Affiliate Disclaimer: If you click a link on this page, then go on to make a purchase, we may receive a commission - at no extra cost to you. Learn more
best aquarium return pump header

Our aquariums are an important investment for our homes.

Not just because they involve money and time, but because they’re an engaging, soothing, and beautiful way to experience a part of the world we can’t naturally enjoy.

Whether we’re keeping marine tanks or freshwater tanks, these aquariums are more than just a box with water and fish in them.

And because of that, we need the best equipment possible to keep our fish healthy, happy, and safe. And that means doing some research before purchasing anything.

That’s what we’re here for – a quick, easy to understand guide on choosing the best aquarium return pump.

Best Return Pump Quick-find Table

Image Product
  • Extremely versatile and fun to use
  • Incredibly customizable for precision care of your aquarium
  • Fairly powerful with 20 flow-rate options
  • Extremely versatile and fun to use
  • Incredibly customizable for precision care of your aquarium
  • Fairly powerful with 20 flow-rate options
  • Versatile and useable in either saltwater or freshwater aquariums
  • It’s a workhorse type model – takes a beating and keeps working
  • Very basic and easy to use
  • Versatile and useable in either saltwater or freshwater aquariums
  • It’s a workhorse type model – takes a beating and keeps working
  • Very basic and easy to use
  • Comes from a well-trusted, well-known brand in the industry
  • Very powerful – and comes in three models for best quality for your aquarium
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Comes from a well-trusted, well-known brand in the industry
  • Very powerful – and comes in three models for best quality for your aquarium
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Smaller than most models
  • Easy to install and use
  • Quietest high-quality model on the market
  • Smaller than most models
  • Easy to install and use
  • Quietest high-quality model on the market

What is a Return Water Pump?

First, we have to ask a few questions. What is a return pump? How do they work? What are they good for? What do they do? Why a return pump instead of a wave maker or powerhead?

Simply answering all of these questions in one fell swoop: A return pump is very similar to other styles of pumps, but the main difference is that return pumps are designed to pump water uphill and handle intense pressure from that build-up.

Wavemakers and others are meant to pump water in a different set of circumstances that aren’t as high pressure or upward in motion.

AC VS. DC Return Pumps

The next question is, what’s the difference between AC aquarium pumps and DC aquarium pumps?

DC return pumps are the most popular in recent years with manufacturers pushing them. It makes sense as they offer more control features. They are, after all, all controllable with varying precision levels and feed modes that instantly shut off the pump when feeding your fish, corals, or plants.

Some are coded to work with smart phone apps for better monitoring and incredibly easy setup. These are also generally more energy efficient than AC aquarium models.

close up of planted aquarium return pump

But AC models have some advantages as well.

AC models are more often made in the USA, meaning you can rely on the quality more often than most of the DC models that are tossed through a chintzy manufacturing process in quickie brands. This means reliability is a huge deal with DC return pumps.

AC pumps are tried and true – and well-trusted because, honestly, they’ve been through the ringer, and many DC pumps have not yet. But the key in choosing between them is more in tune with the manufacturer and quality rather than the type.

Look for these qualities along with the others mentioned below, and you’ll be golden, whichever model type you choose. 

Internal Versus External Return Pumps

Internal pumps are great if you’re looking to submerge the pump into the water itself. If you want more flexibility, external pumps or dual-use pumps are your go-to.

External pumps can handle pushing water over longer distances – thanks to the way they’re designed – and almost all return pumps are meant to work this way. External pumps – especially with saltwater tanks – are also more reliable for longer because the water and salinity won’t affect the pump works.

External pumps, however, have some drawbacks which do sometimes cause folks to choose the submersible options instead. External pumps, for example, tend to be large, expensive, and noisy.

They’re best in basement aquarium sump systems, fish rooms, or other places where folks aren’t looking for quiet, peaceful noises. And since return pumps are designed specifically to carry high-water capacities greater distances, they’re perfectly fine for these circumstances, even with the noise and size.

best return pump with orange fish looking

Reviews of the Best Aquarium Return Pumps

We’re focusing our efforts on AC and DC aquarium pump reviews to make sure we’re offering the best possible options for any aquarium setup. The research conducted asks the following questions of each pump we’re offering for your review – to make sure we’re only recommending the best of the best aquarium return pump brand choices.

  • Reputation of manufacturer
  • Quality of materials used
  • Quality of manufactured product overall
  • High ratings from real-life shoppers on Amazon
  • Ease-of-use
  • Ease of setup
  • Ease of maintenance
  • Variety of types and sizes to meet majority of needs

As to choosing for yourself from among the options, ask yourself these additional questions.

  • What size aquarium is this return pump for?
  • What is your budget?
  • Which is better for your setup? Internal or external?
aquastation Silent Swirl Controllable DC Aquarium Pump with Wave Function

If you want to build out your aquarium equipment with precision devices, the Aquastation Silent Swirl is the option you’re looking for.

The pump has anything from light flow to a hefty max flow – perfect for adjusting to any fish you might stock – and genuinely customizable settings with an easy to use smart controller system.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Flow rate: 790 GPH
  • Dimensions: 6.6” L x 3″ W x 4″

What We Loved

First off, we love the amazing 20 different water flow levels that you can choose from using the Smart Controller. The pump also allows for wave mode, feed mode, and others, on timers, to adjust and customize to meet the precise needs of your aquatic pets.

The flow rate ranges from fairly soft for critters who need nearly stagnant water all the way up to 790 GPH for fish that are used to fighting the current in their natural saltwater environment.

The strong water flow shuts off for 10 minutes during the feed mode, which we also love. This makes it ideal for practically any aquarium setting.

Plus, the pump is extremely affordable – one of the lowest cost options on the market. And it lasts. So, win-win.

What We Didn’t Love

There are only two possible issues with this pump.

First, there are no adapters with the pump, so you’ll potentially need to buy these separately.

Second, if it doesn’t quite work with your current setup, you may need to also invest in extra parts or attachments.

Our Verdict on the Aquastation Silent Swirl Controllable DC Aquarium Pump

Overall, the Aquastation Silent Swirl is a fantastic aquarium return pump option that’s great for just about anyone looking for precision performance. You may need to add some attachments or adapters, but otherwise, it’s spot on. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and incredibly modifiable.

All around, a super option for anyone updating an aquarium or starting in for the first time into the aquarium keeping hobby.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on <<

Little Giant 582507 Magnetic Drive Aquarium Pump

If you want a basic model that’s going to keep going strong and power through a fair amount of water, the Little Giant is a great option for you.

This “workhorse” return pump comes with a thermally protected motor and 3-prong molded plug, six-foot cord, and some other powerful features that keep it going indoors or outdoors for your pond or aquarium.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Flow rate: 790 GPH
  • Dimensions: 5.5″ W x 5.3″ H x 11” L

What We Loved

We love the Little Giant is a hard working pump that will last for a long time. It’s a great, straight-up, no frills kind of option with the basic AC aquarium pump needs all met and exceeded with its excellence.

It works great for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums, which makes it pretty versatile, and both indoors and outdoors. It’s specifically been designed for both kinds of use and features a leakproof, seal-less magnetic drive.

There’s very little back pressure on this beauty. That makes it good for circulation, though not so much for filtration systems with filter media. It’s just a basic pump to keep the water flowing – and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Finally, we love that the Little Giant is thermally protected. This means its not going to overheat and burn out. That’s a lot of why it lasts forever.

What We Didn’t Love

There are two downsides to this particular aquarium return pump.

First, and most disappointing, is that the Little Giant emphasizes the “giant” in the noise it makes. I mean, it’s not an earthquake shaking your house, but it is definitely not a quiet pump for your aquarium.

If you’ve got enough distance between the aquarium and the placement of the pump in a situation like a basement sump, you’ll be fine. But you don’t want to use this for up-close and personal use.

The second downside is that though it’s high-quality and lasts a long time, it is pretty expensive up-front and offers no extra features. It’s just the pump. No modes, no programming options or flow rate adjustments. It’s just the pump. For a basic, no-frills model, though, it’s fantastically long-lasting and durable.

Our Verdict on the Little Giant 582507 Magnetic Drive Aquarium Pump

If you are looking for a hardworking, long-lasting, easy-to-use powerhouse return pump, then the Little Giant is your go-to. This beast is long-lasting, high-quality, from a trusted company. It’s going to last for a long time. It’s a no-frills model, though, so if you’re aiming for bells and whistles, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on <<

Fluval Hagen Sea Sump Pump for Aquarium

Coming from a well-trusted brand in fishkeeping, the Fluval Hagen Sea SP series return pumps are a reliable option for pretty much any aquarium setup.

The system uses an old school Askoll motor design – Italian-engineered and backed by a 3-year warranty – providing you with a solid, reliable, quiet return pump for your aquarium.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Flow rate: 950 to 3435 GPH, depending on model
  • Dimensions: 4.5″L x 7.5″W x 7.5″H

What We Loved

First off, we love that old-fashioned power motor that will keep this thing running for years and years. Power and precision are always great in any product – and this has both.

We also love that this pump comes in three different model sizes to suit your needs. The GPH ranges from 950 to 3435 GPH, making it great for practically any size aquarium over 20 gallons.

Plus, this is a great internal or external return pump, meaning its highly versatile and easy to use.

The pump includes a stabilizing base that keeps the pump from wandering up the sump as well, which is a fantastic feature.  

What We Didn’t Love

There are a couple of things we’re not totally in love with on this one, though they don’t deter from it for many of us – just things to be aware of in certain circumstances.

First, the pump does not have a flow regulator out of the box. This can be a bit frustrating for some, though fairly easy to solve. You’ll actually have to gate valve it – though this is recommended for any sump design pump anyway. But it does add some expense to the model.

The second is that the Fluval return pump is pretty large compared to DC aquarium water pumps.

Finally, and probably the least appealing part, is that it’s not a very efficient model. Others are definitely worse, but we’re not uber thrilled with the semi-high consumption rate of this one.

Our Verdict on the Fluval Hagen Sea Sump Pump for Aquariums

Overall, this is a solid choice for your return pump needs.

The Fluval Hagen brand is well-trusted with a long-time reputation for quality products that are easy and safe to use in the intended environments they’re created for. Just install and use as directed and you’ll find your aquarium working well.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on <<


#4. Siccee Syncra 2.0 Aquarium Pump

Sicce Syncra 2.0 Aquarium Pump

If you’re looking for a low-profile return model, then the Siccee Syncra is definitely your bets bet.

This option is smaller than practically any other option and definitely the quietest. In fact, it’s so quiet you might not even be sure it’s turned on while it’s running.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Flow rate: 568 GPH
  • Dimensions: 8” x 3” x 5” inches

What We LoveD

Obviously, the uber quiet volume is something we absolutely love about the Siccee Syncra. This baby is so quiet you might question if it’s working or not – until you look in and see the water flowing.

It’s also much smaller than most models, which means it’s much easier to deal with, doesn’t take up space if you’re using it just a short distance from the aquarium itself, and it generally just doesn’t mess with aesthetics.

The brand is one of the most trusted in fishkeeping, which also makes it an instant winner – but since the reviewers and real-life users alike praise it – as well as our own research and experience recommending it – it’s all the easier to put in our top list.

The pump can work internally as a submersible water pump or externally as an in-line water pump, making it extremely versatile as well.

And, finally, the pump comes with a high-standard 5-year warranty, which really can’t be beat with other models.

What We Didn’t Love

There are only a couple of things we don’t adore about this model.

First, it uses suction cups instead of rubber feet. I don’t usually feel secure with this on pumps of this nature. There are ways around this that you’ll have to figure out in your given aquarium setup.

Second, it needs a gate valve for truly precise adjustments. That adds a little expense and effort, but at least it’s already easy to use and budget friendly.

Our Verdict on the Siccee Syncra 2.0 Aquarium Pump

Overall, this is the best small salt water return pump you’re going to find on the market. It’s easy to install, easy to use, very quiet, budget friendly, and comes with the best warranty in the business. You’ll just need to find better mounting options than the suction cups – at least in my personal experience.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on <<

Other Popular Models We Can Mention

While these didn’t quite make it into our tip-top list, these models are also great options and really do the trick in circumstances not listed above.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *