Best Aquarium Canister Filters (Reviewed 2021)

Updated on April 10, 2021 by

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Why use a canister filter for your aquarium?

A successful aquarium comes with plenty of accessories and complex systems in place. It includes a heater to warm up the water, lighting equipment to facilitate plant or coral growth, but an important accessory is undoubtedly the filtration system.

The best aquarium filters come in different shapes, capacities, and more importantly – how efficient is their operation. For instance, plenty of aquariums nowadays come with internal filtration systems already included in the kit.

But for some, if not most of us aquarium enthusiasts, that’s not enough, so we start looking out for additional aquarium filtration systems. The best aquarium filters in that sense are internal filters, HOB filters (hang on the back), or canister filters.

What is the best aquarium canister filter?

Should you be in a hurry, we narrowed down the list to the top 3 winners of our recommended best canister filters for aquarium:

High GPH Canister Filter
Fluval FX6 Performance Canister Filter
Fluval FX6 Performance Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 400 Gallons
Flow Rate: 563 GPH

Included Filter Media
Hydor Professional Aquarium Canister Filter
Hydor Professional Aquarium Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 150 Gallons
Flow Rate: 290 GPH

Best Price Deal Filter
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 175 Gallons
Flow Rate: 400 GPH

Overall, we find the Fluval FX6 Aquarium Canister Filter to be the best canister filter for both marine and freshwater environments. It has an amazing flow rate and filtration media capacity. All this while operating quietly and efficiently.

You can take a quick look here at how to best set-up a Fluval Aquarium Canister Filter, or which model is the most suitable for your tank:

Best Aquarium Canister Filters Compared

ImageProductFeaturesCheck Price
Sturdy Canister Filter
Cascade Canister Filter
Cascade Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 200 Gallons
Flow Rate: 350 GPH

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Easiest to Clean
MarineLand Magniflow Canister Filter
MarineLand Magniflow Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 100 Gallons
Flow Rate: 360 GPH

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Top Quality Filter
EHEIM Classic Canister Filter
EHEIM Classic Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 95 Gallons
Flow Rate: 164 GPH

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Best Budget Pick
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 175 Gallons
Flow Rate: 400 GPH

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Best Media Included
Hydor Professional Canister Filter
Hydor Professional Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 150 Gallons
Flow Rate: 290 GPH

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High GPH Filter
Fluval FX6 Aquarium Filter
Fluval FX6 Aquarium Filter

For Tanks: Up to 400 Gallons
Flow Rate: 563 GPH

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UV Sterilizer Filter
SunSun 5-Stage Canister Filter
SunSun 5-Stage Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 100 Gallons
Flow Rate: 525 GPH

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Energy Efficient Filter
Fluval 407 Canister Filter
Fluval 407 Canister Filter

For Tanks: Up to 500 Gallons
Flow Rate: 383 GPH

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Aquarium canister filters and their advantages

Filtration media flexibility

One of the main advantages of canister filters, in general, is that usually, they go under a tank (nicely hidden in the stand) and not on the back of the tank. And because of that, you can move a tank closer to the wall because you don’t have this large bulky filter in between the wall and the tank and so you can move it closer to the wall.

Furthermore, while using a canister filter the entire filtration system is much less visible, the possibilities of choosing all sorts of filtration media are basically plentiful. Depending on the aquarium setup, you might opt for more ceramics media, or for more sponges for extended biological filtration.

With canister filters, often there’s going to be more surface area in a canister filter for beneficial microbes compared to a hang on the back one. In addition, it will be much easier with a canister filter to use different types of filtration media so again we’ve got some bio ball material we can use, filter floss, etc.

Higher flow rates and UV sterilizers

Another significant advantage with a canister filter is usually the intake and the outtake are a little bit further apart and so you can actually set them up in opposite directions, winning a more effective and higher water flow, while a HOB filter just dumps the water through the back of the tank not covering a very wide area.

For some larger canister filters, it might be possible to hook up an inline UV light.

If you’re only seeking an aquarium sterilization unit, take a look at our carefully selected top of the best aquarium UV sterilizers.

Now that’s an incredible advantage, something that would be a lot harder to do with a HOB filter although not impossible.

Easy to setup and clean

Newer aquarium canister filters come with all the plumbing included and straightforward installation guides. Most of them basically pack inlet and outlet tubes, filtration media, the filter itself and they are also self priming.

Some think that’s very difficult to maintain aquarium canister filters, although newer models have made great improvements in this sense. An aquarium canister filter should be switched off, unplugged, hoses and media trays removed and cleaned, while making sure there are no leaks during the process.

Once the cleaning is complete, everything needs to be put back in place and the aquarium canister filter switched on again.

Canister filters vs. hang-on-back (HOB) filters?

When it comes to HOB filters, to name some of their main advantages we can definitely mention that they are cost-friendly, don’t make a lot of noise and they’re pretty easy to clean & maintain and so those are some great features about HOB filters.

The other thing worth mentioning about them is they tend to be pretty reliable so we haven’t had too many issues with any of our HOB filters. You basically plug them in, and they just start doing their job. Another significant advantage of a HOB filter when we compare it to a canister one is there’s almost no risk of flooding your floor due to the absence of tubes, seals and other mechanisms.

However, let’s now take a look at canister filters.

The top and the bottom of the canister filters do have to perfectly seal tightly together and if they don’t, water can leak which can be an unpleasant situation depending on where the tank is placed.

If a hose gets damaged on a canister filter or a seal breaks you could have water on the floor. Now again, the chances of that happening are pretty slim, but that could happen for various reasons, while with a HOB that’s practically impossible to occur.

Regarding maintenance, with a canister filter you’ve got to undo all the hoses, you have to unseal it, you have to completely disassemble it, you have to pull the media out, clean it and then place it back in and switch it on.

Now, some canister filters make that job a lot easier, but it’s just not as easy as the cleaning of a HOB filter.

Are canister filters better than HOB filters?

Generally speaking yes, we find the aquarium canister filters better than HOB filters. They perform much better, with higher water flow rates, better mechanical and biological filtration, and more durable. One downside is that aquarium canister filters can be a bit fussy about maintenance.

How to choose the best aquarium canister filter?

There are several factors involved when making this decision. First is the tank size itself – general rule, the larger the tank, the bigger the filtration system.

The chosen filtration capacity also depends on the total aquarium bio-load, basically meaning, the higher the fish stocking from your tank – the better and higher flow rate filtration will be needed.

1. Penn Plax Cascade – Sturdy Canister Filter

Up to 200 Gallons
Cascade Canister Filter - Sturdy Canister Filter with high GPH flow rate

The Cascade Canister Filters from Penn Plax provide heavy-duty multi-stage external filtration for your fresh or saltwater aquarium.

The largest model: Cascade 1500 Canister Filter can handle aquariums up to 200 gallons efficiently providing up to 350 GPH water flow.

The Penn Plax Cascade canister filters offer combined benefits, due to using several types of media that ultimately deliver powerful mechanical, chemical & biological filtration for crystal clear water in either fresh or marine environments.

Easy to install, includes all the necessary accessories:

After unboxing the Penn Plax Cascade Canister filter, within 30 minutes you will have everything in place and the filter ready to be switched on. The results will be noticeable just the next day and the water will be greatly improved and clear.

During installation, you will be happy to see that each pump comes with large filter trays, startup filter media & input/output tubing.

The large filter trays are advantageous so that you can use more media and have longer periods between any replacement is necessary. An air-tight seal assures proper flow rate and at the same time, the operation is quite silent.

The returns are directional, meaning the waste matter will be suspended and taken in by the filter, leaving nothing but crystal clear water to be returned to the tank.

Depending on the bioload quantities generated in your tank, feel free to use any combination of media including bio-floss, bio-sponges, activated carbon, and others to accomplish the right canister filtration needed.

  • A wide array of models available depending on your tank needs
  • Lots of filter media types easily available
  • Very silent despite large GPH water flow
  • Very fast results and improvements in the water
  • Complaints have been reported about low quality plastic handles and outflow tubes
  • Not the easiest maintenance

2. Marineland Magniflow – Easiest to Maintain Canister Filter

Up to 100 Gallons
MarineLand Magniflow Canister Filter - Easiest to Maintain Canister Filter

Marineland is a very well known aquarium accessories manufacturer that earned its top-notch reputation over the years.

The Marineland Magniflow Canister Filters are among the easiest to maintain from what we’ve seen, and their quality is also highly ranked.

The filtration operation is done in three stages, mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.

Very easy to maintain:

The Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter operates a multi stage filtration in your freshwater or marine aquarium faster and easier than ever before. This powerfully designed filter comes with a top sealing gasket to provide a strong seal with a lid that can be easily removed for immediate access to the media baskets.

There’s a quick prime button that fills the filter chamber with water for self priming startup, while a quick release valve block shuts down the water flow immediately and separates from the motor housing for quick, spill free filter maintenance.

The canister filters are available in four sizes: 160 GPH (for aquariums up to 30 gallons); 220 GPH (for aquariums up to 55 gallons); and 360 GPH (for aquariums up to 100 gallons).

  • Fairly easy to install and very easy to maintain compared to other canister filters
  • Awesome customer support
  • Very silent that you can even forget that it’s there operating
  • Good price
  • Sometimes could be that an extra hose clamp from the hardware store is needed for a perfectly tight sealing

3. EHEIM Classic – Top Quality Canister Filter

Up to 95 Gallons
EHEIM Classic Canister Filter - Top Quality Canister Filter

Although the Eheim Classic 350 Canister Filter does not come in different models compared to other products in this blog post, it is still a great and powerful filter capable of dealing with tanks of up to 95 gallons.

Its water flow rate is 164 GPH, and it has a simple and very effective design with the intake valve placed at the top and the outtake one at the bottom.

The package is delivered with all media, hoses and accessories required for startup.

A simple and very effective canister filter:

Although you might look at its water flow rate which doesn’t seem spectacular, do not be tricked by the number. The Eheim Classic External Canister Filters are using a chamber canister design, that allows the greatest flexibility in media set up for biological, mechanical, chemical, and absorptive filtration.

A lower water flow rate simply enables a way more effective multi-stage filtration. The flow rate has been carefully calculated to provide the exact balance needed between mechanical/biological long-term filtration and water circulation and oxygen enrichment, resulting in optimum conditions for a successful freshwater aquarium or reef tank.

  • The price is simply irresistible
  • Its easy maintenance and convenient price have no rival
  • Top-quality and super quiet aquarium canister filter
  • Replacement media pads are cheap and easy to get
  • They can get clogged up with grime and algae but can be easily cleaned with a long brush

4. Aqueon QuietFlow – Best Budget Canister Filter

Up to 175 Gallons
Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter - Best Budget Canister Filter

The Aqueon QuietFlow canister filters are ideal candidates for any marine or freshwater tanks of up to 175 gallons.

The most powerful model comes with a 4+1 stage filtration system, that has an output of 400 GPH of crystal clear water. And that’s not all, it’s also super quiet.

Although there’s no UV sterilizer equipped, the canister filter is really quiet compensating for that.

Comes with all the plumbing parts included:

The package includes all the necessary plumbing parts for installation and four large filtration media compartments allowing you to add the filtration media according to your needs.

The Aqueon QuietFlow 400, which is the largest capacity model, includes four fine filter pads (white) and a single coarse filter sponge (blue) for enhanced mechanical filtration.

Additionally, to fully equip your canister filter with media, the following are available: premium activated carbon, ceramic rings, or bio-balls, although these need to be purchased separately as are not included.

  • Long-lasting canister filters, proving to work even after 5 years
  • Large magazine capacity for filtration media
  • Great customer support
  • Plumbing parts included in the package
  • Leaks have been reported
  • Not very easy to maintain

5. Hydor Professional – High-end Canister Filter

Up to 150 Gallons
Hydor Professional Canister Filter - High-end Canister Filter

Fishkeeping has been easier with the Hydor Professional External Canister Filter. The largest models are quite big and do a great job as the best canister filter for African Cichlids for instance.

These species can be a little bit messy, so if you house a lot of them in your aquarium, then the Hydor Canister Filters might be your best choice.

They are available in 5 models, specially designed to satisfy the needs of any aquarium size.

The biggest model, Hydor 600 External Canister Filter, has an output water flow of 290 GPH and is suitable for tanks of up to 150 gallons.

Included filtration media and easy to get replacements:

The smallest Hydor Canister Filter model comes with 2 filtration media trays, while the largest one has 5 such trays available to be customised according to your tank needs.

Each purchased model comes with the following media included in the package: Fine White Filter Pad, Coarse Black Filter Sponge, Sintered Quartz BIO-Rings, Spray Bar Attachment.

Maintenance doesn’t come with any headaches, and replacements are easy to get from Hydor, and the packs have 2 media included.

  • Full package including the necessary media
  • Easy to get media replacements
  • 5 models available suitable for a wide range of aquarium sizes and needs
  • No vibrations and noise
  • Maintenance can be a little bit fussy and should be done very carefully, otherwise, some parts could break

6. Fluval FX6 – Best Tech Canister Filter

Up to 400 Gallons
Fluval FX6 High Performance - Best Canister Filter for Large Tanks

The Fluval Canister Filter, FX6 Filter comes as a heavy-duty canister filter for aquarium of up to 400 gallons, delivering an impressive filter circulation of 563 GPH.

It is a canister filter ideal for either freshwater or saltwater aquariums and comes equipped with a purge valve having a drain hose for easy maintenance and immediate flushing of the entire canister.

Advanced tech features:

Unlike other canister filters, the Fluval FX6 comes equipped with a Smart Pump Technology, specially designed to provide optimal filter performance. That is achieved by using an electronic circuit board that continually monitors the pump’s operation.

The impeller’s speeds and forces are constantly monitored and measured to ensure the most powerful output, but also energy efficiency and the lowest possible consumption.

It also manages the filter’s self-starting feature and evacuates any air that may potentially enter or build up inside the filtration system. On a 12-hour cycle, for instance, the pump will pause, allowing any trapped air to escape, ensuring the best filtration efficiency at all times.

About the unit’s size, it comes at only 21″ in height, enabling the Fluval FX6 canister filter to perfectly fit under most aquariums, ideally hidden inside the stand.

  • Very high tech canister filter equipped with a smart pump
  • Easy to maintain and high water flow rate
  • The anti-clog, telescopic strainer ensures continuous water flow
  • Rubberized feet help ensure quiet operation
  • Relatively small size of 21″ height for such a high tech canister filter
  • The operation may be not so quiet
  • Installation instructions can be a bit difficult and need to be carefully read

7. Sunsun Pro – Best Canister Filter with UV Sterilizer

525 GPH Flow Rate
SunSun Canister Filter with UV 9W Sterilizer - Best Canister Filter with UV Sterilizer

The SunSun HW304B external 5 stage canister filter that comes equipped with a built-in UV sterilizer.

The canister filter does a splendid job for tanks of up to 150 gallons regardless of whether freshwater or saltwater.

It is capable of handling water flow rate of up to 525 GPH with 4 flexible media trays that allow you to customize your media such as SunSun’s activated carbons, ceramic rings, or bio-balls (included) to achieve excellent mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.

The HW304B has a built-in 9 Watt UV sterilizer that kills algae spores and bacteria, delivering clear crystal water. The HW304B canister filter also has a convenient self-priming pump that eliminates the need for manual siphoning, easing, therefore, the overall maintenance.

Filter media included:

The canister filter’s media significantly improves water clarity, color, and odor as well. The porous ceramic rings provide an ideal growing site for beneficial bacteria, that are vital in any fish tank. Bio-balls enable gas exchange and increase the dissolved oxygen levels.

Filter media will not affect the water characteristics and parameters in any way, and the media is also compatible with other SunSun HW canister filters.

  • Equipped with a UV sterilizer
  • Easy to maintain and also to prime
  • Very good cost-quality ratio
  • It can hold really lots of media to deliver crystal clear water
  • High water flow rate: 525 GPH (2000L/Hr)
  • There have been reports of UV light degrading the trays’ plastic (which can be replaced)

8. Fluval 407 – Best Energy Efficient Canister Filter

Large Media Capacity
Fluval 407 Canister Filter - Best Energy Efficient Canister Filter

The Fluval canister filters have quite a history behind them. Throughout the years, with the newer models, their aquarium canister filters have become more powerful, reliable, easier to maintain, and considerably quieter.

They are very silent, but not dead silent of course. The 07 Fluval canister filter series, operate cohesively to produce a fluent operation that is up to 25% quieter than the previous filters.

The latest series offers 4 distinctive models, the higher the number, the more powerful the filter of course, with a higher water flow rate: Fluval 107, Fluval 207, Fluval 307, and Fluval 407.

New design refinements and improvements:

The canister itself on the 07 series is more robust having reinforced bottom corners, and an improved the aquastop valve opening mechanism (everything else looks the same).

The effort and time involved for maintenance has been greatly diminished with the Fluval 407, so you can spend more time enjoying your aquarium, and less time working on it during maintenance sessions.

The 07 Series makes use of every square inch of available canister volume and positions the media remarkably to maximize media space in a compact footprint.

  • Variety of models for different tank capacities
  • Can handle lots of media, especially ceramic balls
  • Easy to set up and clean
  • A lot quieter compared to previous models
  • Attractive price tag
  • No UV sterilizer

To conclude

The best canister filters currently available on the market come with greatly improved technologies and features, such as high water flow rates, UV sterilizers, high capacity media trays and much more.
All the aquarium canister filter models discussed are designed with top notch high quality components, offering outstanding performance.

Before buying, you can always research furthermore to get more details on the brands mentioned above.  As per our reviews, we find the EHEIM Classic to be the best overall canister filter for reef tanks and freshwater aquariums. It is simply ideal for most intermediate fish keepers. It is durable, high quality, silent, and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, the best fish tank canister filter for larger reef tanks or freshwater aquariums we find the Fluval FX6. It has a low energy consumption, smart and highly efficient pump, capable of impressive water flow rates of 563 GPH.

We hope we managed to help you out while on the look for the best aquarium canister filter.