Best filter for saltwater tank – Reviews and buying guide

Investing in a saltwater aquarium is always hurting your wallet more than a freshwater aquarium in both equipment meaning and maintenance meaning. However, the saltwater will bring you impressive touch of ocean life with vivid colors of fish and reef. Thus, investing in a good filter will be one of the key elements to the success of a saltwater aquarium that you will never be regretful about. Let us help you to figure out the top 5 of the best filter for saltwater tank.  



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Top 5 Best Filter For Saltwater Tank You Should Know

Top 1: Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter

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The Fluval 07 series of canister filters feature 4 sizes: 107, 207, 307, and 407 with filtering capacity from 145 to 383 GPH, which is equal to 550 – 1450 l/hour. 


  • Extremely quiet: You will be very surprised if you have been ever used to other brands and just a new user of Fluval because of the dead silence of the filter even over a long time of use. The sound dampening shaft and the air pump masks make it operate in nearly non-existent sound.
  • Big capacity for filter media: The canister includes both a vertical pre-filter basket and 3-stack baskets for customizing your aquatic filter media.
  • Easy-to-setup & maintain: The canister has already included filter media for you to start the tank right away. The handle in the top lid lets you prime the filter effortlessly with some pushes. The filter media and the other spare parts are also easy to be found or replaced/upgraded in the market. The 3-stack filter media baskets come with handles in the center for easily taking out and changing the filter media. The normal filter needs to change media within 1 – 2 months but this Fluval canister could prolong the period of changing media up to 4 months.


  • Some people may find lacking the spray bar is a big shortage but I am satisfied with the total inclusive parts in the kit.

Top 2: Penn-Plax Aquarium Canister Filter

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This canister filter creates a flow rate of up to 350 GPH and is suitable for aquariums up to 200 gallons.


  • Compact and versatile: This cascade 1500 features the 3600 flow valves which help to maneuver to even the tightest aquarium cabinet. The valves also include flow control valves for multi-purposes. The filter also comes with 5 large media baskets for the aquarists to customize their filter media. Moreover, there is a push button for easily priming the filter. The kit also includes other awesome extras as the spray bar, input/output tubing, directional spout, and the filter media for activating your aquarium right away.
  • Use for any combination of filter media: Each filter pump goes with a floss pad for catching all the debris; extra-large, stackable filter medium containers with lift-up handles where aquarists could customize any kinds of filter media such as activated carbon with bio-filter pads; and a coarse sponge for providing an abundant surface for promoting bacteria growth.   
  • Easy installation:  The filter comes with instructions for easy installation. It also does not take too much space. 


  • The water going out of the output tube is a little noisy.

Top 3: Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter 55-100 Gallons

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There are 3 available sizes: 200 GPH, 350 GPH, and 400 GPH and is suitable for aquariums up to 150 gallons. The kit includes quick disconnect valves, pump locking heads, water intake/output connections, hoses, water polishing unit with cartridge and media: activated carbon, coarse foam, bio-balls, bio-ceramic rings.


  • Quick and easy maintenance: you could experience quick and easy maintenance simply by replacing the filter cartridge with this design of a hang-on-back water polishing unit.
  • Multi-stage filtration: The media baskets are already pre-loaded with 3-stage filter media: mechanical, chemical, and biological to operate and filter effectively right away.  
  • Multiple choices for water return: You could choose a more traditional way of returning water by using a water director and spray bar.
  • Quiet and convenient: The water polishing unit is separated from the canister and there is no need to disassemble when replacing filter media and especially, the canister operates very quietly.


  • There are no flow control valves, however, it is not a big deal because you could choose the flow rate according to your tank size.

Top 4: Seachem Tidal Power Aquarium Filter – 35 Gallon Large Fish Tank Filter

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  • Adjustable flow: You could adjust the regulator and change the flow rate anywhere between 90 GPH and 450 GPH, depending on which kind of current and how oxygenated the water your fishes wish to be in.
  • Including surface skimmer: This feature is for easily capturing floating debris or accumulated fish oil.
  • Heater holder included: You could save more space and make it less bulky in your tank with the clamps for holding a heater right beside the filter.
  • Available maintenance alert: Every time the filtration media get clogged, the water is redirected back to the tank and around the filter through the sided outlet, and the blue light indicator on the top lid is activated, then it is the time for you to clean or change filter media.
  • Quiet and big space for filter media: The filter operates so quietly that you could hardly hear the “waterfall” sound. There is also a lot of space for filtration media with the high-capacity basket. All the filters come with Seachem’s Matrix bio-media so that you could start right away.


  • The impeller/filter intake needs to be covered by a sponge so that no fish food or small fish could be sucked in.

Top 5: Hydor Professional External Canister Filter – Aquarium External Filter

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This external canister series from the Hydor brand are customized into 5 sizes for you to choose from. The circulation ranges from 160 to 290 GPH and suitable for tank size from 20 gallons to 150 gallons, depending on the circulation range you choose.


  • Complete and versatile: This canister is equipped with intake tubes, an easy priming button, and safety locks to bring the best ecosystem to your tank with a long-lasting ceramics shaft and no water bypass. The configuration of media baskets includes fine mechanical pads, coarse mechanical pads, and chemical media from Hydor: Sintered Quartz Bio-rings.
  • Easy-to-setup and use: The unit is taking only a modest space under the aquarium and some space for attaching the intake tubes and spray bar inside the tank. The filter takes you only some minutes to set up with some for priming the motor. It also takes you months for changing media and cleaning the filter.
  • Quiet operation and clear water: The operation of the canister is super quiet, meanwhile, it could keep your water crystal clear for months. 


  • Some plastic parts seem to be cheap quality.

What is a canister filter?

A canister filter is on the high end of the price scale but it is worth the money. It is usually our personal choice for an aquarium bigger than 20 gallons. This type of filter often comes with multiple trays or baskets; each stack provides one type of filtration. The first tray could be a sponge to catch the large particles and debris mechanically and also provide the surface for growing bacteria. The second tray is usually a chemical filter media to remove all the impurities and ammonia (toxic odors). The third tray could be activated carbon to filter water chemically or another type of biological filter media for growing bacteria to denitrification. Some canister filters have more than 3 stacks for the aquarists to customize filter media in their own creativity and get better filtration results. Most canister filters push the water from the bottom tray and then return to the tank through a spray bar. Some filters just go the opposite way.

Why a canister filter for a saltwater aquarium?

Firstly, a canister filter provides you the room to customize filter media and helps you to get the most effective way of filtration through 3 stages: mechanical, chemical, and biological. Secondly, it is easy to take out the filter media, clean or replace it for a better filtering result. Last but not least, a canister filter usually has a great circulation which is suitable for bigger aquariums, both freshwater or saltwater.


What do I need to set up a saltwater aquarium?

#01 Tank/aquarium

Of course, you have to choose a tank. It could be glass or acrylic, depending on your spot and how big space you could leave out to display it.

#02 Lighting

The type of lighting depends on which kind of stock you are going to introduce to your tank. A saltwater aquarium usually needs brighter lighting for the coral and live plants to survive as well as to enhance the fish’s vivid colors.

#03 Filtration system 

A canister filter or a power filter is usually the first rank for a filtration system of a saltwater tank because of their high capacity of circulation.

#04 Protein skimmer

This is an essential part of a saltwater tank to remove dissolved organic matter from the water. The skimmer will remove protein into a collection cup that could be emptied on a regular basis. Protein skimmer also helps to dissolve more oxygen into the tank water.

#05 Powerhead

If you’re running a system where air stones drive the water flow in your under-gravel

Filter (UGF), consider using a powerhead in one of the uplift tubes. The powerhead should help

generate much better flow through the UGF, resulting in a more efficient UGF. Besides, one or multiple powerheads in a saltwater tank create more water currents which are essential for a saltwater tank to prevent dead zones and make uneaten food floating to be removed easily by a protein skimmer or mechanical filtration. 

#06 Live Rock & Substrate

Live rock and substrate play an important in a saltwater tank because many marine animals use it as a shelter or territorial place. 

#07 Heater & Thermometer

One heater may work well for a small aquarium but in a large reef or marine tank, multiple units are necessary. 

#08 Air Pump & Air Stones

Those are necessary if you are running a piece of equipment that requires such as a counter-current protein skimmer.

#09 Test Kits, Additives & Supplements

Calcium (also known as limewater/kalkwasser) is a very important supplement that you need to add to a reef tank. Other supplements for certain kinds of stock such as iodine for crustaceans are also very important.

#10 Maintenance Tools & Supplies

Among the essential maintenance tools that you should keep in mind are various sized buckets and a siphon hose for a water change, an algae scraper or magnet, as well as nets of different sizes, spare equipment replacements parts, and so on.

#11 Sea Salt Mix/Saltwater & Hydrometer

Sea Salt Mix to help to change your tap water into saltwater. A hydrometer is to measure the specific gravity or salt content of the water.

How to change a filter without upsetting the tank’s cycle?

Changing to a new filter while your tank’s cycle has not been fully setup could cause a biological crash and lead to fish deaths. Thus, to ensure a full nitrogen cycle during this transfer, you should take the following actions:

  • If your old filter is still running well, keep it run for at least one month together with the new filter
  • If your old filter has been broken down, remove the filter and keep the old media to transition it to the new filter
  • Do not make water change during this transition period
  • Do not add stock until you create new bacterial growth in the new filter media
  • Test the water for pH, ammonia, and nitrite every week during the transition time to eliminate any surprise water quality issues

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