Filters

The best sponge filter for freshwater and saltwater fish

Aquarists are often interested in the newest or most technologically advanced way to accomplish a task such as filtration. One notable exception is our sponge filters, which haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. The best sponge filters are simple devices, but they are useful enough that every angler has a kit on hand.

Best Sponge Filters

Since they are not an expensive item, you will find a wide variety of sponge filters on the market, and many look nearly identical to one another. I wouldn’t worry too much about the specific brands of these filters, and instead choose the one that has the features you need, will work with your power supply, and will have replacement parts readily available.

1. Aquatop Classic Aqua Flow Sponge Filter Kit

  • Tank capacity: up to 60 gallons
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Power: air pump or powerhead

This simple system from Aquatop is a classic for a reason: these high quality filters have been around for years with very few design changes. The weighted base holds the fine sponge tip in place over the inlet and the center tube doubles as the outflow. You can also place this anywhere in your tank.

This versatile sponge filter kit can be used with an air pump or powerhead, and can help increase the oxygenation of the water as it bubbles through the outflow. I really like the quality of the sponge tip and it is the perfect size to catch most debris. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find replacement parts for this system.

pros

  • Weighted base allows sponge filter to be placed anywhere in your tank
  • Works with multiple power sources or use the sponge tip independently as a pre-filter for a HOB or canister system

cons

  • Replacement sponge tips are getting harder to find
  • You don’t have various styles of coarse or fine sponge filter tips to choose from

2. Fluval Edge pre-filter sponge tip

  • Tank Capacity: N/A
  • Dimensions: 4.5 x 1.7 x 1.7 inches
  • Power: N/A

If you just want to add a prefilter tip to your HOB or canister system, I highly recommend the Fluval Edge sponge tip. This coarse sponge tip won’t clog as easily as finer sponge filters, so it won’t slow down your filter’s GPH rate or reduce flow. It’s a great way to keep smaller fish and shrimp from being sucked into a filter.

It is designed specifically for the Fluval Edge Filtration System, but the tip will fit any inlet pipe that is one inch in diameter. I’ve used it with a Marineland countertop with no problems, it’s easy to rinse and cheap to replace!

pros

  • Coarse filter tip fits 1-inch wide intakes on fluval or other types of power filters
  • Fine enough to keep fried fish and shrimp safe, but won’t slow down the GPH of the filter.

cons

  • It’s just a sponge filter tip, and you’ll need an electric HOB or canister filter to use it.
  • Coarse sponge texture allows fine particles to pass through

3. AquaPapa Corner Internal Filter

  • Tank capacity: 5 to 10 gallons
  • Dimensions: 5 x 3.4 x 3.4 inches
  • Power: Air Pump

If you need a sponge filter for nano tanks, this interesting hybrid system might be the one for you. It is an ideal sponge system for a 10 gallon or smaller installation. It is not actually a sponge filter, but a compact internal filter with two sponges for polishing with water and a small compartment to contain the biological filter media.

This compact filter sits discreetly in the corner of your tank. The water is pushed by an air pump through a plastic screen and into the first compartment with the sponges. This would not be an ideal system for raising fingerlings or shrimp, which could go through the plastic screen, but it is perfect for Bettas and other nano fish.

pros

  • 2 internal sponges filter and polish the water, removing most particles
  • Separate stage to contain biological media, so more effective than using a sponge alone

cons

  • It is not really a corner sponge filter, but an internal filter with a sponge stage
  • Not ideal for raising small fry or shrimp that could be sucked through the mesh into the filter.

4. Huijukon Double Sponge Filter Kit

  • Tank capacity: 10 to 60 gallons
  • Dimensions: 5.9 x 2.4 x 11.1 inches
  • Power: Air Pump

If you want a flexible sponge filter that can be used in many different ways, I highly recommend this Huijukon Double Sponge Filter Kit. With two high-quality sponge tips, this filter can cycle twice as much water at a time and is less likely to clog than any other system on the list. It is also one of the easiest to maintain.

This filter comes with optional canisters that you can connect to the sponge inlet tubes. You can fill them with your choice of chemical or biological media for extra filtration power! This is a great option for fry and shrimp tanks, hospital facilities, and as a secondary filter for any freshwater or marine tank. This would be my pick for a sponge filter!

pros

  • 2 high-quality sponge tips allow twice the water intake
  • Optional use base containers can hold your choice of filter media

cons

  • Power via air pump and no option to use with a powerhead
  • Requires assembly and contains more parts than other filters

5. Lustar Hydro Sponge Filter Kit

  • Tank capacity: 10 to 40 gallons
  • Dimensions: 6.2 x 4.4 x 4.1 inches
  • Power: air pump or powerhead

The Lustar Hydro Sponge Kit is another option if you want a basic, classic-style filter that can be powered by an air pump or powerhead. This is their mid-range model, with a very fine sponge tip that clogs easily. You’ll have to upgrade to their Pro Series if you want the thicker reticulated sponge tip.

This is an ideal sponge filter for a fry tank or a rearing tank with low bioload. The fine material will keep the eggs or babies safe from the pull of the filter. But weekly cleaning is needed to prevent the sponge from getting clogged with debris. The frequency of maintenance will reduce its ability to provide biological filtration.

pros

  • Can be oriented vertically or horizontally in the tank and has a weighted base to keep it in place
  • Fine sponge tip filters out tiny particles and protects delicate species from being washed away

cons

  • The fine sponge filter is also easily clogged and requires frequent maintenance.
  • Users have to upgrade to the harder to find Pro Series to get the highest quality sponge filter tip

What is a Sponge Filter?

A sponge filter is exactly what it sounds like; a filter that uses a fine or coarse sponge to mechanically capture food particles and solid fish waste floating in your aquarium water. Unlike other styles of filtration, such as HOBs and canister filters, sponge filters generally do not include filter media or chemically clean the water in a tank.

Where things get a bit confusing for novice anglers is in the terminology. Other types of filters often include stages for water polishing sponges or can be modified with a sponge filter tip, and yet are not sponge filters. Let’s break down the details so you can see what sets these useful filters apart from the rest!

What comes with a sponge filter kit?

While there are many styles and designs, every sponge filter I’ve seen and used has the same basic setup. Some of the newer types include expanded capacity to hold filter media (more on this below), but this is not a standard feature. When you buy a complete sponge filter system, you can expect the kit to include:

  • Sponge Tip – A coarse or fine spongy covering for the filter inlet.
  • Intake tube: plastic tube with holes, on which the tip of the sponge fits.
  • Center Tube/Outflow – Whether part of the inlet tube or connected to the inlet, the center tube can also be the outflow where the water returns to your tank or it can be connected to a separate, adjustable outflow.

How The Sponge Filter Works

Sponge filters sit inside your tank and either stick to the side or are weighted down to sit on the bottom. Water is drawn through the sponge tip, where debris collects, through the inlet tube to the center tube, and out through the outflow into your tank.

Sponge filters provide simple mechanical filtration for aquariums. While healthy aquatic bacteria can also take up residence on your sponge filter, they generally don’t provide as much biological filtration unless they have a special stage designed to retain biological media long-term. Most of these filters are single stage despite their advertising.

How do sponge filters work?

You will notice that something is missing from the parts list; does not include any power source. You will need to choose and purchase your power supply separately from the kit, either by purchasing an air pump for a sponge filter or by investing in an aquarium power head. The lack of moving parts is the main reason these filters are so inexpensive.

Use of sponge tips in other types of filters

You can often modify a cooktop or canister filter by replacing the plastic inlet screen with a finer sponge tip. This can make your filter safe to use for very small or delicate fish and shrimp that could be sucked through the normal screen. However, it is often better to use a thicker sponge so that it does not reduce your flow rates.

Maintenance of sponge filters

An added feature of sponge filters is their extremely easy maintenance requirements. This is definitely the most practical filtration system when it comes to routine cleaning. You’ll usually only need to remove the sponge tip once a week or a couple times a month (depending on the debris in your tank) and give it a rinse.

Squeezing the tip of the sponge under running water until it’s clean only takes a few minutes, and then you can put it back in your intake and go about your day. Sponges usually last about 6 months before they need to be replaced as well. You may have to clean the inlet, center, and outlet tubes a few times a year, but that’s about it!

Benefits Of Using Sponge Filters In Aquariums

There are many reasons why experienced aquarists keep sponge filter kits on hand, even if they don’t use them all the time or as their primary mode of filtration.

  • Sponge filter kits are very inexpensive and even premium systems rarely cost more than $20 initially.
    • Replacement sponges are cheap and only need to be changed every 6 months, so overall operating costs are very low.
  • They are very flexible and can be used in both freshwater and marine tanks and in tanks of any size.
  • They are a great way to oxygenate your aquarium water.
  • They don’t create much water current, so they are ideal for low-flow fish like shrimp, Bettas, and goldfish.
  • Sponge filters require little maintenance and only take a few minutes a month to clean.
  • Since they (usually) do not contain filter media, they are ideal for use in hospital tanks or for medicating your aquarium.
  • Sponge filter tips also prevent small fish, fry, shrimp or snails from being harmed by the other filtration system.

Disadvantages of Sponge Filters

Despite their many advantages, these filters also have serious drawbacks. While I advocate keeping a kit on hand for emergencies, there aren’t many situations where I’d use a sponge system as my primary filter, and here’s why:

  • Sponge filters only provide 1-stage mechanical filtration and cannot neutralize toxins or remove odors from your aquarium water.
    • The sponge tip alone will not really add much biological filtration to your tank as it is rinsed weekly to prevent clogging.
    • Additional media compartments may provide more room for good bacteria to thrive long-term in premium sponge filters, but they still provide less than other types of filters (or their substrate, for that matter).
    • Tanks with sponge filters require at least weekly water changes to remove toxins from the water, unless you are using another chemical cleaning system as your primary filter.
  • Sponge tips can only filter some debris and can quickly become clogged in a dirty tank.
    • They can’t really polish the water like a HOB or canister system, and the flow rate drops substantially as the filter picks up debris.
    • Depending on how fine or coarse the material is, you may need to rinse the tip of the clean sponge more than once a week to keep the water flowing through the filter.
  • While the sponge filter itself is inexpensive, you will also need to purchase an air pump or power head to operate the filter.
Benefits Disadvantages
Economical to install and maintain Requires an additional power source to operate
It can be used in fresh, brackish and marine water tanks. It only provides 1 stage of filtration (mechanical) so its use is limited in most types of tanks.
Ideal for hospital tanks and for filtering a community medicated tank as they do not use chemical filter media. The effectiveness depends on the texture of the sponge, the size of the pores and the amount of debris in the tank.
Ideal for raising fingerlings, snails, shrimp and other small and delicate aquatic life that might be absorbed by a traditional filtered intake.

Choosing The Ideal Sponge Filter For Your Tank

Let’s put it all together and talk about choosing the ideal sponge filter for your tank! Unlike more complicated filter designs, there really isn’t much to consider when shopping for a sponge filter. Almost all types will do a decent job of removing debris from the water. However, this is what you should look for in the best ones.

Aquarium and filter size

One big difference between sponge filters and canister and HOB systems is that you don’t need to worry too much about matching the size of your filter to the capacity of your tank. While these filters often come with the recommended tank sizes listed, you can use any sponge filter in any size tank as long as it will fit inside.

You can choose a sponge filter for a 10-gallon tank, but you won’t be limited to that size. I have used the same sponge filter on setups from a 2.5 to a 75 gallon tank! Using a larger sponge tip on a larger tank will reduce cleaning frequency, but the size does not affect your flow rates; which is controlled by the power source.

Price and spare parts

Most sponge filter kits range from $8 to $20, so even a premium filter won’t cost you much. I wouldn’t worry about the price of the starter kit and instead look at the cost of replacement parts and sponges. You’ll want to replace the sponge at least twice a year, so make sure you can easily get your replacements!

advanced features

Despite the manufacturer’s hype and hype, there aren’t many special features available for sponge filter kits. You may be able to adjust the direction of the outlet stream or raise or lower the position of the sponge tip for optimal debris collection. Weighted bases and suction cups can also help keep filters in place.

The advanced feature that may be worth looking into is a container or stage to hold additional filter media, if you are using your filter year-round.

  • You won’t need it for hospital tanks, but it can be useful for fish farming, fingerlings, and general community tanks.
  • Containers are usually designed to hold ceramic rings or other biological filter media, but some may also allow the use of chemical media such as carbon.

A note on GPH ratings and sponge filters

Another important difference between buying sponge filters and the other types is that these filters do not come with a flow rating in gallons per hour (GPH). This is because the flow rate depends entirely on the performance of your air pump or powerhead, and not on the design of the sponge filter itself.

Sponge filters also don’t have a constant flow rate, because the rate decreases as the sponge tip picks up debris and increases as it cleans. Therefore, GPH is not a useful specification for comparing these filters to each other or to other systems.

  • Finer sponge tips often clog faster and slow down much more than coarser tips, regardless of the overall design of the filter.
  • This is why the coarser style is better when using a sponge tip with a HOB/canister filter, as it could burn the engine with finer product if it gets clogged and doesn’t catch it right away.

conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short sponge filter guide and I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or on social media. Sponge filters are very useful no matter what size or type of tank you are keeping, and these flexible systems are ideal for raising delicate minnows, fry and shrimp and for hospital tanks.

If you’re still not sure which is the ideal sponge filter for your home, don’t worry about it. These are cheap enough that you can easily upgrade if you don’t care about your first choice.

  • I myself would opt for the versatile Huijukon Double Sponge, and have used the Fluval Sponge tip on my motorized HOB and canister filter intakes for years.
  • The Aquatop Classic is a great basic sponge filter perfect for larger tanks up to 60 gallons in size, or opt for the Lustar if you prefer a finer sponge tip.

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