9 Best HOB Filter Options

This post will introduce the best HOB filter options, as well as include the basics of the filter such as how they work, what size is good for your aquarium setup, filter media options, and more.

Our top pick for the best HOB filter is the Seachem Tidal Power Filter. Keep reading or view the product to find out why we love it, as well as find the other HOB filters that are also worth considering!

An aquarium filter is an essential piece of equipment for the fish hobbyist that wants to keep their tank water clean and free from harmful chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates created by debris and fish waste.

There are many types and sizes of tank filters to choose from, but they all serve the same purpose which is to create a clean environment so the fish inhabitants are healthy, happy, and thriving.

The HOB filter is one of the most popular among aquarists because it is easy to install and requires little maintenance.

Quick Guide Product Comparison

Comparison Chart

Last update on 2023-12-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Introduction to the HOB Filter

Hang-on-back filters offer a simple design that consists of the filter body, intake tube, and filter media cartridge.

When installed, they are located on the back wall of the aquarium and hang over the outer edge just as the name indicates. They are often referred to as an external filter because they are located on the outside of the tank rather than on the inside.

The mechanisms of the HOB filter are stored inside a case to keep them safe and in a small area.

HOB filters have not always been around.

When I got my first aquarium some twenty years ago they were not an option, but once they were manufactured the popularity quickly skyrocketed, and for good reason!

How the Hang On Back (HOB) Filter Works

A HOB (Hang on Back) aquarium filter works by bringing clean water from the sump pump up from the bottom of the tank all around the edges and then bubbles it out through an air stone near the surface.

This makes bubbles that push toxins across to one side of the sump pump and fresh clean water come back into to replace it, without any contamination going deeper into the filtration system.

The process is simple:

  1. The water intake tube uses a nozzle to carry water from the tank to the filter.
  2. The water is filtered inside the case with the filter media.
  3. The filtered water is returned to the tank through chutes that create a flow similar to a waterfall. This type of flow increases the oxygen in the water and also helps to effectively mix it.


The typical hang-on aquarium filter utilizes the 3 stages of filtration including biological filtration, mechanical filtration, and chemical filtration.

However, they originally started with a 2-stage filtration (chemical and mechanical.) When you select the best hang on back filter for your aquarium set up be sure to read the manufacturer specifications to ensure you are getting the filtration system you need.

Bio wheels are available on some models, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.


Do not clean the bio wheel or allow it to dry out because this can kill the beneficial bacteria.

Motor and Impeller

The motor of the HOB filter is located externally and stays dry throughout the multi-stage filtration process. It is typically connected to the bottom of the filter box near the intake.

The motor powers the impeller, which is Inside the box. The impeller, which is directly exposed to the water, spins and pulls the water upward through the intake tube.

The magnetic impeller can be difficult to clean and keep free of debris, algae, sand, and other fine-textured substrates, making this one of the disadvantages of the hob filter.

Another disadvantage of even the best hang on back filters is the noise they make.

Because they are not submerged in the water or enclosed in a casing like an internal or canister filter they are much easier to hear humming alongside the fish tank.

Water Spouts

Water spouts are a main feature of the HOB filter.

Depending on the brand, model, and size of the filter, there may be one or two water spouts that are used to return the filtered water back into the aquarium.

Intake and Outflow

All hang on aquarium filter systems has an intake connected to a tube that dips into the water in your tank. It pulls up the water with debris and waste to feed into the filter, cleans it during the filtration process, and returns it to the tank.

The intake should have a plastic screen covering the opening to keep fish from sucking up into the filter.

The outflow of hob filters is similar to a waterfall resembling more of a water cascade hang on aquarium filter as the freshly cleaned water is returned to the tank.


If you have small fish or fry in your aquarium be sure to check the hole size of the screen so they are not in jeopardy of being pulled in.

An option that has worked for many aquarists is to replace the plastic screen with a fine-tipped sponge filter.

Keep in mind this can reduce your flow rate.

Maintenance and Care

Overall maintenance is minimal with HOB filters.

The general routine goes like this:

  1. Replace the filter media every 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the media you use
  2. If the impeller doesn’t have a safety guard, clean it as needed to get rid of debris that can lower efficiency when it gets lodged
  3. Clean the intake tube and filter if it gets algae build-up

Advantages of Using a Hang on Back Filter

The HOB filter has several advantages over other tank filters, making them the perfect choice for the majority of beginner and seasoned aquarists.

  • Advantages of the hang on back filter include:
  • HOB filters are easy to install in a new or existing aquarium
  • Available in various sizes for tanks from 5-gallon tanks to a 500-gallon tank
  • HOB filters are extremely versatile and can be used with both freshwater and saltwater aquariums
  • Simple to clean because the parts easily detach and replacing filtration media doesn’t require draining the entire fish tank
  • Hang on the back filters can be used as the primary or secondary filtration system depending on your aquarium setup needs
  • HOB filters offer various stages of filtration including 2 or 3-stages
  • HOB filters allow customization for the filter media to get exactly what is needed for your aquarium water
  • Ideal for planted tank aquariums and reef tanks
  • Hang on the back filters are designed to easily access the filter pads, media, and the motor/impeller for quick and simple maintenance
  • HOB power filters are electric so a separate air pump is not required for operation

How to Choose the Best HOB Filter for Your Tank

The method to choose any fish tank filter is to get the one that has the specific features you need for your filtration system set up, taking into consideration the fish species or other inhabitants, aquatic plants, aquarium size, etc.

When you make the decision this filter the best choice for your setup, there are a variety of options on the market.

Aquarium Size

Shop for a model that is made for the size of your aquarium.

The specific tank size or range of tank sizes the filter will accommodate is listed on the box or can be found on the manufacturer’s website.

If the filter does not list your tank size as an option, it should not be used. It likely will not be effective and your water could be filtered too much or not enough.

Flow Rate

Flow rate is figured in GPH or gallons per hour.

What this is telling you is the maximum flow rate the water is cycled through the filter in a controlled test environment. In other words, this is a best-case scenario number that you need to take into consideration.

Your actual flow rate will have several factors come into play, such as the type of media you use, the condition of your filter’s pads, intake tip, motor, and impeller.

The typical recommendation and what I have followed is to cycle all the water in the tank around 4 times each hour. Once able to monitor the flow rate with this guideline, you will know the next step to take, such as the possibility of adding a second filter.

Sound and Noise

HOB filters are louder than their competitors because they are located on the exterior of the tank, and not even under it or beside it, but attached to the side where the humming cannot be hidden.

This is a factor to take into consideration if your tank is in your bedroom or living room where the noise may be irritating.

Special Features

Do your homework with each manufacturer if there is a special feature you are looking for on your quest to find the best HOB filters to meet your aquarium needs.

Examples of special features that set brands and models apart might be LED indicator lights, adjustable flow control, filter media indicators when a change is needed, adjustable flow rate, self-priming pump, etc.

Tips for Using Hang On Back Filters

Once you pick out your HOB filter, there are some ways you can get the best use out of your new filtration system.

  • Experiment with the best place to hang it on your tank. It may have to be moved if it is not easily accessible if you need to get to it in an emergency.
  • If your tank is long the best placement for the intake is near the center so debris can be easily pulled in from both ends.
  • Determine if you need a second filter.
    • It doesn’t matter how powerful your filter is if the tank is too large to pull in all the debris and efficiently get it through the cleaning process. Also, If you have a planted aquarium or a lot of decoration this can also slow down the flow rate creating the need for a second filtration system.

Replacement Pads and Filter Media

One of the nicest features of HOB filters is the convenience to choose the kind of media you want to use so you are able to customize the multi-stage filtration process.

Replacement pads come prefilled with media or you can cut your own pads using your choice of media purchased in bulk, which can be the less expensive way to go.

Premade pads typically use one or two tablespoons of media, limiting their ability for top-notch chemical filtration.

Finding the Best HOB Filter: Product Reviews

1. Penn Plax Cascade HOB Filter With Quad Filtration System

The Penn Plax Cascade HOB Filter comes with a list of special features.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • Multi-stage filtration (4-stage)
  • The filter is available for tanks ranging from 5 gallons up to 100 gallons, in six different sizes, so there is a wide variety to meet all aquarist’s needs
  • Features a self-leveling case, which keeps the filter level for better efficiency
  • Adjustable flow rate
  • Includes a 3-year warranty


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Adjustable flow rate
  • Has a coarse filter pad that is permanent, it works to create friendly bacteria


  • Does not have a filter media compartment
  • Limited adjustment on the adjustable flow rate

2. Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO

The Aqueon QuietFlow has its own set of features that are appealing to many fish enthusiasts.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • Multi-stage filtration (4-stage)
  • The filter is available for tanks ranging from 10 gallons up to a 75-gallon tank
  • The motor runs quietly
  • Activated carbon is included with the starter kit
  • The Aqueon QuietFlow filter comes with a lifetime warranty, which is not common so it is a plus for this filter


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Advanced multi-stage filtration (4-stage)
  • The self-priming feature creates a simple setup
  • This filter has a LED light to let you know when the filter pad is dirty and needs to be cleaned or changed


  • The filter media compartment is fairly small, so it has to be filled more frequently than many other HOB filters
  • The screen on the intake tube is not suitable for small fish or fry, so it needs to be upgraded with a pre-filter fine tip sponge

3. Fluval C Power HOB Filter

The Fluval C Power HOB filter is excellent at removing nitrates and ammonia, creating a happy, healthy, and thriving environment for your fish.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • Adjustable flow accommodates all types of fish and aquatic plants
  • Flow reduction can be decreased up to 50%
  • Includes the Fluval C patented re-filtration system, which allows you to control the water flow without a change in filter efficiency
  • Quiet, durable motor
  • The impeller is protected with a cover to avoid debris getting caught in it
  • The final stage of the filtration process is completed in a separate container for the C-Nodes


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Advanced multi-stage filtration (5-stage)
  • Includes Rite-Size Cartridges in the starter kit
  • Quiet motor
  • Includes filter media in the starter kit
  • Includes activated carbon in the starter kit


  • Water with debris can clog the C-Nodes

4. Marineland Penguin Power Filter

The Marineland Penguin Power Filter is an excellent choice if you are on a tight budget.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • The biggest difference in this filter is the bio wheel, which encourages beneficial bacteria through the surface area of fibrous material
  • The starter kit includes a Rite-Size filtration cartridge to screen out the waste and debris from the water. It also removes impurities, odors, and discoloration during the chemical and mechanical filtration process.
  • Available for aquariums 20 to 70 gallons
  • Multi-stage filtration process with a two-pump system
  • Features a rare alarm that sounds if the aquarium water level gets low


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Includes Rite-Size Cartridges in the starter kit
  • Quiet motor
  • The filter cartridges are easily accessible, making them easy to change
  • Durable casing around the impeller
  • Includes a bio wheel


  • Bio wheel can get lodged and slow down efficiency
  • The power motor is reasonably quiet; however, the cascading water is louder than many other HOB filters

5. EHEIM Pro 4+ 250 HOB Filter

The Eheim Liberty Pro 4+ HOB Filter is fully equipped with filter pads and media in the starter kit.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • Unique hose design creates easy cleanup
  • Exceptional flow rate
  • This filter features a priming pump, which saves a considerable amount of time for quick setup as well as after cleaning
  • Features a flow rate lever that is easy to access


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Large filter media basket
  • Features inlet and outflow on the top stop lever, which is convenient and keeps the filter from having to be reprimed after cleaning


  • Cleaning the impeller can be cumbersome because it is not easy to access
  • Pulls plant leaves and large debris into the filter from the intake

6. Tetra Whisper Power Filter

The Tetra Whisper Power Filter is a top consideration for most fishkeepers that like HOB filters.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • The Tetra Whisper comes in four sizes, with the tank range up to 40 gallons
  • Offers multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Features bio-bag filter cartridges to remove floating debris in the water, discoloration, and odors using activated carbon
  • Bio-foam provides the biological filtration


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Continual flushing to prevent build-up of debris and waste


  • It does not have an adjustable flow rate

7. AquaClear Power Filter

The AquaClean Power Filter has a unique design compared to other HOB filters.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • It is large enough to hold a high volume of filter media so you can fill it with as much as necessary. The starter kit includes media, including Amrid, which works well to remove ammonia.
  • This filter provides biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration.
  • It utilizes carbon and foam inserts which are designed to remove solid waste and create colonies of beneficial bacteria to maintain the nitrogen cycle.
  • Noise is quieter than many HOB filters.
  • Available for tanks between 20 gallons and 110 gallons.
  • Utilizes a CycleGuard multi-stage filtration system.


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • AquaClear Foam, Activated Carbon, and BioMax are included in the starter kit
  • Filter media compartment is extra large compared to other HOB filters
  • Motor runs quietly
  • Flow pressure is reduced which will likely increase impeller life


  • Waste and debris can easily catch in the impeller box and need to be cleaned

8. Seachem Laboratories Tidal Power Filter

The Seachem Tidal Power Filter is one of the best HOB filters on the market with all of the additional features.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • Can be used in freshwater and saltwater aquariums
  • Suitable for tanks that are 55, 75, and 100 gallons
  • Features an adjustable telescopic intake for the length
  • Features a surface skimmer, which is highly unique to HOB filters
  • Adjustable flow for delicate fish, fry, and plants
  • The media basket is large with a transformational lid that turns into a tray to make cleaning super simple
  • Does not use the typical suction cups that many aquarists don’t like (including myself), but has clips instead


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Surface skimmer
  • Blue floater valve indicates when the filter needs cleaned
  • Quiet and durable motor
  • Has a heater holder if you want to attach it to the side of the filter
  • 3-year warranty, or 5-year warranty with product registration


  • Wobbling of the impeller can create unwanted noise

9. FORZA Hang-on Back Power Filter

The Forza HOB Power Filter has a tank capacity of 15-gallon, so it is best for smaller hobbyist aquariums.

However, it comes in 4 sizes for the hobbyist with a larger setup.

Features of this HOB filter:

  • This basic power filter comes in 4 sizes to use in tanks between 5 gallons and 80 gallons.
  • The starter kit comes with filtration media
  • This is a multi-stage filter covering all the filtration stages including mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration
  • Includes a replaceable filter cartridge filled with Aquatop’s activated carbon
  • This HOB filter has a bio plate insert that creates a large surface to colonize beneficial bacteria


  • Quick and simple installation
  • Multi-stage filtration (3-stage)
  • Works with freshwater aquariums and saltwater aquariums
  • The largest model is equipped with a surface skimmer
  • Owners with betta fish love this HOB filter


  • This filter does not self-prime

Best HOB Filter Options: Product Comparison Recap

Comparison Chart

Last update on 2023-12-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Words on the Best HOB Filter Options

Hang on back aquarium filters are an excellent choice for many fishkeepers, and with good reason, since they are so versatile and come with a large number of features unique to this type of filter.

The Seachem Tidal Power is our top pick. However, you can’t go wrong with any of the filters selected for this review.

If you are looking for a less expensive HOB, the Penn Plax and Tetra will meet the need and give you a simple, basic filter while doing an excellent job of keeping your water clean for your fish community.

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