Looking for the Best Canister Filter For Your Aquarium? If you’re looking for the best canister filter because you’ve just upgraded in tank size, congrats! That was the reason I got my first one. I remember upgrading from a 20g tank to a 45g tank, which I inconveniently had in me and the wifeys bedroom. First thing I did was go out and buy a bigger HOB (Hang on the back) filter and race home to make sure my fish didn’t die from lack of oxygen from my tiny HOB. By that night, my wife told me either I buy a quieter filter or she would flush my fishy friends down the toilet. To be fair, HOB’s are insanely loud and thus began my search for the best canister filter.

1. Marineland C-Series Multi-Stage Canister Filter

Marineland PC-ML360 Multi-stage Canister Filter, 55 to 100-Gallon, 360GPH


  • Virtually no noise
  • Comes with DVD instructions
  • For both growing good bacteria and trapping detritus (waste) no HOB filter can compare
  • Built-in handles in the trays make it super easy to clean and take apart in minutes


  • The reinforcement clips fall off – I found they weren’t needed to keep the hoses from separating from the plastic pieces though. They now serve as a cat toy.

My favorite model, currently I have two of these running on my main tank. They have 4 model sizes for varying tank sizes. I would highly recommend going one size up if you can afford it because A. more filtration never hurts B. if you’re upgrading now, what happens the next time you upgrade? I’ll tell you what, you end up with two like me!

The DVD is a great help too. Printed instructions are great and all, but there is zero confusion when you’re watching exactly how to set this puppy up, also it’s easy to set up
3-4 trays of media depending on the model.

I’ve never had a problem with these units and they run extremely quiet, have my 75g tank 3ft from my bed and you can’t hear a thing. Definitely give it two thumbs up! It offers equal performance to it’s more expensive rival in the #2 position.

2. Fluval External Canister Filter

Fluval Canister Filter for Aquariums - 406 - 100 Gallon

  • 3-4 trays of media depending on the model.
  • For both growing good bacteria and trapping detritus (waste) no HOB filter can compare
  • Basically the same features of the Marineland
  • Have been complaints of leakage (yikes!)
  • A few isolated incidents regarding an increased level of noise from the motor over time

The slightly more expensive cousin of the Marineland filter. A lot of people swear by Fluval’s stuff, including their designer fish tanks. There is denying they make beautiful tanks and they’re canister filters are up to par. You basically get all the features of the Marineland filter but pay a premium for the name. All around still a good choice.

Although there have been a few rare complaints against it, Fluval is a leading brand in the aquarium industry for a reason. It is definitely the “popular” brand. They have also came out with a new Fluval “G” series that has a whole lot new bells and whistles.

3. Eheim Classic External Canister Filter with Media

EHEIM Classic Canister Filter 2211, Classic 150 - PetOverstock


  • Economically priced
  • A trusted brand, quality parts
  • One of the oldest brands in the industry


  • Fewer features than it’s counterparts
  • No media trays for easy in and out cleaning

Eheim has been around forever. They definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to aquarium equipment. This model is a no fuss, no frills, straight get what you need product.

If you can live with a few less “nice to have” features to save a few bucks, definitely go with this model. There is a lot to be said for German engineering and I would trust this way more with my fish than a cheaper Chinese model brand. They also have more high tech units, but because of the quality and craftsmanship, they demand a higher price tag.


Why You Need a Canister Filter

I’m sure on your aquarium journey you’ve been gouged a few times, whether it be for fish, new plants, or even decorations and I know that canister filters are quite a bit more pricy than their HOB counterparts. Every penny is worth it though not just for you, but for your fishy friends; some of which you may have paid top dollar for.

It’s Actually CHEAPER!

That’s right you heard it, canister filters are cheaper! Let’s average out canister filters at about $130, while a HOB is $40 + $10 per cartridge refill. You’re a diligent fish keeper, so you change your HOB’s cartridges every 4 weeks. Over a year, you’ve spent $130 on cartridges! Canisters internal media do not need to be rebought regularly, just washed. So the choice is up to you. Why would you want to pay more for an inferior product in the long run?

Crystal Clear Water

After switching from an Aquaclear HOB to a canister filter, within a few hours I noticed a severe impact on water quality. Prior to having the canister, I didn’t notice anything wrong with my water but after letting it run for a few hours my water literally looked crystal clear. This is due to the structure of the canister filter allowing more room to catch particles, waste, and anything other than water. With a HOB, the water as the option to flow up or around the filters, resulting in waste being recirculated into your tank.

Longer Intervals between Maintenance.

Personally, I’m pretty diligent with cleaning my aquarium, but let’s face it, less work is always better! HOB filters require more changing of the filter cartridges as they trap detritus (waste), which left unchanged leads to nitrate issues. With a canister filter, I give it a quick clean once per month, sometimes I can extend it to a month and a half with zero issues.

HOB filters also have the tendency to encourage algae growth, something no aquarist wants. Also when changing the HOB filters cartridges, you are removing all the good bacteria along with the waste which can result in your tank doing a mini cycle – many fish have died this way. Compared to canisters where you just rinse out the filter media and retain all the good bacteria. Canister filters have greatly increased area for good bacteria to grow resulting in fewer nitrates in your tank and happier fish.

Controlled Flow

With a canister filters tubes, you can adjust the flow coming out of them via control valves. With a HOB filter, you have a massive cascading waterfall plummeting into the corner of your tank. Firstly canister filters flow goes horizontal, increasing the flow of water to the intake and creating a cycle of fresh water. A HOB crashes down in a straight line and disperses unevenly. This is also detrimental to fish that do not like strong currents (as I found out when I started keeping Discus). At least with the canister filter you have the option of controlling the flow, and importantly the flow direction.


There’s no doubt that having a clean rimmed tank looks way better than a transformer looking thing hanging on the back. You must also consider the fit on your tank. Going back to my 45g tank HOB upgrade story, I brought it home only to find out the damn thing didn’t fit on the rim of my tank! If your tank is not rimless and has some type of “lip” be aware that this may be an issue. Switching to a canister also allowed me to put my fish tank right up against the wall saving a bit of space in the room.

They are Quiet

I can’t say this point enough, there is ZERO comparisons between the two. Most canister filters generate zero noise, while HOB’s offer that cascading waterfall noise, which isn’t so pleasant after a while and if you have a significant other in the house who isn’t the biggest fan of your money eating (but oh so rewarding) hobby, this will be one of the first bones they’ll pick with you. There’s also a reason why you’re not supposed to put your fish tank close to the TV or your computer…because fish are sensitive to noise!

Canister Filters FAQ

Q: Can I use a canister filter on a saltwater tank?

A: Short Answer: NO. A saltwater tank’s filtration is primarily the live rock and the BEST solution and my opinion only solution is to use a sump. Using a canister filter can trap deadly nitrates and cause a lot of harm to saltwater tanks. Anything that traps waste (which is what a canister filter does), creates more chances for nitrate spikes that could kill your fish. Saltwater tanks are notoriously known for not being cheap, the last thing you want to skimp out on is your fishes ability to breathe!

Q: Why can’t I just buy a Chinese brand filter, aren’t they all the same?

A: You could. I have bought two different ones for my smaller tanks (2og & 45g). The plastic quality does not instill you with confidence and leaves you wondering if you’ll come home to a river in your living room. I also noticed the filter media that came with the filters to be absolute garbage, and ended up spending more money to re buy my own filter media (ceramic rings, bio balls, carbon, etc). They are quite a bit noisier than their more quality counterparts and some people have claimed that their flow rates are lower than claimed, so in all I rather just avoid them.

Q: The HOB filter I’m looking at has the same flow rate as the canister, isn’t it just as good?

A: No. The water that flows through the HOB filter essentially can run over and around your filter media, not forcing it to pass through your media like a canister filter. This lets debris flow back into your tank and doesn’t allow your good bacteria to work to its fullest potential. Depending on your HOB type, a canister filter is superior because it offers either a spray bar or return valve to deliver water back into the tank. This creates less noise and creates far less water evaporation than compared to the waterfall effect of a Hang on the back filter. Canister filters also allow you the option of using water polishing pads that will remove every last spec of dirt & dust to give you crystal clear water.

Q: My canister filter asks me to change all of my media every couple of months?

This is a bit of a money grab. If you do your monthly maintenance and rinse out your media well, there is no reason for you to be changing it. The only exception is if you use carbon bags, which need to be changed regularly as the effects of the carbon wear off over time. But this can be said for any type of filter.

My name is James, and I’m in love with aquariums and fish since I was 12 years old. Back then my dad gave me a goldfish, and it’s been 35 years learning about this fascinating hobby. I’ve had some freshwater aquariums, tried my hand with marine tanks for 10 years, and kept some reefs for a while too. Here in the website I try to share some of my knowledge and experiences on fish keeping.


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