Which Fish Tank Filter Is the Best

A fish tank is an amazing addition to your home, but they can produce waste material in the water for all to see. If you want to keep your aquarium crystal clear, keep your fish healthy and long lived, you will need to maintain excellent water quality. To do that, you need the best aquarium filters for the job. In this article we will cover the different types of aquarium filters and the best options for your tank.

The best fish tank filtration includes mechanical, biological and supplemental chemical filters. The mechanical filter should be capable of processing all of your water 4 or more times per hour. Biological filtration includes live plants and good bacteria, which are essential to support the nitrogen cycle and break down naturally occurring waste by products and pathogens. Use of chemical filtration should be used as a supplementary approach to removing toxic impurities like high ammonia, medicines and tannins only as needed.

Size does matter so buy filters that do more and not less.  Filters are rated based on their flow rate or how many gallons they can process per hour. The flow rate is measured in GPH which stands for “Gallons Per Hour”. GPH is the measurement of how much water the motor is able to push through the filter media in one hour. Remember bigger is better when you are choosing the best aquarium filter.

Filtering all of your water at a minimum of 4 or more times per hour is key to your aquarium success. So, if you have a 10-gallon tank then you want a filter that can process 40 gallons per hour or more.

There are three types of filtrations. They are mechanical, biological and chemical.

Mechanical filtration removes particulate matter from the water. Your refrigerator filter is a good example of a mechanical filter. Mechanical filters strain out debris from the water. Mechanical filtration requires you to change the filter when it is full or can no physically strain out debris from the water.

 Biological filtration harnesses the nitrogen cycle to balance natures approach to healthy water. Uses beneficial bacteria and live plants to consume toxic ammonia and increasing nitrogen compounds due to fish waste materials. Most of the beneficial bacteria grown on surfaces in your aquarium so many filters are designed to encourage this growth by adding bio-rings, or bio-media with lots of surface area for the good bacteria to grow.

Chemical filtration removes water impurities and can address the rapid onset of unhealthy water conditions. Use of filter resins, zeolite stone or activated carbon are highly effective in removing high ammonia levels, medications, tannins from wooden decorations and other impurities. Once the toxins have been removed from the aquarium or the media is saturated it should be removed or replaced.

Take away: mechanical filtration makes your water sparkling clear, biological filtration makes your aquarium a safe place to live and chemical filtration is temporarily used as needed when impurities cannot be removed by other means. There are many different engineering approaches used for filter designs that include one or a combination of the three types of filtrations. Again, the best approach for a successful aquarium is to use mechanical and biological filtration all the time and chemical filtration only when there is a serious water quality issue that cannot be resolved by other means. Under the three types of filtrations this can be done in many ways. See the reference chart below.

Here is the best of the best mechanical, biological and chemical filters on the market today.

Mechanical: The most popular types of mechanical filters are sponge filters, Hang-On-Back (aka HOB) filters, external canister filters, internal submersible filters and under gravel filters.

The Best Sponge Filter Reviews 2022

A sponge filter is the most cost-effective filter on the market. It sits inside the fish tank connected to air pump tubing. The air pump pushes air through the tubing inside the sponge. As air rises through the top of the sponge it draws water from the tank through the sponge walls. The suction is steady and gentle enough to prevent any fish, shrimp or snails from being inescapably caught. Sponge filters also provide an amazing surface area for good bacteria to grow A sponge filter can be used by itself or in conjunction with other filtration systems and is often used as a prefilter for HOB filters. A sponge filter has few if any moving parts, so it is very reliable making it the most popular choice in fish stores and breeding facilities around the world.

See our top sponge filter recommendations below:

  1. Uxcell Aquarium Fish Tank Biochemical Sponge Filter

This popular sponge filter is highly flexible as it can be used as a standard filter or for biochemical tank treatment. The sponge is made of top-notch material and is ideal for a medium to large tank.

Excellent quality with weighted bottomNot recommended for smaller tanks
Good water flow clears tank quicklyGenerates a lot of bubbles
Flexible functionality includes biochemicalVery large making it a challenge to hide
  1. Aquaneat Aquarium Sponge Filter

The perfect sponge filter for smaller fish tanks. Aquaneat is a highly reputable company that is well established as a trusted name around the world. This is an easy to set up sponge filter generating a moderate water flow with whisper quiet micro bubbles. The Aquaneat aquarium sponge filter is priced a little higher but is well worth the money. Made with the best and safest materials, you can expect it to function for a very long time. With tank water in a bowl, cleaning is a snap every 2 to 4 weeks on average.  Sponge filter replacement averages every 4 to 6 months.

Excellent quality suited for smaller tanksCostly when compared to similar products
Easy installation and maintenanceVery large making it a challenge to hide
Flexible functionalityNot weighted

The Best Hang on Back (HOB) Filter Reviews 2022

Hang on Back filters, also known as HOB filters, sit on the top back edge of the fish tank. The intake tube hangs in the water and the motor sucks water into a holding reservoir where water is pushed through filter media and then back into the fish tank. Most HOB filters allow you to customize the combination of filter media to include all three types of filtrations. HOB filters are among the easiest to maintain because the equipment placement above the fish tank water line allows easy access to the housing and motor for cleaning and quick media cleaning and replacement.

See our top HOB filter recommendations below:

  1. MarineLand Penguin HOB Filter

The MarineLand Penguin is one of the most powerful HOB filters on the market and one of the easiest to use and maintain. Penguin models are available in 5 sizes ranging from 75 GPH up to 350 GPH. The Penguin 350 is rated for 50 to 75 gallon tanks and boasts excellent wet/dry biological filtration through their patented rotating bio-wheel. The housing is solidly built to reduce vibration and noise that we have seen in many other comparable units.

3 stage biological, mechanical and chemical filtrations keep water sparkling cleanHigh flow rate means monthly filter replacement
Easy installation and maintenance 
Quality motor and housing design 
Easy to adjust intake strainer 
  1. AquaClear Power Aquarium Filter

The AquaClear Power filter has one of the most flexible media baskets on the market. The filtration volume is 7 times larger than comparable products. Its adjustable flow rate can be reduced by 50% allowing for increased filter passing and media contact time for more thorough purification before re-entering the tank water. Never replace all filters at the same time to preserve beneficial bacteria. The carbon filter should be replaced monthly. The sponge filter should be replaced every two months and ceramic biofiltration should be changed every three months. AquaClear Power models come in 5 sizes to include 5-20 gallons, 10-30 gallons, 20-50 gallons, 40-70 gallons and 60-110 gallons.

One of the quietest HOB filters on the marketMore frequent media changes are costly
Easy installation and is energy efficient 
The largest HOB media basket available 

The Best External Canister Filter Reviews 2024

Canister filters sit outside of the aquarium with intake and output hoses that reach into the aquarium. The canister uses a powerful motor to move water from your tank into the canister and through several layers of filter media before returning the clean water to your fish tank.

Canisters offer highly customizable filter media combinations and some models include tailored options like built in ultra-violet sterilization, inline heating and automatic priming.  Canister filters are very quiet considering the volume of water they process and offer safety water hose cut off features for maintenance. 

Because the filter media lives in the canister there is a greater risk of bacterial suffocation in the event of a power outage. To reduce your risk, we recommend using a battery backup system to keep your canister filter online during those emergencies. Canister filters are the best stand-a-lone solution for maintaining aquariums with high bio-loads. As the ultimate option on the market today for maintaining pristine clean water be prepared to spend the extra money and time it takes to own this premium solution.

Our evaluation of many canister filtration systems have led to our great respect for the Fluval FX series of canister filters. Our recommendations are listed below. For more helpful information please see the Fluval FX canister overview HERE.

See our top canister filter recommendations below:

  1. Fluval FX6 Canister Aquarium Filter

This is the best canister filter we have reviewed for 200+ gallon fish tanks. The FX6 handles 925 gallons per hour without straining. Its powerful motor will not overheat and operates almost without noise. The canister is filled with automated features like a built-in maintenance alert and will shut down every two hours to clear any bubbles from the canister and hoses then restart.

The Fluval FX6 has enhanced energy efficiency that rivals most competitors. If you need extremely clean water that can easily keep up with a high bio-load aquarium and are looking for the best of the best the FX6 is king.

Reliable and powerful motorAverages monthly filter replacement
Easy installation and maintenanceLarge and heavy
Quiet operation despite 11.5-liter sizeExpensive (but worth it)
Automated features to include monthly maintenance reminders 
The best canister filter for 100 to 400 gallons 
Auto priming self-starting filtration 
Enhanced energy efficiency 
Solid overall construction 
Fresh water and salt water compatible 
  1. MarineLand Magniflow Canister Aquarium Filter

This is the best canister filter we have reviewed for tanks up to 100 gallons. The Magniflow is measurably the quietest canister filter for its size on the market and is very easy to setup out of the box. The Magniflow is self-priming and is engineered with 3 stage filtration Stack n Flo media trays which provide excellent mechanical, biological and chemical filtration. To top it off, MarineLand is highly reputable and has excellent customer service.

Perfect Home Aquarium recommends filtering all of the water in you tank a minimum of 4 times per hour to keep your aquarium crystal clear and to maintain the needed nutrient balance and oxygen to your essential aquarium bacteria. In keeping with our recommendation, we suggest the maximum tank size for this filter is 80 gallons, which is 20 gallons lower than the MarineLand stated maximum capacity. The Magniflow has a maximum flow rate of 360 gallons per hour which calculates to a maximum of size of 80 gallons this filter can turn over 4 times in an hour.   

The Magnaflow has been engineered with convenient maintenance features like the quick release valve block and quick prime button. The prime function works best if the canister is below the aquarium. The filter even has a carry handle to move the canister for routine maintenance. Overall, this is an excellent multi-stage canister at an affordable price.

3 stage biological, mechanical and chemical filtrations keep water crystal clearAutomated air removal from canister is a little noisy
Easy installation and maintenance 
Amazingly quiet 
Low cost and a great product 
Fresh water and salt water compatible 
  1. Fluval G3 Advanced Filtration System

The Fluval G3 is by far the best overall canister filter for tanks up to 80 gallons. The Fluval G3 is incredibly well made and has the most advanced features we have seen on the market. It is very easy to set up, taking only minutes to connect, plug in, prime and start.

No calibration is required upon start up as the metered titanium probe automatically determines whether the water is fresh or salt water and automatically adapts the readings to display salinity levels for saltwater tanks and conductivity for fresh water tanks.

Conductivity measures the resistance between two electrically charged metal probes. Less resistance means greater water clarity and more resistance means more particles are suspended in the water (measured in Parts Per Million or PPM) which indicates a water change is needed. The conductivity monitoring system is also used to protect the system against abnormal operation conditions, such as the absence of water within the filter.

The G3 LCD display records historical and current data on flow rate, temperature, conductivity and alerts you when conditions fall outside optimal parameters. The Hydrotech Performance Monitor system provides a measurable feedback system to let you know when the mechanical, chemical and biological media needs to be cleaned or replaced. The alert system will alarm if the impeller has been jammed or if air is detected in the filter. Maintenance on the Fluval G3 is the easiest canister to change the mechanical and chemical media on the market today. Simply lift the metal Aquastop lever on the top of the canister, then unlock and remove for cleaning or replacement. This can be done while the filter is running but the manufacturer recommends turning the unit off. The G3 is clean, quiet and dry and maintenance takes an average of 5 minutes. Once restarted the system automatically purges out any air in the filter.

Attractive appearance and high-tech designExpensive
Easy installation and maintenanceAlarms are quiet with no volume control
Amazingly quiet 
Built-in monitoring system 
Fresh water and salt water compatible 

The Best Internal Submersible Filter Reviews 2024

Internal filters must be completely submerged to operate correctly. Internal filters are ideal for smaller fish tanks up to 20 gallons and are also excellent supplemental filters for large tanks with water flow dead spots. They can also be used to help with additional filtering due to a higher bio-load. Internal filters are typically affixed with suction cups to the tank walls or placed on the bottom of the tank. These filters provide excellent filtration, are fairly inexpensive, silent and is easy to install and maintain. Internal filters are a popular choice for breeders and home aquarist alike so there are a lot of options to choose from on the market. Perfect Home Aquarium has evaluated many of these options and only a few have bubbled up to the top of the list of best overall options.

See out top underwater filter recommendations below.

  1. Fluval Underwater Filter

The Fluval U (for underwater) series filter is easily the best product of its kind on the market. The U series will support tank sizes from 15-gallons to 65-gallon fish tanks and the flow rate and direction is adjustable.

The filter can be positioned horizontally for small shallow tanks or larger tanks with low water levels which make it an ideal choice for a reptile pools, amphibian habitats and turtle tanks. The Fluval U series filter is a little more expensive but the established technology, design, reliability and durability is unmatched throughout the industry.

The 3-stage filtration includes a BioMax ring, carbon scrub pad and foam for added clarity. Fluval underwater filters support flexible filtration combinations and are ideal for use in fresh water or saltwater tanks. The impeller is easily removed from the main body for easy maintenance. Most underwater filters leak dirty water back into the tank during media changes. Fluval designed the U series with a flip top opening lid for easy access to the filter media and a capture area in the bottom of the filter for dirty water to gather to minimize the dirty water leakage into your tank during media changes.

3 stage biological, mechanical and chemical filtrations can accommodate other media typesMore expensive than similar sized filters on the market
Flexible filter positioning 
Top opening lid simplifies maintenance 
Adjustable flow rate 
Fresh water and salt water compatable 
  1. Penn-Plax Cascade 600 Submersible Aquarium Filter

The fully submersible Cascade 600 filters 175 gallons per hour and provides mechanical, chemical and biological filtration for fish tanks 20 to 50 gallons in size. The large internal filter cup accommodates custom filtration options. The Cascade 600 filter design is relatively simple offering a long-standing reputation for reliable operation. The filter utilizes an activated carbon cartridge to remove chemicals, toxins, odors and contaminants and an internal sponge filter for beneficial aerobic bacteria growth.

The pump head is adjustable with directional water flow and spray bar allows you to distribute water while aerating your tank. The Cascade 600 can operate horizontally and supports all life stages at an affordable price.

Great price for smaller tanksShort power cord
Easy setup 
Convenient, easy maintenance 
Large filter cup accommodates custom filter media combinations 

The Under Gravel Filter Reviews 2024

Under gravel filtration circulate water and oxygen through the gravel bed and expand the surface area of your substrate for aerobic (oxygen dependent) good bacteria to thrive. Aerobic bacteria colonies do an excellent job of converting waste products from fish, producing nitrates as their end product. Without an under-gravel filter, oxygen cannot get to areas of your substrate below the surface. Beneficial aerobic will colonize on nearly any solid surface as long as they have oxygenated water around them and food to eat. Under gravel filters typically sit on the bottom of your tank in the form of a plate with small holes that are large enough for water to flow through but small enough the keep the gravel out. There are usually one or two tubes connected to the plate that are called uplift tubes. The uplift tubes draw water through the gravel bed and up the tubes through a water pump (aka powerhead) or an air tube that uses air from the diffuser stone that pulls water through the gravel bed as the bubbles rise to the top of the tube (see diagram below).

See our top recommended under gravel filters below:

  1. Lee’s Premium UG Filter

The Lee’s Premium UG Filter comes in 10 sizes for aquariums ranging from 1 to 135 gallons. This exceptionally well-made filter features a thick multi-plate construction with a zigzag perforation line design to maximize the surface area for filtration water flow.

The large plate design ensures maximum surface area is covered in your tank and structural design makes it the preferred choice for larger tanks with heavier substrate, rocks and decorations. The Lee’s Premium UG filter is designed to work with both powerhead and the air pump and tubing setup. This underground filter is a bit more expensive than comparable products but is well worth the price.

Excellent quality productMore expensive
Easy setup and maintenance 
Incredibly strong plates 
Larger plate size means fewer needed to fill the size of the aquarium 
  1. Penn Plax Premium Under Gravel Filter

The Penn Plax under gravel filter comes in 7 sizes for aquariums as small as 10 gallon up to 135 gallons. Under gravel filters are save to use in both fresh and saltwater tanks and is a must have filtration system to supplement other mechanical power filters. This filtration solution includes 2 carbon filter cartridges and works with air pump and tubing setup.  The Penn Plax filter is a reliable workhorse that will keep your tank clean and clear with minimal cost and maintenance.

Good quality productCost effective
Easy setup and maintenance 
Includes 2 carbon filters 

Biological: Using bacteria to purify your water is the most natural and healthy way to remove toxic substances from your aquarium.  Good bacteria are an essential part of the biological filtration system and will grow on most surfaces but is not found floating in the water itself.

In an established tank, mature bacteria colonies quickly adjust to occasional ammonia spikes often before you have time to test for it. In new tanks, the time the ammonia takes to be converted by bacteria depends on the amount of fish load and bacteria you start with.

As the ammonia-eating bacteria consume ammonia, they give off nitrite. Other bacteria consume the nitrite for energy. These bacteria are slower to reproduce, and prefer environments in which the ammonia levels are zero.

The more surface area you have for bacteria to grow the greater its ability to process harmful toxins and waste products. Biological media is engineered to provide the greatest surface area possible for good bacteria to grow and quickly establish your biological filter.

Biological media contains bacterial colonies that must consume ammonia, nitrites and nitrates to survive. There are many popular types of bio-media engineered to have the greatest surface area possible for good bacteria to grow and thrive.

Live plants are another excellent biological filter that increase oxygen, reduce algae and can absorb ammonia, heavy metals, fish waste and other toxins.

We have evaluated the best and most popular bio-media products on the market and have provided our review below. Look at the best live plants for starter aquariums below as well.

The Best Biological Media Reviews 2024

Biological media must be submerged in the salt or fresh water to grow beneficial bacteria. Bio-media is the most popular type of natural filtration on the market with engineered products designed with small porous holes to maximize the available surface area for beneficial aerobic and anerobic bacteria to grow.

See our top biological media filter recommendations below.

  1. Boxtech Ceramic Biological Filter Media

The Boxtech aquarium filter media provides a master crafted ceramic bio filter engineered with 10 times the surface area for its size. This stable formed perfectly sphered pore structure will not disintegrate, clog or alter water chemistry.

This top performing ceramic product is incredibly strong, formed at more than 1300-degree temperatures and is designed for salt or freshwater tanks. It’s perfectly formed pore structure allows for uniformly even water flow through the media. In other words, it allows for a lot of water to flow through what looks a block of ceramic. A single pack includes 2 blocks with an average life expectancy of 5 years or longer.

Large surface area (3.5X3.5X0.4)Expensive
The most effective bio filter for its density 
Incredibly strong and will not break down 
Dense pore volume for high bacteria growth 
Fresh water and salt water compatable 
Works better than spere-shaped filters 
  1. Fluval BIOMAX Bio Rings

The Fluval BIOMAX Bio Rings provides superior beneficial bacterial growth due to its complex porous design. This design has more capacity than most comparable media we have looked at and are ideally sized for water flow even after growth population density has been maximized. The BIOMAX Bio Rings do not interfere with water chemistry, change delicate PH water balance or hardness and is designed for fresh and saltwater tanks.

A good price for an excellent productWorks best in larger media reservoirs
Highly porous and long lastingTakes up a lot of space
Easily removableHeavy
  1. OUFISH Aquarium Bio Balls

The OUFISH bio balls are highly effective bacteria colony producers. This product includes 6 species of filter media per package and your choice of a white or black mesh bag. These cooperatively working bio balls maintain a stable aquarium environment and is compatible with all tank types. The OUFISH bio balls rarely need replacement and work well in both fresh and saltwater tanks.

Includes a mesh bagMedia needs to be rinsed before using
Combination of 6 different media types 
Very easy to use 

The Best Biological Filtration (Live Plants) in 2024

Live plants are a great way to balance your growing aquarium ecosystem and enhance your tanks biological filtration design. This balance comes from the many benefits unique to live plants. Here are the benefits live plants can provide your aquarium:

  • Converts carbon dioxide into aerating oxygen for your fish
  • Live plants absorb nitrates and bio-chemical waste products which improves water quality
  • Provides shelter for fish and mimics their natural habitat
  • Helps to conceal aquarium equipment

Aquarium plants can be divided into three different categories based on their placement in the tank.

  • Foreground plants
  • Mid-ground plants
  • Background plants

Foreground plants are grown near the front of the tank, are generally shorter plant species and grow fairly slowly. Mid-ground plants are grown along the outer edges or middle of the tank and are taller than foreground plants. Background plants are grown in the back of the tank, are taller plant species that create a natural backdrop for your tank, hide aquarium equipment and places for your fish to hide.

For successful live plants to thrive in your aquarium you need three things:

  1. An aquarium light that provides the spectrum of light needed to grow thriving plants.
  2. A complete substrate designed specifically for live planted aquariums
  3. Supplemental plant food designed for aquarium

Live plants need light as an essential source of energy. Light allows plants to complete the process of photosynthesis where they convert carbon dioxide into energy and oxygen for your aquarium. In addition to 8 to 10 hours of light per day.

Some aquarium plants need nutrients delivered to their root system through the substrate they are planted in. Using a complete substrate like CaribSea Eco-Complete or ADA Aqua Soil, which are designed to deliver essential nutrients for successful growth of live aquarium plants, can be used without any other types of bottom layer. These substrates proved nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus as well as micronutrients like boron, iron and manganese to the root system of the plants.

If you use gravel or sand substrates you will likely need to add fertilizer to the substrate under and around the plants to ensure the live plants get the nutrients they need and using a complete substrate is a great way to do that.

Some aquarium plants are column feeders, which means they receive most of their needed nutrients from your tank water. These plants can be planted in a substrate that is devoid of nutrients and thrive with light and liquid plant food you add to the water.

See our top recommended plants to enhance your biological filtration:

Foreground Plants

  • Java moss

Java Moss is the most popular aquarium moss used by aquarists. Known by its deep green color and thin fronds. Aquarium moss is extremely hardy and will survive in a wide range of aquarium parameters. Java Moss is typically used to wrap aquascaping rocks or aquarium driftwood.

  • Dwarf baby tears

Hemianthus Callitrichoides aka Dwarf Baby Tears is one of the smallest aquatic plants available and just the right flora for creating that lush foreground.  This plant can grow submerged or emersed, is small with tiny roots and can sometimes be difficult to keep planted into the substrate.  A dry start can help to anchoring the substrate before flooding the tank.

  • African water fern

The African Water Fern is a popular variant of Bolbitis which originates from the tropics of West Africa. It is a slow grower does best when attached to rock, wood or sitting on top of substrate. This plant can be grown emersed or submerged. It multiplies by growing new leaves from the rhizome and can be propagated by splitting the rhizome. Burying the rhizome will cause the plant to die. Bolbitis prefer to be placed in areas of an aquarium that experience higher flow rates.

  • Water wisteria

Wisteria is a popular stem plant that is extremely easy to care for and a good fit for beginners. Stems can easily be cut and replanted for propagation and can grow very tall but with frequent pruning, the plant can stay compact and low growing.

Mid-ground Plants

  • Anubias nana

Anubias Nana is one of the most popular aquatic plants in the hobby. If you’re new to planted tanks and want to try growing for the first time, this is a good one to start with. It’s a hardy plant to grow and can survive a wide range of water parameters to include aquariums and terrariums either submerged or emersed.

Since its a slow grower, the leaves are susceptible to algae growth if placed under high lighting. Anubias Nana is a flowering plant that grows best when the rhizome is attached to a hard surface such as wood or stones. They have low to medium light requirements and can benefit from regular fertilization.

  • Green skeleton King / Green achiles

Green Achilles is an easy plant, perfect for beginners.  It can be grown submerged or immersed. The plant is very slow growing, with new leaves sprouting from long, thin rhizomes.  It can be propagated by cutting the rhizome and attached to driftwood and rocks using super glue gel or thread. If planted in substrate, be careful to not cover the rhizome as this will cause it to melt and rot.

  • Java fern / Thor’s Hammer

Java fern Thor is an extremely rare variant of your typical Java Fern originating from Poland. They can grow in low light conditions and a wide range of water. The plant can be attached directly onto driftwood, rocks or any aquarium decoration using thread or glue. Propagation is easy and straightforward; simply cut or pull apart rhizomes to be replanted. Make sure to keep the rhizomes above your substrate or the plant can begin to rot.

  • Ludwigia arcuate

The needle leaf ludwigia have thin, pointed leaves that grow in opposite pairs along the whole length of the stem. If pruned frequently, this plant will branch out and provide a bushy filler for the mid- or background of your tank. Needle leaf is a versatile plant, but to get the desirable bright red color, you must provide high lighting and nutrient levels. High iron soil content will bring out more red tones in the plant.

CO2 injection is not required for the cultivation of this plant but can help it grow more robustly. The plant can be grown submersed or emersed. Propagation can be achieved by taking cuttings from the main stem of the plant that are replanted into the substrate.

Background Plants

  • Mayaca fluviatilis

Mayaca Fluviatilis is great for beginners because it is hardy and easy to maintain. It does prefer a nutrient-rich environment and clean water. Mayaca requires moderate light and a nutrient-rich environment, or the lower parts of the stems can start to turn yellow and die off. Mayaca can be grown submersed or emersed.  Propagation is simple, like any other stem plant, simply cut and replace the trimmings.

  • Najas indica / Guppy grass

Najas is one of the easiest aquarium plants to grow and can be left floating or grown like a stem plant by burying the stems into your substrate. Najas is a favorite among breeders who are looking to provide their fry with ample hiding places. It can survive in a wide range of conditions making it perfect for beginners who are trying out live plants for the first time.

  • Amazon sword / Echinodorus bleheri

Amazon sword plants are among the most popular background plants among aquarists. These plants have short stems that grow in a rosette, bearing long and ovoid leaves with a pointed tip. Their large leaves can easily restrict light to other plants if they are not pruned regularly.

These plants propagate through side shoots off of their leaves, which can be trimmed and replanted into the substrate. To control the size of your Amazon sword plant you can remove the side shoots and older leaves.

With a nutrient rich substrate these plants will tolerate most lighting conditions, but moderate to high lighting is ideal. Amazon sword plants will grow submersed or emersed and require nutrient-dense soil to thrive as they are heavy root feeders. Emersed plants produce lovely white flowers.

  • Pogostemon stellatus / Euseralis stellate

Pogostemon Stellatus  is a beautiful plant perennial plant that can display a wide array of different colors ranging from green to red to pink if high lighting and nutrient levels are provided.  This is an easy plant to keep that adds movement and dimension to the aquarium.

If pruned frequently, this plant will branch out and provide a bushy filler for the mid- or background of your tank.  The plant can be grown submersed or emersed. Propagation can be achieved by taking cuttings from the main stem of the plant that are replanted into the substrate.

The Best Aquarium Chemical Filters in 2024

The chemical method of filtration removes harmful toxins and dissolved particulates from the aquarium via activated carbons, resins, and other adsorbents. Chemical filtration should be used when conventional means cannot remove unwanted dissolved matter.

The nitrogen cycle naturally creates unwanted chemicals from fish waste and uneaten foods such as ammonia and nitrates. Well-equipped mechanical and biological filtration will remove ammonia and convert nitrates to harmless nitrites. Chemical filtration can also remove other deadly pollutants as well as those that cause water discoloration and bad smelling water such as:

  • Tannins from driftwood
  • Medication used to treat sick fish
  • Compounds such as sulfur, manganese, and sodium chloride (salt)
  • Heavy metals such as lead, iron, copper and mercury

Water conditioners are an extension of chemical filters. They don’t provide any “filtration” but can treat your aquarium water pollutants and chemically change them to a harmless substance.

Some chemical filters may be used all the time but Perfect Home Aquarium does not recommend this general course of action.

For example, Zeolite is an excellent chemical filter that is highly effective at removing ammonia. Using this filter all the time would starve and kill your essential beneficial bacteria who eat ammonia as quickly as it is produced. An appropriate use of Zeolite would be to resolve dangerously high ammonia levels which is deadly to your fish. Once the root cause of the abnormal ammonia spike is resolved then remove the zeolite.

The best course of action is to use chemical filters only as needed when standard mechanical and biological filtration isn’t doing the job.

See our top recommended chemical filters below:

  1. Boyd Enterprises Chemipure Elite

Chemipure has a longstanding reputation as one of the best all in one filter media products in the aquarium marketplace. With over 50 years providing superior aquarium filter media Chemipure Elite is the reliable workhorse that creates and maintains crystal clear water.

It removes silicates, odors and color-causing dissolved organic molecules, toxins, medications, phenols, and dissolved metals. The Chemipure Elite includes Granular Ferric Oxide that also removes phosphates which controls algae. This is simply one of the best aquarium filter media products on the market making it a must have solution for your perfect home aquarium.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanks and highly stableActivated carbon absorbs plant fertilizers, nutrients and trace elements
Compatible with most other filters 
Ideal media pore size for absorbing nitrogenous wastes and dissolved organics 
  1. Fluval Carbon Filter Media

Fluval carbon media absorbs dissolved contaminants such as chlorine, chloramine, pesticides, fish medicines and tannins (which discolor water), phenols (which cause smelly water) and timely filter replacement will keep water crystal clear.

One box includes 3 nylon bags and 100 grams of premium bituminous carbon. This is an exceptional product with low ash content and highly porous media. You will not be disappointed with this superior chemical filter.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksActivated carbon absorbs plant fertilizers, nutrients and trace elements
Compatible with most other filters 
Highly porous lab grade, ultra-absorbent media with large surface area 
  1. MarineLand Diamond Media Premium Activated Carbon

The MarineLand Diamond Media Premium Activated Carbon product is an excellent product, reasonably priced and is easily the best product on the market in comparison to similar media. The media comes in the form of tiny pebbles with a slightly larger media pore size in comparison to many other products on the market. Granular activated carbon is made from coconut shell or coal and is the best choice for water purification

 The upside to the granular form is its ability to rapidly clear cloudy water and remove foul smells from your aquarium. The downside is the media is rapidly expended. As the saying goes, the candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.

MarineLand also provides a powdered form of this media which provides an even more rapid absorption rate and plays an essential role in clearing dissolved solids of large molecule size. Powdered activated carbon is made from wood and is the best choice for discolored water.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksActivated carbon absorbs plant fertilizers, nutrients and trace elements
Compatible with most other filtersDoes not come with a media filter bag
Works very quickly and reliablyRapid absorption = more frequent replacement
Best pick for those on a budget 
  1. Seachem Zeolite

Seachem Zeolite is a mineral that clears your aquarium of ammonia and heavy metals. Not all zeolite can be used in both salt and fresh water but the Seachem Zeolite marine and freshwater binding agent is effective in both and does not deplete calcium in saltwater or increase water hardness in freshwater aquariums. 

When dangerously high ammonia spikes threaten the life in your aquarium Seachem Zeolite will bring levels to zero in 24 to 48 hours. After which time the media should be replaced with standard filtration such as granular activated carbon to restore the natural nitrogen cycle process. This is one of the best zeolite products on the market with very reliable results. It is a lifesaver when you need it and a must have item to have in your inventory.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksMedia is not reusable and must be discarded after use
Highly effective at removing ammonia and heavy metalsDoes not come with a media filter bag
Works very quickly and reliablyLong term use will deplete nitrogen cycle produced ammonia needed to feed healthy bacteria
Best pick for those on a budget 
  1. Kolar Labs Granular Ferric Oxide Bayoxide E33

Granular Ferric Oxide or GFO is an easy solution to significantly reduce algae growth in your tank. Algae need phosphate as a food source to thrive and grow and GFO removes the phosphates from the water essentially starving the algae and preventing any outbreaks from getting out of hand.

Kolar Labs GFO is long lasting, slow to break down with a large porous granular surface area and will not cloud the tank water if rinsed properly before use. Simply add to a filter sock, filter cartridge for use when phosphate levels test above 0.05 ppm.

Our comparative analysis and review of GFO products have found the Kolar Labs GFO Bayoxide E33 filters phosphates from aquarium water more quickly and effectively than standard absorption media due to the higher iron content in their product.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksProduct does not come with filter bags
Higher phosphate absorption than most other brands (comparison testing of phosphate ppm after 48 hours)If product is not properly rinsed it will release noticeable fines
Low dust / low fines 
Good value for the cost 
  1. Seachem PhosGuard

Seachem PhosGuard is an excellent alternative to the Kolar Labs GFO mentioned above. PhosGuard is more effectively used in saltwater aquariums. It can be used in freshwater aquariums but if your water is phosphate buffered this product will remove the buffer until it is saturated. This bead shaped product allows easy water flow through it removing phosphates and silicate from the water.

PhosGuard water testing results are best determined when measuring phosphate ppm after 3 to 4 days. The media needs to be placed into a filter bag which can be placed directly into the tank or into a canister filter or HOB for best results.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksNo media bag comes with the product
Compatible with most other filtersWorks more gradually (but gets the job done)
Long lasting 
  1. Seachem Purigen Ultimate Filtration

Purigen is not like most aquarium filtration products. This unique macro-porous synthetic polymer removes soluble and insoluble impurities at a rate and capacity of more than 500% above standard ion exchangers or absorbent filters. Purigen controls ammonia, nitrates, nitrites and polishes water to unparalleled clarity.

Unlike carbon filtration Purigen does not remove trace elements, so it is safe for live plant use and significantly raises redox. Another great perk to Purigen it is easily reusable. The more saturated the media becomes with impurities the darker it becomes. Simply renew by treating with bleach.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanks 
Safe for use with live plants 
500% higher absorption than standard carbon filtration 
Reusable media 
  1. Seachem CupriSorb

CupriSorb is one of the safest methods of removing copper and heavy metals from your aquarium due to the Seachem developed copper specific chelating resin.

Copper is an essential nutrient to higher plants and animals but can be poisonous or fatal to small invertebrates like shrimp or snails even in small amounts.

Copper and heavy metals may be introduced accidentally through tap water present in commonly used copper pipes or by adding rocks or with copper ore or decorations with metals and toxins usually added in the paints and chemical sealants.

Copper may be introduced into your aquarium on purpose as a “treatment” to reduce algae overgrowth, typically using copper sulphate. Copper sulphate is a common treatment for infections in fish aquariums. If your aquarium have snails or shrimp these treatments will likely kill them.

We recommend an alternative approach to combating algae such as using Granular Ferric Oxide to remove the food that algae feed on and Ultra Violet filtration to kill water suspended micro algae as well as poly-filter foam which will change to a greenish color as it collects copper.

CupriSorb is effective in both saltwater and freshwater tanks and is a superior product compared to standard cation exchange resins which are only effective in freshwater tanks. CupriSorb will change colors to a blue-black when saturated and can be regenerated for reuse by soaking used CupriSorb filter media in a non-metal container with 2 cups of water and 1⁄2 cup of muriatic acid for 1 hour. Rinse well, add sodium bicarbonate until foaming stops and rinse again. CupriSorb is ready for reuse.

Compatible for use in both fresh and salt water tanksCannot be added to water directly. Must be added to a filter bag (not included) and place to maximize water flow through it.
Superior product will remove copper (even chelated copper) and heavy metalsRecharging process must be done outside and away from children
Long lasting and reusableWorks slowly (use for at least two weeks) between testing cycles.

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