Canister Filter VS Sump: Here Is What You Need To Know

Are you new to the fish owner community and weighing your filter options? It can be a tough decision, trust me. I have been at this for many years and I have tried almost every filter there is for my 50 gallon fish tank. Recently, I noticed that I was getting a lot of gunk built up on the bottom of my tank. My canister filters have always been good to me, but I began to weigh the options between a canister filter vs a sump. Would one be better for me over the other? Let’s check out what I discovered.

Canister Filter VS Sump Comparisons

Canister Filter Sump
Penn Plax Aquarium Cascade Canister Filter isolated in white background
Aqueon ProFlex Sump Model 1 isolated in white background
  • Affordable
  • Easy to install
  • Leaves tank cluttered
  • Some can be noisy
  • May not keep the surface clean
  • May cost more than a canister filter
  • Installation may not be as easy for beginners
  • Hides media, filters, and accessories
  • Relatively quiet
  • Keeps the surface clean


When it comes to filtration, there can be a lot of frustration. If you don’t have the correct size filter installed in your tank, you’ll have some pretty crummy filtration going on. You’ll begin to notice cloudy water, gunk on the bottom of the tank, and potentially ill fish. It’s important to know how well a sump and a canister filter work in certain tanks.

Canister Filter

Penn Plax Aquarium Cascade Canister Filter isolated in white background

These filters suck water up through a lift tube and into an external filter or canister where it is then forced through various filter medias to clean the dirty water. There are multiple options as to which way the water will flow through the filter.

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The media that is provided by these filters are either chemical, mechanical, and/or biological filtration. This all depends on which one you choose to use. Once the water has been filtered through the canister, it goes back into the tank. Most canister filter models have water pumps that are built into the cover or base, but some require a separate external pump.


Aqueon ProFlex Sump Model 1 isolated in white background
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A sump isn’t actually a filter, it just houses the filtration system of your choosing. You have to install a circulation pump inside of the sump if it is submersible or plum it adjacent to the sump if it isn’t submersible. You can purchase sump setups or build one of your own.

Water is then pumped from the sump and into the aquarium and then back into the sump. If you do it this way, the pump can run constantly. If there isn’t water getting into the sump, the pump will need to be switched on and off as the sump collects the water. To me, this just seems like a pain. You would have to install a float switch, as found in old school toilets, or switches that automatically turn on when the water begins to get lower.

Most people use sumps with trickle filters which allow water to flow through the tower of the filter and drop into the sump.​

Being Aware Of Your Equipment

Before you go all willy nilly and just slap a filter or sump on your tank, these are a few things that you should know about each one.

Being Aware Of Your Canister Filter

If used correctly, canister filters are a great tool for your tank. A superior filter gives you an advantage of being able to choose which filtration is ideal for your tank because you can customize the filter media.

Canister filters usually have a lower maintenance need than power filters and sumps because the water is being forced through the media as opposed to flowing over or around the media. Most of these filters also return water to the tank via spray bar. This reduces evaporation and current.

With these, there is no need to install a box on the outside or the inside of your tank. There are really no special requirements and they are easy to maintain.

Being Aware Of Your Sump System

Sumps may seem like a complex setup, but it does provide your tank with proper water flow and a place to store all the stuff that normally clutters the walls and bottom of your tank. On one side you may have a hanging filter, heater, thermometer, pipes, wires, and more. WIth the sump box, you can add all of the stuff to it, decluttering your tank and giving your fish more swimming space.

Sumps also keep the surface of the water free of contaminates and keeping water levels stable in the display tank. If you have a plumbed system-tubes and pipes coming out of your tank to carry water to filters and other necessary equipment-the sump is what collects the water. This keeps the water from overflowing, as stated above.


Here is what you need to know about installing a canister filter vs a sump.

Canister Filter Installation

The first thing you want to do is install the input and output flow pipes. Make sure you place them exactly where you want them because installation is permanent. You’ll then have to put the canister where it will be running at all times and measure the length between the pipes and the corresponding ports on the filter.

canister filter tube in selective focus

You the need to cut the hose in order for the input pipe to go to the input port on the canister and the output on the canister connects the output pipe to the tank.

You then need to fill the basket that holds the filter with the recommended media or you can choose your own based on the guidelines of the filter. Make sure you place the basket the proper way in the canister and that the input & output pipes match-up.

You’ll then have to dip the large O ring in the water to get it wet and then place it on top of the canister in the groove (this varies based on the filter model). Turn on the power and check for leaks. If there is a leak, reset the O ring, if not, you’re good to go.

Sump Installation

If you choose to make your own sump, there are multiple ways that you could build and install. I am going to take the easy route and tell you how to install a ProFlex pre-built sump.

For this sump, you need to remove a few screws, place the bottom tray of the biological filter kit (sold separately), slide the adjustable wall to the top and hold it in place with one hand. You’ll then need to fill the space above the bottom tray in the second chamber with the biological media from the kit.

Sump_Installation diagram

You then position the dip tray from the filter kit on the second row of tabs in chamber two, slide the adjustable wall down so that the spout rests on the dip tray, and place the sump in the desired position underneath the aquarium.

Lastly, attach the submersible return pump within the third chamber and attach the return tubing to the pump outlet.


In my honest opinion, I believe that a canister filter is an ideal choice for regular fish tanks, that is if you don’t mind having a little bit of clutter in your tank. Sure, the sump is perfect for hiding all of your media and accessories, but it doesn’t act as a filter unless you buy one separately. The canister filter does filter the water without needing any extra parts or frustrating installation. After weighing these options, I decided to stick with the canister filter setup and just trying a different brand. If you have any comments, concerns, or questions, feel free to give us a shout!

If you’re curious how a sump compares with another filtration system like a refugium, you can read more about it here.

1 thought on “Canister Filter VS Sump: Here Is What You Need To Know”

  1. But you can always just hide the canister under the cabinet under the tank so then you don’t have to have a HOB set up in the tank and the fish will have more room to swim around.


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