The Best Canister Filter For Aquarium (Review) in 2021

Olivia Williams
Published January 17, 2020

Canister filters help to purify the water of your aquarium. There are numerous advantages to these systems that take care of the three main filtration tasks. If you are on the market for one, we have compiled some of the best canister filters in our guide below.

The Best Canister Filter For Aquarium


Designed for both freshwater and marine environments, this canister filter is suitable for aquariums of up to 200 gallons. Even in tighter cabinets, you can fit the filter comfortably as the valves rotate 360-degrees. You can prime the filter easily using the push button design.

As for the media baskets, these are extra large to allow you maximum customizability of the media. Some of the other included features that you get with this canister filter include a spray bar, directional spout, filter medium, and tubing.

Easily removable flow valves

Floss pad and coarse sponge included

Recommended for aquariums up to 200 gallons

Use any media combination

  • Brand: Penn Plax
  • Model: CCF5UL
  • Weight: 15 pounds


Suitable for aquariums up to 400 gallons in capacity, this high-performance filter can pump out as many as 925 gallons of water per hour. As many things in your household are becoming ‘smart’ these days, you can do the same for your aquarium filter. This one optimizes its own performance using sophisticated microchip technology.

This self-starting device makes it easy to install in your aquarium. You can just add some water, plug it in, and this smart pump will take care of whatever else is needed. You can even remove and stack the media baskets to eliminate water bypass.

Suitable for all saltwater and freshwater aquariums

Fits under most aquariums

Multi-directional output nozzles

Removable media baskets

  • Brand: Fluval
  • Model: A219
  • Weight: 19.9 pounds


The best value option on our list is this one from Marineland. The design is made to offer a tight water seal, and you can take off the top to access the media baskets easily. Helping to remove fine debris from the water is a polishing filter pad.

There are four different sizes available depending on the dimensions of your aquarium. To access the media baskets, you simply have to lift up the lid. Both installation and maintenance have been made to be spill-free.

Screens out debris and dirt

Quick-prime button

Four sizes available

Multi-stage filtration device

  • Brand: Marineland
  • Model: ML90751
  • Weight: 19.62 pounds


Designed to offer complete filtration to your aquarium, the filtration provided is chemical, biological, and mechanical. This helps to keep the environment healthy for any marine life that you have living in it.

This is also a canister filter that has been designed with ease of use firmly in mind. But longevity has also been closely considered, which you can tell from the versatile filter chamber and easy priming feature.

Provides three types of filtration

Simple priming feature

Telescopic intake tubes

High capacity filtering chamber

  • Brand: Hydor
  • Model: C02401
  • Weight: 16 pounds


Suitable for tanks of up to 175 gallons, this is a very quiet filter that won’t disturb your home. An important feature of this filter is a UV sterilizer that works to deal with harmful bacteria and algae spores.

When you get the canister filter home, you should have all the needed plumbing for successful installation. You can add the filtration media you choose.

UV sterilizer included

Quiet operation

4-stage filtration system

Made for tanks up to 175-gallons

  • Brand: Aquatop
  • Model: CF500UV
  • Weight: 16 pounds


The design of this external fish tank filter has a raised lip that keeps operation smoother. The locking clamps allow you to attach and release the filter when maintenance and cleaning are required.

This system is now the seventh version of this filter from Fluval, and it has proven to be a popular choice. It combines power and reliability, but it retains its quiet operation volume and energy efficiency.

Powerful canister filter

Suitable for freshwater and saltwater environments

Near silent operation

Provides continual pressure

  • Brand: Fluval
  • Model: A446
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds


Promoting a clean environment for your freshwater or saltwater aquarium, there is a UV bulb in this SunSun canister filter that works to kill bacteria and algae spores. This complete kit includes everything needed for the full filtration of your aquarium environment.

Made for tanks of 150 gallons in capacity, it can handle 525 gallons per hour flowing through it. The self-priming pump is highly useful as it eliminates the need to do any manual siphoning.

Filter media included

UB bulb helps to kill spores and bacteria

Handles up to 525 gallons of water per hour

Convenient self-priming pump

  • Brand: SunSun
  • Model: 39650
  • Weight: 17 pounds


Designed to fit with filter sponges, loose media or both, you have a great deal of flexibility with the filtration setup. It comes with the filter media, valves, and a host of accessories that are designed to simplify the filtration experience.

As for the design of the product, it has made to be simple, while still offering a high level of efficiency. Flow rate has been calculated to provide maximum accuracy.

Flow rate of 164 GPH

Simple and efficient design

Suitable for tanks up to 95 gallons

Includes all accessories needed for successful startup

  • Brand: EHEIM
  • Model: 2215371
  • Weight: 6.07 pounds


The filtration provided by this device is powerful, but the whole thing has been built with a simple design that promotes ease of use. All of the controls are in a centralized space. You should be able to disconnect the device with little trouble, and it should be free of leaks, self-priming, and quick cleaning.

Powerful three-stage filtration

Easy use and maintenance

Quick to disconnect with no leaks

Meets freshwater and saltwater environments

  • Brand: API
  • Model: 720
  • Weight: 10.7 pounds


Our final choice on the list has been equipped to handle both filter sponges and loose filter media. All of the necessary installation accessories are included. The silicon sealing ring on the pump head is fixed, allowing for safe and easy closing after you have cleaned the device.

Complete set of accessories including stand

Permo-elastic silicon sealing ring

Filter media included

Compact in size

  • Brand: EHEIM
  • Model: 2213371
  • Weight: 4.49 pounds

Best Canister Filter For Aquarium Buying Guide & FAQ

What to Consider When Buying a Canister Filter

  • Your aquarium requirements

When choosing a canister filter, it needs to match your aquarium filtration requirements as closely as possible. The two most important points to bear in mind are the capabilities of the filter and your own filtration requirements. It needs to be able to handle the volume of water, as well as the specific marine environment. Not all filters work for all tank sizes. Always read the product description to match your tank as closely as possible. Also, check the dimensions of the canister filter itself, so you know exactly where you can keep it.

  • GPH

GPH stands for gallons per hour, and you should be comparing this figure up against the size of your aquarium. The filter you choose should turn over at least four times the volume of water. And it is a good idea to go for more filtration as filters can lose flow rate over time.

  • Durability

Durability is important as it means that you won’t keep having to replace the filter time after time. Most are made of plastic, but you still want to check for an estimated shelf life and possibly read reports from previous purchasers. Also, look out for any further guarantees like warranty arrangements.

  • Motor type

A good motor will help with pumping the water into the external aquarium filter. As well as doing this job effectively, you also need to choose one that is effective and without a huge amount of maintenance. And also consider how loud and disturbing the motor is likely to be.

  • Valves

The intake and output of a filter are controlled by two valves. If these stay firmly closed, you will not have to take apart the filter for maintenance. And if you can disconnect them entirely, you can do water changes easier with the use of a gravel vacuum or adapter.

Ttropical freshwater aquarium with fishes

Benefits of Using a Canister Filter

  • Better flow rates

A major advantage that draws many people to fish tank canister filters is their improved flow rate, which can rank in the hundreds of gallons per hour. This speeds up the entire filtration of your aquarium, which makes the cleaning process a lot more straightforward.

  • Straightforward setup

Compared to setting up other types of filters, canister setup is relatively straightforward. Instructions should be clear, and you should ensure that you follow them closely.

  • Flexible media choice

Canister filters come with various types of media filtration. Of course, you need to know how this works before purchase. Look up the amount of maintenance required for each type of media before selection. You don’t want to have to take your filter in for maintenance too regularly.

  • Easy cleaning

With the correct manual and tools, cleaning canister filters should be easy. The design of most of them allows for easy disassembly, so you can access each component for cleaning. You should then be able to reassemble and reinstall your filter too.

  • Quiet operation

Many of these filters don’t produce a lot of noise and vibrations, which means that they are less likely to disturb your household.

  • High level of mechanical filtration

The whole point of filtering the water in your fish tank is to get rid of dirt and debris. Canister filters are highly suited to this task, giving your marine life the kind of clean environment that they require to survive and thrive.

Types of Filter – HOB vs. Canister

Both canister and hang on back (HOB) filters are commonly used by fish tank owners. And they all have their individual pros and cons.

First, you have the canister filters, which sits beside or underneath the aquarium. A set of hoses clean the tank water. After extracting water from the aquarium, it runs into the filter, and is pressurized through filter media, doing all mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration in one go. When the water is filtered, the clean H2O is returned via another filter. The dirt is separated into another container. In most cases, the pump is already built into the device and you don’t have to get another.

As for a HOB filter, this doesn’t come with any hoses to extract the water. As it says in the name, it hangs off the back of the tank, drawing water with a lift tube and pump. A range of filter media cleans the water, completing all stages of filtration. A spillway then returns the filtered water.

Now, let’s look at the main differences. HOB filters are often cheaper as canister filters are known for doing the job more successfully. Also, canister filters are built to work with bigger tanks over a longer period of time. As for installation, HOB filters are quite easy as they simply clip onto the back of the aquarium. As long as you have space behind the tank, they don’t take up too much room. Canister filters stand alone and you often have to put them underneath, so you need to ensure that you have the room. They tend to be a little more complicated to install. Ultimately, it comes down to your needs.

Little aquarium fish

Different Stages of Aquarium Filtration

There are three main stages of aquarium filtration that a good-quality filter produces.

  • Mechanical filtration

First, the mechanical filtration stage kicks in. During this part, all solid waste is trapped. This includes feces, dead plant matter, and uneaten food.

  • ​Chemical filter media

As an aquarium is a closed system, waste can decompose, which leads to chemical changes in the environment. Chemical media such as activated carbon serves to absorb some of the toxins and reduce the chemical change. However, you will still need to replace aquarium water as chemical changes are not entirely absorbed.

  • ​Biological filtration

During the final stage of filtration, biological media is used to break down difficult bacteria. In an aquarium, toxic ammonia results from sources like plant matter, fish waste, and uneaten food. The media works to break this down into nitrites and then nitrates.

Best Canister Filter For Aquarium FAQ:

Q: What is a canister filter and how does it work?

A: A canister filter is a piece of equipment that mounts to the exterior of an aquarium with one piece inside. There are adjustable inlet and outlet fittings that allow the water to flow in and out of the filter. There is also an in-tank pump to push the water into the canister for filtration. Once the filter is full, the pump forces the water out again. But before this it will pass through a range of filtration layers. Membranes inside work to capture bacteria and debris, only letting clean water back in again. The filter needs plenty of maintenance, and you should clean all the individual components.

Q: How do I prime a canister filter?

A: Once you have properly assembled the canister filter, you should then submerge it in the tank, before plugging it in. Next, you should plug it in, tilt the canister on its side, submerge the impeller, and begin the suction. Hold it in place for a while, tilt it upwards to expunge the air, and it should not be primed.

Q: How often should I clean canister filter?

A: This varies from one model to another, as well as how often you use the aquarium canister filter. Read the instructions for more information. As a general rule of thumb, you should clean it every three months.

Aquarium with fishes, plants and rocks

Our Top Pick

Looking back at our best choice canister filter, it has five media baskets which serve to purify the water. Working at 350 GPH, it is suitable for aquariums of 200 gallons in capacity. You can use the push button primer to get the filter primed and ready to use. You can choose the combination of media that offers the ideal cleaning to your tank. There are two rotating valve taps and a swimming pool-style hose clamps. You have the option of removing the flow valves while keeping the intake and output hoses in the tank. All of this adds up to making it our number one choice of best canister filter.

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