Canister Filter vs Hang On Back (HOB) Power Filters

If you’re a newbie to owning an aquarium, you need to do some research regarding what kind of tools and accessories you need so that your fish remains healthy and your life isn’t that much harder. One of these requirements is to have a filtration system for your fish tank. This is so important that in many cases, when you buy aquarium it will come with a filter as part of the package. 

In all likelihood, this will be a power filter. This is also called a HOB (hang on back) filter, because that’s where you put it to work. It’s meant to hang on the edge of the aquarium, and you place it at the back so you have an unobstructed view of the inside of your tank. 

However, you need to be aware that this isn’t the only type of filter you can use for your fish tank. The HOB power filter is in many ways a great option for newbies, which is why it’s an integral part of so many fish tanks that beginners buy. But at the same time, you eventually will have heard about upgrading to a canister filter instead, especially if you’ve outgrown the newbie stage. 

So what’s the difference between a canister filter and a Hang On Back (HOB) filter? There are certain key differences here that you should pay attention to, so that you can make the right choice as to which one is best for your needs and circumstances. 

Here are some factors to consider:


This is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice. After all, you’re a responsible consumer. A HOB filter is so cheap that it’s the model you usually get as a freebie when you buy your first aquarium. In general, most of these HOB filters can be purchased for just $20 to $30.

On the other hand, you won’t easily find fish tank sellers putting in a canister filter as a freebie. That’s because these things typically cost more than $100. In some cases, they can fetch up to more than $300. So this filter will really bust your budget, especially if you’re a teenager starting off on a new hobby. 


As we’ve said, a HOB filter is something that you just hang out on the back of the aquarium. As long as have some space back there, you’re all good. Besides, the HOB filter doesn’t need all that much space behind the tank. 

On the other hand, the canister filter can be a bit bigger, and there’s really no convenient space for it until you make one. Most of the time, people put it under the aquarium if the tank is set on some sort of table or shelf. 


Another reason for the popularity of the HOB power filter is that installing it isn’t really a problem at all. That makes it great for newbies. You just hang it on the back of the tank. It’s a self-contained system with minimal setup requirements. 

It’s a bit more complicated with a canister filter, although with the best ones the installation process can be rather simplified. In any case, with the canister filter under the tank you have to set up the 2 hoses you need to draw the water out from and then back to the tank. Canister filters can come with a lot more components, and that means a more complicated installation process for you. 


Here’s another area in which the HOB filter is so much better. All you really need to do with a HOB power filter is to remove the filter media when it’s time for you to do so. You can just remove the filter media, and you won’t even need to take off the filter from the back of the aquarium. The filter system itself doesn’t really need a lot of cleaning either. 

With the canister filter, let’s just say that it’s a more involved process when it comes to maintenance. You can find some systems that will require you to disassemble the whole filter so that you can take out the media to be replaced. That’s why lots of people who use canister filters want a special design that allows them to make easier filter media replacements without making too much of an effort. 

You have to clean the canister filter every now and then as well. That also requires disassembly of the unit. In addition, you will need to clean the tubes too and you may have to get a special tube cleaning kit for that. 


This is the area in which the canister filter rules over the HOB power filter. When it comes to effectively cleaning the tank water, the canister simply works better most of the time. 

This may not matter for smaller tanks, as for these the HOB filter can suffice. You may even find HOB filters that offer mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. 

Of course, there still may be some inefficiencies. Out back where you hang the filter, the water is exposed so that it evaporates more quickly. In addition, this is an open space through which fish can jump through—yes, some fish have this annoying tendency. If you have a marbled hatchetfish or African butterflyfish, you better watch out. 

But in general, the canister filter doesn’t usually just offer all three stages of filtration. You can find many of these that offer several layers of filtration for each stage. In fact, you can find canister filters with more than 10 layers of filtration.

The pump of the canister filter is also a lot more powerful. This means even if you have a 100-gallon tank, you can find a canister filter that’s powerful enough to clean all the water in the tank several times each hour. That’s not the kind of performance you can reasonably expect from a mere HOB power filter. Despite the “power” in the name power filter, the canister filter can be a lot more powerful. 


So which one should you use? If you’re a newbie, stick to a smaller tank and use a HOB filter. It should do the job well, and you’ll find it easy to maintain. Once you gain some experience, you can try a canister filter especially when you graduate to bigger tanks.

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