What are the best aquarium filters?

If you’re in a hurry and eager to find out the best aquarium filter. Then we would recommend the MarineLand Penguin Wheel Power filter.

Over the years that I’ve had an aquarium, I’ve gone through more than a dozen filters. There is always one issue or another with them. This recurring problem led me to research and find out once and for all; the best aquarium filters in the market. I now want to share with you what I have learnt, so you don’t run into the same problems. 

What is the role of a filter?

The fish tank, or aquarium functions as the home for fish and other aquatic pets. 

They live there round the clock, meaning they eat and excrete in the tank. The leftover food and excrement will break down and release the chemical ammonia. Allowing waste to build up in the tank, not only pollutes the fish’s environment; but over time will be detrimental to your fish’s health; in extreme cases resulting in death. 

Fish tanks need regular cleaning to remove the debris and waste. A role that a decent filter will execute, continually processing the water 24hr a day. More granular cleaning will still be required, such as carrying out partial water changes; but a filter will cover the day to day leg work. 

Check out this scene from Finding Nemo where you’ll see what happens when the filter stops working.

How does a filter work for an aquarium?

There are three types of filtration functions performed by the aquarium filter. They include:

Biological filtration

This is arguably the most important type of filtration in the aquarium. A more familiar term you may have heard of is the nitrogen cycle. To put it simply, this refers to the process where beneficial bacteria colonies have been established in your tank to break down all harmful waste into less toxic compounds. Many filters come with bio-media or bio rings which provide surfaces for beneficial bacteria to live on. 

Chemical filtration

This is the process of removing certain chemical substances in the water; however, it’s not as widely used as biological and mechanical filtration. The function works by using carbon or chemical resin to clean particles that are dissolved within the water. 

Mechanical filtration

This feature works by straining the aquarium water using a medium that physically traps debris and particulate matter that floats around in your fish tank. Elements such as a sponge, foam pad, and floss are placed inside the filters to catch the debris as they pass through it.

Features to consider when selecting the best fish tank filter system

Below are key features to consider when looking for the best filter for your tank:

The Motor

The motor is responsible for the functioning of the filter. Try to find one that is energy efficient, because the filter will be running round the clock for as long as you have a fish tank in your house. Therefore, make sure to get one with a motor that’s not going to affect your power bills drastically. 

Size of the filter

The size of the filter you choose should be proportional to that of your fish tank. The size of the tank will be presented in gallons. GPH (Gallon Per Hour) refers to the number of times that the filter can turn over the water in your tank in one hour. Consider a filter that can turn over your tank four times an hour; however, this will differ depending on the size of the tank and type of fish you plan to have. 

Tubes for intake and outtake of water

Adjustable intake tubes are the ones to look out for since they can be customized to suit your specific needs. Considering the length of the pipes, especially the intake one, is crucial since it will need to be long enough to reach the bottom of your tank.

Type of filtration mechanism

As mentioned earlier, there are three types of filtration methods. The first requirement when it comes to filtration technology is biological. The reason being, it helps to eliminate the most common wastes in the water such as ammonia and nitrites.  The other two filtration methods are complimentary. However, when choosing a filter with a mechanical mechanism, consider the size of the pores on the filtration media (sponge or foam pad). Pores that are too small will not trap large amounts of debris, and they will need to be cleaned more often. A product with all three filtration mechanisms is the best option. 


How long should I leave my filter on?

Your filter should be on at all times. This is the only way to make sure that the water in your tank is clean and free of toxins. By leaving your filter constantly on will also produce currents that help prevent dead spots, which can poison your fish.

Is it possible for a filter to be too strong for an aquarium?

The answer to this question is YES. If a filter is too large for your fish tank, you can experience too much current and flow. In such cases, you will find your fish moving away from the filter looking for places to hide. However, some filters come with adjustable flow features, which are suitable for all size aquariums.

Types of Aquarium Filters

Below are the main types of filters that will be featured on this write-up:

  • Power filters- These are quiet, self-enclosed filters that hang into the water. 
  • Canister filters– These run on a separate pump and usually sit under the aquarium.
  • Wet and dry filters– These are ones that have several compartments in which you can add different media. They are mostly mechanical.
  • Internal filters– These sit in the corner of your tank and are powered by a pump.

needyfish’s 5 favorite aquarium filters

Below are five filters that we believe to be the best fish tank filters in the market:

1.) MarineLand Penguin Wheel Power Filter

Key Features:

  • Bio-Wheel technology 
  • Multi-stage filtration
  • 5 available sizes 
  • Suitable for all life stages 

Marineland bio pumps have been around forever. The multi-stage filtration element helps to deliver mechanical, chemical, as well as biological aquarium filtration.

Many users commented on how quiet this filter was. However, it’s noted that this would not be suitable for tanks with sand and small bits of gravel since the grains can easily get trapped in the rotor, creating a loud noise. Users commented on how easy it was to change the filter media. This product comes with plenty of room at the back for customization if you wish to add additional foam. Overall, this filter represents excellent value for money. 


  • Great value for money 
  • Easy set up 
  • The wheel power filter is cost-efficient
  • Bio-wheel technology allows for both wet and dry filtrations


  • It is only compatible with MarineLand filter cartridges
  • Not suitable for tanks that have sand and small bits of gravel 

2.) Aqua-tech Power Aquarium Filter

Key Features:

  • 2-year warranty 
  • Comes in 4 different sizes for aquariums between 5-60 gallons
  • 3 step filtration
  • BIO-fibre technology  

Overall, users were delighted with how quiet this filter was, which features bio-fibre technology, that helps to remove the toxic ammonia and other nitrites from the water. Some users had issues with the current being too strong, so it would not be suited for those with a smaller tank. However, people were impressed with the flow; on the topwater and down below, running through the plants. It takes filter cartridges, but there is enough room to put in bio bags if preferred.


  • Great value for money 
  • Easy setup 
  • Minimal maintenance
  • Silent whilst operating


  • Long intake tube which could be a problem for shorter tank 
  • Strong currents not suitable for a smaller tank

3.) Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

Key features:

  • 5 available sizes
  • Flow valves that rotate 360 degrees
  • Easy to use push button primer 

Customers commented on how user-friendly this product was; with the ease of setup and the general maintenance. The overall quality of the product was also widely praised. However, this does come at a cost, being more expensive than the other filters we have reviewed in this article. Features include a floss pad for removing particulate matter and a core space that allows for the growth of beneficial bacteria. 


  • Easy setup 
  • High-quality reputable brand 
  • Valves easily removed for maintenance
  • Media baskets are large enough for easy customization


  • It is quite costly

4.) Fluval Underwater Filter

Key Features:

  • 3-way flow control with adjustable output
  • 2 foam pads, 2 poly/carbon cartridges
  • Comes in 4 sizes suitable 12-65 gallons 

The Fluval underwater filter is relatively easy to install and maintain. It can be installed either vertically against the aquarium or horizontally at the bottom. Customers commented on how quiet it was. This can be attributed to the fact, that the whole filtration process occurs below the water level, eliminating that usual culprit of running water and the subsequent noise made. Many customers praise the convenient flip-top lid that allows for easy and quick access during tank maintenance. 


  • Ideal for installations where an external filter is not applicable
  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Runs quietly


  • Small bio max middle section with lack of room for customisation 

5.) Hygger Sponge filter

Key Features: 

  • Multi-filtration functions
  • 1 double sponge filter with 2 containers 
  • 1 bag of ceramic media balls + 2 pare sponges
  • suitable for tanks that are between 15 and 55 gallons

Hygger has a reputation for making great aquarium products. Customers praised the ease of set up. What makes this filter unique and sets it apart is the incorporation of compartments for ceramic biomaterial. Which helps increase biological filtration in a way no other sponge filter can. People were very impressed with the flow as well. This filter overall, would be an excellent addition for those with fish that don’t like a strong flow. 


  • Interchangeable filter materials
  • Easy to use
  • Energy-efficient and made of high-quality materials


  • Must be used with an additional aquarium filter air pump that’s not included 

Our choice

There are a handful of factors that will need to be taken into consideration when choosing what filter to buy. Ultimately, each person’s needs are going to differ to the next. However, when considering affordability, efficiency, set up and maintenance, along with the different sizes available. Our recommendation would be the MarineLand Penguin Wheel Power Filter. You will be buying a reputable brand and a design that has stood the test of time, which will go a long way to keeping your little fish friends happy! 

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