Pond vs. Aquarium Filters: Is there a Difference?

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As a fish owner, it is vital that you keep your fish’s habitat clean to ensure that they can survive and thrive as long as possible. There are several styles and brands of filters you can use to improve water quality in your pond or aquarium.

While pond and aquarium filters serve the same purpose, they will have a few key differences. Pond filters tend to be larger and less variable than aquarium filters, while aquariums’ small size enables their filters to have more variety.

To learn more about the differences between pond and aquarium filters and how to properly equip your pond or tank for filtration, keep reading.

Ensuring Proper Filtration

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Regardless of whether you are trying to filter a pond or an aquarium, you will need to take a few key steps to ensure your fish stay safe and healthy. Water quality is one of the most important aspects of your fish’s  health, so you must pay close attention to what your filter promises!

To start your filtration, you will need to add a dechlorinator. This substance is a chemical added to your tank or pond to neutralize the threat of chlorine or chloramine in your aquarium.

Chlorine and chloramine are commonly found in tap water because they kill bacteria, but when used in a tank it can damage your fish’s health and your biological filter. If the chlorine becomes very built up, it will allow dangerous ammonia to build up in your tank and threaten your fish. Dechlorination is a simple fix, because it only takes a few drops to treat each gallon of tap water and can be purchased cheaply at your local pet store.

When filtering an aquarium or pond, you will also need a biological filter. This filter contains bacteria that breaks down ammonia into nitrites and then nitrates, which are less harmful to fish. Basically, a biological filter draws dangerous waste through the filter and, like the dechlorinator, removes threats.

For any aquarium, you can also use mechanical filters to trap waste particles and debris. However, if you do not want to purchase this filter, you can use a net or other cleaning mechanism to keep your area debris-free.

Finally, regardless of aquarium type, you should change out your water frequently, and change out about 25% of the water at a time.

Both pond and aquarium filters need biological filters and dechlorinators, so they are similar in this basic aspect of filtration. However, there are a few differences between pond filters and aquarium filters.


Aquarium filters come in many shapes, sizes, and varieties. They are very flexible, and your preferred type will depend on your aquarium’s size and type. Here are a few examples of the most common aquarium filters.

Sponge Filters

Sponge filters are one of the most popular varieties of aquarium filters because of their simplicity and cost. 

Filters such as this AQUANEAT Aquarium Bio Sponge Filter from Amazon are fairly cheap and can last for years without replacement. If they get dirty, you can simply remove them and quickly wash them when you clean the rest of your fish tank. They are reusable and do not require replacement cartridges, so you will get several uses out of this cheap filter.

To use a sponge filter, you will need an air pump and tubing. Air pumps will attach to the tank’s outside, and airline tubing allows the air to circulate the tank’s water without harming or sucking any sea creatures into the machinery. Overall, this filter is the most simple aquarium filter.

Hang-On-Back Filters

Hang-on-back filters, such as this Fluval C Power Filter from Amazon, attach to the top of your aquarium, enabling the filter rim to hang outside the tank with the intake tube lowered into the tank. 

This filter is very easy to wash, because it can be efficiently moved from the tank even when you are not emptying the entire tank. Furthermore, it is reusable, simple to move, and comes with all the necessary parts (so you will not need to purchase an airline tube to attach as you would for a sponge filter).


Pond filtration usually involves biological filters that are large boxes sitting aside your pond. These boxes must be large and heavy because they need to stand up to the elements they’re exposed to outside.

There are a few types of pond filters you may consider.

Pressurized Filters

Pressurized filters allow pond water to be pumped into the inlet from the filter. Gravity pulls the water towards the bottom of the pond, where a drain waits to pull water into tubing that forces the water through the filter.Then, the water is filtered and sent back into the pond.

This filtration system is convenient because it is submersible, so it reduces trip hazards and unattractive items next to your pond. The filter can be buried so it aligns with the top of the pond, keeping the water level.

Gravity Return Filters

Gravity return filters are another popular pond filter. This filter sits above ground next to the pond and is very large. Similar to the pressurized filter, it involves a submersible pump, but this pump is at the bottom of the pond and sends the water up to the filter. After filtration, the water is returned to the pond above the pond, by falling from the pipe like a waterfall.

The Difference

Water filtration systems made for ponds and large aquariums tend to be better quality than for smaller aquariums. However, this is a factor of size and price, and is not necessarily dependent on the difference between aquariums and ponds- it relies more on the fact that these filters are made to filter more water more efficiently. 

A key difference in pond and aquarium filters is the setup. Pond filters like biofilters involve larger filters set up like boxes where the water can be pumped through the filter. Because ponds will be outdoors, this type of filter works best due to its ability to sit on the bottom of the pond, avoiding trip hazards.

In contrast, aquarium filters offer more flexibility of size and style. They can attach to the side of the aquarium since they are above ground, and simpler filters like live aquarium plants or small bio-balls can be used because they are easy to monitor and remove through the tank. These filters are more simple than pond filters, and are often more inexpensive and easy to install.

Due to their small size, aquarium filters can be removed and cleaned more easily than pond filters. While both pond and aquarium filters usually involve pumping water through a filter to promote nitrification of bacteria and make the water safer and cleaner for your fish, they mainly differ in size, complexity, and appearance.


When purchasing a filter for a pond or aquarium, you should ensure your filter type corresponds with your fish’s habitat. If you have an aquarium, you have several options for what kind of filter you can purchase, while your pond filter options will be more limited due to the need to filter larger amounts of water.

Pond filters tend to be higher-quality and more complex than aquariium filters because they are harder to remove, filter more water, and may be exposed to more elements since they’re outside. Aquarium filters are easier to remove and clean, and may attach to the tank’s outside so it can be removed during cleaning. Overall, pond and aquarium filters are very similar wioth a few structural differences.

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