Cleaning Your Filter
Aquarium Resources

Cleaning Your Filter

I would like to write a few words about filters; how to clean your filter and keeping it effective since one of the largest sources of problems for beginner aquarists seems to relate to filter management.

There are several different kinds of filters to choose from when setting up an aquarium. A good choice for a beginner with a small aquarium might be an under gravel filter since these require very little maintenances. If the bottom is properly siphoned and plant bits removed etc you should not have to clean your bottom filter more often then every few years. Under gravel filters are however not as effective in larger aquariums and can have some drawbacks in heavily planted aquariums since the water movement through the bottom of the aquarium created by the under gravel filter can halt some plants development. Internal and external filters are good choices in this situation and I would recommend internal filters to smaller aquariums since they are cheaper while external filters are to be preferred in large aquariums.

Internal and external filters need to be cleaned once every 3-4 weeks and more often if they get clogged. This is a process which often seems to been done wrong by beginners who by their best intensions clean the filters in warm/hot water and thereby makes the filters useless or even harmful. The reason why it is so damaging to clean your filter is that the most important part of the filtration of every aquarium is biological filtration. The filter uses biological filtration to break down the particles and toxins that are created within it.

Biological filtration is mainly based on bacteria which break down toxins into relatively harmless substances in a process called “cycling”. Cycling is a process where the bacteria break down ammonia which is a very harmful toxin into Nitrate. Nitrate is however another even more harmful substance. The Nitrate is broken down into Nitrite which is a relatively harmless substance even though it might have harmful affects in high doses. If this process doesn’t work the toxins remains in the water and might harm or even kill the fish.

When you clean your filter using hot water you kill the bacteria that are the base for the biological filtration and the filter has to be repopulated with bacteria before it can do its job again which takes a week or two. During this time the filter pumps toxins into the aquarium since the break down process inside the filter doesn’t work.

By now you know what you shouldn’t do, but what shall you do?
You should clean your filter every 3-4 weeks without using hot water. How often you should clean your filter is dependent on which and how many fishes you keep in the aquarium. Filters in an aquarium with large cichlids need to be cleaned more often then filters in an aquarium with small tetras. Every 3-4 weeks is however a good rule of thumb for typical beginner’s aquarium. If your filter gets clogged you should also clean it.

Clean the filter by disconnecting it from the socket and take it out of your tank. It might be good to have a bucket to put it in since it’s wet. Remove the filter cabinet and expose the filter matter. Rinse the filter matter under water of room temperature until the water that runs from it is almost clear. You should not try to get it completely clean since you want some bacteria to remain in it when you’re done. When you’re finished with the filter matter you should rinse the rest of the filter. This includes removing the top of the filter and rinsing the engine if this is possible on your filter, which is the case for most but not all filters. If it is necessary for removing algae etc you may use hot water on the plastic details of the filter but it should be avoided as far as possible. I repeat once more: never use hot water on the filter mater! I might also add that you should never use any type of cleaner on your filters, this includes soap.

When you have rinsed all parts of the filter you are ready to put them back together and put the filter back into use until the next time you have to clean it.

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