Of course you’re buying your new aquarium filter for your fish’s sake; But did you know this is a purchase you’ll make for your own benefit as well?
Picking the right components for your home fish tank or aquarium will mean you save a lot of time on maintenance. Simply enjoy looking at your fish instead of wasting a lot of time on cleaning. Of course, you also want peace of mind that your fish are well looked after, right?
A popular type is the canister filter category. If you haven’t tried one yet, read on: We’ll explain in detail and then help you pick the best one based on our detailed reviews.
Let’s get your fish tank ready to be the best feature of your bedroom or living room in 2019.
Your Options: Types of Aquarium Filters
Whether you’re new at this or a seasoned aquarium owner, your first step will be to decide which type of filter you need. The four main types on today’s market are:
- Air driven internal: They’re placed inside your tank which is a great space saver. They work well for small aquariums as they’re gentle enough.
- Internal power: Also for smaller aquariums, they’re powerful but space saving since they’re inside the tanks.
- Undergravel: The unique method pushes water through gravel which creates a biological filtration system. Most often they’re used where there aren’t too many fish.
- Power: Located at the back of a tank, they’re powerful and easy to use.
- Canister: Often larger than normal power filters, they have great capacity. Very effective, but be prepared for more effort during installation, compared to normal power filters.
- Wet/Dry: Effective for large tanks. The best biological filtration option.
So, why should you consider the canister type filter? Let’s have a look.
Benefits of a Canister Filter in Your Fish Tank
From the list above you’ll see reasons that make all filters valuable. However, if these aspects rank high on your priority list, a canister filter is what you need:
- The good news is that a canister filter can work for almost any setup (see below).
- They are extremely powerful which means all debris will be picked up, making manual cleaning less necessary. High flow rates and the strong mechanical filtering help with this.
- Their designs provide chemical, mechanical and biological filtering.
- Their power and cleaning methods work for large tanks, even if you have a lot of fish.
- Many units give you quiet systems so you can place your tank anywhere without disturbing anyone.
- The filter systems themselves are usually easy to clean.
- You can usually customize the filtration thanks to flexible media options; Change what you use and how much you place in each media basket.
Where Can You Use a Canister Filter?
There is such a large market for these filters because you can use them almost anywhere:
- Fresh water
- Salt water
- Even Cichlid aquariums (African and South American)
Their versatility means you can pick this type no matter what fish you plan on getting (or if you’re looking for a gift and you’re not sure what type of fish the individual has).
If you need to sell this filter in future it will also be easy to find a buyer since they work for almost any fish tank setup.
How to Pick the Right Canister Filter for Your Aquarium
Although this range of filters performs well in general you still need to align specs with your needs. Here’s how you pick the best for your tank.
Does the GPH Work for Your Tank Size?
The GPH (gallons per hour) shows you how quick the filter will work through the entire contents of your tank. You need to pick the size that aligns with your tank size.
General rule: Multiply your tank size (volume) by four. That’s the GPH you need.
Is the Motor Strong Enough?
You can’t settle for a low quality motor so read reviews carefully about the durability of the one you want to buy. These motors work non-stop so they must be able to function for a long time without succumbing to much wear and tear.
You need to pick between:
- Epoxy sealed motors that are low maintenance units that run very quiet
- Magnet driven motors that are self priming—a much sought after feature
You Need Excellent Valve Components
Much of your satisfaction will come from the valves of your filter system. They’re used to monitor and change your output. For optimum user friendliness make sure yours can close entirely. This means you can remove some components of your system for cleaning, without having to take out everything. Leave the hoses in place without any water spilling out.
Think About Size
If you need power you often need to opt for a large filter. But will such a large unit really be the best if it takes up all the space inside your tank? Aim to get a great balance between all these factors (as well as aesthetics) to ensure it works well, gives your fish the space they need and looks attractive too. (More about aesthetics below)
Consider the Three Important Processes
For the cleanest water your fish will love, you need your filter to help with three processes:
- Mechanical filtering: To make sure solid particles are removed
- Chemical filtering: Here you take care of pollutants
- Biological filtering: Turning toxic ammonia into harmless nitrate
For each process you’ll add a different filter media to your system. These are usually kept in filter baskets as you’ll see in the reviews below. Examples of media include:
- Foam pads
- Activated carbon
- Ammonia removers
- Ceramic rings
Make sure the type of media and the amount you use result in the best environment for your fish. If a filter allows a lot of customization it’s value for money.
Will it Look Good?
Yes, aesthetics matter. The drawback of canister filters is that they can be quite bulky, depending on the design, and they’re not the most appealing components to look at. But if you want to make sure your setup works, you may have to sacrifice the look of your tank for efficiency.
However, if this is a center piece in your living room, research how these filters look so you don’t ruin the theme or aesthetics too much. The color, shape and design can either be attractive or be off putting. This also means, even if you want immense power you should consider smaller filters too that are easier to conceal.
The fewer components you have to purchase later, the better. If a kit comes with all these items included you’re guaranteed everything will fit together without leaking, giving you an easy setup process:
- Filter media which you can add after setup
- Spray bar which helps aerate the water when it returns to the tank
- Pipes and hoses
As with most shopping sessions, compile your list of priorities before you start browsing. That makes it easier to identify the units that really won’t work for you.
10 Best Canister Filters
This one is at the top of our list despite its elevated price tag. It’s the solution in many fish tank setups and the user friendliness combined with a sleek look make it a favorite in today’s market.
The brand provides you with many sizes so take your pick from 190GPH to 345GPH. With that range you should find one that truly works for your tank size.
This is a complete filtration system, providing you with chemical, mechanical and biological filtering with one single unit.
While it’s advanced enough for those in the know to recognize they’re getting a great deal, it’s luckily easy enough to use: Beginners can consider this one too. That’s thanks to easy priming and the fact that all you need is included in the kit. The tubes are telescopic which makes them easy to install.
The larger units are quite hefty and bigger than some others, but if you have the space you’ll love how well they work. Even those irritating particles such as poo get sucked up effectively. The wide hoses really work! We also appreciated the low maintenance necessary on these filters and thanks to the priming system you don’t have to syphon manually to get started.
Your fish will love the long spray bar too!
Specs (of 450 model)
Dimensions: 10.5” x 8.5” x 22”
- Easy to set up
- 5 sizes available
- Long spray bar
- Wide hoses create excellent suction
- Expensive model
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter
Penn Plax caters for all fish tank owners with its wide range of Cascade models. We love the striking blue design which could look aesthetically beautiful in some setups, depending on your room décor. Inside there are some nifty features.
First off note the expertly designed base. It’s tip proof, so you can position this almost anywhere without worrying about someone accidentally bumping against it; It will rarely fall over.
The valve setup is well designed because you can take the flow valves out for maintenance while the hoses stay inside the tank. Anything that makes cleaning more effortless means you’re bound to clean it more often. That also makes it a wise option for children’s fish tanks as it’s easy to teach them how to look after their new pets.
The flow valves can rotate for easy setup and the large media baskets allow you to customize how you want your water treated.
This is another model that allows for easy priming, which is why we rate it so high on our list.
Specs (1000 model)
Dimensions: 17”x 11.5” x 10”
- Easy set up
- Can adjust water flow
- Self primer
- Accessories such as spray bar included
- A bit loud if there are bubbles in the spray bar
Fluval Canister Filter FX6
Here you have an original design and it’s quickly gaining attention in the market. Users appreciate its reliability and well designed media trays.
This unit showcases many of the loved features, such as having a priming feature and being mostly quiet while it works. This shows the benefits of advanced technology as there is an electronic circuit board that manages your system. You can even get reminders when it’s time for general maintenance.
It’s a practical design with a valve at the base. If you need to move it you can empty it first to make it a less messy task.
This is one of the largest options in the Fluval range and will work for tanks up to 400 gallons. Just note that its high power level can actually suck up fish, so it may not be ideal for tiny fish’s tanks or if your fish often lay eggs.
Dimensions: 15” x 15” x 20”
- Clog proof
- Very high price
- May suck up baby fish
This brand also offers you various sizes so you can align your purpose with your tank size. Pick from 40, 66 or 92 US Gallon models.
You’ll love this model for its level of efficiency that you get at a very affordable price, compared to higher end models. It’s also super light weight, making it easy to handle: A great option if you’re shopping for a kid’s fish tank.
We looked at the 350 model (92 US Gallon option) and the flow rate of over 160GPH is impressive. Because it allows flexibility in the media set up, you can create the environment you know your fish will flourish in.
It’s a full kit, providing you with a spray bar, hoses and filter media.
We do hope they improve their instruction manual though. It’s not very informative, such as not telling you about other filter options that may be better depending on your setup.
Dimensions: 11”x 7.3” x 14.6”
- Light weight
- Well priced
- Effective filtering
- Allows flexibility in filter media
- Instructions insufficient
- Flow slows down over time if you use the wrong filters
This filter has a unique look that can give our tank setup a modern theme if you can’t hide all the components from sight. On the inside you’ll find a powerful filter system and it’s a complete kit, providing you with filter media too.
This one is relatively well priced, so it’s a good budget buy, still giving you excellent performance. We love the added extra: A UV bulb. The 9W lamp can help kill spores or bacteria, keeping your tank fresh for longer periods.
It’s another filter with a primer, making it easy to get started. This design gives you four baskets instead of the usual three and users love how crystal clear the water is after running through this model.
Just note it’s one of the heavier units on our list.
Dimensions: 12” x 12” x 18”
- Primer function
- Modern design
- Smart basket setup
- Leaks occasionally
If looks matter you’ll love this sleek design, but also what it does with your water: Polishing. It removes small debris particlesand this can make water seem more crystal clear than usual. An impressive option at an affordable price.
This light weight filter is easy to handle and requires no priming. This is thanks to it being completely submerged. This isn’t the most quiet unit on our list, but still many tank owners appreciate how crystal clear the water becomes after filtering. That makes it a value for money purchase.
The fact that the entire unit is in the water makes it a space saving option. Just know it requires cleaning every few days.
The brand includes black diamond carbon in your purchase so you can quickly have your system up and running.
Dimensions: 8.5” x 5.8” x 11”
- Very light weight
- Polishes water
- No priming required
- Customizable media
- Does make a noise
- High maintenance
API FILSTAR XP Aquarium Canister Filter
This range comes in four different sizes so you can get the modern looking filter that suits your tank and requirements best. You have options from 45 gallons up to 265 gallons.
The kit includes all the media you’ll use, making it easy for newbies to have everything on hand and get started straight away. It has all the makings of a quality system such as a quiet working method and self priming feature.
The media included takes care of the particles you want removed, as well as the odors often associated with fish tanks. You also get a quality valve system, such as the quick release shutoff. This is handy if you notice a problem and want to take action quick, or simply when it’s time for usual maintenance.
Not all components are of high quality, so you need to look after this system very well to ensure they don’t break or leak.
Specs (Small Model)
Dimensions: 9” x 13.5” x 12.8”
- Reasonably priced
- Self priming
- Easy maintenance
- Not best quality on the market
- May leak
Fluval 406 External Filter
Here is another one by the well respected brand Fluval. This one comes in a few sizes, so pick according to your needs.
What makes this a worthy contender is the design: The long unit allows a lot of space (different to the other Fluval unit that’s more compact). This entire space is utilized when water gets filtered, making it more effective. That’s one good reason to opt for a larger filter.
It’s user friendly, making it easy to change the filter media and yes, it runs mostly quiet. It also has a clog proof strainer, so you’ll spend less time on maintenance.
It may take a few tries before you get the perfect setup, so be prepared for an implementation phase. Also know the multiple bubbles may actually cause water to seem cloudy.
Dimensions: 7.6” x 14.5” x 17.8”
- Water is crystal clear
- No clogging
- Works silently
- Setup can be tricky
- Micro bubbles can be problematic
Finnex PX-360 Compact Canister Aquarium Filter
Note that this filter is specifically for aquariums up to 25 gallons only. The kit includes various accessories so you’re ready to go as soon as you receive your purchase.
We love the transparent design: Quite different and can add some character to your tank setup. You get a spray bar and the brand even manufactures 2’ lifts if you should need one. A popular use is for turtle tanks.
It’s easy to install as well as use and maintain, making it ideal for beginners. The unit is light weight and users love how quiet it runs. Though not the most powerful, it should suffice in standard sized tanks; Not elongated ones though—it won’t be able to circulate the entire tank’s water.
Many users prefer using their own pipes, rather than the provided ones, but this is up to personal preference.
Dimensions: 4.8” x 7.2” x 8.1”
- Unique look
- Runs quiet
- Ready to go kit
- Pipes can be better
- No clear instructions
This purchase comes preloaded with all the media filters you need. That makes it a user friendly option for newbies.
This is an attractive option thanks to the water polishing component. This is hung on the back and helps keep maintenance to a minimum. You don’t always have to replace the media basket’s contents, only the carbon cartridge.
The kit does have components if you want to build a water return method too.
The blue and black exterior looks classy and this unit is fairly priced, though not the cheapest on our list.
- Reasonable price range
- Complete kit makes it easy to get started
- Easy maintenance options
- Heavy unit
- Pipes not the best quality
If you put in a filter you want to trust it will do its job, even if you don’t get round to checking it for a few days. For being a trustworthy option, we chose the Hydor model as our favorite—and that makes the high price worth it. Of course the user friendly priming is an added bonus and pros as well as newbies can give it a try.
That’s our take—which one did you pick to look after your fish from now on?
Or perhaps you have specific requirements that other filters have helped you with? Why not leave your experience in the comments below so others can learn from your insight.