Best Aquarium Filter for Large and Small Fish Tanks – Reviews and Ratings of the Top Filtration Systems (30, 55, 150 gallon and more)

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There are many different parts to any fish tank, but one of the most important components of any aquarium is the filter. 

You want to get the best fish tank filter possible so that you can provide a safe and clean home for your underwater friends. 

Best Aquarium Filter Quick-Find Table

Image Product
  • Uses two large carbon filters cartridges
  • Timestrip technology is included
  • Great for beginner to experienced hobbyists
  • Uses two large carbon filters cartridges
  • Timestrip technology is included
  • Great for beginner to experienced hobbyists
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  • Ultra quiet
  • Ideal for any sized tank
  • Very clear water
  • Ultra quiet
  • Ideal for any sized tank
  • Very clear water
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  • Great for larger tanks or messy fish
  • Multi-stage filtration process
  • Flow rate shut off valves with adjustable water flow
  • Great for larger tanks or messy fish
  • Multi-stage filtration process
  • Flow rate shut off valves with adjustable water flow
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  • Air Driven Filter with Sponge and Tube
  • Ideal for Small Aquariums
  • Must Purchase Air Pump Separately
  • Air Driven Filter with Sponge and Tube
  • Ideal for Small Aquariums
  • Must Purchase Air Pump Separately
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  • Hidden from view
  • Held securely together with clips
  • Traps pollutants within the pores of two carbon cartridges
  • Hidden from view
  • Held securely together with clips
  • Traps pollutants within the pores of two carbon cartridges
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  • Excellent for smaller tanks
  • Low maintenance
  • Ultra-quiet with clear water results
  • Excellent for smaller tanks
  • Low maintenance
  • Ultra-quiet with clear water results
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  • Comes with Overflow compartment
  • Ideal for all types of filtration
  • Goes through a large number of gallons per hour
  • Comes with Overflow compartment
  • Ideal for all types of filtration
  • Goes through a large number of gallons per hour
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  • Uses Biowheel technology
  • Ultra-quiet and easy to maintain
  • Multi-stage filtration
  • Uses Biowheel technology
  • Ultra-quiet and easy to maintain
  • Multi-stage filtration
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  • Includes UV sterilization
  • Ultra-quiet
  • 5 stage filtration
  • Includes UV sterilization
  • Ultra-quiet
  • 5 stage filtration
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Role of the Filter

You might be wondering what role your fish tank filter plays in your aquarium.

There are three primary functions that the best aquarium filter will do for your tank.

These primary functions are:

  • Biological filtration,
  • Mechanical filtration, and
  • Chemical filtration

Each plays a certain role that helps provide your fish with the safe home they deserve. 

Biological Filtration

The biological role of a filter is to help eliminate waste from your tank. As fish swim, they are constantly producing waste that can quickly dirty your tank and make it uninhabitable for your fish. 

How the best fish tank filter conducts biological filtration is that it converts your fishes’ waste in a substance that is less toxic to your fish. 

Mechanical Filtration

The mechanical aspect of a filter is to remove particles from the water.

Also known as physical filtration, what mechanical filtration does is strain the water to catch any of these free-floating particles that are decreasing the cleanliness of your tank. 

The filter has a sponge-like pad inside it that will catch the particles and help you to remove them from the tank and gravel. 

Chemical Filtration

Chemically, the filter helps to remove harmful impurities from the water that can seriously harm and even kill your fish.

Activated filter carbon is in most filters, and it removes the chemicals in the water that are dangerous to fish.

Since the tank isn’t free-flowing water, the filter does the job that helps keep it from stagnation. 

best fish tank filter

Types of Aquarium Filters

There are several different types of fish tank filters that you can choose from for your aquarium to be safe. Each filter has it’s good points and bad points.

However, you want to be aware of the different filters so that you can choose the one that is right for you. 

Air Driven or Sponge Filters

These are the most basic setup of a filter on the market. These filters don’t do much when it comes to chemical, biological, and mechanical filtration. Air driven or sponge filters are best for breeding tanks, hospital tanks, or a tank that has small fish. 

The sponge/air driven filter is run by an air pump where the water is pulled through the sponge material. The sponge itself is useful for both mechanical and filtration because of the beneficial bacteria that live on it.  

Hang on Back Power Filters or Power Driven Filters

The most common filter you will see is the hang on back power filter. These filters are great for providing mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. They fit on your aquarium by hanging over the back of your tank. 

They filter the water through a suction tube that is inside the aquarium and pushes the water through a filter pad. Most of these filters come with a filter pad that is filled with activated carbon in order to remove harmful toxins from the water. 

Inside the filter, beneficial bacteria have an ideal area to grow. Therefore, as the water gets passed through the filter, you are adding these bacteria to your water, thus making it a healthy and vital environment for your fish. 

Some of the newer hang on back power filters come with a bio-wheel that have a specialized biological filter on them. 

Canister Filters

Canister filters are often seen being used by fish hobbyists. These filters are great for fish tanks that are 40 US gallons or larger in size.

These filters are one of the best for mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration because of how large they are compared to hang on back (HOB) power filters. 

Canister filters have both a siphon tube and a flexible pipe that go from the filter to the tank. The water goes up through the filter and then spreads out back into the tank using a water bar. 

These filters are particularly good when you have cichlid, planted, or saltwater fish tanks. The filter process is pressurized, which makes for better mechanical filtration by forcing the water through a fine mesh. Chemical filtration is done the same way. 

Biological filtration is done through the present oxygen that is going through the water. However, there is no direct water to air contact. 

Undergravel Filters

These filters are ones that you place under your gravel or substrate. How they work is they pull water up through uplift tubes. 

There are two ways that the water travels up through the undergravel filter. One is by an airstone and air pump that fits on the top of the tube and pumps the water around the tank. The second is through a powerful pump that sits on top and sucks the water up. 

You get mechanical filtration as the water passes through your gravel or substrate. However, biological filtration can only happen if the water is passing through the substrate.

Chemical filtration doesn’t happen with this type of filter. 

Internal Filters

These compact filters are great for small tanks or nano tanks. Best used on tanks under 20 gallons, they are stuck to the inside of the glass using suction cups. Most people use them by placing them at the bottom of the filter to prevent dirt from building up. 

Occasionally, there are internal filters that require you also to have an air pump with an airline that is connected to the filter.

This connection will allow water to move up through the filter easily. As the air bubbles pop at the top of the water, you get good mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. 

Wet/Dry Filters

Though not as common as other filters, Wet/Dry filters are still used by experienced tank owners. You are more likely to see them in saltwater tanks. 

The media on the filter is exposed to the water and air, making them great filters for biological filtration.

The reason these filters are great for biological filtration is that being exposed to both water and air helps set up a large gathering of beneficial bacteria and eliminate waste. 

However, you may find it cumbersome to set up this type of filter.

The reason these filters are more difficult is that you need a sump or reservoir to hold water and to help the water run to the pump. 

Chemical filtration happens when you place a chemical media in the filter. However, mechanical filtration is very limited as the water is not as restricted as it is with other types of filters. 

Fluidized Bed Filters

These filters work similarly to the way a sand pool filter works. The unit is hung on the back of your tank, and it pumps water into it. The water is then transported through a pile of granules. These granules can consist of either plastic, sand, or silica chips. 

Fluidized Bed filters require that you purchase a pump separately to pump the water into the filter. Almost all of these filters do not come with an accompanying pump. 

Biological filtration occurs when beneficial bacteria grow on the surface of particles that are suspended. Chemical filtration with this type of unit isn’t ideal, and mechanical filtration is only semi-good. 

Reviews of The Best Fish Tank Filters

Now that you know what filters do and why you need them, you want to find one for your tank. Going through the list of different filters may have helped you narrow down your choices, but you may still wonder which one is the best aquarium filter for you.

We have helped you narrow down your decisions by compiling a list of the best aquarium filters of each type. Have a look and decide which one will meet your needs best. 

Best Fish Tank Filters Compared:

BEST FOR SMALL TANKS

Tetra Whisper EX

Tetra-Whisper-EX-Silent-Multi-Stage-Power-Filter-for-Aquariums

When it comes to freshwater tanks, you want to get the Tetra Whisper.

Designed for quiet filtration and ideal cycling of freshwater tanks, this filter is a great choice for your freshwater fish.  

Installation and Upkeep:

This is a hang on back filter that requires very little effort to install. Additionally, the upkeep is minimal as you only need to clean it once every month. 

Space:

The space needed for this hang on the back filter is minimal, and though it takes a bit more than an internal filter, it is fairly space saving. The dimensions of this filter are 6.2 x 10.7 x 8.6 inches.

Biological Effectiveness:

The media inside this filtration system is designed to allow beneficial bacteria to grow and distribute throughout your tank during cycling. 

Mechanical Effectiveness:

The porous filter inside the system is designed to remove even the smallest particles from the water. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

As with different water qualities from various sources, the activated carbon in this filter is designed to remove any impurities from the water creating a safe environment for your fish. 

Noise:

There is a water trickle that you will hear with this filter, but it isn’t very loud or disturbing.

When it comes to your tanks and their size, this particular filter is great when you have tanks that range from 30 gallons of water up to 70 gallons of water. The hang on back design is made to use right from the box. 

If you are a beginner hobbyist or an experienced one, you will love the ease of use of this fish tank filter.

The design is very quiet and ensures that you will have clean and clear water at all times from the two filter cartridges inside. 

Everything from the innovative use of Timestrip technology to the patented carbon filter cartridges, this filter is designed with convenience in mind.

Of all the filters listed, this one is ultra simplistic and very low maintenance. 

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BEST HOB

AquaClear

aquaclear hob filter

The AquaClear Fish Tank filter is the best one out there when it comes to hang on back filters. 

Installation and Upkeep: The AquaClear filter is fairly straightforward to install though does have a larger number of parts than some filters. Upkeep is fairly minimal, though there are more components to clean.

Cost: Depending on the size you want, this filter ranges in price from $80 to $130.

Space:

As it is a hang on back, you don’t much space for this filter, but you do need some. Here are the dimensions: 7.1 x 13.9 x 9.1 inches.

Biological Effectiveness:

Containing Biomax Ceramic Rings, this filter is great for biological filtration. Additionally, the surface of the sponge is ideal for beneficial bacteria.

Mechanical Effectiveness:

The insert foam that comes with this filter is perfect for capturing small particles are the water filters through. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

The middle layer of this filtration system is made up of a pouch of activated carbon, ensuring that all harmful chemicals are removed from your tank as they filter through the carbon layer. 

Noise:

This filter is so quiet you will barely notice it running other than the trickle of water. 

There is a light water flow that prevents it from disturbing your tank too much. You can use this with filter with live plants and with smaller fish. The media should be replaced every two months for optimal operation. 

If you want a filter that is powerful enough for goldfish, this filter is the one. The water flow along with the number gph (gallons per hour) that get filtered through will help to keep your tank in optimal condition. 

Overall, this filter is ideal for any tank size and any fish breed. This filter is easy to clean from the outside through to the impeller. 

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BEST CANISTER

Fluval Fx6

fluval-fx6-canister-filter

The Fluval Fx6 Canister Filter is the best canister option. This filter comes in a range of sizes and price ranges that make it ideal for any fish hobbyist to enjoy their tank with ease. 

Installation and Upkeep:

The push button primer makes it easy for installation and the valves allow you to remove the canister while leaving to tubing inside the tank for easy cleaning. 

Space:

As it is a canister filter, it does require more space than most other types of filters. The dimensions start at: 11.5 x 13.5 x 9 and range to 11.5 x 20.5 x 12.

Biological Effectiveness:

This filter comes with various stages. The sponge inside the filter is ideal for beneficial bacterial growth. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

The carbon layer is ideal for chemical filtration as it contains enough carbon to remove toxins from the water. 

Mechanical:

The sponge layer catches all small particles from the water and effectively removes them. 

Noise:

As far as canister filters go, this one is fairly quiet. You still get some noise, but that is common with this type of filter. Every once in a while, when it needs to be cleaned, the noise level will increase. 

This filter is fantastic for a variety of reasons.

The multi-stage filtration process allows you to add multiple forms of media for clear water and cleanliness.

You will be able to adjust the water flow to your preference.

The spray bar that you place inside the tank is ideal for optimal water dispersion as well. 

This canister filter is ideal for maintaining as it provides you multistages as it has a stackable filtration tray.

Additionally, there is an air-tight seal that will allow for proper flow rate while being ultra-quiet in operating.

Waste matter will be suspended so that you get nothing but clear water.

As a bonus, it is self-starting, simply add water and turn on.

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BEST AIR-DRIVEN

XINYOU XY

XINYOU XY-2835 Fish Aquarium Mini Cylinder Soft Sponge Water Filter

The best aquarium air driven filter is the XinYou XY 2835 Fish Tank Filter.

This filter is designed for larger tanks as it can cause a lot of turbulence in the water. However, it is effective when it comes to keeping your tank clean. 

Installation and Easy of Upkeep:

This best sponge filter is easy to install and to take care of regularly. You simply run the sponge under water, and it will clean as you squeeze it. 

Space Required:

This sponge filter is small and only requires minimal space as it is 5.5×7 cm / 2.2″ x 2.8″ in diameter and height. 

Biological Effectiveness:

The filter is great for biological filtration as it connects the water with air as it filters through the media. 

Mechanical Effectiveness:

The sponge on this filter is excellent at removing all small particles around the tank. The suction also helps with this. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

Great chemical filtration as this filter comes with a carbon filled sponge. 

Noise:

The bubbles can be somewhat disturbing, but overall, this filter is fairly quiet. 

This biochemical filter will help to maintain a clear and clean fish tank. 

The sponge needs to be cleaned every two weeks and replaced every three months.

Since the water flow is turbulent, you want to be sure that this filter is only used in larger tanks and not in planted tanks. 

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BEST UNDERGRAVEL

Penn Plax Premium

Penn-Plax-Premium-Under-Gravel-Filter-System

The Penn Plax Premium Undergravel Filter is the best one in its class. This filter will help keep your tank looking clear and clean. 

Installation and Upkeep:

These filters are very easy and straightforward to install. The upkeep is a bit more demanding, but not rigorous. You simply need to disconnect the hose and wash it thoroughly. 

Space:

This filter is designed to sit on the bottom of your tank. Therefore, the size of the tank is ideally the size of the filter. However, once covered, you only see hosing that takes up little space. 

Biological Effectiveness:

The plates on the bottom are an ideal environment for that good bacteria to grow. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

This filter comes with Filt-A-Carb cartridges that make for ideal chemical filtration. 

Mechanical Filtration:

The fine porous air stones that come with this filter are great for mechanical filtration thought not as effective as a mesh or sponge would be. 

Noise:

The amount of air that passes through this filter under your tank makes it a bit noisier than other filter types. 

The two carbon filter cartridges allows you to remove all waste and toxins from within the tank and leaves you with very clear water. There is an extra large adjustable lift tube for maximum filtration of surface areas. 

You need to purchase an air pump separate to attach to this filter. However, once set up, your tank will maintain its cleanliness without much effort on your part.

The flow rate is ideal for Betta’s, goldfish and many other types of fish. 

Additionally, this filter can be used with a fine filter floss to be able to achieve maximum stage filtration.

However, due to the type of filter this is, it is not recommended for tanks with live plants.

You can expect it to filter through up to 150 gph. 

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BEST INTERNAL

Fluval U4

Fluval-U4-Underwater-Filter

The best internal fish tank filter is the Fluval U4 Underwater Filter. This filter is great for fish tanks that are against a wall where an external filter is not possible. The output of this filter is up to 260 gallons per hour. 

Installation and Upkeep:

Installation takes a bit of work given that it is internal. The upkeep of the filter is fairly straight forward. It needs to be cleaned at least once every two weeks, and the filter cartridges changed out. 

Space:

As this filter is designed to go inside your fish tank, there is no external space needed. However, you do need some space inside the tank. These are the dimensions of the filter:  3.5 x 3 x 12.5 inches.

Biological Effectiveness:

This filter is designed for optimal biological filtration. The area where water is taken in is great for beneficial bacteria.

Mechanical Effectiveness:

Given that this is an internal filter, you will see that it does have some mechanical filtration but not all. Anything floating at the top of the tank will not be filtered through as you might want. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

The filter contains a two-pack carbon filtration pad. It does remove excess toxins efficiently and helps to maintain the optimal balance in the water. 

Noise:

As with most underwater filters, this one is very silent. You will find that you don’t hear much if anything at all when this filter is working. 

Internal filter are excellent low-maintenance filters for smaller tanks. This Fluval is so simple, you simply put it in and maintain it. Maintenance is usually replacing the filter media occasionally and removing large particles from the intake area to avoid clog issues. 

If you have live plants, you might want to stay away from an internal filter unless you have small plants. Largely planted aquariums tend to not do well with internal filters simply because they clog the filter more. However, the flow rate tends to be minimal. 

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BEST WET/DRY

Eshopps WD

eshopps-wd-wet-dry-filter

Though these filters are not as common as other filters, they do have effectiveness. The best wet/dry complete filter system is the Eshopps WD. This filter fits comfortably within sumps without taking too much space. 

Installation and Upkeep:

As with other filters of this nature, this wet/dry filter can take some time to set up. There is an overflow box, bio balls and much more components that have to be put together. Upkeep is a bit of a hassle, but once you are used to it can be done fairly quickly. 

Space:

This particular filter is compact and takes minimal space. 

Biological Effectiveness:

The wet-dry drip tray is great for biological filtration, and it processes toxic ammonia and excess nitrite effectively. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

There is some chemical filtration, and it is alright for any size tank.

Mechanical Effectiveness:

There isn’t as much mechanical filtration as you might want, but it does do some of the job trapping particles in the tray. 

Noise:

This filter is fairly quiet, but you do hear the trickle of water, so if you like that, then you won’t mind the water noise. 

This filtration system doesn’t take a lot of space, but does require a lot more maintenance than your standard filters.

It can be used for both fresh and saltwater tanks.

The overflow box helps prevent water from seeping out and the media provides the ideal conditions for biological filtration. 

This filter tends to be a bit louder than you would expect, but it makes up for it in effectiveness.

The results of this filter are clear water with a minimal flow rate that doesn’t disturb live plants or any sized fish from Betta’s to Goldfish and every other type of swimming friend you could want. 

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BEST FOR 55 GALLON TANKS

Marineland Penguin 350

Marineland Penguin Power Filter

For your medium range tanks that go from 50 to 75 gallons, you want to get the Marineland Penguin 350. This filter is a bio-wheel hang on back filter that is great for mid-range sized tanks. 

Installation and Upkeep:

These filters do require a bit more installation work than you would with other hang on back filters as you have to place the bio-wheel in place, but it still takes only minutes to set up.

The upkeep is a bit more than that of other filters as the bio-wheels at times can stop and need to be reset, but even that only takes seconds. 

Space:

The bio-wheel filters do take more space than your standard hang on back filters as they do make allowances for the wheel, but it isn’t much larger. The dimensions of this filter are 15.2 x 6.1 x 8 inches.

Biological Effectiveness:

The bio-wheel is designed for optimal tank cycling allows beneficial bacteria to be reintroduced into your tank. 

Mechanical Effectiveness:

These filters are great at removing small particles, but larger ones will congregate at the intake hose requiring you to remove them manually. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

The activated carbon inside the filtration system will keep harmful chemicals from endangering your fish. 

Noise:

These filters do rotate water around the bio-wheel. Therefore, you will hear more water trickle than your standard hang on back filter. 

The multi-stage filtration that you get with this filter is ideal for medium range tank sizes. The ease of set up, maintenance and use is incredible. If you are a new hobbyist or just upgrading your tank, this filter is ideal for you. 

The only difficult part of the set up will be placing the biowheel with the lid on top. As the lid does not clip in place, it can be a bit confusing as to whether or not it is secure. However, once placed and running, you will see that the lid and the entire filter is very secure and very effective. 

The intake tube is designed for ideal water circulation and the biowheel provides you with mechanical, biological and chemical filtration that will keep your tank looking clean and clear.

The best part of this filter over others is that it is virtually undetectable. It makes next to no noise at all aside from a few bubbles on top of the water where the water current is. 

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BEST FOR 150 GALLON TANKS

AquaTop CF500UV

Aquatop CF500UV 5-Stage Canister Filter

For those larger aquariums that range in size from 120 to 160 gallons, you want the AquaTop CF500UV 5-Stage Canister filter. These filters are designed for larger tanks and to keep up optimal water quality for your fish. 

Installation and Upkeep:

These filters do require a bit more work when it comes to installation given all the various components, but it shouldn’t take longer than 30 mins to get it up and running.

The upkeep is a bit more than other filters as it is a canister, but again, maintaining the filter should be fairly minimal time wise. 

Space:

As a canister filter, it will require a bit more space. However, this particular model is fairly compact, requiring minimal space as possible. Dimensions are 45.7 x 27.9 x 30.5 cm.

Biological Effectiveness:

These filters are designed to provide you optimal biological filtration allowing beneficial bacteria to grow. 

Mechanical Effectiveness:

You will notice this filter is great for removing small particles from the water, helping to keep it crisp and clear, but larger particles must be removed manually. 

Chemical Effectiveness:

This particular filter is designed for optimal chemical filtration, helping to keep the water safe for your fish. 

Noise:

There is a hum as this filter runs, and it can be a little disturbing, but as far as canister filters go, this one isn’t too noisy. 

This filter is designed for optimal aquarium conditions. As experienced fish owners know, the larger the tank the harder it can be to maintain. This canister filter is designed for ease of use and to help you maintain tank cleanliness. 

The UV sterilization helps remove harmful bacteria and algae spores from forming on your tank. Aside from that, it comes complete with 5 stages of filtration that allows for cleaner and clearer water with little effort on your part. 

Going through 252 gph, you will see that your tank is constantly being cleaned properly. The only down side of this filter is that it does take more energy than other filters to run.

The UV sterilizer alone is 9W, which considering the time saved on cleaning, really isn’t too bad. 

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FAQ

There are many questions you may have when it comes to your filters and the types you should buy. With so many options, it is easy to get confused about the effectiveness of your aquarium filtration system!

What is the best filter for messy fish?

If you have cichlids or platys, you know that they are very messy fish.

For these types of fish, you want to be sure that your filter will have a fine porous media inside and the option to add additional filter cartridges.

For that, your best option is a hang on back filter. 

What filter is ideal for nano fish?

When you are dealing with tiny fish, you want a filter that doesn’t have a large suction or flow involved.

The best type of filter for nano fish is going to be an internal filter or a canister filter if you have a larger tank. 

Is it alright to have two filters in one tank?

If you choose the right filter, like those listed above, it isn’t necessary to have more than one filter in your aquarium.

Though there aren’t any rules against having more than one, you shouldn’t need more than one. 

What filter is best for planted tanks?

Most filters work well for planted tanks. Most of the ones listed above can be used with live plants as they are ideal for filtration and flow.

Specifically, you want a filter that has a gentle flow and great mechanical filtration to remove particles from the water. 

How often should you clean your filter?

You don’t want your filter to clog or to experience performance issues.

Therefore, you want to clean your filter at least once every two weeks.

However, for large tank filters, you can probably clean them every 3-4 weeks. 

Conclusion

Regardless of what type of aquarium you have, there is a great filter out there for you. Listed above are the best fish tank filters on the market for any situation or size of tank you may have.

Therefore, if you are on the market for a fish tank filter, figure out which one is ideal for your situation and create that safe and friendly environment your fish friends will love.

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