Best Aquarium Filter in 2020 – Buying Guide

Just like humans prefer to breathe in clean air within their environment, fish prefer to live in clean water that’s free of dirt, debris, and other contaminants. Regardless of any specific equipment or accessories that you may have for your fish in their aquarium, not providing them the clean water that they require can make them sick and can even cause their death.

Taking care of your fish’s aquatic environment is one of the most important key elements to providing them successful care, so you’re recommended to keep their tanks’ water clean. But it can be difficult to have to change the tank’s water all the time, and there may even still be contaminants left over in the water that you just can’t see after you’ve just changed their water. Because of that, having an aquarium filter can save you not only time but also money when caring for your fish.

They can even save your fish’s lives, since they are capable of removing dangerous pollutants from the water that may be invisible to the human eye. Given the benefits of aquarium filters, you should purchase one for your fish tank. But it can be difficult to choose the best one, so here are five of the best filters on the market as well as some information that may make your buying process easier.

What is an Aquarium Filter?

best aquarium filter

Aquarium filters are classified as devices that filter dirt and debris, buildup of ammonia, excess nitrates as well as aerates from your fish’s water.

Having too many nitrates, aerates, or ammonia in your water can negatively affect your fish to the point that they can even die from. Filters come in a variety of different types with different functions regarding biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration. They also differ in their installations, but they all have the capability to effectively filter excess components from your water (1).

Types of Filtration Processes

There are typically three different types of filtration processes that most filters should account for. Each of these processes are able to remove certain unwanted elements from your fish’s tank water.

Biological filtration

During biological filtration, good bacteria is responsible for spreading and breaking down bad bacteria as well as ammonia and nitrite elements in order to transform them into a beneficial component known as nitrate. In order to do so, good bacteria spread throughout the tank and remove the bad bacteria from susceptible surfaces, such as rocks or sand. Given the importance of biological filtration, all aquarium filters should have it.

Mechanical filtration

Almost all filters are at least able to offer mechanical filtration, since it’s the process that removes the dirt and debris from the water. If any filter doesn’t at least offer mechanical filtration processes of some sort, then that filter isn’t recommended.

More specifically, mechanical filtration involves the removal of solid substances, including free-floating waste, excess food, or other substances that could potentially lead to harmful elements if not removed.

Mechanical filtration is able to remove solid elements by circulating water through a strainer of some sort. Since the strainer is only able to collect substances so big, mechanical filtration isn’t able to successfully remove any ammonia, nitrate, nitrate, or other chemicals from the water. Because of that, you should consider purchasing a filter that offers more than just mechanical filtration.

Chemical filtration

If any filter isn’t going to offer a filtration process, it’s chemical filtration. Chemical filtration is responsible for releasing chemical additives to your fish’s water in order to dissolve any waste that’s currently in the water.

If a filter offers chemical filtration, they will most likely release activated charcoal into the water to remove harmful wastes. This filtration process isn’t necessarily required, but it’s capable of ensuring your tank is rid of any harmful substances altogether, so it’s beneficial if you have a tank that houses a larger amount of organisms.

Different Types of Aquarium Filters

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Internal filter

Internal filters are classified as smaller filters that are installed in the corner of fish tanks, and they are typically the most common type, since they’re effective, inexpensive, and they’re easy to install.

Undergravel filters

These filters are defined as devices able to pull the water through the gravel in the tank, and they filter out the dirt and debris in that way. More specifically, water is sucked down through the filtration layer and is cleaned throughout the filter before it’s then pumped back into the rest of the tank from the bottom.

Sponge filters

Sponge filters are classified as devices that are able to provide both mechanical and biological filtration, since water is pumped through a sponge material in order to remove any dirt, debris, or other pollutants.

Canister filter

Canister filters are generally the most common type of filter for larger aquariums, since they are typically larger in size. For instance, canister filters are specifically designed in order to filter water in tanks larger than 40 gallons, and they’re heavier than other types of filters.

Because of that, they’re usually placed next to the aquarium on the ground, so they make for easy installation. These filters are also generally able to offer biological, mechanical as well as chemical filtration processes.

HOB filter

HOB stands for “Hang on Back,” and these filters are able to simply clip onto the back portion of the fish tank. Because of that, you can’t see these filters from the front of the tank, so they don’t take away from the beauty of the fish tank overall. Not only that, but they’re easy to install, since they merely get clipped on the back of the tank, and they don’t sit inside of the water in the tank.

Features to Consider Before Purchasing


It’s important to consider the specific brand that a filter is because some brands are known to simply sell products based solely for the profit rather than their quality. Given that, you’re advised to make sure that you only purchase filters from brands that have a large amount of positive reviews.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider purchasing from brands that offer good customer service. By doing so, you’ll have the ability to easily return your product and receive a refund if you’re not completely satisfied with the product.


Depending on the specific type of tank and fish that you have, you’ll need to purchase a filter that’s able to match the quality of the rest of your equipment.

For instance, if you have a larger aquarium that houses a large amount of fish, then you should expect to pay a higher price for your filter. On the other hand, if you only have a smaller fish tank that has smaller, more common fish, then you can get away with purchasing a filter that’s not as expensive.

Aquarium size

It’s important for you to consider the size aquarium that you have, since you’ll need a filter that’s able to match the size of you aquarium. More specifically, if you have a large aquarium, you’ll probably need a canister filter that’s able to filter large amounts of water at a time. On the other hand, you’ll get away with having a small clip-on filter if you have a fish tank that’s a smaller size.

Water-flow rate

You should consider the water-flow rate of the aquarium filter because this will determine how much water the device is able to filter every hour. This is important because you’ll need to have a filter that’s capable of filtering all of the water in your tank within a timely manner so that the tank remains in a healthy balance for the fish.

Type of filtration

As mentioned previously, different filters are capable of offering varying filtration processes. Because of that, you should consider the type of filtration processes that each device offers.


Since your aquarium will likely be in your bedroom, office, or on a desk in general, you’ll want to purchase a filter that doesn’t produce a loud sound. A loud filter will be distracting and defeat the purpose of having an aquarium for reducing stress.


Lastly, you should consider how easy the filter is to install. Some filters are more difficult to install, so they would be a bother to have to re-install after every time that you clean the aquarium.

This video offers a good perspective on the whole topic:

Best Aquarium Filter Reviews


1. Penn Plax CCF3UL Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

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This Penn Plax Aquarium Filter is highly recommended for you to purchase because it comes with three media baskets, which gives you the ability to go longer without having to clean the filter. Not only that, but having three media baskets is beneficial because it allows the device to filter larger amounts of water at one time.

This canister filter is beneficial if you have a large aquarium, since it not only has three media baskets, but it also has the ability to filter water at a rate of 265 gallons per hour. The flow valves on this canister filter are capable of rotating 360 degrees, so it can easily maneuver in the aquarium cabinets.

Furthermore, this canister filter comes with a floss pad that’s able to remove particulate matter as well as a sponge filter that’s able to promote bacterial growth to eliminate ammonia and nitrites. In addition to that, this filter also comes with a spray bar, all of the required tubing, a directional spout, and even a filter medium.


  • Comes with three media baskets as well as tubing, a spray bar, and a directional spout
  • Able to filter water at 265 gallons per hour
  • Valves are capable of rotating 360 degrees


  • Material of the product isn’t the best quality

2. Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter

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This device may be the best aquarium filter because its re-filtration system offers great contact time with its filter media. Additionally, this filter has an energy efficient pump that’s able to save you money by operating a lower costs.

Not only that, but this product is able to filter water up to seven times faster than other types of filters on the market. Moreover, this filter is equipped with a full kit that you can utilize for your convenience. More specifically, this filter comes with AquaClear foam, activated carbon, BioMax and Cycle Guard for superior biological filtration.

This filter can also be easily installed quickly for your convenience. You can also purchase this filter in a variety of different sizes, including up to 20 gallons, 30 gallons, 50 gallons, 70 gallons, or even 110 gallons.


  • Comes with an energy efficient pump that lowers operating costs
  • Offers exceptional biological filtration, since it comes with activated carbon, BioMax, and Cycle Guard
  • Affordable


  • Previous customers complain that the device leaked in the tubing at various spots

3. Sunsun Pro Canister Filter Kit

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The Sunsun Canister Filter is recommended for you because it’s able to efficiently filter aquariums that hold up to 150 gallons of water, since it has a water-flow rate of 525 gallons per hour.

This product comes with a complete kit for filtering your aquarium’s water, since it included a 9-watt UV, four white filter pads, one blue coarse pad, and it also comes with four media baskets. Given that, you aren’t required to go purchase any additional pieces of equipment in order to operate this aquarium filter.

In addition to these beneficial features, this filter comes with one pound of premium filter carbon as well as one pound of ceramic rings and a set of bio balls. Each of these components helps to make sure that your tank is cleaned effectively and stays clean.


  • Acts as a complete kit for filtering your tank’s water
  • Capable of filtering water at 525 gallons per hour
  • Able to filter water for gallons measuring up to 150 gallons


  • Some customers complain that the product leaks a little

4. Penn Plax CCF5UL Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

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You’re advised to check out this Penn Plax Canister Filter because it comes with five media baskets, which is more than any other filter on this list. Not only that, but this canister filter is able to effectively filter water for tanks that hold up to 200 gallons of water.

Additionally, this canister device can filter water up to 350 gallons per hour. Furthermore, this canister filter comes with a flood pad for removing particulate matter.

It also has control cut-off valves that give you ultimate customization when you’re setting up the filter. Additionally, there are two independent directional 360-degree rotating valve taps that you can utilize for your convenience. When you purchase this filter, it also comes with a free floss pad and a coarse sponge.


  • Comes with 5 media baskets
  • Filters water at 350 gallons per hour
  • Includes a free floss pad and coarse sponge with purchase


  • More expensive than other filters on the market

5. MarineLand Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums

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You should check out this canister filter for you aquarium because it comes with a lid that prevent any water from leaking out, since the lid has a water tight seal. This water tight seal also gives you the ability to remove the top to access the media baskets more easily.

In addition to that, this canister filter comes with a polishing filter pad that’s able to polish the water and remove any small debris. Not only that, but his product comes with bio-filter balls as well as ceramic rings that promote the growth of bacteria to encourage a safe chemical balance in the tank.

Furthermore, there is a black diamond carbon material that helps to remove odors, discoloration, and other water impurities.


  • Filters up to 100 gallons of water
  • Comes with a water tight seal lid
  • Includes filter foam pads


  • More expensive than other types of filters



Overall, each of the products included in this list have the ability to offer you a wide range of benefits, including the ability to filter water at rates that are higher than most other filters on the market.

Not only that, but these filters are capable of offering a wide range of filtration processes, including chemical filtration, biological filtration as well as mechanical filtration. Given these benefits, you’re highly recommended to purchase one of the filters on this list.

But it can be difficult to choose the best one for your specific needs. Consequently, you’re most recommended to purchase product #4: Penn Plax CCF5UL Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter.

This is the best aquarium filter because it offers the best benefits at an affordable price, since it comes with five media baskets, can filter water at 350 gallons per hour, and it can filter water in tanks that hold up to 200 gallons of water. From that, you should purchase the Penn Plax Cascade Filter on the market.

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