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Canister filters can seem intimidating, technical, and complicated, and finding the best canister filter can be tough if you don’t know what to look for.
But don’t worry!
This MASSIVE review guide will help simplify the selection process and give you an overview of the best filter brands and all the options available.
Even if you’ve never owned one before.
After reading this guide, you should understand precisely what a canister filter is, how they work, and why it’s is the best choice for your aquarium filtration needs.
If you’re not looking for a canister filter, then click here to see more filter options like an Internal or Hang On Back (HOB) filter.
Canister Filter Comparison Chart
GET an excellent Filter for Your aquarium now. Use our FREE comparison tool below to SAVE. The models listed are great for all aquariums. In some cases, they are also available in smaller and larger capacities. Click Here To See Our List: GET THE BEST CANISTER FILTER FOR YOUR AQUARIUM NOW!
- Canister Filter Comparison Chart
- Know Your Budget
- Canister Filters For Small Tanks
- Detailed Reviews Of The 10 Best Canister Filters For Your Aquarium
- 5 Things You Should Know About Canister Filters
- 10 BIG Benefits Of Using A Canister Filter
- 1. Large Media Capacity For Superior Filtration
- 2. Strong Mechanical Filtration
- 3. Adds Water Volume To Your Tank
- 4. Higher Flow Rates For Faster Filtration
- 5. Customized Filtration For Your Needs
- 6. Quiet Operation So You Can Enjoy Your Fish
- 7. Remove From Sight, So You Don’t Have To See It
- 8. Easy To Set Up, So You Don’t Get Frustrated
- 9. Easy Access & Maintenance For Cleaning
- 10. Great Accessories
- 7 Considerations Before You Buy A Canister Filter
- Top 3 Canister Filters For Your Aquarium
- The Top Canister Filter Questions: FAQ
- How To Pick A Good Canister Filter [Infographic]
Know Your Budget
Before you set out to buy a new filter, the most important thing you should do is set a realistic budget.
To help you stay within your budget using the list below, which is grouped by cost and includes some of the top brands from Fluval, Marineland, EHEIM, API.
As you click through, you’ll notice the sweet spot ranges between $100 – $300.
Selecting a filter within this price range will allow you to get the most filtration for the price. If you find a filter in this range, you can handle most tank sizes.
Canister Filters For Small Tanks
When it comes to small tanks, it can get harder to select a canister filter mainly because most brands don’t make a unit for tanks this small.
Plus, they tend to have a higher outflow than most other filters, and this can cause quite a disturbance in a small 10-gallon tank or even a 20-gallon tank.
Detailed Reviews Of The 10 Best Canister Filters For Your Aquarium
Before you go too far, click one of the links below, which will take you to a full review for each one listed below.
5 Things You Should Know About Canister Filters
1. What Is A Canister Filter?
A canister filter is a type of aquarium filter that uses an intake tube that pulls water from the fish tank and runs it through filter media that is held in a pressurized canister, hence the name “canister filter.”
The water moves through the filter media and is then pumped back into the aquarium.
If you have a large community aquarium, large tank, or care for fish that produce a lot of waste like Goldfish, then canister filters might be what you’re looking for as they provide the best mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.
They also have the ability to filter much more significant amounts of water than most of the other hand on back (HOB) power filters. This is because the body holds extra filter media to provide extra cleaning power.
Most will allow for three media baskets inside for the mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration noted above.
In my opinion, a canister filter is a far superior way to filter your water.
To help you with your decision, I have highlighted some of the main benefits of Canister Filters:
- They typically add an extra gallon of water (depending on the filter) to your aquarium volume, and that is never a bad thing.
- They are basically little sump pumps, the water is sucked into the canister and pushed through the canister and back into the aquarium. This ensures 100% of the water passes through all three stages of filtration.
- They have more control over the water flow as it is pushed back into the tank. As an example, the water intake is on one side of the aquarium, and the outflow is on the other side. This ensures that water is always being circulated. HOB power filters release water very close to the intake, which leaves little flow for some areas of the tank.
- Most are very quiet, typically no noise at all. If your canister is noisy, then something might be wrong – check the manual.
- They usually come with (glass lily pipes) clear lines, so you don’t see any large tubes or boxes in or on your aquarium.
- They can be hidden from view with a large variety of intake/outflow arrangement available.
- They are very low maintenance and don’t need to be cleaned as often, maybe every 3-6 months.
2. Why Use A Canister Filter?
There are so many reasons you should upgrade to a canister filter, but in my opinion, there are two main benefits that make them a superior choice.
- They add more water volume to the tank, which means it’s easier to keep your water parameters stable and much harder for toxins to build up quickly.
- They can hold a large quantity of filter media that you can customize to suit your needs.
3. How Do Canister Filters Work?
Alright, so without getting too technical, I’ll try to be as brief as possible.
Basically, water is sucked into the intake hose, tube and down into the filter.
Once in the body of the canister, the water is pushed through a large sponge that catches large dirty debris.
Depending on the brand or model you are using, the direction of the water flow can vary.
It can be pumped from bottom to top, back to front, top to bottom, center out, or outside in.
After the sponge, the water then goes through the pre-filter media before it moves on to the other media stages you are using.
Typically, after the pre-filter media, the water is then passed through the activated charcoal, then maybe zeolite, and then perhaps a water polisher.
After the water has passed through all the media types, it is pumped back into the tank.
4. Types Of Canister Filters?
There are many different types and brands, and most can be used for both freshwater and salt applications.
Below we have highlighted some of the best brands and models found online.
For each one, we provide you with a brief overview of the filter, the pros/cons, details, specifications, our review, and the conclusion.
5. Watch This Video: Canister Filter vs. Hang On Back (HOB) Power Filters.
10 BIG Benefits Of Using A Canister Filter
1. Large Media Capacity For Superior Filtration
They can hold much larger quantities of filter media than most other filter types. These larger surface areas provide great places for beneficial bacteria to grow.
2. Strong Mechanical Filtration
Because they can hold more media, they can give far superior mechanical filtration and also have room for biological filtration and extras like filter floss.
3. Adds Water Volume To Your Tank
Depending on the filter you buy, canisters can increase the water volume of your aquarium by an extra gallon of water volume to your tank.
This is great because it’s easier to maintain your water parameters and makes it much harder for toxins to build up quickly.
4. Higher Flow Rates For Faster Filtration
With flow rates in the 100GpH range and higher, canisters provide fast filtration to ensure your water is kept clean and bright.
5. Customized Filtration For Your Needs
In addition to holding more filter media, you can customize the types of filter media you use in your canister. If you want to remove certain chemicals or toxins, you can just swap out the media to suit your needs.
6. Quiet Operation So You Can Enjoy Your Fish
One of the main reasons you can’t hear canister filters is because they are typically kept in a cabinet. However, the motor also plays a considerable role as most are sealed tight, so you don’t hear the impellers spin.
7. Remove From Sight, So You Don’t Have To See It
Because they are kept on the outside of your tank (External), you never see the filter itself; all you ever see are the input and output tubes. This means there is more room in your tank for your fish. You can hide the filter under your tank or in a cabinet.
8. Easy To Set Up, So You Don’t Get Frustrated
Most are very easy to set up, most require you to connect the tubes to the unit, add your media, prime, and plug it in. In fact, some units are now self-priming, which makes the setup process almost effortless.
9. Easy Access & Maintenance For Cleaning
Because the unit itself is outside your tank, you can shut it off, complete your maintenance, and hook it back up, all without disturbing your tank.
10. Great Accessories
Most have accessories that can be used with the filter to get even better filtration or address other issues.
Things like CO2 injection setups, gravel vacs, water changes, spray bars, chillers, output flow control, BIO-Wheels, and UV sterilizers can be used with most canisters.
If you already understand the benefits of using a canister filter, below are seven considerations you should make before buying one.
7 Considerations Before You Buy A Canister Filter
Initially, these filters were costly, complicated, and too big for use at home, especially for beginners.
However, over the years, manufacturers have fine-tuned their filters keeping beginners in mind, therefore making them much more affordable, customizable, and very easy to set up and install.
Here are eight things you should consider if you are thinking of upgrading your HOB filter and getting a canister.
1. Purpose Of The Canister Filter
A Canister filter is used to increase the water volume of your tank for maximum filtration. They provide you with a higher flow rate, media capacity, and the ability to customize the filter media to suit your needs.
Canister Filters vs. HOB filters
When comparing canister filters to HOB filters, there are a few things that make canister filters the better option.
As an example;
- Larger media capacity
- Greater flow rate
- Add a higher water volume
- Ability to customize the filter media
There are also a few drawbacks when comparing a canister filter to a HOB filter. However, these drawbacks are unrelated to filtration.
As an example:
- They cost more
- Can be challenging to set up
- Need a large area to store/hide them
- Large spills if they leak
2. The Motor
When looking at the motor, look for one that is energy efficient. Your filter will be running 24-7 all year long, so you don’t want something that will raise your power bill.
To be sure, look at the power cord; most will have a label with a UL approval rating. It might look something that looks like this:
There are two main types of canister filter motors, they are:
- Epoxy-sealed motors
- Magnet-drive motors
Epoxy Sealed Motor
This motor is one of the more commonly used motors. It is mounted in the motorhead with the impeller upside-down, which prevents moisture, dust, or debris from getting at the impeller.
A magnetic coil surrounds the impeller and, when powered, causes the impeller to spin, which in turn creates the suction to pull the water through the filter.
Because these motors are sealed, they require very little maintenance and can be almost silent when running.
Magnet Drive Motor
This motor type also uses a magnetic coil to spin the impeller, but there are a few differences between this motor and the Epoxy-sealed motor.
Magnet Drive Motors are typically self-priming, so you don’t need to siphon manually, which can be a hassle.
However, because this motor is not completely sealed from moisture and debris, it can be exposed to water and will require more regular maintenance and oiling to keep things running smoothly.
Overall, this could impact how long this motor lasts.
3. The Impeller
Here you should look for an impeller that is protected from debris that could jam the impeller and damage the motor. The impeller cover should come with a seal, gasket, or O-ring to ensure a proper seal.
4. The Valves
Most will have two valves. One valve to control the “Input” and one valve to control the “Output.”
The valves allow you to adjust/control the flow rate in and out of your filter. They can also be closed completely, which should hold the siphon, so you can disassemble your filter during maintenance without having to re-prime the filter.
Some filters like the Fluval FX4 & FX6 provide a system to quickly disconnect the input or output hoses. You can then attach a gravel vacuum or adapter which uses the canister filter to siphon and assist with water changes. This eliminates the need to fill up large buckets of water, which is an impressive feature.
5. Tank Size
When selecting a filter to be sure that it is rated for your tank size. Every filter will have this information right on the box/packaging like this;
It will show you the recommended tank size in gallons or liters for that filter. But pay close attention to the GPH (Gallons Per Hour). It’s recommended that the entire water volume of your tank is passed through the filter at least four times each hour.
If your tank is 50 gallons (50 * 4 = 200), you would need to get a filter that moves 200 GPH at a minimum.
It’s never wrong to go for more filtration, and depending on the fish, like Goldfish, which are really dirty, you may want a slightly bigger filter.
When buying a new canister filter, be sure you have a place to store it. Most are pretty big and not very pretty. Be sure your stand/cabinet has enough room to fit your filter.
7. Best Canister Filter Brands
It’s always helpful to know which brands and manufacturers make the best products. Although there are many brands available and most work well, we have reviewed many of the most popular, and there are a few that rise to the top.
Below we have listed some of the best canister filter brands for your aquarium, just click the links below to read the full review of each filter.
API Filstar XP-L
Top 3 Canister Filters For Your Aquarium
1. The #1 Rated Canister Filter: The Fluval FX4 & FX6.
Click the image below to read our detailed review of this excellent filter and find out why it’s one of the best available today.
2. Eheim Canister Filters
Made in Germany, Eheim prides itself on using the best materials and precise engineering to guarantee the highest quality filters.
EHEIM is definitely one of the most consistent, reliable, and long-lasting filters on the market.
EHEIM has many different models available, but the most popular models are the EHEIM 2217 and the EHEIM 2213.
The EHEIM 2217 & 2213 is part of the “classic” series by EHEIM.
These filters have one of the best track records around. These high-efficiency filters seem to run forever with minimal effort and maintenance. They have been precisely calibrated to provide the best long-term filtration resulting in optimum water conditions for your aquarium.
- Keeps water crystal clean and is very quiet.
- The Classic Series of EHEIM has stood the test of time as one of the best canister filters for the past 30 years.
- Very low maintenance.
- Ability to hold many different types of filter media.
- It comes with media, separation plates, tubes, and all the accessories to get you set up right away.
- The instructions are pretty useless, use the diagrams, or just check out this short YouTube videos on setting up the pump for the first time.
Type Of Filtration:
Bottom to top. Freshwater or saltwater filter.
EHEIM Classic Details:
- The pump head has a fixed Permo-elastic silicon sealing ring fixed to allow for easy and safe closing after cleaning
- It can be equipped with either sponge and/or loose filter media.
- It comes with a spray bar, inlet pipe, hose, as well as complete filter media and valves.
The EHEIM classic canister filter is tried and tested and operates at a high level of efficiency perfect for large systems.
The compact size allows for easy storage keeping it out of sight and out of mind.
With a proven record of more than 30 years, you know you are getting a filter that will provide you with a lifetime of dependability.
3. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter
Penn-Plax started in 1956 in a Brooklyn pet shop owned by a husband and wife. Since then, Penn-Plax continues to be a leader selling its Cascade in over 4000 stores in the U.S and in over 44 countries worldwide.
Penn-Plax has many different models available, but the most popular models are the Cascade 1000 and the Cascade 700.
The Cascade 1000 can handle aquariums up to 100 gallons, and the Cascade 700 canister filter can handle up to 65 gallons.
Altogether the Penn-Plax Cascade series can provide you with heavy-duty filtration from 30-200 gallon aquariums.
Cascade filters are made of high-quality materials and provide superior filtration. The Cascade 1000, for example, can move more than 265 gallons of water per hour, providing you with ultimate filtration at an affordable price.
- High quality, durable, tip-proof base.
- Flow rate cut-off valves allow for easy adjustment of water flow
- Quick, easy push-button self-primer
- Very quiet
- Price is meager compared to Fluval or other brands
- Priming is easy; you just need to push about 5-10 pumps to get out all the air.
- Some of the trays do not fit snug, allowing some water to bypass the media. This can be easily solved by sticking filter floss into the side areas.
Type Of Filtration: Freshwater and Saltwater aquariums.
Cascade 1000 Details:
- Push-button primer
- 360-degree rotating taps
- Easy maintenance
- 110V Filter
When it comes to filters, the Cascade is at the top of our list with the other brands like the EHEIM, but the Penn-Plax Cascade 1000 definitely performs the best for its price, making it the best performing canister filter for the price.
The Cascade 1000 does a great job keeping a 100-gallon aquarium clear as crystal. It’s slightly noisier than the EHEIM but once concealed in a cabinet; it’s hardly disturbing enough to fault.
If you want a reasonably priced filter that performs just as good as the higher-priced models, then the Cascade 1000 & Cascade 700 canister filters are the way to go.
The Top Canister Filter Questions: FAQ
Canister filters provide you with all three stages of filtration (mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration) and can be used for saltwater tanks, freshwater tanks, reef tanks, or even turtle tanks.
Can I Use A Canister Filter For A Saltwater Tank?
Yes, However, there are many in the saltwater community that would disagree. Many believe that canister filters become “Nitrate Factories,” or they are “not good for saltwater” this is simply not true.
Canister filters are great mechanical filters, promote better flow, and also allow chemical filtration. To produce nitrates, you need nitrogen and ammonia, and since the ammonia and nitrogen are produced by fish waste and uneaten food, it’s merely a result of lazy keepers and not enough water changes.
What’s The Best Canister Filter For Freshwater?
As noted above, we recommend either the EHEIM Classic or the Penn-Plax Cascade brands with enough capacity for your size of the aquarium.
What’s The Best Way To Choose Which Canister Filter Will Work For Me? (Tips For Choosing A Canister Filter)
ALWAYS, go for more filtration rather than less.
As an example, if you have a 30-gallon aquarium, select a filter that is rated for 40 or 50 gallons. This will ensure you have more than enough filtration for the size of your aquarium and will cut down on the required cleanings.
Are you new or a die-hard hobbyist? Think about how long you are planning on keeping your aquarium. If you are going long-term than getting something that is more of an investment, then a temporary cost.
What type of fish do you have? Goldfish produce substantially more waste than other fish. With that in mind, a larger filter with a higher flow rate would allow you to filter more water quickly.
Don’t let the price of canisters scare you away; they will save you more money over time.
Most canister filters will allow for bulk filter media, whereas (HOB) power filters typically require a specific brand. You will save money on purchasing in bulk whenever you can.
What Maintenance Does a Canister Filter Require?
This short video will give you an idea of a typical cleaning. Note: with canister filters, you really only need to do this every 3-6 months depending on the size and fish load of your aquarium.
How To Make A Canister Filter For Fish Tank?
Though I have never done this, here is a great video showing a DIY Canister Filter set up.
How To Pick A Good Canister Filter [Infographic]
Because there are so many things, you need to consider when you are looking for a filter. We put together this great infographic to highlight the most important things you should know before you buy a new filter.
If you found this infographic helpful, we would love it if you shared it on Pinterest!