If you are just setting up a new aquarium, have chosen which type of aquarium is right for you and decided on the best fish tank for your needs you are surely next going to start thinking about the equipment you’ll need to go with it. One of the essential pieces of kit to look for when you adopt some pet fish is an aquarium filter.
Fish can be quite a messy animal, especially because most of them don’t have the ability to clean their surroundings, and since they are contained in a relatively small enclosure of water it can get very dirty, very quickly. Other than manually cleaning the tank yourself and also employing some algae eating species in your tank to feast on the detritus, a filter is the most efficient and easy way to keep the water clean and fresh.
Algal growths, excess food, waste material and toxins all naturally get mixed into the water as the fish go about their daily lives not to mention the chemicals that are present in the water in the first place which can set off the PH balance of the water. The best fish tank filter can get rid of these hazards providing a safer environment for your fish, and a crystal clear fish tank for your home.
There are many different filters available to choose from; they can have a variety of functions and come at a range of prices so the best aquarium filter will be dependent on your needs, the type of tank that you are running and how much you are willing to spend. One thing is for sure, you’ll want to get the best value for your money and so although it might be tempting to go for the cheapest options, you may find that they are not up to scratch and will cost you more in the long run.
What Make the Best Aquarium Filter?
There are three main functions to look for in a fish tank filter which may or may not be important to you depending on the type of aquarium you have. Ideally, though, you would want the filter to have the ability to perform all of these functions to ensure your fish are living in a safe environment.
The most basic filters on the market employ a method of forcing the water through a medium within the filtration device that catches waste, food particles, plant matter, algae and other debris.
This is the essential function of a filter as it is keeping these particles from free-floating in the water preventing it from becoming cloudy and also inhibiting the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the water. It results in your water being clear and clean and your fish staying free from diseases.
Some filters may have an extra medium for the water to pass through which removes particular toxins in the water and this is extremely helpful if you are using tap water for your fish tank. Tap water contains chemicals that are not nice for the fish to swim in and so the filter aims to rid the water of these keeping your fish from chemical irritation and burns.
They also target particular chemicals and nutrients which can be harmful in excessive quantities such as calcium or nitrogen and so reduce the concentration and your pet’s exposure to them.
The presence food particles, algae and plant matter can be broken down by bacteria that are present in the water which in turn releases the chemical called ammonia. The fish themselves also release ammonia from the gills in the process of urination which is a toxin that can become harmful to your fish and the other inhabitants of your tank.
Such as in the soil, the tank water also has a nitrogen cycle, in which ammonia is broken down by “good bacteria” and a filter with this function allows space for this type of bacteria to grow reducing the ammonia concentration in the water and keeping your tank healthy.
Types of Fish Tank Filter
The filters can come in different types, and some perform the functions mentioned above better than others. It’s a good idea for you to get acquainted with the different types before looking at the products just to make it easier for you to come to a decision as they are suited to different aquariums when considering the size and type.
Internal Fish Tank Filters
Air-Driven filters are the compact, basic type you would find in smaller fish tanks that require little maintenance. They are likely to be featured in a kid’s first goldfish bowl or just as a small decorative display in a business, school or hospital waiting room.
They do come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes and are usually attached to the tops and sides of the tank using suction cups. The water is driven into the filtration systems using an air pump, pushing it through the medium so that debris can be sifted out.
There are two types of internal fish tank filters that all use air pressure to drive the water through the medium but they can differ in what filtrations functions they use. They are both best suited for and should be limited to smaller aquariums.
- Corner Box Filters: Are designed to be placed in the corner of the aquarium either stuck on the side or just placed on the substrate. The water is drawn into the bottom of the box and exits through the filter at the top. They can contain different mediums for mechanical, chemical and biological filtration.
- Sponge Filters: Sponge filters are able to operate mechanically and biologically. Water is pushed through the sponge material that sifts out waste material and debris.
These filters, as the name suggests, are placed under the substrate of the tank and have tubes which rise up past the surface of the water called uplift tubes. Water is supposed to be drawn through these tubes with the use of air stones or a power head.
This pulls the water through the substrates achieves biological and mechanical filtration but not chemical and so fish tanks using this type of filter will tend to have higher nitrate and phosphate concentrations. They are not recommended for aquariums which have living plants as plant roots can inhibit the function of the filter.
Power filters are typically designed to hang on the back of the aquarium and employ a pump used to electronically draw the water through the system. They are usually very easy to maintain and are able to perform all levels of filtration.
They are much more effective with biological filtration when a biowheel is used in conjunction with the aquarium filter. They’re very inexpensive and require little maintenance and so are all around the best fish tank filters for most fish owners and are the most widely used.
Canister filters also fulfill the three main functions of filtration that are important for keeping your tank clean. They contain different types of mediums for the water to flow through and get purified. The main part of the canister is quite large and so they work better for larger tanks.
Our Top Picks
Pingkay 3-stage External Canister Filter
This is a fantastic canister filter for medium to large sized fish tanks (up to 100 gallons), it works for both fresh and saltwater fish tanks too! It has a maximum flow rate of 370GPH form its own built-in pump, so as you can imagine, it can pass a lot of water through its system to get clean.
It also comes with a UV sterilizer to kill off any bacteria that passes through it in the water which ensures your fish are going to be living in a safe and clean environment. It has a lot of components that come with the product but it does come with clear instructions on how to install the filter correctly with no issues.
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter
The Penn Plax Cascade is another canister filter that’s somewhat more expensive than others on the market if you go for the top product in their range. Even though it does cost more, the reviews speak loudly for the products durability, quality and ease of use; its built to last and because of that, it’s great value for money.
The Cascade Black 1500 Elite option can handle a tank with a capacity of up to 200 gallons! This is a very impressive filter indeed and has the power and capacity to keep all that water fresh with its 350GPH flow volume too! It‘s easy to assemble and works with the push of a button, you’ll also receive extra replacements mediums, hoses, and pipes to make your life easier.
Aqueon Quietflow E Internal Power Filter
For the fish tank owners who are on a budget, this power filter by Aqueon called Quietflow may be just what you are looking for. It’s a pump that’s suited to smaller fish tanks with options for you to purchase a filter suited to between 3 and 40 gallons. It provides all three of the function filtration mechanisms; biological, chemical and mechanical so it’s good value indeed.
It’s really efficient at its job, it’s super easy to get set up and so if you do have a smaller tank and a smaller budget, this filter is a no-brainer. Reviews are typically good for this product but some claim it is loud despite its name so that’s something to be wary of.
Marineland Penguin Power Filter
If you’re looking for a filter that’s priced a little in-between the others and is of a good enough quality for small to medium fish tanks, the Marineland power filter may be perfect for you. There are several purchase options, most expensive is the aquarium filter suited for fish tanks between 50 and 70 gallons with a GPH of 350.
It delivers on all forms of filtration, it’s highly rated, easy to use, fast and efficient, so it’s everything you need from a filter on the smaller end of the spectrum. There are also cleaning products you can use to maintain the filter and your fish tank sold separately that this manufacturer recommended, so it’s worth checking out this product at least to get some friendly advice.