Sponge Filter Vs Backpack Filter

There are many decisions you will have to make when setting up a freshwater tank, and one of the most important is choosing your aquarium filter. Maintaining the quality of your tank water is key to having healthy fish and vibrant plant growth. Let’s take a look at two types of filters and consider which one is better for your fish: Sponge Filter Vs Backpack Filter

Sponge Filter Vs Backpack Filter for Fresh Water Tank

Advantage Advantage
  • Basic and economic filtration system
  • Suitable option for tanks from 5 to 30 gallons
  • Very easy to use and requires no priming to start after maintenance or a power outage.
  • Smooth filtration and flow is ideal for delicate fish, shrimp and fry fry.
  • The lack of filter media makes it a great choice for hospital tanks or for medicating sick fish.
  • Available in a wide range of prices and features, from entry-level budget models to fully featured premium models
  • Ideal for tanks from 10 to 55 gallons
  • Only the intake pipe is located inside your tank and can be hidden behind the decoration.
  • Electric motor/driver provides a constant flow rate and current into your tank
  • Replaceable filter media allows for customizable chemical and mechanical filtration and can also support biological stages
Disadvantages Disadvantages
  • Takes up a lot of space inside your tank
  • Only mechanical filtration guaranteed and limited by the texture of the sponge tip
  • Sponge tips clog easily in dirty tanks and require frequent cleaning
  • The flow rate is quite variable and depends on the state of the tip and the power of the air pump.
  • The lack of chemical filtration media means that these filters will not reduce your aquarium maintenance.
  • More difficult to set up and operate for novice aquarists
  • Requires space in the back of your tank and a deck space for entry and exit
  • More expensive to operate in the long run
  • Not all models are capable of biological filtration and are not as efficient as sump or cartridge filters.
  • The filter usually needs to be primed to start after maintenance or a power outage

Why do aquariums need filtration?

Fish tank filter systems provide several benefits to your aquarium . Like air stones and bubblers, filters generate currents and circulate water throughout the tank and substrate, preventing it from becoming stagnant. Many fish also enjoy playing in the outgoing currents.

However, the main reason we use freshwater filters is to remove contaminants from the water before they can build up and harm our fish, invertebrates, or living plants. Without a filter, you would have to change the water in your tank several times a week to keep it clean and your fish and plants healthy.

There are three types of water filtration (known as stages):

  • Mechanical filtration removes physical debris such as fish feces, decaying plant material, and food scraps by passing the water through a fine mesh, sponge, or cloth screen to “filter out” solid particles.
  • Chemical Filtration Removes toxins such as ammonia and fish-smelling odors by passing the water through the aquarium’s filter media, which absorbs the toxins and leaves the water clear and smelling fresh.
  • Biological filtration provides a home for the good bacteria in your aquarium to flourish so that they can break down your fish’s waste in a safer way. These bacteria colonies are crucial to maintaining a balanced nitrogen cycle in your aquarium and preventing deadly ammonia spikes.

What are the two popular types of aquarium filters?

While there are many different types on the market, by far the most common and popular filters for freshwater tanks are the sponge filter and the HOB. . These filters are ideal for tanks from 5 to 30 gallons and can even be used side by side on tanks larger than 55 gallons. Let’s take a closer look at these two types of filters:

sponge filter

Sponge filters are simple, inexpensive devices that use an air pump to draw dirty aquarium water through a fine sponge tip. The tip filters waste particles from the water and traps them on the surface, while the water circulates back to the tank from the top of the filter’s outlet tube.

Sponge filters sit completely inside your tank and connect to the external air pump with a thin plastic tube. Its flow rate (in gallons per hour or GPH) is variable and depends on the power of the air pump and the condition of the sponge tip. They typically generate a smooth stream and a slower flow rate than other types of filters.

Sponge filters primarily provide mechanical filtration and are inexpensive to purchase and maintain. If you are careful to only rinse the tip of the sponge with aquarium water and not chlorinated tap water, good aquatic bacteria can also grow throughout and provide some biological filtration.

Hanging filter or waterfall filter (HOB)

HOB filters hang on the back or side of your aquarium instead of sitting inside the tank. The main unit is an airtight box with a removable lid that contains the impeller and filter media stages. Dirty water travels up the inlet tube, passes through the filtration stages, and follows the outlet flow back to your tank.

The impeller and filtration stages are easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance by lifting the main compartment lid. Large HOBs usually have multiple stages so you can customize your mix media, but even small HOBs offer at least Mechanical and Chemical filtration, and some have Biological stages as well.

While your electric motors provide a steady, steady flow of water through the stages, clogged filter pads or media can reduce your flow and even divert dirty water through the stages entirely. Some prefer to use long-lasting biomedia in their final stage rather than using toxin-absorbing carbon or ammonia chips.

What is the difference between sponge filters and cooktops?

Simple sponge filters are powered by an air pump and provide primarily gentle mechanical filtration and a limited amount of biological filtration, while more powerful HOBs come with an electric motor and have the added benefit of using media to chemically filter the water. also.

Type of filtration and flow

Sponge filters are primarily useful for collecting physical debris from your aquarium. Coarse sponge tips provide a higher flow rate and don’t clog as quickly as finer sponge materials, but they also can’t filter out smaller particles.

HOB filters are ideal if you prefer a more robust and constant flow rate and want to further purify your aquarium water with chemical filtration. Using fine filter pads or sponges instead of coarse pads can polish the water and remove microscopic debris, but they also clog faster and often require frequent maintenance.

Operation and use

Sponge filters are easy to install, but you will need to purchase an external air pump and plastic tubing to operate them. Once you connect the air tube to your filter and secure it to your tank, all you have to do is connect the tube to the pump and plug it in. These filters turn on immediately if the power goes out and there is no need to prime it.

HOBs require a bit more planning to install. You will need room to hang the filter on the back of your tank. You may need to make adjustments to allow clearance for the filter inlet tube and outlet vent. Most HOBs must be manually filled with water to prime the impeller after a maintenance or power outage as they lose suction.


Sponge filters require more frequent maintenance than HOBs, as the tip of the sponge can quickly become clogged with debris. Cleaning frequency just depends on how dirty your tank gets. Once or twice a week is typical. But it’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes!

  • Simply reach into the tank and slide the tip of the sponge.
  • Rinse in clean aquarium or tap water and return to your tank.
  • A few times a year, remove the entire filter to clean any algae or mineral buildup from the hard plastic tube.
  • You will still need to do regular/weekly water changes as these filters cannot absorb the toxins in your water.

HOBs rarely require weekly maintenance, although I check my HOBs once a day while feeding my tanks. If your filter pad becomes clogged or your countertop starts to leak, it may take several days to figure out otherwise. I usually only have to maintain these filters once a month during my regular water changes.

  • You may need to clean the intake screen once a week or two to keep it free of debris, or your motor may have a hard time pulling water up the tube.
  • Filter pads should be rinsed or replaced during your routine maintenance, or more often if your flow rate drops between water changes.
  • Loose filter media only needs to be replaced every 4 to 6 weeks, and the media can be flushed if it begins to clog.
  • Once or twice a year, you may need to remove the filter from the tank and clean the inside of the compartment to remove any debris or mineral buildup.
  • Using a HOB reduces the frequency of water changes, as the media can neutralize toxins in the water.

Tank type, capacity and number of occupants

Sponge filters are a good choice for light tanks with few occupants, or for use as a supplemental filtration system used in conjunction with an internal filter, HOB, or canister system. They are ideal for short-term use in nursery and fingerling tanks, and for hospital facilities when you can’t or don’t want to use chemical filter media.

Sponge filters come in varying sizes, so you can easily find an option that fits inside your tank, but they aren’t rated for specific capacities in the same way that power filters are. HOBs are labeled with their ideal tank capacity and maximum GPH, making it easy to identify the right size filter for your tank.

HOBs are ideal for planted aquariums and tanks with many creatures, although an overstocked tank may need additional filtration systems to stay clean and healthy. They can be too powerful for some animals, and you may need to put a baffle around the outflow or a sponge tip at the inlet if you have fish like Bettas or shrimp.


Sponge filters are generally considered more affordable than HOBs, but this is not really the case anymore. You’ll also need to purchase an air pump and tubing for your sponge system, which adds to the cost. You can get a basic, inexpensive HOB for about the same cost as a sponge filter, but premium or large HOBs are usually more expensive.

It is less expensive to operate a sponge filter long term as you will only need to replace the sponge tip a few times a year at most. HOB electric motors consume more energy than the average air pump, and your replacement media and pads can also build up over time.


What is the best fish tank filter? It just depends on your setup and needs. While sponge filters have pros and cons, these simple devices are so useful for emergencies and rearing tanks that I always have a few on hand, even if I don’t use them as the primary filter in my large tanks.

If you’re still not sure what to consider, get a sponge filter if:

  • You need a basic mechanical filter for any type of tank.
  • Are you starting a shrimp or breeding tank, or need an inexpensive filter for your quarantine or hospital facility.
  • You need a soft filter with a low flow rate.

Go with a HOB if:

  • You need a robust filter with a strong, constant flow rate.
  • You want to reduce the amount of time you spend doing water changes.
  • You want a filter that offers flexibility and customization, providing mechanical, chemical and biological filtration.

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