Types of Planted Aquarium Filters – Canister Filters

by Apr 11, 20217 comments

Now that you know the different and critical types of filtration in a planted aquarium, how it relates to Mother Nature’s natural water filtration systems, and how aquatic plants aid in the water’s filtration in our aquariums, it is now time to discuss all about planted aquarium filters.

Planted aquarium filtration is the lifeline of all the inhabitants in the tank. Aquarium filters remove physical, dissolved chemical wastes and other contaminants from the tank. Without it, you would have to change the water more frequently, and this hobby becomes a chore (you will not be able to enjoy your planted aquarium that way). It simplifies our maintenance and widens the days between water changes.

Furthermore, it affects the health and well-being not only of your faunas but also your plants. Aquarium filters are critical to support life in your tank. As I said before, our planted aquariums are a relatively small and enclosed ecosystem compared to our faunas’ natural environment. We have no running water here, and at the very least, we should replicate their natural environment by using an appropriately sized filter.

Table of Contents

Functions of a Planted Aquarium Filter
Types of Planted Aquarium Filters
Canister Filters
How does a Canister filter work?
Is there any room for customizations with a Canister filter?
Are there any additional features that I should look out for?
How do I maintain a Canister filter?
Are there any disadvantages when using a canister filter?
Pros
Cons
Stressing This Out Again!
Can We Do Filter Maintenance Along With Water Change?
Conclusion
Closing Remarks
HOB Filter Close Up Aquascaped by Omar Krishnan Afuang Philippines

Hang on Back/HOB/Power Filters

They are also called hang-on-back filters (HOB), and are designed to hang on the back of your aquarium, eing! Power filters are the most commonly used planted aquarium filter because they provide good to excellent mechanical and biological filtration simultaneously. They can also provide the needed water surface agitation for aerating your water.

Using a Sponge Filter Aquascaped by Andrian Jutba Philippines

Internal Filters

An internal filter is placed inside the tank and is totally submerged in water from the name itself. They were the first aquarium filters available for home aquariums. But with the dawn of aquascaping, these filters have lost their acclaim, but they still have their uses in planted aquariums.

Canister Filters by Billie Jay Basilio Philippines

Canister Filters - You Are Here

Canister filters are more powerful and larger than most other filters, and they are suitable for medium to large planted aquariums. This means you can stuff more media due to its larger capacity/volume, which in turn allows for better filtration and more beneficial bacteria colonization. The simple fact is the more volume your filter has, and the more media you can stuff into it, the more effective and efficient your filtration is and the clearer/cleaner your water is.

Using a Trickle Filter Aquascaped by Jei Joaquin Philippines

Trickle Filters

The trickle filter concept is to expose the water to as much air as possible, providing more dissolved oxygen. This will make your biological filtration very efficient and far better than other filters. If you can remember, your biological filtration’s efficiency in converting harmful substances (Ammonia and Nitrites) in your water into a less harmful form (Nitrate) depends on the amount of their food and oxygen in the water.

Using Sump Filters Designed by Chrisrock Orongan Philippines

Sump Filters

Think about a trickle filter as vertical filtration stages and a sump filter as a horizontal one by utilizing chambers separated by baffles to route the water horizontally. The main takeaway here is that the filter media are always wet/submerged in water as opposed to a trickle filter. A sump filter can be positioned below your main tank, overhead, or integrated.

A Sump with a Fluidized Bed Filter Designed by Nigel Sia Philippines

Fluidized Bed Filters

In its most common implementation, a Fluidized Bed filter is actually a 3 chambered sump separated by baffles. The big difference is that the biological media is held in suspension by a pumped water flow or bubbles from an air pump so that every particle of the media will have a large part of its surface area exposed to water flow and well aerated at any given time to home the beneficial bacteria that will filter the water off of Ammonia and Nitrites, as opposed to static media sump filters.

The function of an aquarium filter for our planted aquarium is not limited only to provide filtration.

  • A suitably sized aquarium filter can provide the needed water flow or turbulence to distribute the nutrients and CO2 (if you are injecting CO2, prolonging the CO2 bubbles contact with water so it can be dissolved before it reaches the surface).
  • Not just distributing nutrients and CO2, it provides the water current that some fish loves to swim against. Plants swaying with the gentle water current is a sight to behold.
  • It is a breeding ground for beneficial bacteria to break down harmful Nitrogenous compounds (Ammonia, Nitrites) into less harmful ones (Nitrate).
  • An aquarium filter can also provide the water surface agitation, aerating the water for our faunas and beneficial bacteria’s nitrification activities.
  • It can also prevent the accumulation of wastes, sludge, mulm in the substrate, keeping them suspended/floating so they can be taken in by the filter’s intake.
Black Lake in Montenegro

There are numerous things to consider when buying your planted aquarium filter by providing each filter’s pros and cons. Still, before we get to that and find you the right one (you can even DIY your own filter), you need to familiarize yourself with the different types of filters available in the market. Also, we are on a planted aquarium website. Obviously, we will discuss those popular filters applicable to a planted aquarium.

So Undergravel filters, you are out! Nobody wants to rescape their planted aquariums every 2 to 3 months to clean the detritus that’s been pinned down by this filter. With the advent of aquascaping, that’s the nail in its coffin.

Types of Planted Aquarium Filters

Canister Filters

Canister filters are more powerful and larger than most other filters, and they are suitable for medium to large planted aquariums. This means you can stuff more media due to its larger capacity/volume, which in turn allows for better filtration and more beneficial bacteria colonization. The simple fact is the more volume your filter has, and the more media you can stuff into it, the more effective and efficient your filtration is and the clearer/cleaner your water is.

Since it is outside the tank, you can conceal it under or at the rear of your aquarium stand. Canister filters are pressurized, which forces the water through its filter media rather than just letting it flow as other filters do. This makes them ideal for heavy loads.

Canister Filter by Jose Santos Dacuycoy Philippines

Canister Filter by Jose Santos Dacuycoy Philippines

My Canister Filter

My Canister Filter

How does a Canister filter work?

Most of the Canister filters force the water from bottom to top, channeling the water through a specially constructed cylindrical tube that minimizes dirty water bypass inside the filter until it reaches the canister’s bottom (using the power of gravity). Once it reaches the bottom, the water travels upwards through the several media trays or chambers, cleaning your water, and then exits into the outtake hose/tubes back into your planted aquarium. A few models work in reverse, forcing the water from top to bottom but still utilizes the force of gravity.

Is there any room for customizations with a Canister filter?

It can perform all three types of filtration extremely well, but for a planted aquarium, and as I mentioned in the previous article, we only need mechanical and biological filtrations. One of the main benefits of a Canister filter is the ability to customize the combinations of media you stuffed into it. By not using chemical filtration media, you can put more mechanical and biological media in its place.

A complete Canister filter package includes the Canister filter itself, with the built-in pump, a couple of trays for your media placements (some manufacturers employs chambers instead of trays), and sometimes more, depending on the volume, a siphon tube for intake, including the U-tube, a spray bar including the U-tube for outtake and hoses to route them in and out of your planted tank.

Canister Filters by Billie Jay Basilio Philippines

Canister Filters and their accessories by Billie Jay Basilio Philippines

You can choose to use the included accessories (hoses, intake, and outtake) or customize them according to your needs. For example, in my Canister filter, I didn’t use the included spray bar and instead used a ‘duckbill’ so I can easily point the outtake to a direction (slanted downwards) that I want to effectively circulate the water, nutrients, and co2 bubbles across the whole tank. You can also use a Lily Pipe set. Whichever outtake you choose, it is important that it can provide the needed water surface agitation for aerating your water.

Some Canisters are modular that require an additional pump. The modular Canister filters are applicable when plumbed in line with other filtration types, such as a wet/dry trickle filter. If you know how a Canister filter works, you can even DIY your very own Canister filter if you are handy.

Are there any additional features that I should look out for?

Again, Canister filters work in the principle of suction. Some Canister filters have a priming button, which actually does the siphoning action by depressing it numerous times before turning on the filter. It is still manual, but the priming button brings convenience for us hobbyists instead of siphoning with your mouth. Some more advanced Canister filters have automatic self-priming with just a touch of a button.

One thing to note is that after you primed and started your Canister filter, there are still air bubbles/air pockets left inside your filter. You can remove them by gently rocking your filter from all sides until no bubbles are coming out anymore in your outtake. Watch all those air bubbles go.

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See Captions

Some Canister filter models have included UV light sterilizer as an additional filtration stage to kill/prevent bacterial/algae outbreak (such as cyanobacteria, green water, and algae spores). I know I said it could kill bacteria, but these UV lights inside these Canisters are designed to prevent you from killing your beneficial bacteria. The UV light is isolated from your biological media trays. These integrated UV lights’ effectivity depends on the offending bacteria and algae spores’ contact time that needs to be eradicated.

You can also use your in-line atomizer/reactor CO2 diffusers with the return hose of your Canister filter—less equipment inside your planted aquarium.

DIY Canister Filter by Franco Blanco Philippines

DIY Canister Filter by Franco Blanco Philippines

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See Captions

Using a DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Jedz Florita Philippines

Using a DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Jedz Florita Philippines

How do I maintain a Canister filter?

The frequency of maintenance with a Canister filter is far more apart, though. Please refer to the instructional manual of your specific Canister filter model. For example, my Canister’s routine cleaning is every 4 weeks, sometimes 5-6 weeks, due to scheduling conflicts. The longest was 2 months, and it’s not even too dirty and just had slightly reduced water flow.

To add to that, do not maintain/clean your filter/media with chlorinated tap water! Always see to it that you clean your filter media using old extracted water from a water change. Tap/chlorinated water can instantly kill the beneficial bacteria you have long-established. Your tank cycling reverts to zero. You will have the agony to repeat it (Hello cloudy water/bacterial bloom!!!).

Squeeze and rinse whatever mechanical media you have with old tank water only from a water change to release all the detritus, muck, organic matters trapped by it. Keep your biological media wet by submerging them, also in collected old tank water. Do not use foams, sponges, brushes, even your fingers, or any abrasive products to scrub them (your biological media). Just rinse them with old tank water.

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See Captions

Are there any disadvantages when using a canister filter?

Canister filters have negative sides too. While one of the pros of a Canister filter is its larger volume capacity, it is more difficult to take apart for cleaning and maintenance. Be extra careful with those that have integrated UV light.

And since Canister filters are pressurized units, the rubber sealings may fail over time and needs to be lubricated or replaced. The amount of oxygen content in the water passing through the filter is reduced and needs additional help. There is no water-to-air contact in the biological media section. This means that the biological filtration is not as efficient as other filter types. Remember that your beneficial bacteria’s nitrification activities and population depend on the amount of oxygen and food available for them.

This is why I always mentioned in the previous articles to provide water surface agitation to aerate your water, even when injecting CO2. By having a planted aquarium, plants will respire oxygen, adding to your water’s oxygen content. Both of these can alleviate the con I mentioned above by aerating your water outside the Canister filter.

Remember also that your beneficial bacteria will not only colonize your biological media. They can grow anywhere in your planted aquarium, from your hardscape (rocks and driftwood), any submerged equipment, even on the inside glass of your tank, your soil, your plants, and some free-floating in water. Basically, everything submerged in your planted tank act as biological filtration media! 

To summarize, here are the pros and cons of a Canister filter:

Pros

  • A great filter for medium to large Planted Aquarium tanks
  • Highly customizable when it comes to choosing the most effective media, and you can squeeze a lot of it into the filter
  • Can provide 3 types of filtration – most importantly, mechanical and biological
  • Ideal for heavy loads – you can get away with overstocking without affecting your water parameters.
  • Concealable – at the back of your aquarium stand or inside the cabinet
  • Falls under the medium price range
  • Additional features from different brands such as UV light sterilizer, self-priming button, customizable when it comes to accessories, modular units can be plumbed inline with another filter.
Canister Filter by Paolo Balinado Philippines

Canister Filter by Paolo Balinado Philippines

  • Ability to use your in-line atomizer/reactor for more effective CO2 diffusion
  • The frequency of maintenance is far more apart than most of the other filters.
  • You can freely adjust the outtake/return’s direction – you may want to point the outtake upwards (underwater) to provide surface agitation (but you will outgas a lot of your CO2) vs. pointing it downwards to distribute the nutrients effectively; CO2 bubbles across the whole tank (water surface agitation will be provided by other means, such as DIY fans, or wavemakers)
DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Mark Christian Lacson Laguda Philippines

DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Mark Christian Lacson Laguda Philippines

DIY Canister Filter Made from an Old Washing Machine for DIY Stingray Pond Designed by Nigel Sia Philippines

DIY Canister Filter Made from an Old Washing Machine for DIY Stingray Pond Designed by Nigel Sia Philippines – this is not pressurized

Cons

  • If you have a Euro braced tank, a Canister filter’s U-pipes may not fit, or you have to DIY/customize to make it fit and secure.
  • Due to its size/volume/weight, it is more difficult to take apart for cleaning and maintenance. There is a high risk of dropping it or breaking the glass protecting the UV light. Be careful, always!
  • Canister filters are pressurized units. The rubber sealings may fail over time and need to be lubricated or replaced.
  • The amount of oxygen content in the water passing through the filter is reduced and needs additional help. There is no water-to-air contact in the biological media section. This means that the biological filtration is not as efficient as other filter types. This can be alleviated by having a planted aquarium in the first place and providing water surface agitation.
  • Another concern about the height of your tank (the height of your outtake U-pipe that hangs at the top of your tank) to the height at the top of the Canister. The further the water has to travel upwards, the more it will slow down, reducing your flow. And if the path is too high, the pump may not be able to overcome the force of gravity. So make sure that your planted aquarium is not too elevated with respect to the top of your Canister. For example, I have less than two feet of height from my Canister top to the top of my tank.

Using Canister Filter Aquascaped by Cris Magsino Philippines

Using Canister Filter Aquascaped by Cris Magsino Philippines

Using a DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Liongco Ong Paul Philippines

Using a DIY Canister Filter Aquascaped by Liongco Ong Paul Philippines

Stressing This Out Again!

Whichever filter you had chosen from the list above, do not maintain/clean your filter/media with chlorinated tap water! Always see to it that you clean your filter media using old extracted water from a water change or a water source known to have no chlorine. Tap/chlorinated water can instantly kill the beneficial bacteria you have long-established. Your tank cycling reverts to zero. You will have the agony to repeat it (Hello cloudy water/bacterial bloom!!!).

Squeeze and rinse whatever mechanical media you have with old tank water only from a water change to release all the detritus, muck, organic matters trapped by it. Keep your biological media wet by submerging them, also in collected old tank water. Do not use foams, sponges, brushes, even your fingers, or any abrasive products to scrub them (your biological media). Just rinse them with old tank water.

Can We Do Filter Maintenance Along With Water Change?

Contrary to popular practice, some hobbyists will say that you cannot perform filter maintenance along with your water change schedule. This happened to me on some occasions due to scheduling conflicts.

While the most obvious disadvantage is you have many tasks to do, you can still do both subsequently in just under an hour. One advantage of this is you can use the old tank water extracted from your water change to rinse/clean your filter, filter media, and its accessories/parts, not compromising your good bacteria.

Just keep in mind that you keep your filter media wet and submerge using old tank water extracted during your water change. Wash and rinse your mechanical media (foams, filter floss, polyester pillow stuffings, etc.) with old tank water.

Clean your filter and hoses, in my case, my Canister filter with the same old tank water. Arrange your filter media back and quickly to avoid drying them out.

Let me share with you my routine when I stumbled with this situation:

1. Turn off your filter, surface skimmer, and pumps if there are any.

Front View During Water Change 25 %

Front View During Water Change After Siphoning 25 %

Top View During Water Change 25 %

Top View During Water Change After Siphoning 25 %

2. Perform your water siphoning according to how much percentage of water volume you want to change. While you are at it, vacuum your substrate as well. You may want to vacuum your mosses as well. You will be surprised how much debris, detritus, etc. are in your mosses (try to disturb the water around them, and you will see what I mean). They act as mechanical filters for small to medium particulates, dead organic matter, fish food, etc., in our planted aquariums.

3. Put the extracted water into pails or a big water basin.

Siphoning my Substrate and Carpet Plants

Siphoning my Substrate and Carpet Plants

Trimming my Mosses while siphoning them

Trimming my Mosses while siphoning them

Extracted water from a Water Change into a Basin

Extracted water from a Water Change into a Basin

4. I don’t fill up the tank yet with new water usually, but I turn on my aquarium fan to provide water surface agitation for my faunas. Depending on your filter type, this may take considerably more time compared to just a water change schedule. You can also choose to fill up your tank with new chlorine-free water. It is totally up to you.

5. Next, dismantle your filter. Put your biological filter media and submerged them in the extracted water earlier.

6. Wash, squeeze, and rinse your mechanical media (foams, filter floss, polyester pillow stuffings, etc.) with old tank water. Do this in a separate and smaller basin to avoid clouding the water in the big basin where your biological media are and avoid the nasties getting into your biological media.

7. Clean the inside walls of your filter and hoses with the same old tank water. For hoses, you can use hose brush cleaners.

8. Assemble your filter media back into the filter quickly to avoid drying them out.

Keeping my Biological media wet using old tank water during water change

Keeping my Mechanical and Biological media wet using old tank water during a water change

My Filter Tubings starting to get dirty

My Filter Tubings starting to get dirty

My Tube Cleaning Brush

My Tube Cleaning Brush to clean my filter hoses

After cleaning the inside walls of my Canister Filter

After cleaning the inside walls of my Canister Filter

9. In my case, I have a canister filter. I pour water from my tank, not from the water basin, to submerge my filter media. Set it aside for now. If you have a HOB filter, Overhead filter, sponge filter, or internal filter, etc., you can already set them up in the tank.

10. I fill my tank with new water. I remineralize it beforehand because I am using RO/DI water. Skip this if you’d fill up your tank in step # 4.

11. Next is to set up my Canister filter in its original position, insert the hoses, and then position the intake and outtake.

12. Turn on the filter, surface skimmer, and pumps if there’s any, and enjoy your hard work.

Assembling My Canister Filter and its Media Trays

Assembling My Canister Filter and its Media Trays

Maintaining Your Filter Along With Water Change 1080p. Please like and subscribe!

Conclusion

In this article, we concluded the importance of a carefully chosen planted aquarium filter and how critical it is to support life in our tanks. It can distribute nutrients and CO2 across the whole tank and provides the water current that fish loves to swim against. It can also be a breeding ground for beneficial bacteria, provides the needed water surface agitation, oxygenating the water for our faunas, and nitrification activities.

Now we are getting into the bigger filters that you can use with your planted aquariums. Canister filters are pressurized which forces the water in rather than just letting it flow compared to other filters. This makes them ideal for heavy loads.

They are more powerful and bulkier than most other filters and thus, more suitable for medium to large planted tanks. There are many different designs and feature sets available commercially from different manufacturers. If you are a handyman, you can even DIY your very own Canister filter once you know how it works.

We also discussed how to maintain it and the frequency of maintenance for a Canister filter is far more apart. However, Canister filters have their own negative sides too that we also outlined.

Finally, regardless of your chosen filter, we discussed how you can maintain your filter without compromising your beneficial bacteria and if we can perform filter maintenance along with water change.

Closing Remarks

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have additional questions or want to share your experiences with the Canister Filters you used, please leave a comment below.

Next, we will be discussing the Rain Filters – the Trickle Filters.

7 Comments

  1. Christine

    It’s a lot of work and a big responsibility to keep the water in your aquarium clean. I used to have an aquarium as a child and I remember how much work it was to keep the environment ideal for the fish and the underwater plants. At the same time, it is work done with love. I like the canister filters, they look efficient and I think that if I ever get an aquarium again I will get a canister filter. The homemade ones look pretty awesome, but I would probably get one from the store. 🙂

    Reply
    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hello Christine,

      Thank you for visiting my website and sharing your experiences/passion with your planted aquarium. I personally use a canister filter as well. It was a balance of more volume where you can stuff a lot of media and still easy to maintain.

      Reply
  2. Tom

    Hey,

    I have a family member who would really appreciate this article and keeping their aquarium clean. I will forward this on to them and encourage them to get in touch if they have any burning questions or issues.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.

    All the best,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hello Tom,

      Thank you for sharing my website with your family member. I hope in some ways, I am able to help you with your decisions to keep a planted aquarium at your very own home.

      Reply
  3. Haley

    Hello,

    I know how much work goes into aquariums but didn’t know how helpful canister filters could be! My step-dad has a small aquarium but I’m going to forward this to him in the case that he looks at upgrading in size and needs some ideas and info before doing so! Thanks so much for all of the info!

    Reply
    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hello Haley,

      Thank you for visiting my website and sharing this article to your step-dad. Please come back for more articles coming soon.

      Reply
  4. Gorjan

    I just bought a canister filter two months ago, and by the looks of it, there’s no need for me to clean it anytime soon.

    I initially bought it because I heard they were good for reducing nitrate levels, but the fact it’s low maintenance makes it even better. I have 13 fish now, but that doesn’t stop it from working like a charm.

    Appreciate the post. Lots of good info here.

    Reply

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