Having one of the best canister filters in your aquarium can make all the difference. Not only will your water be clean, but you’ll have peace of mind that everything is getting done properly.

But many canister filters out there are rather underwhelming.

To make things easier, we reviewed and put together a list of the best aquarium canister filters you can buy right now. Trust us, you’re going to be impressed.

Our Picks For The Best Canister Filter

Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with different aquarium setups, and different equipment. And this means we’ve tested out a LOT of different canister filters.

That meant when it came time to put together this list of the best canister filters, we already had plenty in mind. All it took was a little bit of extra research and testing to come up with our picks!

All you have to do is scroll through and see which one is the best fit for your aquarium setup. It doesn’t matter which one you decide to go with, you’ll be happy.

1. 307 Performance Canister Filter By Fluval

Fluval is no stranger to creating some of the best canister filters. The 307 Performance canister is a prime example of what makes these systems so great. It’s lightweight, easy to maintain, and surprisingly quiet.

307 Performance Canister Filter By Fluval

  • New design is 25% quieter than before
  • Pumping power of 303 US gal/h
  • Energy efficient design saves you money
  • Robust filter media options despite small footprint

This particular unit is one of Fluval’s latest. It utilizes some clever engineering to reduce noise and vibrations by up to 25 percent compared to previous versions. You can easily tuck it into a cabinet to muffle the noise further and forget it’s there!

From a performance standpoint, the filter doesn’t disappoint. It features a locking lid on top. The lid contains the motor and all of the electronics. The rest of the canister is dedicated to holding the filtration media.

There’s plenty of room to hold media. This is a three-stage filter. The final stage is a large compartment that you can fill with your media of choice. So, you’re free to customize the system to fit your particular needs.

The motor is impressive too. In total, it can process a staggering 303 GPH! That’s more than enough flow to effectively treat aquariums that can hold between 40 and 70 gallons.

Best of all, the motor isn’t an energy hog. The electrical usage is comparable to that of a lightbulb!

Pros:

  • Very quiet
  • High flow rate
  • Reasonable price

Cons:

  • Not ideal for larger tanks

2. Classic External Canister Filter By EHEIM

This filter from EHEIM might not be the fanciest-looking filter out there. But, it has some impressive features that you want out of a filtration system.

Classic External Canister Filter By EHEIM

  • Constant powerful filtration in a compact body
  • Includes inlet pipe, spray bar, and hose
  • Comes with filter sponges and/or media
  • Sealing ring makes for easy cleaning

First off, this equipment is compact. It’s less than 14 inches tall and features a thin cylindrical body. You can easily tuck it into a cabinet so that it’s out of the way. Thanks to the quiet operation, you don’t have to worry about hearing it every time you want to enjoy the view.

The filter is discreet, but you’ll certainly see the effects of its operation.

Inside, there are multiple media trays. The filter is compatible with filtration sponges and any form of loose media. You can easily stack the media inside the canister and customize the treatment process. The canister features a permo-elastic seal. It keeps debris out to protect the pump while also making it easy to maintain.

Another thing we like about the EHEIM filter is the simple setup process. It comes with everything you need to set the unit up. You’re getting inlet pipes, a flexible hose, and a spray bar for the outlet. The filter also comes with filtration media to get you started.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Long-lasting
  • Easy to clean

Cons:

  • Priming and setup is a bit tricky

3. Magniflow Aquarium Canister Filter By Marineland

Here’s a widely popular model in the aquarist community. Ideal for both saltwater and freshwater setups, the Marineland Magniflow filter has everything it takes to keep your fish’s habitat pristine.

Magniflow Aquarium Canister Filter By Marineland

  • Effective three stage filtration design
  • Filters 220 gallons per hour (larger models available)
  • Built with a quick setup in mind
  • Can be used in freshwater and saltwater aquariums

This is a three-stage filter with a versatile design. Like other canister filters on our list, the entire bottom portion of the filter is dedicated to holding your media. You can stack filtration media as you need to achieve optimal filtration.

It does come with media to get started. The bottom layer is a basic foam pad for mechanical filtration. But, it also has a layer of activated carbon for chemical filtration and bio-balls for biological filtration. As an added touch, the filter also has a thicker foam up top to remove fine debris.

Durable latches on the side keep the canister filter assembled. However, the top is easy to remove for maintenance. Once you clean or replace the media inside, getting the filter up and running again is a cinch. There’s a fast-prime button to fill the canister quickly and help get water moving again.

Pros:

  • Fast setup
  • Very effective three stage filtration

Cons:

  • Lid can get stuck after repeated use

4. Cascade Canister Filter By Penn-Plax

Here’s another one of the best canister filters that makes it easy to customize your setup. This particular model from Penn Plax is a bit different. Rather than having to stack filtration media on top of one another, this unit comes with detachable baskets. The baskets are compatible with loose media or larger pads.

Cascade Canister Filter By Penn-Pla

  • 265 gallons per hour – works in aquariums up to 100 gallons
  • Three versatile media baskets
  • Flow valves can rotate 360 degrees for easy adjusting
  • Push button primer makes initiating filter use fast

The Cascade filter is available in five different sizes. The 1000 model comes with three media baskets and provides 256 GPH of flow. However, you can upgrade to the beefier 1500 model if you need something more robust. It comes with five media baskets and operates at 350 GPH!

Up top, you’ll notice that this unit has a downturned impeller. This design prevents damage without sacrificing water performance. Speaking of which, the inlet and outlet valves offer tons of flexibility in terms of placement. They rotate 360 degrees, ensuring that you can position the filter anywhere without having to worry about your pipes or hoses limiting you.

Pros:

  • Great flow rate
  • Efficient media baskets

Cons:

  • Can get a bit noisy

5. Quietflow Canister Filter By Aqueon

Perfect for smaller tanks with sensitive fish, this canister from Aqueon is rather unique. Not only does it come with the primary canister unit, but it also has a water polisher!

Quietflow Canister Filter By Aqueon

  • Works in aquariums up to 155 gallons
  • Easy to access for maintenance and cleaning
  • Biological, chemical and mechanical media are all included
  • Designed for freshwater and saltwater tanks

The water polisher connects to the outlet of the canister and hangs on the back of your tank. It provides that added touch of polish to remove fine debris before the water is recycled back into the habitat.

The canister itself is compact and streamlined. The lid, which holds the pump and rotating valves, pops right off for easy cleaning.

Inside, the unit has a traditional three-stage filtration setup. Aqueon includes four types of filter media to achieve mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. But, you’re also free to use your own media to customize the setup.

The filter is available in three configurations that are rated for tanks between 55 and 155 gallons. The largest of the bunch produces 400 GPH of flow.

Pros:

  • Runs quietly
  • Can handle rather large aquariums

Cons:

  • A little pricey

6. External Aquarium Filter By Polar Aurora

The external canister filter from Polar Aurora is a compact piece of equipment packing plenty of capabilities. The star of the show is the pump. Despite its small size, it can move up to 525 GPH depending on the particular model you choose.

External Aquarium Filter By Polar Aurora

  • Good for tanks up to 75 gallons – 264 GPH
  • Filter is designed to promote easy cleaning and maintenance
  • Comes with 3 filter media trays
  • Self-priming pump means no more manual siphoning

Even with all the flow, the system is pretty quiet. The impeller is well-designed to reduce vibrations. Plus, the lid of the canister features a lubricated rubber seal to keep noise inside. There’s also a priming button to get rid of air and prepare the pump for use.

Below the pump, the unit has a spacious canister with several baskets to hold your filter media of choice. The smallest model includes three filters to create the full three-stage cycle. The biggest model has four baskets, which will let you add additional treatments to improve the water even further.

Overall, the filter is very well-built. The valves swivel for easy positioning and the lid features a fixed clamp cover for added protection against leaks.

Pros:

  • High flow rate for the price
  • Quiet design
  • Convenient self-priming

Cons:

  • Initial installation isn’t very intuitive

7. FX4 Canister Filter By Fluval

If price is not an issue for you, the FX4 canister filter from Fluval is worth taking a look at. This unit is, by far, one of the best canister filters on the market. It may be overkill for most aquariums, but if you have a particularly large tank and are looking for the very best filtration system possible, this unit has you covered!

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FX4 Canister Filter By Fluval

  • Capable of pumping 700 gallons per hour
  • Smart pump microchip monitors and optimizes performance
  • Canister filter is completely self-starting
  • Designed with stackable media baskets to maximize cleaning

This behemoth can move up to 925 gallons per hour! Not only that, but it’s self-priming and virtually foolproof. When you need to restart the pump, just add water. The filter will take care of the rest. There’s even a utility valve at the bottom of the filter, which you can use to perform water changes without all of the mess.

Inside, there’s multi-stage filtration. The baskets are round to maximize space. They also nest inside each other to ensure that water goes through every level before it makes its way out of the system.

Like most canister filters, the design of the unit is flexible enough for you to use the media of your choice. But the large size of the baskets lets you use an impressive 1.5 gallons of media.

Note: If you want to see our full review of the Fluval FX4 click here.

Pros:

  • Everything

Cons:

  • Quite expensive

What Are Canister Filters?

When it comes to keeping your aquarium clean, there are a lot of different options available. However, canister filters are one of the best!

As the name would suggest, canister filters are self-contained units. Typically cylindrical or box-like in design, the canister holds all of the filter media. Everything is contained in one singular unit, simplifying the filtration process significantly.

Canister filters are external systems. That means that they rely on a series of pipes or tubes to push the water through the filter.

While that may seem complicated, canister filters are quite simple in terms of operation. Water goes in through the inlet, flows through the filtration media, and exits back into the tank through the outlet.

Most canister systems these days have built-in pumps to drive the water through. However, larger tanks may require gravity-feed systems or additional pumps to create enough pressure to push water through.

Either way, canister filters are incredibly efficient. They’re the go-to for many seasoned aquarists because they do a fantastic job of regulating water parameters while maintaining a healthy environment for fish. It doesn’t matter whether you have a fresh water tank, a saltwater tank, or even pets that produce a lot of waste, the design of a canister filter will keep the aquarium in good shape.

The Benefits They Bring To Your Tank

Canister filters have a lot to offer in terms of performance, efficiency, and convenience. They’re the go-to choice for most aquarists. Why is that?

Well, they provide a slew of benefits that you just can’t get with other filtration systems. Here are some of the most noteworthy advantages of canister filters.

Higher Flow Rates

In the aquarium world, flow rates refer to the amount of water a filter can handle. Generally, you’ll see this specification represented as GPH, or gallons per hour.

Of all the types of filtration methods out there, canister filters are some of the most efficient. Premium filters can process hundreds of gallons per hour!

This is a huge perk that can have a lasting impact on your tank. When a filter can process more water in a shorter amount of time, it’s able to continually cycle the tank. The quicker a filter can take care of ammonia, nitrates, and waste, the better off your fish will be!

Canister filters can handle the entire filtration process in less time. This results in fewer water issues and less time spent on manual cleaning.

Adaptable Filtration

To those who aren’t familiar with aquarium maintenance, the filtration process seems pretty cut and dry. However, it is far more complex than people think. There are actually three main stages of filtration that your system needs to accomplish.

These include mechanical filtration, biological filtration, and chemical filtration. We’ll get into the specifics of these stages a bit later. But for now, the most important thing you need to know is that achieving those three stages is essential to the health and well-being of your fish.

Now, not all filtration systems can handle those three stages at once. For example, under-gravel systems are fine for basic biological filtration. But, they don’t offer any chemical filtration.

To improve the quality of water in those cases, you may need to combine filtration systems! But, that’s not the case with canister filters.

Many canister filters will handle all three stages at once. You may even find some models that have additional stages to help you customize the process to suit your fish.

Canister filters are highly adaptable and allow you to achieve the perfect level of filtration. Not only that, but they’re compatible with a wide range of different filter media.

Unlike hang-on-back systems that require proprietary filters, you can customize a canister system how you see fit.

Straightforward Maintenance

For the most part, maintaining a canister filter is easy. As long as you have the right tools and understand your system, the process is a cinch.

All you have to do is disconnect the filter from the tank, open it up, and clean or replace the medium. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, that’s not always the case. More complex setups may be trickier to maintain. But, the beauty of a canister system is that you can easily adapt it to your needs.

Which brings us to our next point…

Flexible Setup

Canister filters are one of the most versatile systems you can use! You’re free to make your setup as simple or complex as you need.

If you want to keep things simple for easy maintenance, you can get by with a single canister unit. As long as it has a built-in pump, you don’t need any additional components to keep your tank clean.

That said, you can easily customize your system to work for your needs. For example, you could attach a UV filter to the outlet of your canister filter to add another layer of filtration. Or, you could install stop-valves to cut off the water supply whenever you need to perform some maintenance.

You can even customize the inlet and outlet pipes to create a current inside the aquarium.

The sky’s the limit!

Quiet Operation

Another big perk of canister filters is that they’re relatively quiet. Let’s face it: nothing ruins the joy of watching your fish more than the loud rumble of a pump or filter.

Because everything is built into one canister, these filters are much quieter. They produce fewer vibrations, which will help to keep the area around your aquarium much more peaceful.

Plus, you can easily arrange the filter to keep the noise insulated as much as possible. Many aquarists position these external filters below the tank in a decorative cabinet. That way, the little sound they do produce is muffled even more.

Powerful Water Treatment

Finally, the biggest benefit of a canister filter is better overall performance. When you combine the high flow rate with the multiple stages of filtration, you’re getting a highly effective filter that can get rid of most water issues without missing a beat.

These filters perform particularly well when removing solid waste and debris. However, they also handle the biological load of the tank to keep ammonia and nitrates low.

The whole purpose of an aquarium filter is to keep the water in pristine condition. Canister filters can do that better than most of the alternatives.

What To Look For In A Canister Filter

The right canister for you will depend on numerous factors. All aquariums are different. The key to keeping your tank clean and healthy enough to sustain life is to find a filter that matches your needs.

Here are the most important things to consider while looking for an efficient canister filter.

Aquarium Size

The most important thing is to choose a filter that can efficiently cycle the tank. Many filters on the market today have some information about the appropriate tank sizes they can serve. But don’t rely on that information alone.

Instead, pay to the GPH rating. As we mentioned earlier, the GPH rating reflects how much water the filter can process in an hour.

Don’t match the GPH rating to the volume of water your tank can hold. Instead, find a unit that can process at least four times the volume of your tank. So, if you have a 20-gallon tank, choose a filter that can handle 80 GPH.

It’s always better to get a filter that’s overpowered than one that’s underpowered.

A higher GPH rating ensures that your tank is cycled multiple times an hour. As a result, it can address water issues quickly and efficiently.

Filter Media Options

Earlier, we talked a bit about the various stages of filtration. Before you commit to a filter, make sure that it can hold as much filter media as you need.

Generally, most canister filters will have at least two different media trays. But, we recommend choosing one that has at least three.

You should have one for mechanical filtration, which removes solid waste and debris. The second needs to handle biological filtration to address ammonia and nitrates with healthy bacteria colonies. The final media tray should take care of chemical filtration, which improves any other water chemistry problems.

There’s no shortage of filter media out there. You can use standard filter pads, ceramic balls, activated carbon, and more.

The key is to have a canister filter that gives you the option to use what you need.

Reliability

The last thing you want to do is invest in a filter that’s constantly going out!

Canister filters will run around the clock. So, you need to ensure that you’re getting a unit that you can rely on for the sake of your fish.

The motor will have the biggest impact on reliability. To reduce the chances of experiencing issues, choose an epoxy-sealed motor.

On these motors, the impeller is facing down. Right off the bat, the impeller is protected from dust or debris. But on top of that, the entire unit is sealed to prevent outside factors from affecting its performance.

Magnetic-driven motors are great, too. They are self-priming, which can keep the system protected if you forget to siphon water back in after performing maintenance. But, they are not sealed.

As a result, you’d have to be extra careful about keeping it clean and debris-free.

Cleaning Convenience

Another thing to think about is cleaning and maintenance. Does the filter make the process easy and streamlined? Or, is cleaning the filter going to be a long and involved job?

Most canister filters will require maintenance every three months or so depending on the biological load of the tank.

To keep the process simple, look out for canister filters that you can easily shut off and open up. Some filters have shutoff valves and other features that will add tons of convenience. Others will require you to adjust other components before you can access the filtration media.

Noise

While canister filters are generally quieter than other systems, they still produce some noise. The noise levels can have a big impact on your enjoyment of the aquarium. This is especially true if the tank is in a bedroom or quiet room.

Many manufacturers will provide some decibel ratings for their equipment. Don’t ignore that information! The placement of the filter and the design of your tank cabinet will affect the actual noise levels. But, decibel ratings can give you a better idea of what to expect.

Power Consumption

Finally, don’t forget to take a look at how much energy the filter uses. Remember: this equipment is going to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Canister filters can hog a lot of energy. They’re far more powerful than other filtration systems and generate a higher flow rate.

Pay close attention to a filter’s kilowatt-hour rating. Represented as kWh, this measurement shows you how much electricity the filter will use every hour.            

Wrapping Up

The impact that one of the best canister filters can make on the health of your aquarium is staggering. Improved water quality, less time spent on your end, and much happier fish!

We hope you found this review helpful and decide to go with one of the filters on this list. We know they’ll serve you well.

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