Best Canister Filter For Your Tank (2024 Complete Guide)

Filter With Ceramic Rings
Filter With Ceramic Rings
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 6, 2024
Review Process and Evaluation Criteria
We conduct hands-on testing for all the products highlighted in our reviews and guides. Through anonymous product ordering and involving an independent team of testers, we gather direct experience to offer recommendations backed by data.

Regarding efficiency and functionality, canister filters outperform other types of filters.

Article Summary

  • Canister filters are considered superior in performance and efficiency compared to other filter types.
  • Notable options include the high-performance Fluval 07 Series filter, budget-friendly Cascade 500 by Penn Plax, and the powerful Fluval Fx6 recommended for saltwater setups.
  • The OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo 350 is ideal for freshwater tanks with its integrated heater and 4-stage filtration.

I’ve used several types of aquarium filters in my tanks over the years, but I always go back to canister filters due to their reliability. However, the first canister filter I used wasn’t the best experience – it constantly leaked and was a nightmare to maintain.

It was a while before I felt brave enough to give canister filters another go, but I’m glad I did as my fish tanks have never looked cleaner.

First impressions are important, so I’ve done the research to help you find the best canister filter for your tank…

Best From The List

Here’s a quick look at the best canister filters from the list…

Top Pick

Fluval 407 Canister Filter

Fluval is known for making high-quality aquarium products and filters, and the Fluval 407 external filter is no different.

Top Pick: Fluval 407 Canister Filter

I think the best aquarium canister filter overall is the Fluval 407 due to its high performance and output.

It’s sturdy, reliable, and energy efficient to provide your aquarium with excellent filtration without steep running costs.

Best Value

Cascade 500 Canister Filter

Penn Plax offers a variety of top-notch canister filters at an affordable price, but one of their most budget-friendly canister filters is the Cascade 500.

Best Value: Cascade 500 Canister Filter

The Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter is a great choice if you need a functional but affordable filtration system for your fish tank. It features multi-stage filtration and oversized media baskets, and comes with useful accessories like a spray bar and filter media.

Best Canister Filter for Saltwater Aquariums

Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

Marine tanks, especially those that house live corals, need a powerful filter to keep water quality under control. The Fluval Fx6 is a fantastic choice for saltwater aquariums for this reason, boasting an impressive 925 GPH that’s suitable for aquariums up to 400 gallons.

Best Canister Filter for Saltwater Aquariums: Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

Fluval Fx canister filters are hard to beat in terms of quality, with the Fx6 model being a real powerhouse in terms of performance when compared to other canister filters.

That’s exactly what you need for a saltwater aquarium.

It has a flow rate of 925 gallons per hour and comes with a huge range of features, including a self-priming pump, anti-clog drainer, and multi-directional output nozzles.

Best Canister Filter for Freshwater Aquariums

OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo

This canister filter is a solid choice for freshwater aquariums, especially if you have tropical species that require warm water.

Best Canister Filter for Freshwater Aquariums: OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo

A lot of freshwater species originate from warm waters, requiring you to use a heater in your fish tank.

Why not eliminate that need and use canister filter with an integrated heater like the OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo?

It heats your aquarium water and filtrates it at the same time, which is ideal for tropical freshwater species.

Top 7 Canister Filters

Let’s proceed with the full reviews of all the top canisters in the list…

Top Pick

Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter

Fluval is known for making high-quality aquarium products and filters, and the Fluval 407 external filter is no different.

Top Pick: Fluval 07 Series Performance Canister Filter

The first unit from our best canister filter reviews is from Fluval filters.


It has a robust and sturdy construction, which is just what the best canister filters have. The motor generates 383 GPH of reliable pumping power that lasts year after year, similar to its highly rated previous version the Fluval 406.

This GPH makes it suitables for tanks up to 90 gallons.

I like the sleek design of this Fluval canister filter. While the performance of an external filter is important, you want it to look good too.

The Fluval 407 more than delivers on the “wow” factor, boasting a polished appearance that exudes quality.


The aquarium canister filter has single action dual Lift-Lock motorhead clamps to make for easy setup, as well as a large easy-grip handle on the primer. This allows for swift and simple start-ups with only a couple of pumps.

One of the best features of the Fluval 407 is its energy-efficient operation. It takes up 25% less power than previous models in the 07 series. You don’t have to worry about this filter being a power hog.

Noise Level

Another aspect I like is its quiet operation. The filter provides excellent filtration without you hearing it from across the room.

The enlarged rubber feet stabilizers help with this, offering reduced vibration and more protection overall.

The large filter media baskets are filled with all the necessary filter media you need, and it even comes with a vertical pre-filter cartridge to maximize surface area for biological bacteria.

My main gripe with the Fluval Fx professional canister filter is the flimsy red handle on the AquaStop valve. It can snap quite easily, but I don’t think this is a huge issue as long as you’re careful.


  • Weight: 10.8 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 383 GPH
  • Dimensions: 9.5” x 7” x 19.3”


  • Sleek design
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Robust motor and sturdy pump
  • Energy efficient and quiet operation


  • Handle on AquaStop valve is a bit flimsy
Best Value

Cascade 500 Canister Filter

Penn Plax offers a variety of top-notch canister filters at an affordable price, but one of their most budget-friendly canister filters is the Cascade 500.

Best Value: Cascade 500 Canister Filter

While some inexpensive external filters can be lacking in terms of quality, the Penn Plax Cascade 500 doesn’t suffer from this issue. It is a reliable canister filter for its price.

This budget canister filter provides three filtration stages that work efficiently together to keep your aquarium water crystal clear.


The filter has two spacious media baskets that can be used for any combination of filter media to achieve optimal water quality.

There’s more than enough room for mechanical, biological, and chemical filter media.

I always appreciate large media baskets as it means I can store extra media for when I want to set up a new aquarium or hospital tank.

Having some additional media on hand is useful for kick-starting the cycling process, which saves you a few weeks of time.


With a GPH (gallons per hour) of 115 GPH, this Penn Plax Canister Filter is suitable for saltwater and freshwater aquariums with a maximum capacity of 30 gallons.

Personally, for a saltwater setup, I’d go for species like the Pajama Cardinal, Striped Blenny, Firefish Goby, and Green Mandarin Dragonet.

Flow Valves

It has flow valves that rotate 360 degrees so it can fit inside even the tiniest of gaps, and has a push button primer to allow for swift priming of the filter.

You even get a few accessories included with the Penn Plax Cascade 500, such as a spray bar, coarse sponge, and floss pad. What’s the use of a spray bar? Spray bars provide gentle water agitation, so they’re ideal for fish species that don’t like a lot of water movement like Bettas and Paradise fish.


Unfortunately, as much as I like this external filter, I did find a couple of minor issues with it. Firstly, assembling and disassembling the unit can be a bit of pain, especially as some parts like the hose are hard to get loose.

And secondly, the filter can be a bit noisy from time to time.


  • Weight: 9 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 115 GPH
  • Dimensions: 11.5” x 13.5” x 9”
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 30 Gallons


  • Space-saving design
  • Two large media baskets
  • Provides multi-stage filtration
  • Comes with accessories like media and a spray bar


  • Can be a little noisy
  • Assembly and disassembly can be fiddly
Best Canister Filter for Saltwater Aquariums

Fluval Fx6 High Performance Canister Filter

Marine tanks, especially those that house live corals, need a powerful filter to keep water quality under control. The Fluval Fx6 is a fantastic choice for saltwater tanks for this reason, boasting an impressive 925 GPH that’s suitable for aquariums up to 400 gallons.

Best Canister Filter for Saltwater Aquariums: Fluval Fx6 High Performance Canister Filter


In addition, the Fluval Fx6 features a SmartPump with advanced microchip technology that constantly checks pump performance for the best results. This is certainly a handy feature for monitoring the output of your filter…

The canister filter is self-priming to make setup a breeze. Simply add water, plug in the filter, and the Smart Pump will do all the work for you.

 It even automatically releases trapped air every 12 hours to provide optimal efficiency.

Smart Pump

Water changes can be a bit of a hassle to do, especially in large aquariums. Fluval has designed their professional external canister filter with this in mind by eliminating the need of carrying heavy buckets.

When you need to perform a water change in your aquarium, all you need to do is attach the hosing to the output (this kit is sold separately) and, once again, the Smart Pump takes over.

Media Container

You get several large filter trays that are both stackable and removable for ease. They can hold approximately 1.5 gallons of filter media, so you’ll have no trouble fitting all your media and some inside.

Better yet, the unit comes with mechanical, biological, and chemical media to save you the trouble of buying it separately.

There are a lot of other great aspects about the Fluval Fx6, including its anti-clog strainer, rubberized feet for silent operation, and multi-directional output nozzles to create customized water flows.


Despite its huge number of positives, this canister aquarium filter from Fluval can leak occasionally from the valve. The motor may also need more regular maintenance than the recommended 3 months to keep it working efficiently.


  • Weight: 19.9 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 925 GPH
  • Dimensions: 15.1” x 15.6” x 20.7”
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 400 Gallons


  • Self-priming pump
  • Ideal for saltwater tanks due to high output
  • Large media trays with chemical, mechanical, and biological media
  • Offers advanced features like a microchip technology, anti-clog drainer, and multi-directional output nozzles


  • Can leak occasionally from the valve
  • Motor requires frequent maintenance to function properly
Best Canister Filter for Freshwater Aquariums

OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo 350

This canister filter is a solid choice for freshwater aquariums, especially if you have tropical species that require warm water.

Best Canister Filter for Freshwater Aquariums: OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo 350

One of the aspects that sets the OASE Innoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo canister filter apart from some other filters on the market is its integrated heater.

Your aquarium will look a lot bigger as you won’t need to sacrifice space for an aquarium heater. The filter automatically heats the water it filtrates, giving your fish clean water at the perfect temperature.


Aside from having a built-in heater, the OASE Biomaster Thermo canister filter features 4-stage filtration: biological filtration, mechanical filtration, chemical filtration, and even prefiltration. It has a flow rate of 300 gallons per hour, making it effective for aquariums up to around 90 gallons.

All of these work harmoniously together to bring you sparkling clear water. The fish filter has an adjustable flow control, both for the inlet and outlet.

This allows you to tweak the speed of the flow, which is ideal for species that require a slower or faster current.


The canister filter is relatively easy to set up and clean as it’s self priming.

It also includes a shut-off automation with a built-in check valve that prevents leaks while you’re cleaning the unit. This is a convenient feature as aquarium canister filters can be messy to clean!

The main downside with this canister filter is that sometimes the integrated heater can be a little inaccurate. You might want to invest in an aquarium thermometer to monitor the temperature of your water.

Fortunately, the filter comes with a 3-year warranty with a free year warranty extension with online products if there are any major faults with the unit.


  • Weight: 16.56 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 300 GPH
  • Dimensions: 9.4” x 9.4” x 16.7”
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 90 Gallons


  • Has an integrated heater
  • Provides 4-stage filtration
  • Easy to maintain and setup
  • Automatically shuts off during cleaning to prevent leaks


  • Built-in heater can be a bit inaccurate

Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Filter

Featuring a water flow rate of 400 GPH, the Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Filter is powerful enough for freshwater and saltwater aquariums up to 155 gallons

Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Filter

It’s packed with biological, mechanical, and mechanical filter media that thoroughly eradicates waste and harmful toxins from your aquarium water. Better yet, it does all this while being relatively quiet.


Everything you need for cleaner aquarium water is included with the canister aquarium filter, such as quick disconnect valves, hoses, pump locking heads, and four types of filtration media (activated carbon, coarse foam, bio balls, and bio ceramic rings).

I like that the filter is preloaded with a variety of filtration media as it means you don’t need to buy it separately or figure out the right types to use. The filter also comes with a hang on back polishing unit which makes maintenance stress free.

Easier Maintenance

Rather than disassembling the canister housing to change the filter media inside the baskets, just replace the carbon cartridge. This saves you time during maintenance and means you won’t need to change your media as often, which is definitely a huge win in my books.

However, the Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Filter can take up to an hour to clean, especially as the priming system can take over half an hour to complete in some cases.


  • Weight: 19.45 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 400 GPH
  • Dimensions: 12” x 14.5” x 16”
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 155 Gallons


  • Weight: 19.45 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 400 GPH
  • Dimensions: 12” x 14.5” x 16”
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 155 Gallons


  • Can be a hassle to clean due to lengthy priming system process

Eheim 2217 Canister Filter

Next up are the Eheim Classic Canister Filters, boasting a single chamber design that maximizes mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

Eheim 2217 Canister Filter

The flow rate of this unit from Eheim filters has been accurately calculated in order to produce the right balance that’s needed between biological filtration and mechanical filtration, water circulation, and oxygen levels. This ensures your aquarium offers the best conditions for your fish.


You get fine coarse filter pads and activated carbon filter pads with the Eheim Classic Canister Filter, which saves you time and money purchasing filtration media separately.

I especially like this canister filter’s silent operation. One of my tanks is my living room, so this is a feature I’d appreciate so I can relax without any noisy distractions.

While priming the Eheim Classic Canister Filter can be a bit fiddly, it’s easy to set up and use once you’ve gotten to grips with the process.

Flow Rate

It has a water flow rate of 264 gallons per hour, so it’s plenty powerful for aquariums up to 65 gallons. While the manufacturer states the unit is sufficient for tanks up to 160 gallons, I wouldn’t recommend this.

Ideally, you should use a canister filter that has a turnover of four times the capacity of your aquarium in an hour.

Additionally, the flow rate on the Eheim Classic External Canister Filter can decrease over time, which is something you should keep an eye out for.


  • Weight: 14.3 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 264 GPH
  • Dimensions: 11” x 8.07” x 15.75
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 65 Gallons


  • Easy setup
  • Silent operation
  • Comes with coarse filter and carbon pads
  • Single chamber design to provide optimum tank conditions


  • Priming can be a bit fiddly
  • Flow rate can diminish over time

SunSun HW-303B Pro Canister Filter Kit

The SunSun HW-303B External Canister Filter provides a powerful filtration process while also eliminating algae spores and bacteria. It does this using its built-in 9-Watt UV sterilizer.

SunSun HW-303B Pro Canister Filter Kit

A UV sterilizer can be a great addition to a freshwater or marine tank as it prevents the spread of microorganisms from one living creature to another through a UV filter. This effectively controls infections.


The SunSun Canister Filter also offers a 5-stage filtration process and has a water flow rate of 370 GPH. Not only will it keep your aquarium water free of bacteria, but it will also keep it sparkling clear simultaneously.

I like that the aquarium canister filter is self-priming as this removes the need for manual siphoning. It makes maintenance a lot easier and less time consuming.

Media Trays

Another great quality about this canister aquarium filter is its three flexible filter media trays, all of which are a decent size. You can easily fit a variety of media types inside, such as ceramic rings, biological media bio balls, or foam sponges.

The main issue with the SunSun HW-303 External Canister Filter is its mediocre-quality plastic construction. It feels a little brittle and unsturdy, and some parts like the clasps can break off easily.


  • Weight: 18 lbs
  • Flow Rate: 370 GPH
  • Dimensions: 10.5" L X 10.5" W X 16" H
  • Maximum Tank Capacity: 100 Gallons


  • Strong flow rate
  • Built-in UV sterilizer
  • Comes with 4 flexible media trays
  • Self-priming to make maintenance easy


  • Plastic construction is a little flimsy

Now that you’ve seen the best canister filters above, here is some information to help you decide on which unit is ideal for your tank…

What Is a Canister Filter?

Canister Filter
Canister Filter

A canister filter is a type of fish tank filter used to remove debris, fish waste, and harmful toxins from the tank water.

It works by drawing water up through a lift tube and into an external filter chamber.

There, the water is pushed through a combination of filter media before it goes back into the tank.

Aquarium canister filters use pumps to move the water due to the system being sealed and external.

Is a Canister Filter Worth It?

Canister filters deliver superior filtration and are often considered the best type of fish tank filter due to their efficiency.

This makes them a worthwhile purchase, especially in saltwater, freshwater planted tanks, and turtle tanks.

The design allows for more waste to be caught by the filter, which ultimately gives you cleaner water.


Additionally, if you have large fish species or those with heavy bioloads, canister filters are better than other filter types as they can more effectively keep up with the waste production.

What Is the Best Canister Filter?

While canister filters are hard to beat performance and power wise, that can’t be said for all of them. Let’s take a look at some of the key features to look out for when choosing aquarium canister filters.


Canister filters are ideal for saltwater and freshwater tanks, especially if they’re planted or house large, messy species.

Due to their size and power, a pro canister filter might not be the best option for a nano tank or for species that don’t need a lot of flow.


If your tank is under 20 gallons, an internal or hang-on-back filter might be a better choice.


Compared to other types of filters like internal and hang-on-back filters, a pro canister filter can be pricey.

This is especially true if the device comes with extra accessories or advanced features.

However, you can still get a decent canister filter at an affordable price that’s simple yet effective, including some of the ones I’ve reviewed above.


Quality is one of the most important aspects when selecting a pro canister filter. The last thing you’d want is your filter malfunctioning – this could crash your tank and impact the health of your fish.

Take a look at user reviews of the unit you want to buy to get an idea of the quality and whether there are any issues that you need to keep an eye out for.

Additionally, you might want to check whether the filter comes with a year warranty or longer so you’re not out of pocket if you experience any problems.


Planted Aquarium
Planted Aquarium

Aquarium canister filters have an external chamber that needs to be placed below your fish tank, otherwise, they won’t work as effectively.

You’ll have to make sure you have a cabinet or enough space below your aquarium to fit your canister filter.

Aquarium Size

The capacity of your tank needs to be taken into consideration when choosing a canister filter, or any filter for that matter.


As a rule, your canister filter should be able to clean four times the volume of your aquarium in an hour. For example, if you have a 50-gallon aquarium, you should opt for a canister filter with a water flow rate of around 200 GPH,


What Are Filter Media?

Filtration media is a type of material that goes inside your filter that changes the quality of your tank water (for the better!).

Most canister filters have a three stage filtration process. The three types of filtration media are: mechanical, biological, and chemical.


Mechanical filtration works by trapping and eliminating debris from your aquarium water. Common types of mechanical media include filter foam, filter floss, and ceramic media.


Biological filtration is the act of beneficial bacteria breaking down harmful ammonia, converting it into nitrite, and then nitrate. Biological filter media houses the beneficial bacteria that performs this filtration process.

Bio balls and ceramic rings provide plenty of surface area for this type of bacteria to colonize.


Lastly, chemical filtration is the process of removing organic waste and pollutants from your aquarium water. This is usually achieved using chemical filtration media like activated carbon.

What Is the Best Media for a Canister Filter?

The best filtration media for a canister filter is mostly down to personal preference, so use whatever you think works best.

I personally use bio balls (for biological filtration), activated carbon (for chemical filtration), and filter floss mechanical media in all my canister filters.

When Should I Clean My Canister Filter?

Most canister filters don’t need to be cleaned as often as other types of filters like internal and hang-on-back units.

A clean every three or four months should be enough to keep your filter working as intended.

That said, the size of your aquarium, as well as the number and species of fish you own will need to be factored in. If your aquarium is overstocked or houses fish with heavy bioloads, your filter might need cleaning more often.

Here’s a helpful video on how to clean a canister filter.

How to Clean a Canister Filter

How Long Do Canister Filters Last?

The lifespan of a canister filter varies for each unit, but a high-quality canister filter should have no trouble lasting you at least 5 years. If you take good care of your filter and stay on top of maintenance, it could last you for even longer.

In case you encounter problems with your filter, you can try to bring it to service centers for repairs or replacements. If it’s not covered by warranty or you don’t want to spend, you can try checking the fish tank filter for problems yourself because sometimes the issue might just be a clog or a minor piece that needs replacement.

Is a Canister Filter Enough for Oxygen?

All filters provide enough oxygen for fish, including aquarium external canister filters. You shouldn’t need an airstone or air pump unless your aquarium is vastly overstocked.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a quick look at the best aquarium canister filters from the list…

Top Pick

After looking at a variety of canister aquarium filters, I think the best overall is the Fluval 07 Series 407 Performance Canister Filter due to its reliable high-quality performance.

It has a flow rate of 383 GPH while also being energy efficient to deliver an effective filtration system without drawing too much power. I like its sleek and sturdy design, as well as its straightforward setup and maintenance.

Best Value

If you’re after a more budget-friendly canister filter, the Cascade 500 Canister Filter is a solid choice. It’s both affordable and efficient, and is hard to beat in effectiveness for the price!

Best For Saltwater Aquariums

My top recommendation for a saltwater tank is the Fluval Fx6 High Performance Canister Filter. Its sheer power and 925 GPH flow rate alone makes it a great investment for marine species. It also comes with a huge range of features like a SmartPump and anti-clog drainer.

Best For Freshwater Aquariums

Alternatively, if you’re after the best canister filter for a freshwater aquarium, the OASE Indoor Aquatics Biomaster Thermo is worth considering as it has an integrated heater. Perfect for providing your fish with heated and clean water at the same time.

Share Your Thoughts!

That’s all for this best canister filters article, I hope I helped you find the right aquarium external canister filter for your tank based on my reviews. Which one did you decide on?

Let me know in the comments and take a look at some of our other aquarium guides if you need some help selecting fish species of equipment for your tank.

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