Which is the Best Choice: Canister vs Hang-On Filters?

There are several different pieces of equipment you’ll need to cultivate a healthy and thriving freshwater aquarium, but your filtration system may be the most important. The type of filter you choose will determine how quickly solid waste particles such as uneaten fish food are removed from the water column, and it will impact the quality and chemistry of your water. Two of the most popular types of aquarium filter are the canister filter and the hang-on filter. Which one should you choose?

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What are the Pros and Cons of Hang-On Filters?

Perhaps the most popular type of aquarium filter is the hang-on filter. This type of filter consists of a plastic housing that contains a motor and impeller that draws water up through an intake pipe into the body of the filter where it is forced through different types of filter media to remove solid and dissolved wastes before trickling back into the tank.

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Hang-on filters literally hang on the back of the tank, and they come in a wide variety of different sizes to accommodate tanks as small as a few gallons up to tanks as large as several hundred gallons. To give you a better understanding of this type of aquarium filter, here is an overview of the pros and cons for hang-on filters:

Pros for Hang-On Filters:

  • Available in a wide variety of sizes for tanks large and small
  • Typically easy to install, clean, and maintain
  • Can offer 1-, 2-, or 3-stage filtration depending on media used
  • Usually affordably priced

Cons for Hang-On Filters:

  • Not all models can accommodate biological filter media
  • Generally offer lower flow rates than other filters
  • Most use slide-in filter cartridges that aren’t particularly durable
  • Must hang on back of the tank, can’t be stored out of sight

What is a Canister Filter?

A canister filter consists of a sealed canister (hence the name) that contains both the filter media and the motor/impeller. One of the main benefits for this type of filter is that it is more powerful than many hang-on filters and it can accommodate much larger tanks.

A canister filter offers a higher flow rate and a higher capacity for filter media than a hang-on filter – you also have the option to customize your filter media. The downside is that these filters can be more difficult to clean and if you forgo cleaning for too long, it can seriously impact your water quality.

The Bottom Line

In the end, you’ll need to consider the specifics of your aquarium in order to determine which type of filter is the best choice. If you are looking for a filter that offers simple set-up and easy operation without too many extra features, a hang-on filter might be the way to go. If you want the option to customize your filter media and/or you have a larger tank, a canister filter might be better.

If you think there’s something fishy about Kate Barrington, it’s because she’s been a lifelong lover of pets, particularly aquarium fish. Since receiving her first 10-gallon tank as a birthday present in 5th grade, she has become an avid aquarium enthusiast as well as a freelance writer specializing in the aquarium niche. Kate is a regular contributor to several aquarium fish websites and has a column in a bi-monthly pet magazine.


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