Best Sponge Filter: Buyer’s Guide

sponge filter

No one likes a foul smelling aquarium—and just imagine how the fish feel! Sometimes, your efforts to clean the water may not be doing the trick, so you have to increase the filtration happening in the tank. You might reach for a sponge filter, one of the best tools to clean dirt and ammonia from water and keep your tank’s water fresher for longer.

But which is the best sponge filter on the market? How do you know which one to purchase? If you have these questions, we have the answers.

Let’s get started.

What is a Sponge Filter?

Before you go clicking on any random sponge filter for your aquarium, you need to know more about these devices. Basically, a sponge filter is an air pump-powered filtration unit that works through mechanical and biological means to clean the fish tank water.

The first way is mechanically. The pump will suck water through the sponge, straining out both visible and invisible debris. Once the pump has run for a little, you can remove the sponge from the water to wring it out and clean it of dirt and muck.

The second way is biologically. Sponge filters do more than suck water through a system, they provide surface for healthy, beneficial bacteria to grow. The presence of good bacteria is necessary for fighting off more harmful strands and also keep the aquarium safe for your fish.

They are compact, cheap, and a great filter for breeding, fry, and quarantine tanks.

How Does a Sponge Filter Work?

As briefly mentioned above, sponge filters have a simple function: to sponge up the nasty stuff from your tank’s water to keep it cleaner and more sanitary. All you need to do is use a sponge filter together with an air pump. Place the air tube in the center of the sponge and let the air tube blow air from the pump through the sponge. This will create pressure that enables the sponge to pull water through it.

During the straining process, the sponge will collect floating debris in the water and keep it contained. In fact, it will trap anything solid, even the most miniscule of particles, such as food waste or bacteria.

Some people think sponge filters create too much noise. Here’s a tip to make a sponge filter quieter: Attach a small section of the air line to the bottom of the bullseye (center) so an airstone or diffuser can sit inside the strainer. That will make the bubbles moving through the sponge more fine, thus causing less noise.

Why Should I Use a Sponge Filter?

There are a couple of advantages to sponge filters that make them beat the competition:

  • Air-powered. Since sponge filters use air points, two jobs are done at the same time. The air pump can aerate the water while the filter removes toxins and waste.
  • Available in various shapes and sizes. No matter the tank size, there is a sponge filter that will fit it. You can find some for 10 gallons while others can filter out 125 gallons. Most units come in different shapes, enabling you to fit them wherever you need a filter.
  • Stops overfeeding. Ever accidentally overfeed your fish and wished there was some way to vacuum up all that extra food? Well, with a sponge filter, it’s possible. Simply turn on the filter and you will have a tank rid of that extra food within 24 hours.
  • Effective. Since all sponge filters work on the same principal, you will rarely find one that is disappointing.
  • Ideal for small fish tanks. Not only can you purchase sponge filters for small tanks, but they are safe for small fish, too. Fry and shrimp benefit from sponge filters because they won’t get sucked up like they would by a canister or hang-on-the-back filter.
  • Cheap. Compared to other filter systems available, the sponge filters are insanely cheap, regardless of the size tank you have.
  • Easy to clean. To do so, simply remove the sponge, position it over a bucket, and squeeze the water from the sponge. You won’t remove the helpful bacteria, but the larger debris will come out with the water.
  • Biological filtration. Another plus to having all those helpful bacteria in your tank means that the by-products from fish waste get converted from toxic to non-toxic. The microorganisms have a special ability to turn ammonia into the less harmful compound NO2-1, or nitrites) and then into NO3-, or nitrates.

You may have noticed that a sponge filter cannot do everything. Despite being ideal for filtering out solid waste and other debris in the tank, they are not designed to filter out chemicals. While you do not need to run chemical filtration all the time, you may end up having to buy one. Hopefully in the future, sponge filters will be a 3-in-1 function, instead of just 2-in-1.

Top 5 Best Sponge Filters

Now that you know more about sponge filters and why they benefit your tank, let’s have a look at some of the best sponge filters on the market. The best thing about this list is that you will find every filter to be reasonably priced and highly-rated on Amazon.

1. XINYOU XY-2831 Air Pump Sponge Filter (10 gallon max)

Need a powerful sponge filter for a 10 gallon tank? The XINYOU 2831 has been designed to prevent fish from getting trapped inside and does a great job of cleaning breeding tanks as well. It is recommended for killifish and dwarf cichlids.


  • Suitable filter for smaller fish, such as guppies, spawnil discus, and killifish
  • Does not trap fish
  • Sponge shape is great for growing bacteria
  • Easy installation


  • Weak Suction
  • Not ideal for larger tanks
  • Size is a bit large and cumbersome

2. Aquaneat Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter (20 gallon max)

The Aquaneat has two sponges, making it great for both mechanical and biological filtration. The design is simple and made to fit smaller tanks (up to 20 gallons). Many people choose this filter for breeding small fish species and fry.


  • Cylindrical design does not take up much space in the tank
  • Plenty of surface area for bacteria to grow
  • Easy to set up and maintain


  • Not designed for large aquariums

3. Powkoo Air Pump Sponge Filter (30 gallon max)

Looking for a powerful mid-sized sponge filter? The Powkoo sponge filter is rated for up to 40 gallons but works best at around 30 gallons. The dual sponge design is ideal for bacteria. Additionally, the nozzle is adjustable, allowing you to change the direction of water flow on both sides. The filter also operates very quietly, so it won’t disturb you or the fish.


  • Has two suction cups for better placement in the tank
  • Quiet operation
  • Ideal filter for tanks with crayfish, shrimp, and fry
  • Low maintenance


  • Some users note that hose may slide off, so check it occasionally

4. Huijukon Air Pump Double Sponge Filter (60 gallon max)

A double sponge filter like this one is great for leveling up the biological filtration in your tank and is arguably one of the coolest looking. The life tube can telescope. The size of the sponges gives helpful bacteria a great place to grow.

It also operates very quietly, so you don’t have to worry about your fishes becoming agitated. If you purchase the set, you will also get an air pump and tubing.


  • Efficient valves
  • Excellent filtration—both mechanical and biological
  • Great sponge surface area for growing bacteria
  • Reasonable price
  • Very easy to set up and adjust to the tank size


  • The provided air pump and tubing is not the best quality
  • Many users are skeptical that the filter can handle that max capacity

5. Hikari Bacto-Surge Foam Filter XL (125 gallon max)

This is a classic-shaped sponge filter that is huge when compared to other models on this list—and that is because it can filter up to 125 gallons of water. Plus, you won’t have to worry about adding an airstone. If you need a powerful filter for your fish tank, this is the one to purchase. It might not look like much, but it does the trick.


  • Reasonably price for being extra-large
  • Ideal for larger tanks, with maximum output suggested at 55-100 gallons
  • Compact design


  • Some users have reported issues with the sponge floating to the top of the tank. Simply squeeze all the air from the sponge to prevent that from happening.
  • Not the best for biological filtration (single sponge)

Choosing The Best Sponge Filter

Now that you have seen top-rated sponge filters, which one is the best sponge filter for your fish tank? You cannot just select one blindly. You need to consider a couple of things.

Sponge Size vs. Aquarium Size

Despite measurements, not all aquariums will have the same water volume or even be the same size. That means that there is no one-size-fits-all sponge filter. You need to consider the layout of your tank, the amount of water, and even the style of sponge filter you want to add. Take a look at the length of the entire filter and the diameter of the sponges, because this will affect how well it operates.

If the sponge doesn’t fit, water will not enter it correctly. The sponge might float up to the top of the aquarium, reducing functionality. Make sure you are getting the correct size.

Sponge Capacity

Bigger is not always better. You might think that more sponge equals more filtration, but if the sponge is too big, it not only drastically reduces the amount of swimming space for your fish, but it might do too good a job. For larger tanks, however, you want to get an adequately sized sponge filter, since the more dirt it can suck out at one time, the better.


Yes, sponge filters are very affordable. There are dozens of models that are rated highly but are reasonably priced. You can easily replace sponge filters when necessary, since they are not that expensive. More pricier models do exist, but they usually function just as well as something that is a little cheaper.

Additional Features

To keep up with competition, many brands are incorporating additional features and new technologies to their sponge filters. One example is choosing a triple sponge filter over a dual model. Although none are listed in this article, they do exist. Other brands might add a telescopic neck, change the design of the sponges to create more surface area, or incorporate other adjustable elements to make the filter more customizable.

In short, you will be able to find exactly what you are looking for! Be sure to compare size, price, filtration operations, and so on.


So, which is the best sponge filter? Well, the answer is not so simple. All of the sponge filters listed are amazing in their own way, but they are also not created equal. Some are ideal for small tanks, while others will be able to clean a much larger volume of water. Depending on what you need and the contents of your tank, one sponge filter may perform better than others.

Now that you know what to look for and have seen some examples, you should have no trouble choosing the best sponge filter for your aquarium.

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