The 8 Best Saltwater Filters of 2019

Find a model that works best for your aquarium

Overhead view of a saltwater tank and filtration system

mtreasure / Getty Images

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Our Top Picks

Best Canister Filter: Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter at Amazon

"It provides all three forms of filtration thanks to its large-capacity media trays."

Best Skilter Filter: Skilter 250 Power Filter at Amazon

"Offers multi-stage filtration along with the benefits of a protein skimmer. "

Best Quiet Filter: Aqua Clear Power Filter at Amazon

"Has a unique waterfall design that allows it to operate almost silently."

Best for 20 Gallon Tanks: Tetra Whisper Power Filter at Amazon

"A great entry-level filtration system that works well for small tanks."

Best for 55 Gallon Tanks: Fluval C Power Filter at Amazon

"The filter clips onto your tank for easy installation."

Best for 75 Gallon Tanks: Hygger Submersible Wavemaker Pump at Amazon

"The high-powered circulation simulates natural ocean currents."

Best for Large Tanks: Hydor External Canister Filter at Amazon

"Comes in five sizes and can accommodate tanks up to 150 gallons."

Best Live Filter: Nature's Ocean Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand at Chewy

"Natural sand from the ocean containing 10 million live marine bacteria."

  • 01 of 08

    Best Canister Filter: Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

    Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

    Courtesy of Amazon

    Canister filters are among the most popular options for countless aquarists thanks to their inconspicuous appearance and overall roominess—they can generally accommodate more media than power filters. The Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter is our pick for the best canister option for saltwater tanks. It provides all three forms of filtration thanks to its large-capacity, stackable media trays, ensuring your water is clear as can be. It can be primed with the push of a button, and has a flow rate of 350 GPH, making it appropriate for aquariums up to 200 gallons in volume.

    Customers rave about the Penn Plax Cascade’s high level of customization—another benefit of its media tray system (it has five baskets, all told). It’s well-made and holds up well over time, making it an all-around great bet for saltwater tank owners looking for a canister-style filter.

  • 02 of 08

    Best Skilter Filter: Skilter 250 Power Filter

    A cross between a skimmer and a filter, the Skilter 250 Power Filter offers multi-stage filtration along with the benefits of a protein skimmer, which absorbs potentially harmful proteins and toxins by whipping them into a froth before removing them from the tank. It has a 250 GPH flow rate that will work for tanks up to 55 gallons in size and offers user-friendly, self-starting operation. The snap-together cartridge design also allows for easy replacement of the filter media.

    Customers say the Skilter 250 Power Filter both skims and filters well and is also easy to clean and maintain. While the skimmer function can be a little noisy, some customers have achieved quiet operation by making a few simple modifications to the device.

  • 03 of 08

    Best Quiet Filter: Aqua Clear Power Filter

    When you’re focusing on your tank, the last thing you want is to be distracted by a noisy, gurgling filtration system. Fortunately, there are plenty of products out that work quietly without sacrificing the power you want out of a quality filter. The Aqua Clear Power Filter provides efficient mechanical, chemical and biological filtration, but has a unique “waterfall” design that allows it to operate almost silently. With a filtration volume up to seven times larger than many competing products, it’s perfect for 40-70 gallon tanks. It also comes AquaClear Foam, Activated Carbon and BioMax and Cycle Guard, providing constant biological filtration that still preserves beneficial bacteria within your tank.

    Customers write that the Aqua Clear Power Filter is ultra-quiet but still moves plenty of water, and allows for plenty of customization with the filter media. It’s also easy to maintain—it’s not difficult to remove the pump from its housing to clean the impellers.

  • 04 of 08

    Best for 20 Gallon Tanks: Tetra Whisper Power Filter for Aquariums

    If you’re just testing the waters, so to speak, a smaller saltwater tank may be easier to maintain and keep up than a massive tank. The Tetra Whisper Power Filter is a great entry-level filtration system and works well for small tanks. This external system uses large whisper bio-bag cartridges and offers three filtration systems for your fish. The filter eliminates toxic ammonia and nitrites from your tank’s water while the flow control allows you to manage the strength of the flow to promote better feeding. Best of all, this filter is extremely economical, coming in at less than $20 a pop.

    Owners say Tetra is a brand they can trust, remarking that the Whisper Power Filter is reliable and works well to keep tanks clean and healthy. Some do note that setup can be tricky, but there are many step-by-step guides to help you through any troubleshooting.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Best for 55 Gallon Tanks: Fluval C Power Filter

    Fluval’s C Power Filter goes a few steps beyond other systems, providing five steps of filtration: two mechanical, one chemical and two biological. The result? A healthy tank that’s free of impurities, discoloration, or dangerous ammonia and nitrites. With a 264 GPH flow rate, it’s ideal for mid-sized tanks between 40 and 70 gallons. The filter clips onto your tank for easy installation, and includes a Poly-Foam pad and Bio-Screen—additions that give it the extra filtration steps that set it apart from other filters.

    Fluval customers write that this filter has demonstrated superior performance when compared to competing products, typically resulting in a crystal-clear tank. For the price, it’s considered one of the best filters in the “HOB” (hang on back) category.

  • 06 of 08

    Best for 75 Gallon Tanks: Hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead 2000GPH Fish Tank Wavemaker Circulation Pump

    If you have a tank that's on the larger side, you’re going to want a filter that can move a high volume of water and provide the power you need to maintain a healthy environment. The Hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead has a flow rate of 2000 GPH and features a pair of ball joints, which give you 360 degrees of rotation and ample opportunity to direct the water flow as needed. The high-powered circulation simulates natural ocean currents and is great for marine plants, corals and wildlife—the system can be used in tanks as large as 130 gallons.

    Customers say the Hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead provides the high flow rate they need to keep their large-tank environments healthy, and also call out the creative design that allows owners to easily direct the flow where they want it. Surprisingly, it also runs almost silently despite its powerful performance.

  • 07 of 08

    Best for Large Tanks: Hydor Professional External Canister Filter

    The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter comes in five sizes and can accommodate tanks up to 150 gallons. This canister filter provides all the filtration your tank needs from the biological, mechanical to chemical filtration. It’s an external filter and features a flow rate of 345 GPH. It’s easy to prime and offers telescopic intake tubes for extra water flow. And even though the largest filtration system can work for a 150-gallon tank, it’s so quiet it won’t disturb you at home.

    Amazon reviewers say the Hydor Professional External Canister Filter is by far one of the best filtration systems you can buy. It’s incredibly easy to set up and never leaves the job half-done. One review even notes that he’s “never seen water so clear” since setting up the Hydor system. Though it’s slightly pricier than some filters on our list, it’s well worth the cost if you have a large saltwater tank.

  • 08 of 08

    Best Live Filter: Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Saltwater Aquarium Sand

    Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Saltwater Aquarium Sand

    Courtesy of Chewy

    Live rocks and sand are excellent biological filtration systems for your saltwater tank. They’re a great alternative to a mechanical system and work well in most settings. The microscopic bacteria and microorganisms that live on the sand make it “live,” and work to consume organic matter in your tank. Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Saltwater Aquarium Sand is 100% natural sand from the ocean, containing 10 million live marine bacteria. With this sand, you can add fish the same day you set your tank up. The sand works to keep the natural organic balance while reducing waste in your saltwater tank. The live aragonite in the sand helps to maintain a proper pH balance and the sand granules measure between 0.5-1.7 mm.

    Owners say Nature’s Ocean Sand is low maintenance and doesn’t cloud up the saltwater. It can be added to an active tank, but reviewers say it’s best to do so slowly. It comes in 10, 20 and 40-pound bags—aim for roughly 1.45 pounds of sand per gallon of water in your tank.

Our Process 

Our writers spent 5 hours researching the most popular saltwater filters on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 30 different filters overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers and read over 60 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.