Canister Filter VS Power Filter – Which One Is Your Perfect Match?

I’m sure you’ve been in this situation before. You have started a new aquarium and are trying to decide which type of filter to use. 

When I first started many, many years ago, the filter that came with my tank was a power filter. As time went on and as I grew in knowledge about filters of all types, it became easy to see which one really worked best for me!

I began by using just the standard power filter but after a while, with more research under my belt (and new technology), eventually switching over to an entirely different kind of filtration system seemed like not such a bad idea at all!

Among many types, there are two main categories of aquarium filters; power filters and canister filters. Here, I’m going to give you the lowdown on canister filters VS power filters so that you can make an informed decision.

Power Filter Vs Canister Filter – A Quick Comparison

If you don’t know, a canister filter is a filter that sits on the floor of your aquarium and has hoses coming out the top for various purposes, while a power filter sits inside your tank and sucks up water from below.

Both power filter & canister filter work effectively but have notable differences between them based upon how they operate within the given system/environment.

Before going into the detailed comparison, I’ll tell you the gist—canister filters are usually the best option for tanks with more than 50 gallons because they provide better water circulation and filtration than power filters.

However, if your tank is smaller than 50 gallons, then power filters are probably the better choice since your tank does not need an expensive option like canister filters.

Canister Filter

Canister filter
  • Cleans larger tanks more efficiently
  • A little tricky to install and operate
  • No water loss & safe for fish
  • More expensive than a power filter
  • Very good for planted & saltwater tanks

Power Filter

Fluval C Power Filter
  • Less potent than canister filters
  • Easy to set up and require simple maintenance
  • Risky for small fish and water loss occurs
  • Relatively inexpensive 
  • Perfect choice for beginners

Power Filter Details

Power Filter in a nutshell

Power filters are the simplest and most commonly used type of filter. They hang on the backside of your fish tank and come in various sizes depending on what you need them for.

They are commonly known as ‘Hang On Back’ (HOB) filters. Typically, the filter container is placed at the back of your aquarium (so we call them – Hang On back), making these types a very convenient choice for various tanks and setups.

A power filter is usually included as part of a kit that comes with when purchasing a new aquarium from one’s local store or online retailer–though they’re available separately, too, if needed!

Operation Of Power Filter

A power filter is a filtration unit that cleans water by forcing it through different filter media types (placed in a series). There is a pump inside the filter, and it sucks water through an inlet tube placed inside the aquarium. 

When you power it up, water circulates through the filter and returns to the aquarium via an outlet tube.

A standard power filter can include mechanical, chemical, and biological media, which all have the ultimate goal to remove toxins from the water.

If you like the video tutorial, watch the below to understand the working principle of the power filters. If not read in the subsequent section. 

The first stage in this process is mechanical filtration, where large particles are trapped and removed. 

The second stage could be an activated charcoal filter which helps to remove organic compounds like ammonia or nitrites from the water. As the water passes through this layer of activated charcoal, a chemical reaction occurs, leaving behind nothing but almost pure H2O! 

The final stage might be biological media with bacteria colonies that break down these organic compounds even further into harmless substances. For a better understanding, you can read about the nitrogen cycle in a fish tank

The filter system will purify the dirty water and then release it into your fish tank with a spillway or overflow technology. This filter has two spouts: one for capturing all those tainted particles, and then another to release clean filtered water back out of it.

Although there are variations from brand to brand, they all have a similar function in their work.

One thing that can be inconvenient about using power filters in aquariums is evaporating water at a high rate. So you’ll have to make up for the loss with constant refillings! It’s enough of an annoyance for some people.


I found that power filters are much easier to maintain than canister ones. The only thing you really need to do is replace the carbon filter or other media depending on what brand and model of power filter you have, every once in a while.

There is no reason for the back of the tank’s filter to be removed unless something appears broken or damaged on it.

The filter on your aquarium doesn’t need to be changed every time you do a water change. Simply rinse it off and put it back in when needed! Just make sure not to wait too long; usually, it is better to replace filter elements every other week.

Price Of Power Filters

Power filters are one of the most affordable and best-performing types on the market. They come with a new tank setup, so beginners will love to try them out too! 

These power filters can be purchased for about $10-50 depending on size, but they all perform well in tanks ranging from 10-gallon to 15-gallon capacity sizes. While the expensive models will work best on large community tanks.

What are the differences among aquarium filters when it comes to price range? With small home aquaria (5 – 10 gallons), there isn’t much need for anything more than something like a small powerhead filter such as Marina Power Filter or Tetra Whisper Power Filter.

The $50 ones are great for larger aquariums between 50 and 100 gallons in size. These can be pretty pricey but will last you a while, so they’re worth it if you have that kind of budget – my personal favorite is either Fluval C or AquaClear, depending on what’s available and convenient from your side.

Things Need to be Aware Of

Power filters are easy to use, require very little maintenance, and can be affordable. But you have to be aware of their two downsides:

Water Loss

This water loss can be a huge inconvenience when using power filters. They lose a lot of water when returning it back to your tank, which means that evaporation will have occurred since air exposure was unavoidable. While strong water flow of power filters enhances the evaporation rate.

When using a power filter, you will have to refill the aquarium more frequently with water, which is not required for canister filters.

Risky for Fish

Power filters have a pump inside and suck water vigorously. Small fish can get sucked into the filter through its inlet tube – at which point they will be killed by it. 

Especially, fries run a significant risk of getting sucked into the intake. Shrimps and small invertebrates are also vulnerable to this case.


  • Performs aeration and increases the oxygen level
  • Usually cheap and easy-to-use
  • Mostly comes with the box of a new aquarium kit
  • Suitable for various types of aquarium
  • Provides effective and powerful filtration


  • Risky for small fish, fries, shrimps, or invertebrates
  • Requires frequent refilling as the water loss rate is high

Canister Filter Details

Canister Filter in a nutshell

The canister filter is one of the most popular types of filters used in aquariums. A canister filter also uses a motor to create water flow by creating pressure differences to push water through and out.

The main parts are the intake tube, which pulls water from the tank and pumps it into a cylinder with an impeller inside that forces the dirty water down.

The cylinder is called the canister, in which filter media sits, and this container stays outside the tank. There is also an outlet tube that carries clean water back into your tank.

Aquarium keepers love canister filters for some reason! They perform excellently in saltwater & planted aquariums. You can use it in axolotl tanks where pristine water is necessary. So don’t be afraid to try this type of filter if you need it!

Operation of Canister Filter

The canister filter is a remarkable piece of technology that gets your fish tank water purified. It comes with hoses, and these are submerged inside the aquarium’s water.

The water is drawn up through a lift tube which sucks up all the water to enter its external chamber, where it passes through multiple kinds of filtering media before being made perfectly pure again.

Depending on the brand, the direction of flow can be from bottom to top or top-to-bottom as well as back to front or the opposite. These types come with different filtering systems, and you can pick your preferred option.

The sealed filter canister is filled with three types of media: biological, chemical, and mechanical. After the water passes through these different forms of filtration, it goes back into your tank via a pump, making sure that you’re always getting the best quality filtered water available to make for a happy pet!

The water flow is not exposed to ambient air because the system is sealed and has a built-in pump. This means that canisters are efficient at maintaining clean, healthy water without wasting water by evaporation


Depending on the brand, you can have various filter media (types & arrangements) in your canister filter. These include baskets, isolated chambers, and multiple cartridges to provide the appropriate kind of filtration for your particular setup. 

Different types of canister filters may vary in the frequency they need maintenance. Some require you to change the filter media every so often, while others only when it stops properly filtering water. 

Additionally, you’ll also have to clean tubes with tube cleaning kits for the optimum performance of a canister filter!

Maintaining these filters may take more effort than power filters, but it is well worth it when you think about how healthy they make your fish!

Related post: How to Clean Canister Filter in 15 Simple Steps

Price of Canister Filters

The price of canister filters ranges from $30 to as much as $300. So some aquarium owners opt for a secondary fish tank instead. Costly ones are best suited for larger tanks with more than 200 gallons.

People opt not to use a costly device like an expensive canister filter when they only have small aquariums at home.

Still, prominent aquarium keepers find it indispensable because its massive capacity means no worries about filtering their large tanks. The people who choose the filter are satisfied with its capacity which easily tackles colossal water flow.

I would suggest if you had an aquarium between 30-200 gallons, then go with Penn Plax Cascade because this will accommodate any size of a fish tank within those ranges without issue as long as you chose the correct size.

If you have a rather large tank that needs a lot of filtering power, go with Fluval Fx6, which is designed specifically for larger tanks up to 400 gallons!

Things that Need to be Aware of

Canister filters come with more flexibility than other filters, as you can pick your preferred filter media, best suitable for your tank. But besides being costly, the canister filter has another significant downside:

Complex To Operate & Maintain

A canister filter is a type of aquarium filter with a pump, an intake tube, and one or more hoses. They are typically used in large tanks to filtrate the water because they have a larger media capacity than other types of filters.

As the filtration unit combines many items, the operation, and maintenance are a little tricky. Besides routine filter media changes, you have to regularly maintain the pump to prevent any breakdown. 

Canister filter media must be replaced periodically for efficient functioning.

However, if there is a leak or loose fittings in the tubings, it will stop working efficiently. So you have to pay attention to them also.

The complexity of the canister filter barely makes it the ideal choice for beginners.


  • Can tackle massive water flow for large tanks
  • Frequent water refilling is not required as water loss is low
  • Safe for small fish, shrimp, or invertebrates
  • Comes with options to use one’s preferred filter media
  • Excellent for planted and saltwater aquariums


  • Tricky to operate and maintain
  • Expensive choice

Canister Filter Vs Power Filter: Which One You Should Choose

After reading the above sections, I think you already know which filter would be suitable for you. Power filter or canister filter? There is no hard and fast rule. But if I summarize: 

You Are A Beginner: A power filter is a better option for beginners with no experience using aquarium filters. Usually, a power filter will come by default when buying an aquarium, and you should stick with it.

You Have A Small Aquarium: Canister filters are suitable to handle a massive volume of water, and they are expensive. So your tank might be too small to require one, and their high cost makes them unfeasible in most cases! However, power filters can excellently serve your purpose.

You Have A Large Community Tank: If you have a community tank above 50 gallons, you should use a canister filter. They can handle a greater volume of water and keep it pristine, thus suitable for highly stocked community tanks.

You Have A Planted Or Saltwater Aquarium: Canister filters usually come with various filtering systems, and you can opt for filter media as your tank requires. Due to the flow control feature and sealed mechanism, these filters are also safer. Thus a canister filter is the best choice for large saltwater tanks and planted tanks.

Final Words

There is no doubt that both filters have their benefits. Canister filters are for seasoned aquarists, and power filters suit beginners. 

Canister filters are more efficient at cleaning and removing particles because they offer a large surface area; the water passes through many different filtration pads to remove impurities. Power filter excels when it comes to filtering out debris in a small or medium tank.

But both of these filters are not suitable to use in a quarantine tank or fry tank for their strong water current. Because the strong flow can hurt fries or healing fishes, better use a sponge filter for them.

Finally, please feel free to comment below if you have any opinion on this comparison of the canister filter vs. the power filter. 

Sujit Modak

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