Setting up a good fish tank filter for your aquarium will make a great difference to the quality of life of your fish and the enjoyment you get from this great hobby. But because there are so many different types of filters to choose from, you might be wondering which is the right aquarium filter for you. In this article, I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular filter types that you can choose for your fish tank.

Firstly, you should acquire some knowledge about 3 types of filtration system to easily know the mechanism behind each filter types. You can skip this step by click the links in the table of content below.

3 types of filtration system and filter materials

There are 3 types of aquarium filtration that respectively use 3 types of filter materials to do their work. They are mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.

  • The key function of a mechanical filtration is to trap solid wastes that allows manual removal of the collected matter.
  • The biological filtration is to trap ammonia and nitrite that can cause harmful for your fish and invertebrates
  • And chemical filtration trap some organic chemical compounds such as phosphate and nitrate that are well-known to contribute to the outgrow of algae.

Each of them has respective mechanism but they usually work together to really purify the aquarium water (mechanical filtration reducing the load on biological filtration, chemical filtration dealing with what was left after biological filtration).

A good filter usually provide the best place for all 3 types of filtration properly work together. Let’s see the picture below to understand how these filtration systems work in a canister filter.


Best types of aquarium filter for your fish tank

1. Canister filter (most common)

Canister filters (the picture above) are the best and the most common filters for the larger tanks. These filters are much more durable and powerful than power filters. The filters are recommended for tanks that use freshwater or saltwater and are used for larger aquariums over 30 gallons.


  • Canister filters are usually installed at the outside of the aquarium where they provide the very efficient filtration which include mechanical, chemical, and biological components.
  • Their main advantage is that is carries greater quantity of filtering materials which means ease in maintenance due to its greater flexibility when in comes to its integrated filtering material.
  • They need very little maintenance and does an excellent job at keeping your fish tank water clear and clean.
  • They are the ideal fish tank filter for busy people who just cannot find the time to clean their fish tanks.


  • They are expensive so you should consider a Canister Filter if you have a large fish tank.
  • They are much larger than other filters so they need more space to place.

The best canister filter for 30 gallon aquarium. The filter also come with the ones for larger tanks, up to 150 gallon.

2. HOB Power filter (very popular)

Hang on Back Power Filter is the very favorite filter because of its being powerful and low to medium price. As canister filter, HOB power filter is also the most common filter in aquarium hobbyists. Besides, the advantage of using this filter is that it clears up cloudy water pretty quick and only needs a weekly or fortnightly cleaning.


The filter sits in a box that is hung at the side of the fish tank and does all its filtration outside the tank. Water is suck through a tube which travels through a series of filter medias inside the box that performs biological, mechanical and chemical filtration before it flows into a through that spills back the clean water from the top.

3. Internal filter or underwater filter

Internal filters (underwater filter) are those that are installed within the aquarium.  These filters like miniature vesions of canister filters, however, because they are placed and work inside the aquariums the filters are limited in their sizes. Internal filters can contain all three filtration types within their bodies; and because their sizes are smaller than canister filters, the filters only contain smaller amount of filter medias. Therefore, internal filters can only fit for small to medium tank sizes.


The best internal filter for 10 gallon aquarium, you can also choose the larger filters for your larger aquarium by the product below.

Corner filter, sponge filter and undergravel filter are also the internal filters. Let’s see these filter below.

4. Corner aquarium filters


This is a smaller plastic box filter which sits on the bottom of the fish tank, above the gravel in a corner of the fish tank. The box contains layers of floss and charcoal through which water is suck through and filtered before exiting from the top. The advantage of the Corner Filter is that it is dirt cheap. However, they are not very efficient and would not be able to keep the water clear for long. And the floss and charcoals needs to be clean frequently. I only recommend it for small fish tank such as 5 gallon aquarium and fish bowl.

5. Sponge filter

Water is filtered through a couple of layers of sponge. While it is slightly better than a Corner Filter and just as cheap, it isn’t too very efficient and needs frequent cleaning. The advantage is that it does not stir up the water too hard and is ideal for small tanks, fry tanks and quarantine tanks.

aquarium-sponge-filter -1

6. Under gravel filter

Under gravel filter (UGF) is a good low budget filter which does not generate too strong currents in your tank. It includes an additional pump for sucking the water through the gravel. Dirty water is forced to flow down the tank through the gravel where it is trapped in the empty space beneath the filter’s plastic grate. Once the undergravel fish tank filter is allowed to function for a while, it does quite a good job in maintaining the clarity of the water.


The UGF is provided only as a biological filter and functions best in fresh water tanks. Water is forced down toward the bottom of the tank through the substrate. Gravel is usually placed on the bottom of the tank to assist with the filtration process. Good bacteria collect amongst the gravel to help break down particles and debris during this process. Debris that gets stuck in the gravel can slow down the filtration process.

This type of system can be very difficult to clean. To reduce the possibility of clogging, you can attach a sponge to the water intake. The sponge will provide you with a mechanical filtration (a process to remove debris by passing it through some type of medium, such as a sponge), which is needed before it passes under the gravel. One more way of preventing clogs is to use a reverse flow UGF. This is where you would place a power head in the tank to force the water up through the gravel helping to prevent clogs. This system shouldn’t be used if you have large gravel or fast currents.


Choosing the best aquarium filter types for your fish tank is the very important work that decide the success of aquarium hobbyists. The absence of an filter or the presence of a poorly performing aquarium filter is the main cause of the poor water quality in the aquarium.

The best way to keep a clean tank is to start out with getting the best filter. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can run into many headaches from having to frequently clean your aquarium. To avoid this stress, it is best to do as much research as you can and ask questions of other fish owners especially if you are a beginner. It can save you much time and money down the road.