Best Aquarium Filters for a Beginner Tank

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington

An aquarium filter is an important part of your tank’s water quality. Choosing the right one for your first tank is vital – here’s our list of the best aquarium filters for a beginner tank.

Your aquarium fish deserve to live in a clean and healthy environment, but what does that mean for you? Routine water changes are important, of course, but what’s more important is the day-to-day filtration that removes waste and toxins from the water column before they can have a negative impact on water quality. Choosing the right filter for your aquarium is essential because it provides that constant filtration that is boosted by your routine maintenance tasks.

Let’s explore the most important things to look for in an aquarium filter – especially one for beginners. We’ll also provide you with our top picks for the best beginner-friendly tank filters.

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Best Aquarium Filters for a Beginner Tank

Now that you have a better understanding of what an aquarium filter does, you’re ready to start shopping around. Keep in mind that most aquarium filters come in different sizes, so choose the one that is best for the size tank you have. Also remember that it is better to size up than to size down – don’t try to save money by purchasing a smaller filter than your tank needs.

Here are our top picks for the best aquarium filters for a beginner tank:

Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter

If you’re starting out with a very small tank or one with only a few fish, an internal filter might be adequate. Priced under $15, this filter offers three-stage filtration and is easy to setup and maintain. Just keep in mind that it isn’t the most efficient filter on the market.

Aqueon Quietflow Internal Filter

If you like the idea of an internal filter, Aqueon offers another option in four sizes for tanks up to 40 gallons. It is a little more expensive, but the design does a better job of containing the filter media and it features an auto-start pump. This filter offers three-stage filtration.

Marineland Penguin Power Filter

Many beginner aquarium hobbyists like hang-on filters because they are easy to maintain and very affordable. This model is rated for tanks 30 to 50 gallons in capacity and is affordably priced under $25. It offers three-stage filtration with the inclusion of a Bio-Wheel which supports biological filtration.

Aqua Clear Hang-On Filter

A slightly more expensive option in hang-on filters for beginners is the Aqua Clear model. This filter comes in five sizes for tanks ranging from 5 to 110 gallons and offers three-stage filtration. The benefit of this filter is that its filtration volume is up to 7 times larger than comparable models.

EHIM Classic External Canister Filter

If you’re starting with a larger tank, it’s a good idea to choose a more powerful filter. This external canister filter is rated for tanks up to 66 gallons and it offers three-stage filtration, depending on the type of filter media you use. It comes with all the accessories you need and is easy to install and maintain.

Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter

Another excellent option in canister filters is this model rated for tanks up to 100 gallons. It offers state-of-the-art features and accommodates any combination of filter media. It’s a great choice if you plan to stick with the hobby for a long time or might upgrade your tank at a later date.

Penn Plax Cascade Hang-On Filter

If you want to go with a trustworthy brand but a canister filter isn’t in your budget, this hang-on filter from Penn Plax is a great option. It comes in six sizes all priced under $35 and offers powerful three-stage filtration.

Aqueon Quietflow LED Pro Power Filter

Power filters are known for being easy to use and simple to maintain, but this model takes things one step further. It features an LED indicator light to let you know when it’s time to replace the cartridge so you can keep your water clean and clear for your fish.

Sunsun Pro Canister Filter Kit

You may be a beginner, but you still want to have a great looking tank. That is why we love the SunSun Pro Canister Kit. This is a powerful filter with a flow rate of 1400L per house. Plus, it comes with various filters so that you can begin three stage filtration: the white filter, blue coarse and the media basket. The even include a set of bio balls that will ensure your tank is getting the right gas exchange and increases oxygen levels. Easy enough for a beginner but this filter gives you and your aquarium room to grow!

Fluval External Filter

Another powerful option in canister filters, this Fluval model features a sound-dampening impeller for quieter operation. It is also equipped with a clog-proof intake strainer and a dual-layer foam screen on top of the usual features.

If you’re really not sure where to start when it comes to choose an aquarium filter, you have two options. One option is to purchase an inexpensive filter – if you decide not to continue the hobby, you won’t have made a significant investment. The other option is to purchase a high-quality filter larger than you really need so if you decide to upgrade your tank later, you don’t need to buy a new one. Whichever option you choose, there is sure to be an appropriate choice on the list above.

What to Look for in an Aquarium Filter

There are many different kinds of aquarium filter, so take the time to consider your options before you pick. To some degree, any filter rated for the tank size you have should work, but certain filters provide more benefits than others. Before you start shopping, take the time to learn about some general things you should look for in an aquarium filter.

Here are some things to look for in an aquarium filter.

  • Style – Aquarium filters come in several models, both internal and external. External filters are typically recommended for larger aquariums and hang-on filters are the most budget- and beginner-friendly option.
  • Type of Filtration – Look for a filter that offers mechanical and chemical filtration at a minimum. Mechanical filtration involves removing solid waste (like uneaten fish food) while chemical filtration removes toxins and chemicals. Biological filtration supports the growth of beneficial bacteria which help maintain the nitrogen cycle.
  • Size/Strength – The larger your tank, the bigger the filter should be. Pay attention to the size range each filter is rated for and consider buying one larger than you need.
  • Filter Media – The filter media are what provide the actual filtration, so pay attention to what type each filter uses. If there is extra space to add optional extra filter media, even better.
  • Maintenance – In addition to performing water changes to remove accumulated ammonia and other toxins from your tank, you’ll also need to maintain your filter. Consider how easy it will be to change the filter media and whether there are any small parts that might be hard to clean.

Though all aquarium filters are not created equal, most of them do offer three-stage filtration. If you choose a filter that doesn’t incorporate biological filtration, you might want to consider taking additional steps to cultivate beneficial bacteria in your tank.

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Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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