Clean water is essential for the health of your fish, no matter what size aquarium you have. Did you know that water containing even small levels of ammonia and nitrite can kill your fish? Weekly water changes are essential to keep your tank safe for your pets, but an efficient mechanical and biological filtration system is also a must.
In this guide, we take a look at the best filter for a 10-gallon tank, including our reviews and recommendations for the best products on the current market.
Table of Contents
Quick Comparisons of the 7 Best Filter For 10-Gallon Tanks
|Tetra Whisper PF10 Power Filtration System||View Product|
|Whisper IQ Power Filter for Aquariums, With Quiet Technology||View Product|
|Penn Plax Cascade Internal Filter for Aquariums||View Product|
|Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Internal Power Filter, up to 10 gallon||View Product|
|Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter||View Product|
|Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter||View Product|
|Seachem Laboratories Tidal Power Filter 35||View Product|
Why Do You Need An Aquarium Filter For A 10-Gallon Tank?
Many people assume that a small fish tank doesn’t need a filtration system. After all, a few fishes won’t make much mess, right? No! Every tank needs a filtration system, regardless of how many fish the aquarium contains and how big the setup is. That’s because of a biological process known as the nitrogen cycle.
The Nitrogen Cycle
In the natural environment, levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates very rarely rise to levels that are dangerous to wildlife. However, your freshwater home fish tank is a “closed environment” that often contains large numbers of fish and invertebrates, all of which contribute to the burden of toxins in the water. If the level of nitrogenous compounds in the water becomes too high, the fish become sick and stressed, leaving them vulnerable to diseases and even death.
Keeping living plants in your setup can help by removing nitrates from the water column and using them as nutrients. However, you’ll need to maintain the water quality by carrying out partial water changes each week and by installing and maintaining an efficient biological filtration system to manage the nitrogen cycle.
A biological filtration system provides an area in which beneficial bacteria can grow. Those bacteria break down the harmful ammonia and nitrites that fish waste and decomposing organic matter produces, turning it to less dangerous nitrates.
Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen
Fish and invertebrates breathe oxygen and expire carbon dioxide (CO2). Living plants use CO2 during the daytime and produce oxygen, but at night the process is reversed. As long as the CO2 level in the water remains below 32 ppm, your fish will be safe. However, if the CO2 level rises too high, the water becomes toxic to your fish, and you’ll observe symptoms such as poor appetite, lethargy, and the fish may begin gasping at the water surface.
You can boost oxygen levels in the water by using an air stone and pump, but a good mechanical filtration system will also help to oxygenate the water.
What Size Filter Do You Need For A 10-gallon Tank?
Choosing the correct size of filter for your tank is vital if the unit is to work efficiently and keep the water clean and well-oxygenated, and the key thing to look for is the flow rate that the filter unit provides.
The flow rate for aquarium filtration units is measured in GPH or gallons per hour. In other words, the number of gallons of water that are shifted through the filter’s pump in one hour. I recommend that you use a filtration unit with a GPH of at least four times your aquarium’s capacity.
So, if you have a 10-gallon tank, you’ll need a filtration unit with a flow rate of at least 40 GPH. However, I always use a more powerful filter than that if possible. A powerful filtration system keeps the water moving around the aquarium and over the biomedia, ensuring that the beneficial bacteria in the filter are kept well-oxygenated and preventing stagnant areas from appearing in the tank.
Types Of Filters For A 10-Gallon Tank
There are three methods of filtering your tank water:
Biological filtration is the process whereby certain bacteria break down harmful ammonia and nitrites into less toxic compound nitrate. These bacteria require a surface on which to grow, such as filter sponges, substrate, and rocks. Biological filtration is usually most efficient when used in combination with another method.
The process of chemical filtration generally uses activated carbon to remove dissolved waste products from the water and typically forms part of a combination filtration system alongside biological and mechanical filters.
Mechanical filtration uses a pump system that circulates the water around the aquarium, extracting particles of solid waste from the water via some kind of filter. Although mechanical filtration will help to keep the water clear and does get rid of general floating detritus, the process alone doesn’t remove potentially dangerous substances from the water. Mechanical filtration also aerates the water.
For a mechanical filtration system to run efficiently and effectively, it should circulate the water around the tank at least four times every hour.
What To Look For In An Aquarium Filter For A 10-Gallon Tank
As well as a good flow rate, as discussed above, you also need to check the biomedia capacity and consider filter cartridges when choosing your filtration system.
Remember that it takes millions of bacteria to process just a small quantity of fish waste, so you want to look for a filtration system that contains an excellent biological element.
Specifically, you want a system that contains as much biomedia as possible. Think back to the nitrogen cycle, and you’ll know that the more bacteria you have, the cleaner your tank will be in the long term. So, the more surface area that’s available for the bacteria, the better.
Filter Cartridges – What’s The Big Deal?
Many filtration systems come with filter cartridges that you load into the unit. Filter cartridges are usually made from activated carbon that is sandwiched between two thin layers of coarse fabric.
The filtration unit’s pump draws water across the cartridges, which provide a platform where bacteria can grow. At the same time, the fabric catches particles of fish waste and detritus from the water, and the carbon removes chlorine, tannins, and other harmful chemicals.
Is Carbon Really Necessary?
Debate rages as to whether carbon is actually necessary for an aquarium filter system. Carbon filters out medications, so if you’re treating your fish for a disease, such as Ich, you must remove the carbon from the filtration system. Obviously, if your system uses filter cartridges, you will also be removing the biological element too, which could allow ammonia and nitrites to accumulate in the tank, disrupting the whole ecosystem.
Also, carbon is only effective for a few weeks, and then you need to replace the cartridges. That means throwing out the whole cartridge, including those beneficial bacteria that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate!
Disadvantages Of Filter Cartridges
Personally, I dislike filtration systems that use cartridges. Firstly, the units can be extremely fiddly and messy to clean and maintain, and secondly, the cartridges themselves are generally very expensive. I recently switched to using simple box filtration systems that contain only sponges. The sponges provide plenty of area for bacterial colonization, and the units are much simpler, quicker, and cheaper to maintain.
I also hate waste and throwing out spent filter cartridges every few weeks simply didn’t sit well with me. However, if you are keen to include chemical filtration in your system, cartridges are probably the way to go.
Top 7 Filters For 10-Gallon Tank Reviews
An efficient filtration system is essential for keeping your aquarium clean.
Here are my top seven recommended filtration systems for 10-gallon fish tanks.
1. Tetra Whisper PF10 Power Filtration System
- 90 GPH
- Three-stage filtration
- Absorbs odors
Tetra is a well-known and highly respected brand in the fishkeeping hobby, producing high-quality fish food and associated fish tank products and accessories for over 50 years.
Tetra filters are inexpensive and readily available in good fish and pet stores, making this the go-to brand for beginners. Although they lack the multi-features and hype of some of the more expensive brands, Tetra filters are decent quality and offer great value for money too. Filtration media is included, but it is quite low-quality, so you might want to buy your own.
The PF 10 is a power filter that hangs on the back of the tank. The mechanical element of the system puts out an impressive 90 GPH flow rate, which is perfect for a small, 10-gallon tank. The biological part of the system is pretty good, too, although you can swap out the media if you want to. On the downside, the pump is quite noisy when compared to higher-end units, which could be an issue, depending on where you intend to keep your tank.
I recommend this filtration system for beginners who are looking for an inexpensive, reliable system that works.
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2. Whisper IQ Power Filter for Aquariums, With Quiet Technology
- Quiet aquarium filter
- Cartridge refills included
The whole unit has been redesigned and improved. The impeller is now stronger and more reliable, the cleverly designed spillway helps to agitate the water surface and oxygenate the tank, and the intake tube is fully adjustable. You can alter the flow to suit delicate plants and fish that need quiet water, and the integral BioGrid filters provide plenty of surface area on which aerobic bacteria can grow.
Whisper’s IQ filter uses specially designed StayClean technology to save on maintenance tasks and keep your aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish. The motor is protected by a sound barrier and vibration dampening technology so that the filter is super-quiet, and the upgraded materials mean that the filter is built to last. This is one of the quietest, easiest to maintain, and most efficient “hang on the back” filters on the market.
Overall, this is a well-made filter that’s super-quiet, very efficient, and easy to maintain.
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3. Penn Plax Cascade Internal Filter for Aquariums
- 70 GPH
- 2 filter media chambers
- 1 refillable carbon cartridge and 1 bio-sponge
The Penn Plax Cascade is an affordable and efficient internal filtration system that’s well-made and does the job.
The unit pulls 70 GPH of water through the dual filter chambers, helping to remove chemicals and other pollutants and creating a healthy, safe environment for your fish. If you’re a fan of carbon filters, you’ll appreciate that carbon is included in the cartridges, together with filter sponges that provide plenty of surface area where bacteria can proliferate.
The system is very quiet despite its power and also helps to aerate the water in your tank. On the downside, the strength of the flow that the filtration system generates is quite powerful, which could be a problem for fish species that are poor or slow swimmers, such as fancy goldfish and bettas. Unfortunately, the flow rate is not adjustable.
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4. Aqueon QuietFlow 10 Internal Power Filter, up to 10 gallon
- 66 GPH
- Allows vertical or horizontal mounting
- The filter is very quiet
The Aqueon QuietFlow 10 includes mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration processes, so you can be sure that your tank water is kept clean and healthy for your fish and living plants. The filter media is very easy to maintain, and the cartridges are simple to replace when required.
This is an internal filter, so it does take up some space inside your aquarium, but the unit is quite small and relatively unobtrusive. Installation is via suction cups that are supplied with the system. There’s no need to prime the unit before use; simply place it where you want it in your tank, plug it in, and you’re good to go.
The filter is very quiet, so you can confidently place your fish tank in any room in your home without fear that its presence will be obtrusive because of a noisy pump, and your fish won’t be disturbed by excessive vibrations.
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5. Zoo Med Nano External Canister Filter – 10 gal
- 80 Gallons per Hour
- Comes complete with spray bar system
- Easy priming feature
If you’re new to the hobby and you’re looking for a filter system that works well in a nano tank, the Zoo Med Nano could be ideal for you. The filter pump is especially powerful, which is fine for nano tanks, and the unit has a spray bar that helps to reduce the intensity of the flow. The unit includes both ceramic biological filter and carbon filter media.
This filtration unit is reasonably priced, and the build quality is pretty much what you would expect for the budget range, although the length of the pipes and cables could be more generous. That said, the system is quiet and does the job in a small tank.
Overall, I think this filtration system is a great starter unit for a beginner who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on getting their fish tank up and running.
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6. Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter
- 75 GPH (for aquariums up to 10 gallons)
- With rotating bio-wheel
- Multi-stage filtration
The Marineland Penguin Power Filter has plenty going for it, including the price, which makes this system affordable for every budget. Also, you get a three-year warranty with the filter, which gives you peace of mind in the event of a problem.
The filtration system is very versatile, and you can use it with freshwater and saltwater setups. The three-stage cleaning system removes harmful ammonia and nitrites from the water, and the Black Diamond carbon filtration element gets rid of impurities and odors, as well as keeping your tank water crystal clear. The newly remodeled BioWheel biological filter offers a very generous surface area for bacterial growth.
The filtration system attaches directly to your intake tube, meaning that your aquarium enjoys good circulation throughout. The unit is easy to maintain, and installation is very user-friendly too.
Overall, this is a great value product that does the job, and then some!
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7. Seachem Laboratories Tidal Power Filter 35
- Self-priming pump
- Self-cleaning impeller
- Surface skimmer
Seachem’s Tidal Power filter is packed with features that provide you with an extremely efficient filtration system. The filter lid has ventilation slots and cleverly designed aeration grooves that maximum gaseous exchange and that ensure the water is returned to the tank fully oxygenated.
Rather than messy filter cartridges, the unit has a huge filter basket that’s designed to take the filtration media of your choice, and the pack also comes with Seachem’s Matrix bio-media to start you off. The design of the filter system means that water is pushed up from the bottom of the basket, ensuring that it comes into contact with the filter media, which doesn’t always happen with other systems. When the filtration media requires cleaning, a blue maintenance alert on the top of the filter tells you.
This unit has a surface skimmer that catches water from just beneath the surface, scooping up fish oils and floating debris. You can adjust the flow between the underwater intake and the surface skimmer. Other neat design features include a self-priming pump and a self-cleaning impeller that’s suitable for use in both freshwater and saltwater tanks. Also, there’s a handy heater clip on the side of the filtration unit, ensuring evenly dispersed heater water throughout the tank.
You get a free three-year warranty, which you can extend to five years when you register the filter with the manufacturer.
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I hope you enjoyed our guide to choosing the best filter for a 10-gallon aquarium.
Of the products that we featured in our guide, our top-rated filtration system is the Seachem Laboratories Tidal Power Filter 35. This superior quality filtration system has been designed with a multitude of excellent features that make maintaining and running the unit super-easy and hassle-free, as well as ensuring crystal clear, healthy water for your fish.
The massive filter basket can be filled with the media of your choice, and there’s even an indicator to tell you when you need to clean the unit. The only real downside to this filter unit is that it’s in the top price range. That said, you get an excellent quality piece of kit that can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks, and it comes with a three-year extendable warranty too.
If you have a more limited budget or you’re new to the hobby, you might prefer to opt for the Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter. This system offers superb value for money and, although it doesn’t have the range of features offered by our top pick, the unit still delivers on performance, ease of maintenance, and has a three-year warranty too.