Petkeen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn More

10 Best Saltwater Aquarium Filters 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

Nicole Cosgrove

March 29, 2021

Unlike their freshwater counterparts, saltwater fish need to constantly drink water to stay healthy. As such, they are more susceptible to any dirt and debris found in their water. If you don’t clear the water, your fish can become ill.

A saltwater aquarium filter helps keep the water crystal clear and also ensures the good health of your fish stock. It clears out waste including excess food and other dirt and debris. The filter also helps oxygenate the water and provide a current. As well as choosing a model that is the right size and offers the right flow for your tank, you should consider the stages of filtration that it offers, ensuring that you get a filter that is appropriate for your fish and for your specific tank.

The choice of filters available can seem baffling, especially if you’re a novice saltwater tank owner, so we have compiled in-depth reviews of some of the best saltwater aquarium filters we could find.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO
  • Five-stage filtration
  • Convenient LED warning light
  • Self-priming pump
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin
  • Cheap
  • BIO-Wheel biological filtration
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Penn-Plax Cascade Penn-Plax Cascade
  • Push-button primer
  • Quiet
  • Tetra Whisper Internal Tetra Whisper Internal
  • Compatible with Tetra bio-bags
  • Can be used for turtle tanks
  • Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power
  • Cheap
  • Self-priming
  • The 10 Best Saltwater Aquarium Filters – Reviews 2021

    1. Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aquarium Power Filter – Best Overall

    Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aquarium Power Filter

    The Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO power filter is a five-stage filtration system designed to prevent water discoloration and to remove dirt and debris. The submerged pump minimizes splashing, offering quiet operation.

    The Aqueon self-primes after installation and after cleaning, preventing water leaks. It also has a handy LED indicator light that flashes when the pump is clogged up and needs changing, ensuring that you don’t forget the next filter change. The QuietFlow is priced modestly and has models for 20, 50, and 75-gallon tanks with a flow of up to 400 gallons per hour. It also boasts a high water flow rate, increasing oxygenation levels and energy levels for your fish.

    The pump is easy to put together and the combination of self-priming, high oxygenation levels, five-step filtration, and the handy LED light makes this our pick as the best saltwater aquarium filter. The only real problem with this model is that there is no method of adjusting the water flow rate and it may produce a current that proves too powerful for weak swimmers.

    Pros
    • Five-stage filtration
    • Convenient LED warning light
    • Self-priming pump
    • High oxygenation levels
    Cons
    • No water flow rate adjustment

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

    Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin Aquarium Power Filter

    The Marineland Bio-Wheel Penguin aquarium power filter is a three-stage filtration pump and while this does mean there are fewer stages than in models like the Aqueon, it also helps keep the cost down.

    Despite the low cost, the Marineland pump has a BIO-Wheel filtration stage which not only removes bad bacteria but promotes the growth of good bacteria. The two-piece vented cover is a convenient design that makes it easier to access and change the filter, while the intake is adjustable and because it attaches directly to the intake tube, it offers improved water circulation throughout the entire tank.

    The Bio-Wheel Penguin power filter from Marineland is cheap and, despite this, it has some great features, making it the best saltwater aquarium filter for the money, but it does have a couple of drawbacks.

    The most glaring drawback is the fact that this is only a three-stage filter, but there have also been some complaints about the noise level produced by the filter, and some buyers have complained that the filter broke down after several months of use.

    Pros
    • Cheap
    • Good water circulation
    • BIO-Wheel biological filtration
    • Adjustable water flow
    Cons
    • Noisy
    • Some complaints of it breaking down

    3. Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter – Premium Choice

    Penn-Plax Premium Underground Aquarium Filter

    The Penn-Plax Cascade aquarium canister filter is a high quality, premium saltwater filter. It is designed for use in big tanks, with the largest model being rated for a 200-gallon aquarium.

    The Penn-Plax is more expensive than some of the models on the list, but it also comes with a lot more kit, and its price reflects the size of the tank that it is suited to. Penn-Plax has included locking clamps so that you can ensure a water-tight fit throughout the system. There are also tubing connectors, rotational valve taps, and valves to control the flow rate. These valves and taps enable total control over the filtration system, but they can also be a little complicated for novice users.

    The extra-large filter trays mean that you can add your own media, creating exactly the setup you want your fish to benefit from. Penn-Plax claims that users should start to see improvements in water clarity and cleanliness within 24 hours of installation. This pump does have a push-button primer, but some buyers have reported that it can be a bit of a challenge to prime.

    Pros
    • Push-button primer
    • Lots of extras like locking clamps
    • Offers extensive control of flow and filtration
    • Quiet
    Cons
    • Uses a lot of power
    • Priming can be difficult
    • Not suited for beginners

    4. Tetra Whisper Internal Aquarium Power Filter

    Tetra Whisper Internal Aquarium Power Filter

    The Tetra Whisper internal aquarium power filter is designed for tanks with a capacity of up to 40 gallons. It is mounted inside the tank, which means that it is suitable for aquariums that sit flush against the wall. It has a three-stage filtration system, including a bio-scrubber with an anti-clog design, and is compatible with Tetra’s bio bag replacement cartridges.

    As well as being suitable for saltwater aquariums, the power filter will work in shallow waters, so it has also proven popular with turtle tank owners. It comes with suction cups for easy installation and has a mounting bracket if you prefer the stability that this offers. It is an inexpensive filter, but some buyers have said that the design means that the filter is physically too large for smaller tanks and that without very frequent cleaning, it has a tendency to burn out within a few months.

    If the filter fits your tank, especially considering the extended hanging arm, it could be a good and inexpensive option for your tank.

    Pros
    • Hangs inside the tank, minimizing external space requirements
    • Compatible with Tetra bio-bags
    • Can be used for turtle tanks
    Cons
    • Too big for a lot of 10-gallon tanks
    • Tends to burn out after a few months

    5. Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Filter

    Tetra Whisper EX Aquarium Power Filter

    The Tetra Whisper EX aquarium power filter is a convenient and inexpensive filter with models compatible with tanks up to 70 gallons. It has some handy features, too.

    This power filter is self-priming: the priming process can be challenging with some filters, and self-priming options are preferred by a lot of buyers. It’s also ready to use straight out of the box so you don’t need to figure out the assembly instructions. The three-stage filter is sold as being silent once submerged and in operation, and the time-strip alerts you when it is time to change the filter out, ensuring that your filter is always clean and ready to do its job. Tetra says that the filter has been designed for continuous water flow, which helps prevent dirt buildup, and the outflow has been engineered to ensure maximum water agitation and oxygenation so it should energize your fish and ensure top quality water. Despite these features, it is less expensive than most other options in its class.

    However, despite claims of the unit being silent, the impeller is far some silent, with some units screaming and others buzzing. There have also been several buyers reporting that it stopped working within a few months.

    Pros
    • Cheap
    • Self-priming
    • Already assembled
    Cons
    • Adding your own media reduces out flow
    • Several complaints of it breaking
    • Not as quiet as the name suggests

    6. Fluval Aquarium Power Filter

    Fluval Aquarium Power Filter

    The Fluval aquarium power filter is an inexpensive filter featuring a five-stage filtration process: two mechanical, one chemical, and two biological filters. This setup removes large and fine debris from the water. It also offers water flow control, so that you can minimize flow and provide a safe environment for any gentle swimmers in your stock.

    However, the filter can be fiddly to set up and the noise of the pump is louder than the noise of the water, which means that it won’t be suitable for tanks in living spaces or bedrooms. Considering the five-stage filtration and the fact that this is a power filter, the Fluval does not do the best job of clearing cloudy water, either, so if you have particularly messy fish, you should consider looking elsewhere. Models include 30, 50, and 70-gallon capacities.

    Pros
    • Power filter
    • Five stage filtration system
    • Water flow control system
    Cons
    • Not effective for cloudy water
    • Loud

    7. Fluval Aquarium Underwater Filter

    Fluval Aquarium Underwater Filter

    The Fluval aquarium underwater filter, as the name suggests, is an aquarium filter that is housed underwater. This offers a couple of benefits to the owner. First, the water effectively dampens the noise of the filter so that it operates quietly and shouldn’t disturb you even if you’re sat next to it. It is also beneficial because it means that you can sit the back of the tank flush against the wall, with no pump overhang. The Fluval also boasts a couple of other beneficial features. It has 3-way control that outputs water at the top of the unit for increased water circulation, the bottom of the unit to agitate deep water, and via a spray bar which gives a gentle flow and is ideal for weaker swimmers.

    It can be used for turtle tanks, too, although buyers have reported that this filter doesn’t do a great job of clearing murky water and many have advised buying the size up for this kind of use. Overall, the filter enjoys positive reviews but there have been some complaints of the impeller being brittle and easy to damage, as well as a handful of complaints that it doesn’t do a good job of clearing muddy water.

    Pros
    • Integrated spray bar is ideal for weak swimmers
    • Installed underwater
    • Quiet
    Cons
    • Doesn’t do well with cloudy water
    • Impeller blades seem fragile

    8. Marina Aquarium Power Filter

    Marina Aquarium Power Filter

    The Marina aquarium power filter is another filter that submerges in the tank. As well as reducing external space requirements and dampening noise from the filter, this also means that the Marina does not require priming before you start using it.

    It also offers instant start-up and the power filter’s compact design is ideal for the smaller tanks it is designed for. The power filter also has an adjustable flow control, allowing you to ensure that all of your fish are happy and able to comfortably swim around their home. Furthermore, the unit includes a strainer sponge that prevents small fish from getting sucked in, further highlighting its use for small tanks and small fish.

    It runs quietly but there have been some complaints about the durability of the filter, with buyers complaining that the unit broke within a few months, and other users claiming that it requires more regular filter cleaning than other models.

    Pros
    • Self-priming
    • Submersible design
    • Quiet operation
    • Water flow controls
    Cons
    • Not very powerful
    • Some complaints that it breaks easily

    9. Penn-Plax Premium Underground Aquarium Filter

    Penn-Plax Premium Underground Aquarium Filter

    The Penn-Plax Premium underground aquarium filter is an under-gravel filter. This means that it is silent to run and there are, in theory, fewer parts to break down and replace. They are also hidden out of sight, which means that you can spend your time staring at the fish and not checking out the filter and tubes. They can also work out inexpensive and do a good job of filtering smaller tanks.

    However, under gravel filters are harder to maintain and require more frequent cleaning. They can’t be used if any of your fish are diggers, and you will struggle with rooted plants.

    The Penn-Plax is inexpensive in itself. However, you will need plenty of additional components that aren’t included in the purchase. There have also been several complaints that the filter is made using low quality and easily damaged parts, with some users also complaining of a layer of dust above the gravel when being used.

    Pros
    • Invisible
    • Silent
    • Inexpensive
    Cons
    • Low-quality parts
    • Requires more frequent tank cleaning
    • Not suitable for diggers or rooted plants
    • Some complaints of murky water

    10. API Filstar XP Canister Aquarium Filter

    API Filstar XP canister aquarium filter

    The API Filstar XP canister aquarium filter is a powerful canister filter available with a 75- and 175-gallon capacity. Even considering the large capacity of the models, the API filters are the most expensive in our list, but do they justify the big price tag? It is self-priming, which removes the need for fiddly priming procedures. It also has an anti-overheating motor design to prevent burnout.

    However, some buyers have reported the need to buy additional hosing and connections, despite the hefty price tag. There have also been complaints of leaking units, and the tubing that does come with the unit is rigid and difficult to attach to the filter. There’s also a distinct lack of a spray bar.

    Pros
    • Quiet
    • Easy to prime
    Cons
    • Expensive
    • Poor quality parts
    • Doesn’t include everything you need
    • Fiddly to setup
    • Missing spray bar and some connectors

    divider-fishConclusion

    Saltwater aquarium filters perform a vital task in your aquarium, ensuring that your fish have a healthy living environment and that the water is crystal clear so that you can enjoy them.

    Poor quality filters either fail to perform these duties, operate too loudly to be comfortable, or they cost a lot of money and still necessitate the purchase of additional accessories and items. They can also be difficult to install, prime, and maintain.

    Choosing the right filter is important, and there is a large selection of different models available.

    Following extensive testing and the compiling of our reviews, we found that the Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO was the best filter in our list with its five-stage filtration and handy features like the LED warning light. The MarineLand Bio-Wheel Penguin was the best value for money and ideal if you need to save a few bucks while still ensuring that your fish are safe and healthy.

    Hopefully, our list of the best aquarium filters has helped you find the best model for your tank and your needs.


    Featured Image: PxHere

    Nicole Cosgrove

    Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.