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5 DIY Sump Filter Ideas You Can Create Today! (With Pictures)

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

aquarium tank with sponge filter

A sump filter for aquariums is great at holding more filter media and providing better flow and filtration abilities. Building your very own DIY sump filter is a fun project that has different and creative ways to be constructed. Although some sump filters may appear unattractive, that is not the case for homemade sump filters. It is in your hands on how you want the overall design to appear.

You can tailor the sump filter to match your aquarium and environment. Adding a sump filter to your aquarium is more professional and effective. Sump filters come with a wet or dry flow option, which is a bonus that submersible filters do not provide. By building a sump filter for your aquarium, you get to enjoy high filtration efficiency without hurting the wallet. It is no wonder why sump filters are rapidly gaining popularity!

aquarium plant divider

What is a Sump Filter?

A sump filter houses the method of filtration you are planning to use. It is a built contraption that allows you to add a variety of effective filtration methods so you can in return have a balanced and healthy aquarium. The sump filter consists of a circulation pump and is both purchasable and able to be DIYed. You can use a plumbing system run through a cabinet to hide the sump filter or you can place it at the top, side, or bottom of the aquarium in full view.

The Benefits of a Sump Filter
  • Flexible with the filter media
  • Customizable
  • Inexpensive
  • More reliable than standard filters
  • Efficient
  • Limitless design and stocking ideas
  • Safe for all aquarium sizes and inhabitants
  • Keeps the water cleaner for a longer period
  • Lasts longer than standard filters

The 5 DIY Sump Filter Ideas

1. Planted Tank Sump Design

The planted tank sump design filter is both attractive and inexpensive. The sump can be constructed using bits and pieces of old equipment most aquarists own. This sump filter consists of a 5-to-10-gallon tank built into the back of a storage unit using PVC pipes. The planted tank sump design is easily hidden from view and is suitable for those who do not like the visual aspect a sump filter provides.

Three thick household cleaning sponges are used to act as barriers between the different compartments. These sponges are inexpensive in stores and you can get a bundle for a cheap price. Smaller dish scrub sponges are placed between two sponges and host a valuable number of beneficial bacteria that keep the water clean and filtered.

A large aquarium plant is used to provide plant filtration, which is effective in naturally removing ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. A grow light can be used for plants that require moderate to high lighting. A dechlorinate must be added to every sump filter tank’s water supply; this preserves the beneficial bacteria.

2. Biofilter DIY Sump Filter

This sump filter design is great for tropical aquariums and you can easily add a heater. This design may be pricier due to the number of biofilter rolls used between each barrier. Biofilter media has thousands of tiny holes that provide excellent growth space for beneficial bacteria. Large household sponges are used as barriers between the different types of biofilter media. Carbon or activated charcoal can be added for an enhanced filtration effect. The barriers can be custom-cut glass panels, acrylic, or thick household sponges. Thin plastic PVC pipes are used to transport the water.

3. Refugium Sump Filter

The refugium sump filter consists of a 10-to-20-gallon aquarium and acrylic barriers. A hosepipe is used to transport the water efficiently. The hosepipe may be more appealing to those who do not like the bulky look of PVC pipes. The hosepipe is more flexible and can therefore be placed in a variety of ways, including over a longer distance. This sump filter setup requires minimal materials and works with live plants as well. Biofilter media can be placed in the extra barriers with gravel or a thick layer of the substrate to grow more beneficial bacteria. For added visual appeal, you can use washed river rocks to bring out a more natural look.

4. External Box Sump Filter

This is an attractive and innovative design that brings out a sophisticated and modern touch to the aquarium hobby. The container works for both large and nano aquariums alike. The transparent holders can be purchased from a plastics or plant store in various sizes. Adding in the source of filtration media is left up to you, but space may come as an issue. Using a live plant, sponges, and biofilter media works well. Using a custom-bought piping system allows it to be placed above the aquarium. The flow system should be carefully balanced to ensure the water is being transported appropriately.

5. Simple Hidden Sump Filter

If you prefer to hide your sump filter from plain sight, this may be the right type of sump filter for you. The simple hidden sump filter is created inside a crafted wooden box with the back open. There should be holes for the water pipes to flow out of. Take into consideration the placement and size before constructing this DIY sump filter. Filtration media is flexible, and you can add sponges, plants, and biofilter media. The box can be drilled into a wall above or adjacent to the aquarium, or you can place the box on the floor. The top can be used as a decorative table with home decorations of your choice.

aquarium plant divider


There is a sump filter to meet every aquarist’s needs. Choosing a design that is appealing and doable for you is the best option. Purchasing different filter media and setting them up is the fun part! Although sump filters may be too bulky for some aquarist’s liking, the size is completely customizable. Although using a larger sump filter provides more room for filter media, leading to more efficient filtration, a smaller sump filter can work just as well when created right.

We hope this article has helped you choose a sump filter that will work for you!

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Featured Image Credit: SritanaN, Shutterstock

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