Using a sump to filter your aquarium is the most effective way to employ high-performance filtration gear and increase the overall water volume of your aquarium but we realize this is not an option for everybody. Sumps can be bulky, expensive and will require a bit of experience with plumbing to set up properly.

That is precisely why hang-on style aquarium equipment can be a real lifesaver! Especially for those of you building a tank on a budget or looking to move beyond your all-in-one nano but are not quite comfortable installing a sump system.

So without further ado, here is your complete guide to hang-on aquarium equipment.

Filtration is the main component when building a new saltwater aquarium.  You want something effective but also easy to maintain.  Hang-on power filters have been around since before my time in the aquarium hobby and are very popular for these exact reasons.  Power filters are effective in filtering saltwater aquariums up to a maximum of about 70 gallons and are very easy to install and maintain. They simply hang on the back of your tank and allow easy access to the filter media.

Some key components to look for when choosing a power filter is a sufficient flow rate that can completely cycle your entire tank volume about 3-5 times per hour and a nice large media chamber that will accommodate different types of filter media.



The Seachem Tidal Filter we chose has some awesome features such as a self-priming pump, dual water intake, adjustable flow rate, and a filter basket that holds any kind of filtration media.

A protein skimmer is technically another part of your filtration system and is a crucial component for saltwater tanks because it will remove dissolved organic compounds and help to oxygenate the water.  Manufacturers have been refining and engineering hang-on style skimmers for years and have come up with some very unique designs but regardless of which brand you prefer, the facts are that you want a skimmer that has a nice large reaction chamber and a high quality pump to achieve the best performance.



The AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 is the latest version of the extremely popular AquaMaxx HOB-1 which is reputed to be one of the best hang-on skimmers around.  It’s earned this reputation because the skimmer maximizes the space behind your tank and utilizes high quality materials. The slim profile makes it easy to mount and a Sicce pump allows for powerful foam creation and quiet operation. A large reaction chamber helps increase contact time resulting in maximum waste removal in a limited amount of space.

AquaMaxx recently released the Hang-On-Back Multi Filter or HF-M which combines both a power filter and protein skimmer into one compact piece of equipment.


The unit is 100% cast acrylic and utilizes a single Sicce pump with bubble diffuser to feed the skimmer and move water through the filter.  It has a media chamber as well as a configurable section that can house a heater, extra filter media, or even a refugium courtesy of this transparent window.

We have been testing the HF-M in our office for a few weeks now and are impressed by the amount of waste the skimmer collects along with the extremely quiet operation.  This is a pretty awesome solution for those of you wanting to reduce clutter and get some very effective filtration for tanks up to 60 gallons.

Media Reactors are another component of a saltwater filtration system that allows you to employ larger volumes of filter media and actively push water through the filter media for better contact with the entirety of the media.  A variety of hang on media reactors are available and will require the use of a small powerhead to feed water through the reactor.  The powerhead sets inside your tank and then feeds water through the reactor hanging on the back.



The AquaMaxx FR-SE is perfect for hang-on applications because it includes a bracket with tube holder to keep the plumbing in place when hanging off the back.  Many of these reactors are suitable to run GFO for phosphate removal, carbon to help remove discoloration and contaminates or biopellets for nitrate reduction.

Refugiums are very popular for saltwater tanks because they help export nitrate and phosphate via the growth of macro-algae. Refugiums also provide a safe-haven for small organisms to grow and reproduce which will help feed your tank inhabitants and increases the biodiversity in your aquarium.  CPR has a great hang-on refugium that is available in three different sizes.  These awesome little boxes include a pump to move water from your tank through the refugium but do require some lighting to grow macroalgae.  CPR makes a little LED strip light that includes a couple of brackets that fit perfectly on top but you could certainly use a variety of different refugium lights over this box.

Calcium Reactors supplement your aquarium water with balanced levels of calcium and alkalinity to provide a more stable environment for corals to grow.  AquaMaxx makes a nifty hang-on calcium reactor that fits nicely on the back of your tank.

These little calcium reactors work great for most reef tanks up to 75 gallons. They will require a separate CO2 canister and a pH controller which are sold separately so be prepared for some extra components if your considering hanging a calcium reactor off the back of your tank.


We actually have a great two part video series all about setting up a calcium reactor and you can check that out on our YouTube channel or just follow the link in the video description below.

Building a tank with effective hang-on equipment is possible, just be sure to choose your components wisely. If you have questions about any of the hang-on style aquarium equipment featured in this episode, leave us a comment and we’ll be happy to help you out!