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The 7 Best Aquarium Canister Filters (For Pristine Water)

best aquarium canister filter header
Updated: 11/2021

When choosing something that will keep your fish tank clean you’ll need a little more than just a product description. For this reason, I’ll share some ideas and actual experience with how to pick the most efficient aquarium canister filter for your system.

In my reviews, I’ll cover some decent external filters to get on a budget and some of the premium units which are mandatory for heavily stocked fish tanks.

Could you get away with overstocking without crashing the Nitrogen cycle?

So what should you look for in a canister filter for a freshwater aquarium with plenty of fish and how to choose the best one for your setup?

A-to-Z Beginner’s Guide on Choosing a Canister Filter

External filtration is a must-have hardware in all aquarium systems. But why is that?

We need to be aware of the important factors that should play a role in our choice of a canister filter, before making a decision.

So before I start reviewing products, I must walk you through these factors.

Follow these steps when evaluating a canister filter for your aquarium:

1. Consider livestock and bioload.

The type of livestock you keep is 50% of your decision on a canister filter.

  • When dealing with a heavily planted tank you’d look for something that will move around carbon dioxide. Yet if you pick a canister filter that’s too strong, the current may tear down parts of your precious aquatic plants. What I do in these cases is setting up a spray bar outlet, which reduces the incoming pressure and spreads the stream;
  • The size of your fish also plays a role in your pick. I’ve noticed that smaller fish can either get blown around or sucked in by a stronger filter. Larger fish often prefer a slower current. Fish like Betta fish, angelfish, and other long-tailed species may have difficulties swimming in a stronger current. Most bottom dwellers like a good current;
  • The mess your fish make has the greatest impact on your pick of a filtration system. When I used to keep larger Goldfish I quickly realized that they are notorious for the mess they make and require stronger filters. The large 100%-carnivorous fish within my predatory aquariums would produce huge amounts of waste as well. For this reason, if you plan on keeping a freshwater eel, cichlids, Oscars, or Piranhas, a highly-rated canister filter is a must. This, in combination with your fish tank’s size, will determine the water turnover you’d want to have in your system.

In any case, getting a canister filter with large trays for filter media is the best way to make sure your tank remains cycled at all times. The more filter media there is – the more surface for the beneficial bacteria to inhabit.

Author’s note: An oversized filter won’t be able to prevent the growth of hair algae if your tank’s water is oversaturated with organics from the messy fish.

2. Take into account the size of your tank.

The dimensions and gallon capacity of your aquarium will determine how much water you’d want to be turned per hour.

I would usually recommend that you look for at least 4 times of water turnover per hour with canister filters.

However, according to your livestock, this number can be scaled up to 6 or 7 with larger, messier aquarium fish (see the previous section on livestock).

Different canister filters have different GPH (gallons per hour) / LPH (liters per hour) turnover ratings.

Author’s note: The advertised GPH is usually tested on a tank that only has water in it. No aquascape or rockwork. Filtration media is also absent from this test.

I have found that depending on the motor of the canister filter, the advertised number may get reduced by up to 60% when you add filter pads, rockwork, aquatic plants, and aquarium fish.

This is an important consideration when looking up canister filters and comparing characteristics. It is the reason why I’m suggesting that you get a canister filter rated for fish tanks that are twice as large as yours, and every experienced fishkeeper will likely agree with me.

Note: “for XX-Gallon Tanks” ratings and GPH are two separate characteristics.

The rating is done by the manufacturer and will often vary greatly.

For example, two separate canister filters may have the exact same GPH (say, 100), but one can be rated for 75-gallon tanks and the other for 90-gallons.

No worries, I will help with this later in the article. Check the quick navigation links on top of this page if you want to skip to the chase.

3. Bear in mind the manufacturing architecture.

The way a canister filter is assembled plays a great role in its durability and efficiency.

I won’t go into details (as I’m not that tech-savvy), but a good indication here can be the brand of the canister filter.

There are brands that have been tested by thousands of fishkeepers throughout the years and eventually stood out.

For example, you can expect a filter that’s manufactured in Germany to last several years more than a cheaper Chinese version.

This is not always the case though. I am actually reviewing a Chinese product in this guide because it has proven itself to me (and many others for that matter).

A well-built filter will have sturdy parts, unsusceptible to breaking or malfunction.

The architecture will also determine the loudness of a canister filter during work.

4. The pumping motor and its impeller should be reliable.

The rotor of a canister filter is its heart and soul.

Given that I’d only turn the filter off during maintenance, a strong and durable impeller is a must for me.

All of the filters I am reviewing here have great motors, as expected. The motor is the only moving part inside your unit.

There are two types of motors that canister filters employ:

  • One is an epoxy-sealed motor. A particular feature of these motors is that the impeller is positioned upside-down. This in itself is a practical solution to moisture and debris, that can hinder proper function. These motors rely on electricity powering a magnetic coil, which in turn rotates the impeller;
  • The other type is a motor that’s magnetically driven. Although these motors also utilize a magnetic coil for their spin there are a couple of major differences to be pointed out. One is that these motors are self-priming. I really appreciate this type of motor, because, for me, priming is by far the most annoying feature of canister filters. On the other hand, the impellers of these motors are exposed to more debris and may get clogged faster. Nothing to be scared of, as with proper maintenance these motors can actually save you the hassle.

Anyway, the sealing in a motor is its second most important feature.

During my research before I got my first canister filter, I found out that worn-out rubber O-rings are the main reason for leaks.

Fortunately, replacing them is not something hard or expensive.

Here’s a pretty good video on motor maintenance, that I wish more people would see.

It’s only 7 minutes long but it will absolutely clarify the basics of how motors work.

Watch it and you’ll know what to do when they fail, instead of panicking.

Bear in mind that the video is on a Fluval FX6. That’s a high-end canister filter. A motor failure in such a unit is very unlikely.

5. Sealing is what prevents leaking.

My filters are circulating hundreds of gallons of water daily. I don’t want that water to end up on my floor.

The valves in a canister filter can be the difference between a year-long service and costly part replacements.

Though the models mentioned below all stand out with excellent sealing I am obligated to mention this, in case you decide on another product.

Anyhow, you can’t really establish if a valve is properly sealing the water if the filter’s not running. A good indication of quality sealing can be online reviews from REAL buyers.

Your local fish store will not mention any weakness in what they’re selling unless you encounter a really honest salesman.

My suggestion is this:

Visit a large online store such as Amazon or Chewy and browse through the 4 (out of 5) star reviews.

These are honest evaluations of the products and if there’s anything fishy going on with the sealing, someone will probably mention it.

I would say that this technique applies to checking most “uncheckable” features of any product.

6. Be aware of the potential loudness during operation.

One of the most enticing features in canister filters is how quiet they operate, unlike their HOB counterparts.

However, there are models that will be noisier than others.

This is not to a significant extent as they are all pretty quiet.

Yet if you consider yourself a super light sleeper and you keep your fish tank in the bedroom there are models that will suit you better.

Some canisters are virtually silent. I’ve done noise reviews on a couple of ones to aid you in the quest of finding the quietest aquarium filter.

In case you don’t have the time to skim through that guide, look up the sound-dampening motor feature in the description of your unit of choice. Most canister filters by Fluval, for example, will have that.

7. Disassembling a unit for maintenance may take some time.

For me, this is probably the only overall con of canister filters.

Though MOST of them are designed with the idea to be taken apart easily, it takes me time.

When you’re considering a canister filter for your freshwater aquarium you should be prepared for what comes with that.

If you end up getting a quality device and filter pads, like the ones I will describe below, the cleaning should only occur every 2 to 3 months.

But it is somewhat time-consuming.

Larger canister filters will need to be transported outside because they will spit water upon opening the valves (with a few exceptions). I am not the weakest person, but moving around a canister that has a volume of 3 to 4 gallons can prove heavy to some or, at least, annoying.

I don’t mean to scare you, but rather prepare you, as you may consider this an unpleasant surprise.

Anyway, the good thing here is that this only needs to be done 4 to 5 times per year.

In my opinion, for the type of aquarium filtration these filters provide, the 20 minutes of cleaning are well-worth it.

8. Some units can have bulky dimensions.

What I consider to be one of the main advantages of canister filters is that they offer plenty of room for filter media.

It’s a blessing and a curse.

By having a lot of media you make sure that the fish tank can be overstocked, without worrying about crashing the Nitrogen cycle.

However, some units can be quite large – something you cannot really tell from their stock photos.

Do check the dimensions in the description, if you’re browsing aquarium filters online.

It is quite unfortunate to have a filter shipped to your door, just to see there’s no place to reasonably fit it in your stand.

It is true that these filters do not spoil the interior of my fish tanks. However, they can be unsightly when sitting in a random place near the aquarium.

Do your measures and make sure your aquarium stand can hide the canister filter.

If needed, modify your stand beforehand by drilling a hole here and there.

9. Check the power consumption because the device will run 24/7.

If you’re like me, you are likely running more than one fish tank at home.

Then you’d know that this hobby can make a decent portion of your electricity bills.

Fortunately, some canister filter manufacturers take this into consideration as well.

Eheim, for example, is known to not break the bank when it comes to power consumption.

Note that a couple of Watts can make a notable $$$ difference in the long run.

Though it’s not something that really weighs on my choice for a canister filter I am obligated to mention it.

10. The weight of your wallet may also play a role in your choice.

A general rule of thumb is that canister filters are pricier than HOB or sponge filters.

The difference in the price originates from the main advantages of canister filter over the other types of aquarium filters:

  • flowrate controllability;
  • higher water turnover capacity;
  • very silent operation;
  • undisturbed aquarium aesthetics;
  • considerably more room for filtration media as a bed for beneficial bacteria.

You could probably see that, as I continuously repeat throughout this guide, you get what you pay for.

However, I am familiar with the fact that sometimes we just have a set budget that we can’t really go over.

For this exact reason, I will make canister filter recommendations for people on a budget as well. It may not be the perfect case for your fish tank setup, but it will be the best bang for your buck.

Author’s note: In some cases, the price of a well-established brand will include the brand itself.

This is normal for all types of goods, and here is no different.

Don’t let this push you away though, a brand is only well-established when there’s a good reason for that (the love of the people).

Your final choice of a canister filter will be worth its price.

11. The more room for filtering media – the better.

A canister filter offers multiple stages of water filtration.

The larger devices will have up to 6 trays for filter media. My experience with larger fish shows that the more bed I provide for beneficial bacteria in my aquarium – the merrier.

The volume a media tray provides will also vary with each canister filter. Some units will be just huge, offering plenty of space for housing nitrifying bacteria.

Smaller filter trays lead to more often cleaning, likely because of the accumulation of Nitrate in the fish tank’s water. A larger media tray will not clog with gunk too quickly, allowing more flow that would move the Nitrate around to be used by your aquatic plants, for example.

By employing more biological media you can be sure that your fish tank remains cycled at all times.

Anyhow, a quick hack I found is to use inexpensive filter floss that will make your aquarium water crystal clear within hours.

Really great for planted tanks as well.

I’d put a considerable amount in my canister filters and change it every 2 months to absolutely polish my aquarium water.

You can also use the stuff as your sole media for biological filtration.

The 7 Best Aquarium Canister Filters: My Reviews

Before we go through each entry, take a look at a comparison chart of the reviewed products:

Canister Filter: For Freshwater Aquarium Size: Price Bracket:
1. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Filter Series 30 to 75-gallon aquariums $$
2. Eheim Classic 22(XX) External Filters 10 to 55-gallon aquariums $$
3. SunSun HW Canister Filter 40 to 75-gallon aquariums $
4. Fluval X07 External Aquarium Filter 20 to 55-gallon aquariums $$$
5. Fluval FX(X) Aquarium Canister Filter 75 to some understocked 125-gallon aquariums $$$$
6. Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Filter 55 to 100-gallon aquariums $
7. Eheim Professional 4+ 30 to some 60-gallon tanks that are very heavily stocked $$$$

A bulky aquarium filter will likely guarantee good water quality through its strong circulation and additional space for the biofilter bacteria. Below you’ll only find reviews of models that I’ve personally used or have seen work in the systems of my friends and clients. Try one of these canister filters in your new freshwater aquarium:

1. Cascade Canister Filter Series – Best for Larger Fish Tanks on a Budget

penn plax cascade
Click to compare pricing + see MORE photos of this product at:

The Penn Plax Cascade aquarium canister filters have absolutely exploded in the fishkeeping world. When I was doing the research before getting myself one, I discovered that they were probably the top-rated aquarium filter for medium to large freshwater fish tanks.

My first impression of this unit was that it is a rather ugly-looking filter which, however, definitely surprised me in terms of performance and durability.

Depending on the model the Cascade will have between 2 and 5 stages of filtration. That, along with how spacious the filter trays are, allows us aquarists to be as flexible as we want with our filter media of choice.

Another feature that kind of won my heart is how this canister filter is built.

The manufacturers use a special kind of sturdy plastic (unlike other brands) that makes these aquarium filters very sturdy.

As small-ish plastic parts are the first thing to break in a canister filter, this comes off as a huge advantage, at least for me.

Anyhow, what gave the final push for me to end up with one was that the Cascade series are absolutely customizable.

You get to play with your desired flow rate and the valves are able to rotate 360 degrees each.

For me, this meant that I could position the cartridge wherever I wanted and also, protect my slow simmers if they were to dislike the stronger water current.

After I got my first Cascade I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to install the unit.

I think that if you’re a total novice in canister filters you will manage to set it up from the first time.

Furthermore, the maintenance and disassembly of this filter seem to be a child’s play.

Having tested many brands throughout the years, I consider this canister filter the most novice-friendly in that regard.

You will also experience the benefit of a self-priming motor.

Manual priming is usually the most annoying disadvantage of canister filters, as I’ve already pointed out.

Anyway, all of the aforementioned comes along with an excellent level of filtration from this canister filter.

Another thing I’m thankful for is that no modifications were needed for this unit to work properly in my aquarium systems.

The package includes a spray bar and a spout outlet. From here, it’s only up to you to choose whichever works best for your freshwater setup.

Author’s note: If your aquarium tank is not elongated use the spray-bar. These models give off a strong output stream which may disturb slow-swimmers if not taken care of. The spray bar will significantly soften outlet pressure, solving the issue.

  • Highly customizable (flow rate included);
  • Comes with a spout outlet & a spray-bar;
  • Up to 5 stages of filtration;
  • Self-priming button;
  • Easy to disassemble;
  • Sturdy plastics;
  • Quiet;
  • Straight-forward instructions;
  • Comes with carbon filtration.
  • Not all of the water passes through the trays (given the flow rate potential, this is not really an issue);
  • Not as long-lasting as other filters;
  • The handle may not strong enough to carry the unit.

2. Eheim Classic 22(XX) Series – For Smaller Overstocked Aquariums

eheim classic external canister filter
Click to compare pricing + see MORE photos of this product at:

The Eheim Classic external canister filters are manufactured in Germany.

These units have been around in the aquarium industry for quite some time.

I can only say they still work perfectly for certain freshwater aquarium systems (according to my experience).

They are not a new model but have managed to survive the test of time on the market.

In my experience this may be because there are certain things that only an Eheim aquarium filter will provide:

These aquarium canister filters provide excellent durability for their price while being easy to maintain (something that’s not often seen with large external filters). They also have more space for filter media and a flow rate that’s not super strong. This makes the Eheim Classic 22xx Series one of the best choices for messy, long-finned fish such as goldfish and Oscars.

On the other hand, Eheim as a brand holds positions among the best canister filters suitable for small and large aquariums.

This is likely because the 22xx Series (2211, 2213, 2215, 2217, 2260, 2262) have a solidly assembled structure that results in impressive longevity.

It should be noted that the 2260 and 2262 are not part of the Classic Series and they suit a very large aquarium.

It is not uncommon to have an Eheim run flawlessly for over 10 years. This has been my experience, but if you do a little research you’ll find that to be true for many other users.

For the price tag, these aquarium filters are probably your best long-term investment (for serious fishkeepers only!).

I’ve had the pleasure to own a couple of Eheim units throughout my years of keeping fish.

In my experience, the advertised filtration of the units gets reduced the least with adding filter media.

They are really quiet and can be used for aquarium systems that stay in bedrooms.

The German engineers also made sure that you do not break the bank with electricity bills.

The Eheim canister filters are well-optimized for 24/7 work while remaining efficient in terms of power consumption.

An aspect I find important, as my freshwater aquariums make a significant portion of my bills.

Author’s note: Thanks to how long-lasting the Eheim aquarium equipment is, you are very likely to score a nice deal on a second-hand unit.

You will pay 40% to 50% of the price and the filter will be running like brand new, for years to come.

  • Enormous space for filter media which helps with keeping an overstocked fish tank cycled;
  • Stunning longevity of the units;
  • Permo-elastic silicone sealing;
  • Comes with the various useful media upon purchase;
  • Easy on the maintenance part;
  • Simple installation;
  • Exceptionally quiet operation.
  • Overall lower GPH for the price (which can be good for beneficial bacteria);
  • The canister is somehow large;
  • The motor is not self-priming;
  • The manuals are garbage (just watch a video online on how to set it up).

3. SunSun HW External Canister Filter – Strong Circulation at a Cheaper Price

polar aurora external canister filter
Click here to check pricing + see MORE photos of this product at Amazon.com

Coming from China, you may also find these canister filters under the brands of Polar Aurora or Aquatop.

Anyway, these canister filters are suitable for anyone with a larger freshwater aquarium on a tighter budget. This is because the SunSun external filters provide the best water turnover for the money.

Since they’re manufactured in China you don’t really pay for the name of a famous brand.

What I also like about them is that they will come in a full kit, unlike some of the other more popular canister filters.

Ordering one will land you 6 filter pads (2 coarse and 4 medium ones), some bio balls, ceramic bio-rings, and a 9 Watt UV light for sterilizing.

Author’s note: A UV sterilizer is a device that irradiates the water with UltraViolet light and kills pathogens and other nasties that may plague your aquarium’s water. If Typically it’s it’s recommended that you get a standalone UV sterilizer if you have issues with the water in your fish tank. You can learn more about the best UV sterilizers for clearing aquarium water by clicking here.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, none of the other canister filters mentioned here come with a built-in UV sterilizer.

This filter’s box even includes a bonus of activated carbon media, which is great if you’re not into running separate GFO and carbon media reactors.

Anyhow, the SunSun canister also has a priming button. From what I’ve seen, you only need to press it a couple of times, when there’s air inside the unit.

A con of this slightly cheaper canister filter is that the instructions for the setup seem like a literal translation from online software. In places, the text doesn’t make any sense in English.

If I have to be honest, this unit is great if you’re absolutely new to filters and you just want to try the idea out without spending a ton of money.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some negatives here, as with all products.

The cartridge comes off as more fragile for my taste. The SunSun canister filters are not as durable as other devices coming from more reputable brands.

You will not need to buy a new unit in the next few months, but there’s no guarantee that they will run for more than 2 years.

I think that’s still an alright lifespan for this product, given how it’s crushing the market.

By the way, the reason for Polar Aurora and SunSun’s dominance is their super affordable price tag, which’s nicely coming along with the powerful filtration they offer.

Note that the canister filter model that’s advertised to offer 525 GPH won’t really meet that. Still, it will turn over around 300 gallons per hour, which is more than enough for a 55-gallon tank that’s reasonably stocked with aquarium fish of all types.

Further down in the article I discuss this in detail.

Anyway, for me, it seemed that the SunSun external filters are easy to install and maintain.

They also run absolutely silent, which is why I included their cousin (the SunSun) in my other guide on the quietest aquarium filters.

I use one such filter on my larger fish tank as supportive filtration and I’m pretty happy with it.

Author’s note: Don’t run the UV sterilizer for more than 24 hours. It will eat through the plastic of the filter trays. I run mine on the weekend for about 4 to 6 hours a day. This is more than enough for it to get rid of any floating algae and harmful microorganisms.

  • Best GPH rate for the money on the market;
  • Comes with a UV sterilizer;
  • Virtually silent;
  • Multiple stages of filtration;
  • Comes with activated carbon and plenty of filter pads;
  • Self-priming button.
  • Not as durable and long-lasting (short warranty);
  • Instructions are basically useless (watch a video on how to set it up instead);
  • UV sterilizer should not run for a long time;
  • Plastic impeller (may need replacement in time, but the parts are cheap and easy to find).

4. Fluval (X)07 Series External Filters – Quality Filtration for a Medium-sized Aquariums

fluval 307 performance canister filter
Click to see the current price + MORE photos on Amazon.

From what I gathered from my research on these products Fluval along with Eheim is the top choice of the experienced freshwater aquarist for aquarium filtration.

Naturally, Fluval filters are just a tiny bit pricier than Eheim, but from what I later saw (and experienced first hand) for a good reason.

The Fluval 07 series offers excellent filtration along with extreme durability. These canister filters have a really sturdy architecture, manufactured by the best parts on the US market. This alone makes them a good choice for a high-end water filter in freshwater aquarium systems of up to 55 gallons.

From my observation, the sealing of the (x)07 Series is near impervious. The chance of a leak is probably nonexistent and neither I nor my friends have had one with these filters.

In fact, if the new 07 filters are an improved version of the trustworthy 06 series (which they are) then they likely are as long-lasting.

I also find that the maintenance is a breeze and it’s rarely needed with these canister filters.

The other thing that really stood out to me when I got mine was the motor.

All of the 07 canister filters have enormous filtration capacity. The GPH advertised is as realistic as it gets.

As far as my experience goes, you will enjoy the least GPH reduction after adding livestock and filter media to the equation (as with an Eheim).

The motor also has sound-dampening features to minimize vibrations during operation, which is more than welcome If your aquarium sits in a room that gets lots of human traffic.

Personally, I’m not bothered by white noise, but if your houseguests hang out in the room where the aquarium is, you’d want your canister filter to have sound-dampening technology.

Basically, this filter is quieter when it runs than when it’s off…

Anyway, I can’t really find a weak spot to point out with these, so if you have the financial opportunity – simply get this canister filter for your aquarium.

Of course, it all depends on the fish tank setup you’re planning, but I am discussing that further in this article, so make sure you read it.

By the way, Fluval is also famous for their excellent customer service, should you ever need it.

Author’s note: Sometimes you’ll have protein films building at the water surface. In that case, you’d often need to employ a rather expensive protein skimmer to collect all the mess.

However, if you’re using a Fluval canister filter form the (x)07 Series you can get their Surface Skimmer (Amazon link).

It is nowhere near the highly-priced skimmers and It works exceptionally well. A sneaky solution for the cash-smart Fluval user.

  • Aquastop valves that ensure no water is spilled during maintenance;
  • Sound-dampening motor for extra quiet operation;
  • Will last you years;
  • Pumps tons of water and is really efficient;
  • Excellent unit architecture with top-notch parts;
  • Huge space for filter media.
  • Not the easiest to start and prime (watch some video online for that as there are plenty).

5. FX Series Fluval Aquarium Filter – Premium Canister for Large Fish Tanks

fluval fx6 large external filter
Click to see the current price + MORE photos on Amazon.

Namely the FX6. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that this aquarium canister filter is just a full-blown monstrosity.

It has the most pumping capacity on this list (rated for up to 400-gallon aquariums).

This canister filter is what you get for your large freshwater aquarium that has big, carnivorous fish or turtles in it. The FX external filters are as good as it gets because they offer tons of functionality, which I couldn’t find elsewhere.

If you end up getting this you’ll also get the typical Aquastop valves that allow for care-free maintenance.

From my comparison research, I can tell that the motor itself is an absolute beast and is liekly one of the best on the market. With an actual turnover capacity of over 500 gallons of water, it stands undisputed.

I should probably mention that it comes with not 5, but 6 stages of filtration which gives the flexibility of playing around with all kinds of filter media.

But how did Fluval get away with that?

Well, they just put a filter tray within the filter tray.

I have had clients that run these and I can tell you that the filter cartridge is big. And by that I mean huge.

My clients remained happy as they had enough space to stick in whatever filter media was on their minds.

Something important to remember about all of this is that the basket-like architecture makes sure the water passes through every filter tray and not around.

The FX6 comes with a Smart Pump technology, which will effectively self-prime the filter every 12 hours.

Did I mention that I use this filter on my 125-gallon fish tank and I could not be more satisfied?

It runs extremely quiet and it easily handles my very messy Oscars (and not only!).

The maintenance is simplistic, though it takes time, because of how bulky the stuff is.

There is also this additional clog-proofing feature that makes this filter virtually immortal.

You can’t go wrong with getting the FX6, but it comes at a price.


Not something everyone can afford, but if you’re participating in the large aquarium game that is to be expected and, consequently, needed.

With the Fluval FX Series, you’re paying for a high-end aquarium canister filter with unique functionalities and top-quality service. However, being carefree about your freshwater aquarium filtration for years to come is not exactly inexpensive as the price of the unit can seem a bit high.

Still, given how much it offers the investment is overwhelmingly worth it. I’m positive that in the long run, I ended up saving a fortune.

Don’t just take it from me, ask around your community.

Author’s note: This filter rarely requires maintenance but when it does, it will take some of your time.

Be prepared to spend half an hour on that. Also, the canister basket is heavy so have that in mind when you move it around the house.

  • No priming required whatsoever, thanks to the Smart Pump feature;
  • Pumps water like a champ;
  • Reduced electricity usage, despite the huge water turnover;
  • 6 stages of filtration, which no other canister filter has been able to provide;
  • Tracks the water flow automatically, adjusts itself when needed;
  • Self-Protection: will shut off if something inside of it goes wrong, preventing leaks;
  • As quiet as it’s efficient;
  • Made to last years;
  • Tech features that no other canister filter provides;
  • The nozzle can be turned in multiple directions.
  • The initial cost of investment (though completely justified);
  • Needs considerable space, as the unit is quite large. If you happen to have a stand for your large aquarium it can likely fit in.

6. Aqueon QuietFlow 400 Canister Aquarium Filter – Get More for Less

aqueon quietflow 400
Click to see the current price + MORE photos on Amazon.

The Aqueon QuietFlow canister filters have maintained a well-known brand name in the freshwater fish-keeping community.

The reason for that is their quality service at a reasonable price.

Compared to other more expensive brands the QuietFlow will come at a price (sometimes) twice as low for the same filtration power as the more expensive premium units. This canister filter also has all the features of a convenient-to-use device, such as easy priming, sound-dampening, and whatnot.

Though it might not be made of sturdy plastic, the Aqueon aquarium filter is definitely the superior choice when maintaining a larger aquarium on a budget.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use these on 55 to 75-gallon fish tanks. In fact, I’ve successfully used the QuietFlow 400 on a 75-gallon planted aquarium that had a decent bioload.

The motor is powerful and pumps huge water amounts, as advertised. The 400 version has a turnover capacity of 400 GPH, and you won’t find another canister like that for the same price.

This canister filter stands out with its rather care-free priming technology, combined with the quick-disconnect valve. The first is really efficient and the second allows cleaning of the device without the need for serious re-priming.

I keep saying that priming is very annoying, but here that is completely eliminated.

The disadvantages of this unit are its stiff hoses and the not-so-quiet operation.

Before getting it, I’ve researched this aquarium canister filter heavily and found out that some people hear a slight humming whereas others would swear that it’s completely silent.

In my experience, you would not hear it if you keep it inside a cabinet. it’s way quieter than a HOB filter, it’s just not virtually silent as other filters that I’m mentioning here.

Speaking of HOBs, the package includes a Hang-on-Back unit for water polishing which, given the price tag, is more than fantastic.

My HOB polishing unit seemed to do its job at keeping my aquarium water crystal clear, while the QuietFlow would relentlessly pump and filter out debris.

What I’d like to mention is that though the installation is pretty straightforward for the canister filter world the hoses can be a pain to connect.

What I ended up doing was soak them in really hot water until they became soft and loose.

I then connected them and when they cooled off, the grip became as strong as ever. Problem solved.

Anyway, with this canister filter, you’ll benefit from multiple water return options, which obviously include a spray bar.

For a filter that’s as strong, the output pressure can really be something.

With a spray bar, you’d not need to get one separately or manually drill holes in the outlet. Use the included one only if you notice your freshwater fish getting blown around the aquarium by the stream.

Author’s note: Make sure to fill the cartridge with water before starting the filter.

This way the priming will be much, much faster.

  • Among the top GPH for the price;
  • Included HOB water polishing unit;
  • Pretty silent for the powerhouse it is;
  • No need of re-priming after cleaning, thanks to the quick-disconnect valve;
  • Durable design of the basket made to last;
  • Longer than usual hoses, for optimal positioning;
  • Multiple water return options in the kit, spray bar included.
  • Can be difficult to set up the tubing, unless you know how (check the my tips in the review).

7. Eheim Professional 4+ Series – “Set it and forget it” Solution

eheim professional 4+
Click to compare pricing + see MORE photos of this product at:

The marketing campaign behind the Eheim Professional 4+ canister filters will have you believe that with them you get:

  • Quiet operation;
  • Powerful performance;
  • Optimal electricity usage;
  • Safety adapter for the hoses;
  • the new “Xtender” button;
  • Easy priming.

In my experience, the reality is that everything is spot on except the “powerful” performance.

The manufacturers from Eheim don’t like to publicly disclose their filter’s GPH ratings, but it’s not a secret that their filters are on the weaker end.

I’m assuming the mystery around the GPH is there because Eheim thinks other factors are important for having decent aquarium filtration.

I can’t entirely agree with that.

The mechanical filtration is purely dependent on the GPH rate, but the biological one isn’t.

It boils down to two variables, really:

Following these thoughts, it’s worth mentioning that the most common issues with aquarium filtration do stem from imbalance in the tank’s biological ecosystem. Things like green algae blooms, white, cloudy water in the fish tank, and ammonia spikes are all examples of that.

However, your canister filter also needs a good GPH rate so that all the water in the tank is timely passed through the filter media.

This ensures the filtering bacteria will do their job effectively.

Anyway, Eheim’s Professional 4+ 600, for example, is roughly twice as powerful as their 2215 Classic one (Eheim Classic 350).

This would mean that the Eheim Pro 4+ 600 packs around 200 GPH of filtering power which, for the price tag, is not at all impressive.

What this canister filter shines with, however, is its enormous space for filter media, its priming aid and its super quiet performance. These three virtually guarantee you peace of mind when it comes to stocking your tank with messy fish.

The Eheim Pro 4+ 600 has 10% more filter media volume than even the enormous Fluval FX6.

Also, the self-priming feature of the Pro 4+ canister filters is unsurpassed.

Overall, I would rate the Eheim Professional 4+ as an 8/10 canister filter, taking away two points for the high price tag and the GPH rate.

The new Xtender button is not that much of a big deal, in my observations.

  • One of the best self-priming features;
  • Enormous space for media, which ensures solid bio filtration;
  • Works in near-perfect silence;
  • Rarely needs cleaning;
  • Optimized for using as little electricity as possible.
  • GPH rate is on the lower end for this price bracket;
  • The media trays are a bit weird to handle and put back together during maintenance.

Which canister filter will best suit your fish tank’s size and gallon volume?

See, it’s easy to summarise short reviews of every piece of canister filter I’ve found to work well. But, for me at least, this kind of information was never useful enough to help me with my final decision. I am perfectly aware that it all boils down to one’s aquarium setup.

Because of this, I want to go the extra mile here.

I will recommend a specific canister filter for each possible aquarium setup, according to my experience and observations.

For optimal recommendations, I am considering fish tank sizes, livestock, and aquascape, combined with the pros and cons of the particular canister filters.

You can learn more in my article about picking the right canister filter according to the gallon capacity of your tank. Find your aquarium’s size and click on that link to jump to the relevant section.

How to select a canister filter for a turtle tank?

I mention turtles a couple of times above, but the truth is that things will differ with such a setup:

For a turtle aquarium, I’d recommend having a really strong canister filter. In fact, in a turtle tank, the filter should turn the water at least 8 times per hour, because of the higher organic waste that aquatic turtles produce.

I made a whole separate guide on the top picks for a turtle habitat because the differences in the requirements demand it.

There, I give extra pointers and discuss all the canister filter possibilities for a turtle tank setup. I take into consideration whether the turtle habitat has a basking area for the heat lamps and UVB lights, the gallon capacity of the aquarium, etc.

Canister filters have proven themselves to be one of the best ways to keep pet turtle habitats clean.

Over to you

Making a decision can be tough unless you have a more experienced fellow to point you in the right direction.

All of the aforementioned devices have their pros and cons.

The smart approach here is to make the most sense of the pros while overcoming the cons.

The best and most efficient canister filter exists and it is different for every freshwater aquarium system.

I hope this guide was helpful (it took me quite some time to put it together).

So tell me – which unit did you pick?

Leave me a comment below so we can discuss it further.

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8 thoughts on “The 7 Best Aquarium Canister Filters (For Pristine Water)”

  1. Just wanted to say thank you! I have been agonizing over which filter to get and your articles were clear, concise, and straight to the point. I read through them and felt much better about my decision!

    • Hi Laura,

      I thank you for being a reader! Hope you stay around 🙂

  2. Hello thank you for your nice articles like this and also the one about most quiet filters. Can I please have a question?

    I want to start a 35 gallon aquarium with not so many plants. Only on the edges of the aquarium and it will be plants like grass not something big. On the left side there will be “root” of tree and in the middle some small rocks. I want a lot of swimming space for the fish because I want to have a lot of small fish that are active (Pygmy corydoras, Zebra danio, …). And I don’t know if I should get the fluval 207 or fluval 307. On some forum I read that for 30 gallon they recommended 307. But I think that for my setup will be 207 enough.

    What do you think?

    Thank you very much for your help.
    With regards Tomáš Arlt

    • Hi Tomáš,

      It sounds like you want to have lots and lots of small schooling fish, correct?

      The 307 model has 206 GPH, which will turn the water in your tank close to 6 times per hour.

      This is more than enough for the kind of setup you’re describing.

      The 207 Fluval model has 120 GPH, which can also work depending on the bioload (if you don’t overstock, but I guess you want a higher bioload).

      Hope this helps!

      • Yes that’s correct.

        Ok I will get the 307, I know where the problem was … I thought that the GPH I was looking for is Pump Performance instead of Filter Circulations. And even our local (czech) vendors had advertised the Pump Performance so I did the math and thought that the 207 will 6x turn the water 😀

        Thank you very much for your quick response.

        • Yes,

          Vendors (and Fluval for that matter) don’t make it easy for the user. I think it’s a marketing gimmick, but their products are good nonetheless, so it’s not THAT off-putting.

          Good luck! Your future aquarium sounds really cool by the way.

  3. One filter that wasn’t mentioned (which I am most interested in), is the Fluval FX4. Would this filter be good for a 55 gallon tank, medium to fully stocked including 4 pleco’s (2 bristlenose [4-5”] and 2 smaller [3”] albino), a 6” clown loach, 2 Gourami, 3 glo-fish tetras, 5 black skirt tetras, 2 sword tail, 4 mollies, 10 guppy’s, 5 neon tetras, and 3 other small fish (the size of a small guppy), that I can’t remember what they are called. I do plan on getting more fish in the near future.

    Right now I have 2 HOB filters (a Fluval 70 and a Fluval 30, that just aren’t enough and I want to get a canister filter that won’t hurt my plants or small fish. I know the Fluval FX6 is overkill, but wondering about the FX4. Can you tell me if that would be good for my tank and if not, what would be the best canister filter for me? Also, I’m really not in to having to prime it or clean it twice a week. Please help and thank you in advance for any info you can give me.

    • Hello!

      Actually, a Fluval FX4 is (more than) twice as powerful as the Fluval 306. It’s honestly a great filter but it will be overkill even if you were keeping something super messy in there such as Oscars, eels or turtles.

      The difference between the FX6 and the FX4 is around 100 GPH and that the FX6 has 50% more space for media.

      From the fish that you listed only the plecos are a somewhat messy, but it’s not enough for me to recommend and FX for this setup…

      If you’re concerned about the overstocking you can go with a Fluval 406/407, but that’s about it in my opinion. Either of these will, in my opinion, take care of the waste pretty well without producing too much turbulence and blowing your smaller fish around.

      Hope this helps, Patti.

      Good luck!

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