Top 3 Most Popular Types of Aquarium Filters

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
You know that you need a filter to keep your aquarium clean. But did you know that filters are not created equal – certain types of tanks need a filter that’ll get the job done right.

When it comes to setting up a new tank, choosing the right aquarium filter is incredibly important. Your aquarium filter is what keeps the water in your tank clean and it also helps to cultivate the beneficial bacteria your tank needs to establish and maintain the nitrogen cycle. There are many different types of aquarium filter to choose from, but some of them are more popular (and effective) than others.

Types of Aquarium Filtration

There are many different kinds of aquarium filter out there, but all of them provide up to three different types of filtration – mechanical, chemical, and biological. Mechanical filtration involves the physical removal of solid waste products from your tank water. This is typically accomplished by filtering the tank water through some kind of porous material (like a sponge) which traps the solid waste particles and keeps them from being returned to the tank.

Related: 4 Best Types of Lighting Systems for Planted Aquariums

Chemical filtration involves removing dissolved waste products and harmful toxins from your tank water. This is achieved with some kind of filtration media like activated carbon. Biological filtration is a little different from mechanical and chemical filtration because it doesn’t involve removing anything from the tank water – it involves cultivating a colony of beneficial bacteria sufficient enough to establish and maintain the nitrogen cycle. This is the cycle through which bacteria convert the harmful byproducts of waste breakdown (like ammonia and nitrite) into less harmful substances (like nitrate) which can then be removed from the tank through routine water changes.

Top 3 Most Popular Filter Types

Now that you understand the different types of filtration you will be better equipped to choose a filter system for your tank. The top three filter types for aquariums include hang-on filters, canister filters, and wet/dry filters. You will find an overview of each filter type below:

Hang-On Filter: A hang-on filter is also sometimes called a power filter and it is the type of filter that hangs on the back of your aquarium. Water is drawn into the filter through an intake tube powered by an impeller and then returned to the tank via waterfall. These filters provide mechanical and chemical filtration, depending on the type of filter media used – they can also provide biological filtration since the filter media gives bacteria a place to grow. Hang-on filters come in all different sizes which is part of what makes them so popular. They are also affordable and very easy to setup and to maintain.

Related: Setting a Schedule for Routine Tank Maintenance

Canister Filter: A canister filter is a self-contained unit that consists of a pressurized unit filled with different types of filter media. Tank water is drawn into the filter through an intake tube and returned to the tank through an outlet tube. Canister filters come in a variety of sizes but they are often used in large aquariums. Another benefit of this filter is that you can use larger quantities and different types of filter media than you can in a hang-on filter. These filters are a little more expensive than hang-on filters and they also require a little more maintenance.

Wet/Dry Filter: A wet/dry filter is a usually a stand-alone unit that is housed beneath the aquarium, typically in an aquarium cabinet or sump system. Wet/dry filters are often paired with an overflow device that helps to regulate the flow of water through the filter system. This type of filter provides all three kinds of filtration and they are particularly beneficial for biological filtration. These filters require little maintenance but they are fairly pricey.

Because filtration is such an important part of maintaining high water quality in your tank, choosing a tank filter is not a decision that should be made lightly. If you want to make sure that your fish stay happy and healthy in your tank, take the time to choose the right filtration system.

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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