Penn Plax Cascade Power Filter Review

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Tank Size Filtration
Noise Level Longevity Price
10-100 Gallons 4 Low 3-5 Years Very Low

The Penn Plax Cascade Power Filter is a low cost, high strength power filter with surprisingly good reliability. It runs water through four stages of filtration, leaving the water crystal clear while boosting the beneficial bacteria’s colony. If you’re looking for something more than an internal filter without spending a lot of money, this is the choice for you.


The Penn Plax Cascade power filter comes fully assembled and consists of a white poly filter to remove tank debris and an activated carbon insert. The carbon will absorb many of the waters contaminates, making the water more clear. It can however absorb medications and does not combat ammonia or nitrite. For these two issues the filter uses its internal sponge and aerated water bracket to help form colonies of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria will be responsible for breaking down this harmful chemicals into much less dangerous nitrates.

To start the power filter you will need to first ensure the motor is well in place and does not allow water out of the filter. You can do this by filling the filter with water over a bucket or towel. With the filter full of water you will simply need to place the tube into the tank, with the filter resting on the rim of the tank, before plugging it in. It is essential that the filter be full of water at this point. The motor will start, making the impeller pull water from the tank through the tube and through the filtration system. If the filter is empty it will simply spin in place, damaging the impeller without moving the water.

Assembly & Cleaning

Disassembling this power filter is as easy as lifting off the top and sliding out the components. Each component has its own holder, making it easy to rinse or replace.

For my Cascade I replaced the filter cartridge with these poly pads found on amazon. They are extremely cheap, which is the main draw of this filter, making an already good draw even better. Simply cut the filter pad down to size and place it where your removed the filter component. Cheap and easy

The activated carbon will need to be replaced every few months if you have frequent water contaminates. This can be anything from extra medicine after treating a sick tank to tannins leaching woods. Remember to not run carbon as you are treating the tank with medication, as it will absorb the majority of the medicine before it reaches the fish.

The biological filters, sponge and waterfall, should not be washed or replaced. These parts generally do not trap debris and only support the beneficial bacteria our tank needs. If you do choose to rinse these off, only use tank water. Tap water has chemicals in it that will kill off the colony, rendering the biological filtration useless.

The motor can be removed simply by twisting then pulling down. Always turn the motor off and empty the filter before doing this. Additionally do not leave the filter anywhere where it can leak water near electronics. The motor drives an impeller, which can be brushed clean using a cotton swab. Refrain from using and abrasive materials, as scratches can easily damage the impeller. These scratches will cause irregular spinning, leading to a much shorter lifetime on the impeller.

located on the intake tube is a flow control valve. This will adjust how fast or slow the filter takes in water. Keeping the top in line with the tube will create the strongest filtration possible, as well as the most noise. Turning the valve 90 degrees will result in the slowest filtration setting, lowering the volume and speed of the filter. Essentially this allows the filter to function with day and night settings in the bedroom. If the tank is not in a bedroom feel free to leave it on high. The control valve simply limits the water that goes into the filter and not the motors strength, meaning no power is saved on lower settings.

Warranty & Lifetime

Despite this being one of the cheapest filters available it does come with a three year warranty from the manufacturer. This will not cover user created damage, but will cover the majority of defaults and wear on the filter. When my filter arrived its motor had some issue with it, making the filter much louder than it should have been. One call later and I had a replacement on the way while sending the damaged filter back. No shipping charge or anything.

The low cost design means this filter can be damaged more easily than high end filters. To prevent this you should clean off the impeller at least once a month. Following this practice you should reach no less than three years of life time. If the filter does break before then you can have it replaced, extending the lifetime further.

At this price, and with the majority of aquarists upgrading their tanks within a few years, the Penn Plax Cascade power filter makes a strong case for itself.

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