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 an inert media or nothing at all. Common hydro grow media include growstones, clay pebbles, coco, and rockwool. The system you choose will determine whether or not you need to use a media or not.
Instead of normal pots, hydro systems use net pots and net cups. These have slits that allow your roots to grow through them and allow nutrient solution 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, 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.
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.
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!
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.
Aquaponics is a super unique style of growing that involves fish. The “nutrient reservoir” is actually a fish tank, and the waste from these fish actually feed the plant!
These systems create a mutually beneficial relationship for the plant and fish, because the plants effectively “clean” the tank by consuming the fish waste, preventing build-up and unsanitary conditions that could otherwise harm the fish.
If you’re looking to try a cool, unique way to grow a small plant on your counter or desk, an aquaponic system is for you. However, if you want huge yields, it may be best to stick to one of the more traditional hydroponic systems.
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.
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.
Best commercial hydroponic system
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.
Commercial grow space is costly, and you need to get the most out of it. One way to do this is with the Botanicare Slide Bench System, which allows you to eliminate wasteful aisles of space and fit as many plants as possible in your facility. This slide bench can be used as a system itself, as an ebb and flow system.
Obviously you’d need to purchase the rest of the necessary components, such as the reservoir, water pumps, air pumps and air stones, tubing, timers, etc, but you could make an incredible system this way.
But, to keep things simple, we’ll focus on complete hydroponic systems.
Current Culture is the premier hydroponic brand, and their Under Current PRO line is designed for greenhouse and commercial growers. Built with the largest, highest quality, most durable components around, this system is built to last.
The reservoir (growth module) and lids are constructed from solid reinforced ABS. the module features water level indicators, easy drain bottoms, and custom inlets among other things.
The Under Current PRO systems also include Aqua-Pore Air Diffusers, which have low backpressure. This allows substantially higher oxygen transfer rates and higher dissolved oxygen rates, leading to increased plant growth.
This diffuser works in conjunction with the PRO air delivery system, which consists of the highest quality linear air pump and includes up-sized, quick connect air manifold fittings and a top-tier air hose to connect to the diffuser.
There are a number of configurations available, ranging from 4 site systems all the way up to 32 site systems! The main benefit of the Under Current PRO for commercial growers is the ability to fill large facilities and grow huge plants with fewer systems.
Managing fewer systems and reservoirs leads to higher productivity in terms of workflow, transplanting, maintenance, and harvesting.
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 Super Closet Bubble 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.
The Flo-n-Gro Ebb and flow system is incredibly easy to use and is built from premium components. It's controlled by an Oceanus controller and has built an impressive reputation. We have a hard time keeping it in stock because hydro growers love it so much!
The Oceanus 1 controller makes setting up flood and drain intervals super easy. When its activated, an oxygen-rich nutrient solution is transported to the 12-four gallon growth modules, where the root system is doused. Then, it returns to the main 55-gallon reservoir and awaits the next flood interval.
The Flo-n-Gro ebb and flow system also includes 2 Maxi Jet 1200 pumps, 12 mesh pots, the reservoirs, the Oceanus controller, and all necessary tubing, fittings, seals, and more. At only $596.13, it is the best ebb and flow system you’ll find.
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.
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?
Curent 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.
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
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.
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.
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.com. 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.
General Hydroponics is an incredibly reputable brand that specializes in many different areas of horticulture. You may know them for their premium plant nutrients, their grow media, propagation supplies, or even their pest control products. But, General Hydroponics WaterFarm Drip system is also the best in its category.
There are two sizes of the PowerGrow drip system: an 8 site system and a solo system. The PowerGrow system contains an integrated controller to manage the 8 three gallon growth modules and the 17-gallon reservoir.
It maintains nutrient levels in each module while the main reservoir actively recirculates the solution, keeping pH and PPM levels consistent. An air pump keeps the growth modules oxygenated, so the roots can breathe. Every main component is built from high-impact plastic. This ensures it will last years of growing.
General Hydroponics WaterFarm
General Hydroponics also has a more budget-friendly hydroponic drip system, known as the WaterFarm. This system also comes in a single site and 8 site configuration, along with many of the same features of the PowerGrow. The main difference is that the WaterFarm is a smaller system, meaning it’ll grow smaller plants.
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!
General Hydroponics makes not only the best hydroponic drip system but also the best aeroponic system! Their RainForest Modular 66 - Vortex Sprayer is a supercharged aeroponic system in a small, compact package. It features 6 growth modules housed within one main reservoir.
The modules in the RainForest are a bit on the smaller side, and many growers use this system to start plants before transporting them into a larger system, such as the WaterFarm or the RainForest. But, you can definitely grow plants to full maturity in this system.
It includes the main 17-gallon reservoir with lid, six 6” lid inserts and net cups, sprayers, manifolds, and more. If you want a RainForest system just for cloning, check out the General Hydroponics RainForest Modular 318 - featuring 18 small growth modules in the same 17-gallon reservoir.
Still not sure which hydroponic system is best for you?
If you still have questions or want help choosing a system, give us a call! Our experts are waiting to help you find a system that gives you the best chance of success. Reach out to us at 888-815-9763.