Equipment, Filters & media, Reviews

The Best Small Aquarium Filters of 2024 (For Nano to 20-Gal)

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by Jason Matthews

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Updated:

Our Top Picks:

Best All-Around Power Filter for Small Aquariums: Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter

A top-performing filter with patented bio-wheel technology that provides excellent mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. With an easy-to-use design and adjustable flow control, this filter ensures a healthy and clean aquarium for your fish.

Best Internal Power Filter for Small Aquariums: Aqueon QuietFlow E Internal Power Filter

An excellent filter for small aquariums. Its compact design fits easily inside the tank, ensuring quiet operation and maximum efficiency. The filter also provides three-stage filtration, including mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration, for superior water quality.

Best Canister Filter for Small Aquariums: Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter

A high-quality canister filter that provides superior filtration for small aquariums. Its powerful motor provides excellent water flow, while its multi-stage filtration system ensures optimal mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. With an easy-to-use design and a compact size, this filter is perfect for small aquariums.


As a passionate aquarist and owner of multiple fish tanks, I know firsthand the importance of having the right equipment to keep your fish happy and healthy. A filter is one piece of equipment that every aquarium must have. A filter helps to maintain a stable and healthy environment for your aquatic pets by keeping the water clean and clear.

In this article, I’ll share my top picks for the best filters for small aquariums. Finding the right filter can be daunting whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned aquarium hobbyist. With so many options available, getting overwhelmed and confused is easy.

I’ve tested and used many filters over the years, and I can say with certainty that the ones I’m about to suggest are among the best in terms of quality, effectiveness, and cost. Allow me to lead you through the world of small aquarium filters while you sit back and unwind. Whether you keep betta fish, shrimp in a tank, or a small fish community, I’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in!

The 6 Best Filters for Small Aquariums

Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter

marineland penguin bio-wheel

★★★★★

Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter

  • Size: up to 10 gallons
  • BioWheel technology
  • Filter type: Hang On Back
  • Flow rate: up to 75 GPH

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter is a must-have for any aquarium owner looking for an effective, three-stage filtration system.

The filter’s patented rotating Bio-Wheel technology provides superior wet/dry filtration, eliminating hazardous ammonia and nitrite immediately upon contact.

The filter’s ribbed backing ensures the carbon is evenly distributed for sparkling clean water.

The pre-assembled filter cartridges are simple to install and offer mechanical and chemical filtration.

The filter also has adjustable mid-level intake strainers and two-piece vented covers that reduce noise.

It is simple to install, modify, and maintain this filter. Swap out the filter cartridge once a month, and clean the filter as necessary. The filter is a dependable and efficient solution to aquarium filtration needs.


Aqueon QuietFlow E Internal Power Filter Extra Small

★★★★★

Aqueon QuietFlow E Internal Power Filter Extra Small

  • Size: up to 3 gallons
  • Filter type: Hang On Back

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The Aqueon QuietFlow E Internal Power Filter Extra Small is an ideal filter for small aquariums up to 3 gallons in size. Your aquatic pets will live in a healthy and prosperous environment thanks to this filter’s excellent water cleaning and filtration capabilities.

Another benefit of this filter is how simple it is to install; it comes with suction cups and hanging clips to make the job simple. Even inexperienced aquarium enthusiasts can use the auto-start pump because it doesn’t need priming.

To maintain optimal filtration, the filter cartridge should be changed about every 4 weeks.

This filter’s carbon cartridge offers efficient chemical filtration that eliminates odors and discoloration from the water, guaranteeing that it stays crystal clear.

The QuietFlow E Internal Filter also features a bioholster where good bacteria can flourish and provide the aquarium with crucial biological filtration.


Fluval 107 Perfomance Canister Filter

fluval 107

★★★★★

Fluval 107 Perfomance Canister Filter

  • Size: up to 10 gallons
  • Filter type: Canister

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter is a powerful and reliable choice for aquatic filtration of small aquariums.

Its Fluval eTEC construction features cutting-edge design, materials, and manufacturing methods to deliver powerful pump performance, reduced energy consumption, and ultra-quiet operation.

With the 07 series, Fluval has incorporated new performance upgrades that make it up to 25% quieter, more robust, energy-efficient, flexible, and easier to use than previous models.


Tetra Whisper 4 Gallon Internal Power Filter

tetra whisper 4 gallon

★★★★★

Tetra Whisper 4 Gallon Internal Power Filter

  • Size: up to 1-4 gallons
  • Filter type: Hang On Back

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The Tetra Whisper 4 Gallon Internal Power Filter is a quiet and efficient filtration system that is perfect for aquariums up to 4 gallons in size.

The internal filter design enables a compact and covert installation that is simple to conceal behind decor.

The 27 GPH pump has sufficient strength to cycle a 4 gallon aquarium more than six times per hour, maintaining crystal-clear water.

The filter cartridges serve two purposes: the Ultra-Activated carbon removes odors and discolorations, and the dense mesh traps debris and fish waste.

The Whisper Filter Cartridges are also easy to change, making maintenance a breeze.


AquaClear 20 Power Filter

aquaclear 5-20 gallon filter

★★★★★

AquaClear, Fish Tank Filter

  • Size: 5-20 gallons
  • Filter type: Hang On Back

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The AquaClear Power Filter is a versatile hang-on filter system for aquarium sizes up to 20 gallons.

It has a distinctive design that allows up to six times as much media volume and increased water-to-media contact time for the best mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.

Reduced flow rates are possible thanks to the patented re-filtration system without sacrificing filtration effectiveness.

For optimal operation and efficiency, routine cleaning and media replacement are advised. The lifetime warranty for the filter’s non-replaceable components is included.

Additionally, filtered water can silently return to the tank thanks to the filter’s innovative waterfall design, gently releasing surface tension and enhancing oxygenation.


Hygger Super Mini Aquarium Single Sponge Filter for Small Fish Tank

hygger super mini aquarium sponge

★★★★★

Hygger Super Mini Aquarium Single Sponge Filter

  • Size: 0.5-5 gallons
  • Filter type: Sponge

Affiliate links / Images from Walmart

The Hygger Super Mini Aquarium Single Sponge Filter is a powerful filter that helps your small fish or shrimp live a healthy and happy life.

This single sponge filter is small and perfect in 0.5-5 gallon fish tank bowls. It has 1 single mini sponge filter, 1 spare sponge, and 1 suction cup in a pack. All the parts of this filter are detachable, making it easy to assemble them together.

The sponge filter must be used with an aquarium air pump and is designed for a small 0.5 to 5-gallon fish tank or fish bowl used as additional bio filtration to your aquarium.

The filter promotes beneficial nitrifying bacteria growth in the tank to help break ammonia down to nitrites and nitrites down to nitrates, thus recycling the aquarium water and keeping it in good quality, which is essential for the health and happiness of your aquatic pets.


Why do small aquariums need a filter in the first place?

If you’re new to the aquarium hobby, you might be bewildered why small aquariums even require a filter. Small aquariums, or nano aquariums, are, after all, portable and appear to be simple to keep clean. However, the reality is that even small aquariums need a filter to maintain clean, fish-friendly water.

Fish waste and uneaten food can quickly build up in an enclosed space like an aquarium, creating dangerous toxins and bacteria that could endanger the health of your aquatic pets. These waste products and other impurities, including debris, surplus food, and algae, can be eliminated with a filter. Furthermore, filters give the water the much-needed oxygenation it needs, guaranteeing that your fish have a constant supply of oxygen to breathe.

While skipping the filter in favor of routine water changes may seem appealing, doing so can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, not to mention stressful for your fish. You can maintain the cleanliness and health of your aquarium with the least amount of work and stress by investing in a high-quality filter. Therefore, a filter is an absolute necessity for your small aquarium if you want your fish to thrive and enjoy a healthy, happy environment.

Buying Guide for Small Aquarium Filters

Finding the best filter for your small aquarium requires taking into account a number of crucial factors. It can be difficult to choose the best filter when so many varieties are available, each with distinctive features and advantages.

In this buying guide, we’ll go over the important things to consider when choosing a filter for your small aquarium. We’ll walk you through choosing the ideal filter for your aquatic pets, from the various types of filter media to the various types of filters and their capacity.

Types of Small Aquarium Filter media

Filter for small aquarium in parts
image: underworld1, depositphotos

Small aquarium filters typically use three different types of filter media:

  • mechanical filtration
  • biological filtration
  • chemical filtration

Mechanical filtration

The first line of defense for filters is mechanical filtration, which traps physical debris like uneaten food, fish waste, and other particulate matter. Most frequently, this kind of filtration is carried out using a sponge or filter pad that physically traps debris.

Biological filtration

The process of establishing good bacteria colonies that degrade harmful toxins like ammonia and nitrite, produced by fish waste and uneaten food, is known as biological filtration. This kind of filtration, necessary for keeping an aquarium healthy, can be carried out using various filter media, such as ceramic rings, bio-balls, and bio-foam.

Chemical filtration

Chemical filtration is a less common type of filtration that uses activated carbon or other chemical media to remove impurities and odors from the water. While not always necessary, chemical filtration can be useful in certain situations, such as when removing medication from the water or controlling algae growth.

It’s important to take into account the kind of filter media the filter uses and how it will impact the overall health and cleanliness of your aquarium when choosing a filter for your small aquarium.

Your aquarium can stay clean and healthy for your aquatic pets if mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration is used in a well-balanced combination.

Different types of small aquarium filters

Several different types of filters are available for small aquariums, each with unique features and benefits.

Hang On Back (HOB) filters

One of the most popular filters used in small aquariums is the hang-on-back (HOB) filter. To keep the water clean, these filters, which hang on the back of the tank, combine mechanical and biological filtration. They are a popular option for beginners because they are simple to install and maintain.

Advantages:

  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Can provide a high level of filtration for small aquariums
  • Can be used with a variety of filter media options

Limitations:

  • May create noise and vibrations
  • Can take up space behind the tank
  • May not be suitable for delicate or shy fish

Internal filters

Small aquariums can also use internal filters typically installed inside the tank. These filters have various filter media options, including sponge and ceramic rings, and can be submerged in water. Internal filters are less noisy than other filters, making them a great option for aquariums with delicate or shy fish or tanks with limited space.

Advantages:

  • It can be less noisy than other types of filters
  • Provide a good amount of filtration for small aquariums
  • Ideal for aquariums with limited space

Limitations:

  • Requires more frequent cleaning
  • Not be suitable for larger aquariums
  • May be less effective than other types of filters

Canister filters

Another popular option is canister filters, especially for larger aquariums. These filters sit outside the tank and filter the water using a combination of mechanical, biological, and chemical processes. For more experienced aquarists, they can be a great option because they offer a high level of filtration while possibly requiring a little more maintenance than other types of filters.

Advantages:

  • Can provide a high level of filtration for small aquariums
  • Can be used with a variety of filter media options
  • Ideal for larger aquariums

Limitations:

  • It may be more expensive than other types of filters
  • It may require more maintenance than other types of filters
  • It takes up more space than other types of filters

Sponge filters

The most basic type of filter is a sponge filter, which consists of a sponge connected to an air pump. The air pump filters the water mechanically and biologically as it moves it through the sponge. They are a cost-effective and simple option for small aquariums, even though they might not be as effective as other types of filters.

Advantages:

  • Affordable and easy to use
  • Ideal for small, low-maintenance aquariums
  • Can provide both mechanical and biological filtration

Limitations:

  • Not be as effective as other types of filters
  • Not be suitable for larger aquariums
  • It may require more frequent cleaning

The type of filter that will work best for your particular tank and the requirements of your aquatic pets should be considered when choosing one for your small aquarium. The best option will depend on various elements, including the size of your aquarium, the fish you have, and your personal preferences. Each type of filter has specific advantages.

Aquarium Size, Filter Capacity & Flow rate

Cleaning a dirty aquarium filter
image: igorchus, depositphotos

It’s important to consider your aquarium’s size and filter capacity into account when choosing a filter for a small aquarium. A filter that is too small for your aquarium can easily be overloaded and fail to maintain clean water, while a filter that is too large can produce an excessive amount of water flow and stress your fish.

You should take the filter’s maintenance requirements into account in addition to its capacity. Filters with self-cleaning mechanisms might be more expensive, while filters that need frequent cleaning and maintenance might take more time and effort to maintain.

The flow rate, or how quickly water moves through the filter, greatly impacts the health and happiness of your aquatic pets.

It is typically advised to flow at a rate of 4-5 times the aquarium volume per hour. For example, if you have a 10-gallon aquarium, you should choose a filter that can process at least 40 gallons per hour. However, the kind of fish you have and the filter you’re using can affect this. While some fish prefer slower currents, others need them to survive.

Aquarium SizeRecommended Volume Per Hour
2.5 gallons10-12.5 gallons
5 gallons20-25 gallons
10 gallons40-50 gallons
15 gallons60-75 gallons
20 gallons80-100 gallons
Remember that these are general recommendations, and the flow rate you choose may vary depending on your fish and the filter you use.

Considering the vibrations and noise produced by a high flow rate is important. High flow rate filters may produce excessive noise and water movement, stressing your fish.

To regulate the water flow’s speed, choose a filter with a range of flow settings. This will enable you to adjust the flow rate to your fish’s needs and ensure they are at ease and healthy in their surroundings.

Consider Your Fish Species Needs

It’s important to consider your fish’s particular needs when choosing a filter for your small aquarium. While some fish may be more sensitive to these elements and require a gentler environment, others may require high oxygenation levels and strong water flow.

For instance, the popular fish betta needs calm water and little water movement. They are also sensitive to abrupt changes in the chemistry of the water, so a filter that offers both mechanical and biological filtration, like a sponge filter, might be a better option.

Related article: See our recommended filters for beta fish here

Guppies and tetras, which are active fish, require more oxygen and a strong water current. A HOB or canister filter that can offer mechanical, biological, and increased water movement might be a better option for these kinds of fish.

When choosing a filter, it’s essential to consider your fish’s waste production. There may be a need for a filter with a higher capacity for mechanical and biological filtration because some fish, like goldfish, produce more waste than others.

You can support ensuring that your aquatic pets are healthy and content in their surroundings by considering the particular requirements of your fish and choosing a filter that can accommodate these needs.

Noise, Vibrations & Water movement

High flow rate filters can produce excessive noise and water movement, which can be stressful for your fish and disturb the tranquility of your aquarium.

Look for a filter that is quiet and reduces vibrations when choosing. Internal and sponge filters are a good choice for aquariums in living rooms or bedrooms because they are typically quieter than HOB and canister filters.

The location of your filter should also be taken into account. More vibrations may be produced by a filter placed on a flat surface than by one fastened to the side of your tank. Consider using a foam mat or other padding to help reduce noise and vibration if noise and vibration are a concern.

By selecting a filter designed to be quiet and minimize vibrations, you can help ensure a peaceful and stress-free environment for yourself and your fish.

FAQ

Do small fish tanks need filters?

Small fish tanks need filters to maintain water quality and keep your aquatic pets healthy.

Do you need a filter for a 2.5 gallon tank?

Yes, even a 2.5-gallon tank requires a filter to maintain water quality and keep your fish healthy.

Are fish OK without a filter?

Fish can survive without a filter, but the water quality may deteriorate quickly and become toxic to your fish. It’s important to provide adequate filtration to maintain a healthy and stable environment for your aquatic pets.

What fish does not need a filter?

There are no species of fish that do not require a filter. All fish produce waste and require a clean and healthy environment to thrive.

How long will my fish be OK without a filter?

The length of time that fish can survive without a filter depends on the tank’s size and the fish’s number and size. Generally, it’s best always to provide filtration to maintain a healthy and stable environment for your aquatic pets.

Is it OK to turn off a fish filter for one night?

It’s generally not recommended to turn off a fish filter for an extended period of time, as this can quickly lead to a buildup of waste and toxins in the water. However, it may be possible to turn off the filter for a short period of time if necessary.

Do fish need bubbles?

Fish do not necessarily need bubbles, but adding an air stone or bubbler can help increase oxygenation and water movement in the aquarium, which can benefit some species of fish.

About

Jason Matthews

My name is Jason Matthews, and welcome to my website. When other kids were bragging about how their dog could sit and roll over, I was bragging about my latest Betta Fish and the cool sea castle I just added to his aquarium. 

Jason aquariume

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