Best Aquarium Filters for 20, 30 and 55-Gallon Fish Tanks
Aquarium Filtration Explained
A good filter is one of the most important parts of your aquarium setup, and keeping your tank water clear and clean is one of the keys to happy, healthy fish. Needless to say, choosing the right filter will go a long way.
An aquarium filter has several jobs:
- Catch any debris that gets sucked up through the intake tube. This is called mechanical filtration, and most filters use some type of sponge or pad to prevent debris from flowing back through the filter and into the tank again.
- Provide a means of chemical filtration. This is where certain substances such as activated carbon are introduced into the system in order to manage waste chemicals created by the aquarium inhabitants. This is usually accomplished via cartridges or inserts placed directly into the filter itself.
- Facilitate biological filtration. This is where natural bacteria accumulate in the tank, and assist in breaking down ammonia and other harmful chemicals. These microorganisms live in the substrate, on plants, rocks and decorations, but also inside the filter. Most filters provide some kind of surface to make it easier for them to take hold.
- Create a gentle current to circulate water around the tank. Good circulation means heat will be distributed evenly, the water will be properly aerated and less debris will be able to sink to the bottom of the tank.
In this article you will read about a few recommendations for filters that meet all of these criteria. The filters we’ll look at in this here are all hang-on-back, or HOB, filters. They are the most common type of filter in the aquarium industry, and widely available in pet stores and online. While there are more advanced systems out there, these do the job just fine in most aquariums.
I’ve used each of them at one point or another, and they were all very effective. All are available in models for 10-gallon, 20-gallon, 30-gallon and 55-gallon tanks, and some even larger fish tanks.
Choosing and caring for a quality filter is one of the most important aspects of aquarium maintenance. If you are ready to move up from the standard filter that came with your tank, or if you need a replacement, here are a few to consider.
Tetra Whisper Power Filter
Tetra is one of the biggest names in the aquarium industry, and their filters are very popular. As the name suggests, one of the biggest positives about them is their quietness. While no filter is truly silent, and there is always at least a slight gurgle, I was pretty satisfied with the noise level here.
This filter utilizes a cartridge system and comes with Tetra's Bio Bag, which provides all three stages of filtration in one handy insert. These are super easy to use for most causal aquarium hobbyists, and there is more space in there if you want to add your own filter media.
Bio Bags are sold in replacement packs as well, and they are fairly inexpensive. When one gets dirty, you simply remove it and replace it. It’s best to do this on a set schedule, before things get too messy.
I used Tetra filters for years on my tanks and never had an issue with them. They are reasonably quiet, and it’s easy enough to replace the cartridges when they get gunked up. I’d say this filter is best for tank owners who want minimal hassle and appreciate the simplicity of the cartridge system.
Marineland Penguin Power Filter with BIO Wheel
Penguin filters by Marineland work on the cartridge system as well, but with a little twist. Like the Tetra filter, they have disposable, replaceable filter cartridges. In this case they are called the Rite-Size Cartridge. They are inexpensive and easy to replace when they get dirty, and by themselves they provide a solid level of filtration. But this filter also has a snappy design that incorporates a water wheel.
Marineland calls it the BIO-Wheel, and it serves a purpose aside from looking really cool. The idea is that healthy microorganisms colonize the BIO-Wheel, and as the water flows over it any residual chemicals that linger after the filtration process are taken care of.
The Penguin filter with BIO-Wheel looks cool, sounds nice and gets the job done. It is definitely one of the best aquarium filters you can choose for your tank.
There is no doubt the Penguin is the most unique filter in this review, and I used them for a long time. I really like the BIO-Wheel design, but it does sometimes create a soft gurgling sound, especially when water levels are a bit lower. I found that pleasant, like a quiet brook.
Penguin Aquarium Filter Maintenance
AquaClear Power Filter
This AquaClear system does not utilize a cartridge, but instead features a basket where you can place whatever filter media you like. It comes with a sponge for mechanical filtration, an activated carbon pack for chemical filtration, and their BioMax insert to assist with biological filtration.
Replacements for all of these are readily available, and AquaClear also makes other inserts that work with this filter.
I’ve used this filter on my most recent tanks, and I really like the flexibility. With artificial plants I use all three of the filter inserts provided with the filter. In the past, when I had real plants in a larger tank, I simply used this filter plus two sponge inserts in the basket.
This fulfilled the mechanical filtration aspect, and I relied on the plants and substrate in the tank for the rest of the filtration. If I were to make the move to live plants in the future, I would probably go back to a similar filter setup using the AquaClear.
With the AquaClear you have options. It’s a great choice for any level of fish keeper, but those who have been around the hobby a little while may especially appreciate it.
More on the Filtration Process
Choosing a good filter is a great step in making sure your tank water is safe and your fish are healthy. But there are other things you can do to help the process along. Don’t rely on your filter alone to do the heavy work. Take some proactive steps in keeping your tank clean.
Weekly Water Changes
Performing a weekly partial water change is one of the best things you can do to keep your tank water healthy. By removing about 30% of the aquarium water and replacing it with fresh, clean water you are diluting the harmful chemicals.
Monthly Deep Cleanings
Combat algae and the accumulation of detritus atop the substrate by performing monthly deep cleanings. This means performing a water change, plus vacuuming the substrate, cleaning algae off the glass and decorations, cleaning out the filter and replacing any cartridges if necessary.
Utilize Live Plants
One of the very best things you can do to keep your tank water healthy is include live plants. Plants will suck up the harmful chemicals produced by fish and decomposing food like a sponge, and it will be like a fertilizer to them. Plants help a lot, and you may find, as I did, a well-planted aquarium needs little in the way of filtration aside from water movement.
Over-filter if Necessary
For very large tanks, and in the absence of live plants, some fish keepers like to over-filter. This means you’ll be using two filters instead of one, with a combined water flow rated quite a bit higher than your tank generally requires. It’s just an added measure to make sure the water is clean.
For most tanks, one filter is plenty. If you stay on top of things you should have no trouble keeping your aquarium safe and healthy for your fish. Choosing the best aquarium filter is a big step in that process.