Fish Tank Care Guide

Fish Tank Care Guide

How to choose the best aquarium filter type for your fish tank?

The key to keeping your freshwater aquarium water clean and clear is to install a high-quality filtration system. Aquarium filters come in a variety of types – for this reason, novice aquarium hobbyists often have trouble choosing the best aquarium filter for their tank. What is the difference between a power filter and a canister filter? Does the size of the filter matter? And what about filter media? Until you learn the answers to these questions you may very well find the task of choosing a tank filter a little overwhelming. To get you started in choosing the right filter for your tank, here are a few of the basics about aquarium filtration:

Types of filtration that are used by any filters

There are three types of filtration – mechanical, chemical, and biological. Mechanical filtration is the most basic type and it involves the physical removal of solid waste particles from the tank water. This is typically accomplished using a sponge or some other type of material that traps the solid waste particles as tank water moves through the filter. Chemical filtration involves the removal of dissolved wastes and toxins from tank water and it is usually accomplished using activated carbon filter media.


The third type of filtration, biological filtration, is very different from mechanical and biological filtration. Rather than removing substances from your tank water, biological filtration involves the cultivation of a colony of beneficial bacteria in your tank. Often referred to as nitrifying bacteria, these bacteria help to facilitate the nitrogen cycle in your tank. The nitrogen cycle is the process through which solid waste and organic debris is broken down. In breaking down this waste, nitrifying bacteria produce a chemical compound called ammonia – this chemical is then broken down by the bacteria into nitrite and then into nitrate. All of these substances are toxic to fish in high concentrations so they must be removed from the tank via water changes.

When it comes to aquarium filters, there are many different options to choose from. Not all aquarium filters are created equal – different types of filter offer different types of filtration and they also use different types of filter media. The key to understanding how different types of filters work is to understand the basics about the three types of aquarium filtration that you just learned about. Below you will find a brief explanation of each of the most popular aquarium filter types.

Best aquarium filter types

Hang-On-Back/Power Filter


This type of filter hangs on the back of your aquarium (hence the name “hang-on filter”) and it typically provides both mechanical and chemical filtration. These filters are powered by an impeller which sucks aquarium water up through an intake tube, passes it through the filter media, and releases it back into the tank via a waterfall. Some power filters incorporate a BioWheel which facilitates the growth of beneficial bacteria, thus giving the filter biological filtration capability as well.

Canister Filter


A canister filter is a type of external filtration system and, as such, it can be housed in an aquarium cabinet where it won’t detract from the appearance of the tank. These filters are also powered by a motor which draws tank water through a tube, passing it through several levels of filter media, then releases it back into the tank through another tube. Canister filters are typically much more powerful than hang-on filters and they can accommodate more filter media – this makes them a popular choice for larger aquariums.

Internal Tank Filter

An in-tank filter is designed to be fully submerged in the tank and it is typically capable of providing three-stage filtration – that is, mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. These filters come in a variety of sizes but they are typically used in smaller aquariums or terrariums where using a traditional aquarium filter might be a challenge. In-tank filters can also be used as a source of supplemental filtration or to increase water movement in certain areas of the tank.

Undergravel Filter

An undergravel filter serves mainly as a biological filtration unit, though it also provides some degree of mechanical filtration. These filters consist of a plastic filter plate which you place on the bottom of your tank, under your substrate. A powerhead is then used to draw tank water down through the filter plate then releases it through and air-stone diffuser to oxygenate the water and create water movement. Because this type of filter does not provide chemical filtration and its mechanical filtration abilities are limited, undergravel filters are typically used as a supplementary source of filtration.

Sponge Filter

This type of filter is primarily used as a source of mechanical and biological filtration. Like an undergravel filter, this type of filter is run by a powerhead which draws tank water up through an intake tube which is inserted into a sponge – as tank water passes through the sponge, any solid debris is collected. Because the sponge filter collects organic debris, the sponge itself is an excellent breeding ground for beneficial bacteria. This type of filter provides gentle filtration which is good for fry tanks and hospital tanks – it can also serve as a source of supplementary filtration in very large tanks.

Wet/Dry Filter

This type of filter provides excellent biological filtration because it provides a large surface area on which beneficial bacteria can grow. These filters work by trickling tank water through a pre-filter and then it moves through some type of biological filter media where it is oxygenated before being returned to the tank. Wet/dry filters are commonly used in saltwater aquariums as part of an aquarium sump system, but they can also be used for very large freshwater tanks having a large bio-load.

Label: best-fish-tank-filter

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