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10 Best Filters for Small Aquariums in 2022 – Reviews & Top Picks

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By Lindsey Stanton

glofish black tetra in aquarium

If you keep a small or nano aquarium, finding the right filtration can be a difficult balance. Some filters don’t remove enough waste while others are too powerful and endanger your aquatic pets. It can even be overwhelming trying to find the right small aquarium filter. That’s where these reviews come in.

We’ve put together a list of the 10 best options for filtration in your small aquarium to help you narrow the field and determine what type of filter is best for your small aquarium and what specific filter will be the best option for your needs.

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A Quick Glance at our Favorite Picks in 2022

Rating Image Product Details
Winner
SUNSUN Hang-On Aquarium UV Sterilizer Back Filter SUNSUN Hang-On Aquarium UV Sterilizer Back Filter
  • Adjustable water flow
  • Includes surface skimmer and UV sterilizer
  • Startup filter media
  • Second place
    Marina Aquarium Power Filter Marina Aquarium Power Filter
  • Startup filter media
  • Self-priming
  • Best for tanks as small as 10 gallons
  • Third place
    AZOO Mignon Filter 60 AZOO Mignon Filter 60
  • Startup filter media
  • Best for nano tanks
  • Filter media can be customized
  • Hikari Bacto-Surge High Density Foam Filter Hikari Bacto-Surge High Density Foam Filter
  • Available in three sizes
  • Collects large amounts of organic debris
  • Creates gentle water flow and oxygenation in the tank
  • SUNSUN HW-603B Aquarium Canister Filter SUNSUN HW-603B Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Best for tanks up to 20 gallons
  • Good option for smaller
  • overstocked tanks
  • Sprayer bar
  • The 10 Best Filters for Small Aquariums

    1. SUNSUN Hang-On Aquarium UV Sterilizer Back Filter

    SunSun Hang-On Aquarium

    Check Price on Chewy
    Size Options: 10–30 gallons, 25–50 gallons
    Filter Type: HOB
    Customizable Filter Media: Yes
    Bonus Features: UV Sterilizer

    The best overall filter for small aquariums is the SUNSUN Hang-On Aquarium UV Sterilizer Back Filter. This HOB filter has adjustable water flow and a surface skimmer to help remove oils from the water’s surface. It also includes startup filter media, which you can replace or customize to your liking. This filter offers multi-stage filtration with chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration. Water also is exposed to a UV light, which kills free-floating bacteria, parasites, and algae in the water. It filters and clarifies your tank water and it’s easy to change your filter media via the lift-out media basket. The UV light has a separate on/off switch, so it isn’t running all the time.

    This filter is for tanks that are 10 gallons and above, but if your tank is overstocked then it may work. This filter is a premium price for a small tank filter. You will need to replace the UV bulb every few months, dependent on your usage, because even if it isn’t burned out, it may lose efficacy over time.

    Pros
    • Adjustable water flow
    • Includes surface skimmer and UV sterilizer
    • Startup filter media
    • Filter media can be customized
    • UV light has its own on/off switch
    • Best for tanks as small as 10 gallons
    Cons
    • Not ideal for tanks smaller than 10 gallons unless overstocked
    • Premium price
    • UV light requires routine replacement

    2. Marina Aquarium Power Filter

    Marina Aquarium Power Filter

    Size Options: 10-gallon, 15-gallon, 20-gallon
    Filter Type: HOB
    Customizable Filter Media: No
    Bonus Features: Self-priming

    The Marina Aquarium Power Filter is a great HOB filter for tanks down to 10 gallons that isn’t going to break the bank. This filter features an easy setup and a self-priming feature, so you don’t have to worry about the motor running dry. It’s available in three sizes and includes startup filter cartridges, both of which contain Ceramitek, which is a trademarked filter media that allows for the colonization of beneficial bacteria. It operates quietly with a submerged motor and is adjustable to varying tank heights. It’s made to be compact, so it won’t take up too much space on your small tank. This filter uses chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration, and it includes a strainer sponge to protect small fish and invertebrates.

    This filter only goes down to 10 gallons, but it would still work for a smaller, overstocked tank. This filter may vibrate against the side of your tank and it does not include rubber feet, so you may have to place something between the filter and the glass to cut down on vibration noise.

    Pros
    • Startup filter media
    • Best for tanks as small as 10 gallons
    • Self-priming
    • Budget-friendly
    • Filter cartridges contain ceramic filter media
    • Available in three sizes
    Cons
    • Not ideal for tanks smaller than 10 gallons unless overstocked
    • Filter media is specific to this filter
    • Does not include rubber feet or buffer between glass and filter

    3. AZOO Mignon Filter 60

    AZOO Mignon Filter 60

    Size Options: 5 gallons
    Filter Type: HOB
    Customizable Filter Media: Yes
    Bonus Features: Automatic startup

    The AZOO Mignon Filter 60 is another great HOB filter option, but this one is specialized for nano tanks up to 3.5 gallons. It includes startup filter media and a strainer sponge to protect your most delicate tank inhabitants. This filter is made to be compact for small tanks, so it won’t take up too much room on the rim of your tank. It features adjustable water flow and an automatic startup function so the filter will restart itself after a power outage, so you don’t have to worry about it burning the motor out. The included filter media are non-descript and easily replaced with your preferred media. This filter functions quietly and won’t vibrate against your tank glass.

    This filter is not rated for tanks above 3.5 gallons, making it a nano-only filter. This is not a good option for an overstocked nano tank. The included instructions are not clear and may be difficult to understand, so there may be some trial and error to get the filter fully up and running.

    Pros
    • Startup filter media
    • Includes auto startup after a power outage
    • Best for nano tanks
    • Adjustable water flow
    • Budget-friendly
    • Filter media can be customized
    Cons
    • Not rated for tanks over 3.5 gallons
    • Not appropriate for an overstocked nano tank
    • Instructions are unclear

    4. Hikari Bacto-Surge High Density Foam Filter

    Hikari Bacto-Surge High Density Foam Filter

    Size Options: Mini, small, large
    Filter Type: Sponge
    Customizable Filter Media: No
    Bonus Features: None

    The Hikari Bacto-Surge High Density Foam Filter is the best sponge filter option for small and nano tanks. Sponge filters are great for tanks with small invertebrates, like dwarf shrimp, and fry, because they don’t create enough suction to harm them. This filter will create a large surface area for the colonization of beneficial bacteria in your tank and it is a great way to create gentle water flow and oxygenation in your tank. This sponge is available in three sizes, with the small and large sponges being cylindrical and the mini sponge being wedge-shaped to fit into a tank corner.

    Sponge filters are not a good option for tanks that have a heavy bioload, so this should not be the only filtration for tanks with big bioload producers, like goldfish. These sponges are not rated for specific tank sizes, so you will have to use your judgement based on the size of your tank and your stocking. Sponge filters require an air pump and airline tubing to function, and these sponges do not come with these items.

    Pros
    • Keeps small invertebrates and fry safe
    • Creates a large surface area for beneficial bacteria colonization
    • Creates gentle water flow and oxygenation in the tank
    • Available in three sizes
    • Collects large amounts of organic debris that invertebrates will eat
    Cons
    • Not a good option for heavy bioload producers
    • Not rated for specific tank sizes
    • Does not include needed air pump and airline tubing

    5. SUNSUN HW-603B Aquarium Canister Filter

    SunSun HW-603B Aquarium Canister Filter

    Size Options: 20 gallons
    Filter Type: Canister
    Customizable Filter Media: Yes
    Bonus Features: Extra space for customization of filter media

    The SUNSUN HW-603B Aquarium Canister Filter is a good pick if you have a tank that leans toward medium or a tank that is overstocked, as this is rated for tanks up to 20 gallons. It can be used in smaller tanks that are overstocked and can provide chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration. This filter includes some startup media, but there is plenty of space in the canister for you to customize with your own filter media. It comes with everything you need to get started, including hoses and rotating valves, and includes a sprayer bar that creates additional surface movement and water oxygenation on return to the tank.

    Canister filters are more complex to set up than most other filter types, and the instructions may be confusing, so prepare to spend a little time setting this filter up. The included filter media will likely not be enough for most tanks, so you’ll need to have your own filter media on hand when you set this filter up.

    Pros
    • Best for tanks up to 20 gallons
    • Good option for smaller, overstocked tanks
    • Includes some startup media with space for customization
    • Includes everything needed to get filter set up
    • Sprayer bar creates gentle water flow and improves oxygenation
    Cons
    • More difficult to set up than other types of filters
    • Instructions may be confusing
    • Included filter media likely won’t be enough at startup

    6. Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter

    Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter

    Size Options: 10 gallons
    Filter Type: Canister
    Customizable Filter Media: Yes
    Bonus Features: Anti-vibration brushings

    The Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter is a perfectly sized canister filter for nano tanks up to 10 gallons. It includes startup filter media, but the media is customizable in this filter. It features anti-vibration brushings to help this filter operate as quietly as possible. It provides chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration, in a nano-sized body. It’s made with a miniature spray bar system that improves oxygenation and water flow in your tank, without creating currents that are too strong for nano inhabitants. The filter head is made to be easy to open to allow for easy cleaning and maintenance.

    This filter does not come with an intake strainer sponge, so you will likely need to purchase one separately to keep your nano animals safe. The pumping power of this canister filter is low, so it is not appropriate for tanks over 10 gallons or overstocked nano tanks. It’s not ideal for tanks with a heavy bioload. Due to the size of this canister, you’ll need to perform more frequent cleaning and maintenance than you might on other canister filters to keep it working and ensure it doesn’t clog.

    Pros
    • Ideal for nano tanks
    • Includes startup filter media
    • Filter media can be customized
    • Anti-vibration brushings help it operate silently
    • Sprayer bar creates gentle water flow and improves oxygenation
    • Filter head is easy to open for cleaning and maintenance
    Cons
    • No intake strainer sponge
    • Low pumping power
    • Not functional for tanks over 10 gallons or overstocked nano tanks
    • Premium price
    • Needs frequent cleaning and maintenance

    7. Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Series Aquarium Filter Kit

    Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Series Aquarium

    Size Options: 20 gallons
    Filter Type: HOB
    Customizable Filter Media: No
    Bonus Features: Extra filter media

    The Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Series Aquarium Filter Kit is a functional filter kit for someone who is just starting out and is unsure of what replacement supplies to purchase. This kit includes the filter, four filter cartridges, a sample of water conditioner, and five special ammonia-reducing pads. This filter is made for tanks up to 20 gallons, making it a great pick for small tanks. It uses biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration, and water passes over the ammonia-reducing pad before returning to the tank, removing any remaining waste products. This filter has an auto restart function after cleaning and power outages.

    The cartridges for this filter are model-specific and it is difficult to customize filter media with this filter. This filter may be too powerful for nano tanks and is best suited for tanks from 10-20 gallons. The filter cartridges and ammonia-reducing pads in this filter require frequent replacement, and the startup supplies in this kit will likely only last you up to two months.

    SEE ALSO: Is the Aqueon Quiet Flow 30 LED PRO Aquarium Filter Right For You?

    Pros
    • Best for tanks as small as 10 gallons
    • Includes extra filter media and water conditioner sample
    • Auto restart function after cleaning and power outages
    • Special ammonia-reducing pads remove leftover waste products before water returns to tank
    Cons
    • Filter media is model-specific
    • Too powerful for nano tanks
    • Best suited for tanks from 10-20 gallons
    • Filter cartridges and specialty pads require frequent replacement

    8. Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Filter

    Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Filter

    Size Options: 10–20 gallons, 20–30 gallons, 30–45 gallons, 45–70 gallons
    Filter Type: HOB
    Customizable Filter Media: No
    Bonus Features: Bio-scrubbers

    The Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Filter comes in multiple sizes for tanks as small as 10 gallons. It’s a HOB filter that comes with startup filter media and includes built-in bio-scrubbers that colonize beneficial bacteria and remove remaining ammonia and nitrites before the water returns to the tank. The bio-scrubbers never need to be replaced and are part of the biological filtration this filter offers, along with mechanical and chemical filtration.

    The filter cartridges for this filter are model-specific and it is difficult to customize the filter media. You will likely have to replace the filter cartridges monthly or more frequently. It may be difficult to get it primed and started when you first set it up, so be prepared to spend a little time on it. This filter is likely too powerful for tanks under 10 gallons, so ideally, you should only use it for 10-gallon tanks and above.

    Pros
    • Best for tanks as small as 10 gallons
    • Available in three sizes
    • Includes startup filter media
    • Built-in bio-scrubbers never require replacement
    Cons
    • Filter media is model-specific
    • Too powerful for nano tanks
    • Difficult to prime and set up
    • Filter cartridges require frequent replacement

    9. Penn-Plax Crystal Falls Vivarium Aquarium Filter

    Penn-Plax Crystal Falls Vivarium Aquarium Filter

    Size Options: 10 gallons
    Filter Type: Internal
    Customizable Filter Media: Yes
    Bonus Features: Faux rock filter cover

    The Penn-Plax Crystal Falls Vivarium Aquarium Filter is a nice pick for tanks up to 10 gallons, especially if they contain semi-aquatic animals that need a basking location. This internal filter is disguised inside of a faux rock basking area that can be kept partially above the waterline, as long as the filter itself is submerged. It comes with startup filter media and has space for you to customize with your own filter media. The faux rock is made from scratch-resistant resin, so it should last underwater in your aquarium. This filter mainly uses chemical and mechanical filtration.

    This filter is intended for shallow tanks and vivariums, making it great for animals like turtles but maybe not the best option for fish. The faux rock cover is not attached to the filter itself, so it’s possible that it will float in some tanks if you attempt to fully submerge it. This filter only filters 45 gph, so it’s not ideal for heavy bioload and may be too bulky for some nano tanks.

    Pros
    • Ideal for vivariums and aquariums with semi-aquatic animals
    • Includes faux rock filter cover that doubles as a basking area
    • Includes startup filter media and includes space for customization
    • Scratch-resistant resin
    Cons
    • Not the best option for fish
    • Faux rock cover is not attached to the filter
    • Faux rock may float if fully submerged
    • Only filters 45 gph
    • May be too bulky for some nano tanks

    10. Aqueon Betta Volcano Aquarium Filter

    Aqueon Betta Volcano Betta Fish Aquarium Filter

    Size Options: 3 gallons
    Filter Type: Sponge
    Customizable Filter Media: No
    Bonus Features: Volcano filter cover

    The Aqueon Betta Volcano Aquarium Filter is a cool looking sponge filter that hides inside of a volcano ornament. It’s rated for tanks up to 3 gallons and would make a fun addition to a larger tank with another filtration system. This filter includes airline tubing, suction cups, air adjustment valve, and check valve. This filter offers chemical and biological filtration.

    The sponge included with this filter is model-specific, so you won’t be able to customize it. It may be difficult to find replacements for the sponge since this is a specialty item. This sponge filter doesn’t include the air pump needed for it to function, so you’ll have to buy one separately.

    Pros
    • Filter is hidden inside volcano ornament
    • Includes airline tubing, suction cups, and valves
    Cons
    • Only functional for tanks up to 3 gallons
    • Model-specific sponge filter
    • Replacement sponge may be difficult to find
    • Does not include air pump

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    Buyer’s Guide – Choosing the Best Filters for Small Aquariums

    Cons
    • Tank Stock: The animals living in your aquarium play an important role in choosing an aquarium filter. Some animals produce a larger bioload than others, so if your tank has a couple of goldfish in it, it will need stronger filtration than it will if your tank has 10 tetras in it. You should also consider if your tank has fry, dwarf shrimp, or other small animals that may get sucked into the filter. If it’s a betta tank, you’ll want to make sure you choose a filter that doesn’t create too much water flow for your betta.
    • Tank Size: Like the stocking of your tank, the size of your tank will determine your need. A 3-gallon tank and a 10-gallon tank can have vastly different filtration needs, even if they contain the same stock. The size and shape of the tank can both play a role in how effective a filter is.
    • Other Filtration: If your tank has another filter present, then this opens up some options you wouldn’t otherwise have. For example, if you have a small goldfish tank with a HOB filter, then a sponge filter would be a great addition, but a sponge filter would not be efficient or effective enough on its own.
    • Available Space: Consider how much space you have around your tank to help you choose a filter. Some HOB filters will take up more space than others, so if your tank is flush against a wall, you’ll need to consider where on the tank you’ll put the filter. The same goes for canister filters because they can take up quite a bit of space outside of the tank. Is there enough space on your tank stand or on the floor by the tank for you to put a canister filter?
    Types of Filters
    • Hang-On Back: This type of filter is the most common type of aquarium filter. They are usually great at filtering out large waste but are prone to sucking up small aquarium animals.
    • Canister: This type of filter sits fully external to the aquarium and a set of hoses pull water from the tank through the filter and then send the water back. These filters are incredible efficient, especially in heavy bioload tanks, and usually have space for full customization of filter media.
    • Internal: Internal filters function similarly to a HOB filter, except they are fully submerged within the tank. These are usually not a great option for small aquatic animals because it is difficult to add a strainer sponge to the intake.
    • Sponge: Sponge filters are sponges that have a small amount of suction, which allows them to pull in very small waste particles. They are excellent for growth of beneficial bacteria and you’ll often see snails and dwarf shrimp snacking from them. These are not efficient enough on their own to filter a heavily stocked tank.

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    Conclusion

    For the best overall filter for your small aquarium, check out the SUNSUN Hang-On Aquarium Filter UV Sterilizer, which offers excellent filtration and uses UV lighting to kill algae and parasites. The Marina Aquarium Power Filter is budget-friendly and the AZOO Mignon Filter 60 is extremely functional for nano tanks. These reviews cover the best of the best when it comes to filtration for small aquariums. Determine the type of filter your tank needs and then weigh the pros and cons of different filters to end up with the perfect pick for your tank.


    Featured Image Credit: Aleron Val, Shutterstock

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