✅🐠🐟 ТOP10 The Best Aquarium Canister Filter 2020 | Comparison | Rated | Reviews
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The Best Aquarium Canister Filter 2020

Professional veterinary specialist with 10 years of experience. - Alisa Mendoza

publication time: 16:06

What is a canister filter for aquarium?

This is a device that forces aquarium water through the siphon tube, filter media, and back to the tank via a pipe, which makes it perfect for removing small particles, old fish food, waste products, feces, and dirt. With a correctly chosen canister filter aquarium requires cleaning less often, and water stays transparent and fresh for longer. Since different filter media can be installed in a filter, it’s highly adaptable to different conditions and can be customized according to the capacity of the aquarium, kinds of fish, and so on.

What makes this type of filters pretty popular is the fact that they can be used for large aquariums (40 gallons and larger), and perform chemical, biological and mechanical cleaning. This kind of filters is good for saltwater, aquariums with live plants and cichlid. The only drawback of canister filters is that there’s no air contacting water during cleaning, so biological filtration and oxidation isn’t good enough for them.

Comparison Table: Best Canister Filters

Best Choice
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter  review
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter 
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 100 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 265 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 11.5 x 17 x 10
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Also great
Fluval Aquarium Canister Filter review
Fluval Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 100 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 383 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 14.5 x 7.6 x 17.8
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Also great
Marineland Canister Filter review
Marineland Canister Filter
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 100 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 360 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 14 x 11 x 18
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical+

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Also great
EHEIM aquarium canister filter review
EHEIM aquarium canister filter
  • Capacity of aquariums: 66 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 250 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 6.3 x 8 x 13.98
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Best Choice
Hydor aquarium canister filter review
Hydor aquarium canister filter
  • Capacity of aquariums: 60-100 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 280 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 8 x 10 x 19
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological+

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Also great
SunSun HW-302 review
SunSun HW-302
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 75 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 264 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 13 x 10 x 15
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Also great
FX6 Filter (400 Gal) review
FX6 Filter (400 Gal)
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 600 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 563 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 15 x 15 x 20
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Also great
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 45 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 250 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 9 x 13.5 x 12.8
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical

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Also great
370 and 525 GPH with UV review
370 and 525 GPH with UV
  • Capacity of aquariums: Up to 175 gallons
  • Speed of processing (gallons per hour): 525 gph
  • Dimensions, inches: 18 x 12 x 11
  • Types of filtration performed: Mechanical,biological, chemical + UV

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The Three Stages Of Aquarium Filtration

Mechanical Filtration

With the help of coarse sponges, floss, and ceramic noodles, large impurities are removed, and the water is polished.

Chemical Filter Media

As a rule, the carbon material is used for chemical filtration. Such impurities as tannins, odors, and medicines are absorbed in the material. Some chemical filters absorb copper, nitrates, and phosphate, while a water softening pillow serves to optimize General Hardness of water.

Biological Filtration

Biological filtration is a must for preventing bacteria colonies growth within the filter. Most filter models use bio-wheels, bio-balls, and ceramic noodles.

Benefits of Using a Canister Filter

High Flow Rates

To make sure that aquarium inhabitants stay healthy, you need to keep water clean all the time. Changing water manually every 1-2 days is too inconvenient and time-consuming. Automatic canister filters clean water efficiently and quickly – it should be changed only once a week.

Flexible Media Selection

Most types of canister filters allow users to select different types of media and arrange it in the order they want. Some enthusiasts are okay with 2-step filtration, while others organize 5-step filtration – it depends on the capacity of the filter.

Easy Setup Processes

Canister filters are quite easy to assemble and install, and most models require priming only once to start working. Detailed instructions make the setup process simple even for newbies.

Easy to Clean

Since aquarium canister filters are easy to re-assemble, they can be cleaned quickly. No special cleaning agents are required, and the media can be replaced.

Quiet Operation

Some canister filters work without making any noise so they disturb neither your family nor the fish.

Strong Mechanical Filtration

Changing water is not as efficient as a professional canister filter – thanks to high-quality media and electric motor, it makes water crystal clear removing even minor impurities.


Aspects To Consider When You Make A Purchase

Tank Size vs. GPH

The aquarium volume and filter capacity (usually measured in gallons per hour) should be considered primarily. Select a suitable canister filter that is able to clean the entire aquarium at least 2-3 times during an hour. If you choose too small and non-efficient filter, the aquarium water will get dirty soon. On the contrary, large canister filters won’t fit small tanks properly.

The Motor

Since the motor will work around the clock, you need it to be robust, long-lasting, and yet not energy-consuming. The most optimal choice is a motor with UL approval rating. You can either buy an epoxy-sealed motor that is protected against moisture or a magnet-driven motor that has a self-priming feature (it’s not sealed, so its performance can be impacted).

The Valves

Canister filters are equipped with 2 valves: one controls the intake and another – the output. The valves should be closed totally to prevent leaking. Ideally, you should be able to disconnect the valve hoses to set up an adapter or a gravel vacuum.

Filtration Process & Media Trays

Select the filter that features a media tray for every filtering media. Using all three filtering stages, you’ll reach the best results.


Check out the canister dimensions to make sure it will fit in the tank.

Interesting facts

An aquarium without filtering

  1. Carbon media is effective in removing toxins along with small impurities and dirt particles.
  2. The golden rule of choosing an aquarium (and the filter accordingly) is “One fish per gallon for the tank”.
  3. The replaceable filter should be replaced once a month depending on the volume of the aquarium, a number of fish and media used.
  4. It takes about six weeks to set up an optimal environment in a new fish tank. As soon as it’s done, maintaining it gets easy.
  5. If you don’t maintain a normal level of nitrates, they can cause problems with algae that cannot be eliminated by filtering and cleaning.

How We Selected And Tested Aquarium Canister Filters

To figure out what the best canister aquarium filter is, we surfed the Net and compared ratings of various models. We read numerous reviews to underline the benefits and disadvantages of various models and reveal their peculiarities. Several worthy models we chose were tested: we measured the level of toxins (ammonia, nitrates) before and after forcing water through the filters, and evaluated its visual clarity.

The Best Aquarium Canister Filters – Our Choice

We reviewed multi-stage filtering aquariums in the price range $60-80 for middle-size models and $150+ for large models. Here you can see the basic characteristics of every model and find out about their advantages and drawbacks. Each aquarium canister filter review on the list comes with recommendations for use.

Penn Plax Cascade aquarium filter

Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter


Penn Plax Cascade canister aquarium filter is designed for aquariums with a capacity of up to 100 gallons. It performs all three kinds of filtration (chemical, biological, mechanical) and is allowed to be used in marine and freshwater tanks. Media consists of several layers: the floss pad cleans fine particles, and the activated carbon absorbs toxins and dirt from water. The coarse sponge layer ensures sufficient biological filtration by boosting the growth of bacteria and removing waste, fish food and ammonia from water, as well as nitrates. The tubing connectors can be used to adjust the device’s flow speed. Besides, this canister filter for 100 gallon aquarium features 4 locking clamps and a motorhead with in-built O-ring ensure a tight fit.

Our opinion

A versatile and non-expensive solution, but it is prone to failures.


  • provides all three types of filtration;
  • easy to install;
  • suitable for large fish tanks;
  • allows for using any combination of media.


  • it’s pretty loud;
  • breaks pretty quickly and often should be replaced under warranty.

Fluval Aquarium Canister Filter


If you’re searching for a very efficient solution, pay attention to the best aquarium canister filter from Fluval: it features a high flow rate (more than 350 gallons per hour) and has a special design that allows keeping up to 50% more water than models of the same size. The contact with the filtration media is maximized. Several filtration baskets are already equipped with all the necessary media. Thanks to 1-motion lock clamps, installation is a one-minute affair. The kit also includes an intake strainer, 2-layer foam screen, lift-lock clamps, and the instant prime system.

Our opinion

A great filter for its money, suitable for any type of water, but prepare to maintain it properly.


  • works with fresh and saltwater aquariums;
  • has three filtering stages;
  • a very high flow rate.


  • leaks at the corners of lift-locks;
  • the O-ring has to be replaced often.
Marineland Canister Filter

Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter for Aquariums


Marineland aquarium canister filter performs all stages of cleaning taking filtration to the next level. The model has a black diamond carbon filter that removes odors and water impurities, biological filter balls that ensure biological filtration, and the polishing filter that gets rid of the finest dirt particles. The self-priming function is present, as well.

Our opinion

This filter works with both marine and freshwater aquariums up to 100 gallons. If you’re ready to pay twice as much as for a usual filter, this model would be agreeable.


  • performs all three types of filtering;
  • a democratic price.


  • the outlet tube is pretty weak;
  • doesn’t have UV light for killing bacteria;
  • metal hose clamps for fixation aren’t included;
  • starts leaking quickly.
Pingkay aquarium canister filter

Pingkay 200 Gallon Filter Aquarium Tank Fish Canister


Those who own big fish tanks should opt for LKF’s canister filter 200 gallon aquarium that comes with literally everything required for installation: input and output tubes, curvy bars, UV light bulbs, bio-balls, input covers, spray bars, and a lot of other stuff. The device performs 5 stages of filtration and may be used for aquariums with fish and turtles. UV light eliminates viruses and parasites, while the prefilter on the top removes coarse dirt to prolong the lifetime of all other filters. Water flow can be adjusted with an adapter lever.

Our opinion

A perfect choice for large aquariums, non-expensive, and the kit includes all you need for installation. However, it’s quite loud, and you still need to replace water quite often.


  • suitable for large fish tanks;
  • features UV light for killing bacteria;
  • pretty cheap;
  • the kit features all you need for installation.


  • pretty loud;
  • requires changing the water once a week;
  • claimed water flow of 525 gph seems to be degrading over time.
EHEIM aquarium canister filter

EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter with Media


This small canister filter aquarium is designed for low-capacity fish tanks with both salt and fresh water. There are two filtering systems: mechanical and biological, as well as automatic oxygen enrichment. The model is compact and features tools and details for installation. Additional accessories include a hose, inlet pipe, spray bar, etc. The silicone sealing ring on the pump prevents leaking and ensures a tight grip after cleaning. Filter media and sponges are included in the kit. According to multiple reviews, EHEIM aquarium canister filter is silent and easy to care about.

Our opinion

This is a non-expensive model that features everything for great filtration except chemical filtering system. Be ready to buy and replace some spare parts.


  • compact and lightweight;
  • non-expensive;
  • silent;
  • the kit includes tools and spare parts for installation.


  • priming is challenging, though it’s required only once;
  • clamps break very quickly.
Hydor aquarium canister filter

Hydor Professional External Canister Filter


If you require the best canister aquarium filter system with all three types of filtration, pay attention to Hydor Professional Canister filter. The designers managed to create a perfect ecosystem for water filtering in this relatively small, but efficient device that can be equally useful for fish and turtle tanks with marine and fresh water.

Our opinion

A premium filter with a high efficiency for large aquariums, but it’s quite costly, just like the spare parts for it.


  • performs all stages of cleaning;
  • has a tight sealing, doesn’t leak.


  • spare parts for replacement are quite expensive;
  • relatively expensive;
  • doesn’t have UV filtering.
SunSun HW-302

SunSun HW-302 3-Stage External Canister Aquarium Filter 264GPH


SunSun aquarium canister filter applies a high water pressure to clean water properly and get rid of the finest dirt particles. The pump forces water via an under-gravel filter for double filtration, and 3 media layers are complemented with an adjustable spray bar for adjusting the flow rate. The self-priming pump eliminates the necessity to fill the filter manually, and a single valve disconnection makes cleaning and installation very simple. It’s the best model for silent filtration of both salt and fresh water.

Our opinion

Silent, compact and non-expensive – most customers love it. Highly recommended for medium-volume aquariums.


  • a compact mini canister filter aquarium;
  • features all stages of filtering;
  • has a self-priming function.


  • 1-year warranty (many other manufacturers give a 3-year warranty);
  • starts leaking too soon.
Fluval Canister Filter FX6

Fluval Canister Filter, FX6 Filter (400 Gal)


If you need an extra large aquarium canister filter, opt for the solution from Fluval. This model is suitable for both freshwater and marine tanks, and the Smart Pump technology ensures optimal performance. The filter should be maintained on a monthly basis.

Our opinion

Being the best rated canister aquarium filter, Fluval FX6 filter does what is said on the label: it has all necessary functions. However, it is quite costly, and buying two 300 GPH filters can be more economically beneficial.


  • Features all stages of filtering;
  • Has a multi-direction nozzle;
  • Notifies user about monthly maintenance.


  • Very expensive;
  • Takes up pretty much space.
API FILSTAR XP Aquarium Canister Filter

API FILSTAR XP Aquarium Canister Filter


If you have a small tank, API Filstar of S size will fit it perfectly. It provides efficient filtration of fresh and salt aquarium water and maintaining is a no-brainer. The centralized control panel allows for managing all filtration functions. It’s disconnected quickly, prevents leaking, has a self-priming function, and is cleaned easily. You can put several types of media inside in any order.

Our opinion

Although this filter can be great for small tanks thanks to its compact size, it’s not worth the cost which is higher than the average. If you can afford to buy a larger filter, consider this option. Users complain that this model isn’t long-lasting.


  • Compact and small;
  • Has 3 stages of filtration;
  • Easy to assemble and clean.


  • According to user reviews, it breaks up quickly and sometimes the delivered product is already damaged.
Aquatop CF500UV 5-Stage Canister Filter

Aquatop CF Series Canister Filter (370 and 525 GPH with UV)


The model from Aquatop is a real find for caring fish keepers: it has a 4-stage filtration system plus UV light to kill bacteria. Although it’s said to be suitable for tanks up to 175 gallons, it has a very high efficiency rate of 525 gph. To top it off, the model is very quiet and compact – it will fit in small tanks ideally. According to aquarium canister filter reviews, this variant is reliable and long-lasting.

Our opinion

We love everything about this model except for its price. Aquatop CF cost is twice as high as the average.


  • UV sterilizer for extra clarity;
  • Very high efficiency;
  • Allows for 4-stage filtering.


  • Allows for 4-stage filtering.

How to Use Aquarium Canister Filters?

Before starting to use the device, you should figure out how to set up a canister filter for aquarium. As a rule, models come with all necessary spare parts for installation. Make sure that they’re all assembled before placing the filter on its position. Then connect the inflow and outflow pipes to the tank following the instructions. Place it on the spot where no one disturbs the filter.

How to Prime a Filter?

Although some aquarium filters have the self-priming feature, and others come with detailed directions and instructions, you can try one useful trick. When you have assembled the filter, submerge it in the aquarium and plug it in. Tilt the canister on its side to have the impeller submerges and start it up. Hold it like that for one minute and then tilt upwards to get rid of air. Now it should be primed.

How Often to Replace Filter Media?

It depends on a number of factors, including the size of the aquarium, amount of fish, water, and the type of media used. To find out whether the filter should be replaced, check the water with a test kit that evaluates the level of ammonia and nitrates in the water. Make sure that these levels are normal: they should be close or equal to zero. If not, it’s time to change the filters. Don’t forget that the filter itself should be cleaned, as well. Ideally, you should do that at least once in 3 months.

In What Order the Filter Media Should be Placed?

First, make sure that you get the right type of media for the filter. As a rule, layering from back to front looks the following way:

  • ceramic rings;
  • coarse sponge;
  • bio media;
  • wool pad.

Where should the Purigen (chemical filtration layer that removes ammonia, nitrates, and so on) be placed? It’s better to put it where the water exists, so it can be placed before it goes to ceramic rings.

The filter leaks. Why?

It may mean that either the spare parts are damaged, or all joining parts aren’t properly sealed. Re-assemble the filter following all instructions strictly, and check all details for wholeness. All broken and damaged parts should be replaced. Make sure that the system is sealed normally; otherwise, air will get inside and form air bubbles.

Most Frequently Asked Questions About Canister Filters

Q: How Do Aquarium Canister Filters Work?

A:Aquarium canister filters use magnetic motors that activate water flow. The water is pumped through the filter to remove particles and impurities. After that, it goes back to the aquarium, pure and clean.

Q: How Much Energy Does a Canister Filter Need While Running?

If you use a canister filter in a freshwater aquarium with water of room temperature, a canister filter for a small tank (up to 10 gallons) will consume about 150 kWh a year. Medium tank filters (for tanks up to 30 gallons) needs about 150-200kWh a year. Filters for large aquariums need about 400 kWh per year.

Q: How to Get Air Out Of a Canister Filter?

A: Raise the spray bar to release the trapped air – it can be done during any maintenance session. Other canister filters have a valve on the canister top – it should be opened to let the air out.

Q: Can I Use a Canister Filter For a Saltwater Tank?

A: Yes, you can install a canister filter with several filtering stages. However, there’s always the risk that it will spoil faster due to ‘nitrate factory’ effect. Therefore, you’ll need to clean it more often, and use activated carbon for eliminating odor and chemicals.

Q: How to Layer Media in a Canister Filter?

A:For the best efficiency, the media should be laid in the following order:

- Mechanical media (sponge, filter floss);

- Chemical media (Purigen, carbon);

- Biological media (Matrix, bio-balls, etc).

Some users lay Purigen before the water goes in the tank to improve its polishing property. Activated carbon is also recommended to remove odors and nitrogen.

Our Recommendations

To make sure that your fish and turtles are happy and healthy, you should create the ideal ecosystem in their tank, and the quality of water should be the primary concern. Keeping it free from dirt and rich in oxygen is vital for the inhabitants of aquariums, so you can’t ignore such an important thing as filtering. Canister filters are versatile and efficient because they’re designed for cleaning marine and freshwater and removing the vast majority of dirt and toxins.

You can find a canister filter for an average price of $70. Out of all the reviewed models, Marineland Magniflow has the most optimal price/quality ratio: it’s non-expensive and features an extra polishing media layer. Aquatop CF Series Canister Filter for tanks up to 175 gallons has exceptional features but is twice as expensive as its analogs. Have a huge aquarium? Instead of Fluval Canister Filter FX6, which is too costly (over $300), we recommend using two Pingkay 200 Gallon Filters – it will be cheaper (though much space is required).

Each best aquarium canister filter review on our list will give you the idea of what this or that model is capable of, and whether it would be suitable for your aquarium. You just need to get a canister filter of appropriate flow rate and buy all necessary media – all the rest will be done by the device.


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