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Powerheads can be very beneficial for saltwater aquariums as they increase water circulation and oxygenation, both of which are key to a healthy habitat for your tank inhabitants.
Compared to freshwater tanks, reef aquariums need a high amount of flow and water circulation to thrive, especially setups that contain live corals.
However, choosing a powerhead for a saltwater setup can be confusing as there are a lot of things you need to keep in mind, including flow rate, price, and what you intend to use the device for.
When I first started my saltwater aquarium journey a few years back, I was similarly overwhelmed with the huge number of powerheads for saltwater tank on the market.
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of some of the best powerheads for a saltwater aquarium to help you narrow down your options and choose the right one for your tank.
Let’s dive in!
On to the Reviews…
AquaClear 50 Powerheads can be used for multiple purposes in a reef aquarium, such as to increase the water current, raise oxygen levels, and improve the performance of filters and protein skimmers. It has a strong and adjustable water flow, and is easy to use.
One of the best powerheads to use for a saltwater setup is the AquaClear 50 Powerhead as it has a strong output and can be used for a variety of purposes.
It can help increase oxygen levels, circulate water, raise water flow, and be attached to undergravel filters, other filtration devices, and protein skimmers to improve their effectiveness. No matter how you use it in your reef aquarium, it’s sure to perform spectacularly.
The powerhead features a compact and sleek design, which helps it blend into your aquarium. It’s also energy efficient and has a fully submersible motor unit that is coated in epoxy resin to protect it from saltwater.
You can adjust the water flow of the powerhead, so you can have complete control of the current and flow patterns in your aquarium.
I really appreciate how easy this powerhead is to install – it comes with suction cups and a mounting bracket so you can affix it to the walls of your aquarium. It also includes an output hose adaptor so you can effortlessly attach it to spray bars, filters, and protein skimmers.
My only gripe with this saltwater aquarium powerhead is the plastic impeller it uses. Unfortunately, it can be easily damaged, so you may need to replace it every few months.
- Weight: 1.18 lbs
- Flow Rate: 270 GPH
- Dimensions: 4.5” x 2” x 3”
- Easy to install
- Powerful and adjustable water flow
- Epoxy resin coating for extra durability
- Plastic impeller can break easily
The AquaMiracle Powerhead is a solid choice for aquarists who need a functional but affordable powerhead for a reef aquarium. It’s relatively durable, easy to use, and comes with a few accessories like air tubing, air venturi, and an impeller strainer.
If you’re looking for a good-quality but budget-friendly powerhead for a reef aquarium, this one from AquaMiracle is the right powerhead for you. It has an epoxy sealed motor to protect it from leaks, as well as a permanent magnet rotor to decrease its noise when in use.
Thanks to the sturdy suction cup mounting system, the device is easy to install in your reef aquarium. You get air tubing and air venturi with this powerhead, which is great as you can increase oxygen levels in your tank without the use of an air pump or airstone.
In addition, the powerhead includes an inlet strainer to collect waste and stop it from passing through the pump, preventing damage to the motor and impeller.
The main downsides of this powerhead are its fairly noisy operation and tendency to clog. However, I still think it’s a great device, especially for its low price.
- Weight: 9.7 oz
- Flow Rate: 135 GPH
- Dimensions: 4.8” x 2” x 3.9”
- Includes an inlet strainer
- Comes with air tubing and air venturi
- Epoxy sealed motor to protect from leaks
- Can be noisy
- Can clog easily
The Hygger 24V Submersible Water Pump is ideal for increasing water movement, oxygen levels, and to be used in conjunction with a sump tank or water feature in a saltwater fish tank.
If you can afford to spend a little extra on a powerhead for your saltwater tank, the Hygger 24V DC Water Pump is one of the best powerheads for the task. It’s powerful, energy saving, and quiet, with a GPH (gallons per hour) rating of 800.
If you have a large reef aquarium, these fully submersible water pumps are well worth investing in as it will provide plenty of water movement and circulation. It can be used either in-line or submersible, and can be affixed to sump tanks, water features, ponds, and fountains.
One of the best features of this reef tank powerhead is its auto shut-off system. If the device doesn’t detect any water or becomes overvolted, it turns off automatically to prevent damage to the pump.
I also really like the external controller the device comes with as this allows you to adjust the speed of the water flow or switch it off for a set period (such as when you’re feeding your fish).
The pump comes with 2 types of intake screens and can deal with up to ⅔-inch debris, which not only prevents it from becoming clogged, but also decreases the amount of maintenance you need to do.
The only downsides of Hygger’s fully submersible water pumps are their tendency to slightly leak over time. In addition, they can develop a minor buzzing noise once they start aging (usually after a few months).
However, the pump still functions relatively quietly even with this mild buzzing sound.
- Weight: 3.84 lbs
- Flow Rate: 800 GPH
- Dimensions: 10.31” x 9.17” x 5.47”
- Auto shut-off system
- Powerful but energy efficient
- Come with an external controller to adjust speed
- Can leak over time
- Can be a little noisy
The Marineland Maxi-Jet is 3 pumps in 1, so it can be used as a powerhead, circulation pump, or utility pump. It’s energy efficient and has a max flow rate of 750 GPH.
Another great powerhead for a reef tank is the Marineland Maxi-Jet. It functions as a powerhead, circulation pump, and a utility pump, so you can use it for a multitude of purposes, such as for increasing water circulation or powering undergravel filters.
It has a sleek and compact design, so it won’t take up much space in your fish tank. It has a max flow rate of 750 GPH and is a solid choice for aquariums containing saltwater fish.
Best of all, it’s energy efficient (8 watts), so it’s relatively cost-effective to run, even on full power!
Unfortunately, this pump is very noisy during operation, which could be a nuisance if your aquarium is located in your bedroom or living room.
That being said, its strong output and attractive design makes it a fantastic pump for all saltwater setups.
- Weight: 1.15 lbs
- Flow Rate: 160/750 GPH
- Dimensions: 4.75” x 4” x 6.88”
- 3 pumps in 1
- Energy efficient
- Compact design
The Rip Plus 1000 Aqua Pump is a great device for saltwater aquariums as it can be used to increase water surface agitation, oxygen levels, or drive undergravel filters and protein skimmers.
Next up is the Rio Plus 1000 Aqua Pump, which features a magnetic rotor for superior performance. It’s energy efficient and is relatively quiet during operation, even during higher water flows.
It can be used for a wide range of saltwater tank setups, such as for wet/dry filters, protein skimmers, ponds, and underwater filters. It also has a low heat emission and a ceramic shaft to improve its durability.
If you need a reliable but cost-effective pump, I think this one from Rio Plus is definitely worth considering.
However, although quiet for the most part, this pump can sometimes be a bit noisy during operation.
- Weight: 1.3 lbs
- Flow Rate: 271 GPH
- Dimensions: 3.9” x 2.5” x 2.1”
- Energy efficient
- Magnetic rotor for better performance
- Can sometimes be a bit noisy
The Tunze 6150 Stream is one of the best aquarium powerheads for large reef tanks due to its unbeatable performance and quality.
Last but not least is the Tunze 6150 Stream, which is one of the most powerful powerhead pumps for reef tanks. Although pricier than the other aquarium powerheads on this list, I think it’s a great investment if you have a large tank.
Its superior performance and high flow rate will circulate water in your tank with ease and prevent stagnant water and dead spots to provide a healthy environment for your tank inhabitants.
It boasts an axial magnetic bearing propeller pump and operates with almost no noise. It has an adjustable flow rate of between 660 to a whopping 3,962 GPH, which can be changed via an integrated controller.
It comes with magnetic holders for easy installation, as well as 5-meter polyurethane cord with a protective wrap to improve its durability.
The best aspect of this powerhead pump is its 5-year warranty, so if you run into any issues with it, you can request a refund or replacement!
My only gripe with this pump is that it can vibrate quite loudly if the propeller shaft is not mounted properly.
- Weight: 3.81 lbs
- Flow Rate: 3,962 GPH
- Dimensions: 3.4” x 2.7” x 7.2”
- 5-year warranty
- Maximum flow of 3,692 GPH
- Comes with an external controller to adjust speed
- Can vibrate loudly if impeller shaft is installed off-center
What is a Powerhead?
A powerhead is a pump that can be fully submerged in water. It can be used for a variety of purposes, including to drive undergravel filters, increase water circulation, or to pass water through a wet/dry trickle filter or protein skimmer.
Do Saltwater Tanks Need Powerheads?
Saltwater tanks need a lot of water movement and flow to provide fish, invertebrates, LPS corals (Small Polyp Stony Corals), SPS corals (Large Polyp Stony Corals), and aquatic plants with a healthy environment. Powerheads are beneficial in reef aquarium as they prevent dead spots and increase oxygen levels and water circulation.
However, if you have a strong filter that can produce enough flow for the total tank volume, then a powerhead isn’t essential. That being said, many saltwater aquarists use powerheads in their setups even with a good-quality filter for extra water movement.
Many SPS corals and LPS corals need a lot of oxygenation and water movement to survive. In addition, stronger currents help remove gasses that could otherwise affect the health of your fish and corals.
What is the Difference Between a Powerhead and a Wavemaker?
Aquarium powerheads and wavemakers are often used interchangeably, but they actually work a little differently from one another. Powerheads pump water in a narrow line in one direction, whereas wavemakers replicate ocean waves by shooting water in a back and forth motion to generate a pulsing flow.
Should I Have Both?
It’s not necessary to use both a powerhead or a wavemaker, so if you already own one of these flow tools, you don’t need to purchase the other. However, some aquarists use multiple powerheads or wavemakers in their aquariums to achieve optimal flow rate, especially in large setups with big fish.
Benefits of Using a Powerhead
Powerheads and other flow tools are useful in a reef tank as they increase water circulation and oxygenation, both of which are important for promoting good water quality. More water movement means better water quality for your fish and corals.
The consistent water circulation powerheads provide also allow even heat distribution, preventing hot or cold spots in your tank.
Aquarium powerheads prevent stagnant water and help stop detritus and other waste from falling to the bottom of your tank. This helps enhance filtration by making it easier for your filter to remove these particulates to keep your reef aquarium clean and clear.
Using powerheads or circulation pumps in a tank can also prevent algae growth or algae breakouts as many types prefer slow-moving, stagnant waters.
Things to Consider
Below are some things you should consider before purchasing powerheads for a reef tank.
The majority of powerheads aren’t usually too expensive, but high-end devices with multiple features can be quite costly. If you have a nano tank with small fish and no corals, a basic powerhead will usually do the trick.
However, large fish tanks and those containing corals will need at least 2 powerheads, ideally with a high flow, to provide ample water movement and flow.
Another thing to consider is the flow rate of the powerhead. Powerhead flow rates are calculated using GPH (gallons per hour). As a rule, you should aim to use a powerhead that can turn over at least 10x the volume of your aquarium.
Similar to most saltwater fish, reef tanks that house corals will need a lot of water movement and oxygenation, so powerheads with a high flow rate will be ideal.
Powerheads can be used for a wide range of purposes in a reef tank, from driving undergravel filters to increasing water circulation. Think about what you plan on using your powerhead for so you can select a model that suits your needs.
For instance, if you have a large tank with lots of corals, you’ll need at least 2 powerheads that provide a high water flow.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider the size of your powerhead and the volume of your tank. Powerheads can be quite bulky, so if you only have a nano aquarium, you may want to select a model that is both sleek and compact to help it blend it.
Additionally, as mentioned above, make sure the powerheads you use have a suitable flow rate for the size of your aquarium.
Where Should a Powerhead Be Placed in a Saltwater Tank?
You should place your powerhead on the back wall of your reef tank, ideally in the middle or upper region of the aquarium. For a small aquarium, you can get by with a single powerhead.
Large fish tanks, however, will benefit from at least 2 powerheads (1 on each side of the tank) for maximum water circulation and oxygenation.
What Size Powerhead Do I Need?
As a general rule, a powerhead should have a turnover of at least 10x the volume of your reef tank. So, if you have a 100-gallon reef aquarium with no corals, your new powerhead should have a GPH of around 1,000.
|Reef Tank Volume||Powerhead Flow Rate|
|10 Gallons||100 GPH|
|20 Gallons||200 GPH|
|40 Gallons||400 GPH|
|50 Gallons||500 GPH|
|75 Gallons||750 GPH|
|100 Gallons||1,000 GPH|
|150 Gallons||1,500 GPH|
Bear in mind that soft corals and LPS corals will benefit from at least a 20 x turnover, whereas SPS corals will require at least 50 x turnover.
What Size Powerhead Do I Need for a 20 Gallon Saltwater Tank?
For a 20-gallon tank, you’ll need a powerhead with a flow rate of at least 200 GPH. However, if you have LPS or soft corals, you’ll need a minimum of 400 GPH.
SPS corals, on the other hand, will require a powerhead with a current flow of 1,000 GPH.
- Strong flow rate
- Adjustable water flow
- Simple to use and install
- Comes with an inlet strainer
- Includes air tubing and air venturi
- Has an epoxy sealed motor to prevent leaks
- Has an auto shut-off system
- Includes an external controller
- Energy efficient but powerful pump
I hope this guide helped you select the right powerheads for your reef or saltwater tank and helped you understand the benefits of using them!
Which powerheads are your favorite? Be sure to let me know on our social media platforms and share this post with your friends, family, and other aquarium enthusiasts.
If you’re looking for more information guides on saltwater aquarium care, aquarium accessories and products, check out our other articles like our how to treat marine ich and clownfish care guides. You can also checkout our other articles about aquarium accessories for reef tanks such as GFO Reactors and Nano Protein Skimmers.