canister filter keeps aquarium clean

7 Best Canister Filter Options (Guide & Reviews)

Every aquarium needs adequate filtration to maintain good water quality and keep fish and plants happy. Canister filters can help. If you’re looking for more information about the best canister filter options, you’ve come across the right guide.

Entry-level filtration systems often include a rear hanging filter that is noisy and often can’t keep up with the demands of an occupied tank. These systems can also be quite an eyesore in an otherwise beautifully decorated and peaceful tank.

That’s where canister filters come in. They’re quiet, unobtrusive, and can more easily manage good water quality in tanks with plants and numerous fish.

We’ve tested numerous products to help you choose the best one for your setup and budget. We’ll discuss everything you need to know to select the most appropriate canister filter for your tank.

Best Canister Filter Options:

What is the Best Canister Filter for My Aquarium?

Our overall top pick is the Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter. It has outstanding power and filtering capabilities, can handle the maintenance requirements of up to 130-gallon tanks, and it’s made to be durable and long-lasting.

There’s no such thing as a canister filter that’s perfect for everyone, but this option from Fluval is as close to an ideal product as we think you can get.

7 Best Canister Filter Options

1. Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter

Our Pick
Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter
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This canister filter is remarkably powerful, and it’s more than capable of scrubbing even the grimiest of water clean. It makes quick work or tanks up to 130 gallons, and it’s an excellent choice for those with smaller, more demanding tanks.

The filter operates nearly silently, so it’s suitable for use in living space or bedrooms and won’t interrupt conversation or sleep.

It uses minimal electricity and is estimated to consume about the same power as a single standard light bulb.

It feels very durable, and we have no doubt this filter will last for years, even under heavy load.

Features

  • It has a high filtering capacity
  • It is very efficient and uses little electricity

Pros

  • It has nearly silent operation
  • It can maintain crowded or planted tanks with ease
  • It is built to last

Cons

  • You can’t install an in-line heater
  • It isn’t as easy to clean as other models
EHEIM Classic Canister Filter
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2. EHEIM Classic Canister Filter with Media

This filter is powerful and can easily maintain tanks up to around 65 gallons. It includes mechanical and biological media to provide adequate filtration and to help get you set up quickly.

It has a relatively silent operation, so it’s not likely to disturb you while it’s running.

It offers a decent flow rate and comes with a spray bar, so it will provide oxygen for your fish and beneficial bacteria and will help reduce surface scum.

The color is rather unappealing, and the green hoses are difficult to hide in your tank.

Features

  • It includes mechanical and biological filtration media
  • It runs efficiently and has a low power draw

Pros

  • It has a relatively silent operation
  • It’s suitable for heavily occupied or planted tanks
  • It’s durable and has a proven, classic design

Cons

  • The color is unappealing
  • The hoses can detract from the aesthetic of your tank
SunSun 5-Stage External Canister Filter with UV Sterilizer
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3. SunSun HW-404B 525 GPH External Canister Filter

This filter is extremely powerful and can handle up to 150-gallon tanks. It uses mechanical, biological, and UV filtration, so it’s an excellent option for planted tanks or those with a heavy fish load.

It has a high flow rate of 525 gallons per hour, which means any tank you add it to will be turned over more than once per hour, allowing for very efficient filtration. Unfortunately, the flow rate is not adjustable.

It isn’t the most durable of filters, but it does come packed with features for a very affordable price.

Features

  • It uses mechanical, biological, and UV filtration
  • It has a very high flow rate for rapid cleaning

Pros

  • It uses five stages and three types of filtering
  • It is relatively quiet during operation
  • It is very affordable

Cons

  • You can’t adjust the flow rate
  • It isn’t as durable as other filters we tested
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter For Large Aquariums
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4. Penn Plax Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter

This filter from Penn Plax is powerful enough to handle tanks up to 100 gallons, and it uses both mechanical and biological filtration to provide worry-free tank maintenance.

Three sections inside the canister can be adapted to fit different filtration methods, but the media made to fit this brand isn’t as readily available as those for more popular brand names.

It’s relatively quiet during operation and has adjustable flow rates and flow valves to suit most tanks and cabinets.

It has a great flow capacity of 265 gallons per hour, so it’s suitable for busy tanks.

Features

  • It has a robust operation with minimal energy consumption
  • It uses mechanical and biological filtration

Pros

  • It is very affordable
  • It features a heavy flow rate for quick tank turnover
  • It’s quiet during operation

Cons

  • Media to fit isn’t as readily available as more prominent brands
  • It’s not quite as durable as others we tested
Hydor Professional External Canister Filter
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5. Hydor Professional External Canister Filter

This filter is suitable for tanks up to 75 gallons and provides excellent filtration within that range. It uses three filtration chambers and prevents the flow of water past each for great cleaning capability.

It includes everything you need to set it up, including media, a spray tube, and suction clamps for routing the hoses.

You can adjust the water flow from 320 to 450 gallons per hour, so you’ll get a good tank turnover.

It is one of the noisier models we reviewed, so it’s not ideal for tanks located in bedrooms.

Features

  • It includes everything you need to set up your filter
  • It uses mechanical and biological filtration

Pros

  • It has an adjustable water flow rate
  • It prevents water from bypassing canisters

Cons

  • It is rather noisy during operation
  • It’s one of the more expensive mid-range models available
Fluval Canister Filter for Aquariums - FX6
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6. Fluval High-Performance Aquarium Filter

This Fluval filter is designed for maximum performance and is rated for up to an impressive 400-gallon tank. It has an adjustable flow rate of up to 925 gallons, providing excellent tank turnover for most setups.

It’s one of the most comfortable filters to clean and has an adjustable valve that lets you use it as a gravel vacuum for simple tank maintenance.

The filter is large and heavy, but it’s relatively silent, despite its high power output.

It includes filter media and everything you’ll need to get your tank fitted.

Features

  • It has an excellent filtering capacity
  • It is suitable for larger and very crowded tanks

Pros

  • It has an adjustable flow rate
  • It can be used as a gravel vacuum
  • It’s relatively easy to clean

Cons

  • It’s one of the most expensive canister filters we tested
  • It’s large and won’t be suitable for small cabinets
Aqueon QuietFlow
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7. Aqueon Quietflow Canister Filter

This filter is rated for up to 155-gallon tanks, and it uses mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, as well as water polishing to provide excellent cleaning capability. It’s a great option for keeping water clear and free of surface scum.

It is a bit noisier than most other filters, but it could likely still be used in a bedroom without disturbing sleep.

The flow valves are adjustable and make maintenance relatively straightforward.

It’s a durable filter that will likely last for years, but the price tag is slightly high and may not fit inside your budget.

Features

  • It uses mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration
  • It has a water polisher to reduce surface scum

Pros

  • It includes everything you need to get set up
  • It does an excellent job of clearing water
  • Flow valves are adjustable
  • It’s easy to maintain

Cons

  • It is a bit noisy during operation
  • It’s relatively expensive for a mid-range filter

What is a Canister Filter?

Canister filters are more powerful alternatives to those that hang on the back of your tank. It sits outside your set up, and hoses are run from your tank down to the canister filter.

They’re called “canister” filters because they contain multiple canisters with different filtering media in each.

Water enters your filter from the top and into your first canister. It’s then pumped through each successive canister and cleaned according to what medium you have in that particular compartment.

The canisters are customizable and allow you to choose the best filter media for your tank. The most common set up includes mechanical filtration in the first set of canisters and then a combination of biological and chemical filtration as the water progresses through your filter. A fine mechanical filter is often used in the last canister for additional scrubbing.

How to Choose the Best Canister Filter for Your Aquarium

As you can see from our reviews, not all canister filters are created equal. You’ll need to choose the filter that can handle the demands of your tank and best fits your setup and budget.

Make sure you keep the below factors in mind when deciding which is best for your aquarium.

Tank Size

One of the most important factors when deciding on a canister filter is your tank size. Canister filters are powerful, but they range in the volume of water they can clean efficiently.

Make sure you choose a filter that is rated for your tank’s size. We recommend choosing one capable of handling a larger aquarium than you have to ensure your water is adequately cleaned and your fish remain healthy.

Gallons Per Hour (GPH)

Tank turnover is the time it takes for all of your tank water to be passed through the canister filter and scrubbed clean. Gallons per hour, or GPH, is the rating on a canister filter that will help you determine your tank turnover.

For example, a filter that is capable of pumping 200 gallons per hour could theoretically turnover a 50-gallon tank in 15 minutes. The actual turnover time will likely be longer due to inefficiency in response to friction and pumping distance, but it will give you a good base for determining the flow rate you need.

Tanks should be entirely turned over about four times every hour. The movement of water helps move fish waste into your filter, distribute dissolved gases and clean water equally throughout the tank, and it helps keep your fish happy and healthy.

Make sure your canister filter has a pump speed of at least four times your tank volume.

The Motor

In addition to handling good tank turnover, you should make sure that your motor is efficient, durable, and quiet.

Energy efficiency often isn’t on the top of most aquarists’ priority list, but having an efficient filter will save you money and will be easier to run off of auxiliary power if you have an electrical outage.

Motors are often the first pieces in canister filters to break down over time, so ensuring you purchase one with a durable motor will save you money, time, and frustration in the future.

The Valves

All canister filters have input and output valves to move water to and from the filter. Adjustable valves are a great option that let you control the flow rate of your pump, allowing you to optimize for your particular tank.

Some valves have quick-releases that make maintenance a bit more manageable, and others are multi-purpose and can be used as gravel vacuums.

All of these features generally drive up the price of a filter, so aim to balance your needs with your budget.

Filter Media

Next, consider the filter media that can be used with your canister filter. Canisters are customizable and can be fitted with different media types. You can usually combine mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration media in just about any canister filter. However, some less popular brands make it more challenging to find media that fit nicely.

Some filters also include or can be fitted with UV filtration. This type of filtering often isn’t necessary, but it can be very beneficial. It’s known to remove algae, lending to clearer water. More importantly, UV radiation can kill harmful bacteria, parasites, and diseases that affect freshwater and saltwater fish.

Make sure you consider how many canisters are available in the filter you’re considering, as that will put a hard limit on the number of filtering media and combinations you can use.

Stocking Levels

Lastly, you’ll need to consider how stocked your tank is. The more fish you have in your tank, the more filtering power will be required to maintain good water quality. Any additional fish you have or plan to add to your tank will introduce extra waste and potential leftover food, both of which put additional strain on your filter.

Larger fish, predatory fish, and active eaters like Cichlids also need additional filtration because they produce more waste than most other fish. Consider the extra load your filter may need to handle based on the types of fish you keep in your aquarium.

How Does a Canister Filter Work?

Canister filters work by pumping water out of your tank and down into the filter chamber. The chamber has multiple canisters through which the water is pumped. Filtered water is then moved back up into your tank.

The topmost canister typically contains mechanical filter media, usually in the form of a sponge, filter pad, or filter wool. These media act as physical barriers that catch particles floating in the water. They can hold fish waste, bits of uneaten food, and other unwanted particles that can cloud your water.

Most aquarists use biological filtration in the next canister. These canisters are filled with bio balls or some porous material, like ceramic rings or cylinders, which offer ample surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.

As water passes over the biological filter medium, the bacteria feed on fish waste and uneaten bits of fish food, removing them from the water before they can break down into harmful nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia.

Chemical filtration chambers are usually filled with activated carbon or carbon pads, which naturally absorb impurities and a myriad of potentially harmful compounds in your water.

Lastly, canisters can include a UV light that uses ultraviolet radiation to kill bacteria, parasites, and diseases that may have made their way into your tank.

What Are Filter Media?

Filter media are placed inside the canisters in your canister filter, and they scrub the water clean of debris, impurities, and harmful compounds. As mentioned above, they can include filter sponges that act as physical barriers, bio balls or ceramic pieces to house denitrifying bacteria, and activated carbon or carbon pads to absorb unwanted impurities.

Canister Filter Setup

Canister filters are set up outside of your tank, usually in the cabinet below your aquarium. You’ll need to route two hoses between your tank and your filter: one to move water from the aquarium to the filters and one to move filtered water back to your tank.

The hoses are most easily routed up the back of your tank and in through its cover. You can use suction clamps to hold the hoses in place underwater, and they can be hidden using plants or decorations.

Some canister filters include a spray bar or water polisher to distribute filtered water over the top of your tank, which can help aerate your water and cut down on surface scum.

Benefits of Using a Canister Filter

There are numerous benefits to using a canister filter over a rear hanging filter.

High Water Flow Rate

They provide a significantly higher rate of flow for your tank. Faster flowing water means your tank will be turned over the appropriate number of times to keep it clean. Increased flow rate can also help equally distribute dissolved gas and clean water throughout your tank.

Flexible Filter Media Selection

Canisters can be customized and fitted with different media. Depending on the number of canisters in the filter you choose, you can opt for multiple mechanical filtration media, more biological filtering if needed, or double up on chemical filtering if your tank requires it.

Easier and Cleaner Setup Process

Canister filters are simple to set up and get started using. You’ll just need to manage the hose routing, which is straightforward for most tanks and cabinets. They also don’t detract from your tank’s aesthetic like a rear hanging filter does, so your aquarium will look cleaner and more natural.

Quiet Operation

Rear hanging filters vibrate against the glass and can be quite noisy. Canister filters sit outside your tank and often have rubber feet to dampen any vibration. The result is a filter that won’t interrupt conversation or sleep, no matter where your tank is located in your house.

Clean Aquarium

Most importantly, canister filters are far more efficient at cleaning your tank and maintaining healthy water quality. They’re better suited for removing impurities and debris, and they almost always have a higher flow rate to manage waste removal.

Canister Filter FAQs

What Size Canister Filter Do I Need?

Your canister filter size will depend on your tank volume and fish load. Always make sure to get a filter that is rated for at least your tank’s volume. More fish means more strain on your filter, so crowded tanks will need more powerful filters rated for higher volumes.

When in doubt, opt for a more powerful canister filter to keep up with your tank’s demands.

Does a Canister Filter Have to Be Below the Tank?

Canister filters need to be placed below the water level of your tank to function, which means they could be placed next to your tank.

However, they use gravity to move water out of your aquarium, so placement below the tank will mean the most efficient operation.

How Often Should a Canister Filter Be Cleaned?

Canister filters should be cleaned about once every two months. More frequent cleaning can remove some of the beneficial bacteria in your biological media.

How Long Do Canister Filters Last?

The longevity of your filter depends on the brand, the durability with which its made, and how readily you keep up with maintenance. Most canister filters will last many years, and some premium filters can last several decades.

Is a Canister Filter Worth It?

Canister filters are more expensive than rear hanging filters, but they do a far better job of maintaining healthy water quality for your fish. They are certainly worth the expense if you can afford a reliable one, especially since they’ll likely last for years.

Wrapping Up: Which Canister Filter is Best?

Canister filters are excellent additions to just about any aquarium because they’re superior to other filter types and can help keep your fish happy and healthy. They’re often quieter than other filters, easier to maintain, and can be customized with different media to suit the demands of your tank.

While there is no such thing as the perfect canister filter for all aquariums, our top pick for quality, value, and performance is the Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter. It’s incredibly durable, has a high filtering capacity suitable for crowded tanks, and it operates quietly and efficiently.

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