8 Best Canister Filters for 2020: A Complete Buying Guide

If you have spent big on a fish tank, you’re halfway toward providing a great environment for your aquatic pets. Apply the best canister filter to your aquarium to create a truly hospitable home.

Canister filters remove water from your tank, filter and cleanse it, then return the water to the aquarium. This means that the water in your fish tank remains clean and devoid of toxins. This, in turn, ensures that your fish remain happy and healthy.

How Do I Choose a Canister Filter?

There are plenty of canister filters on the market, so you’ll need to narrow your search criteria before purchasing. Things to consider while investigating your options include:

  • Size. The size of your canister filter will depend upon the dimensions of your fish tank. Ensure your filter measures up to the task in hand.
  • Power and Performance. A powerful canister filter will perform to a higher level, cleaning your tank more efficiently.
  • Cleaning. Pick a filter that doesn’t need to be cleaned too often, and is easy enough to do so.
  • Appearance. Looks aren’t everything, but canister filters sit outside your fish tank. You won’t want anything too unwieldly.
  • Versatility. You may keep different types of fish, or even different aquatic animals, in your tank. If so, pick a filter that’s suitable for this.
  • Price. Canister filters vary in cost. You get what you pay for, but don’t break the bank unless you need to.

This all sounds like a lot to take in. That’s why I have decided to take the sting out of the selection process by hand-selecting recommended canister filters for your consideration.

Best Aquarium Canister Filter Product Reviews

When you’re ready to start shopping for a canister filter, you’ll have no shortage of options. Here are eight of the best canister filters that will suit any set of needs.

Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

The best possible canister filter for your fish tank or aquarium depends on a range of different factors. Size is chief among these. Many experts speak very highly of the Cascade, and for good reason. It’s an excellent all-round filter. Personally, I consider it flawless for a 125-gallon tank.

The main reason for this is the potency and power of the motor on this filter. Expect the Cascade to turn over around 125 gallons of water each and every hour. This means that larger tanks are kept as spotless as their smaller counterparts. This performance is boosted by three separate filter trays.

This filter teeters at the more expensive end of the price range, but your investment will be repaid with quality. A warranty of three years should also offer a little reassurance.

The Good:

  • Excellent all-round performance.
  • High-quality and sturdy manufacturing.

The Bad:

  • Not the easiest to set up.
  • Priming can sometimes be awkward.

The Ugly:

  • Uses a lot of power in the home.
  • Spare and replacement parts can be costly.

Fluval 307 Performance Canister Filter

If you’re dealing with a larger tank that hosts plenty of fish, you’ll need a good canister filter that can handle the workload. I recommend the Fluval 307 if your aquarium holds over 150 gallons of water.

The 07 series has been a big seller for many years, and the 307 is the latest advance in the technology. This canister filter is quiet, powerful and effective. It also comes with a hugely impressive five-year warranty – one that you probably won’t need.

Beyond the price and the absence of a spray bar, there is little to suggest this canister filter is not ideal. It’s too strong for a smaller tank, but if you have a suitable set-up, it’s the best filter.

The Good:

  • Powerful motor with low energy consumption – comparable to a lightbulb.
  • Long warranty.

The Bad:

  • Pretty expensive.
  • Can be prone to occasional bypassing.

The Ugly:

  • Prone to leaking if not set up perfectly.

MarineLand Magnum Polishing Internal Canister Filter

If you’re keeping a solitary fish, you’ll only need a small tank. For aquatic abodes sized at 30 gallons, there’s little point in spending big on a filter. This is the best canister filter for 3-gallon tanks in my view, though it can be used in tanks up to 97 gallons.

This model differs from most canister filters in that it fits inside your fish tank. It turns over water at 290 gallons per hour, so that’s a tidy performance. A 97-gallon tank will be completely cleaned three times every hour. As discussed, I recommend it for smaller tanks. This way, your water is constantly being refreshed.

This is among the cheapest canister filters on the market, so it will be appealing to any fish owner on a budget. It’s also easy to clean. Just be aware that it’s not the quietest, and it’s pretty bulky. Never use this filter if you have more than one fish in your smaller tank. It’s also unlikely to last long the entire three-year warranty, so be prepared to replace it at short notice.

The Good:

  • Fits inside the fish tank.
  • Cheap and cheerful.

The Bad:

  • Noisy.
  • Bulky within the tank.

The Ugly:

  • Needs regular maintenance.
  • Not the sturdiest of filters.

Polar Aurora Free Media 3-Stage External Canister Filter

I have discussed sizes throughout these reviews so far, so why stop now? This canister filter is my selection for the finest model for 100 gallons tank.

It turns over water at 370 gallons per minute, so you’ll keep a clean tank – especially with a triple cleaning model that takes care of any all potential dirt and algae.

A 9-watt UV light is also included in this filter, which adds an additional layer of cleaning – as well as illumination. Everything you could possibly need is included in the box, and the flow rate is perfectly adequate.

This filter also self-primes, which will save you some labor. It does need a more thorough clean than most canister filters though, and potentially more often.

This is a mid-range price point canister filter that offers slightly above mid-range performance. It’s a good for choice for slightly larger tanks that need a powerful motor but cannot cope with too much horsepower.

The Good:

  • Solid all-in-one solution to filtering needs.
  • Easy to set up and offers self-priming.

The Bad:

  • Needs more maintenance than some competitors.
  • Fussy about the quantity of media used for maximum performance.

The Ugly:

  • Pretty big – may not fit in an existing cabinet.
  • Comparatively flimsy and warranty is just a single year.

MarinelandMagniflow Canister Filter

Now I would like to take a look at what I consider the best canister for 55-gallon fish tanks. This filter from Marineland comes in three sizes, but I consider the 55-gallon model – the middle of the range – to find the sweet spot.

The biggest selling point of this canister filter is the tri-stage filtration system. This filter removes chemical, biological and mechanical intruders from your aquarium. This ensures that you’ll find no trace of solids, impurities, odors or unnatural growths. Your water will look as pure as the ocean.

This canister filter is also quick and easy to set up and comes equipped with a self-priming function. The cost is firmly at the mid-range,and the performance is impressive for this comparatively minor outlay. Just be aware, there are tougher filters on the market. You may need to make use of this filter’s three-year warranty sooner than you’d like.

The Good:

  • Triple-stage filtration for the cleanest possible water.
  • Water polishing feature.

The Bad:

  • Unsuitable for smaller tanks –only invest if you have a 55-gallon aquarium.
  • Feels a little flimsy compared to other models.

The Ugly:

  • Quite a bulky design.
  • Connections can come loose – check regularly.

Fluval Advanced Filtration System

If you’re prepared to spend big, Fluval considers this to be the gold standard of canister filters. Years of development, and a whole lot of money, were thrown into the design and manufacture of this canister filter.

Was it worth it? Yes … with a handful of caveats. This is an extremely costly piece of kit, and for the outlay you’d be entitled to expect perfection. This filter falls just short of such a title, though it comes closer than any competitor.

You can keep freshwater and saltwater fish using this canister, and other forms of marine life. The filter is also equipped with an LCD display, so you’ll be able to review all manner of data. It also sets off an alarm when anything untoward occurs, such as a drop in flow rate. Just note that this is visual only, not audible.

This remains a hugely impressive filter. The performance is through the roof, especially for larger tanks. It also boasts features that no other filter has. Despite the warranty only lasting two years, I’d recommend it to anybody that can afford it. That price tag will be a big sticking point for many, though.

The Good:

  • Suitable for any form of marine life.
  • Monitors all manner of accurate data.

The Bad:

  • Extremely expensive.
  • Heater needs to be purchased separately – more cost.

The Ugly:

  • Exterior scratches easily.
  • LCD display shuts down after inactivity, must be touched to reactive display.

Sunsun Hw304B 525GPH Pro Canister

If speed is important to you, this canister filter from SunSun will be hugely appealing. This canister can fit larger fish tanks of up to 125 gallons, and filters water at a rate of up to 525 gallons per hour. That’s hugely impressive turnaround. There is a price to pay in the form of noise and a heavy and unwieldy design, but that’s to be expected for such a strong motor.

The filter also contains a UV feature, which ensures additional cleaning prowess. On top of the three-tier chemical, mechanical and biological cleaning filters, the UV will kill off any stubborn and lingering algae.

As always, however, there is always a drawback to such high rates of performance. The motor on this model is not the most reliable. The problems are usually identifiable and relatively simple to fix. You’ll need to monitor it regularly, though. This isn’t the ideal canister filter for anybody that regularly travels and cannot check on their fish daily.

If you can look past this issue, however, this is a great canister filter – especially for the comparatively reasonable price. The speed alone makes it worth looking at. Just remember to regularly check it and be aware that the warranty is just one year.

The Good:

  • Fast performance.
  • UV filtering for additional cleaning.

The Bad:

  • Motor performance can drop.
  • Not everybody likes UV filtering.

The Ugly:

  • Heavy and bulky design.
  • Noisier than some.

EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter

Experienced fish owners may say that I have saved the best for last. This canister from EHEIM has been a popular choice among aquarium aficionados for many years, and it’s easy to see why. It pairs high performance with an appealing price point and two-year warranty.

This classic canister filter is easy to set up and comes in five sizes – 40, 66, 92, 180 or 300 gallons. It’s sturdy and reliable and runs virtually silently. The canister also needs little power to remain operational. This means that your electricity bills will not take a hammering.

It’s not the prettiest canister on the market, so you’ll want to keep it hidden from view in a cabinet. Cleaning and maintenance can also be very fiddly. If you know what you’re doing, however, this is a great option. It will certainly keep the water of your aquarium looking crystal clear.

The Good:

  • Simple to set up.
  • Reliable and long-lasting.

The Bad:

  • Cleaning could be easier.
  • No self-priming or media trays.

The Ugly:

  • Unappealing aesthetic.
  • Replacement parts are expensive.


Is a Canister Filter Worth it?

If you have some level of experience with fish keeping and aquarium maintenance, a canister filter is a great investment. I use the word investment, as these items are typically costlier than power filters. They cleanse water with great efficiency though, and prevent the risk of fish leaving the tank.

How Long Do Canister Filters Last?

Canister filters have a great many components. In theory, that’s a lot of parts that could potentially break and fail. In addition, you’ll need to regularly clean and maintain your filter. If you take the appropriate care, however, a high-quality canister filter could last over a decade. This makes the initial outlay worthwhile.

Can a Canister Filter Sit Next to the Tank?

Yes. Technically, canister filters can be located in any external territory close to your fish tank. Below is best, but beside is fine. If you try to place your canister filter above the aquarium, you risk raising it above the water line. This can make it challenging for the filter to do its job.

How Often Should You Clean a Canister Filter?

Regular cleaning is an essential part of canister filter maintenance. At a bare minimum, you should clean your filter once a month. If you can afford it, consider buying two filters and alternating. You should not leave a fish tank without a filter for longer than 24 hours, so this buys you time for essential maintenance.

How Big of a Canister Filter Do I Need?

This depends on the size of your fish tank. Investigate the packaging of any filter that catches your eye. It will tell you how many gallons or liters of water it can work with. Match this to the size of your aquarium. Don’t be tempted to go larger – it’s possible for a filter to be too powerful.

Who Makes the Best Canister Filter?

As always, this down to personal preference. Everybody has their own brand loyalty. Check back on my reviews, however, and you’ll see that MarineLand and Fluval make up half my recommendations between them. You can rarely go wrong with these manufacturers. Many swear by EHEIM classic canister filter, though.

Wrap Up

This brings my journey through the aquatic world of canister filters to a close. I hope you have found my insights helpful and feel suitably prepared to make a choice for your own aquarium. Check my reviews again, and decide which filter is best suitable for the size and inhabitants of your fish tank.