A Guide to Select the Best HOB Filter: Review + Buying Guide

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Day-by-day, more and more fish keepers, are getting interested in getting a Hang on Back or HOB type for their tanks. The reasons are also very simple.

These filters are sleek yet powerful, and very easy to maintain. Most of the HOB filters will also have the three-stage filtration process that takes care of every kind of waste found in an aquarium.

But the main question is – what is the best Hang on Back filter?

The answer depends on a lot of things. To find that answer you will have to know everything about them first.

So, today, I will try to explain everything that you should know about the HOB filters.

Let’s begin!

1. Aqua Clear - Fish Tank Filter – The Best HOB Filter

Aqua Clear - Fish Tank Filter

AquaClear is one of the well-known names in the industry. This particular model is very popular for high-quality filtration media.

As you know, the HOB types have a horrible reputation for being noisy. But It is one of the most silent HOB type filters you can get.

Notable Features

​- Has the patented Re-filtration system that filters the half of the water in the chamber multiple times

​- ​Incorporates the CycleGuard multi-stage filtration system offering – mechanical, chemical, and biological filtering

​- ​Has AquaClear Foam, activated carbon, and BioMax ceramic rings for maximum filtration

​- ​The filtration media lasts for one to three months

​- ​Has up to 7x larger filtration volume

​- ​Offers the longest water-to-media content time

​- ​​Comes in five different variations suitable from 5-gallons to 110-gallons tanks

Pros

  • ​Superior filtering
  • ​High-quality filtration media
  • ​Offers low-pressure flow without compromising the efficiency or harming the impeller
  • ​Easy to install
  • ​Suitable for small to medium tanks

Cons

  • ​The debris can clog the impeller movement
  • ​The filtration media are quite expensive
Penn Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter With Quad Filtration System

A review on the aquarium filters will be incomplete without a mention of this filter from Penn Plax. This bad boy is loaded with features.

You will not have to break the bank to get this filter, either making it one of the highest valued filters in my list today. This is certainly the best HOB filter for 10-gallon tank.

Notable Features

​- Offer bio-falls quad-filtration technology that offers high quantity oxygen production

​- ​The chemical filtration contains activated carbon that actively fights against the toxins

​- ​Has poly-fiber floss that can prevent high current flow making the tank water suitable for swimming

​- ​The sponge helps the beneficial bacteria to grow that ultimately eats off the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates

​- ​Comes with an adjustable flow controller that helps you reduce the flow rate during the feeding time

​- ​Has six variations suitable for 7-gallons to 100-gallons tanks​

Pros

  • ​Offers tons of features at a reasonable price point
  • ​Easy to set up and maintain
  • ​Complete freedom to choose any filtration media
  • ​Adjustable flow rate
  • ​Fine build quality

​Cons

  • ​Large intake tubes can suck up smaller fish
  • ​Bulky in size

​3. Fluval C Power Filter – Highest Quality

Fluval C Power Filter

If you have gone through the buying guide already, you should know that brand value matters. Fluval is one of the oldest and most popular names in this industry.

Just like the AquaClear filter, it also offers a unique re-filtration system.

The best part of this Fluval C power filter is that it offers five stages of filtration rather than the common three-stage options. 

The only negative thing about this filter is the average water flow rate. Don’t get me wrong, the flow rate is quite adequate but lower than the other competitors.

Some even say this is the best HOB filter for freshwater.

Notable Features

​- Offers five stages of filtration – two mechanical filtration stages, one chemical filtration stage, and two biological filtration stages

​- ​The chemical filtration media contain 100% premium grade activated carbon​​​

​- ​The porous C-nodes in the biological filtration mimics the rain effect offering one of the highest grades of natural filtration

​- ​​Has the patented re-filtration system for better filtering

​- ​​Other than the activated carbons, you will not have to replace the media frequently

​- ​Has a self-priming technology that begins in a few seconds

​Pros

  • ​Five stages of filtration
  • ​Superior filtering
  • ​High-quality filtration media
  • ​Easy to maintain
  • ​Telescopic intake tube

​Cons

  • ​A bit expensive
  • ​The media basket is relatively smaller
  • ​Noisier than others

​4. MarineLand Penguin – The Budget Champ!

MarineLand Penguin

The flow rate is the most important parameter for a filter. MarineLand Penguin offers a high flow rate compared to others. 

While most of the HOB filters have flow rate 3x times the volume, its flow rate is 5x the total volume. This is one of the most simple and cheapest solutions to your filtering problem. In the market.   

​The only negative thing about this filter is that it offers only basic features. There is nothing flashy or very notable about this one.


However, it will get things done without making any fuss.

Notable Features

​- ​Certified 5x flow rate 

​- ​Offers three-stage filtrations

​- ​Uses black diamond premium activated carbon in the chemical filtration stage

​- ​Their bio-wheel biological filtration is the most praised biological filter in the market

​- ​The flow rate is adjustable using a mid-level strainer

​- Has three variations in size

Pros

  • ​Durable and powerful
  • ​High flow rate
  • ​Great biological filtration
  • ​Easily replaceable filter cartridges
  • ​Budget-friendly

​Cons

  • ​Makes bubbling noises
  • ​Poor quality impeller
  • ​Bio-wheel is fragile
Tetra Whisper EX Silent Multi-Stage Power Filter for Aquariums

Tetra is well-known in the market for being quiet and while offering high-quality filtration. The specialty of this model is the two carbon filtration chambers.

With Tetra Whisper EX, you will not have to worry too much about maintenance as the timestrip technology will tell you to change the carbon strips whenever necessary.

​Notable Features

- ​Has a filter cartridge carrier that helps you to have a cleaner cleaning session​​​

- ​The timestrip technology tells you the right time to change the cartridges​​​

- ​Comes with high-density floss, dual carbon stage, and bio-scrubbers to purify the water​​​

- ​The outflow of the filter ensures maximum oxygenation​​​

- ​You can use it in the turtle tanks too​​​

- ​Comes in four variations

​Pros

  • ​Superior filtration quality
  • ​Easy to setup
  • ​Easy to maintain
  • ​The continuous flushing prevents the debris from building up
  • ​Quiet operation

Cons

  • ​Doesn't have an adjustable flow rate controller
  • ​Needs additional wavemakers

​6. Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aquarium Power Filters – The Quietest HOB Filter

Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO Aquarium Power Filters

I can safely say that Aqueon QuietFlow is the most premium option on my list today. On top of that, you will be getting the most silent filtration. Being quiet is its specialty.

Aqueon QuietFlow has certified flow rates, which means they are not bluffing about the feature and the numbers.

There is nothing too fancy about this filter, but you will be getting nothing but top quality.

Notable Features

-​​​​ Has three-stage filtration with supporting filter pads

-​​​​ The self-priming motor starts automatically

-​​​​ Offers 5x+ flow rate compared to the volume of water

-​​​​ Has LED indicator that suggests the proper time to change the cartridges

-​​​​ Has an internal pump that reduces noise and gets rid of all the leaks

-​​​​ Comes in six different variations​​​​

Pros

  • ​Offers lifetime warranty
  • ​Easy setup and maintenance
  • ​Extremely quiet
  • ​Superior build quality

​Cons

  • ​Not suitable small fish
  • ​Doesn’t have enough space for media components

​7. Seachem | Tidal Power Filters – Best For 55-Gallon Large Aquarium

Seachem | Tidal Power Filters

Seachem Tidal Power seems like a filter coming out of a sci-fi movie. There is no doubt that you will fall for the magnificent looks.

But the looks are the second thing that you will love about it. There is no doubt that it is one of the most powerful HOB filters in the market.

The air flow-holes in the top of the basket will keep the airflow at an optimum level, and the surface skimmer keeps the debris away. It even tells you when to clean.

What more can you expect?

​Notable Features

-​ ​​​​​​Has ventilation slots for maximum gas exchange and better oxygenation

-​ ​​​​​​Comes with a surface skimmer that gathers the debris floating in the water surface

-​ ​​​​​​Has a fully removable filter basket that makes the cleaning process easy as pie

-​ ​​​​​​Self-priming motor and self-cleaning impeller

-​ ​​​​​​Comes with completely adjustable telescopic intake pipe and flow control

-​ ​​​​​​Suitable for large tanks

-​ ​​​​​​Comes in three variations

​Pros

  • ​Excellent design
  • ​Has a surface skimmer
  • ​Adjustable intake pipe and flow rate
  • ​Great oxygenation
  • ​Self-cleaning impeller
  • ​Very powerful

​Cons

  • ​Media basket is narrow and can get clogged easily

The Best HOB Filter Buying guide

A HOB filter is one of the more modern filters that you can find. However, you shouldn’t jump in and buy a random HOB filter from any random brad. There are a number of factors that make an HOB filter good or bad.

So, the smart move would be to consider the important factors first.

​The Flow Rate: The Most Critical Factor

Whenever you are choosing a filter, the most important parameter will always be the filter’s flow rate. Think of the flow rate of a filter as the processing power of a computer in terms of importance!

The flow rate defines the amount of water that a filter can process per hour. Flow rate is measured by gallons per hour or liters per hour.

So, what is the ideal flow rate that seats in the sweet spot?

The basic idea is something like this – flow rate count = 3x the total amount of water in the tank.

For example, if you have a 10-gallon aquarium, your filter should be able to filter 30 gallons of water per hour. 

I think you are getting the gist of the idea.

If you have a large tank, say, a 100-gallon tank, you should install two or three filters to support the filtration process.

The Filtration Media

Every filter uses different filtration media, meaning, you will find different materials inside the device that actively filters the dirt and effluents. 

 In the market, you will see mainly three types of filtration media –
  • - Mechanical
  • - Chemical
  • - Biological

Different components can be used to achieve proper filtration. Here, different companies prefer to add different materials. Here are the popular choices –

  • - Simple sponge
  • - Ceramic rings
  • - Bio-media
  • - Activated carbon
  • - Zeolite
  • - Bio-rings
  • - Bio-balls

Most of the advanced filter has multiple layers of filtration media to achieve all three types of filtering.

Size Matters!

Before you make up your mind on which filter to choose, ask yourself, “What is the size of my fish tank?

The size of the aquarium has a direct connection to the type of filter.

A HOB filter is generally suited for smaller tanks. One single filter might not be enough for a large tank.

For example, a HOB filter (only specific models) can handle 55-gallon tanks at best.   

If you ignore all the warnings and make the tank “under-filtered,” you will end up making the tank a death trap for your fish.

I can’t generalize the number of filters you will need to support different tanks as each of the HOB filters coming from different brands have different specs.

So, either you should switch to different larger (more powerful) filters, or get multiple numbers of HOB filters.


More: Best Filter for Goldfish Tank


What About Cleaning? How Often Should You Clean It?

The best part of owning a Hob filter is that they need a minimum amount of maintenance. It is by the most easy-to-use filter in the market right now.

So, how do you clean it?

Well, most of the HOB filters can be disassembled, and you can clean parts like pipes, tubes, and chutes separately.

Once you open the whole filter, you can get the filtration media out. If the media is a sponge one, you can just simply wash it. Most of the dirt and debris should rinse off easily.

You must clean the impeller every time you are cleaning it as it would get very dirty after a few days of usage.

However, if the filter is using any complex type of media, you should follow the specific guideline specified by the manufacturers.

More: Best Filter For Betta Fish Tank

How often should you clean the filter?

You should change the filtration media every three to four weeks, depending on the media variation.

In case of any algae outbreak, scrub off the filter.

As you can see, you will NOT have to do any extraordinary when it comes to the maintenance of the HOB filters.

Embrace New Technologies!

We are living in an era of continuous improvement and technological wonder. So, it is only normal for simple devices like the filters to upgrade drastically.

For example, the HOB filter itself is a new technology compared to the typical old generation filters.

I am talking about intriguing features like the Bio Falls Quad-Filtration in the Penn Plax HOB filter in my list or the adjustable knob that minimizes the flow during the feeding time.

These are some of the most useful features that you can ask from the manufacturers. But let me remind you, the more feature means a higher price point.  

​Obviously, the newer technologies and features should be on your priority. However, you need to consider three things in particular in this regard –
  1. ​1. Is the feature actually helpful?
  2. ​2. Is the feature of making the product too expensive?
  3. ​3. Will the feature somehow get in the way of the primary objective (filtration)?

So, ask yourself, “Do I really need it?” or “Will it be helpful?”

The Brand Value

When you are buying a product, the most important thing should be reliability.

For example, you can find iPhone knock-offs under $100 in some markets. So, aren’t we buying those phones that have the exact same spec list?

It’s because of the reliability.

That’s why the brand values are so crucial. When you are buying a product from a reliable and well-known brand, you can count on the product to have solid performance and durability.  

Moreover, these brands have put years of effort into achieving a certain level of acceptance from the customers. So, they know how to make a top-quality product.

​I would always suggest you choosing a well-known brand when it comes to buying an HOB filter. 

These are some of the reliable names in the aquarium market right now –

  • - Tetra
  • - Fluval
  • - Penn Plax
  • - Aqua Clear
  • - Aqueon
  • - Seachem

HOB vs. Canister Filter: The Face-Off​​​​

The moment someone talks about the HOB type filters, the canister filters come to our minds almost instantly.

These two are by far the most popular options among the fish keepers as both of them are modern and offer tons of features. In fact, a newbie keeper almost always feels in a fix between choosing one of the twos.

So, let’s check out the comparison of the features between the HOB and the canister type filters –

Comparison Criteria

HOB Filters

Canister Filters

Size

Small

Large

Installation

​Easier

​Complex

Placement

​Inside the tank, hangs on the back

Placed outside the tank

Power delivery

​Comparatively less powerful

Very powerful

Filtration media

​Limited option, uses premade cartridges

​​An abundance of options, you can choose any filtration media you

Maintenance

​Easy

​Hard

Price

​Cheap

​Expensive

As you can see, the canister filters are a way better option and give you much better service. However, they cost more than HOBs.

You should only get the canister filters if you have a large tank.

The HOB type filters are smaller and cheaper – in a way, simpler!

If you are a casual fish keeper, looking for a smart and simple option, then the HOB filters are the best option for you.

The HOB Filter FAQ: Answer to All of Your Questions!

What Is the Best Hob Filter?

The answer to this question will differ from person to person as people prioritize different things. Moreover, the answer also depends on multiple numbers of factors (as mentioned in the buying guide section).

However, if I had to pick a winner, I would call the Aqua Clear – Fish Tank Filter, the true winner.

I am not being biased in this case. If you have checked the best HOB filter review earlier, you know what I am talking about!

Two things made this filter an absolute gem –

  • ​- The higher filtration media volume (6x times the average)
  • Longest media-to-water contact time

Moreover, they have a unique re-filtration system that allows them to refilter the water multiple times.

At the end of the day, the best HOB filter, in my opinion, is the one that offers the best filtration!

What Media to Use in HOB Filter?

One of the negative sides of using a HOB filter is that you cannot choose any filtration media that suits your need.

In fact, you are limited to only a few options suggested by the manufacturers.

That means you cannot just pick activated carbon and use it in your HOB filter. You can only use the activated carbon if the manufacturers have left that option open.

So, always check the user guide while buying the HOB filter and check which types of filtration and filtration media that the filter incorporates.

How Does HOB Filter Work?

All the best HOB filters follow more or less the same operating procedures. Yes, each of the filters follows different design ideologies, but the basic concept remains the same.

This is how a HOB filter works –

  1. 1. First, the suction pump sucks the dirty water from the tank
  2. 2. Then, dirty water enters the canister via the inlet tube
  3. 3. After that, water passes through the mechanical filtration media that blocks the debris and dirt
  4. 4. Then, the chemical filtration starts and toxins like ammonia get removed from the water
  5. 5. After that, the biological filtration begins. This media helps the healthy bacteria to colonize that feeds on the harmful nitrites and nitrates
  6. 6. Finally, the clean water enters the tank again through the outlet tube

Here, I want you guys to follow a simple rule – never place the inlet tube close to the water surface. 

If you do so, the filter will only cleanse the dirty water from the top, and the rest of the water in the tank will remain dirty.

Try to find a suitable place so that all the water in the tank can get through the filter.

How to Set Up a HOB Filter?

As I have said in the previous section, the setup, especially the placement of the inlet valve, is very crucial.

The first stage of the set up is the device assembly. Generally, the online shops will send you all the basic components of the filter, you will have to assemble them on your own.

In this case, there no other option but to follow the instruction manual. Each of the models has different parts. There is no cookie-cutter method. But don’t worry, these instructions as generally very straightforward.

After you have assembled the device, you will place it on the back of the tank. Make sure the water intake tube is in the “right” position.

Now, all you need to do is turn on the device.

How to Make HOB Filter Quieter?

A lot of the users complain about the HOB filter to be noisy. Well, this is one of the main downsides of this type of filter.

No matter what product you choose, it will never be completely silent.

However, there are a few tricks that you can follow to reduce the noise –

​- Make sure that the water level is high

​- Add a filter floss to prevent water splashes

​- Make sure that all the screws are tight

​- Change the impeller, in case, it is old or damaged

​- Clean the filter regularly

These are all the available options for you.

Still, if you are not satisfied, you should change the HOB filter and go for a canister type filter.

How to Use Purigen In A HOB Filter?

Purigen is a chemical agent that removes ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

You can only use Purigen if your HOB filter accepts activated carbon as a filtration media. If it does, you can replace the activated carbon with it.

How to Clean a HOB Filter?

Okay, let’s answer the hard question now! I have said it multiple times that the cleaning process of a HOB filter is easy.

Yes, it is, but you will have to clean it frequently.

​Follow these steps –

1. Unplug the power cable or remove the battery

2. Open the filter lead and take out the inner basket that contains the filtration media

3. Clean each of the media element separately, there should be a lot of debris

4. Avoid cleaning the biological filter with soap or tap water, it will remove the helpful bacteria. Just soak it in old tank water!

5. Clean the inlet tube so that it doesn’t get clogged

6. Clean the impeller with brush

7. Use lubricating oil to the motor

8. Assemble the parts again

Where to Place HOB Filter?

Well, you can guess the answer from the name of the filter – hang it on the back of the tank!

​However, make sure to place the inlet tube in the correct position.

Final Thoughts

Undoubtedly, the Aqua Clear filter stands on top of being the best HOB filter in the market. Fluval C Power Filter comes in the second place, and the third-place goes to Penn Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter With Quad Filtration System.

Of course, the gap between the second and third place is very narrow. Still, the Fluval HOB filter is a better option for having a five-stage filtration process.

So, what do you think of my top picks? Let me know!

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