The Best Filters For Your Betta Tank! (Cheap And Beginner-Friendly)

I have tried most aquarium filters in the hobby, and in my experience, the best filters for betta fish are sponge filters, box filters, and hang-on-back spillway filters.

Each has advantages and disadvantages, but beginners should get a cheap sponge filter with a USB air pump and start cycling their tank.

The Walstad method, which relies on plants for natural filtration, is also a viable option for betta fish. If you are new to the hobby, I recommend adding a filter to your betta tank to provide safe and stable water parameters.

One-Sentence Summaries

Each filter is covered in more detail below:

  • Sponge Filters: Affordable and easy-to-maintain, ideal for beginners with small tanks.
  • Box Filters: Highly customizable and great for advanced keepers needing versatile filtration.
  • HOB Spillway Filters: Versatile but may complicate lid use; best for medium to large tanks.

Understanding Betta Fish Filter Requirements

A Betta Fish
A Betta Fish

Every betta tank should have a suitable filter to help maintain water parameters and keep the betta happy and safe.

Different filters are available, but some are far better options for betta tanks than others.

The ideal betta tank filter should:

  • Have Low Water Flow
  • Allow You To Use A Lid
  • Be Small
  • Be Affordable
  • Be Low Maintenance

Let’s take a closer look at each of these criteria.

  • Low Water Flow – Betta fish are weak swimmers and prefer still or gently flowing water.
  • Use A Lid – Betta fish can jump out of their tank so a lid is essential.
  • Size – Betta fish are often kept in smaller tanks so you need a small filter.
  • Cost – Why spend more when you don’t have to?
  • Maintenance – The less maintenance required the better.

Let’s take a detailed look at my three recommended filter types for betta fish.

Sponge Filters

Multiple Filtration Methods On The AQQA Sponge Filter
Multiple Filtration Methods On The AQQA Sponge Filter

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Small
  • Easy To Use And Maintain

Cons

  • Some Are Poorly Made
  • Spills Debris When Moved
  • No Chemical Filtration

Sponge filters are cheap, small, and efficient making them a great option for betta tanks.

They are air-powered, so a cheap USB air pump will be needed to run the filter. Other than that, sponge filters are very affordable.

A regular sponge filter operates by having air rise through the filter, creating a vacuum effect that pulls water through the foam.

Beneficial bacteria colonies establish themselves on the foam, removing ammonia and nitrite from the water while the foam traps particulate matter.

Most sponge filters will have a listed recommended tank size for the filter. I always try to size up to a larger size for my betta tanks to ensure the filter provides ample surface area for biological filtration allowing beneficial bacteria colonies to thrive, ensuring safe water parameters for a betta fish.

Some sponge filters also provide mechanical filtration, capturing particles in the water column due to their low pore per inch (PPI) count.

Monthly maintenance involves washing the sponge filter to remove built-up gunk and prevent clogging. This process is quick and easy:

  1. Remove the sponge from the filter.
  2. Hold it in a bucket with old tank water.
  3. Squeeze it a few times until the gunk is released.
  4. Place it back in your betta tank.

While some brands offer modern sponge filters with media beds for additional filter media, this isn’t necessary for a basic betta tank.

Ceramic Media In The AQQA Sponge Filter
Ceramic Media In The AQQA Sponge Filter

Another modern variation of the sponge filter is the dual sponge filter, which features two pieces of foam.

This design effectively doubles the biological and mechanical filtration capacity of the filter.

However, they are also twice the size of a regular sponge filter and tend to be slightly more expensive.

While people often assume that the increased surface area makes them superior to regular sponge filters, this additional capacity is usually unnecessary for a standard betta tank.

A Hybrid Sponge Filter
A Dual Sponge Filter

A $10 sponge filter and a $10 USB air pump are all you need for a standard betta tank.

You can opt for one of the more advanced options if you prefer but they are optional.

It’s easy to add a lid to your tank when using air-powered filters, preventing your betta fish from jumping out of the tank.

The Air Line Tubing Going Into My Betta Tank
The Air Line Tubing Going Into My Betta Tank

Box Filters

A Large Box Filter And A Regular Box Filter
A Large Box Filter And A Regular Box Filter

Box filters are inexpensive and highly customizable, making them a great option for advanced betta fish keepers.

They are also air-powered, so you will need a cheap air pump to run the filter, but they allow you to use a wide range of filter media.

Beginners are often drawn to ceramic or sintered glass media but I think they are a waste of money.

30 PPI Foam
30 PPI Foam

30 PPI foam is inexpensive, and you can cut large pieces to fit inside your box filter for biological filtration. Then, add a thin layer of filter floss on top for mechanical filtration, and you’re all set.

While various sintered glass medias claim to remove nitrates from your water, live plants can also achieve this. A few fast-growing stem plants and a floating plant should be enough to keep nitrate levels low without buying expensive filter media.

Box filters also allow you to add chemical filtration to your betta tank, such as a small bag of Purigen. This helps you easily manage tannins in your tank water from driftwood or botanicals.

I like to place any chemical filtration media in the base of the box filter then add biological media above that with the mechanical media on the top.

This setup works perfectly since most box filters draw water into the filter through inlets at the top of the box.

The mechanical media removes particulate matter, the biological media removes ammonia and nitrites, and the chemical media removes tannins.

Although box filters may require more maintenance than sponge filters, I remove mine from the tank, rinse the media in old tank water, reassemble the box, and place it back in the tank.

Hang-On-Back Spillway Filters

A Hang On The Back Spillway Filter
A Hang On The Back Spillway Filter

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Plenty Of Filtration Options

Cons

  • Restricts The Use Of A Lid
  • Can Be Difficult To Clean

Hang-on-back (HOB) spillway filters are among the most common filter types in the fish-keeping hobby. Personally, I consider them the third-best option for a betta tank.

A good HOB spillway filter provides much of the customization that a box filter does. You can easily incorporate mechanical, biological, and chemical media in a HOB to meet your filtration needs.

HOB filters typically operate by drawing water into the container and then pushing it forward to the spillway, returning the water to the tank.

I prefer to place mechanical media at the back of the HOB, followed by biological media, and finally chemical media at the front.

This setup allows the mechanical media to remove particulate matter first, then the biological media to eliminate ammonia and nitrite, and the chemical media to remove tannins.

If you keep shrimp with your betta then adding a pre-filter sponge to the intake will prevent your shrimp getting sucked into the filter and crushed.

Most HOB filters have adjustable water flows allowing you to reduce the flow rate to keep your betta happy.

However, they have one significant drawback: they make it difficult to keep a lid on your betta tank, increasing the risk of your betta jumping out.

If you decide to use a HOB filter, you can lower the water level in your tank to reduce the chances of your betta jumping out.

For my betta fish, this is a risk I’m not willing to take, especially when box filters and sponge filters offer similar benefits while allowing me to keep a lid on my tank securely.

Modern HOB filters are typically easy to maintain. You can turn off the filter to stop the water flow, remove all the media, rinse it in some old tank water, place the media back into the filter, and then turn it back on.

Conclusion

For a betta tank, sponge filters are ideal for beginners due to their affordability and ease of maintenance.

Box filters offer advanced customization for more experienced keepers, while HOB filters provide versatile filtration options but may complicate using a lid.

Each type of filter has its strengths and weaknesses, so choose based on your specific needs and tank setup.