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Best Canister Filter

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If you have a large tank and don’t want a box filter spoiling your view, you might want to consider a canister filter. If you keep a densely planted tank or one with fish species that produce a lot of waste, a canister filter will give you the power you need to keep the water quality pristine and safe for your aquatic animals.

However, there are lots of canister filters on the market, and it can be difficult to know which is the best. That’s why we put this comprehensive buyer’s guide together: to help you pick the canister filter that’s perfect for your needs. 

What is a canister filter?

A canister filter works by pulling water from your tank out of the aquarium and into a canister or chamber with a lift tube. Once in the canister, the water gets pushed through a series of filter media, where it’s cleaned before being returned to the tank.

The water flow’s direction can vary depending on the brand and design of the canister filter unit. You can have bottom-to-top, back-to-front, top-to-bottom, outside-in, or inside-out. The media inside the filter provides mechanical, biological, or chemical filtration depending on how you configure the device.

As the system is sealed, canister filters use a water pump to move the water. Most canister filtration systems have integral water pumps that are built into the base or cover, however, some models need an independent external one. 

One big plus of a canister filter is that it lives outside of the aquarium, usually in the cabinet or underneath the aquarium stand, so there’s no bulky filter box taking up space inside your tank.

How to Choose the Right Canister Filter 

Wait! Before you skip ahead to the product recommendations, we’d like to help you pick out the most suitable canister filter for your needs. Here are a few questions and factors to keep in the back of your mind while you make your selection:

Tank size

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing a canister filter is the size of your fish tank. 

As with any filtration system, the unit you choose must circulate the water around your tank at least four times per hour to be fully effective. So, check the gallons per hour (GPH) rating on the product packaging before you buy your canister filter. If you have a very large tank of over 100 gallons, you might even need to consider having a multiple filter arrangement. 

Secondly, you’ll need to measure how much space you have in your aquarium cabinet. Some canister filters are pretty bulky and can take up quite a lot of room, so you need to be sure your product selection will fit comfortably into the spot you have available. 

Motor Quality and Durability

If the motor fails on a canister filter, you’ll find yourself with no means of water filtration in your fish tank, which could mean curtains for your fishy friends if you don’t have a spare filter system on hand. 

In general, it’s best to steer clear of filters that don’t come with a warranty. The most durable and reliable motors seem to be Italian and German-built ones instead of cheap Chinese pumps. So, look for Eheim, Marineland, OASE, Cobalt, and Fluval canister filters; these are all extremely well-built and are all backed with three-year warranties. 

Adaptability

Ideally, you want to be able to adjust the flow of your filter. Usually, that’s done through the use of a ball valve. If the filter doesn’t have a ball valve, your ability to adjust the flow and quickly close down the filter drain is limited. 

What’s your budget?

The budget you have available will play a big part in what quality canister filter you can buy.

When it comes to filters, remember the health of your fish tank and its residents depends very heavily on the efficiency and effectiveness of the filtration system you have. For that reason, we recommend you always choose the best quality filter you can afford. 

Best Canister Filters: Our Top 7 Picks

So, now that you know a little more about canister filters and what to look for when you’re choosing one, let’s dive into the reviews. 

We’ve done a brief canister filter review of each product for you, but you can click on the handy in-text links to see full product specs.

OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo

OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo 250

  • The Bio master thermos 250 has an integrated heater in compact Filter design
  • The built-in heater provides your aquarium with Precise and uniform temperature levels while the product integration delivers unobstructed views of your Aquarium
  • External filter operates quietly to circulate and filter your aquarium water

OASE is an extremely popular choice among aquascapers with planted tanks. This high-end canister filter is built with German engineering and can house a heater within the canister. There are several different sizes available to accommodate even the largest of tanks. 

The filtration media is foam-based, meaning it lasts much longer and saves you money because you don’t need to replace the media every month as you do with some filter cartridge systems.

The unit has a power flow regulator for an easily adjustable water flow rate, and the filter is very easy to prime. Overall, the whole thing is exceptionally well-designed and robustly built, too.

However, our favorite feature is that you can neatly fit your heater right inside the canister. That means you don’t need to have a heater inside the aquarium, which is excellent news if your fish like to mess around with the equipment inside the tank. The heaters provided with these units also come with a three-year warranty. 

This canister filter model unfortunately comes with a hefty price tag. However, you certainly do get plenty of bang for your buck. You also won’t have much luck finding these units in fish stores, although you can buy them online. 

What We Like:

  • Includes an integral heater
  • Adjustable flow rate
  • Self-priming
  • Easily removable filters (great for cleaning)

Room for Improvement:

  • Expensive
  • Not readily available in stores

SunSun Pro Canister Filter

If you’re working on a smaller budget, the SunSun Pro Canister Filter could be ideal for you and your fishes. 

You get quite a few nice features with this unit, including a UV sterilizer that provides algae control, crystal clear water, and some antibacterial and parasite control for your tank, too. You get standard three-stage filtration as well as UV filtration, and the GPH rating is high compared to similar models. 

Unfortunately, the build quality is not fantastic, and the filter media you get with the unit is rather cheap. There’s no stage-separating feature within the canister, and some users have complained about issues concerning the motors. 

What We Like:

  • Inexpensive
  • Standard three-stage filtration plus UV filter
  • High flow rate
  • Feature-rich, especially for the price

Room for Improvement:

  • Not adjustable
  • Underpowered UV
  • Possible motor reliability issues

Penn-Plax Cascade Canister Filter

Sale

Penn Plax Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter For Large Aquariums and Fish Tanks – Up To 100 Gallons,…

  • CASCADE CANISTER FILTER FOR FRESHWATER OR MARINE ENVIRONMENTS: the Cascade 1000 (CCF3UL) has 3 media baskets, works at 265 GPH, and is recommended for Aquariums up to 100 gallons. It measures 11.5 x…
  • STATE OF THE ART FEATURES OF THE CASCADE 1000: ♦ flow valves that rotate 360 degrees for easy maneuvering in even the tightest aquarium cabinets ♦ large capacity media baskets allow aquarists to…
  • USE ANY COMBINATION OF MEDIA: floss pad for removing particulate matter and a course sponge that provides abundant surface for promoting bacterial growth (to remove ammonia and nitrites) included free…

For an affordable, well-made canister filter, the Penn-Plax Cascade is a good choice. 

Penn-Plax is a United States-based, family-owned company that’s been around since the 1950s, so you know you’re getting a wealth of experience — plus excellent value for the money — if you buy one of these canister filters.

This filter has an excellent range of high-end features, including hose clamps, valves for controlling the flow of water, and rubber feet to ensure the canister stands firmly and doesn’t vibrate. The filters are simple sponges that keep the cost down and provide flexibility within the canister so you can customize your filter media. 

What We Like:

  • Inexpensive
  • Feature-rich
  • Simple sponge filters
  • Made in the U.S. 

Room for Improvement:

  • Cheap-looking unit design
  • Filter media not readily available in stores

Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter

Sale

Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter 120Vac, 60Hz, 10.8 LB

  • The 07 series features new engineering solutions that work cohesively to produce a fluent operation that is up to 25% quieter than before
  • Depending on the model selected, the 07 Series generates between 145 – 383 US Gal/h (550-1, 450 L/h) of constant pumping power and pressure that endures over time
  • 07 filters are big on power, yet small on energy consumption. The 107 and 207 models, for example, draw as little as 10 watts of electrical energy, which is EQUIVALENT TO A SINGLE HOUSEHOLD LED…

Fluval’s range of canister filters are high-quality, Italian-made units. 

The filters use flex-ribbed tubing instead of the cheap vinyl that can be prone to splitting. There’s a neat check valve feature on the unit’s drain that stops it from flooding should the motor fail or you lose electricity. 

This unit offers plenty of scope for filter media, too. The instant priming system enables you to get the unit up and running quickly, and there’s easy access for maintenance via the lift-lock clamps. 

There are a couple of downsides, though. You cant adjust the flow, and the flex hosing prevents the installation of an inline heater.

What We Like:

  • Uses flex tubing rather than cheap, fragile vinyl
  • Three-year warranty
  • Smart, all-black design

Room for Improvement:

  • Quite expensive
  • Flex hosing prevents integration of inflow heater

Aqueon Quietflow Canister Filter

Aqueon QuietFlow 155/400 Canister Filter

  • Fits aquariums up to 155 gallons
  • Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filters are designed for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums
  • Included is a unique hang on the back water polishing unit that makes maintenance quick and easy.

The Quietflow canister filter from Aqueon offers excellent value and is packed with useful features. 

The unit has three-stage filtration and ample space for your chosen filter media. The filter unit is supplied with sponge filter media and comes with two baskets for biological filter media. The quick disconnect valves are adjustable for easy cleaning, and there are multiple outlet options, too. Choose from the flow director, spray bar, or water polishing unit that’s included with the package.

The water polishing unit is basically one of Aqueon’s HOB power filters. This feature provides a further mechanical filtration function to super-clean and polish the already cleaned water before it passes back into the tank. We think a diatom filter might have been a better option, although the HOB filter is useful if you want to create more surface agitation.

The only major downside is the short warranty; it’s only 12 months.

What We Like:

  • Well-respected brand
  • Valves facilitate easy cleaning
  • Plenty of space for filter media

Room for Improvement:

  • Short warranty period
  • Diatom filter would be a nice addition

Eheim Classic Canister Filter

In the aquarium hobby, Eheim is legendary for producing high-quality, super reliable, and durable aquarium equipment, including this classic canister filter.

The design is old-school and not necessarily the most attractive-looking model, but it sure does deliver when it comes to all-important performance. The Classic comes at a lower price point than other Eheim filters, but you still get the same performance and reliability that the company is known for. 

These canister filters are virtually silent when they run and are extremely energy-efficient, too. In fact, you can run the 600 models off a standard UPS for a few hours in the event of power loss. That’s incredibly important if you live in an area where outages are common.

The unit is supplied with mechanical and biological filter media, so you need to buy chemical filtration media separately if you want to use that. The main downside, however, if that the filter’s design is incredibly dated and unattractive. 

What We Like:

  • Well-respected brand
  • Extremely reliable and durable
  • Can run off a UPS during a power outage

Room for Improvement:

  • Very old-fashioned, clunky design
  • Green tubing is obvious in the tank

Eheim Pro Filter

Eheim Pro 4+ 600 Filter up to 160g

  • This product is easy to use. This product adds a great value. This product is Manufactured in Germany. This product is designed for pets and there use.
  • These filters can handle aquariums between 30-160 US gallons (Depending on model purchased)
  • As with most EHEIM filters, the Pro4+ comes complete with filter pads and media and all installation equipment.

If you’re looking to upgrade your Eheim Classic canister filter, the Eheim Pro is exactly what you need. 

These spacious canister units are ideal for larger fish tanks, providing you with plenty of capacity for extra filtration media. There’s a self-priming feature for quick and easy startup, and you can control and redirect the flow from different media chambers, making your media last longer and saving you money.

These units are made using ceramic axles and high-quality bearings on the pump, making their filters one of the quietest you can buy.

What We Like:

  • Huge media baskets
  • Extremely reliable and durable
  • Super-quiet operation

Room for Improvement:

How do you maintain a canister filter?

The maintenance of your canister filter will depend on the model of the unit and the filter media that you’ve chosen to use. 

One of the reasons that canister filters are so popular is that you can customize the type and quantity of filter media you use. Many filters feature baskets, bags, isolated chambers, or cartridges so you can choose the kind of media that best suits your aquarium setup.

Simple sponge filter media needs rinsing out every few weeks in tank water, but you’ll need to replace the other media in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

You’ll also need to periodically clean the pump, tubes, and any associated pipework for your canister filter. You can do that with a specially designed tube cleaning kit that can be purchased from your local fish store or online. 

FAQs

In this part of our guide, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about canister filters.

What’s the best canister filter for a saltwater tank?

All the filters we’ve reviewed above can be used with a marine tank. However, we recommend canister filters be used in a fish-only setup for the following reasons:

  • Live rock and dry rock provide much better natural biological media functionality in a saltwater aquarium than a canister filter.
  • In a reef tank, the biological media in a canister filter can cause excessive nitrate production. That means more water changes and the changed water parameters can be problematic for corals.
  • A lot of marine tanks are built using a sump or a reef-ready system, and that doesn’t work well with a canister filter. 

That said, you can use a canister filter as a media reactor or pass water through a UV sterilizer. The extra flow might also benefit a marine aquarium.

What’s the best canister filter for a freshwater tank?

If you’re looking for a filter for your freshwater aquarium and have a generous budget, we recommend the OASE Biomaster canister filter as just about the best product on the market at the time of writing. You can even get a four-year warranty with this baby for your peace of mind. 

For a cheap canister filter you’re prepared to replace within a couple of years, the SunSun is probably the best option. And if you want a mid-range unit that offers the best value, the Fluval 407 range takes some beating.

How often do you need to clean your canister filter?

Depending on the amount of waste your fish produce, you’ll probably want to clean your mechanical filtration media once every three to four weeks. Chemical filtration media usually needs replacement every month. The canister and motor need cleaning between three and six months to ensure efficient and smooth running.

Ideally, you want to use foam or sponge filter media simply because you can clean it easily, it holds more beneficial bacteria, and it doesn’t need frequent replacement like expensive filter cartridges do.

What size canister filter do you need?

The size of the canister filter you need depends on the size of your aquarium. As a general rule of thumb, you want a filter that turns over the water at least four times per hour. However, if you have especially dirty or very large aquarium fish, you might want to scale that up to six or seven GPH.

Do canister filters make noise?

Canister filters are typically much quieter than other styles of filter systems. There are a few reasons for that.

Canister filters don’t tend to vibrate and rattle as other filters and separate pumps can. Also, the design of the filter and the use of tubes to circulate the water prevents noisy splashing. However, a canister filter still agitates the water surface to oxygenate the tank without creating a loud waterfall effect.

Most of the new models of canister filters and those produced by well-known, reputable brands are designed with special sound-dampening technology that keeps noise levels to a minimum. In our experience, if you want something quiet, a powerful canister filter is the best filtration option you can buy.

Are internal filters better than external?

Depending on your setup, external filters might be a better option than internal filters. 

Generally, internal filters are much cheaper than external units. However, external filters win hands-down when it comes to cleaning your aquarium water. That said, if you have a small or medium-sized tank, an internal filter is the better option.

External filters are typically more expensive to run, depending on the kind of filter media you use. That’s simply because the larger the filter unit, the more filter media you’ll need. So, whenever you need to change the filter media, you’ll need to buy a lot of it, which works out more expensive than if you had a smaller unit. However, external filters usually run for longer without the media getting clogged. 

If you have tiny fish and shrimp, a powerful external canister filter might be too powerful, sucking up your poor, fragile fish. An internal, air-powered sponge filter generates a very gentle flow. While that’s perfect in a shrimp or breeding tank, it won’t generate enough power to efficiently filter a large setup. Also, you need to buy a separate air pump and non-return valve for an internal sponge filter to work properly, which pushes up the cost of the setup.

Final Thoughts

If you have a large fish tank or you keep fish species that tend to be messy, an aquarium canister filter is probably your best filtration option.

Canister filters are generally extremely quiet while running, don’t take up space inside your aquarium, and they can be hidden away in your cabinet, so your view isn’t ruined. Of course, like any filtration system, a canister filter requires regular maintenance to keep it running efficiently. However, most canister units allow you to customize the type of filter media that you use to perfectly suit your setup.

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