Sump Tank vs Canister Filter?

Topic: I have a large 120 gallon aquarium want to know the difference between a sump tank vs canister filter? Which will work better on a big fish aquarium? I’ve had descent luck with canister filters but still have to do water changes. I’m wondering if a sump setup will be better filtration for my big fish tank? Need help?


*Awarded Answer
Posted by Nick D: A sump tank is going to always be better than a canister filter. What it comes down to is the sump holds more media and you can use a bigger pump to force the water through the media at a faster rate. There is no filter setup that is better than a sump setup. You can mess around and figure out what media works the best for your setup. I bought a pre-made sump setup that has been tested and works super effective in design. It’s a top rated acrylic setup with tons of 5 star reviews (here is link).

Aqueon ProFlex Sump Model 1, 44-55-Gallon
List Price: $420.10
Price: $420.10
Price Disclaimer

I chose to go with Aqueon because they have been in the industry for decades. This sump has cleared up my tank like crazy and I do water changes like once every 6 months.. its crazy. I have zero regrets about buying a sump because a person can spend that much on a canister filter.. I owned the FX6 before this and this sump blows it away.

Posted by Ashley D: I am new to aquariums and want to get a bigger tank. Looking to get a 75 gallon tank. Two local shops I have been talking to. One shop states I need a sump and the other states no. I thought sumps were for saltwater tanks. I am not sure what to do. What does everyone think. Thanks.

  • You don’t need a sump. You can definitely use one if you want to though. There are lots of benefits to having a sump set up. There are lots of other options for filters. You could go with a canister filter, hang on back filters (probably need 2 for a 75), or simple sponge filters.
  • Anyone have an overhead sump filter with aquaponics system running. Am in love with the idea and planning to slowly build one myself. Would love to see pics or videos of your set up and how has it helped to get good water parameters and quality.
  • They wanted a canister and sump set up with these balls in the sump. Especially if I want fish that produce more waste. The other one said I can get by with a canister and sponge filter.
  • Choice is yours. Some of it will depend on the fish you want to keep. My discus only have sponge filters. I have others that love high current. They get a FX6 and a powerhead.
  • Even if it’s drilled you can seal them and use whatever type of filter suits you and your fishs needs.
  • Thanks everyone for the input. I was thinking the shop that said we needed the sump sounded fishy. Pun intended. I will steer clear of them. Thanks again.
  • the advantage of a sump is you will have more water volume which will make for a more stable system, plus the fact that you can hide any extra equipment in there if you wanted to.
  • I have a 100g that has a sump and a canister filter on it. As to if you NEED one you can have any filter you want.
  • Those who have DIY sumps, I’d love to see your set up and know the GPH of your pump and size of overflow. Right now I’m looking at a 1000 gph pump with appx 3 ft of head. From what I’ve read, I gather a 2.5 inch overflow would be adequate, but this will be my first sump build, so I’m nervous about getting everything balanced. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.


Posted by Gretchen H: Hello all! And thank you for the add 🙂 I’m fairly new to the hobby and have a loose grip on the basics, I just bought a 75 gallon with a sumpsetup and would love some help. Be warned, it will be like talking to a drunk toddler, so if you aren’t ready to explain things at a snails pace, don’t bother trying to help. I’ll only infuriate you 😂😂 my current tank (tiny baby 20L) has an Aquaclear and a sponge filter and I know nothing about sumps. Nothing. I have tried my best make a wet/dry or trickle filter tower that seems to be working as planned, and I have the appropriate media in each level (as per DIY fish keeper on YouTube) but I’m not sure on the flow rates for the intake and return.. And I don’t know what this black tower/column thing that is inside of the main tank is called… Please pity the in over her head chick and help me.

  • I’m not any help on the sump thing but I’m sure the black tower/column thing is called a overflow.
  • Suggest you follow and watch as many videos you can on YouTube for DIY especially from Joey the king of DIY for aquariums that’s what I do too.
  • I love learning through YouTube. Much easier for me than reading things that go over my head.
  • If you’re first tank is a 75 with a sump you will have a really good shot at your 1st tank. Don’t overstock right away and good luck. Ask as many questions as you want, people love commenting.
  • Thank you! And it’s not my first, just my first sump and first larger tank 🙂 it’s just housing 3 axolotls so the bio load will be small 😊 this has already proven to be a friendly and helpful group!


Posted by James F: What size sump do you recommend for a 125gallon? Has 13ish SA cichlids and a red tail shark, sand substrate. Building it myself.

  • I have a 20g tall tank with a 1100gph return on my I can only assume a little bigger.
  • Or maybe a breeder depending on the room you have available but I’d get a more powerful pump…you making the dividers for your media?
  • Yes I am, I got 2 20g tall and a 30g tall, I was going to make my own with plexiglass panels, hob filter cartridges, and bio balls.
  • Well, last night I finally built my reverse Durso for the sump using 1.5 inch pvc. It drastically quieted the gurgling and splashing sound from the return line into the sump but not 100%. I have to keep trying until this system is quiet enough for my ears. I probably need to make a bigger hole for the vent to see if the bubbles recede more in the filter sock. The other issue is with the trickle noise the water makes in the overflow and the Durso pipe which I have to play withuntil it’s quiet. I’ll probably put the longer pipe in so the water level is higher in the overflow and the trickle is silent. This has been so frustrating and more than most that my plants melted due to that initial shock they got from the transition from the aquarium to my newly dirted tank. Some are showing signs of regrowth but these past two weeks have been more like waiting for a banged up patient to get better in a hospital. Uuggghh! What a pain. Can’t wait to put all my fishes back in the tank.
  • The bigger the better. A sump serves 3 purposes. It hides all of your equipment, it can be a filter (depending on setup), and it adds water volume. The more water you have, the easier it is to keep a tank stable.
  • OK, I gotta find my sketch and let me post it, if not I gotta redraw it lol
  • Does anyone know how to calculate the flow rate of a sponge filter run by an air pump? I’m trying to figure out how sponge filter sizes are calculated in comparison to tank size, and if there is some industry standard flow rate when a sponge filter is rated for a certain size tank.On a side note, I got to watch all the informational videos on maintaining the CASCO 12k filter we use at work (Petsmart)’s amazing how similar it is to some DIY sump systems I’ve seen..just scaled up and with industrial sized parts.


Posted by Jason B: Do you think a canister filter is more effective than a sump?

  • I have 2 Aquatop 500 canisters on my 180 gal. They have ultra violet bulbs in them. Work really good. I have Aquatop canisters on all my tanks over 25 gallons. Personally, I prefer canisters over sumps. I had a sump installed with my 93 gal. cube & after a couple weeks took the whole kit & kaboodle off, patched the holes in the tank & gave the sump away.
  • Mine with 2 canisters. And the building of an overhead sump. Either way. It works. I was recommended to do a 55 gal sump if it was my only filtration. I went with canisters because I didn’t have a spare 55 sitting around.
  • Would I see a daily change in test results if the tank is cycling? In short set up sump Friday with new mechanical media, 2nd hand k1, (which was dried out), new alfa grog. Added a big bottle of fluval filter starter bit by bit over the weekend. And seeded k1 with 4 air sponge filters, which are about a month and a half matured. Set up tank and added RO and tap water with seachem prime, and got the sump connected and water flowing through tank. Seeded a few more times with air sponge filters. Got seachem stability and been adding more than recommended dose since monday. Added 6 tetras yesterday and little bit of food, added 3 more tetras and a cory dora today. These are the last 2 days test results

    Ph 7.6
    Ammonia 0.3mg/l
    Nitrite 0.1ppm
    Nitrate 10 ppm
    GH 5. 100mg/l
    KH 5. 50mg/l

    Ph 7.4/7.6
    Ammonia 0.3mg/l
    Nitrite 0.1ppm
    Nitrate 5/10ppm
    GH 5. 100mg/l
    KH 5. 50mg/l

    Is the tank in a cycle?
    Do I need to do are wc?
    Added the bog wood and few plants from my current 6ft set up yesterday and today. I’m by no means new to fish keeping I’ve been breeding and selling malawi but this is the first sump set up I’ve done and I’m not going to be seeding anything from my 2 x fx5’s as the old set up is infested with pond snails.