Best Freshwater Aquarium Filters

Best Freshwater Aquarium Filters

Aquarium filters are a very important part of your system set-up. There are a lot of things to think about when purchasing a filter for your tank.
You need to evaluate your needs in order to find the right one that suits your aquarium and your personal requirements.
They come in different sizes and features vary significantly.
Let’s take a look at the best 4 freshwater aquarium filters choices on the market today.

Best Pick
AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax
Penn Plax Cascade 1500 - 350GPH Canister Filter
Fluval C4 Power Filter
Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums
AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax
Penn Plax Cascade 1500 - 350GPH Canister Filter
Fluval C4 Power Filter
Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums
Best Pick
AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax
AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax
Penn Plax Cascade 1500 - 350GPH Canister Filter
Penn Plax Cascade 1500 - 350GPH Canister Filter
Fluval C4 Power Filter
Fluval C4 Power Filter
Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums
Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums

Last update on 2018-03-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Filters do

An aquarium filter is not an optional accessory.
It is essential in order to keep your tank healthy and your fish alive and well.

Fish emit ammonia from their gills and also with their excrement. This ammonia, if not removed, is very harmful to the living organisms in the habitat.
Other causes like food excess and environmental factors cause debris and need to be removed as well.
The water that you use to fill your tank and make your regular water changes also affects water quality.
All these elements need to be taken into consideration when shopping for a filter. You will need to assess your needs in order to provide the best possible filtration system for your tank.
Different filters have various methods of purifying the water and you will have to provide the one that best suits your setting.

Types of Filtration

There are three types of filtration that can occur in your aquarium;

  • Mechanical

  • Biological

  • Chemical

We have covered the three types of filtration in details in this post.

Filtration Systems

There are several types of filtration systems, let’s look into the most basic ones for freshwater aquariums that you will encounter when shopping for the filter for your tank.

Sponge/Air Filter

This filter has an air pump that forces water to move through a sponge. Beneficial bacteria live on the sponge which cleans the impurities before releasing them back into the tank. This is a very basic set up and is often used in very small aquariums with few fish. It’s generally quite inexpensive depending on the size. It is submerged in the aquarium, usually in a corner.

Power Filters (Hang on back)

This is the most common type of filter and is the number one choice of many aquarists because it provides great biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration.
These filters are hung outside on the back or the side of the tanks and they pull water up through a syphon tube into the bin containing the media that will purify the water before releasing it back into the water in a waterfall type way.
This waterfall sound is constant in these filters:
Mechanical filtration happens when the water goes through the pad or floss that is in the bin, trapping the debris.
Chemical filtration occurs because of the activated carbon cartridge that dissolves the particles and removes toxins.
Biological filtration naturally occurs because of the beneficial bacteria that lives in the cartridge.

Canister Filters

Canister filters are also a very popular choice, but usually reserved for the larger aquariums.
These are bigger than the hang-on power filters and perform the same three types of filtration, biological, mechanical and chemical.
These filters are pressurised units that are usually placed under the aquarium. You can purchase these either complete with pump or in modular form without a pump, which you will have to buy separately or twin with another filter.
The water is syphoned into the canister which then passes through the mechanical media first to trap debris, then it will move into the chemical media.
After these two filtrations complete, the water goes to the biological media before going back into the aquarium fully cleansed.
These are normally medium priced filters and some are fairly large units.

Under Gravel Filters

The under gravel filter consists of a plate that is placed under the substrate or gravel at the bottom of the tank.
It has several uplift tubes that extend and push water up to the surface.
The mechanical filtration occurs when the water flows through the substrate which traps all the undesired debris. With this type of filter, a regular gravel cleaning system needs to be installed in order not to let buildup accumulate and clog the plate openings.
This is not the best filter for biological filtration as many factors can affect the outcome, like buildup for example. This is not the most popular type of filtration, but probably the most discreet.

How to Choose a Freshwater Aquarium Filter

Now that you know the basic information about how all this works and what needs to happen in your tank in order to keep it clean and healthy, your choice of filtration will be mostly based on the size of your aquarium and the number of fish you have or eventually plan to have.

Size of Your Aquarium

The big filters can be visually overpowering in your tank, so you will want to choose the smallest available one that meets all your requirements.
Filters are sold with guidelines about the size of tank they are suitable for. Make sure to read the information on the box and pick the filter that suits the volume of your tank.

Your Projected Fish Population

The more fish you have the more ammonia is delivered into the water. Therefore you require a system that can be effective at removing this otherwise you will be spending a lot of time cleaning the filter parts and filtration media.
When choosing also keep in mind the amount of time that you allow to your aquarium every week. Some filters require more maintenance and this may not be the right choice for you if you are really busy or away from the house a lot and don’t allocate much time to the cleaning of your tank.

Advantages & Benefits of Freshwater Aquarium Filters

Clean water

By now you have no doubt about the importance of the filtration system in your aquarium.
This is not an optional accessory as visual decorations are.
Depending on the filter type you choose to get, your aquarium and fish will benefit from the filtration processes that take place in order to eliminate the toxins that are harmful to the habitat.
Your fish will not be swimming in their own filth.

Healthy Fish

As a consequence of what just said, the health of your fish will benefit a lot from goos water filtration.
Healthy fish live longer and you won’t have to replace fish populations as frequently.

Things to Look for and Features of Freshwater Aquarium Filters

Media Types

The three types of filtration media need to be considered when shopping for a filter.
It is of course best to get a filter that does all three filtrations; biological, mechanical and chemical. If your budget is low and money is an issue, then the chemical filtration process could also be eliminated.

Your filter, no matter which one you buy should have biological and mechanical filtration otherwise you will be manually cleaning your tank a lot.

This media usually comes with the new filters, but require regular replacements.
These are in the form of sponges, activated carbon, pads, floss, and some other types.
It will mention on the box what it comes with, but you can always decide to switch the media if you like.


The hang on power filters are very inexpensive compared to the canister filters which are usually the most expensive but have superior filtration capabilities.
The under gravel filtration and sponge filter system are by far the cheapest but will require more maintenance.

Flow Rates

It is recommended that you turn the aquarium volume four times per hour.
For example, if you have a 30-gallon tank, you will need a filter with a flow rate of about 120 gph.
Of course aquariums with plants and very small fish will need low flow rates.

Noise Factor

You don’t want to hear the added humming or splashing of a noisy filter.
If you are shopping in a pet or fish store, try to see them set-up in advance so that you can hear the amount of noise that each one makes. Most filters on the market today are fairly quiet.

Visual Factor & Space Requirement

Whatever size your aquarium is will determine the type of filter you will want to purchase, but keep in mind that if having a big box hanging from the back of your tank doesn’t appeal to you, you should look into the canister filters that get tucked under the aquarium.
Obviously the stand or furniture which your tank is on will also determine if you can get a canister filter.
You would need a support table with doors under to hide the canister filter in.

Size Allowance

You will notice that the filters will come with water volume size recommendations.
They will state what number of gallons the filter is adequate for.
If you have a very large tank, it’s even possible to add more than one filter to your set-up. Be sure to purchase the right filter size for your tank.

Best Freshwater Aquarium Filters

Here is our choice of the best four freshwater aquarium filters that are on the market today.

– 1 –
AquaClear Power Filter

This is a very reliable filter from a trusted company that has been making filters for a long time.
This hang on filter is quick and easy to install.
It comes equipped with the activated carbon for chemical filtration, the foam for mechanical filtration, and cycle guard for biological filtration.
This power filter comes in five different models to accommodate different size aquariums offering a wide selection of flow rates.
They offer the 5 to 20 gallon model to the 60 to 110 gallon one. There is sure to be a model to suit your aquarium size. These filters provide very long water-to-media contact time, offering exceptional filtration.
The filter filtration volume is up to seven times larger than other filters in the comparable category.
The flow control can be reduced by 50% without any damage to any parts of the filter or to the habitat, and still keep filtration at a maximum efficiency.
It has a unique re-circulation grid that allows the water to pass through the filtration media more than once before being released back into the tank.
AquaClear Power Filter comes with a two-year warranty.
The main drawback about this filter is the noise that it can occasionally make. If not assembled properly or if there is accumulation, it may make a whirring sound and possibly vibrate.
The prices for these types of filter are very reasonable and the Aquaclear is very affordable.
This filter and brand is tried and tested, won’t break your bank, and definitely at the top of the filter industry.

What we like
  • Reliable
  • Quick and easy installation
  • Three filtration methods
  • Seven times more volume
  • Long water-to-media contact time
  • Maximum flow rate control
  • Affordable
What we don’t like
  • Can be a little noisy

– 2 –
Penn Plax Cascade Canister
Aquarium Filter

This is a heavy duty canister filter that rests under the tank and is best suited for the larger aquariums.
This filter has many models for different aquarium sizes, from 30 gallons to 200 gallons.
It is on the pricier side, but still quite affordable for a canister filter. The unit is placed under the aquarium and is hidden from view, unlike the hang on filters that are very visible. This makes it much more discreet. This canister filter offers the three types of filtration; mechanical, biological, and chemical to keep your water clean and clear.
It has an easy push button for quick and easy pump activation at start up.
These filters are very quiet and you don’t get the waterfall sound that you get from the hang on power filters. It is fairly easy to set up and install.
Canister filters require less regular maintenance and cleaning than the hang on power filters.

What we like
  • Heavy duty
  • Three filtration methods
  • Discreet
  • Easy pump button
  • Easy installation
What we don’t like
  • Not cheap

– 3 –
Fluval C Power Filter

This is a very reliable and effective hang on power filter for the smaller size aquariums.
It features a five stage filtration system; two mechanical, one chemical, and two biological.
This double mechanical filtration assures that all debris, big and small, get caught and kept out of from the tank. The double biological stages mean that your tank will benefit from the good bacteria that is being produced and stored.
The modular compartment design is made to make changing and cleaning the cartridges and other media a lot easier and simpler.
This small power filter has an impressive high flow rate. It features a flow rate control that lets you adjust the flow rate all the while remaining effective.
This line of filters comes in different sizes for a variety of aquariums from 30 gallons to 70 gallons.
Because of the dual mechanical and biological filtrations, the pad needs to be changed more frequently than in other power filters.

What we like
  • Reliable
  • Affordable
  • Five stage filtration system
  • Simple to change and clean
  • Excellent water flow
What we don’t like
  • Pad needs to be changed regularly

– 4 –
Marineland Magniflow Canister

This is a canister filter that is very reliable and powerful.
It is mid-range priced, making it an affordable canister filter in its category. It does all three stages of filtration and comes with all the necessary media.
This filter is quiet and discreet when hidden under the tank. It has a high flow rate and is easy to set up and use.
It is designed conveniently so that you can have easy access to the baskets containing the media.
It comes in three different models and you chose the right one by the volume of your tank.
You can use this filter on aquariums up to 100 gallons. It has a quick prime button for startup.
It is backed by a three year limited warranty. Marineland is well known for its excellent customer service, so should anything happen with the filter, you will have great after purchase care.
This filter has an added water polishing stage that ensures crystal clear water.
There have been comments about leaks in certain models, but the company has since fixed this problem.
This is a fairly large unit, so make sure you have the space for it.

What we like
  • Powerful
  • Quiet
  • High flow rate
  • Easy installation and maintenance
  • Three-year warranty
  • Water polishing stage
What we don’t like
  • Large


All these filters are worth every penny you will spend on them.
They are reliable, effective, and powerful.
From our round-up, we think that the line of AquaClear Power Filters are the recommended ones because of their quality, great features, and low cost.
There are different models for different size aquariums, make sure to purchase the appropriate size in regards to the volume of your tank.
These filters are from a well known, trusted company and have been around for a long time. This line of filters is easy to set up, very simple to care for, and the three stages of filtration are covered.

The size of your aquarium, the number of fish, and the location of your tank will determine what type of filter you will have to get.
Factors like noise, flow, and placement also need to be taken into account. This is not a place where you will want to be penny-pinching, it is a compulsory accessory for your aquarium and you want to trust it to work properly and keep your water clean and clear at all times.


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