Whether you’re new to fish keeping and need to discover the best filter for your aquarium…

Or you’re a long time aquarist looking for the current “best of” instead of just going to your go-to Top Fin or Aqueon filter…

You’ll find pretty much all you need to know below for understanding and finding the best aquarium canister filters on the market.

We found the best in several categories to help make sure all your canister filter needs are met and fill you in on ways to identify the top canister filters.

Best Canister Filter Quick-Find Table

Image Product
  • Great drain and refill system that doesn’t require disassembly of system
  • Versatile and works well with all media types
  • Works for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums
  • Great drain and refill system that doesn’t require disassembly of system
  • Versatile and works well with all media types
  • Works for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums
  • Uses UV light instead of media for filtration
  • Comes with everything you need including bulbs, bio-balls, covers, spray bars, and more
  • Budget-friendly and high-quality
  • Uses UV light instead of media for filtration
  • Comes with everything you need including bulbs, bio-balls, covers, spray bars, and more
  • Budget-friendly and high-quality
  • Reasonably priced and energy-efficient for long-term savings
  • Easy to operate
  • Classic design for simple use
  • Reasonably priced and energy-efficient for long-term savings
  • Easy to operate
  • Classic design for simple use
  • Comes in five sizes
  • Super tight sealing and doesn’t leak
  • Failure-free filtering via ceramic axle
  • Comes in five sizes
  • Super tight sealing and doesn’t leak
  • Failure-free filtering via ceramic axle
  • Large capacity, stackable media tray for easy multi-stage filtration
  • Easy push-button primer for getting things going
  • Super easy setup and cleaning
  • Large capacity, stackable media tray for easy multi-stage filtration
  • Easy push-button primer for getting things going
  • Super easy setup and cleaning

What is a Canister Filter?

fish in a clean aquarium best canister filter

Canister filters are large, powerful aquarium filters that do mechanical, biological, and/or chemical filtration. These filters usually sit inside the aquarium stand below the tank and may be up to 15-inches tall.

The lids have intake and outtake valves that control the tubing that feeds to the tank and draws water into the filter for passage through the filtration medium.

Canister filters are sturdy and capable of going for months without maintenance, unlike other filter types.

Canister filters come in a wide variety of sizes. Technically they work as 10-gallon canister filters, but they’re kind of overkill at this small a size tank.

How Do They Work?

Basically, a canister filter works like this:

  1. The water goes to and from the aquarium via tubing that passes that water through the canister.
  2. The water passes through several layers of filtration media inside the canister.
  3. Toxins, pollutants, scum, and other particulates are captured in the filter, which removes it from the water, meaning it’s clean and safe for the water to flow back into the tank.

What’s the Difference Between Canister and HOB Filters?

There are about six types of filters that can be used for an aquarium. Briefly, I’d like to talk about these types, and specifically compare the canister and HOB filters, which are two of the most popular filter types.

Sponge Filters

Sponge filters offer mechanical and biological filtering powered by an external air pump. The air pump draws the water through a sponge designed specially to trap the bacteria.

These are usually used for small tanks and maternity tanks.

Box or Corner Filters

Box filters draw water through a box that then filters the fluid through either batting or floss media that uses activated carbon to remove particles and extract toxins.

Under Gravel Filters

Under gravel filters are a plastic grate that sits under the gravel of the tank.

Air pumps or power heads move the water through the filter and actually uses the gravel as a part of the filtration process by catching the larger particles while everything else is sent away through tubes.

These are generally the cheapest filters.

Trickle Filters

Trickle filters, or wet/dry filters, use exposed filter media that interacts both with the aquarium water and a large amount of air directly.

Water trickles through the biological filter media.

Hang on Back or HOB Filters

Hang on back, HOB, or power filters, are one of the most common forms of filters for lower budget aquarium setups. They hang on the back – as their name suggests – and inside the container, you have several media types that give chemical, biological and/or mechanical filtration, as you deem necessary.

Low-quality HOB filters perform great particulate filtration and reasonable biological filtration, but chemical filtration with these will be poor. Really excellent HOB filters can handle the chemical filtration better, but these filters can sometimes be inefficient and may have a high evaporation rate.

Canister Filters

Finally, we have canister filters, our focus.

These are generally used for larger aquariums and are considered by many as the most effective filters both in power and efficiency.

Canister filters may be more difficult to set up, however, than HOB and under gravel filters, and tend to be expensive, but once you’re invested and set up, you’ll have little to worry about.

Benefits of Canister Filters

There are a number of benefits to canister filters for aquariums. For starters, they’re extremely quiet, despite having so much power.

Canister Filters are Very Quiet

Even though canister filters are loaded with power, they’re very quiet running.

So, if you’ve already got a noisy set up with the various other equipment running, a canister filter won’t add much – if any – noise to the aquarium setting.

Canister Filters Use Little Electricity

Canister filters are powerful, but they use a surprisingly small amount of electricity. This saves you money over time.

Customizable Media is the Canister Filter’s Game

Canister filters are very flexible in the way you can use media in them.

The multiple media trays or compartments allow you to easily adjust the media you use to meet your needs, whether you need biological, chemical, or mechanical filtration – or a combination of all three – in a single filter.

Aquarium Canister Filters Have High Capacity

Canister filters are designed for larger capacity tanks.

This means you don’t need multiple filters to power through all the water in a 400-gallon tank, for example.

Aquarium Canister Filters Increase Flow Rates

If you choose the right model of canister filter, your flow rates will be increased.

This is especially important for fish like African Cichlid tanks.

Canister Filters Can Help Eliminate Surface Scum

You can find a model with a spray bar or outlet tubing that runs on the water’s surface.

These eliminate surface scum and increase aeration for your tank and may actually remove your need for an air pump.

Canister Filters are Long-Lasting

Canister filters are low-maintenance, high-quality filters that last a lot longer than many of the other filter types.

Admittedly, this means they tend to cost more up-front, but the savings over time is well worth it.

betta fish in a clean aquarium best canister filter

Drawbacks of Canister Filters

Of course, all good things have some drawbacks.

And while canister filters have more upsides than downsides, we think it’s still important you know the less-great side of things before you make a purchase.

Canister Filters Tend to Have a Higher Price Tag

If you do a quick Amazon search for “cheap canister filter,” you’ll find the price tag is about 2-3 times higher than the “cheap aquarium filter” search results.

In the long run, there are bigger savings with a canister filter than the other options, but your up-front cost is still heftier.

Canister Filters are Bigger than HOB Filters

Canister filters are designed to work with larger amounts of water, so they are larger than the average HOB filter.

For anyone with a premium on space, this may be a challenge that needs to be considered.

Aquarium Canister Filters Have External Hoses on the Back

The body of a canister filter may be hidden beneath a cupboard, but the tubing that keeps the water flowing in and out can be a bit of an eyesore on the back of the tank.

There are, of course, ways of positioning the tubing to reduce this look, but not everyone will be able to do so easily.

How To Choose The Best Canister Filters

There are a few things to keep in mind as you go through the reviews, deciding which filter would be the best choice for your aquarium.

The Size of Your Aquarium

As you look through the various options, make sure that you take note of the aquarium size that the filter is designed for.

If your aquarium is fairly small, most will be suitable, but larger aquariums will require more specific models.

The Quality of the Manufacture and Materials

While the focus for any purchase is usually high-quality material and manufacture, there are a few things you can look at to help determine if the item you’re looking at meets those standards.

  • Reputation of the manufacturer – Is it a well-known, well-trusted brand?
  • Consumer reviews – Do real-life consumers praise the product as much as markets and professional reviewers?
  • Visual expectations – Sometimes, you can look at something and just know it’s cheaply made.
  • Warranty and money-back guarantees – Generally, quality products come with a decent warranty, because the company believes in their work.

Your Budget for the Aquarium

The best of the best of the best is going to cost more than basic, “decent” models.

Everything on our list is high-quality, but some items are more budget-friendly than others.

Before making decisions on a purchase, always be sure to compare the price to the rest of your budget.

Is this item one that can outweigh the higher costs – or even eliminate other items altogether – or should you strictly keep to your absolutely defined budget?

Reviews of the Best Canister Filters

These canister filters are the best on the market, according to our research, experience, and reviews.

Each meets the needs of different aquarium types and sizes, but most are also great options for multiple types of tanks.

Be sure to check each review in case the canister filter meets your needs best.


#1. Fluval Fx6

fluval fx6 canister filter

The Fluval Canister Filter FX6 is a powerful multi-stage filter that gives your aquarium healthy, clean water, whether you’ve got a saltwater or freshwater aquarium.

The filter features smart pump technology for optimal filtering performance efficiency and is a self-starting filter. You just add the water and plug it in.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Aquarium size: Up to 400 gallons
  • Aquarium type: Saltwater or freshwater
  • Filter type: Biological, chemical, or mechanical – or combination of all

What We Loved

The Fluval FX6 is a large canister filter that works for aquariums up to 400 gallons. That’s clearly not the largest capacity of an aquarium out there, but for most people, this size is more than sufficient.

That means that pretty much anyone will be able to employ this filter.

The canister also allows for a large amount of filter media, which is important for anyone looking for a truly deep clean of their aquarium water.

Personally, using all three forms of filtering works well with this one and how I’d go with it.

Another big thing about this one is the maintenance indicator. If you’ve got a terrible memory for doing tasks at intervals like I do, then you’ll also love this maintenance indicator.

We also love that this is versatile and usable in both saltwater and freshwater tanks. Some filters don’t do so well for both.

We also love that there’s an auto-run function and that the system has a pump under mount.

And, finally, I have to mention that the drain hose allows easy draining and refilling without disassembling the whole system. Having worked with some that have required that, I can tell you this is a much easier and more practical system to use and therefore way less time consuming and more convenient.

What We Didn’t Love

And though we love this filter and think it’s the best option overall, there are a couple of downsides you should consider before purchasing.

The first is that it’s a bit more expensive than many of the other models. Of course, that cost is because it’s a higher quality option than many others as well and is more versatile and usable than many.

I’ve seen a few complaints that the bottom pump may get clogged with sand and jam up if it’s not properly monitored and maintained.

And though it can be used for any and all filtration types, it has been specifically designed for mechanical filtration, so the biological filtration may not be as preeminent. Be sure to choose your media carefully to ensure the biological filtration need is met properly.

Our Verdict on the Fluval Canister FX6

Whether you’ve got a marine aquarium or freshwater aquarium, the Fluval Canister FX6 is the best canister filter on the market.

This thing is powerful, versatile, efficient, and highly effective at eliminating scum, residue, toxins, biological crud, and more, and is super easy to use. You don’t have to peel apart the system for cleaning and maintenance, either, which is a huge plus.

If you have an aquarium between 70 and 400 gallons, this is a great, high-powered option. We really don’t think you can do better for a high-capacity canister filter.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on Amazon.com <<


#2. Polar Aurora

Polar Aurora Free Media 4-Stage External Canister Filter with 9-watt Uv Sterilizer

If you’ve got a fish tank up to 200 gallons in size, the Polar Aurora Free Medium External Aquarium Filter is one of the best budget-friendly options around.

The filter uses a less-common but highly effective option for filtering your freshwater tank: UV light.

One of the really nice things about this canister filter is that it comes with literally everything you need for installation.

That includes bio-balls, input and output tubes, curvy bars, spray bars, UV light bulbs – you name it. And since it uses UV light to kill viruses and parasites along with your choice of media, this is a great filter for any aquarium up to 200 gallons.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Aquarium size: Canister filter for 200-gallon tank
  • Aquarium type: Canister filter for freshwater aquarium or pond
  • Filter type: Any and all, UV light radiation

What We Loved

There’s lots of love with this one, the first thing being the pocketbook-friendly pricing.

It’s a lower cost item that actually matches many – even most – of the high-end options in the marketplace. It’s high-quality material and manufacture make it a really great value for the lower-end price.

We also love that this filter focuses on using UV light for killing bacteria. It’s not exclusive to this filter by any stretch, but for a budget-friendly, high-quality option, this is the best of its kind.

We also love the size versatility. It’s not for giant tanks, but it’s good for tanks up to 200 gallons and works in smaller ponds – just choose the right model for your situation.

Finally, we love that the kit for the Polar Aurora actually comes with everything you need for installation. No extra purchases or hard to find tools. Just use what comes in the box to do it all.

What We Didn’t Love

There are, of course, a few downsides, as well, the first being that if it’s not properly maintained, the 525 GPH water flow seems to degrade over time.

So be careful to make sure installation has been made properly, water is changed out as needed, filtration media is adjusted and changed, and all other maintenance tasks are completed as needed.

Secondly, the volume of this one isn’t so great. It’s not as powerful as some other models so it seems like it should run as quietly or quieter than them.

However, this is one of the louder options we found. If you need an uber-quiet filter, unfortunately, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Finally, this filter is not for someone who wants a super low maintenance option.

The water needs to be changed out about once a week to keep everything running smoothly and producing clear, healthy aquarium water.

For some of us, this isn’t a big deal, but others may find this an annoyance.

Our Verdict on the Polar Aurora Free Media External Aquarium Filter

If you need something budget-friendly and effective, the Polar Aurora Free Media is truly a great option. Not only does it allow you to choose your media as you like, but you also have the added bonus of UV light that kills viruses and parasites without any additional work on your part.

This is not a filter for the “start and go” crowd, though, as it requires the water to be changed out weekly.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on Amazon.com <<

eheim classic canister filter

The Eheim Classic filter is great for just about any tank you’ve got.

They’re super easy to use, sustainable, easy to maintain, and generally just provide you with high-quality filtration without the bells and whistles of fancier models.

And since they come from a well-known, well-trusted company that’s been around for several decades, you can feel safe with trusting your fish’s health to their equipment.

The Eheim is designed for low-capacity freshwater or saltwater aquariums, and they use two filtration systems to get the job done: mechanical and biological.

They also have automatic oxygen enrichment functions, which makes this small canister filter a great option looking for a full kit.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Aquarium size: 40 to 92 gallons, depending on model
  • Aquarium type: Marine and freshwater canister filter
  • Filter type: Mechanical and biological

What We Loved

The Eheim comes from a brand aquarists trust, which is a great starting point on this classic canister filter model. It’s usable in just about any tank, too, which gives it a giant bonus in our eyes.

And though it’s a reasonably small model, it’s compatible with other models in the same tank if you have more need. It’s super low on the power consumption, so that’s a doable option for folks wanting to keep the running of their aquariums on the less expensive side.

The ceramic axle and bearing are exceptionally reliable, the whole thing is compact and lightweight, and it’s a reasonably budget-friendly option you can count on.

Plus, the Eheim Classic kit comes with the tools and spare parts you need for installation and replacements down the road.

What We Didn’t Love

While we love the Eheim, there are a few things we don’t love about it.

Some of the filter sets only have sponges without fillers, which isn’t too hot, in our opinion. However, the sponge filter pads are fairly easy to replace and won’t destroy your bank account.

Some of the models in the Classic don’t have the double taps, which can also be a bit of a challenge for some. It’s an old-fashioned filter, though, and isn’t necessarily the right choice for people looking for the super current, “modern” filters. It’s called “classic” for a reason.

The prime is also a manual one, which is fine for many, but personally not something I’m so keen on. If manual priming isn’t an issue for you, then you won’t have issues with this one.

The other complaint I noticed somewhat is that the clamps break if they’re not cared for precisely.

Our Verdict on the Eheim Classic External Canister Filter

The Eheim Classic is the best simple, straightforward canister filter out there.

The makers have been in the business for half a century and they know what they’re doing.

The filter is easy to use, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and the parts are reasonably easy to replace if that time comes.

Plus, it’s reasonably well-priced and affordable for just about anyone. They’re best for smaller aquariums.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on Amazon.com <<


#4. Hydor Professional

hydor professional canister filter

While technically the Hydor Professional External Canister Filter is designed to work for five different size tanks, we’ve found that this is the best option for a canister filter for 55-gallon tank.

The 250 model has just the right power for a 55-gallon – though it can handle the full prescribed 75-gallons – and does so for a much better price than many of the competitors.

The canister filter from Hydro filters through 225 GPH, as a “complete” eco-system in a box. This means it uses all the filtration media to cleanse the water for your healthy aquarium environment in both saltwater and freshwater aquariums.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Aquarium size: 20/40-gallons, 40/75-gallons, 60/100-gallons, 75/125-gallons, 90/150-gallons
  • Aquarium type: Freshwater or marine
  • Filter type: Biological, mechanical, and chemical

What We Loved

There are loads of things on the Hydor that we love.

First, it really covers all the stages of cleaning you need for your tank via biological, chemical, and manual filtration, while using a ceramic axle that guarantees a failure-free filtration process.

The filter is an ideal canister filter for 20-gallon tanks to 150-gallons, depending on the size you get. We particularly think the mid-range 40/75-gallon model is perfect for the 55-gallon aquarium, but each size really does sufficiently cover the aquarium sizes they’re designed for.

One thing I’ve never been fond of with aquariums is the constant leaking and splashing of equipment. I’ve often walked away with damp or even wet clothing.

But the Hydor has a great leak-free seal that prevents that issue while working with either marine or freshwater tanks.

The Hydor uses universal large volume filter baskets for great versatility and usability as well. And the whole situation is easy to maintain and clean, the hoses detach easily, and the hose placement is wide and super convenient throughout.

The Hydor has a quiet operation, a large, easy-to-manage primer button, and has reliable clips and a specialized O ring that helps prevent any other leakage as well.

What We Didn’t Love

The main issue I’ve had with the Hydor is that there aren’t any spare parts and they tend to be a bit challenging to replace.

Since the filter’s in the mid-range price, it’s not too crazy, but replacing the whole thing because one small part breaks would be frustrating to say the least.

Other complaints I’ve noticed include that sometimes the filter media comes damaged, thanks to the long distances they travel to get to you from its origin point.

Our Verdict on the Hydor Professional External Canister Filter

The Hydor Professional Aquarium External Fish Tank Filter is a great option for anyone looking for a high-quality, mid-range price canister filter.

It does a great job filtering out the muck, doesn’t leak, and can handle fairly high volumes of water for filtration.

It does have a few flaws that can be frustrating if anything breaks, but generally, it’s an easy to use, easy to clean, quality filter that anyone can use if they fit the model to their tank size.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on Amazon.com <<


#5. Penn Plax Cascade

penn plax cascade canister filter

The Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter is a super easy to set up, clean, and use canister filter that fits just about anyone’s budget.

It’s slightly more expensive than some – by like $5-$10 – but because the quality is so high, we recommend it as the best budget-friendly canister filter on the market.

The Penn Plax is a simple, easy to use, easy to maintain filter that beginners will be able to use as easily as long-time aquarists.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Aquarium size: 30 to 200 gallons – be careful to choose the right size
  • Aquarium type: Freshwater and marine
  • Filter type: Biological, chemical, or mechanical

What We LoveD

The Penn Plax has a lot of things to love, starting with the very comparable pricing for such a high-quality device. The Penn Plax is on the lower end of cost but still on the high end of materials and manufacture. Thousands of users say it’s reliable and definitely worth the value.

The Penn Plax comes with a spray bar, so no extra costs, as well.

Plus, it’s got a convenient button for water injection that eases the filter priming, meaning not only does the cost recommend it for newer aquarists, but the functionality and startup does as well.

The filter media tray is super easy to use, the whole thing is easy to clean, and it’s also just easy to setup in the first place.

And the Penn Plax is quiet, meaning you can use it in pretty much any space in the house. The hoses are fast and easy to detach for maintenance, too.

What We Didn’t Love

There are a few things we don’t love about the Penn Plax. Even though the button is convenient, some folks have said they’ve had difficulty actually doing the priming.

I’ve also seen some complaints about the written instructions being a bit challenging to follow and not entirely accurate. To counter this issue, I’d recommend going onto a fish keeping forum to ask questions, if you have any.

Finally, though the overall quality of the device is solid, I have seen a few complaints about the carrying handle being a bit flimsy. If you’re careful and conscious as you carry it, I don’t think this should generally be too much of an issue, though.

Our Verdict on the Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

Overall, the Penn Plax Cascade is a really great option for anyone on a budget.

The filter does what it promises, has an easy primer method, allows for great media variety, and even has two independent 360-degree rotating taps for convenience.

>> Tap Here to Read More Reviews and See Today’s Price on Amazon.com <<

Finding the Right Cartridge Filter Isn’t Too Hard

If you’re ready to get filtering – or just need to replace an old filter – this list of canister fish filter options should do the trick.

Be sure to read the standards to look for, make sure the specific model you purchase is suited to your aquarium size, and double check last-minute reviews from real-life users to verify that no lemon batches have gone out in recent weeks.

pink fish in a clean aquarium canister filter

FAQs on Canister Filters for Aquariums

How often should you clean your canister filter?

How often depends completely on the bioload and types of fish you have in your aquarium.

A general standard, however, can be that you should clean mechanical and chemical media at least once a month. You’ll want to clean the motor and canister every 3 to 6 months for smooth running as well.

How easy are canister filters to maintain?

One of the reasons canister filters are great is that maintenance is very simple and takes only a little time every several months.

When done properly, maintenance takes about 15 minutes one to three times per year.

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