I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Learn more.

Canister Filter VS Sump – Which One To Choose?

Being a fish owner, you must be worried about getting a good quality filter for your tank. You are not alone in this.

Getting a good filter is a task. There are endless products available for fish tank filtration, but getting the right one according to your tank is like climbing a mountain.

If you are also stuck on where to find a filter for your fish tank. Don’t worry. I know your problems, and I always come up with a solution.

This article will be a complete guide on filters (canister filter vs. sump) for fish tanks.

I will explain the working of a canister filter and a sump, their pros and cons, and the differences between these two.

Stick with me to the end to find out the right filter for your home aquarium.

[amazon table=”13800″]

What Is A Canister Filter?

Video: “Aquarium Canister Filters Pros and Cons: Are They a Good Fit For You?”

Canister filters are basically used for cleaning aquariums.

It is a filter that removes water from a fish tank via a sieve, intake tube, or valve and then passes the water through the filter media. The water is then pumped back to the aquarium using a spray bar.

These filters are really efficient and last long if they are operated in the right way. You can even select the type of filtration according to your tank.

This can be done by customizing the filter media. You don’t really have to invest lots of energy in its maintenance. It’s because the water flows through the filter media rather than flowing over the media.

One important thing that you should remember is to replace the carbon in the filter really quickly. The carbon would begin to release toxins otherwise.

If you have a tank in size medium to large, a canister filter is a right option for you. You can filter a huge volume of water using a canister filter, that too, in a really short time.

How Does It Work?

Before getting a canister filter, you should have an idea of how this thing works. This way, you will understand whether the product is convenient for you or not.

With that said, a canister consists of three essential parts. These are motor, cartridge, and tubing.

However, the central part is a cylindrical device. This cylinder contains a pump and a filter medium.

Basically, the process used in this device is Siphoning. In this process, the water flows in two water bodies, and there is no interruption between those two bodies.

A canister filter draws water out of the aquarium into the canister. The water is then passed through several filter media, where it is cleaned step by step.

Different types of canister filter have different directions of flow of water. The water may move from top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, outside-in, or center-out.

After flowing through the filter media in a sealed canister, the water is pumped back to the aquarium. Canisters usually come with water pumps, but you need an external pump to pump the water in rare cases.

How a filter works depends upon your choice. Canister filters can provide filtration using chemical, mechanical, and even biological filtration media.

You have the option to select the process according to your needs.

Pros and Cons of Canister Filter

[amazon box=”B010PLGHGE”]


  • An ample amount of water can be filtered
  • They have powerful motors and pumps
  • It saves the space inside of your aquarium as the whole unit is placed outside except for tubes.
  • This filter doesn’t lose water or suck your fish.


  • As these filters do a really good job, they are quite expensive.
  • Continuous pumping of water makes it really noisy.
  • The filter has to be maintained appropriately.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

What Is A Sump?

Video: “Aquarium Sumps EXPLAINED: Your Hub for Water Filtration and Automation Hardware”

A sump is just another aquarium, which is attached to the tank to change the water with great ease. Sumps cannot be categorized as filters.

A sump is only another tank used to collect water. A sump can contain filters, but in general, it cannot be used as a filter for your aquarium.

A sump can be placed above the main tank, but usually, it is placed in the cabinet below the main tank. One sump can be attached to several tanks, and for this reason, they are used by fish store owners.

Sumps come in different sizes, and you can calculate the size you want at your home. The size you are considering should be large enough that if water overflows from the tank, it does not spill on the floor.

A sump can be used for various purposes at a time. It can collect water and prevent any sort of damage and spilling. It also provides room for any equipment that is not needed in the main tank for a while.

A skimmer can be placed inside a sump. High-quality skimmers should not be placed inside the aquarium. A sump can be used as a backup in cases when you forget to look over the catch.

How Does It Work?

You need to get the sump drilled to your tank. A return pipe is used to fill the tank, which pumps the water to the main tank from the sump.

The water is to be filled to the point where it starts overflowing. The water returns to the sump via a drain pipe.

The dirty water in the sump can be filtered once it is back. The sump is divided into different sections using baffle plates.

It is usually the first section where all the mechanical filtration takes place. To remove the physical waste, various things like sponges, filter socks, filter wools are used.

You can set the position of water height in the main tank. This way, the water will stay at the same height no matter what you do.

Sumps are of various types when it comes to holes. It can have just a single hole or a single drain. Some sumps have two, three, and even four holes. You can choose one according to your choice.

Pros and Cons of Sump

[amazon box=”B074T693K4″]


  • They are really flexible when it comes to media use.
  • The efficiency of the sump filter can be controlled.
  • You can maintain the water quality quite precisely using a sump filter.


  • Leaks are a common problem as lots of pipes are used
  • When connected to more than one water tank, the chances of spreading disease from one tank to another are higher.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Canister Filter Vs. Sump – The Differences

To understand the canister filter vs. sump differences, let us look at how both these things do filtration and are installed.

The filtration method of a canister filter proceeds via a lift tube, which carries the water to an external filter. On the other hand, a sump does not filter the water. It will just house your filtration system.

You can install a pump in the sump yourself. The water then flows to the tank from the sump and then returns back to the sump.

The installation of a canister filter is quite tricky. Since you are going to do a permanent installment, you need to be careful at each step.

The first step is to install input and output flow pipes. The canister should be placed at an appropriate position, and the pipes will be connected to it by cutting a hose on the canister.

The final step is to fill the basket with filter media and placing it in the right place.

For installing a sump, you have to simply assemble all its parts at the right place. You need to place the adjustable wall correctly and fill the three chambers with the right things.

A canister filter is affordable when compared to a sump, which is quite expensive.

A sump is relatively quiet, but a canister filter is extremely noisy.

The surface can be kept clean using a sump, whereas a canister filter doesn’t completely clean the surface.

Canister Filter vs. Sump – Which One To Choose?

A canister filter is a perfect choice to remove several chemicals, toxins, and detritus from the fish tank. It is a chamber having several filter media that cleanse the water and return it back to the tank.

A sump is just a container used for collecting water. It can be used for other purposes, like using it in conjunction with trickle filters. Sumps also contain a refugium compartment that is used to filter out excess nutrients.

A canister filter will leave the tank cluttered, while a sump will hide media, accessories, and filters.

The battle to choose between a canister filter and a sump also depends on your tank’s size and capacity. You need to have a large space for using a sump while a canister can be fitted in a compact place.

You need to understand your needs before getting either of these. If you are looking for a filter to keep your tank water clean, you should get a canister filter.

If you are looking for a holding place for your tank’s equipment, a sump is what you need.

[amazon table=”13800″]


Both the canister filter and a sump are a great choice but for different purposes.

A canister filter is expensive, but it does its job really well. You don’t have to bother much about its installation or any extra parts.

A sump is an excellent option for hiding your aquarium’s extra components, but it is not a filter. You need to get a filter separately.

Find out your needs and select one of these two. It is not difficult to choose when it comes to a Canister filter vs. sump.

Need a filter for your tank? Go for the canister filter.

Need to hide all your tank’s accessories? Buy a sump.

It’s that easy.

Aaron Boyd
Aaron Boyd

Hello, I’m Aaron Boyd, the proud owner and author behind Aqua Movement. I hope my article was able to answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

Aqua Movement