We took time out this Summer to look at the best HOB (hang on the back) aquarium filters. Read on to see our findings.
Filters are one of the most important pieces of equipment required within fish keeping. They help to remove excess food, decaying organic matter, chemicals, and waste from the water. They also keep your aquarium crystal clear as a result of the above and are an absolute necessity.
Choosing a filter that’s right for your aquarium can be a difficult process as there are many different types, brands, and sizes available. However, we and many other fish keepers would tend to lean towards a HOB. This is because they are probably one of the most efficient and practical, and suitable for the majority of tanks.
For us, the very best HOB filter has to be the MarineLand Penguin BIO-Wheel Power which we can’t recommend enough. We have also, however, included others in this guide that you may like.
Quick Peek at the 5 we tested….
- Fluval C3 Power Filter
- Marineland Penguin 350 BIO-Wheel Power Filter
- Penn PLax Cascade Hang-On Aquarium Filter
- Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter
- Tetra Whisper IQ Power Filter
How we tested these filters
One of the most important things when purchasing a Hang on the back filter is how easy it is to setup and get started. The second thing is how good they run and how much water they can filter.
To test this we set up a 50 Gallon aquarium and setup each and every filter one by one straight out of the box. We timed how long it took us to get them up and running and rated them on how they performed.
Then we tested the GPH by letting the water run off into an empty 75 Gallon aquarium. This allowed us to see how much water passed through the filter over a 10 minute period. We then multiplied this by 6 to give us a GPH ( Gallons Per Hour) number.
We also listened to see how noisy they run. This is one of the most popular questions we get asked… How noisy is a HOB filter.
What is a HOB filter?
A HOB filter is very simply a type of filter that hangs on the back of your aquarium. It is known as a HOB for short within the fish keeping hobby. They fall under the heading of a simple external filter which is not as bulky as a canister filter and can be used in a wide variety of tanks.
The workings of a HOB filter, (mechanisms, filter materials, pump) are all stored in an enclosed casing. They work as follows:
- Firstly an intake tube carries water through a nozzle from the tank to the filter.
- Then, once inside the casing, the water is filtered via the sponge and other materials.
- Finally, the water that has been filtered goes back into the tank, via chutes that create a waterfall resembling flow.
It is worthy of note that some HOB filters come with the option to adjust the water flow. This is ideal for those fish keepers who do not like the sound of flowing water.
5. Fluval C3 Power Filter
With a brand name as well known and popular as Fluval, even before I had opened the box I was expecting good things. After all, Fluval in the fish keeping world are giants! Unfortunately, however, the first impression of this HOB filter was not good, the unit’s plastic felt rather flimsy. It made me think that it would need to be handled with care in order to avoid it breaking.
Onwards and upwards, the Fluval filter was simple to install and ran like a dream when switched on. It did, however, at first, make quite a racket until I figured out the issue. Air had become trapped causing the impeller to wobble, but once expelled this stopped.
Last, but certainly not least, the Fluval HOB is incredibly easy to clean. You simply pull the filter out, rinse it well, and pop it back in. As an added bonus, and quite the help, the Fluval HOB also has a little red tab that pops out of the top when it’s in need of cleaning.
4. Marineland Penguin 350 BIO-Wheel Power Filter
After hearing good things about MarineLand HOB filters I was really looking forward to testing this one out. They have quite the reputation and one that in my opinion is quite rightly given. This HOB filter has no downsides as far as I could tell, and this is the very reason it achieves our number one spot.
Aimed at aquariums of 50 to 70 gallons this HOB filter has an incredible flow rate of 350 gallons per hour. A fact that I am sure has more than just a little bit to do with its efficiency. It kept my aquarium clear and my fish very happy, and all at a really good price. It is not, however, silent and I would not suggest it for a bedroom aquarium.
Aesthetically, I also found the MarineLand 350 to be incredibly pleasing to the eye. It is simple in design, slimline to the tank, and does not distract viewing from the tanks inhabitants.
3. Penn Plax Cascade Hang-On Filter
As the cheapest of the filters that we chose to review, I was perhaps not expecting the quality of the product I removed from the box. The unit itself felt sturdy and strong, and perfectly up to the job at hand. I was, nonetheless, disappointed to discover that the cartridges, included with this filter, were just, well way too flimsy.
Once I had replaced the filter cartridges with custom cut media pads, however, this filter ran very well. It was silent, had no leaks, and kept my aquarium water clear. It also, as a bonus, has an adjustable flow rate. Making it perfect for fish which do not like much water movement, or stopping floating food moving around during feeding.
2. Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter
With its very simple and efficient design, the Aqua Clear is easy to use, a dream to clean, and highly capable of keeping aquarium water clean and clear. You do, however, need to ensure that you follow the instructions carefully, on first use, to ensure you have set it up correctly.
When it comes to cleaning, the Aqua Clear benefits from having filter segments which are removable without having to lift off the whole unit. This minimizes the maintenance and amount of water that will drip onto your floors. The bio media is also kept in a bag making it simpler to clean.
It should also be said that the Aqua Clear isn’t quite silent, it gives off a steady hum, but not far from it. You won’t hear water splashing into the tank unless you are right on top of it.
1. Tetra Whisper IQ Power Filter
Suitable for aquariums up to 20 gallons you would expect this HOB filter to be quite small in size. This, however, is not the case and I have to say I was a little taken aback at just how big it is.
Despite its size, however, the Tetra Whisper is a filter that I would definitely recommend. It is self-priming, needs no special care to keep it working, and cleared up my aquariums cloudy water in just a couple of hours. It also comes, ready to go, no assembly required. An attractive feature for those who don’t like assembling things, or like me, aren’t very good at it.
It should be noted, though it didn’t bother me, that the name ‘Whisper’ is not really appropriate. This HOB filter, you see, has a motor that buzzes and the sound of water trickling. You probably wouldn’t notice these though really, unless you have your aquarium in a silent room.
Types Of Aquarium Filters
There are many types of filter available for your aquarium but the main four in use are:
Commonly known as a UGF, the under gravel filter is inexpensive, easy to set up, and easy to maintain once up and running. They do, however, have a tendency to clog. They work by placing a plate filter underneath the substrate and installing an air pump to pull water down through it. It should be noted that biological filtration is limited with this system, and chemical filtration is non-existent.
Best suited to larger aquariums, canister filters are positioned on the exterior of the tank. Due to their bulkiness, they often require concealment behind or beneath the aquarium stand. They provide exceptional mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration for tanks of 70 gallons plus, but can be more difficult to take apart and clean. They work by pressurizing water and forcing it through the filter media, rather than letting it flow by, before returning it to the tank.
Most apt for fry or hospital aquariums, a sponge filter fits over a tube from an air pump. It works by forcing water through it and encouraging bacteria to grow. This creates a biological filtration system that works quite efficiently. It is, however, important to note that sponge filters should only ever be cleaned with aquarium water. This is so as not to kill the beneficial bacteria that has grown.
Also known as a power filter, the HOB is one of the most commonly used systems in the hobby. This is due to it using three types of filtration (mechanical, biological, chemical) and being so simple to use. They work by water flowing through a filter pad or floss before it is allowed to trickle back into the tank.
What To Look Out For When Choosing A Filter
Though it may sound dramatic, choosing the right filter is just as important as choosing the correct tank. After all, the filter is the life support for any fish tank so it should be reliable, easy to use, and simple to maintain. With this in mind, here are a few hints of exactly what you should be looking for:
- 3 stage filtration – mechanical, chemical, biological
- A good flow rate – at least your aquariums water capacity per hour
- That it suits you aesthetically – HOBS can be unsightly, canisters difficult to conceal
- That the flow is not too high for your fish – Danios, for example, love fast-moving water, whilst Siamese Fighters loathe it
How To Install A Hang On The Back Filter
HOB filters are in general incredibly easy to set up. They rarely come with anything but easy instructions. They also rarely need any assembly at all and should be up and running in your aquarium within no time at all. Simply:
- Add the filter media in the correct place
- Hang the filter where you want it
- Prime the filter by filling it with water
- Plug the filter in
Can HOB Filters Go On The Side Of An Aquarium?
Many aquarium lids come with a cut out which indicates where your filter should hang. However, if there isn’t one, or there is one for that matter, you can still decide the placement of your filter for yourself. This includes hanging the HOB on the side if that’s what you want. However, please note that in this position your filter may be more visible.
How Often Do They Need To Be Cleaned
There are no hard and fast rules as to how often your aquarium filter should be cleaned. Most fish keepers, however, clean them only when they get dirty and performance begins to wain. This will vary greatly in time from tank to tank and depend very much on the stocking of your tank.
How To Clean A HOB Filter
Cleaning a HOB filter is really very simple. Just unplug it, disassemble it and clean pipes, tubes, and chutes thoroughly. You should also take out the sponge, rinse it in tank water, and get rid of anything stuck to it. Whilst the sponge is out you may also wish to replace the media.
What We Liked About The Winner
It’s difficult to recommend this filter highly enough without coming across as gushing. So, rather than that, here are simply a few of this HOB filter’s best features:
- Flow rate of 350 GPH
- 3 stage filtration
- Easy start-up and maintenance
- Creates crystal clear water
- Aesthetically pleasing design
Should You Buy A HOB?
Put simply, yes, as they are a great product to help in maintaining high-quality water parameters in your tank. It also doesn’t hurt that of all the types of filters they are the least intrusive to the eye, which let’s face it is of some importance. Other benefits include:
- Suitable for small and large aquariums
- Quiet and unobtrusive
- Economical to purchase and maintain
- Easy to install and maintain
- What is a HOB filter? A filter that hangs on the back of your aquarium.
- Are HOB filters good? As the most common type of filter used, HOBs are very efficient and versatile.
- What is the best HOB filter? Perhaps unsurprisingly, in our opinion, it is the MarineLand Penguin 350 Bio-Wheel Power Filter.
- Should you leave the filter on all the time? Yes, unless you are performing water changes and maintenance. Then the filter should be switched off and unplugged until you are finished.
Conclusion: Best HOB Aquarium Filter
It really should come as no surprise that the MarineLand Penguin 350 Bio-Wheel Power Filter is the hands-down winner of the best HOB filter prize. After all, it does exactly what it says on the tin and for a reasonable price. It is the workhorse of HOB filters and we imagine will go on working for years.