or pad that the water passes through before entering the biological filtration. Mechanical filtration is not necessary, but it helps with a few things.
It helps keep your biological substrate clean, which means when the filter needs cleaning usually you can just clean the mechanical filtration part and the rest is already clean.
It keeps your aquarium floor clean; without enough water flow waste can build up on the floor of the aquarium, it looks gross and requires gravel vacuuming to clean out manually.
So, mechanical filtration is all about keeping the tank cosmetically appealing and reducing the effort needed on your part in both cleaning the tank and cleaning the filter.
This is the most important part of aquarium filtration, biological filtration processes waste so that the water is safe for the fish to live in.
The nitrogen cycle is biological filtration, this is dependent on having enough surface area for beneficial bacteria to live on and the bacteria will process ammonia into nitrite and nitrite into nitrate.
Nitrate is usually removed through water changes although plants and anaerobic bacteria can both consume nitrates. Some filter media are designed to foster beneficial anaerobic bacteria. Usually, these require a somewhat slower flow rate than other filter media.
Since this is both the most important and the most complex step of filtration, I included a short video that explains the nitrogen cycle and how to cycle your tank.
The key with biological filtration is that you need to make sure that you have enough surface area of filtration media to consistently process all of the waste from your fish, once you have enough more doesn’t help much unless you plan to add more fish.
Any time you use an absorbent or chemical to help clean your water that is chemical filtration, this includes carbon and zeolite even though neither of those is a chemical, they are absorbents that eventually fill up and need to be removed.
Always keep in mind that if you use carbon or other chemical filtration you will need to remove it if you are using medicine and it will remove any tannins you try to add to the water.
This is always temporary and usually is not necessary. The most common uses for chemical filtration are, fixing a problem with the nitrogen cycle, fixing a nutrient imbalance, absorbing medicine from the water after treatment of illness, and removing nitrates from water.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should I Use My Filter?
Your filter should be running all the time if you do need to turn it off for cleaning or any other reason. The filter should never be turned off for longer than an hour, this is because beneficial bacteria will start rapidly dying after about an hour.
What Filtration Media Should I Use?
Everyone seems to have a different answer to this question, the important thing is that your filtration media is porous and has plenty of surface area. Volcanic rocks, sponges, and most store-bought filtration media will be fine as long as you use enough media for your bioload.
How And When Do I Clean My Filter?
If the water flow rate through your filter begins to slow, it is time to clean your filter.
Usually, you will just clean the mechanical filtration to unclog it. I recommend turning off your filter before removing the mechanical filtration so that your biological media stays clean.
It is recommended to use dechlorinated water or aquarium water to clean your filtration so that you don’t lose any beneficial bacteria, but that is most important when cleaning biological media.
Tap water contains chlorine and chloramine and will kill your beneficial bacteria.
Sometimes, after cleaning the mechanical filtration, the filter will still be running slower than usual, this is a sign that your bio-media is clogged. To clean your bio media, you can simply remove it and rinse it in tank water.
If the media is so dirty that a rinse isn’t helpful, you can replace up to half of it with fresh media. You should never change more than half of your biological media at one time otherwise you will have to cycle your tank again.
Chemical filtration is a little different, it will eventually be used up. I always recommend reading the package and following the manufacturer’s instructions closely when using chemical media.
From my research and experience, the best fish tank filter is the Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter. The filtration and versatility of this filter simply cannot be beaten.
It is the easiest to clean canister filter I have ever come across, the mechanical filtration keeps both the tank and the bio-media clean, there is plenty of room for additional biological and chemical filtration media and it is not likely to break or stop working for many years to come.