What Aquarium Filter is Best for Me?

A common question new aquarium owners have is: "What is the best filter for my aquarium?"

To answer this question in the best way possible, you need to look at the pros and cons of each aquarium filter type. Only then can you find the filter that best suits your aquarium's needs.


Power Filters

Fluval C Power Filter

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  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Provide adequate filtration
  • Hang on the back of your tank
  • Can be bulky
  • Provide less circulation than canister filters
  • Can be used for fresh and saltwater tanks
  • Perfect for beginners

Power filters are among the most common filters, often coming in kits designed for beginners. Positioned on the back of your aquarium, power filters are simple to install - just plug them in! Because of your power filter's location, you need to position your aquarium about 5-8 inches away from the wall.

Power filters can range in the type of filtration that they provide. For example, the Fluval C Series provides 5 stages of filtration and effectively moves the water through each stage at an appropriate rate for better filtration. Aquaclear power filters or Marina Slim filters still provide adequate filtration, but they offer less filtration stages. Less filtration stages mean  your water will likely be less clear and clean.

If you are looking for a good filter for minimal filtration needs, such as a small aquarium or a beginner's tank, a power filter is an excellent solution for you.

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Canister Filters

Fluval 406 Canister Filter

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  • More expensive
  • Simple to maintain and clean
  • Provide superior filtration
  • Easily hidden under your tank
  • Provide superior circulation
  • Can be used for fresh and saltwater tanks
  • Operate quieter than power filters
  • Perfect for intermediate to advanced aquariums

Canister filters are a step up from power filters because they provide multiple filter stages that you can adjust and customize based on your aquarium's needs. For example, you may choose to add Fluval Opti-carb filter media to provide crystal clear water, or you may choose to add extra biomax for more biological filtration. You may add or remove extra media as you please.

Another advantage that canister filters provide is that they are easily hidden - placed under your aquarium in your cabinet. This placement also allows you to move your aquarium closer to the wall.

Finally, Fluval canister filters allow you to direct water flow from the output nozzle. This provides better circulation, and gives you manual control over the flow.

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Internal Filters

Fluval Internal Filter

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  • Moderate price
  • Can be placed within your tank and completely submersible
  • Provide 3-stages of filtration (mechanical, chemical, and biological)
  • Provide great circulation
  • Very quiet
  • Can be bulky
  • Perfect for specific applications (special needs within aquariums, terrariums, and turtle tanks)

Internal aquarium filters are less common for traditional fish tanks, but can be very useful in certain situations. Internal filters are particularly useful in partially filled aquariums, turtle tanks, paludariums, etc. Power filters and canister filters don't work well in these situations because their intake nossles often are not long enough, and/or their output nozzles cause too much splashing.

One thing to be aware of with internal filters is that they can be bulky, especially in smaller tanks. Before you buy one, look at the dimensions to make sure that you can position your internal filter appropriately.

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Aqueon Sump

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  • Can be expensive
  • Extremely customizable
  • More advanced filtration and setup
  • Commonly used for saltwater aquariums
  • Perfect for advanced aquarists

Sumps are specially designed tanks that sit under your aquarium. People often place multiple stages of biological filtration, filter socks, heaters, protein skimmers (for reef tanks), and other equipment down in the sump. One of the best sump features, along with the customization, is that they provide a perfect hiding spot for all of your unsightly equipment.

Tips for Choosing a Filter

  1. Go big or go home - Always err on the side of more filtration rather than too less. For example, if you have a 20 gallon aquarium, you would do yourself a favour by choosing a filter that is rated for 30 or 40 gallons.
  2. Consider your commitment - How long are you planning on keeping your aquarium? If you are just dabbling in the hobby to see if you enjoy it, then power filters may be the best solution for you. But if you are a die-hard hobbyist, you can reduce maintenance frequency, and increase water clarity and quality with better filtration. So before you buy a filter, think to yourself, "How long am I planning on doing this?"
  3. Don't let the price tag scare you - Factor in future savings if you are contemplating between a power filter and a canister filter. There are many ways that canister filters can save you money over time. For example, power filters often require specific branded filter media or cartridges that are designed for those filters. Canister filters on the other hand allow you to buy filter media in bulk. Buying in bulk can reduce costs considerably. Also note that specific catridges and media can be difficult to find. So bulk saves both time and money.

Keeping these tips in mind, you are well on your way to finding the aquarium filter that is best for your aquarium. Have a question we didn't answer? Please post comments and questions below.

Happy Fishkeeping!