aquarium fish tank

Whether you’re new to the world of fish keeping or a seasoned pro, you may have avoided using a canister filter because of how intimidating they seem. They look complex and have a lot of moving parts, not to mention most of them require an understanding of how siphoning and filter media work.

Most people are used to hang-on back filters or the extremely easy to use sponge filters, so for most aquarists, canister filters feel a little too professional or complicated for a home setup.

But that’s not true at all!

Canister filters are an excellent tool in your arsenal of keeping your water clear and your parameters in line. They are not nearly as intimidating as they seem to be, so here are reviews of the top 10 best aquarium canister filters to help you find a product that will work for you and with your skill level.

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A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter
  • 3-stage filtration
  • Freshwater and saltwater safe
  • Can be used for tanks up to 100 gallons
  • Best Value
    Second place
    SunSun HW-304B Aquarium Canister Filter SunSun HW-304B Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Cost-effective
  • Built-in UV sterilizer
  • Self-priming function
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Runs quietly
  • Easy to install
  • Tip-proof rubber base
  • Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter
  • Easy removal and replacement
  • 3-stage filtration
  • Plus water polishing
  • Polar Aurora External Aquarium Filter Polar Aurora External Aquarium Filter
  • Largest sizes include a UV light
  • Customizable filter media trays
  • Mess-free maintenance
  • The 10 Best Aquarium Canister Filters – Reviews 2021

    1. Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter – Best OverallMarineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter

    The best overall aquarium canister filter is the Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister filter because it’s a high-quality, highly functional product from a trusted brand. This 3-stage filtration system is freshwater and saltwater safe. This canister filter can be used for tanks up to 100 gallons.

    This unit includes the tubing and parts needing for initial setup, including filter media for each level of the filtration system. This product uses a bio sponge for mechanical filtration, carbon-based chemical filtration, ceramic rings and bio balls for biological filtration, and features a water polishing pad to enhance water clarity upon return to the tank. The stacking design for the filter media makes for easy access and replacement.

    The lid has a quick-release valve block that allows for instant stoppage of water flow to ensure no leaks occur during cleaning and water changes. This canister filter also includes a self-priming function, making for easy startup. This system does produce some noise from the motor.

    Pros
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Freshwater and saltwater safe
    • Can be used for tanks up to 100 gallons
    • Includes everything needed for initial setup
    • Filter media can be accessed and replaced easily
    • Includes water polishing
    • Quick-release valve block prevents leaks during cleaning
    • Self-priming function
    Cons
    • Motor can be noisy

    2. SunSun HW-304B Aquarium Canister Filter – Best ValueSunSun HW-304B Aquarium UV Sterilizer Canister Filter

    The best value aquarium canister filter for the money is the SunSun HW-304B Aquarium Canister filter because this product is a highly functional canister filter for a great price, and it includes a built-in UV sterilizer to help reduce algae and parasites. The UV sterilizer has a separate on/off switch from the filter itself, so it does not have to run all the time.

    This 3-stage filtration system includes four customizable filter media trays, allowing you to put your preferred media in for mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. There is a built-in internal spray bar that increases oxygenation to the water before it is returned to the tank. This system does not include filter media, but it does include hoses and different sizes of connectors.

    This system includes a drip-free shutoff valve that allows you to clean and maintenance the system without leaks. It can filter up to 525 gph and is made for tanks up to 150 gallons. It has a self-priming function, but on initial setup may require extra work to get air out of the system.

    Pros
    • Cost-effective
    • Allows for customization of filter media
    • Built-in UV sterilizer with separate on/off function
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Self-priming function
    • Internal spray bar increases oxygenation
    • Drip-free shutoff valve prevents leaks during cleaning and maintenance
    • Can filter a tank up to 150 gallons
    Cons
    • Does not include filter media
    • May require extra effort on initial setup to remove air from the system

    3. Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter – Premium ChoicePenn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter

    The Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Canister Filter is a premium pick for a canister filter, but it is highly functional, has a clean design, is available in multiple sizes, and is made by a trusted name in the aquatics community. This canister filter can filter tanks up to 30, 65, 150, and 200 gallons. This system can be used for freshwater or saltwater tanks.

    This canister filter includes four large filter media trays that allow for customization of filter media to your preference, but it does include startup filter media for 3-stage mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. This system is easy to install and includes 360-degree rotating valve taps, flow-rate control valves, and hose clamps for easy setup and mess-free maintenance.

    This system is made to run quietly and has a rubber, tip-proof base. It includes a push-button self-priming function, although it may be difficult at setup to get the filter to begin its initial water “pull”.

    Pros
    • Available in four sizes
    • Freshwater and saltwater safe
    • Four large filter media trays allow for customization
    • Includes startup filter media
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Easy to install
    • Rotating valve taps, flow-rate control valves, and hose clamps
    • Runs quietly
    • Tip-proof rubber base
    • Self-priming function
    Cons
    • May be difficult at setup to start initial water pulling
    • More expensive than some other products

    4. Fluval 107 Performance Canister FilterFluval 107 Perfomance Canister Filter

    The Fluval 107 Performance Canister Filter is a premium-priced product from a trusted aquatics brand. The 107 model can provide filtration for a tank up to 30 gallons, but there are three other sizes that can provide filtration up to 100 gallons.

    This product features “EZ-lift” media baskets that allow for easy removal and replacement of filter media. This system runs 3-stage filtration plus water polishing and includes carbon filter media, a water polishing pad, and three types of bio sponges, which provide mechanical and biological filtration once established. It also includes an aqua stop valve that allows for mess-free cleaning and maintenance and dual locking clamps that allow for easy access to the interior of the canister.

    This filter does not include a self-priming option, but it does have an easy-to-use priming handle that allows for rapid priming with minimal effort. It’s made to operate quietly and is energy-efficient, making only a small impact on energy costs annually.

    Pros
    • Available in four sizes up to 100 gallons
    • Easy removal and replacement of filter media baskets
    • 3-stage filtration plus water polishing
    • Includes multiple types of filter media
    • Mess-free cleaning and maintenance
    • Easy access to the interior of the canister
    • Energy-efficient, quiet operation
    Cons
    • Premium price
    • Requires manual priming

    5. Polar Aurora External Aquarium FilterPolar Aurora Free Media

    The Polar Aurora External Aquarium Filter is available in four sizes from 75-200 gallons. The three largest sizes of this canister filter include a UV light. It’s a cost-effective option for a basic canister filter for fish tanks but it is not designed for use with turtles.

    This filter includes three media trays that are customizable to your preference, but the kit does include media for chemical, mechanical, and biological filtration. It also includes an adjustable spray bar to increase oxygenation in the water. This pump can also be connected to an undergravel filter to increase filtration even more.

    This kit includes everything you need to get started, including all hoses and connectors. It features a single-valve disconnect for easy, mess-free maintenance. This pump does have a self-priming option. It has rubber feet and operates quietly. The O-ring on this product may require replacement after a few months of use.

    Pros
    • Available in four sizes up to 200 gallons
    • Largest sizes include a UV light
    • Cost-effective
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Customizable filter media trays
    • Includes startup filter media
    • Includes adjustable spray bar to increase oxygenation and control flow
    • Can be connected to undergravel filter
    • Mess-free maintenance
    • Self-priming feature
    Cons
    • Smallest size does not have UV light
    • Cannot be used for turtles
    • O-ring will need to be replaced

    6. Hydor Professional External Canister FilterHydor Professional External Canister Filter

    The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter is a premium-priced canister filter available in five sizes from 20-150 gallons. This product can be used by beginners, but it is professional grade, with the price tag to match. It can be used in freshwater or saltwater tanks.

    This 3-stage filtration system includes filter media, but the media trays are customizable to your preference. This kit does not include carbon chemical filter media. The 150 model has two media trays, the 250 model has three media trays, the 350 and 450 models have four media trays, and the 550 model has five media trays. This does mean that you will have to put two types of filter media into one tray to achieve 3-stage filtration. All sizes include a spray bar attachment to control output and oxygenate water.

    This kit includes everything you need to get started and features telescoping intake tubes and safety locks to prevent spills and overflow. It is easy to prime but does not have a self-priming option. It is made to operate quietly.

    Pros
    • Available in five sizes
    • Professional grade product
    • Freshwater and saltwater safe
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Spray bar attachment included
    • Includes all needed equipment to get started
    • Operates quietly
    Cons
    • Premium price
    • Smallest model only has two media trays
    • Does not have a self-priming option
    • Does not include chemical filter media

    7. Finnex PX-360 Compact Canister Aquarium FilterFinnex PX-360 Compact Canister Aquarium

    The Finnex PX-360 Compact Canister Aquarium Filter is cost-effective but only works for tanks up to 25 gallons. It has short hoses and is made to sit next to the tank or hang on the rim, like a HOB filter. It is not made to sit below the level of the tank.

    This canister filter is fish and turtle safe and features 3-stage filtration. A carbon floss pad, bio sponge, and ceramic rings are included in the kit, as well as all tubes and connections to get started. The filter media trays are removable and customizable. This product features a water intake strainer and spray bar. This filter does not have an on/off switch and needs to be plugged in to turn on and unplugged to turn off. It does not have a self-priming feature.

    Pros
    • Fish and turtle safe
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Customizable filter media trays
    • Includes filter media to get started
    • Water intake strainer and spray bar
    Cons
    • Only works for tanks up to 25 gallons
    • Made to sit at tank level or HOB
    • No on/off switch
    • Does not have a self-priming feature

    8. Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister FilterZoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter

    The Zoo Med Nano 10 External Canister Filter seems cost-effective on the front end, but it is only made for nano tanks up to 10 gallons.  It is safe for use in freshwater and saltwater setups.

    This small canister filter uses 3-stage filtration and includes filter media for you to get started. It also features a built-in spray bar. This product is intended for beginners and is made to be easy to use and prime. It does not have a self-priming feature, though.

    It is compact so as not to take up too much space near a nano tank, but it can appear quite large and is difficult to hide near tanks smaller than 10 gallons. It is intended to sit at the level of the tank and the hoses are too short for it to sit below tank level. It has an adjustable flow-control system and is easy to open to access the filter media.

    Pros
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Includes filter media
    • Easy to use
    • Adjustable flow-control system and spray bar
    Cons
    • Only works for tanks up to 10 gallons
    • Not cost-effective considering size
    • Does not have a self-priming feature
    • Difficult to hide near nano tanks
    • Intended to sit at tank level

    9. Aqueon QuietFlow Canister FilterAqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter

    The Aqueon QuietFlow Canister filter is a premium-priced product available in three sizes from 55-150 gallons. While this is a canister filter, it includes a HOB water polishing unit to help ensure water returned to the tank is clear. This unit requires a water polishing cartridge. This system takes up the same amount of tank rim space as a HOB filter.

    This 3-stage filtration system is customizable but does include filter media to get started. It includes a spray bar and water director. This system may wear out after a few months of use and does have some noise with operation. It cannot self-prime.

    Pros
    • Available in three sizes from 55-150 gallons
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Customizable filter media
    • Spray bar and water director
    Cons
    • Premium price
    • HOB water polishing unit takes up the same space as a HOB filter
    • Requires water polishing cartridge with monthly replacement
    • May wear out after a few months of use
    • Has some noise with operation
    • Does not have a self-priming option

    10. Odyssea CFS 130 Hang on Aquarium Canister FilterOdyssea CFS 130 Hang on Aquarium Canister Filter External

    The Odyssea CFS 130 Hang on Aquarium Canister Filter is for filtration of tanks from 30-40 gallons. It is cost-effective for this size but does require strong glass or a rim to hang on. This system takes up almost the same amount of space as a HOB filter. It is safe for freshwater and saltwater setups.

    This 3-stage filtration system is intended for use with a filter pad, coarse sponge, and bio balls, which are included in the kit. The filter media can be customized to your preference. This system does require manual priming but is easy to use and set up. The motor in this filter may wear out within a few months and many of the plastic pieces are prone to breaking or failing. If the motor is still working after a few months, it often causes the filter output to slow significantly. The filter nozzle on this system is small, meaning it can clog quickly with plant materials or waste.

    Pros
    • Cost-effective
    • Safe for freshwater and saltwater tanks
    • 3-stage filtration
    • Customizable filter media
    • Easy to use
    Cons
    • Only available for tanks from 30-40 gallons
    • Takes up the same amount of space as a HOB filter
    • Requires strong glass or rim to hang on
    • No self-priming feature
    • Motor may wear out within a few months
    • Filter output may slow over time
    • Filter intake easily becomes clogged with plant materials or waste

    Buyer’s Guide

    Features to Consider When Choosing an Aquarium Canister Filter:
    • Filter Media: Canister filters are relatively customizable, so you are able to pick your favorite filter media to put into them. Make sure to get a canister filter that will fit whatever filter media you intend to use. Also, make sure you’re getting a canister filter that has the power to push water through the filter media you’re putting into it. The last thing you want is to burn out the motor with too much thick filter media.
    • Filter Media Trays: Canister filters can have anywhere from one media tray to five or more, so make sure to get one that has the space for all of the types and sizes of media you want to put in. If you prefer bio balls, then a small filter media tray may not hold enough for your biological filtration. If you use ceramic rings or balls, then a smaller tray will most likely hold what you need.
    • Spray Bar: Not all canister filters have spray bars, and they are not required for full functionality. Spray bars are a nice bonus item in canister filters that increase oxygenation to the water that is flowing back into the tank. Some spray bars will also control the level of water flow going back into the tank, allowing you to set different flow levels depending on the needs of your fish and plants.
    • UV Light: UV lights are an excellent tool when it comes to controlling free-floating parasites and algae in your tank. UV lights only need to be run for a few hours every day until the parasites or algae are gone, or they should be run routinely to control anything that may get into your water. Either way, they are beneficial to your tank, but not a necessary item.
    • Water Polishing: Water polishing is usually a last phase water flows through when exiting a filtration system. This phase helps catch microparticles in the water and ensure all water going back into the tank is clean and clear. With proper water changes and tank and filter maintenance, water polishing isn’t necessary to a clean tank, but it can make things easier to keep clean.
    • Location: Canister filters for medium to large tanks are usually made to sit below the level of the tank, making them perfect for keeping out of sight in a cabinet. Canister filters for smaller tanks, though, rarely are made to sit below the level of the tank due to the low water flow requirements, which means they can be harder to get out of sight. Considering the size of your tank and your preferred location for the canister filter will help you pick one to meet your needs.
    • Noise Levels: Most canister filters are made to run quietly, but they are not all created equal on this front. If you’re going to keep a canister filter in a cabinet, then you’ll want to pick a low-vibration model. If you’re going to keep a canister filter on the floor in the open, then you’ll want to pick one with a quiet motor that does not distract from the soothing sounds of your aquarium.

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    Conclusion

    After reading these reviews, do you feel less intimidated by canister filters? Many of them are beginner-friendly and easy to use.

    If you’re looking for a best overall aquarium canister filter, the Marineland Magniflow 360 Canister Filter is a great option, but for a premium pick, check out the Penn-Plax Cascade Aquarium Filter. If you’re looking for a cost-effective canister filter to get you started, the SunSun HW-304B Aquarium Canister Filter is a great place to start, especially since it features a built-in UV light to help keep your aquarium free of pests and algae.

    Almost all canister filters are customizable with your preferred filter media and many of them have adjustable flows, so you can pick the current level for your tank depending on if your fish and plants prefer low, medium, or high water flow. Picking the right canister filter for your tank shouldn’t just mean that it works for your tank, but it should also mean that you feel comfortable learning to use, maintenance, and clean the product.


    Featured image credit: LizWinfreyV, Wikimedia CC 4.0