Canister Filter Vs Sump | A Detailed Comparative Study

As an aquarist, you are faced with some crucial choices for maintaining your fish tank. One of the most important is what type of filter to use.

Canister filter VS Sump, which is a better option?” you may think in some circumstances in your fishkeeping journey.

Even seasoned aquarium keepers may have trouble deciding between a sump filter and a canister filter. However, after switching from the power filter, some were amazed by these two filtration systems.

In this blog post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of each type to help you decide which one is best for you.

What Is A Canister Filter?

The canister filter is a sort of external filter for aquariums. A powerful water pump is required with canister filters to flow water through the filter. 

Water is drained using an external pump, passed through the filter media, and returned to the tank by a submersible return pump or the circulation pump. 

As a rule of thumb, the external pump’s intake tube is located towards the tank’s bottom, and the pump’s output is located at the top.

A canister filter


  • It is more effective in filtering a massive volume of water.
  • Water pumps and motors are installed in the filter.
  • It’s a space-saving alternative because it’s outside the tank.
  • The canister filter has the least amount of water loss.


  • The cost of using a canister filter is high.
  • Regular and precise filter maintenance is required.

What Is A Sump Filter

Sumps, to be specific, do not fall under the category of aquarium filters. Aside from being a smaller aquarium, it is more like a supplement to the main aquarium. 

It is possible to hide sump filters in the aquarium cabinet or stand. Flowing water from the tank is collected in a small container called a sump, which is tucked beneath the tank. 

This water is returned to the tank via a powerhead in most cases.

A ready made sump filter


  • The sump’s options regarding filtering medium are many.
  • The effectiveness of the sump filter can be adjusted.
  • With it, it’s easier to keep track of the water’s quality.
  • For large aquariums and reef tanks, this is a superior choice.


  • It is common for the sump’s chambers to develop leaks.
  • It has many tubes that need to be checked regularly.

Canister Filter Details


Typically, a hose and a valve connect the gadget to the outside wall in a canister filter. The hose connects to the aquarium’s water supply as an input and an outlet. And multiple filtering mediums are accessible inside the canister.

Proper screening and cleaning of the water occur when the water passes through the filtering material. In most circumstances, a canister filter will provide filtration that combines biological, chemical, and mechanical in nature.

The canister filter is the most commonly recommended filtration method for saltwater and planted aquariums. A canister filter can handle adequate filtration for saltwater and planted aquariums.


Upkeep is necessary like any other machine or product constructed of human-created elements. Because of this, you must clean all of the filters regularly, depending on their efficiency.

Easy to maintain, the canister filter has many factors that affect how easy it is to clean a canister, including the brand, model, and number of filtering screens. However, the carbon filter is something you’ll have to keep an eye on.

When the carbon filter is not replaced promptly, hazardous elements are released into the fish tank water. It can kill fish.

Canister filter
Canister filter


A canister filter is more versatile than most other filtering devices, including sump and power filters.

It is preferable to have a flow rate three or four times greater than the volume of your fish tank. So, if your tank holds 50 gallons, you’ll need a filter that can handle 150 to 200 GPH. 

If the flow rate is too high, your fish may be uncomfortable, and if it is too low, the water will not be sufficiently cleaned.

It is also more effective than the other filters in the system. Seawater and planted aquariums are the primary applications for this material.

In addition, carbon filters eliminate nitrites and ammonia from the fish tank, which is a great plus for the aquarium.


There is a price to pay with canister filters. These filters can cost more than power filters. Because of this, canister filters are less popular with newbies than power filters.

For a canister filter, it’s typical to set a budget for how much you’re willing to pay. However, if you’re looking for the best budget canister filter, you’ll need to consider several other factors, including your financial situation.

Sump Filter Details

An empty sump filter chamber
An empty sump filter chamber


The sump is separated into several chambers. Each chamber has a unique filtration method. Biological and mechanical filtration are the primary functions of the first chamber. 

Aside from that, the second chamber is lowered relative to the first one in height. As a result, the water flows easily from the first to the second chamber and finally to the third chamber.

It is equipped with a pump and has enough room to hold an entire aquarium’s worth of water. In addition, the sump chambers can be equipped with different filters, depending on individual water filtering requirements.

According to most owners, the sump filter is famous for saltwater aquariums. However, in recent days freshwater sump filters are also getting popular among aquarists.


Keeping the sumps clean is a simple task. It requires minimal upkeep because its primary function is to assist with replacing the aquarium’s water. 

Original filters must be replaced following the manufacturer’s instructions found on the packaging. 

After returning the tank water, you should also clean the tank chambers. That being said, it’s a lot cozier than using the power filters!

Sump filter chamber
Sump filter chamber


The more water you have in your system, the more stable your tank will be. Therefore as a general rule of thumb, go with the most oversized sump you can fit in your space. 

The larger the sump, the better. It should hold no less than 25% of your tank’s water volume.

On the other hand, the stand is the most frequent place for a sump. Since you’ll likely need to add more equipment to this, you’ll want to leave yourself plenty of room.


Moreover, the sump costs more than one would assume. Purchasing money and filtering media individually causes this issue. As a result, it significantly impacts the entire cost, sometimes exceeding that of power filters.

It is the most common reason novice, and low-budget aquarium owners prefer power filters to a sump.

Canister Filter Vs Sump – A Detailed Comparison

To choose the best choice for your tank, it is important to know what distinguishes each type of filter and how they work. To help you decide between a canister filter and a sump filter, we’ve outlined the most critical points to consider below:

Canister Filter

Filters come with their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, canister filters have the following three advantages over sump filters:

Canister filters are a time-saving alternative because they are simple to install and take little more than an hour.

Canister filters are the most convenient to install. Installing a canister filter is an uncomplicated process that simply takes connecting the filter to the tank and putting the hoses in place. 

On the other hand, Sump filter installation can be more involved. First, hoses need to be routed from the overflow box to the tank, and then the overflow box and filters must be installed. 

Multi-chambered sump filters, each with its own set of filtration media, just add to the complexity. This indicates that the filter won’t work properly unless all the chambers are installed and configured correctly.

Quality canister filters are expected to endure for several years by most individuals. Canister filters are the most durable on the market. 

Canister filters are less susceptible to leaks and clogging because they require an external pump and hoses. In addition, because of their high-quality materials, the cartridges may sustain heavy use for many years before needing a new one.

Trickle filters are less durable than canister filters in sumps since the trickle filter’s filter media needs to be updated frequently. 

If the filter isn’t cleaned often, it can become clogged and fail. Also, assuming that sump filters are installed in the basement or garage, they are more vulnerable to floods and moisture than other filters.

A filter’s capacity to do its job really matters at the end of the day. Canister filters outperform all other types of filters in terms of throughput. 

These cartridges are densely packed with filter material, allowing for maximum water flow, which is why this is the case. A considerable volume of water is pumped through the filter thanks to the external pump.

On the other hand, sump filters’ effectiveness depends on the filter medium utilized. For example, it will perform like a canister filter when using activated carbon in your sump filter.

But if you don’t use high-quality media, your sump filter won’t do its job correctly. 

Sump Filters

There are numerous advantages to using sump filters instead of canister filters. The following sections go into detail about a few of them:

Sump filters can be configured in a wide variety of ways. In addition to the many chambers, they can be filled with various filter materials. 

Furthermore, you’re controlling your filter since you can insert whatever media you choose in each compartment. If anything isn’t working well for you, you can quickly reconfigure the chambers.

It doesn’t matter how many different canister filters are on the market. With pre-filled media cartridges, there is little you can do to customize the filter material. 

Despite their higher cost, sump filters are often less expensive than canister filters. For this reason, fewer components are needed, and many of these are readily available and very reasonably priced. 

Sump filters have everything you need, such as an overflow box and filters, making them a genuine “plug and play” choice. Aquarists on a tight budget can use this sump filter.

Canister filters are undoubtedly expensive. To work, external pumps and tubing are needed. This is why they are more expensive. Although a high-end canister filter eliminates the need for these extra components, it is still more costly than a sump filter.

A sump is a common feature in reef aquariums for various reasons, many of which are well worth the extra cost. 

For example, besides water purification, it’s a good idea to have a sump to hide all the pipes, cables, and equipment so that you can focus on the beauty of the fish and corals rather than on the clutter! But most importantly, sump filters don’t act as a ‘nitrate factory’ like canister filters.

In reef tanks, nitrate levels are more worrying than in freshwater tanks. This is because corals, anemones, other invertebrates, and some crustaceans can be harmed or killed even at low nitrate concentrations in reef systems. 

As a result, the nitrate concentration in reef aquariums should fall between 0.25 and 5.0 ppm. ​​

As the biological medium in reef aquariums, canister filters have the potential to generate high levels of nitrate, posing many other challenges for corals. 

Installation Of Canister Filter And Sump: Which One Is Easier

The process of installing a canister filter is time-consuming and difficult. First, the hoses should be installed both inside and outside the tank. After that, you’ll need to mount the primary filter on the exterior and run a tube to it.

A lift tube is used to transport tank water to the external filter, hidden behind a canister filter. The sump, on the other hand, contains the secondary filtration mechanism. Therefore, large tanks are the primary use cases for this product.

The sump does not have its own pump. So to return the filtered water, you’ll need to install a pump that draws it from the main tank and pushes it back.

The device’s filtering media should also be set up. There are three chambers involved in sump filter installation, so it’s a bit of a balancing act. The sump’s wall can be adjusted as well. In the cabinet, it should be positioned to extend beyond the tank.

Canister Filter Vs. Sump: Which One You Should Pick

When it concerns filter selection, the specs, use case, and type of tank you have can influence which filter is best. For example, if you have a 100-gallon freshwater fish tank, a canister filter rather than a sump filter is likely to be more beneficial. 

Canister filters are more suited for larger freshwater tanks since they can deal with the more biological load, keeping your tank water clean.

On the other hand, Reef tank owners tend to favor sump tank filtration systems for various reasons.

This is the ideal location for administering dietary supplements. Because aquarists frequently use the sump to introduce limewater into their reef tanks, tank water top-offs and adding limewater or other additives go hand in hand with the sump.

A slow drip water top-off system, automatic dosing, or a metering pump are used.

Also, as I have mentioned earlier, nitrate problems in reef tanks can be exacerbated by canister filters.

Due to its lower cost and more compact size, a sump filter can be hidden behind a tank wall or beneath the tank surface, a better alternative to a media filter. However, a canister filter may be too much for a display, secondary, or community tank with a low fish load.

Finally, you must take into account the filter’s installation space. The sump will necessitate ample floor space, which can be a problem. However, installing a canister filter in a small area is simple.

Wrapping Up

The conversation on canister filter vs. sump is now over. In general, sump and canister filters are excellent options for aquariums. Because of this, your final decision will be based on what you actually need.

Beginners may prefer the canister filter because it is less expensive and best suited to medium-sized tanks. However, acquire the sump for optimal outcomes and configure it with your desired filtering media if you have a large community aquarium or saltwater tank.

You’ll be thinking about your next saltwater aquarium before knowing if this is your first one. First, use the canister filter in this tank to get your feet wet, then go on to an aquarium with a sump.

Sujit Modak

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