Best Canister Filter

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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 aquarium canister filter brands and all the options available.

Even if you’ve never owned a canister filter before.

After reading this guide you should understand exactly what a canister filter is, how they work and why a canister filter 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.

Best Canister Filter – Comparison Chart

Best Canister Filter Comparison Image

GET a great Canister 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 the button to see our list.

GET the Best Canister Filter For Your Aquarium now!


Know Your Budget

Best Fish Tank Filter- Know Your Budget

Before you set out to buy a new canister filter the most important thing you should do is set a realistic budget.

Many filters with fancy upgrades and huge capacities will quickly eat your budget if you’re not careful.

To help you stay within your budget using the list below, which is grouped by cost and includes some of the top canister filters 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 Filter Price Ranges & Capacities

Canister Filters For Small Tanks

When it comes to small tanks it can get harder to select a canister filter mainly becuase most brands don’t make a unit for tanks this small.

Plus canister filters 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.

However, there are some options available for you. Just check our two articles if you’re looking for something a little smaller:

Detailed Reviews Of The 10 Best Canister Filters For Your Aquarium

5 Things You Should Know About Canister Filters

Best Fish Tank Filter- 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.

Canister filters have the ability to filter much larger amounts of water than most of the other hand on back (HOB) power filters. This is because the body of the canister holds extra filter media to provide the extra cleaning power.

Most canister filters 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.

The downside is that most canister filters are expensive so you need to think of them as an investment and do your research before buying and make an educated purchase.

To help you with your decision I have highlighted some of the main benefits of Canister Filters:

  • Canister Filters typically add an extra gallon of water (depending on the filter) to your aquarium volume, and that is never a bad thing.
  • Canisters filters 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.
  • Canister Filters 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 canister filters are very quiet, typically no noise at all. If your canister is noisy then something might be wrong – check the manual.
  • Canister Filters usually come with (glass lily pipes) clear lines so you don’t see any large tubes or boxes in or on your aquarium.
  • The canister can be hidden from view with a large variety of intake/outflow arrangement available.
  • Canister Filters 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 of canister filter 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 maybe a water polisher.

By pushing the water through the different media types it allows for the chemical, biological and mechanical filtration.

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 of canister filters and most can be used for both freshwater and salt applications.

Below we have highlighted some of the best canister filter brands and models found online.

For each canister filter, we provide you with a brief overview of the filter, the pros/cons, details, specifications, our review, and conclusion.

5. Watch This Video: Canister Filter vs Hang On Back (HOB) Power Filters.

(Note: The Comparison starts @2:00)

Best Canister Filter - Canister Filter vs HOB Filter

10 BIG Benefits Of Using A Canister Filter

 Best Fish Tank Filter- 10 BIG Benefits of using a canister filter

1. Large Media Capacity For Superior Filtration

Canister filters 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 canister filters can hold more media they can provide 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 clear.

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 huge 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 canister filters 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 new canister filters 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 canister 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 canister filters 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 7 considerations you should make before buying a canister filter.

7 Considerations Before You Buy A Canister Filter

Best Fish Tank Filter- 7 Considerations before you buy a canister filter

Initially, canister filters were very expensive, 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 8 things you should consider if you are thinking of upgrading your HOB filter and getting a canister filter.

1. Purpose Of The Canister Filter

Canister filters are used to increase the water volume of your tank for maximum filtration. They provide you with greater 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 greater 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 difficult to set up
  • Need a large area to store/hide them
  • Large spills if they leak

2. The Motor

When looking at the canister filter 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:

Energy Efficient UL Label

There are 2 main types of canister filter motors, they are:

  1. Epoxy-sealed motors
  2. Magnet-drive motors

Epoxy Sealed Motor

This motor is one of the more commonly used motors. It is mounted in the motor head 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 canister filters will have 2 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 awesome feature.

5. Tank Size

When selecting a filter 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.

For example;

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 bad to go for more filtration and depending on the fish, like Goldfish, which are really dirty, you may want a slightly bigger filter.

6. Storage

When buying a new canister filter be sure you have a place to store it. Most canister filters 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 canister filters. Although there are many brands available and most work well, we have reviewed many of the most popular canister filters 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.

Fluval FX6 Canister Filter
Fluval 406 Canister Filter

Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter

Eheim Classic Canister Filter
Eheim Pro 4+ Review and Unboxing

Penn Plax:
Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter

API Filstar XP-L Canister Filter

Hydor Canister Filter

Best Canister Filter For Aquarium Reviews

The #1 Rated Canister Filter: The Fluval FX4 & FX6.

Click the image below to read our detailed review of this awesome canister filter and find out why it’s one of the best available today.

Best Fish Tank Filter- Fluval FX4 & Fluval FX6

Canister Filter Review: Eheim Canister Filters

Made in Germany, Eheim prides themselves on using the best materials and precise engineering to guarantee the highest quality filters.

EHEIM canister filters are 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 canister filter and the EHEIM 2213 canister filter.

The EHEIM 2217 & 2213 canister filter is part of the “classic” series canister filters 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.

EHEIM Classic Pros:

  • Keeps water crystal clean and is very quiet.
  • The Classic Series of EHEIM canister filters have 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.
  • Comes with media, separation plates, tubes, and all the accessories to get you set up right away.

EHEIM Classic Cons:

  • 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.

Watch This: How to Set Up & Install the Eheim 2217 Classic Canister Filter

Best Canister Filter - Eheim

Type Of Filtration:

Bottom to top. Freshwater or saltwater filter.

EHEIM Classic Details:

  • Pump head has a fixed Permo-elastic silicon sealing ring fixed to allow for easy and safe closing after cleaning
  • Can be equipped with either sponge and/or loose filter media.
  • 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.

Click Here To Buy The EHEIM 2217 Canister Filter On Amazon

Canister Filter Review: 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 their Cascade canister filters in over 4000 stores in the U.S and in over 44 countries world-wide.

Penn-Plax has many different models of canister filters available but the most popular models are the Cascade 1000 canister filter and the Cascade 700 canister filter.

Get The Cascade 1000 Canister Filter On Amazon

The Cascade 1000 canister filter can handle aquariums up to 100 gallons and the Cascade 700 canister filter can handle up to 65 gallons.

Altogether the Penn-Plax Cascade canister filter 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.

Cascade Canister Filters Pros:

  • 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 very low compared to Fluval or other brands

Cascade Canister Filters Cons:

  • 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.

Watch This: Review of The Cascade 1000 Canister Filter

Best canister filter - cascade 1000

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 is 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 than the Cascade 1000 & Cascade 700 canister filters are the way to go.

Click Here To Buy The Cascade 1000 Canister Filter On Amazon

The Top Canister Filter Questions: FAQ

Why Should I Use A Canister?

Canister filters provide you with all three stages of filtration (mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration) and can be used for saltwater tank, 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 allows 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 simply 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 Canister Filter or the Penn-Plax Cascade Canister Filter brands with enough capacity for your size of 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 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 required cleanings.

Are you new or a die-hard hobbyist? Think about how long you are planning on keeping your aquarium. If you going long-term than get 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. Canister filters 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 canister filter 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.

Best Canister Filter - cleaning

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.

Best Canister Filter - diy

How To Pick A Good Canister Filter [Infographic]

Because there are so many things you need to consider when you are looking for a canister filter. We put together this great infographic to highlight the most important things you should know before you buy a canister filter.

Finding The Best Canister Filter Infographic

Click here to see the full-size image

If you found this infographic helpful we would love it if you shared it on Pinterest!