Canister Filter Vs. Sump Filtration (Which One is Greater?)

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The comparison between a canister filter and a sump has been discussed in lengths and is pondered over by every aquarist at some point. 

If you find yourself in similar waters and have been thinking, “Canister filter Vs sump, which one is better?” Then we’ve got the answer for you. Read our brief yet informative guide to understand the differences better. 

Canister Filter

Is canister filter the best

Let’s start by discussing the canister filter and get to know its characteristics. But before getting into that, do you know what a canister filter actually is? We’ll tell you about it. 

What’s A Canister Filter?

They are essentially aquarium filters that take the water out of the tank using a sieve, an intake tube, and a few valves. The water is then filtered through a pressurized chamber and pumped back into the tank either by a spray bar or spillway. 

How Does A Canister Filter Work?

A canister filter works by drawing up water from the aquarium using its lift tube and passing it to an external canister.

The outer chamber consists of a series of media filters to thoroughly clean the tank. Depending on the model, water can flow in any direction ranging from top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, outside-in, or center-out. 

Moreover, the media can be biological, chemical, or mechanical, and use different interactive forces for filtering. Most devices have in-built water pumps either at the cover or base and do not require separate ones. 

Aquarium Sump

Are sump filter good

A sump is a really effective tank filter and can be used for both freshwater and saltwater aquaria if used correctly. You might have come across this term often if you’re active on the community, so we’ll talk about it in detail now.

What Is An Aquarium Sump?

Sumps are practically tanks that are placed right below the aquarium and are made of glass or acrylic. Some people even use plastic containers or rubber-made tubs. These filters work using gravity to create a perfect balance between the aquarium and the tub, and as a result, are fool-proof. 

How Does An Aquarium Sump Work?

Sumps are never subject to failures as they use gravity for functioning, and everybody knows that is the most reliable force. They are fitted at the base of the tank and have an overflow box on the top. It is positioned in a way that the slits on the box are in direct contact with the tank. 

The overflow box pulls water from the tank by mechanical means, filters it, and pumps it back using a return pump. You can also use a check-valve to avoid unnecessary water siphoning. 

Additionally, if you have a reef tank (saltwater tanks that have corals), then you’ll require stronger filtration and oxygenation. A water sump is hands down a better fit for that situation. 

Canister Filter Vs. Sump, Which Is Better?

Canister FilterLess noisy
Easy to install
Take up less space
Lower your energy bill
Filter mechanically better in some cases
Harder to maintain
Low flow rate
Low media capacity
SumpLarger water volume
Hide equipment
Cheaper for larger tanks
Constant water level
Custom build 
Less maintenance
Can do maintenance functions (Great for salt water)
Have endless possibilities
Risk of flooding

Now that you know about both these devices and their functioning, we can draw a comparison between the two. Weighing their positives and negatives against each other will give you a clear picture of which one is better.


A canister filter is quiet and doesn’t create any dripping noise as water is softly transported using tubes. On the other hand, sumps create a lot of noise as the water slowly trickles down directly in the tub. 

You can evidently hear the sound of water splashing in a sump, and that can be really disturbing when you’re trying to sleep or focus on something. It’s fair to say that canister filters win on this front. 

Water Volume

Both the systems can carry small or large quantities depending on the model when it comes to water volume. But looking at it from a different angle, sumps have more room for bio media and can filter larger water volumes more efficiently than canisters. 

If you have a large tank with a lot of fish, corals, and aquatic vegetation, sumps will oxygenate it better. Filter canisters can do it too, but it’ll be more time-consuming. 

Hide Equipment

Sumps are again a few steps ahead of canister filters when it comes to equipment hiding. This is because the former has a sophisticated look and hides all its accessories like filters, media, and skimmers. Even the glass ones look organized and hide the working equipment well, letting you see the transport of water simultaneously. 

Whereas a canister filter has all its accessories on display, leaving the tank looking cluttered and shabby. It doesn’t have any glass finish or elegant look and is simply made of plastic or acrylic. 


Sumps are significantly easier to maintain than canister filters as they can be simply wiped clean as they are. The wet-dry filter model is the most convenient to look after. 

But for the maintenance of the latter, you’ll have to dismantle it completely and separate the sieve tubes from the reactors for cleaning. That can be quite a task since it’ll take a lot of time and effort. 

Cost (Depends On The Tank Size)

The cost largely depends on your tank size; the bigger it is, the more you’ll have to spend on the filter system. However, sumps are generally more expensive as the device that works with more efficacy is bound to cost more. 

Final Thoughts

Having discussed all the parameters, we can conclude that sumps outshine filter canisters in several aspects. They are simpler to clean and maintain, filter large water quantities and big-sized tanks more effectively, and hide their functioning equipment.

Although sumps systems create splashing noise, you can make them silent by calibrating their drain speed with the pumping capacity. Another advantage is that they have more space for bio media and skimmers to clean the aquarium surface. 

On the contrary, canister filters are noiseless and are a better fit if you have budget constraints. And that’s about it for this guide. We hope you got your answers!

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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