Best Types of Aquarium Filters 2021

Similar to other aquarium owners, I think you know well that a filter is the most crucial part of an aquarium. Keeping a fish healthy in the aquarium, your most serious responsibilities are feeding them properly and making a suitable environment by cleaning the waste, debris, and other types of harmful components from the tank water.

In order to create an appropriate habitat for your fish, you must have the best filter in your aquarium. However, you may find that choosing the best type of aquarium filter is not an easy task because of having so many alternatives.

There are many types of aquarium filters available in the market. And each of them may play an individual role that would be not perfect for your fish and tank.

We always recommend to our audience who are especially new to this hobby that before choosing a fish tank filter, acquire some basic knowledge about this. Otherwise, you may choose a filter that can cause your fish death.

Luckily, through this post, you are going to learn about all types of aquarium filters, and then you can choose the best one for your fish by yourself. 

Let’s start with some basic such as,

  • Types of aquarium Filtration
  • Types of aquarium Filter
  • Your aquarium needs

A healthy aquarium is dependent on its maintenance, such as regular water cleaning, keeping the tank waste and harmful chemical-free, and building up beneficial bacteria that are crucial for your aquarium. 

To make these tasks easy and effective, are three different types of filtration systems used for that purpose. These are:

  1. Biological filtration
  2. Chemical filtration
  3. Mechanical filtration

Biological filtration

Biological Filtration
Biological Filtration

To understand the biological filtration process thoroughly, you must first understand the aquarium’s nitrogen cycle. “Ammonia” is one of the most important parts of the nitrogen cycle that is created from fish waste and by-products of respiration.

Solid waste, uneaten foods, plant things, and other organic items are also converted into ammonia, which is a life threat for aquarium fish. It is extremely toxic and build-up easily in the aquarium tank.

To eliminate this toxicity, biological filtration creates bacterial colonies in the tank and produces lots of beneficial bacteria to break down the ammonia. These beneficial bacteria prevent this harmful ammonia by converting them to nitrite toxic and then the nitrite toxic into nitrates that are suitable and less harmful for your fish. However, The nitrates can be removed by the chemical filter and water changing.

For beneficial bacteria to live, the tank water should be oxygen-rich. And as well as the same for the surface where the beneficial bacteria are attached such as rock, sand, or other materials. To grow up beneficial bacteria, it is essential to maintaining the biological filtration system in the aquarium.

So, it i142s important for all aquariums that they have an arrangement for biological filtration. And this alone might be perfect for the small fish population to sustain the overall fish health. In most cases, in the big size of the aquarium, it would be just a method that is combined with others.

Chemical Filtration

Chemical Filtration
Chemical Filtration

As like as its name, chemical filtration is a process of removing chemicals from the fish tank water. It is designed for that purpose.

But what if when you don’t put any chemical in the water? Is it also necessary for that situation?

You may think that you don’t need it because you know well that you didn’t put any harmful chemicals in your fish tank.

 Actually, this thinking is entirely wrong.

You just think about the nitrogen cycle and remind ammonia and nitrite that is created by fish poops, uneaten foods, and so on. Literally, those are all chemicals.

To remove this chemical, you can use a chemical filter for your aquarium. However, it removes more than just chemicals.

Chemical filter works by removing harmful chemicals and other pollutants from the water that can be made-up from heavy metals (like copper), different types of organic compounds, medications (that are used to treat sick fish), tennis (from driftwood), chlorine, and more. 

It is flowing water through carbon or resin and sieved dissolved water. It also keeps away aquarium water from discoloration and helps to keep the tank odor-free.

Mechanical filtration

Mechanical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration

To understand a mechanical filtration system, think about a fish-net by which water can pass through it freely, but the fish or your other objects are trapped inside. In reality, mechanical filtration works in almost a similar way.

The mechanical filtration system works through a combination of some media. Which is placed inside the filter, and it traps the solid waste that passes through this system. 

It removes solid and ugly waste such as fish poops, muds, uneaten foods, dead plants, or other particles around the surface and efficiently cleans the water.

If this waste and debris build-up constantly, the tank water will be very cloudy, and you can’t see your fish. That’s why in the freshwater aquarium, it is considered that mechanical filtration is essential.

However, it is important to know that mechanical filtration alone is not sufficient for most aquariums. Because it can’t remove or convert the ammonia toxic into nitrite. It just removes free-floating waste before being converted into harmful toxic.

There is another thing that you have to keep in mind that the media of the mechanical filter should clean or replace every two to four weeks in order to keep it effective.

Best types of aquarium filter

There are various types of aquarium filters available in the market and each of them has a different effect on the aquarium. Here are the best types of aquarium filters below that can be the right choice for your tank.

HOB filter

HOB filters refer to a kind of power filter that is placed on the top of the aquarium. It works by pulling up the water through its filter and then running it back into the aquarium, filtered into the biological, mechanical, and chemical process. This type of filter is suitable for small freshwater and saltwater tank.

However, In the fry and shrimp tank, I recommend not to use HOB (hang on the back) filter. Also, for fishes, those are not like to excess surface agitation like betta; it is also recommended to avoid using a HOB filter. Because the HOB filter can make the amount of surface agitation that those fishes are not fit to thrive.

When it comes to other fish, the hang on the back filter would be a great choice, such as for small tanks. This filter also comes in small size, and many of them provide three and four types of filter media to filter the water efficiently. Some even come with a UV sterilizer that is great for an effective filtration process.

Here keep in mind that before choosing a HOB filter from various types of models, think about your tank size and your required flow rate. What filter will best suit depending on the aquarium and fish species you have. It is crucial to get a filter that can provide a higher flow rate in order to complete the filtration process as quickly as possible.

Internal filter

Internal filter is another most popular aquarium filter that is lightweight and easy maintenance for small tanks. It is a kind of basic filter that has been selling widely for a long time.

If a fish tank has no space outside of the aquarium to set up more equipment, then it can be used as an internal filter. This is because It is placed on the edge of the tank glass with the outlet and sits just below the water surface. It takes no outside space to perform. To work perfectly and effectively, the internal filter must be submerged in the aquarium.

The internal filter airline is mostly connected to the filter’s inlet, and the air is driven through a pump that is located outside of the aquarium. Air is sucked into the filter and is moved through this pump. Then it is spread into the water surface by creating adequate bubbles movement.

Inside the filter, it has a coarse sponge where oxygen-rich water is drawn through and traps various types of debris. This sponge contains bacteria and operates a biological filtration process that converts harmful bacteria into beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria convert toxic such as ammonia into nitrite and nitrite into nitrates.

It is most common to keep the internal filter in the corner of the tank, and most models come with suction cups that ensure you don’t need to purchase it separately.

However, Internal filters are small and perfect for a home aquarium and hospital aquarium where fish is kept for treatment. This size makes it suitable and easy installation with a wide variety of fish tanks. The internal filter will help the tank to keep inhabitants healthy and free from any harmful toxins in the water.

Sponge filter

A sponge filter is another type of aquarium filter that is perfect for beginners and fishbowl. It has a small unit to operate the work and very easy to maintenance. 

This filter will be the best for those who have a small aquarium around 10 Gallon. Though it can be also used in a bigger tank, it is used as a secondary filter to support the main filter. 

If you own a small tank and don’t need so much water movement and surface agitation, the sponge filter probably would be a great choice for you.

It may come in the market in multiple variations such as small, large, coarse, fine, or even combined together to do the task efficiently.

The sponge filter works through an air pump that sends air through a tube into the hollow cavity. And then, bubbles are created and arise from the inside of the sponge. This provides mechanical filtration. Once the sponge grows bacterial colonies and owns a lot of matured beneficial bacteria, it supplies the biological filtration process as well.

The sponge that plays a big role in this filter may come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This is because being adapted with different shapes of the filter. Different types of sponge filters come with different methods such as air pumps, powerheads, or even other types of filters.

Sponge filters will be extremely awesome when you required gentle filtration. Such as, if you have fry, betta, or shrimp in the tank, you can not use a filter that creates so much current. These types of fish are not able to thrive against the strong current. In that situation, the Sponge filter works great for its gentle flow rates feature.

It is also great for the hospital tank where fish is kept that is weak and unable to tolerate the standard flow rate.

Canister filter

A canister filter is usually placed underneath the stand, table, or wherever a tank is situated. 

You may find various types of canister filter when you are finding the best alternative for you. Some of them come with a UV sterilizer, and others may come with filter media. But, both are useful and effective. You just choose the one that will be suitable and work best for your tank.

The canister filter has inlet and outlet fittings where water can enter and go out through. These tubes are adjustable, and you can modify it as you require. 

Depending on the brand and manufacture, the canister filter may come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be set up in different ways. Such as, water can be derived from bottom to top, top to bottom, inside out, front to back, left to right, etc.

When the water is driven and processed through the canister, the canister is performed using a number of compartments. (the compartments vary on models). Each of these compartments is assembled with a number of materials or mediums. There are a lot of different media available to choose from.

Think of this compartment like a team of maids. Like maids where a maid vacuums the carpet, another makes the bed and the other does the laundry, the compartment is the same when it comes to performing his job. It also does work going through in several ways.

When the canister filter becomes full of water, the internal pump will force the water to go into the tank. And, then the water is gone through passing the multiple filtration layers. This layer traps the organic debris and solid waste from the tank and makes the water clear and suitable for fish.

Sump filter

You probably know that an aquarium sump is not directly a filter, it contains a filter or other equipment as a house. The sump can not provide any filtration service until it is made for that purpose. It is simply a container that primarily collects water from a plumbed system. 

In the aquarium community, the sump filter is well known for marine or saltwater use. But it would be a great choice for a freshwater aquarium as well, especially when you are going for a large tank.

A sump filter refers to a tank that is made support to the main aquarium tank where fish lives. Usually, it is placed under the display aquarium or in a place where it can be hidden as well. But provide greater control on your main/display tank and fish or reef.

A basic sump filter can put up more equipment or filter media than any type of canister filter, power filter, or HOB filter. It is one of the most common reasons to use a sump tank. I think another cool thing about using a sump tank is you can modify all things of it as your own. 

However, you can put the filter media in the sump tank and make it a safe place for the heater and pump as well.

In order to keep the sump tank working properly, it is important to connect rightly with the main aquarium. Then it will start work through a return pipe where water is pumped using gravity from the main tank into the sump tank.

Surface skimmer

Having a planted tank, it is common that most people facing a problem in their freshwater tank create oily water on the top of the aquarium. The oily water that is also known as film and scum can mainly be discovered from food indigents and recipes. It seems to look very ugly and can build up faster when you cannot maintain your aquarium properly.

To get rid of this nutrient and scum growth, the easiest way you can do is using a surface cleaning skimmer. 

The surface skimmer removes excess compounds like nutrients and proteins from the aquarium water and makes the water clear and healthy for your fish. It is very efficient for the freshwater tank to keep away the film for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The surface skimmer not only cleans the surface-water but also improves the overall water quality. It also increases the oxygenate system in the water by constantly exchanging the gaseous water.

These days, there are many types of surface skimmer available on the market. Some of them are designed for a larger tank, and others are for different shaped aquariums. Besides these, there are some skimmers that can fit directly onto your existing canister filter, on the other hand, some others are made in such a way that it can be appropriate for use at the back of the tank where water is moved onto a sump tank or a trickle filter.

If you are confused about what surface skimmer will be suitable for your aquarium, I recommend you ask a seller or deeply research Google before going to purchase it. Keep in mind that protein skimmer and HOB (Hang On Back) filters can run independently with the skimmer that you are already using for taking nutrients from the water. So, if you have a small tank and use an internal filter, you can purchase a surface skimmer in its own right.

The surface skimmer is absolutely necessary when it comes to removing oily film and increasing the oxygen level and light penetration. Through the skimmer, you can safely turn up the co2 without causing any trouble issues. It might be one of the greatest things you add to your tank to keep your fish healthy and happy.

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer (also known as foam fractionator) is a filter used to remove organic compounds made from fish food and waste particles in the aquarium. It is essential for every large saltwater aquarium that wants to be successful.

By removing organic waste and debris from the water, the protein skimmer also helps the aquarium to keep a healthy environment. It starts work from the initial filtration system to perform more effectively and provides lots of benefits to keep the superior water quality.

When it comes to works, the protein skimmer primarily depends on the chemical adsorption process. In this way, the organic waste is removed from the water column which is adhered to the surface. 

After that, a mixture of air and water in the skimmer reaction chamber produces lots of protein skimming microbubbles that go through the skimmer and the waste is incorporated with them into the protein skimmer collection cup. Therefore, the three most important basic aquarium filtrations (Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical) are done with completing this process.

Under Gravel Filter

Once a time under gravel filter was the most popular when other filters had not come yet with their powerful features. When I first enter into the fish keeping hobby before around 30 years ago, the under gravel filters (UGF) were one of the most common filtration systems at that time to many aquarium owners. And, now, it is still common for a basic form of filter you can find.

An under gravel filter is basically rectangular-shaped and is made of a plastic grate or plate. It is placed at the bottom of the aquarium and directly below the substrate. The substrate and over the plate provide vast colonies for beneficial bacteria by pulling the water through the substrate. 

This type of filtration system uses biological and mechanical filtration process. This filter’s mechanical parts offer a huge surface area to alive waste consuming bacteria using the aquarium gravels. The gravel is used as mechanical filtration that traps debris, and then the biological filtration is performed. Overall the under gravel filter helps to keep the aquarium environment natural as much as possible. That’s why It is still now the best choice for efficient biological filtration.

Normally a basic under gravel filter best suits the tank that is less than 55 gallons. But it can be useable in the larger tank along with the additional powerhead that will provide stronger pulling power. 

However, under gravel filter is typically cheaper than other types of great aquarium filters like Canister filters, Box filter, and most HOB filters.

Wet/Dry Filter

Wet/Dry filters are less common than other types of filters. Many people even don’t know about this filter yet.  There are two types of wet/dry filter available and one of them is situated below the tank, and another one is situated above the tank ( This one also known as trickle filter).

The name of this filter came from its design and working process. It is designed to maximize biological filtration, whether its media is placed below the tank or above the tank. In this way, the filter can increase the availability of oxygen to beneficial bacteria that is colonized on the filter media.

The beneficial bacteria that consume waste and divert harmful toxic into tolerable toxins need oxygen and reproduction to survive. But, in the submergible biological filter, the amount of oxygen can be limited. This is because how much oxygen enters into an aquarium varies greatly on a filter, media type, and placement.

But all the wet/dry filters work by maintaining the same principles. The wet/dry filter media allows air to get enter while the water is passed through/over the media. And helps water to grow more helpful bacteria that consume wast. Additionally, many of these filters come with mechanical filter media in order to remove debris from the water that is more efficient for aquariums. However, It can provide you a three-stage filtration process.

Best Types of Aquarium Filters (Video)