Once you have a few grows under your belt and want the challenge of growing hydroponically, you’ll want the best hydroponic system you can find.
With this style of growing, there are more moving parts, and that’s why it's important to purchase from a reputable brand.
The last thing you want is to start flowering your plants and have your system break, leaving you with no choice but to put your grow on pause while you try and fix a cheap hydro system.
Before we uncover our list of the best hydroponic systems currently on the market, let’s cover some basic information about hydroponic growing, along with what makes a system “great”.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a style of growing that can achieve accelerated growth rates and insane yields.
Instead of being held in place by soil, roots are supported by inert media or nothing at all. Common hydro grow media include grow stones, clay pebbles, coco, and rockwool. The system you choose will determine whether or not you need to use media or not.
Instead of normal pots, hydro systems use net pots and net cups. These have slots that allow your roots to grow through them and allow nutrient solutions to get in.
Plants are fed nutrients directly at the roots, either constantly, through a recirculating solution, or with sprayers/drippers.
In traditional growing, nutrients are fed into the soil. Your roots then have to work to find these nutrients and absorb them. This ease of access to nutrients is one of the reasons hydro plants grow bigger and faster.
Advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics
The main advantages of hydroponics are quality and quantity. Your plants will grow much faster, and you can squeeze a few more harvests into each year.
On top of this, your plants grow bigger and better. Most growers who try this style of growing agree - bud size and quality are increased.
It is a bit tougher than traditional pots and soil. Not only are these systems more complex with a steep learning curve, but you also have less room for error.
With traditional growing, soil acts as a buffer. A common mistake new growers make is overfeeding nutrients, which can lead to toxicity. The soil helps absorb nutrients and dampen the effects of overfeeding.
However, if you overfeed in a hydroponic system, you are directly overfeeding at the root zone. This will lead to issues with nutrient toxicity, and can drastically affect your grow.
The different types of hydroponic systems
While the same principles apply to all these systems, the mechanics of each type of system varies. In some hydro systems, the root zone is constantly suspended in a nutrient solution.
In others, a nutrient solution occasionally floods the root zone and then drains back out, whereas others periodically spray the root zone with nutrients. Let’s look at the 5 main types of hydroponic systems that exist today.
Ebb and flow
Ebb and flow, also known as flood and drain, is one of the most common hydroponic systems. This works exactly how it sounds. This type of system typically requires a grow medium. The nutrient solution periodically floods the root zone, before draining back into the reservoir.
After a few minutes (or however long you set your cycles for), the solution will drain back out. There are a few different types of ebb and flow systems: drain to waste and recirculating.
A recirculating system can save you tons of water by reusing the same nutrient solution for a certain period of time, before it becomes so diluted that it needs to be topped off.
On the other hand, drain to waste systems need to constantly be filled with new nutrient solution.
Who is ebb & flow hydroponics best for?
Ebb and flow systems take up a bit less space than DWC, so if you are limited but still want to give hydroponics a try, these systems are a great choice.
These are also great systems for those looking for something system to setup and maintain, with a smaller budget.
DWC (deep water culture)
Deep water culture systems, referred to as DWC for short, are another super popular system type. In a DWC system, the roots are directly suspended in a nutrient system permanently - there is no flood and drain cycle.
This is probably the most simple type of system since there are no intervals. However, an air pump and air stone are required to keep oxygen flowing to the root zone. Without this tandem, your plants would drown.
Who is deep water culture hydroponics best for?
You'll need ample space for a larger system and plants, along with a budget for the higher up front system cost as DWC can get a bit pricey.
You'll also need to be ready for larger plants with rapid growth.
Aeroponics is a newer style of hydroponic system, and could sort of be in its own category. Here, the roots remain suspended in air which allows for maximum oxygenation.
Periodically, a nutrient solution is sprayed or “splashed” into the root zone. This keeps the roots wet with nutrients. The misting devices ensure that the plant is constantly fed, but the level of oxygen in the root zone leads to some pretty insane growth!
Who is aeroponics hydroponics best for?
Aeroponics is great for those looking to grow numerous small plants, or even just someone with high propagation needs. These are the best way to start clones.
They also don't take up a ton of space due to their closer plant spacing, which means smaller grows can still implement an aeroponic system.
Hydroponic drip system
Hydroponic drip systems are just what they sound like. A nutrient solution is slowly dripped into the grow media to feed the plant. These are commonly used in commercial grows.
You can set up drip emitters for lots of plants in a super-efficient and cost-effective manner. What’s really cool about hydroponic drip systems is you can fine-tune the exact amount of nutrient solution you want to give your plants, down to the last drip.
Who is a hydroponics drip system best for?
These drip systems are great for commercial applications, or those with a limited budget and a desire for a very simple system to set up and maintain.
There are very few components to these systems, so you can get started for a fraction of the cost of a DWC system, for example.
What is the easiest hydroponic system to use?
As we mentioned earlier, there will be an inevitable learning curve your first few cycles growing hydroponically.
There are moving parts, feeding schedules are different than traditional soil, and the stakes are higher without soil as a buffer. Plus, there are very stringent cleaning requirements to keep the system running in top-notch condition.
However, the deep water culture (DWC) system is probably the easiest to use. It has the fewest moving parts, and all you really need to do is ensure everything is working as intended and replace/top off the nutrient solution as needed.
Which hydroponic system is best?
Without further ado, let’s get into our list of the best hydroponic systems currently on the market! We only included systems from very reputable brands.
So, if you choose a system on this list, know you are buying a dependable system that won’t leave you hanging mid-grow.
A few things we considered when cultivating this list are brand reputation, build quality, testimonials, and our own experience using the system.
Best hydroponic system for beginners
When choosing the best hydroponic system for beginners, we were looking for a system with the fewest number of growth modules and moving parts as possible.
This allows you to get started with a hydro system that gives you the highest chance of success. It also allows you to keep your cost low so you can upgrade to a bigger and better system later.
Active Aqua Root Spa 5 Gallon Hydroponics Bucket System
The Active Aqua Root Spa is the best hydroponic system for beginners. Because it is a single bucket system, you will only need to focus on one plant. You can grow a huge, heavy tree this way.
Included in this system is an air pump that works without the need for an air stone, which decreases the number of parts that could cause you grief.
The Active Aqua Root Spa also includes an 8” net pot, the air hose for use with the pump, and all necessary grommets and fittings. You’ll need to purchase grow media separate, and we recommend clay pebbles for this system (3.8 liters).
If you want a higher quality system and have a higher budget, you could also try the Curent Culture Under Current Solo. This is another single bucket system. However, this one is geared towards more serious growers. It consists of higher-grade materials and thus commands a higher price.
Want More Plants? Try The Active Aqua Root Spa 4 or 8 Bucket Systems!
If you think you want to try growing more than one plant at a time, consider the Active Aqua Root Spa 5 Gallon 4 Bucket System or 8 Bucket System.
This is the same system, with more buckets. If you think you can handle a few more plants, these are still great systems for beginners due to their simplicity and budget-friendliness!
Grow1 Deep Water Culture Bucket Systems
Another option beginners looking for the best hydroponics system have are the Grow1 Deep Water Culture Bucket Systems.
These are pretty similar to the Active Aqua Root Spa line, but these are a bit pricier. Nevertheless, there is a single bucket system and a four bucket system.
Both options are an inexpensive way to dip your toes in the water with hydroponics, before upgrading to a more complex system.
These bucket systems do a great job of producing plants with huge, healthy root masses. The bigger the root, the bigger the fruit!
Best commercial hydroponic systems
Choosing the best commercial hydroponic system can be a bit trickier, because not only does the system need to grow the best plants, it also needs to be space-efficient.
Botanicare Slide Bench System
Without a doubt the most cost effective hydroponic setup for commercial growers is the Botanicare Slide Bench System.
It will allow you to get the highest quantity of plants possible in your expensive commercial grow room, getting you the highest ROI possible.
With more customization than any other system out there, you can configure your slide bench system to meet your exact needs. You get to start by choosing the width (4' or 5').
Then, you can choose the length of your system. Options range from as low as 10' 6" all the way up to 100' 6". Finally, you can choose your height (12", 20", 30").
You can use this system for ebb and flow or drip style hydroponics. Its built entirely from robust components built to last, with best-in-class strength, durability, and rigidity.
The obvious advantage of this system is the elimination of aisles, as you can slide the bench 8.5" in either direction.
So, the logic behind investing in the Botanicare Slide Bench is simple. More plants, fewer aisles (less wasted space) equals increased efficiency and profitability.
There are other cool, innovative features like integrated trellis supports to make plant training easier. If you want to learn more, you can check out our full review of the Botanicare Slide Bench System.
Autopot Hydroponic Systems
Autopot offers a full range of premium, bucket-style hydroponics systems. They can be used by hobbyists and commercial growers alike. But, their higher module-count systems are designed for greenhouse and commercial growers in particular. Built with the largest, highest quality, most durable components around, this system is built to last.
These power-free, automatic watering and irrigation systems offer automation that allows you to free yourself from the grow room. You can leave these systems unattended for weeks! They're modular, so you can adjust your configuration easily within just minutes. All the while growing huge, potent plants. They are great for hydroponics. But, you can even use these for traditional soil growing and simply use the irrigation automation the systems provide.
There are a number of configurations available, ranging from 1-10 plant systems all the way up to 41+ plant systems! There largest system - pictured above - is capable of housing up to 100 plants. The main benefit of the Autpot lineup for commercial growers is the ability to fill large facilities and grow huge plants with fewer systems.
Other features of these systems include energy efficiency, simple usage, environmentally friendliness, cost effectiveness, and much, much more. Head over to the brand page to see what they have to offer!
Best ebb and flow hydroponic system
There are two main styles of ebb and flow systems you’ll come across - the bucket style, such as the Active Aqua Flow buckets, or a flood table style.
They look very different, but the two styles do exactly the same thing - send a nutrient system into the growth module with a water pump, and then allow it to drain back into the reservoir.
Active Aqua 4' x 4' Ebb & Flow Hydroponic Kit
This 4' x 4' flood table kit by Active Aqua is easily one of the best ways to start your hydroponic setup.
This system can grow up to 12 medium sized plants in the 3 gallon containers.
It delivers the perfect amount of water, oxygen, and nutrition to your plants for rapid growth and huge yields.
With only premium Active Aqua components, it comes with everything you need, including:
- Active Aqua Flood Table, White, 4' x 4'
- Active Aqua 70 Gallon Reservoir Kit
- OPTIONAL - Active Aqua Universal Tray Stand, 4x4 Ft
- Active Aqua Submersible Water Pump, 800 GPH
- Ebb and Flow Kit
- 7 Day Dual Outlet Digital Timer
- (12x) Hydrofarm Dirt Pot Fabric Pot, Grey - 3 Gallon
- (9x) PLANT!T Clay Pebbles 4mm-16mm, 25 Liters
This is one of three sizes we offer in this style. So if you want something a bit smaller or a bit bigger, you can still get the same quality in a size that better suits your needs!
Best DWC hydroponic system
These are the most popular style of systems, and there are so many out there. It can be tough to weed out the lower quality hydro systems to find the best ones, but we’re going to make it simple.
Current Culture Under Current Hydroponic Systems
When it comes to deep water culture, stick with the Current Culture Under Current hydroponic systems if you want the BEST. Active Aqua has some awesome DWC systems, and any other brand on our site great. But, you want the best, right?
Current Culture Under Current systems utilize a unique sub-current Culture technology. This is their patented technology that uses negative water pressure to recirculated an aerated hydro nutrient solution to your root zone.
Current Culture has a few different lines for their Under Current systems:
- Under Current Solo Systems - Best for new hydro growers
- Standard Under Current systems - Best for hobby hydro growers
- Under Current Evolution systems - best for serious hobby growers or commercial growers
- Under Current Double Barrel systems - best for commercial growers
- Under Current PRO - best for commercial growers
Since we already covered the Under Current PRO as the best commercial hydroponic system, we will focus on the other systems.
Under Current Solo System
We consider the Under Current Solo one of the best beginner hydroponic systems. There are a few different configurations of these systems:
- A single growth module
- Four single growth modules controlled by one pump
- one solo growth module with 6 growth modules within it.
If you are a first-time hobby grower, you cannot go wrong with one of the Under Current Solos
Under Current Standard System
The Under Current standard systems are the most popular among hobby growers. They are two-row systems and work great in grow tents or rooms. There are quite a few configurations of the standard system, with a number at the end denoting how many growth modules are included:
- Current Culture Under Current 4
- Current Culture Under Current 6
- Current Culture Under Current 8
- Current Culture Under Current 12
- Current Culture Under Current 16
The Under Current Standard is a great home grow system.
Under Current Evolution System
Moving into more commercial style DWC systems, the Under Current Evolution is a step up from the Standard systems.
These are a great option for serious home growers with space and time to devote to a larger hydroponic grow, but work very well in commercial facilities as well.
The Under Current Evolution has three rows of growth modules. This is what separates it from the other lines, which only have two rows of growth modules. It comes in the following sizes:
- Current Culture Under Current Evolution 9
- Current Culture Under Current Evolution 12
- Current Culture Under Current Evolution 18
- Current Culture Under Current Evolution 24
Another cool aspect of the Evolution line is that module sizes, lid options, and plant spacing can all be customized.
Under Current Double Barrel System
The Under Current Double Barrel systems are one of the best large scale hydroponic systems, creating aisles for easy access to work on plants.
Just like the Evolution systems, these can be customized based on module size, lid option, and plant spacing.
You can truly tailor this system to fit your grow room or commercial facility! There are three main Double Barrel system sizes:
- Current Culture Under Current Double Barrel 16
- Current Culture Under Current Double Barrel 24
- Current Culture Under Current Double Barrel 32
At the end of the day, the best DWC hydroponic system you can buy is an Under Current. Now, which one of their systems is right for you depends on your individual grow.
How much space you have, your budget, and what your goals as a grower are will factor into with Under Current system is best for you!
Best hydroponic drip system
Just like ebb and flow systems, there are two types of hydroponic drip systems you’ll find at Hydrobuilder.
You’ll see one style with individual growth modules and one reservoir. The other style includes flood tables and a reservoir, with multiple plants sitting in the flood table. Both essentially do the same thing.
Build Your Own Hydroponic Drip System!
The best hydroponic drip system is the one best suited for your growing preferences. Maybe you want a small drip system to grow a few plants, or you want a bigger, more sophisticated system to grow 10+ plants. Whatever the case, it's possible through our Hydroponic Drip System Creator!
You get to choose your components with ease, and piece together your grow tray, reservoir, stand, and we'll even make sure you have the right hydroponic fittings, tubings, a timer, net pots or fabric pots, grow media, and any other accessories you need to get started.
No matter which sizes you choose, you get the best of the best when it comes to hydroponics - the basic components are sourced from Botanicare, Active Aqua, FastFit, and EcoPlus, among many others. If you need help building your own hydroponic drip system - just let us know, we're a phone call or email away!
Best Vertical Hydroponic System (Tower Style)
If you're limited on space, a vertical garden is a great option. You can use a vertical hydroponic garden in your garage, spare bedroom, or any other space where you have at least 10' of head height, but not much horizontal space. The footprint on these is pretty small, and you can still grow some pretty impressive plants. But which tower style hydroponic system is best? Without question, it's the ExoTower.
ExoTower Hydroponic Garden Tower
The ExoTower system is the perfect solution for both indoors and outdoors soil-free home gardening. It can grow up to 24 plants in the 6 tier system, or as few as 12 plants in the 3 tier system (pictured above). Whichever system you choose, you can rest assured you're going to be able to grow hassle-free, dirt-free plants in less than 2 sq. ft. of space.
It's a self-watering system that allows you to automate your crop. It comes with everything you need to start growing: the system itself and everything needed to operate it, along with a 6 month supply of plant food and nutrients.
Best Aeroponic system
Aeroponic systems have a number of benefits over traditional hydroponics. These systems use 95% less water than traditional growing, and 20% less water than other hydroponic systems. The fine misting of an aeroponic system allows for laser accuracy of nutrient application.
But the main advantage they have is aeration. Having the roots suspended in air gives them all the oxygen they need. Ample oxygen results in rapid growth. Plants not only grow bigger, they grow faster!
Super Closet Super Flow System
There aren't many high quality aeroponic systems that we stand by, but the Super Closet Super Flow System is one that meets our expectations.
Its perfect for growing 20, 26, or 32 plants in a smaller space. Just choose the configuration that best fits your preferences and grow room. All components are of the utmost quality, too. It's designed to prevent clogging, and can even accommodate thick organic nutrients if you prefer natural growing. This system is built to last, and you'll get many successful, heavy crop cycles out of it.
Another benefit of this system is that it can be fully automated, and makes growing much easier than other systems. While its categorized as an aeroponic system, it also feeds at the top as a drip system. In fact, this is technically an NFT, Ebb n Flow, and Aeroponics system all in one! This combination of bottom and top feeding allows for maximum saturation of the roots, and leads to insane growth rates with huge yields.
If you are looking for an aeroponics system just for cloning, you are going to be better off with the SuperPonics 16 Plant System. It features much closer plant spacing and twice as many modules, so you can clone more plants at once. Some growers will actually have both systems, and transplant their clones into this larger Super Flow system once they are hardened off and rooted.
Still not sure which hydroponic system is best for you?
As you can see, there are lots of really great hydroponic systems out there. What it is going to come down to is what style of hydroponics interests you most, your budget, and how many plants you want to grow.
No matter what you decide, we have the best hydro systems and components online, at the best prices. Hydrobuilder is your one stop-shop for all things growing, from seed to harvest.