The 8 Best Saltwater Filters (2023)

The Penn Plax Cascade 700 is our top pick for a canister filter

The 8 Best Saltwater Filters (1)By

Ashley Knierim

The 8 Best Saltwater Filters (2)

Ashley Knierim

Ashley is a product reviewer who is passionate about writing service-focused content that brings joy into people's lives. From home decor to pets, she loves to cover everything lifestyle. Her over 10 years of experience has included writing for TIME, AOL, and Fundera.

Learn more about The Spruce Pets'Editorial Process

Updated on 04/13/22

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the bestproducts—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Reviewed & Approved

The Penn Plax Cascade 700 Canister Filter is our top pick for a canister filter. We also like the Skilter 250 Power Filter from Danner.

A healthy saltwater aquarium requires a clean water, which means you’ll need to choose a filtration system. Biological filtration is a requirement for breaking down ammonia and nitrite, but many people will also want to also add on other types of filters, like mechanical filters that can remove particulate matter from the water before if decomposes.

Read on for the best saltwater filters.

Our Top Picks

Jump to Review

Best Skilter Filter:

Danner Skilter 250 Power Filter at Amazon

(Video) Are Canister Filters Good for Reef Tanks?

Jump to Review

Jump to Review

Best for 55 Gallon Tanks:

Fluval C Power Filter at Chewy

Jump to Review

Jump to Review

Jump to Review

(Video) How to Choose The Right Filter For Your Aquarium!

Canister filters are among the most popular options for countless aquarists thanks to their inconspicuous appearance and overall roominess—they can generally accommodate more media than power filters. The Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter is our pick for the best canister option for saltwater tanks. It provides all three forms of filtration thanks to its large-capacity, stackable media trays, ensuring your water is clear as can be. It can be primed with the push of a button, and has a flow rate of 350 GPH, making it appropriate for aquariums up to 200 gallons in volume.

Customers rave about the Penn Plax Cascade’s high level of customization—another benefit of its media tray system (it has five baskets, all told). It’s well-made and holds up well over time, making it an all-around great bet for saltwater tank owners looking for a canister-style filter.

A cross between a skimmer and a filter, the Skilter 250 Power Filter offers multi-stage filtration along with the benefits of a protein skimmer, which absorbs potentially harmful proteins and toxins by whipping them into a froth before removing them from the tank. It has a 250 GPH flow rate that will work for tanks up to 55 gallons in size and offers user-friendly, self-starting operation. The snap-together cartridge design also allows for easy replacement of the filter media.

The Skilter 250 Power Filter both skims and filters well and is also easy to clean and maintain. While the skimmer function can be a little noisy, some customers have achieved quiet operation by making a few simple modifications to the device.

When you’re focusing on your tank, the last thing you want is to be distracted by a noisy, gurgling filtration system. Fortunately, there are plenty of products out that work quietly without sacrificing the power you want out of a quality filter. The Aqua Clear Power Filter provides efficient mechanical, chemical and biological filtration, but has a unique “waterfall” design that allows it to operate almost silently. With a filtration volume up to seven times larger than many competing products, it’s perfect for 40-70 gallon tanks. It also comes AquaClear Foam, Activated Carbon and BioMax and Cycle Guard, providing constant biological filtration that still preserves beneficial bacteria within your tank.

The Aqua Clear Power Filter is ultra-quiet but still moves plenty of water, and allows for plenty of customization with the filter media. It’s also easy to maintain—it’s not difficult to remove the pump from its housing to clean the impellers.

(Video) Saltwater Aquariums Demystified Ep. 8: Filtration

The 6 Best Phosphate Removing Products, According to a Veterinarian

If you’re just testing the waters, so to speak, a smaller saltwater tank may be easier to maintain and keep up than a massive tank. The Tetra Whisper Power Filter is a great entry-level filtration system and works well for small tanks. This external system uses large whisper bio-bag cartridges and offers three filtration systems for your fish. The filter eliminates toxic ammonia and nitrites from your tank’s water while the flow control allows you to manage the strength of the flow to promote better feeding. Best of all, this filter is extremely economical, coming in at less than $20 a pop.

The Whisper Power Filter is reliable and works well to keep tanks clean and healthy. Setup can be tricky, but there are many step-by-step guides to help you through any troubleshooting.

Fluval’s C Power Filter goes a few steps beyond other systems, providing five steps of filtration: two mechanical, one chemical and two biological. The result? A healthy tank that’s free of impurities, discoloration, or dangerous ammonia and nitrites. With a 264 GPH flow rate, it’s ideal for mid-sized tanks between 40 and 70 gallons. The filter clips onto your tank for easy installation, and includes a Poly-Foam pad and Bio-Screen—additions that give it the extra filtration steps that set it apart from other filters.

This filter has demonstrated superior performance when compared to competing products, typically resulting in a crystal-clear tank. For the price, it’s considered one of the best filters in the “HOB” (hang on back) category.

If you have a tank that's on the larger side, you’re going to want a filter that can move a high volume of water and provide the power you need to maintain a healthy environment. The Hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead has a flow rate of 2000 GPH and features a pair of ball joints, which give you 360 degrees of rotation and ample opportunity to direct the water flow as needed. The high-powered circulation simulates natural ocean currents and is great for marine plants, corals and wildlife—the system can be used in tanks as large as 130 gallons.

Rhe Hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead provides the high flow rate they need to keep their large-tank environments healthy, and the creative design allows you to easily direct the flow where you want it. Surprisingly, it also runs almost silently despite its powerful performance.

The 8 Best Saltwater Filters (9)

(Video) How To : Reef Aquarium Photography - Cell Phone & Iphone coral photography filters and gels

The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter comes in five sizes and can accommodate tanks up to 150 gallons. This canister filter provides all the filtration your tank needs from the biological, mechanical to chemical filtration. It’s an external filter and features a flow rate of 345 GPH. It’s easy to prime and offers telescopic intake tubes for extra water flow. And even though the largest filtration system can work for a 150-gallon tank, it’s so quiet it won’t disturb you at home.

The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter is by far one of the best filtration systems you can buy. It’s incredibly easy to set up and never leaves the job half-done. Though it’s slightly pricier than some filters on our list, it’s well worth the cost if you have a large saltwater tank.

Live rocks and sand are excellent biological filtration systems for your saltwater tank. They’re a great alternative to a mechanical system and work well in most settings. The microscopic bacteria and microorganisms that live on the sand make it “live,” and work to consume organic matter in your tank. Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Saltwater Aquarium Sand is 100 percent natural sand from the ocean, containing 10 million live marine bacteria. With this sand, you can add fish the same day you set your tank up. The sand works to keep the natural organic balance while reducing waste in your saltwater tank. The live aragonite in the sand helps to maintain a proper pH balance and the sand granules measure between 0.5-1.7 mm.

Nature’s Ocean Sand is low maintenance and doesn’t cloud up the saltwater. It can be added to an active tank, but it’s best to do so slowly. It comes in 10, 20 and 40-pound bags—aim for roughly 1.45 pounds of sand per gallon of water in your tank.

We Found the Best Saltwater Aquarium Nitrate Reducing Products



The 8 Best Saltwater Filters? ›

Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • Best Skilter Filter: Danner Skilter 250 Power Filter. ...
  • Best Quiet Filter: Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter. ...
  • Best for 20 Gallon Tanks: Tetra Whisper Power Filter for Aquariums. ...
  • Best for 55 Gallon Tanks: Fluval C Power Filter. ...
  • Best for 75 Gallon Tanks: hygger Submersible Aquarium Powerhead.
Apr 13, 2022

What is the best filter for a 20 gallon saltwater tank? ›

The best filter overall for 20 gallon tanks is the Seachem Tidal filter. But, if you want to keep shrimp, you should look at getting the AquaClear 30 and add a sponge prefilter so your buds don't get sucked up.

Are canister filters good for saltwater tanks? ›

Can I Use A Canister Filter For A Fish-Only Saltwater Aquarium? Yes. They usually work well on Fish-Only aquariums to help remove detritus via mechanical filtration.

Do I need a special filter for saltwater? ›

filter only provides mechanical filtration, removing suspended food particles and other debris from the water. In saltwater aquariums, the live rock that most saltwater aquarists install in their tanks provides a majority of the biological filtration platform. Canister filters work quite well in saltwater aquariums.

Do saltwater tanks need different filters? ›

A proper biological filter will rapidly break down ammonia in to nitrite then to less-harmful nitrate. Live rock and live sand are both excellent biological filters as they provide a lot of surface area for bacteria (that breaks down waste) to colonize.

How many GPH filters do I need for a 20 gallon tank? ›

How Much GPH Does a 20 Gallon Tank Need? Ideally, you should use a filter with at least 5 GPH per gallon of water. The best 20 gallon filter should have a flow rate of around 100 GPH. However, there are different factors that influence the ideal flow rate for your tank.

How many sponge filters do I need for a 20 gallon tank? ›

I recommend getting 2 for each tank. That way, if you ever need to quarantine a fish, you have another filter already set up with beneficial bacteria rather than throwing in a new one. This filter keeps my 20 gallon tank's water pristine.

How many filters do you need for a 20 gallon tank? ›

There are 3 types of filters that I recommend for 20 gallon fish tanks: hang on back filter, the internal filter and the canister filter. I will talk about all of these in separate.

What are the 3 types of filtration? ›

The Aquarium uses three main types of filtration: mechanical, chemical, and biological. Mechanical filtration is the removal or straining of solid particles from the water.

Are external filters better than internal? ›

External filters are larger and more powerful than most internal filters and can hold a lot more media, offering better cleaning and supporting more fish. The superior power of external filters makes them suitable for large aquaria; heavily stocked aquaria like African cichlid tanks; and large fish.

Are undergravel filters better? ›

Power filters are nearly always superior to undergravel systems in their filtering abilities. Undergravels don't do a great job at removing debris (mechanical filtration) or purifying the water (chemical filtration), and their main benefit is to draw debris into the substrate where they break down biologically.

Do I need a protein skimmer with a canister filter? ›

a canister filter isnt required in a reef, its a tool, a tool for filtration, usually live rock and flow is sufficient, however they can be useful for adding extra water volume to nano tanks and also if you need to use a chemical to aid filtration then very useful, if you had a sump then a rector or 2 hung on the sump ...

Is a protein skimmer necessary for saltwater? ›

It really is no secret that protein skimmers are an essential component of saltwater aquarium filtration.

How often should I clean my saltwater canister filter? ›

Canister Filter – An enclosed type of filter, canister filters can go the longest between cleanings – they may only need to be cleaned every three to four months.

Why is there bubbles in my saltwater tank? ›

The most likely reason for foam build-up, however, is protein. In the saltwater tank, protein-based waste molecules often bond to air bubbles which collect on the tank surface, giving it a foamy appearance.

Can I use a hang on back filter for saltwater? ›

A Hang-On-Back (HOB) or Power Filter can be used on smaller saltwater aquariums with Live Rock & a Protein Skimmer to provide the 3 means of filtration required for a healthy reef tank.

What kind of filter do I need for a 55 gallon saltwater tank? ›

It's recommended that you get a filter with a GPH that is at least four times your tank volume. For example, for a 55 gallon tank, you want a GPH of at least 220.

Is a protein skimmer a filter? ›

A protein skimmer is a piece of equipment used in saltwater aquariums for two purposes: (1) it removes waste in the form of organic compounds from the water, and (2) it also oxygenates the water. At the simplest level, a protein skimmer functions like a filter for removing organic impurities from the water.

Do corals need a filter? ›

Corals have a simple body plan (coral anatomy by NOAA). An inner and an outer cell layer form an enclosed space, the gastrovascular cavity, where the coral's prey is digested. As sessile organisms, corals filter the surrounding water with their tentacles subsisting on plankton and organic matter.

How do I filter my saltwater tank? ›

Top 4 Types of Saltwater Aquarium Filtration! EP: 19 - YouTube

How do you filter salt water? ›

The most common type of membrane separation is called reverse osmosis. Seawater is forced through a semipermeable membrane that separates salt from water. Because the technology typically requires less energy than thermal distillation, most new plants, like Tampa's, now use reverse osmosis.


1. 8 Simple Steps a Week to Keep Your Reef Tank Looking Great!
(Bulk Reef Supply - Saltwater Aquariums)
2. 9 Best Aquarium Canister Filters 2021
(Ezvid Wiki)
3. HOW TO Choose the Best Filter to Keep Your Aquarium Clean
(Aquarium Co-Op)
4. This Filter Should Be WORSHIPED! The Best Hang On Back Aquarium Filter And It's Not Even Close!
5. Are you using the Best Filter Media of 2019?
(BRStv - Saltwater Aquariums & Reef Tanks)
6. 8 Best Aquarium Canister Filters 2019
(Ezvid Wiki)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Melvina Ondricka

Last Updated: 03/22/2023

Views: 5600

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Melvina Ondricka

Birthday: 2000-12-23

Address: Suite 382 139 Shaniqua Locks, Paulaborough, UT 90498

Phone: +636383657021

Job: Dynamic Government Specialist

Hobby: Kite flying, Watching movies, Knitting, Model building, Reading, Wood carving, Paintball

Introduction: My name is Melvina Ondricka, I am a helpful, fancy, friendly, innocent, outstanding, courageous, thoughtful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.