When it comes to your saltwater aquarium, the last thing in the world you want to worry about is sinking tons of money and time into getting your aquarium up and running, only to lose everything because of a bad filter. Adequate filtration is one of the most important aspects of saltwater aquarium keeping because it helps with waste and toxin removal while improving oxygenation and producing a current in the water. We’ve found the 10 best saltwater aquarium filters for you and weighed their pros and cons to help you find the best filter for your saltwater aquarium. These reviews are intended to be a guide to help you find a solid starting point in finding the filter that will work best for your needs.divider1- goldfish

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Penn Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter Penn Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
  • Includes startup filter media
  • Tip-proof rubber base
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter
  • Easy to set up
  • Includes first filter cartridge
  • Intake is height adjustable
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Fluval FX High Performance Canister Filter Fluval FX High Performance Canister Filter
  • Includes filter media
  • Smart Pump Technology
  • Self-priming
  • Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter
  • Filters tanks up to 100 gallons
  • Includes water polishing
  • Self-priming
  • Fluval Aquarium Power Filter Fluval Aquarium Power Filter
  • 5-stage filtration
  • Includes filter media
  • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
  • The 10 Best Saltwater Aquarium Filters – Reviews 2021

    1. Penn Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter – Best OverallPenn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter

    The Penn Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter is the best overall saltwater aquarium filter because of its efficacy and size availability. This canister filter is available in 30-gallon, 65-gallon, 150-gallon, and 200-gallon sizes, all for a fair price. It offers chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration.

    This canister filter features large filter trays, filter media to get you started, and input and output tubing. The filter trays are made to be large so you can add lots of filter media, getting the most out of your filtration system. This filter is primed via an easy-to-use push button. It has valve taps that can rotate 360˚, flow-rate control valves, and hose clamps. It also has a tip-proof rubber base and runs quietly. It’s easy to set up and to customize to your aquarium’s needs. Once installed, you should see noticeable improvement in your water clarity within 24 hours.

    The rubber feet on the base are removable, so you’ll have to ensure they don’t get lost during setup. Also, this filter does require impeller replacements from time to time.

    Pros
    • Available in 4 sizes
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Large filter trays hold lots of filter media
    • Includes startup filter media
    • Includes all tubing and valves needed to get started
    • Tip-proof rubber base
    • Quiet operation
    • Water clarity within 24 hours
    Cons
    • Rubber feet may get lost
    • Impeller requires occasional replacement

    2. Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter – Best ValueMarineLand Penguin

    The best saltwater aquarium filter for the money is the Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter. This filter offers great functionality at a low price. It’s available in 20-gallon, 30-gallon, 50-gallon, and 70-gallon sizes, making this a good pick for small and medium tanks. It offers chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration.

    This HOB filter is easy to set up and requires little more than dropping in the filter cartridge and turning it on. Chemical and mechanical filtration is provided by the filter cartridges, which live under the two-piece vented cover that allows for easy access to the cartridge and quiet filtration. Biological filtration happens via Marineland’s revolutionary BIO-Wheel that’s proven effective at removing ammonia and nitrite. The intake tube is adjustable for tanks of multiple heights.

    The filter cartridges need to be replaced monthly at the most. While the internal parts of this filter operate quietly, the BIO-Wheel may make some noise as it rotates.

    Pros
    • Cost-effective
    • Available in 4 sizes
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Easy to set up
    • Includes first filter cartridge
    • BIO-Wheel requires replacement on rare occasions
    • Intake is height adjustable
    Cons
    • Cartridges require monthly replacement
    • BIO-Wheel may rattle

    3. Fluval FX High Performance Canister Filter – Premium ChoiceFluval FX High Performance Canister Filter

    The Fluval FX High Performance Canister Filter is the premium choice for filters for your saltwater aquarium. This canister filter is high quality but also high cost. It’s available in 250-gallon and 400-gallon options. It offers chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration.

    This canister filter includes filter trays, filter media, hoses, hose clamps, and an adjustable intake to allow for tanks of multiple sizes. It features Smart Pump Technology, which means that a special circuit board monitors the function of the pump and adjusts as needed for maximum efficiency. It’s easy to set up and is self-priming, so all you have to do is add water and plug it in. It runs quietly and is energy efficient. It has rubber feet to reduce noise from vibration, click-fit valves that are easy to install, and an easy access valve for water changes. This pump is compact, allowing it to fit in cabinets and under tanks.

    Due to the compact size, this filter may require more frequent cleaning than some other canister filters. While it includes the hoses, they may be too short to allow for the filter to sit below a tank, so they may need to be replaced.

    Pros
    • Available in 2 sizes for large tanks
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Includes filter media
    • Intake height is adjustable
    • Smart Pump Technology maintains efficiency
    • Self-priming, easy setup, and easy water changes
    • Quiet and energy efficient
    • Rubber feet reduce noise
    Cons
    • May require more frequent cleaning than some canister filters
    • Hoses may be too short
    • Premium price

    4. Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister FilterMarineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter

    The Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter is made to filter tanks up to 100 gallons. It has chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration, as well as water polishing.

    It includes everything you need to get started including filter media, hoses, and valves. It has a quick release that shuts down water flow to allow for spill-free water changes. It’s easy to get set up and has a self-priming feature that only requires you to press a button. It’s made to be compatible with Marineland’s Rite-Size filter cartridges, but also can fit many different types and brands of filter media.

    This filter’s impeller does require replacement on rare occasions, but when it needs to be replaced it becomes loud and rattles. This filter also has limited size options available, making it a poor option for small tanks.

    Pros
    • Filters tanks up to 100 gallons
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Includes water polishing
    • Includes everything needed to get started
    • Quick release makes for mess-free water changes
    • Self-priming
    • Can be used with multiple types of filter media
    Cons
    • Impeller may get loud when needing replacement
    • Limited size options

    5. Fluval Aquarium Power FilterFluval Aquarium Power Filter

    The Fluval Aquarium Power Filter is a HOB filter that offers 5-stage filtration. This means it has two mechanical, one chemical, and two biological filtration chambers. It’s available in 30-gallon, 50-gallon, and 70-gallon size options.

    This filter features clear plastic that creates a modern look and makes it easy to see when it’s time to clean the filter. It includes all filter media needed to get started and is easy to set up. There is a water output control system, allowing you to be in control of the current created by the filter in your tank.

    Since this is a HOB filter, it will require cleaning every couple of weeks. Some of the filter media is reusable for a long time, but some will require replacement with cleaning to maintain efficacy. This filter will become clogged quickly in overstocked tanks or tanks with messy inhabitants.

    Pros
    • 5-stage filtration
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Available in 3 sizes
    • Includes filter media needed to get started
    • Modern looking plastic shell makes it easy to see when cleaning is needed
    • Output control allows control of the current
    Cons
    • Requires cleaning every couple of weeks
    • Some filter media requires replacement
    • Clogs quickly in overstocked and messy tanks

    6. Aqueon QuietFlow Aquarium Power FilterAqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aquarium Power

    The Aqueon QuietFlow Aquarium Power Filter is a HOB filter that is available in multiple sizes and works well, especially in small to medium tanks. It’s available in 20-gallon, 30-gallon, 45-gallon, 50-gallon, and 90-gallon options. This filter has 5-stage filtration and improves available oxygen in the water.

    This filter has a patented Bio-Holster design that reduces or eliminates splashing on return. It also makes this filter operate very quietly. It features a LED indicator light that flashes when the filter is clogged, allowing for you to be reminded when it’s time to change your filter cartridge. It’s self-priming and will automatically restart itself after power outages and being unplugged, preventing leaks and motor burnout. This filter also has a bio pad that water flows across on return to the tank, giving it one last boost of biological filtration.

    The high flow rate oxygenates the water well but doesn’t allow you to control the output, so this may not be a great option for tanks with sensitive corals and plants. The intake motor on this filter sits below the waterline, so large fish may knock it loose.

    Pros
    • Available in 5 sizes
    • 5-stage filtration
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration with bio pad
    • Improves available oxygen in the water
    • Little to no splashing on return with quiet operation
    • LED indicator light for when filter cartridge needs replacing
    • Self-priming and auto restarts
    Cons
    • High output without available control
    • Not good option for tanks with sensitive inhabitants
    • Intake motor is below the waterline and can be knocked loose

    7. Penn-Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium FilterPenn-Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter

    The Penn-Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter is a sleek HOB filter system. This filter is available in 7-gallon, 10-gallon, 20-gallon, 35-gallon, 50-gallon, and 100-gallon options, making this a great option for small tanks and some medium tanks. It offers 4-stage filtration with chemical and mechanical filtration and two stages of biological filtration.

    This HOB filter comes with the filter media needed to get it started. It has a Bio-Falls Quad-Filtration system that provides efficient oxygenation and filtration while colonizing beneficial bacteria. There is an adjustable flow knob so you can reduce the filtration and current strength as needed. It’s self-priming and has an adjustable intake. It’s made of clear blue plastic, giving it a modern look, and making it easy to see when it’s time to clean it.

    The filter cartridges in this filter will need regular replacement every few weeks. This filter needs to be kept well-maintained to prevent issues with it becoming noisy. The adjustable intake may be too short for some tanks.

    Pros
    • Available in 6 sizes
    • Chemical, mechanical, and two biological filtration stages
    • Includes filter media
    • Bio-Falls Quad-Filtration system provides efficient oxygenation
    • Adjustable flow
    • Self-priming with adjustable intake
    • Modern looking plastic shell makes it easy to see when it needs to be cleaned
    Cons
    • Filter cartridge needs regular replacement
    • Needs to be kept well-maintained or may become noisy
    • Adjustable intake is too short for tall tanks

    8. AquaClear Power FilterAquaClear Power Filter

    The AquaClear Power Filter is a HOB filter that is available in 20-gallon, 30-gallon, 50-gallon, 70-gallon, and 110-gallon sizes. It provides mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.

    This HOB filter is easy to set up and includes all the filter media needed to get it started. It’s energy efficient and provides the water with a long contact time with the filter media for maximum filtration. It’s translucent grey, making it easy to tell when it’s time to clean the inside. The power cord with this filter is 6 feet long, so this is a good pick even if your filter will be a few feet from an outlet.

    The basket in this filter that holds the filter media tends to float up and push the lid open if the filter media becomes clogged. The manufacturer recommends cleaning the filter every two weeks, including replacing filter cartridges to maintain efficiency.

    Pros
    • Available in 5 sizes
    • Chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration
    • Includes filter media and is easy to set up
    • Provides the water long contact time with filter media
    • Translucent grey shell makes it easy to see when it’s time to clean
    • Power cord is 6 feet long
    Cons
    • Filter media basket may push lid open
    • Filter media clogs easily in overstocked and high bio load tanks
    • Manufacturer recommends cleaning and replacing filters every 2 weeks

    9. Marina Aquarium Power FilterMarina Aquarium Power Filter

    The Marina Aquarium Power Filter is a HOB filter that’s available in 3 sizes. It can be purchased for 10-gallon, 15-gallon and 20-gallon tanks, making this a good option for small tanks. It offers mechanical and biological filtration.

    This filter features a slim, translucent design with quick startup. It’s self-priming and includes two filter cartridges to get you started. This filter has an outlet flow control and comes with a strainer sponge to cover the intake to keep fry, small fish, and invertebrates safe. The intake motor is submerged to keep the motor quiet.

    It’s recommended to size up with this filter as it does not filter the tank size listed on the box as well as it should. While the motor runs quietly, the filter itself tends to vibrate against the glass, making this a noisy filter. If not maintained well, this filter will often begin to clog and leak.

    Pros
    • Available in 3 sizes
    • Self-priming with a slim and translucent design
    • Includes filter cartridges to get you started
    • Flow control
    • Strainer sponge to cover intake
    Cons
    • 2-stage filtration
    • Recommended to size up
    • Vibrates against the tank loudly
    • May clog quickly in overstocked and high bio load tanks
    • Will begin to leak if clogged

    10. Fluval Aquarium Underwater FilterFluval Aquarium Underwater Filter

    The Fluval Aquarium Underwater Filter is an internal tank filter. It’s available in 15-gallon, 30-gallon, 40-gallon, and 65-gallon options. It provides mechanical and biological filtration.

    This filter includes a fine foam pad for small debris and a bio-foam sponge for larger debris. It has an attachable spray bar to provide an even water flow, allowing you to keep sensitive plants, corals, and small animals safe. It also includes top output that improves water circulation and oxygenation and a bottom output that improves circulation and low in the tank. The lid flips open for easy filter cartridge access.

    Since this is an internal filter, it does not provide adequate filtration on its own for overstocked or high bio load tanks. It clogs quickly and easily. It’s difficult to provide maintenance to this filter due to its small size and filter cartridges require frequent replacement.

    Pros
    • Available in 4 sizes
    • Includes filter media
    • Attachable spray bar allows you to control output
    • Also includes top and bottom output to improve circulation and oxygenation
    • Flip lid for easy access
    Cons
    • 2-stage filtration
    • Doesn’t provide adequate filtration for most tanks
    • Clogs quickly and easily
    • Difficult to maintenance
    • Frequent filter replacements
    • Filter cartridges from Fluval may be the only ones that fit

    Buyer’s Guide

    Choosing the Right Saltwater Aquarium Filter for Your Tank:
    • Tank Size: It’s important to choose a filter that filters your tank size, or even size up to a larger filter. This will ensure adequate filtration for your tank, even if overstocked. Your tank size will also determine what type of filter you use. An internal or HOB filter will likely be inadequate for a 200-gallon tank. Canister filters are a good choice for larger tanks, but they are often not a great pick for small and nano tanks.
    • Tank Inhabitants: The type of plants, corals, and other animals living in your tank should be a determining factor in choosing a filter. Some corals and plants are more sensitive to strong currents than others. If you have shrimp or fry in your tank, then something that won’t suck them in is important. Large tanks with large inhabitants will be able to handle stronger filtration and current than a smaller tank with more sensitive inhabitants.
    • Your Preference: Take your own preferences into account when choosing a filter as well. Do you like the look of a HOB filter or would you prefer something that’s more out of sight? Canister filters usually take up less tank space than a HOB or internal filter, but they involve large hoses that may be difficult to hide.
    • Availability: It’s important to choose a filter that has replacement media and parts available to you. Many filters are compatible with different types of filter media, but some can only take specific cartridges. If you’ll have difficulty getting access to filter-specific parts, then that’s not going to serve you very well, especially if you need parts quickly or at the last minute.
    What to Look for When Choosing a Saltwater Aquarium Filter:
    • Functionality: Choose a filter that has high functionality. If you have a high bio load tank, then a filter that offers 5-stage filtration may provide more functionality than a 2-stage filter can. The ability to control output and currents is important in some types of tanks, but not everyone needs this type of function. What kind of functionality do you need?
    • Warranty: A strong warranty that will cover you if your new filter suddenly breaks 2 months down the road is a must. You don’t want to invest in an expensive filter that you will have to pay full price to replace if something happens to it. If needed, you can always contact a manufacturer prior to your purchase to discuss their warranties.
    • Quality: You want to choose a filter that is high quality and made to last. Parts that easily break or crack can lead to flooding and fish loss. Parts that break easily and are difficult to replace can end up being expensive and may require a skilled hand to fix. Pick a filter that has the quality you need out of your investment, especially if you’re investing in a premium filter.
    • Your Needs: Choose a filter that will meet your tank’s needs. Don’t waste money and time investing in a filter that doesn’t have the things you need to meet the needs of your tank.
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    Conclusion

    The best overall filter for saltwater aquariums is the Penn Plax Cascade Aquarium Filter for its functionality, quality, and efficiency. For a high value product, the Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter is a great option that’s built to last at a good price. If your budget allows for a premium product, then the Fluval FX High Performance Canister Filter is a great pick and should last for years to come.

    Choosing the right filter may seem overwhelming, especially since there are hundreds of filters available. These reviews of the 10 best saltwater aquarium filters should help narrow the field for you and allow for a starting point for you to identify what you want, what your tank needs, and what will fit into your budget. Choosing a filter for your tank doesn’t have to be difficult, but it is an important decision for the health and well-being of your tank.

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    Featured image credit: Madhourse, Shutterstock