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The Aquarium UV Sterilizer is one of the most praised and most critiqued piece of equipment in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. It’s easy to see why because the quality of the aquarium UV sterilizers differ greatly and many people do not know the difference. It’s easy to just purchase a cheap UV sterilizer and expect it to work wonders for disease and algae management. I was a little hesitant to write this article at first , but there is a lot of misinformation out there with these products so I feel it’s best to write a comprehensive article educating people on how they work so you have reasonable expectations of what you will get out of them to improve the water quality.
The best aquarium UV sterilizers are expensive, but have the ability to mitigate pathogens in the aquarium water. The cheap UV sterilizers will often only be best for water clarification. With that being said, let’s talk about what exactly is a UV Sterilizer.
In A Hurry? The best uv sterilizer is the TMC Vecton!
What is a UV Sterilizer For A Fish Tank?
A UV sterilizer is a filtration unit that uses a germicidal florescent lamp that uses a particular wavelength (254 nm). Water is delivered to the UV sterilizer via a pump where the water passes through a quartz chamber. As the water passes through this chamber, the UV light damages algae, parasites, and bacteria’s DNA preventing them from growing and reproducing.
UV sterilizers have been a topic of discussion regarding the fight on superbugs. Superbugs are evolved (or mutated depending on how you want to label them) pathogens which are drug resistant. UV light has showed to attack parasite resistance as it destroys the DNA. If you own a marine aquarium, you may be familiar with drug resistant ich and marine velvet coming through aquarium trade supply chain. This is a must watch below:
Aquarium UV Sterilizer Dwell Time And Why It’s So Important
The time spent in the quartz chamber of UV sterilizers is known as dwell time. This dwell time is something you are going to write down as you research units as this is the most important factor when deciding what the best UV light is for your budget.
UV Sterilizer in theory, are all designed the same way with a sleeve and UV bulb, but certain units have larger dwell time due to the width and length of the quartz chamber. The longer and wider the chamber, the higher the dwell time. You can also increase the dwell time by lowering the flow to the unit, but if the unit is too short and not wide enough you will hit a limit to the sterilization you can achieve.
The longer dwell time you have, the longer the water is exposed to the UV sterilizer light. This in turn means there is a higher likelihood that all pathogens/organisms passing through the UV light will be affected. So how do we rate dwell time? The best way to rate this is to categorize the level of sterilization and what this means when choosing an aquarium filter.
Not All Are Created Equal
Knowing the sterilization levels an aquarium UV sterilizer can achieve is what you need to know as a consumer in order to purchase the best UV light for your fish tank or pond. We can break down UV sterilization into 3 uses.
- Green Water Clarification (Clarification)
- Bacterial, Flagellates, and Light Parasite Sterilization (Sterilization)
- Heavy Parasite Sterilization (Heavy Sterilization)
The best aquarium UV sterilizers on the market can do the 3rd category. The middle grade models can do the 1st and second. Budget unit uv sterilizers can only do the first.
UV Clarification – The Most Common on the Market
The first category of UV Sterilization is the main reason why UV lights can get such a bad rap in the industry amongst aquarium owners. The vast majority of UV sterilizers available for sale will only be capable of clarification. In freshwater tanks and ponds, this is still a very good unit as it will eliminate the free floating green algae (green water), but don’t expect it to do anything for bacterial and parasite mitigation or redox balance.
These sterilizers are usually hang-on or internal which makes them easy to install. These UV sterilizers offer little dwell time and comprise of many cheaper sterilizers on the market.
Sterilization – Mid-Level Units
We start getting into more serious UV sterilizers at level 1 sterilization . These UV lights are capable of actual sterilization with their higher dwell time. These units are most suited for common fish tank and pond usage. They have enough dwell time to not only clarify water, but can destroy harmful viruses and bacteria in your aquarium water. Level 1 UV sterilizers are particularly useful in marine aquariums at helping to eliminating dinoflagellates.
Heavy Sterilization – The Premier Choice
This category represents the uv sterilizers with the best dwell time. They are the best of the best in the industry and common to what you will see in public aquariums. That is not to say that this is not available to the common hobbyist, it’s just that sterilizers of this level are very expensive in comparison to others that do not have the dwell to be in this category.
These UV sterilizers are fully capable of water clarification, disease mitigation, redox balance, algae containment, and suitable for increasing the disease resistance of your fish population.
What Is Redox And How Does It Relate?
I mentioned redox in the discussion about aquarium sterilizer categories, but did not define it. Redox refers to ORP (Oxidation Reduction Potential). This relates to the degree of water purity in your aquarium. An effective UV sterilizer will increase your redox potential. If you want the full explanation. You can view the full explanation from Reef Sanctuary.
A Quick Comparison for the Money
Now that I have explained how UV sterilizers work and what the levels of sterilization are, let’s discuss the best UV Sterilizers for fish tanks and ponds.
Below is the comprehensive list of aquarium UV sterilizers with their category of sterilization listed.
|TMC Vecton UV Sterilizer||Check For Best Price|
|Aqua UV Advantage||Click For Best PriceBuy On Amazon|
|Green Killing Machine||Buy On PetcoBuy On Amazon|
|Aqua UV Classic UV Sterilizer||Click For Best PriceBuy On Amazon|
|Bloom Clean Sterilizer||Buy On Amazon|
|Coralife Turbo Twist||Buy On PetcoBuy On Amazon|
|Innovative Marine AUQA Shield||Click For Best PriceBuy On Amazon|
|Lifegard Aquatics UV Sterilizers||Click For Best PriceBuy On Amazon|
|Jabeo UV Sterilizer||Buy On ChewyBuy On Amazon|
The Top 9 (2023 Reviews)
Let us go in depth and see why each UV sterilizer made the list!
1. TMC Vecton
The best aquarium uv sterilizer available today. Best dwell time, highest sterilization levels, and built to last
The TMC Vecton is without a doubt the best UV sterilizer on the market. At first, you may think what is this brand and what makes the unit so great. TMC stands for Tropic Marine Centre, which is based out in the United Kingdom. TMC has been leading the UK in fish trade since the 1970s and specializes in high end aquarium equipment with reef tanks being their main focus. The are the leading supplier in the UK for livestock and design their own equipment, with their equipment being used in commercial facilities all over Europe. You can learn more about them in the video below. I wish we had more suppliers like this in the US:
So now that you know what TMC is let’s talk about why this unit is the best available.The main thing that makes TMC Vectons so great is their dwell time. They have the longest dwell time available in aquarium UV sterilizers because their chamber is very wide. The UV bulb is also unique from other makers in that they use a wider T8 UV bulb versus a the standard T5 used in most UV sterilizers. This wide UV bulb is more effective at sterilizing than other units in the market.
The next thing to love is how the UV light is assembled. It comes with its own docking bay so you can easily mount to your aquarium stand or wall. This docking bay allows you to pop up the bay and perform maintenance on the unit and keeps the electronics safe and secure. The UV sterilizer also comes with a swivel arm that can be placed at the top or below of the unit for ease of install and adapt to piping.
The main downfall with this sterilizer is its availability. Because it’s made in the UK, it’s difficult to find their small units available unless you purchase a transformer. The 25 watt unit is the main UV sterilizer you want to look for and will handle small and large tanks.
The UV light and its dwell time will outperform larger wattage units. This UV light will be the equivalent of 40 watts for many other UVs out there. The UV bulbs will also need to be special ordered, but given the performance this unit provides and the fact that it is a bargain over the more expensive Aqua UV classic makes these worth it.
- The best heavy sterilization available to the hobbyist
- T8 over T5 provides the highest dwell time available
- Docking bay is an excellent feature that makes this unit easier to install
- Hard to find and order
- Only 25 watts
2. Aqua Advantage – Hang On The Back for Small Tanks
A compact, budget priced, and high performing UV sterilizer. Will work in sumpless tanks
The Aqua UV Advantage series is a hang on the back UV sterilizer specifically made for small and sumpless tanks. Aqua UV makes some of the best UV sterilizers in the market and they haven’t skipped on their well known quality in this unit. This UV sterilizer has the same quality build and larger dwell chamber.
It is a bit small to qualify as a sterilizer capable of level 2 sterilization for your tank water, but it is a strong first category sterilizer and there are honestly very few high end sterilizers available at this size. If you have a sumpless fish tank, this is a great UV sterilizer to look into.
- Compact size
- Works with sumpless tanks
- Quality sterilization
- Smaller dwell time than the classic models
Best For: A sumpless fish tank
3. Green Killing Machine – Simple To Use Green Water Clarifier
A great way to get clarification level UV sterilization for a great price. Very effective against green water
For those of you looking for an easy to use UV light out of the box, the Green Killing Machine is a great unit to get. It works internally with a pump included. The Green Killing Machine is small enough to fit in a small sump or inside your fish tank where you plants or rock can hide it.
This unit is not very powerful though. You will need to purchase this knowing it is only UV capable of clarification, but it does a great job of clearing up green water out of the aquarium. Just see the differences below of what this little UV light can do.
After 6 days:
If you have a green water problem, the Green Killing Machine is the perfect aquarium UV sterilizer for you. It is cheap and easy to use. The Green Killing Machine is very effective at what it is marketed for, which is removing green water.
- Cheap ready to run unit
- Can be run internally in the display tank
- Only capable of clarification in your tank water
- May be too large to work in all in one aquarium chambers
Best For: A fish tank having green water problems
4. Aqua Classic – Made in The USA
This is the best available aquarium uv sterilizer on the market that is made in the US. Designed to work in sump systems
The Aqua UV Classic is the gold standard in aquarium UV sterilizers in the market, especially in the US. This is an American Made UV Sterilizer that has a great dwell time capable of heavy sterilization. One of the models can be very large like the 40 watt UV sterilizer model that is a 44 inch unit! The length of these units is to increase the dwell time of the UV light as much as possible.
These units are meant to be run in an aquarium sump or separate area for pond usage. If you are looking for a top quality American Made UV-C light, look no further than an Aqua UV Sterilizer. They are expensive, but worth the investment for what they can do to your tank water. Just get the non wiper variants if you are purchasing this UV sterilizer for a reef tank.
- American Made UV sterilizer
- Capable of heavy sterilization
- Many sizes so they can handle very large aquariums and ponds
- Large – they are best in sump and basement/fishroom setups
Best For: A large fish tank with sumps or canister filters. Ideal for ponds
5. Bloom Clean – Cheap Clarifier For Small Tanks
A budget option priced option that is compact. Works against green water and small enough to fit in power filters
The Bloom Clean UV Sterilizer is one of the cheapest sterilizers on the market. They are perfect for those with small tanks and just want something that gets rid of green water. It has no fancy sleeve or chamber like others. Make sure to keep the uv light in a hidden area. It is very bare bones, which is why they are so cheap.
You will want to use them in an all in one aquarium chamber or in a larger power filter away from the main display tank. As a clarifier and the price, it is a great UV light for a budget fish tank keeper and a cheap solution for those who want to get rid of green water.
- Compact and will fit in power filters and all in one chambers
- Only a clarifier
- Bare bones – no sleeve to block UV light to rest of tank
Best For: A small fish tank with power filters or all in one aquariums
6. Coralife Turbo Twist
A readily available UV sterilizer in pet stores and local fish stores.
The Coralife Turbo Twist UV Sterilizer is probably going to be the most widely available UV sterilizer on this list. The main feature with the Coralife Turbo Twist UV Sterilizer is that it has a twist chamber which really cuts down on the size making this a compact unit even for it’s larger models. It still needs to be used with a Canister Filter or a Sump, but you can work with smaller spaces with it.
Given it’s twist chamber, it has the added dwell time that makes it a first category sterilizer, which will satisfy most requirements for fish tank and pond keepers. Overall, the Coralife Turbo Twist UV Sterilizer is a good all around unit that is easy to find in stores and easy to get UV bulbs and replacement parts.
- Widely available UV Sterilizer
- Compact Size for its dwell time
- Can be used in an all in one tank
- Pricey for a first category UV light sterilizer
Best For: Aquariums with sumps or canister filters
7. Innovative Marine Auqa Shield – The Choice for All-In-One Tanks
A high quality UV sterilizer that will fit in all in one tanks
Finding a quality UV sterilizer for aquarium can be frustrating for those with all in on tanks because of the size of the chambers. Innovative Marine has addressed this issue with their very own AUQA Shield UV Sterilizer. This high quality UV light is made to work in your first chamber with a sponge prefilter so you can still have space your other equipment like media reactors and protein skimmers or additional biological media.
Innovative marine makes this a very easy to use unit as the aquarium uv sterilizer bulbs work in cartridges that you just pull out and dispose off when they are ready to be replaced. this makes maintenance and install very easy and one of the easiest and carefree units to operate on the list. Innovative also makes a universal model that hang right into an aquarium sump for those of you with small sumps that want a plug and play unit. These uv sterilizer units are capable of the first category of sterilization so you will be getting a standard sterilization, which should suit most aquarists needs.
- Compact and works in all in one aquariums
- Disposable cartridges make this easy to maintain
- Comes with a prefilter
- Larger models not available for big tanks
- A bit on the pricey side
- Low wattage UV light
Best For: All in one aquariums
8. Lifegard Prostep – A Good Choice for Canister Filters
A UV sterilizer that works great for canister filter setups. Step system increases dwell time
The Lifegard Prostep UV Sterilizer is an inline sterilizer that is made to either hang on your tank or stand inside your stand. Given the way this UV light is built and how it works, the Lifegard Prostep UV Sterilizer works best for canister filter setups as it can sit right next to your canister filter in your stand. This is an easier and trouble free setup than say your Aqua UV classic, which does not come with any mounting equipment and you have to worry about fitting a giant UV sterilizer unit in your stand and buying mounts for it.
This unit has pushes water through the UV sterilizer in a step pattern to maximize the dwell time in the chamber. This puts this unit at the higher end of the first category sterilizers but at a much cheaper price than the Aqua UV classic. While it is not at the performance level of a UV Classic, it is close enough where if one is considering a higher end UV light, this will be seen as a bargain unit. You can also hang this on the back of your fish tank or sump, which give this extra versatility.
- Works great under the cabinet with its standalone design
- Step design gives good dwell time
- More advanced install then cheaper units
- Hang on is still pretty large even for the 15 watt UV sterilizer models
Best For: Canister filter powered aquariums
9. Jabeo – The Choice for Dinoflagellates
A budget price and high performing UV Sterilizer. Knowing for eliminating Dinoflagellates in reef tanks
The Jabeo UV Sterilizer in my experience usually comes into play when I have someone I know dealing with a dinoflagellates outbreak. You need at least a level 1 aquarium UV sterilizer to kill dinos and the Jabeo is a cheap and effective unit to use to handle them. They are big units with a good amount of dwell time. For the price and size, they are good units to consider and also work very well in ponds clearing up green water and providing clarity in the water.
What I don’t like with this unit is the ballast is bulky and will not detach from the sleeve assembly. This makes it a bit of a pain fitting it into a cabinet because you have to provide a hole big enough to fit the ballast in. The UV lamp bulbs are easy to find online and you know that it is a solid first category sterilizer. It is a good all around unit and one of the better Jabeo units on the market next to their DCP aquarium return pumps and SOW wavemakers.
- Cheap for the performance you get
- Inlet and out adjust up and down for easy adjustments
- Readily available UV light bulbs
- Made to be made inside a cabinet
- Ballast is large and annoying to work with
Best For: Tanks dealing with dino outbreaks and larger tank owners who want some parasite control.
Like I usually do, I’m going to provide a list as it will depend on your aquarium and needs. Here is what I would recommend.
Best UV Sterilizer for Nano and All In One Tanks – Innovative Marine AUQA
Best UV for Clarification – Green Killing Machine
Best Value – Aqua UV Advantage
Best UV Overall Sterilizer – TMC Vecton
Aquarium UV sterilizers fall in the more advanced category of fish keeping equipment so these FAQs should hopefully help out.
How Do I Install One In My Tank?
It will depend on the make and model you purchase, but I’m going to supply the video of one of the best out there from TMC to show you know the installs work. Many of these units are designed to be ready to run with some tubing required on your end to purchase or a pump or outlet source to be provided.
How Often Do I Change the Bulbs?
You should change your UV lamp bulb every 6-12 months. You can stretch it to 12 months if you want, but the effectiveness of the UV bulb decreases as it ages so you do not want to go too long not replacing them. If you replace your UV light bulb every 6 months, you can ensure that you have the optimum performance running 24-7.
Can They Really Eliminate Ich?
Freshwater (Ichthyophthirius) and Saltwater (Cryptocaryon) ich is always a big topic in disease when it comes to our hobby. Some people will tell you that a UV sterilizer can eliminate ich, but that is not the case. A UV sterilizer will not completely eliminate ich, but it will be a very useful tool in disease management, particularly hobbyist who are not willing to quarantine fish. If you are buying the healthiest stock you can get, there is still a decent chance (much higher chance with marine fish) that there will be ich present living in your fish tank. UV sterilizers will eliminate the free floating ich stage in your aquarium, but it will only eliminate the free floating parasites that manage to make it into the sterilization chamber. You will have less parasites with a level 1 or level 2 aquarium UV sterilizer, which will increase fish immunity.
How Many Gallons Per Hour (Flow) Does It Need?
Here is a real simple chart to sort out what gallons per hour you need to run through your UV sterilizer in order to achieve the proper sterilization stages:
40-50 GPH per watt for most
50-60 GPH per watt for Aqua UV Classic/Vecton
20-30 GPH per watt for most
30-35 GPH per watt for Aqua UV Classic/Vecton
10-12 GPH per watt for Aqua UV Classic/Vecton
I hope this article helps dispel a number of myths about aquarium UV sterilizers. Judging performance on UV sterilizers is all about knowing dwell time and separating the various players in the market by how much dwell time they offer. Once you know that, you can choose the UV sterilizer for your aquarium based on your needs and budget. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.
I’m looking at the Mr. Aqua 18 watt uv sterilizer for my 55 gallon freshwater aquarium. Do you have any opinions about this product?
I’m actually not familiar with it. From what I can get from the descriptions it looks like a water clarifier. I don’t know of the dwell time if it would do some work on disease mitigation. If you are looking for a clarifier, the green machine is the best for budget. Otherwise look into the Aqua UV Advantage. The TMC I usually recommend for saltwater aquariums