Medium aquarium tank sizes start at 20 gallons through 40 to 45 gallons. Large aquarium tank sizes start at around 50 gallons and can go up to 225 gallons.
Choosing the right aquarium filter for a large fish tank can seem a bit of a bewildering task. There are many different types of filters and even several different models from each brand.
Luckily, it’s not as complicated as it seems, and in this guide, we’re going to make it as simple as possible for you to find the perfect filter for your tank.
Seachem HOB Power Filter Tidal Series
- The pump is also insulated and silent, making it excellent for office or dining room aquariums, and has extremely low power consumption for the amount of output.
- The basket is designed with raised slots which catch detritus rather than allowing it to fall through back into the filter when flow is stopped.
The Seachem Tidal series consists of 4 sizes of hang-on-back (HOB) filters, made for tanks of up to 35, 55, 75, and 110 gallons. Each filter is conveniently named according to how many gallons of water it can clean – for example, the Tidal 110 is the model for tanks up to 110 gallons.
One thing we really like about this series is the easy-to-use dial with which you can adjust the filter flow. Since some fish can get stressed by strong currents, it’s a great asset to be able to turn the flow down when necessary.
The Tidal 110 can cycle a maximum of 450 gallons per hour, but this can be reduced to 90 gph if desired. The Tidal 75 can cycle a maximum of 350 gallons per hour, and so on.
Some neat design features like overflow prevention, large-capacity filter basket, aerating return flow, and telescopic intake pipe show how much care Seachem took in designing this filter. It also features a handy little clip on the side on which to place your aquarium heater for even heat distribution around the tank.
The large basket allows for a high volume of filter media and therefore very effective cleaning. The surface skimmer cleans the water surface of biofilm and fish oils.
The unit also has a 5-year warranty, which is very impressive for a mid-price range hang-on-back filter. Seachem is clearly confident that this filter has been made to last!
What we like:
- Excellent performance for clean, clear water.
- An impressive array of smart design features, including a surface skimmer.
- Easily adjustable flow to ensure the right current for all of your fish.
- 5-year warranty from a well-known brand indicates quality workmanship and endurance.
What we don’t:
- Some people find the surface skimmer sucks up floating fish food before it’s eaten.
- Not as powerful as canister filters.
Fluval 07 Canister Filter Series
- Powerful motor generates constant pumping power and pressure that endures over time and re-engineered, precision-crafted pump runs up to 25% quieter than previous generation
- Energy-efficient – some 07 series filters draw as little energy as a single household LED lightbulb
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Canister filters are generally big, powerful units that use a lot of power to clean larger aquariums.
The Fluval 07 series is a bit different in that these smaller filters are designed for medium-large tanks, with energy saving in mind.
The series comes in 4 sizes: 107, 207, 307 & 407. The 307 has a flow rate of 303 gallons per hour and is designed for tanks up to 70 gallons, while the 407 can manage 383 gph and tanks up to 100 gallons.
These larger two models run on 16w and 23w of electricity respectively, so will only cost you between $30-55 to run per year.
Fluval has been making filters for a long time, and the precision-crafted pump on this model runs up to 25% quieter than the previous 06 generation.
While this filter series is more expensive than some of the others listed, it has been a big hit with customers, who have been very impressed with the long-term performance of this filter.
A great advantage of canister filters like these is the large media compartments which clean the water better than any other type of filter and also don’t need cleaning or replacing as often as other filter types.
The 07 series comes with a 3-year warranty that can be extended to 5 years if you register the product.
What we like:
- Outstanding filter performance, large sponge surface area gives crystal clear water.
- Excellent engineering – new innovations have made the filter even quieter.
- Up to a 5-year warranty shows confidence in quality workmanship.
What we don’t like:
- More expensive than other types of filters for similar-sized tanks.
- Canister filters are bulky and more complex to set up/maintain.
Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel HOB Power Filter
Marineland’s Penguin Bio-Wheel hang-on-back power filters have been a top-selling filter in the trade for years. The patented bio-wheel technology seems very effective at providing excellent biological filtration.
While this series is mainly for small-medium size tanks, their largest version, which cycles 350 Gallons per hour, is suitable for tanks of up to 75 gallons.
Marineland recommends you use their filter cartridges as a medium, but the setup is highly customizable, and in reality, you can insert whichever media you prefer.
The two-piece vented cover is designed for convenient filter media access and quiet operation. If the fish tank is properly filled, the operation is indeed normally quiet.
Some users have reported their filters becoming noisy, but this is a slight risk with any mid-price range filter – if any parts become loose or damaged, some extra noise can be expected.
Things we like:
- Inexpensive & good value.
- Patented biowheel for superb biological filtration.
- A tried and tested series from a trusted brand.
Things we don’t:
- Maximum tank size for the series is 75 gallons.
- The company tries to persuade you to buy replacement filter cartridges every month, which may be unnecessary if you know how to customize your own media.
Aquaclear HOB Power Filter For Fish Tanks
This classic hang-on-back style power filter series from Aquaclear comes in 5 sizes. The smallest of the series is for tanks between 5 – 20 gallons, with the largest being for tanks from 60 – 110 gallons.
These filters are extremely well-known and have been a stalwart in the aquarium world for years. Aquaclear’s chief selling points for the series are the superior contact time between the filter media and the water and the low running costs (5-watt power consumption) for each model.
The filter is easy to take apart and clean, and the filter media is fully customizable.
While the company claims a very quiet operation, some users have experienced excessive noise with these filters. The problem can often be overcome by lubricating the impeller shaft with petroleum jelly and removing the filter lid which often rattles.
Overall, the filter housing seems a bit brittle, and there are some questions about the longevity of these filters. But the 3-stage filtration performance is very good, cleaning and clearing the water effectively within 24 hours of installation.
What we like:
- Highly effective 3-stage filtration for fast, observable results.
- Energy-efficient and low running costs.
- Easy to clean.
What we don’t:
- Occasional issues with noisy impeller and rattling lid.
- Less robust than some other filters.
- More expensive than other HOB filters.
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter
- Fits aquariums up to 155 gallons
- Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filters are designed for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Included is a unique hang on the back water polishing unit that makes maintenance quick and easy.
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The Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter series is a range of 3 different-sized filters. The 200 GPH model cycles are designed for tanks up to 55 gallons, the 300 is for tanks up to 75 gallons, and the 400 is for tanks up to 155 gallons.
Foam Pads (mechanical), Carbon (chemical), Bio-Balls, and Bio-Ceramic Rings (biological) offer effective 3-stage filtration. Some users have reported that the filter works well in turtle tanks – which is the ultimate test of a good filter!
Multiple water return options offer versatility to suit a variety of aquarium fish; a spray bar, and water director can help to avoid a strong current, and an optional water polishing unit helps to clean the smallest of the debris before the water re-enters the tank.
One slight drawback of this filter is the lack of a self-priming pump and an easy-to-open-and-close design. This means you need to fill it up with water manually every time you clean it, and the total cleaning and reinstallation can take anywhere up to one hour.
The unit comes with a 1-year warranty.
What we like:
- Effective 3-stage filtration.
- A versatile range – the largest model can handle tanks up to 155 gallons!
- Optional water polishing for crystal-clear water.
What we don’t:
- Price is higher than many other filters.
- Lacking a priming pump, time-consuming to clean and refill.
- One year warranty is rather short for a canister filter.
Understanding Aquarium Filters For Larger Tanks
The world of aquarium filters may seem a bit daunting, but we’re going to make it easier for you to understand. In this section, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about aquarium filters for tanks of 50 gallons and above.
Types of Aquarium Filters For Larger Tanks
While sponge filters and internal power filters can be used in fish tanks of less than 50 gallons, larger tanks need more powerful filtration systems to clean the larger body of water.
The two types commonly used today are Hang-On-Back (HOB) filters and Canister Filters. Let’s take a closer look at them here.
If you’re new to fishkeeping, you may be surprised that aquarium filters can sit outside of the tank. Hang-on-back filters do just what they say and hang on the back wall of your aquarium, rather than inside the water.
With pipes that run in and out of the aquarium, they take tank water in, process it through a series of filter media chambers, then return it back to the tank via the output tube.
Hang-On-Back Filters tend to be easy to install, clean, and easy to maintain, and so are great for beginners. Being outside of the tank, they also don’t occupy precious aquarium space as internal filters do.
Canister filters are the Rolls Royce of aquarium filters. These large, powerful units are much too large to hang on the back of the tank and are instead stowed away under the aquarium – often in some sort of cabinet or closet.
Being larger means that canister filters can hold a larger filter media basket than smaller types of filters and therefore clean the water even more thoroughly. Because of this extra cleaning power, canister filters can handle larger bio-loads than any other filters. This is useful when dealing with overstocked fish tanks or specialist pets like turtles that create a lot of mess.
Modern Canister filters are designed to be quiet, and there’s the extra advantage that they can be sealed inside a cabinet to reduce the sound to the faintest whisper.
Canister filters tend to be much more expensive than other types of filters – you have to pay for all that extra efficiency!
Less Common Types of Filters
Two less common options for medium-large fish tanks that didn’t make our list of top products are sump filters and under gravel filters.
Undergravel filters were once quite popular but are less often used these days due to some significant drawbacks. These types of filters sit under the gravel and tend to pull all the debris from the tank down into the substrate – in effect using the substrate as the filter medium. This is problematic because the decomposing debris can release toxins into the water and so require constant cleaning – not much fun!
A sump filter is essentially an additional tank or vessel containing various filter media that is installed under the main aquarium. A pump moves water from the aquarium, down into the sump where it travels through various filter media compartments before being returned again to the main tank.
Sumps are more commonly used in marine aquariums than freshwater, partly because they allow you to install a protein skimmer – a device that removes organic compounds from the water and oxygenates the water. This function, however, is less necessary in freshwater aquariums.
The Three Stages of Filtration
In the above product reviews, you’ll hear us talking a lot about ‘three-stage filtration systems’ but what exactly are the three stages of filtration?
The first stage of filtration is mechanical. This simply means the physical action of a sponge, filter foam, or floss in filtering out particles from the water. The smaller the pores on the media, the smaller the particles it will filter out, and the more mechanical media that the water has to pass through, the greater the effect.
The second stage is biological filtration. This needs a bit of understanding. One of the most important roles of a filter is to convert toxic ammonia created by fish waste, dead plant matter, and uneaten food into less harmful nitrates.
This function is carried out by nitrifying bacteria that live in the tank’s substrate and filter media. Healthy populations of these microbes are essential for this purpose, and many filters come with highly porous ceramic balls or rings to host thriving populations.
If the populations of these beneficial bacteria become weakened or die, the whole aquarium is immediately at risk from ammonia poisoning, which can kill fish and invertebrates very quickly. It’s difficult to overstate just how vital reliable biological filtration is!
The third stage is chemical filtration. This is an optional stage that usually consists of some kind of activated carbon media that filters out the very smallest of particles such as phenols and various toxic and medicinal compounds from the water.
Phenols include substances that make the water smell fishy and tannins which turn the water brown and acidic. Filtering out medicines may be useful after treatment when you want to clean up the water.
Understanding Filter Flow
An important consideration to make when choosing a filter is how much current it will create, and how it will affect your fish.
While some fish such as plecos, loaches, and danios come from fast-flowing water and will relish swimming against a current, other fish like bettas, goldfish and gouramis are from slow-moving or stagnant waters that don’t receive much current at all.
If you give your fish more water current than they’re designed for, you’ll be putting them under substantial stress, which can lead to all sorts of health problems and even premature death.
Luckily many filters now come with an adjustable flow rate, so you can change the strength of the water current with an in-built dial. Other solutions to excessive flow include spray bars which distribute the water output over a greater area and filter baffles which divert the flow away from the main swimming area.
With rising energy prices and the CO2 crisis growing ever larger, you might like to consider the energy consumption of the filter you’re buying. In general, large canister filters are going to be more expensive to run than smaller HOB units, and some brands have made a point of engineering models that consume less electricity.
Some of these low-consumption models require just 8 watts of electricity and will cost you as little as $15 per year to run. Compare this to a power-hungry canister filter that needs 50 watts of power, 24 hours per day, 365 days a year and you’ll be making a significant saving!
Large Aquarium Filter FAQs
How Many Gallons per Hour Do I Need My Filter To Cycle?
You need to choose a filter that will cycle the entire volume of your tank’s water at around four times per hour.
This means if you have a 50-gallon tank, you’ll need a filter that can cycle 200 gallons per hour. A 75-gallon tank needs a flow rate of 300 gallons per hour, and a 100-gallon tank needs around 400 gallons per hour.
Can a Filter Be Too Big or Powerful for a Fish Tank?
Definitely! As we’ve said, understanding the right filter flow for your specific tank and fish is very important. If you blast a slow-water fish like a betta or goldfish with a strong current in a small tank, your fish will become very stressed and may be dead within a few weeks.
It’s important to choose the right filter flow and use an accessory like a filter baffle or spray bar if you need to distribute the flow more evenly.
Is a Sump Better Than a Canister Filter?
Sump filters are highly customizable – you may even be able to build your own! They’re also more affordable than canister filters.
On the other hand, canister filters are more powerful, more capable of handling high bio-loads, and easier to install.
For larger freshwater aquariums, HOBs or canister filters are generally the preferred choice. But for marine setups, a sump is useful in that it allows you to add a protein skimmer.
What Is the Best Type of Filter for a Big Fish Tank?
After reading this article, you’ll hopefully be better informed about which is the best type of filter for a large aquarium.
Hang-on-back filters are a simple, more affordable type of filter for tanks up to 110 gallons with normal bio-loads. They’re easy to manage, clean, and maintain and are definitely the better choice for beginners with medium-large tanks.
Canister filters are a more advanced and expensive style of filter that can’t be beaten in terms of their all-around power and efficiency in cleaning the water. They are however more difficult to clean and maintain and are better suited to advanced fish keepers or hobbyists with very large fish tanks.
Our Top Pick
There are many good filters on the market for larger tanks, but we reckon the pick of the bunch is the Seachem Tidal Series.
Not only does this filter work wonders at keeping the water clean, but it also has just about every feature you could want from a hang-on-back filter. It’s extremely good value, and, best of all, comes with a 5-year warranty. This speaks volumes for Seachem’s trust in their engineering and the filter has received glowing customer reviews.
If you’re looking to take your water quality to the next level with a canister filter, then a Fluval 07 series is our favorite of the more affordable options.
Their largest model is for tanks of up to 100 gallons, but if you’re looking to filter a larger tank than this, then you could consider the Aqueon Quietflow 400 Canister Filter, which can clean aquariums right up to 150 gallons.
To check out customer reviews for the Seachem Tidal Filter for tanks of up to 75 gallons, click here.