Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

11 Best Aquarium Filters – 2022 Top Picks & Reviews

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

sponge filter in aquarium

To keep your aquarium in top condition you are going to require a filter, but not just any filter, you want the best aquarium filter. A good aquarium filter can keep your water clean and provide your fish with a healthy environment with almost no effort involved.

Choosing the right filter is easier said than done, which is why we are here to provide you with what we believe are the 11 top filter options that are available on the market today (This one is our top pick). We want to provide you with all of the info that your need to keep your water clean and your fish happy!

wave tropical divider

A Quick Look at Our Favorites Picks in 2022

Rating Image Product Details
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter
  • Simple to use
  • Mechanical, biological & chemical filtering
  • Second place
    AquaClear Power Filter AquaClear Power Filter
  • Beginner aquarium enthusiasts
  • Bio-max chemical filter to remove chemicals.
  • Third place
    Fluval External Filter Fluval External Filter
  • Suitable for medium aquariums up to 45 gallons
  • Strong motor to maintain a really strong flow rate
  • Fluval C Power Filter Fluval C Power Filter
  • Requires minimal maintenance
  • Five-step filtration process
  • Penn-Plax Premium Undergravel Filter Penn-Plax Premium Undergravel Filter
  • Very effective at ridding your aquarium of contaminants
  • Fantastic biological filtration aspect.
  • The 11 Best Aquarium Filters Are:

    Now it’s time to talk about and review some of the best aquarium filters out there. We just want to give you a quick overview of each filter along with their main features so let’s get right to it. We also recently covered a post on aquarium heaters that you might also like.

    1. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

    Check Price on Chewy

    Something that we really like about this filter is that it is very simple to use. The Penn Plax Filter can be put together and started up in just a matter of minutes, something that is made even easier with the self-priming button that comes included. It also features easy-to-use clamps that make setting it up easy, and it also features adjustable flow rate valves so you can get things just right.

    We really like the fact that this filter combines mechanical, biological, and chemical filtering to produce very clean water in a short amount of time. The combination of bio floss, bio sponges, activated carbon, and other forms of media all work together to remove particulate matter, fish waste, extra food, toxins, nitrates, discoloration, ammonia, and all other unwanted compounds from your aquarium.

    This aquarium filter is great for medium-sized fish tanks (being about 80 gallons) because it can pump out over 185 gallons per hour. That pumping power combined with the big filter trays and advanced cleaning techniques ensures crystal clear water every time. Not to mention that this filter is extremely quiet and won’t disturb you or your fish. Of course, another great factor is that this filter was built with quality in mind; it is definitely sturdy and made to last.

    The AquaClear Power Filter is an ideal choice for beginner aquarium enthusiasts who have a small to medium-sized tank. This thing will work wonders on fish tanks of up to 20 gallons and can pump out quite a bit of water in a limited time, not to mention that it has an adjustable flow rate as well.

    It’s really convenient because you can reduce the flow rate without actually reducing the amount of filtration that occurs, that being because up to 50% of the water will get re-filtered instantly.

    Of course, another great feature of the AquaClear Power Filter is that it combines mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration to provide for some really clean water indeed. It features a bio-max chemical filter to remove chemicals.

    It also features an AquaClear carbon filter, as well as a foma insert to catch debris and particulate matter. The foam is also great because it provides a home for healthy bacteria to grow on, thus increasing the vitality of your aquarium even more.

    We also really like the fact that this filter is not very expensive to buy or to maintain. Plus it is also very easy to clean and maintain, taking minimal effort to keep it in top notch condition. Perhaps one of the best parts about it is that this filter makes the water pass through the filters six times longer than most other filters, thus providing for a really intense filtering session.

    Should we also mention the fact that this thing is extremely quiet, too? This filter is definitely ideal for beginners with small aquariums.

    This is another fantastic option to go with because this model definitely packs a punch and will leave your aquarium super clean no doubt. This is a great external canister filter that is suitable for medium aquariums up to 45 gallons in size. We have compared the Fluval 405 and 406 here.

    One of our favorite parts about it is that it is built with a patented sound impeller design, meaning that it’s extra-quiet and won’t cause you any noise complaints from the neighbors or your fish. Perhaps the best feature about this particular aquarium filter is that it will work with both fresh and saltwater aquariums, making it very versatile indeed.

    We also really like the super-strong motor that comes with the Fluval because it has the ability to maintain a really strong flow rate even when the filter hasn’t been maintained for a while. This motor has some serious HP and is sure to last for a very long time.

    Another great feature of the Fluval Filter is that it is very easy to set up, connect to your tank, and get going. This thing was designed with simplicity and user-friendliness in mind, something that everyone can appreciate. Of course, this filter is not just easy to use and maintain, but is in fact also very durable and long-lasting.

    We can’t forget to mention the fact that this filter does combine biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration processes. Your water has never been as clean as with the Fluval because the large capacity twin foam pre filters take as much debris out of the water as possible.

    Also, the chemical and biological filtration trays work just as well at removing chemicals and toxins from the water as the mechanical stage does at removing unwanted debris. This is a great, durable, and well-functioning filter that will last you for ages to come.

    4. Fluval C Power Filter

    Fluval C Power Filter

    This power filter is a great option to go with, mainly because it requires minimal maintenance. Plus when it does require some maintenance, replacing media or cleaning it out really couldn’t be any easier.

    It even comes with an indicator which tells you when the foam needs to be rinsed out and cleaned. Simply speaking, it does most of the work for you! Even though it does a whole lot of work with minimal effort, this filter is pretty quiet and isn’t going to disrupt the quiet life of your fish.

    One of the best parts about this filter is that it features a 5-step filtration process that leaves your water cleaner than it has ever been. Each of the five steps work to remove debris, particulate matter, ammonia, nitrates, and all other forms of waste from the water before they have the chance to do any damage.

    The first two stages features a polyester and foam pad that works to remove large and small debris from the water. The third stage features a chemical activated carbon insert that gets rid of odors and impurities. And the final two stages consist of a bio screen and bio nodes which gives good bacteria a place to grow, those bacteria working to clean your fish tank even more.

    We are really impressed by the fact that the water stays in the filter for quite a long period of time, thus providing for optimal cleanliness. Not to mention that the flow rate can be adjusted, and when the rate is low, up to 50% of the water gets re-filtered to ensure that it truly is clean and ready for your fish.

    This is a great filter which is ideal for tanks up to 45 gallons in size and can filter 265 gallons per hour, meaning that it can effectively filter all of the water in your aquarium up to five times per hour!

    5. Penn-Plax Premium Undergravel Filter

    This is a really old school filter that manages to pack a big punch and keep your aquarium in a healthy state so your fish can thrive. It is very effective at ridding your aquarium of contaminants. This is a simple under gravel filter which means that it gets placed under the substrate in your aquarium.

    While it does not perform any mechanical or chemical filtering of the water, it does a fantastic job with the biological filtration aspect. This filter is ideal for medium sized fish tanks of up to 50 gallons in size and will remove impurities from the water thanks to the miracle of the nitrogen cycle. The big grate provides a suitable environment for beneficial bacteria to grow, bacteria which removes water impurities, discoloration, and foul odors, too. Protein Skimmers are great for keeping your aquarium clean too as well as UV Sterilizers.

    This filter is also fantastic for producing aeration in your fish tank, thus giving your pets the oxygen they need to survive. This is a basic biological filter and may need to be combined with other mechanical filtration tools, that aside it’s a great option.

    6. Aqueon QuietFlow

    Aqueon QuietFlow

    The Aqueon is definitely one of the best choices out there. One of the best parts about this particular filter is that it utilizes all three different types of filtering to get your water as clean as can be, those being mechanical, biological, and chemical filtering.

    To get the job done, this filter uses a very dense floss to remove solid waste, particulate matter, and other unwanted debris. Plus the diffuser grid removes even more particulate matter while at the same time increasing the oxygen levels in your fish tank.

    Next, the patented bio-holster works to rid your aquarium of things like ammonia and nitrates. Moreover the activated carbon filter removes toxins, odors, and things that may cause your water to become discolored. Another neat factor is that this filter does not need to be primed before use, making it just that much more convenient.

    We also really like the fact that the pump is internal, plus its special design makes sure that this filter is as quiet as can be. It also features a reduced splash mechanism, making it even more quiet than ever thought possible. Even better is the fact that this filter is ideal for very large aquariums and can pump out an astounding 400 gallons per hour.

    7. Lee’s 10 Premium Undergravel Filter

    Lee's 10 Premium Undergravel Filter

    This is another great under gravel filter for you to go with. It is a little bit more expensive than the previous model we talked about, however it is also slightly better. Once again, this model does not perform any chemical or mechanical filtration, but the biological filtering that it performs is vastly superior to most other models.

    This model is 10 by 20 inches in size and is thus great for any small and medium sized aquarium. This is actually quite small for an under gravel filter, thus allowing you to save space in your aquarium. Even though it’s small, it is however just as powerful as the bigger models, which is thanks to the advanced design of the Lee’s Filter.

    Another thing that needs to be noted is that it is great for salt water fish tanks, yet it is not ideal for fresh water systems. This filter is a great space for bacteria to grow in abundance, bacteria which cleans your water of impurities, odors, and odd colors that just shouldn’t be there. We also really like the fact that this filter provides a certain amount of aeration to your aquarium, plus of course it’s a very durable model too.

    8. Marineland Penguin Power Filter

    Marineland Penguin Power Filter

    Another good option to go with, the Marineland Penguin Power Filter features 3 stages of filtration, each of which work to keep your tank as clean as can be. This filter includes all essential filtering types, those being mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

    Together these three types of filtration work to remove particulate matter, debris, ammonia, toxins, chemicals, and other unwanted compounds. Your water will be free of waste and other things that can harm your fish. Plus the biological filtration aspect allows bacteria to grow in abundance, thus adding even more filtering power to this great model.

    Something else that is awesome about this model is that it features a complete 100 percent water to media contact ratio, meaning that every last drop of water gets filtered every time it passes through the Marineland filter.

    This model is ideal for aquariums up to 50 gallons in size and can pump out an impressive 200 gallons of water per hour. That means that it can filter your whole aquarium 4 times over every single hour. This thing is also very easy to set up and maintain, with the only drawback being that it is fairly loud.

    9. Tetra Whisper Power Filter

    Tetra Whisper Power Filter

    This filter is a great choice for beginner aquarium enthusiasts because it offers a lot of value, yet it still does everything that a good fish tank filter should be able to do. One of our favorite parts about this model is the fact that it is very quiet. There have actually been people who said that they weren’t sure it was running properly because they couldn’t hear any noise coming from it.

    Like with most aquarium filters, this model combines mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration to give you the cleanest water that you could hope for. All kinds of chemicals, unwanted compounds, debris, fish waste, and odor easily get removed with this simple yet effective filter. It’s also really neat that this model can be used for both salt and freshwater environments.

    This thing is ideal for tanks up to 60 gallons in size, thus making it perfect for small and medium sized aquariums. We also really like the fact that it has an adjustable water flow feature, meaning that you can put it on low or have it pump out as much water as it can handle, making it a very convenient option.

    10. Marineland Emperor 400 Pro Series Bio-wheel Power Filter

    Marineland Emperor 400 Pro Series Bio-wheel Power Filter

    This is a really advanced power filter that will leave you aquarium crystal clear no doubt. It is suitable for aquariums up to 80 gallons in size and can pump out an impressive 400 gallons per hour. That means that this filter can clean your whole aquarium five times over every single hour.

    Another neat feature is that it has a dual pump design, meaning that the flow rate you get from this filter is virtually unmatched by any other model.

    Of course, this external filter utilizes three different filtering methods, those being biological, chemical, and mechanical. This means that your aquarium will be free of ammonia, nitrates, fish waste, food debris, colors, odors, and all other things that can foul your aquarium water.

    This thing is extremely efficient at its job, not to mention that it is very easy to set up and maintain. The dual bio wheels provide and excellent environment for bacteria to grow, and better yet they provides a whole lot of oxygen so your fish can breathe in comfort.

    The only downside to this filter is that it is a little bit noisy and slightly bulky, too. Even though it may be a little loud, it’s one of the best and most efficient filters that you could hope to get.

    11. Whisper® Internal Aquarium Power Filters

    This internal filter is a great choice for beginners because it is ideal for small tanks up to 20 gallons in size. Don’t be fooled though, because even though it’s small, it can still filter your whole 20-gallon aquarium at least three times over every single hour, thus providing for a really clean tank.

    As with most modern filters, this one provides you with three different stages of filtration. The mechanical aspect removes debris, the biological factor removes odors, smells, and unwanted compounds, and the chemical filtering aspect removes things like ammonia and nitrates. This is definitely a great filter.

    We really like the fact that it uses whisper cartridges, making it one of the quietest models you can buy. The small size of this filter makes it ideal for even the smallest of aquariums, especially because it can function in just 2 inches of water, thus making it ideal for turtle and reptile tanks too.

    fish divider

    Buyers Guide: Choosing the Best Aquarium Filter

    What Is An Aquarium Filter And What Does It Do?

    Simply put, an aquarium filter is a device that you require if you have a planted aquarium or one with fish in it. It filters out harmful compounds in the water which may damage or kill the fish and other aquatic life in your aquarium by taking in water, passing it through a specific set of filters, and spitting out clean water into the tank.

    The best aquarium filters will be able to remove debris, fish waste, extra food, and chemicals such as ammonia and nitrates, they should aerate the water with oxygen, and they should be able to grow bacteria in order to remove foul odors, discoloration, and other unwanted things from the water. These things are absolutely necessary if you have any hopes of maintaining a healthy underwater environment.

    small aquarium
    Image Credit: Huy Phan, Unsplash

    Different Types Of Aquarium Filters

    There are a few different kinds of aquarium filters that you should know about. Now there are 2 main aspects to the filter that you need to be aware of. One of these aspects is the type of filtration that your filter can perform.

    This refers to mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, each of which cleans the water in a slightly different way. Mechanical filtration involves removing particulate matter and other debris. Biological filtration engages the nitrogen cycle to convert plant and fish waste into oxygen. And the chemical filtration aspect involves removing nitrates and ammonia from the water, among other things. Ideally, the filter that you get should be able to do all of those things.

    The other aspect of choosing a filter for your aquarium involves the style of filter that it is. The main types of filters that you can get include sponge or air-driven filters, hang on the back filters, canister filters, under gravel filters, internal filters, fluidized bed filters, and wet/dry trickle filters. Let’s quickly talk about the most important ones.


    Sponge or air-driven filters us an air pump to suck in water and pass it through a sponge which can perform biological and mechanical filtration. These are usually some of the cheapest models to get.

    KEDSUM Submersible Pump
    Image Credit: KEDSUM, Amazon

    Hang On back

    As the name implies, these filters are external filters that rest on the top or back of your aquarium. The good models can provide you with chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration in one. Many newer system have specialized bio wheels.

    These models can be a little bit more expensive than the ones we previously discussed, plus they can be slightly louder too. However they also provide for better filtering capabilities too.


    Canister filters are great because they provide all three kinds of filtration in one great tool, that being said, their biological filtering capabilities are somewhat low. These are some of the most popular types of filters because they are very efficient and do a fantastic job with mechanical and biological filtering.

    They are ideal for larger fish tanks and are also great for saltwater tanks. This type of aquarium filter can be quite expensive.

    Under Gravel

    This type of filter rests under the substrate of your aquarium. They tend to be pretty cheap, but that is because they only provide for biological filtration.

    They do help with mechanical filtration by pulling water through the gravel, however, that is an indirect process. These filters are also good for providing your aquarium with aeration.

    Credit: Dmitri Ma, Shutterstock


    Internal filters are usually pretty small and lacking in power. However they are ideal for small aquariums due to their size, plus in a small aquarium, they still provide for more than enough filtering power. These filters tend to be relatively inexpensive. However, they are limited in their capabilities.


    This type of filter is very complex, not as common as the rest, and can be pretty expensive too. They are fantastic for saltwater aquariums and they do a really good job at mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

    They are great at what they do, but they take a lot of time, effort, and maintenance in terms of their setup.

    You might also like our post covering the best 10 gallon fish tanks.

    wave tropical divider


    We hope that we could make your adventure of finding the best aquarium filter at least a little bit easier. Our top 11 picks are all fantastic in their own way (The Penn Plax Cascade is our top pick). While they may have slight differences, each one is ideal for its own specific purpose. Whether you need it for fresh or saltwater, for a big or small tank, or for a planted or fish-filled aquarium, at least one of the above options should definitely work for you.

    We have kept quality, ease of use, and function in mind to bring you the best of the best. Remember that your fish and the water they swim in need to be properly taken care of, so don’t skimp out when it comes to a filter. Any questions, comments, or concerns that you may have about the filters we discussed or anything else filter-related are more than welcome.

    RELATED READ: Fish Tank Filter Not Working? Common Problems & Fixes

    Featured Image Credit: SritanaN, Shutterstock

    Related Articles

    Further Reading

    Vet Articles

    Latest Vet Answers

    The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database