How To Set Up A Canister Filter

How To Set Up A Canister Filter

Keeping fish and owning an aquarium is a popular pastime, but there’s a lot to think about when it comes to maintenance.

Keeping the water clean in the aquarium can be challenging but is one of the most important jobs.

Dirty water is dangerous for fish and can cause sickness and death.

Canister filters offer superior water filtration for any aquarium, and they have a plethora of features that are suitable for freshwater or saltwater tanks.

Most aquarists start with external filters that may be easy to set up but are far less sophisticated and don’t have the same flow as a canister filter.

However, the biggest issue with canister filters is setting up, and it can be a bit tricky.

We’ve put together this article to provide a step-by-step guide to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Consult The Manual

Reading product manuals isn’t exactly a fun pastime, and often it’s tempting to try to work things out alone.

However, it can be tricky with an aquarium canister filter.

It depends on which model you choose, but there can be around 40 different parts that need to be fixed in the right place as well as in specific order.

The manual will provide visuals to help you recognize each part you need to assemble to get the canister filter into working order.

New filter problems are common and often due to making errors during the initial set up.

Check For The Correct Parts

Before installing your canister, be sure to compare the parts that are listed with what arrives in the box.

It’s unlikely, but you don’t want to get halfway through assembling to discover a crucial component is missing.

If you find it is missing, you can then contact the customer service department where you purchased your canister and ask for an exchange or request they send you a replacement part.

Once you’re sure you have the correct parts it will help you get you organized and the assembly will go quicker.

You will understand what the part looks like and how many you will need for each step.


The first step is to open up the canister and look at the filter baskets.

They should fit together securely, if they don’t, the lid won’t seat properly and the rest of the canister will be useless.

If it puts stress on the lid clamps, it can cause leaks between the lid and the canister.

The next step is checking the filtration media.

This is the part that separates unwanted particles from being filtered.

Most canisters should have a number of media which consists of sponge filters, activated carbon and a biological filter.

If you are planning on using activated carbon or zeolite, you may need to purchase this separately.

Consult the instruction manual for details on how to stack the media in the baskets.

Typically, it will run as follows:

  • Sponges that filter and trap debris, so it doesn’t block the other media
  • Activated carbon that filters out odours, discoloration, and organics
  • Top filter sponge or pad

Canisters aren’t all made the same.

Taller canisters tend to have more baskets, so allow a better selection of media.

Always follow the directions for your specific brand.

Always thoroughly wash out each media item before putting it into the filter, so you don’t lock in any dirt, dust, or debris.

It is also a way of eliminating air bubbles.

Fix The Canister

Before fixing permanently, test where you want the canister to go.

It’s important that it’s accessible for maintenance purposes, whether that’s in a cabinet or under the tank.

You will also need to ensure that the power cord can reach a socket.

It’s useful to spend some time moving the canister around to find the right place for easy access and maintenance.

You should bear in mind that canisters should always be placed underneath the aquarium, this is because gravity feeds the pump.

It can sometimes work if placed next to taller tanks, but the siphon action can often be weak, reducing the water and causing the filter to slow down.


These filters usually need two hoses, one to move water into the filter and the other to return the pure water back into the aquarium.

You must ensure there is room for the hoses to connect at the top of the filter.

You should also make sure there is enough room to take out the filter for maintenance.

The simplest way is to put together the intake tubes along with the return tubes and connect them to the right hoses.

Position the hoses in the aquarium, where they will stay permanently.

The next step is running the hoses into the cabinet from the back of the aquarium.

The hoses should have enough slack to enable you to slide the filter out.

How To Set Up A Canister Filter For Your Fish Tank

Some filters come with valves that disconnect, which means you don’t need to worry about the above.

The valves are handy as they allow you to shut and disconnect the hoses without risking the canister breaking away from the cabinet.

It’s crucial you don’t allow the hoses to kink or bend in any way, as this will restrict water flow.

Always test fit first to ensure your hoses are the correct size.

Prime The Canister

The next step is to prime the filter.

Ensure the tank is completely full of water before plugging in.

The pump will push water to the tank, and the aquarium water fills the canister.

The other pump returns water to the aquarium, and the intake hose should be larger than the second one.

This hose makes sure that the pump is never dry.

The priming process makes the whole process run smoothly.

Priming is just the simple task of filling the tank with water.

Typically, a canister will have a priming button which is made up of a tiny suction pump that siphons off water on the water intake stage.

If you don’t have a primer, you will need to suck on the hose to get it started.

When you have filled the canister with water, put in the plug.


It’s common for air to get trapped in the canister, and you may hear some strange noises if an air pocket is formed.

The best way to deal with this is to unplug the filter and leave it for around 30 seconds or more.

Once you plug it back in, the air pocket will have dissipated.

The intake screen should be lowered to the bottom of the tank.

This will enable the intake to suck up debris from the gravel, limiting waste accumulating at the top.

The intake is also vital to help rescue the risk of fish getting sucked into the filter.

Adjust Return Tube

A nozzle on the return outlet allows you to adjust the water flow, and you can set it to send water deep into the tank or across the surface.

Spraying across the surface allows the water to be agitated, increasing the oxygen and producing a calming sound.


So, there we have a guide to setting up your canister. We found these tips helpful, hope you do too!

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