Picking the best aquarium return pump out of the hundreds of options available in the market can be a daunting task.

The problem with most pumps is that they have a brief life span and tend to wear out within a few months of use.

So how do you know which pump is worth your money?

To help you out, we scoured the internet to find the best aquarium pumps out there so that you don’t have to.

Our extensive research has put together this comprehensive list of the best return pumps for saltwater and freshwater aquariums.

Comparison Chart

Products Flow Rate Suitable for Best Used in 
Sicce Syndra SDC

Up to 2377 GPH Internal or external usage Freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Jebao DCP Sine Wave

Up to 4755 GPH Internal use only Freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Current USA eFlux DC

Up to 3170 GPH Internal or external usage Freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Iwaki MD40RLXT

Up to 1362 GPH External use only saltwater aquariums
Aquastation Silent Swirl Controllable DC Up to 1050 GPH Internal use only Freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Fluval Hagen Sea SP6

Up to 3434 GPH Internal or external usage Freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Little Giant Magnetic Drive

Up to 1325 GPH External use only Freshwater and saltwater aquariums

Best Aquarium Return Pumps Reviewed

1. Sicce Syndra SDC

Pros

  • Self-cleaning impeller
  • Wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi
  • Five years of warranty
  • Water temperature sensor

Cons

  • Slightly Expensive

The Sicce Syndra SDC is one of the most feature-rich and high-performance DC pumps on the market. Its powerful performance and premium build quality have won the hearts of aquarium enthusiasts all around the world.

Sicce has been in this industry for over 40 years now and has mastered the craft of making high-quality pumps for aquariums. Using high-grade plastic, robust electronics, and following a strict quality control process allows them to produce these reliable and long-lasting pumps.

The company trusts their creation so well that they provide a five-year warranty period, which is exceptionally rare for a DC pump.

The Syndra SDC pump has an advanced, synchronous motor that stays silent even when running at its fastest speed. You also get the option to control the pump via a smartphone using their app. There you get the option to customize the flow rate, cutoff, and much more.
The app works on wifi, and therefore you can control it over long distances, unlike some other pumps that only come with BlueTooth connectivity. Also, the app alerts you if the pump shuts down, which is essential as a functioning pump is crucial for the aquarium.

Overview

After comparing hundreds of pumps, we concluded that the Sicce Syndra SDC is the best DC return pump money can buy. From self-cleaning impeller to rubber feet that stick to the floor of the tank, it has everything that you can expect from a great pump.

2. Jebao DCP Sine Wave Return Pump

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Energy efficient
  • Silent operation
  • Wide variety of output connections

Cons

  • Flow rate fluctuations

The Jebao DCP Sine Wave is undoubtedly the best budget-friendly salt water return pump for aquariums. It has a small and compact form factor that easily fits in aquariums of all sizes.

It’s common for DC pumps in this price range to make a constant humming sound that may annoy you. That is not the case with the Jebao DCP. It is completely silent in all the different modes, and the vibrations produced during its operation are almost negligible.

The pump gives you the freedom to customize the power and the flow rate using its simple controller. It also features a unique battery backup solution that keeps the pump running for a few hours in case of a blackout.

The pump controller also includes a feeding mode that turns off the pump for 10 minutes so that you can easily feed your fishes without any disturbance. To increase the longevity of the pump, the company uses no cooper components. Instead, they use sustainable alternatives that make this pump maintenance-free.

Overview

Jebao DCP Sine Wave return pump is a perfect choice for aquarists looking for a silent and reasonably powerful pump at a lower price point. Fair pricing does not mean that you are compromising quality at all, and the highly positive reviews on the internet are a testament to that statement.

3. Current USA eFlux DC Flow Pump

Pros

  • Delivers high pressure and flow rates
  • Energy-efficient
  • Dial-based controller provides more customizability
  • Can be submerged inside the tank or mounted outside

Cons

  • Possible leakage when mounted outside of the aquarium tank

The Current USA eFlux is an easy-to-install return pump with a tiny footprint, making it ideal for small aquariums. The build quality of the pump is remarkable, and its robust design gives it a very premium appeal.

Unlike standard pumps with limited speed modes to choose from, the Current USA eFlux DC flow pump comes with a dial-based controller that gives you complete control over your pump’s flow rate.

It also features rubber feet underneath that grip to your aquarium’s base to provide better stability. But the list of features doesn’t just end there. This pump also offers integrated control for LEDs that make it effortless to decorate your aquarium.

The Current USA eFlux works incredibly well as a submersible flow pump, but you also get the option to mount it externally. The pump connects to your smartphone via BlueTooth. You can use their app to adjust the flow rate and the modes that the pump features.

Overview

The Current USA eFlux is the best return pump for reef tanks as it fits perfectly in small spaces and offers a great control system. It is a premium offering that is super quiet, and you can use it for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

4. Iwaki MD40RLXT External Return Pump

Pros

  • Very durable design
  • Great for high head pressures
  • Minimal vibrations
  • Embedded liquid cooling system

Cons

  • Loud operation

The Iwaki MD40RLXT pumps are made in Japan and are known for their long-term reliability and powerful performance. If you are looking for a pump that has a high head pressure and can pump water over long vertical distances, then this might just be the one for you.

The pump operates on AC power, and the motor uses specially designed magnets that eliminate the vibrations. This feature is impressive, especially when talking about a pump of this weight — if the vibrations are not controlled, they can damage the tank.

It also includes a liquid cooling system in the front and rear radial bearings to increase their longevity. These pumps are also great for saltwater environments, which can be harsh for other pumps of the same class.

Before you rush out to purchase this excellent pump, please note that it is an external pump. Do not submerge this pump to avoid damage. It weighs 9.55 pounds and can also get a little noisy during its operation.

Overview

The Iwaki MD40RLXT is a one-time investment pump that can work both in freshwater or saltwater tanks. It’s priced a bit on the higher side, but the product’s longevity makes it worth it.

5. Aquastation Silent Swirl Controllable DC Aquarium Pump

Pros

  • Unique wave motion
  • Compact size
  • Strong water flow
  • Ultra silent operation

Cons

  • Non-standard fittings

The Aquastation Silent Swirl is a powerful DC pump packed in a compact shell and is loaded with unique features.

It comes with a wave mode that gently swirls the water to replicate a wavy motion within the tank. You can also change the intensity of the waves and adjust them to your fish’s liking.

Apart from the wave mode, you also get a pulse mode along with a feeding option that works for 10 minutes at the push of a button. The pump includes a controller with a set of 20 predefined speed settings to choose from. It has an LED display and can also be used to switch between different modes.

Another likable quality of this pump is its versatile use case. You can use it both as an external pump and as an internal pump. Place it inside the tank to function as a submersible pump. Unfortunately, it comes with non-standard fittings out of the box, and you may need to get adapters to ensure compatibility with your aquarium system.

Overview

We recommend this pump to customers who enjoy having versatile control over their aquariums at a restricted budget. However, you must keep in mind that It comes with non-standard fittings out of the box, and you may need to get adapters to ensure compatibility with your aquarium system.

6. Fluval Hagen Sea SP6 Sump Pump for Aquariums

Pros

  • Works well for both internal and external applications
  • Comes in three different sizes
  • Built-in stabilizing base to eliminate vibrations
  • Works great in cold temperatures

Cons

  • No intake filter

If you’re on the lookout for a saltwater compatible pump that supports a sump tank, the Fluval Hagen Sea SP6 Sump Pump is a great option to consider. It has a small form factor that allows it to fit in the sump tank easily.

This pump works completely fine in cold temperature systems and has high flow rates. It can be used as a submersible or as an external pump, and it delivers equally powerful performance in either case.

Despite being powerful enough to pump a massive amount of water, the Fluval Hagen Sea SP6 is surprisingly silent. This has been made possible by refining the design of traditional pumps and removing any components that come in the way of the water flow.

After taking reports of real customers into account, it is proven that the Fluval Hagen Sea SP6 is durable in the long run. Its rugged design requires no maintenance and marine-certified impellers that help prevent any kind of calcium build-up.

Overview

The Fluval Hagen Sea SP6 is a heavy-duty return pump suitable for both marine and freshwater aquariums and has an efficient power consumption rating. It is easy to install and also comes with barbed hose fittings.

7. Little Giant Magnetic Drive Aquarium Pump

Pros

  • Excellent heat dissipation system
  • Works well for both saltwater and freshwater aquarium systems
  • Leak-proof design
  • Six-foot long cord length

Cons

  • Relatively noisy operation

The Little Giant 582507 Magnetic Drive aquarium pump offers a no-frills solution for freshwater and saltwater aquariums alike. It is an AC pump that offers seamless functionality and stable circulation.

It great for free flow tanks with little back pressure and is designed for external use only. It includes a seal-less and leakproof magnetic drive and weighs 10.5 pounds. The pump is made up of durable materials that are immune to wear and tear.

The thrust washers of this pump are made of pure aluminum, and the shaft is made out of ceramic. You can equip it with an excellent heat dissipation system that prevents the motor from overheating, contributing to its extended life span.

It is perfect for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. The pump can be a little noisy initially, but you can take that care of by oiling up the components.

Overview

The Little Giant Magnetic Drive is a mighty heavy-duty pump that is ideal for any mid-size tank. It can deliver a high volume of water flow and can operate for years without breaking down.

Buying Guide

1. Flow Rate

You need to calculate the required water flow rate for your aquarium. The general rule of thumb is to have a pump flow rate of 5-10 times the aquarium volume. So, if the volume of your tank is 10 gallons, you will need a pump with a flow rate of 50GPH to 100 GPH.

Choosing the best aquarium return pumps that match the volume of your tank is very important. An underpowered pump can prove to be completely ineffective, and an overpowered pump can lead to the water splashing out of the tank. Also, if the water current is powerful, it can stress the small fishes used to live in a calmer environment.

2. AC Return Pumps vs. DC Return Pumps

In recent years, DC pumps have generally been more popular than AC pumps. There are quite a few good reasons for this. First, DC pumps have embedded controller systems. These allow you to either shut off the flow while feeding or make precise changes to the flow rate of the return pump.

Also, DC pumps are generally much more power-efficient than AC pumps. They can also be controlled via a dedicated controller or even wirelessly through mobile devices.

Traditional AC pumps have no embedded control systems and have a fixed flow rate. Therefore, the only way to change the flow rate on these pumps is to install valves in the water flow pipes.

You must be thinking about why people still buy AC pumps when DC pumps are better in almost every aspect. The only reason for this is that AC pumps are less complex and tend to last longer than DC pumps.

3. Submersible vs. In-line

Most commercial return pumps are made to be submerged underwater and hence known as internal or submersible pumps. These are easy to install, and all you need to do is dip the pump in the tank and connect the return pipe to the sump filter.

However, some pump designs require them to be plumbed to the exterior of the aquarium tank. These types of pumps are known as external pumps. These pumps can flow water over longer distances than internal ones and are last longer in saltwater environments.

You need to clean both pump types periodically to remove algae and other waste materials. This requirement is where internal pumps take the lead. Internal pumps are easier to maintain as they can be detached from the aquarium easily without undoing any complex plumbing.

If you want a simple and easy-to-clean pump, you should go with a submersible pump. Indeed, the external pumps generally perform better in saltwater tanks. But some of the inline pumps that we have mentioned in our list are designed to pump salt water just as good as external pumps.

However, the decision of whether you should choose a submersible or an in-line pump depends on your preference, use case, and the design of your aquarium.

Conclusion

It is crucial to pick the best aquarium return pump to ensure your fish’s health and long life. Choosing the wrong pump can not only turn out to be a waste of money but also adversely affect the health of your marine pets.

If you want only the best for your fish, we highly recommend you to go for the Sicce Syndra SDC submersible return pump. It fits all your needs as you can use it both internally and externally. Plus, you can use it on both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

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