Canister Filter vs Hang on Back (HOB) Filter – Which is Best for Your Aquarium?

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If you plan on buying a water filter for your aquarium, you arrived on the right article. Today we will discuss the difference between 2 versions of water filters: the canister and the hang on back filter (HOB filter for short).

Both of these are widely used by fish tank owners, and they both have pros and cons as well. At first, I’ll tell you how they work, so you’ll understand all that follows easier. After that, we’ll take a look separately at both types and see what the main differences are.

At the end of this article, you should have a pretty good idea on how to decide which filter is best for your specific needs. Let’s begin!

How Does a Canister Filter Work?

A canister filter sits beside the aquarium, or in certain cases (most of the time), you can put it under the aquarium as well (if you have proper space for it). Every canister filter comes with a set of hoses that are used to clean the water inside the tank.

These hoses will extract the water from the aquarium, and run it into the filter itself. When the water enters the device, it will be pressurized through a series of filter media. It’s worth mentioning that a canister filter can do mechanical, biological and chemical filtration all at once, if you use the proper media for doing it.

When the water was successfully filtered in the device, with the help of another hose, the clean water is returned into the aquarium. All the dirt is left inside a special container that sits in the canister.

Also, it’s important to note that a canister filter will use a pump to move the water through the filter media. Most canister filter have the pump incorporated in their design, so you don’t need to acquire a water pump separately.

Here an example for a canister filter, that you can find on Amazon: Fluval External Filter. This is great for aquariums with up to 25 gallons capacity. Of course, there are multiple models, that will work with bigger fish tanks too. You can look on the site for the one that suits your aquarium.

This version however is great for having a clean salt or fresh water environment set up for your fishes. The multi-stage filtration system is great for both types of water.

Also, it includes a sound dampener, so it won’t be loud when running. For many people this is an important aspect. This way, you can keep the aquarium in silent rooms too, like your work office or bedroom.

Every Fluval external filter comes with a 3-year warranty period, which is more than enough for making the most out of your filter.

How Does a HOB Filter Work?

A HOB filter is different from the previous canister filter. Later in the article, we will see what the main differences are, but for now let’s see how it works.

A HOB filter doesn’t come with any hoses to extract the water from the aquarium. You will just hang it on the back of the fish tank, and it will draw water using a lift tube and a small pump.

When the water is inside the filter, multiple filter media is used to clean the water. Just like the canister filter, a HOB filter can do mechanical, biological and chemical filtration too. It only depends on which product you buy.

Once the water was successfully filtered, it is returned to the aquarium using a spill-way. Setting up this filter is simpler compared to the canister version.

An efficient hang on back filtering device is this on Amazon: Aqua Clear – Fish Tank Filter – 60 to 110 Gallons – 110v.

You can find this on Amazon as well, just like the one before. It’s a basic filter that works with all types of aquariums depending on their capacity. It comes with energy efficient pump, that will greatly lower the maintenance cost.

Also, cleaning it is quite simple, and you only have to do that once in 2 weeks. If you do this step, the filter will do a much better job, thus it will also work for a longer period of time.

But if for some reason it breaks, you can send it back for no cost, because a 2 year warranty is added in the package as well.

The filter media is added to the package as a standard, and you can use all of it or only some pieces that you want. This allows for a higher versatility.

Canister vs HOB Filter – What is the Main Difference?

Now that you know how both of them work, it’s time to see what are some of the differences between the two.

I will start with the main aspect: price. This isn’t surprising. After all, we’re talking about 2 different types of filters.

The HOB filter most of the time is cheaper compared to a canister filter that has the same capacity. This is mainly due to the fact that a canister filter can do a better job at cleaning the water.

The other aspect that makes canister filters more expensive, is the fact that they are built to work even with bigger aquariums. Due to their built quality, a canister can work for longer periods of time used with bigger fish tanks.

The price can differ quiet a lot when you do a search on the store. For a smaller aquarium, a HOB filter will do just fine. You don’t have to buy an expensive canister, because it might be exceeding your needs.

Another big difference between the 2 versions is the design. Usually, a HOB filter is easy to install, only by clipping it to the back of your aquarium. Also, it won’t take up too much space, but you do need to make sure you have enough behind your tank.

A canister filter on the other hand, like I already mentioned above, sits alone by itself. Most of the time, you have to put it under the aquarium. This way however, you need to make sure you have a shelf or something where you place the canister. Such a device is a little more complicated to set up than a simple HOB filter.

Also, don’t forget that there are 2 sets of hoses too that need to be set up with a canister filter. So take this into consideration as well.

Now, let’s recap what we talked about in this article, then I get on with the conclusion.

First, I told you that a HOB filter, as well as a canister filter are very popular for personal use. That’s because they both do a good job at filtering the water in any fish tank.

Also, I covered how both of them work. You could see that the mechanisms are somewhat similar, but they differ quite a lot. And a hang on back filter is much easier to install, than a canister filter.

Even so, if you need a professional filter, a canister could do a better job, since it was built for better quality filtration. That doesn’t mean that a HOB filter isn’t efficient. Not by far. But there are some differences, as you could see from above.

Now, let’s see how to choose the proper filter for your needs:


Basically, HOB filters are best for personal aquariums that are smaller to medium sized. Most people who own an aquarium at home, are happy with the performance a HOB filter gives them.

Also, it looks much better than a canister filter that sits on a shelf under the fish tank. Using a hang on back filter, you can create a good-looking aquarium. And if you choose the best one, for instance the one I mentioned above, you won’t even notice it working due to its sound dampening design.

On the other hand, if you want water filters for commercial purposes, for instance, if you own a shop, you need to think more professionally. A canister filter will do a better job for such needs. After all, most of these devices are built to work alongside big fish tanks.

Think about your budget too. For a shop owner, a canister filter might be a no-brainer. But if you only want a cheap filter for personal use, a HOB device could be a better choice.

All in all, it’s up to you to decide. Just think about your personal needs, and you’ll make the right decision.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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