The 7 Best Filtration Systems for Aquariums in 2019

Create a healthy environment for your fish to thrive

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 Overall: Marineland Penguin Power Filter at Amazon

"Has a three-stage filtration process, easy setup, and an affordable price."

Best for Freshwater: Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter at Amazon

"The result is clear, fresh water that’s free of waste and other toxins."

Best for Saltwater: Aquatic Life Reverse Osmosis System at Amazon

"Includes features like deionization and reverse osmosis for a clean tank."

Best for 20-Gallon: Whisper IQ Power Filter for Aquariums at Amazon

"Customers say it’s one of the best small, cartridge-based filters out there."

Best for 75-Gallon: Seachem Tidal Filter by Sicce 75 Gallon at Amazon

"It produces strong, consistent circulation within 75-gallon tanks."

Best Wet-Dry Filter: Eshopps WD-75CS Wet Dry Filter at Amazon

"Contains nearly everything you need to build your wet-dry rig."

Best Undergravel: Lee's 40/55 Premium Undergravel Filter at Amazon

"Helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your tank gravel."

  • 01 of 07

    Best Overall: Marineland Penguin Power Filter w/ Multi-Stage Filtration

    Marineland Penguin Power Filter w/ Multi-Stage Filtration

    Courtesy of Amazon

    A great filter doesn’t need to break the bank. For just over $25, Marineland’s Penguin Power Filter hits all the marks—and then some. It’s three-stage filtration process first removes dirt and debris, then filters out chemical impurities and biological toxins (like the dreaded ammonia). It requires little setup, making it a natural first purchase for beginner aquarists, and has a certified flow rate of 350GPH, which is appropriate for tanks up to 70 gallons in size. Cartridges are also included, with the correct type paired with your filter’s model—it’s available in four based on the size of your tank.

    Online reviewers write that the Marineland Penguin Power Filter is a superb filtration system for nearly any tank, with most mentioning that it operates quietly and effectively. Its unique BIO-Wheel gets called out for additional praise—it removes ammonia and nitrites on contact while helping grow beneficial bacteria that aids in natural filtration.

  • 02 of 07

    Best for Freshwater: Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

    Freshwater tanks aren’t quite as challenging to maintain as saltwater setups, but you’ll still want to buy a reliable filter to keep your water clean and contaminant-free. Canister filters like this one from Penn Plax provide strong mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration, and they sit outside your tank—making them easy to conceal. Its 265 GPH flow rate can be used in tanks holding up to 100 gallons, and a simple push-button primer makes setup virtually foolproof. The result is clear, fresh water that’s free of waste, excess food, ammonia, and other toxins.

    Online shoppers write that the Penn Plax Cascade filter is unbeatable in value and performance, operating quietly but offering a high degree of customization thanks to its three media baskets and rotating flow valves. While it can also be used with saltwater tanks, it’s an especially solid buy for anyone maintaining a freshwater aquarium.

  • 03 of 07

    Best for Saltwater: Aquatic Life RO Buddie Reverse Osmosis Systems

    Saltwater fish and marine life have different needs than their freshwater cousins, and improper water conditions can quickly result in a dangerous and unlivable environment. That’s why you’ll want a filter that includes features like deionization and reverse osmosis, which forces water through a membrane to remove impurities. The Aquatic Life RO Buddie combines affordability with the high-powered filtration you’ll want in a saltwater tank, with three models offering either three-stage reverse osmosis or four-stage reverse osmosis deionization (or RODI) in a single small-footprint unit.

    Customers say the Aquatic Life RO Buddie has resulted in a tank full of happy, healthy saltwater fish and coral. The reverse osmosis feature is especially useful if you’re using tap water with a high level of hardness (or dissolved calcium and magnesium), which can be a survival risk for saltwater fish. Using the filter’s reverse osmosis and deionization system, some customers have brought hardness down to zero even when using water from the kitchen tap.

  • 04 of 07

    Best for 20-Gallon: Whisper IQ Power Filter for Aquariums, With Quiet Technology

    Even if your tank is on the smaller side, you’ll still want to invest in a great filter. The Whisper IQ Power Filter is just right for 20-gallon aquariums, with an adjustable intake that telescopes up and down depending on your tank’s needs. Its StayClean filtration system is easy to maintain and keeps fish healthy, removing toxic ammonia and nitrites while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria. It’s also extra-quiet thanks to a soft barrier separating the motor from the filter.

    The Whisper IQ Power Filter starts up immediately with no priming required, and customers say it’s one of the best small, cartridge-based filters on the market. After mixed results using other filtration systems with their small tanks, shoppers have seen a fast improvement in water quality after installing the Whisper IQ.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Best for 75-Gallon: Seachem Tidal Filter by Sicce 75 Gallon

    For large, 75-gallon tanks, our pick is the Seachem Tidal Filter. It has a flow rate of 350 GPH, and a self-priming pump and self-cleaning impeller for easy maintenance. An alert feature also lets you know when your filtration setup needs to be adjusted or otherwise inspected. The filter includes an extra-deep basket to accommodate the media of your choice (it includes Matrix, a highly porous biomedia), and a powerful skimmer to keep your tank’s waterline clear.

    “Get this filter,” customers write, calling out its three-point intake for praise—it produces strong, consistent circulation within 75-gallon tanks. The media basket is also easily accessible for cleaning. The Seachem Tidal Filter hangs on the back of your tank but offers a higher degree of customization than most filtration systems with a “HOB” design.

  • 06 of 07

    Best Wet-Dry Filter: Eshopps WD-75CS Wet Dry Filter

    A wet-dry filter uses biological media that’s exposed to both your tank’s water and the air outside of it. Because it results in a high level of beneficial bacterial growth while efficiently processing waste materials, it’s especially well-suited to saltwater tanks. The Eshopps Wet-Dry Filter is an expensive buy at $285, but it’s a one-stop shop containing nearly everything you need to build your wet-dry rig. The set includes an overflow box, bio balls, filter pad, and return nozzle, along with a specialized wet-dry drip tray filter to process ammonia and nitrites.

    Customers write that the Eshopps is a top-quality wet-dry filter, with a high degree of craftsmanship even as it includes most of the essential components in one convenient package (you’ll still need a pump). While setup can be challenging for novices—not unusual for wet-dry filtration systems—it’s an overall great product, and can be used in tanks from 10 to 75 gallons in volume.

  • 07 of 07

    Best Undergravel: Lee's 40/55 Premium Undergravel Filter

    True to their name, undergravel filters are placed beneath your tank’s substrate rather than outside or on top of your tank. Lee's 40/55 Premium Undergravel Filter helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your tank’s gravel, breaking down waste materials through a natural biological process. It can also be paired with a conventional power filter for even clearer water. It includes carbon filtration cartridges, and its plates are designed using a specialized plastic that resists splitting or cracking—an important quality considering it’ll be fully submerged in your tank.

    Customers write that the Lee’s 40/55 Premium Undergravel Filter is the nicest one they’ve owned in this style, saying that the all-black design makes it blend in with their gravel for a natural, unobtrusive look. It also does a great job of keeping tanks clean, with especially stellar water quality when it’s used in tandem with a second power filter.

Our Process 

Our writers spent 8 hours researching the most popular aquarium filtration systems on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 30 different filters overall, screened options from 20 different brands and manufacturers and read over 40 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.