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Old 02-13-2007, 11:24 AM   #1
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How I decided on which filter to buy. A NooBs point of view.

Which Filter For My Freshwater Tank
A beginners point of view on this troubling question.

If you are reading this, then you are probably just like me. You have a new tank and are trying to decide on a filtration system for it. However, you know absolutely nothing about them. I know little about filters. And at the time of my writing this article, I have yet to purchase one for my tank. However, that is about to change as I have made my decision. Here is how I did it. While this should not be considered a "manual", by any stretch of the imagination, it should prove useful in making your decision.

The reason I have not purchased a filter up to this point is simple. Confusion. Confusion that is brought on from the many different replies I have read on several different forums concerning "Which filter should I buy?" questions. These replies range from short one word answers that merely tell you the manufacturers name which that person uses, to more detailed explanations of why a person will never buy a certain manufacturer's product again or why they love it.

Well, I have spent the better part a couple hours each night over a period of 3 or 4 weeks trying to find an answer to the all important question. What filter should I buy? The answer to that question is very simple. There is no answer due to the many variables each tank owner has. The tank size, the type and number of fish you have, the type of substrate, the number and type of plants, and other things, all contribute to type and size of filtration you need. The amount of money you are able to spend will also play into this decision.

So, how did I answer this question? I began by asking a few questions on different forums after I decided what I wanted to accomplish with my tank.

What I Wanted:

For my tank, I wanted many smaller fish. I chose my fish, making sure they were compatible and not too large for my tank, and then asked about the bio-load these fish would place on my size tank. I then did research to find out how strong of water current these fish like. Some fish that you might choose like faster currents. While others like calmer water.

Originally, I did not want live plants. However, I have changed my mind on this. I knew from reading other posts that this would help make the tank easier to maintain and help decrease the bio-load to an extent, as live plants use the fish waste as fertilizer.

Filter Types:

There are several different types of filters available for use with an aquarium. I wont go into how these filters work as there are tons of information readily available on the internet that can explain it far better than I could at this point in my learning. There are 2 types that we beginners should be interested in. The HOB, or "Hang On Back" filter and the canister filter. The HOB and the canister are the two that beginners like us are most likely to use for one reason in particular. Most of us are going to start the hobby with a smaller tank. Usually 55 gallons and smaller. These tanks, from what I have found, really don't require the more advanced filtration types. Both the HOB and the canister will do an effective job at filtering your tank. And both have good and bad points to ponder.

The following good and bad points are based soley on what I have read on the internet and not from any practical experience.
  • The Good:[list:32e0df4440]- HOB filters are generally easy to maintain and are priced lower than any other type of filtration short of a DIY setup. They are also fairly compact in size.
    - Canister filters tend to be more efficient and are usually almost silent in operation. They usually don't cause as much "gas off" as well.

The Bad:
  • - HOB filters are less efficient. Thus, more GPH are usually required. They also agitate the water surface causing more "gas off".
    - Canister filters are more expensive and are usually a bit harder to maintain. They are also usually larger and, although not required, are most generally kept hidden inside the tank stand.
(Note: "Gas-off" is, what I take to mean, the action of Co2 (carbon dioxide) leaving the water into the air.)

Rule of Thumb:

Armed with this information, I started with two basic rules of thumb that are seemingly accepted throughout the freshwater hobby. One is that a HOB filter should turn over the water in a tank 10 times per hour. And the other is that a canister filter, due to being more efficient, should turn the water over 4-5 times per hour. Based on this, my 55 gallon tank, which really only holds about 50 gallons, would need a HOB filter capable of moving 500 GPH (Gallons Per Hour) or a canister capable of 200 to 250 GPH. I needed to take into account my tank's bio-load next.


My fish's bio-load would be considered on the upper side of medium. Thus, I upped the GPH by 1/3 (100 gallons). However, the plants, and I plan on using quite a few live plants, would reduce the bio-load. So, I reduced the GPH by 1/6 (50 gallons). That left me at 550 GPH(HOB) or 250 to 300 GPH(Canister) for the moment as I still had to factor in for water movement.

Adjust for Water Movement:

The fish I chose, from what I can determine, prefer a gentle current. Nothing too strong. So, that was easy to figure into the equation. I didn't adjust my GPH at all for current. At this point, I knew that I needed a 250 GPH HOB filter or a 250 to 300 GPH canister. And I knew the good and bad of each type. That is pretty much all of the basic information a beginner needs, in my opinion, to decide on what "type" of filter to purchase.

A Final Decision on "Type":

In my original aquarium plan, I didn't want to take my attention away from the fish by having to mess with plants. That changed of course, as most people say planted tanks are easier to maintain. So, knowing that I want plants, it makes sense to go with the canister type filter. Yes, it's more expensive. But it causes less gas-off. Thus, there will be more Co2 in the tank for the plants to use. And, as an added bonus, it will be nearly silent. I needed a 250 to 300 GPH canister filter.

But which manufacturer?:

After sitting down and really thinking this over, I came to a conclusion. Filters can be compared to cars. While a Ferrari, as expensive, quick and flashy as they are, can get you from point A to point B, a 4 cylinder Cheverolet Cavalier can do it too. Just not as fast or flashy and for a great deal less money. So, which manufacturer's 250 GPH canister do I purchase? Just like my cars, the fastest and flashiest one I can afford, of course. It just wont be as flashy as the top end manufacturer's model. If you can afford the Ehiem (Ferrari), go for it. Otherwise, decide on how much you can spend and get one that is inside your budget.

(Note: If choosing a canister type filter, check the manufactures website to insure the model chosen will produce the required GPH at the head (height from filter to the highest point your filters hoses reach) your setup requires.)


In conclusion, if you are stuck, as I was, trying to figure out which filter is right for your setup, you are putting way too much thought into it. Just figure out what you want to put in your tank. Once you know that, it's really not that difficult to decide what filter to purchase.

Just don't let the kid at your LFS sell you something without researching it first. That should be the number one "Rule of Thumb" for any and all purchases you make regarding your aquarium and it's inhabitants.

Welcome to the hobby!


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