Your tank filter is perhaps the most important piece of equipment you have, so be sure to keep it clean as part of your routine maintenance schedule.
Any experienced aquarium hobbyist will tell you that your tank filter is one of the most important pieces of equipment for your tank. Depending on the type of filter you have, it is responsible not only for filtering out solid and dissolved waste products, but also for cultivating a colony of beneficial bacteria to help maintain the nitrogen cycle. Unfortunately, many aquarium hobbyist fail to clean and maintain their filters on a regular basis and this can lead to problems with water chemistry.
How Often Should You Clean It?
The chances are that you probably already have some kind of system or schedule in place when it comes to cleaning your aquarium. In addition to performing weekly water changes, you probably also perform a larger water change once a month and replace your filter media. But when do you clean your tank filter? Do you clean it at all? If you want to keep your tank clean and running properly, you need to include your aquarium filter in your routine cleaning schedule.
One thing you need to be very careful with when it comes to cleaning your tank filter is making sure not to clean it too thoroughly or too often. Aside from your tank substrate, your aquarium filter is probably the place where beneficial bacteria have accumulated the most. If you clean your filter too completely or too often, you could end up killing a significant portion of your tank’s biological filtration system and that could cause your tank to re-cycle. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for how often you should clean your aquarium filter because the requirements are different for different types. Below you will find some general recommendations for how often to clean certain types of filter:
Hang-On Filter – This is one of the most commonly used types of aquarium filter and they should generally be cleaned every few weeks, or at least once a month. You can schedule your cleaning to coincide with replacing your filter media.
Sponge Filter – This type of filter provides mechanical and biological filtration as tank water is pumped through a sponge. To ensure that the filter keeps doing its job you need to clean the sponge about every two weeks.
Canister Filter – An enclosed type of filter, canister filters can go the longest between cleanings – they may only need to be cleaned every three to four months.
Undergravel Filter – Cleaning this type of filter is tricky because it is buried under your tank substrate but you should at least vacuum the gravel every two weeks for basic maintenance.
In-Tank Filter – Similar to hang-on filters, in-tank power filters need to be cleaned every few weeks or at least once a month.
Cleaning Tips for Aquarium Filters
Now that you have a basic idea how often to clean your tank filter you may be wondering how exactly to go about doing it. When cleaning your filter you want to get rid of accumulated debris and rotting organic material but you want to be careful about removing or killing too much beneficial bacteria. Avoid using very hot water when cleaning your filter and don’t use any soap or bleach, either – all of these things can kill your biological filtration system. Below you will find an overview of cleaning tips for the different types of tank filters:
Canister Filter – The first step in cleaning a canister filter is to unplug and remove any other equipment that may be attached to it such as an inline heater – try to unplug the heater a few minutes before turning off the filter so it has time to cool down. When you are ready, fill a bucket with water from the tank and empty the filter media into it – it is important to keep them wet so they don’t dry out and kill the beneficial bacteria. When cleaning your canister filter you need to focus on the canister itself as well as the impeller and the hoses. Use a soft brush to scrub the impeller and the hoses, as well as the small parts that keep these things together. Make sure everything is completely clean before you reassemble it – incomplete cleaning is the primary cause of leaks for canister filters. When you are finished cleaning, fill the canister with tank water before hooking it back up and turning it on.
Sponge Filter – The method for cleaning your sponge filter will vary a little bit depending on what kind of sponge filter you have. If it is powered by a powerhead or pump, you will need to disconnect everything and clean the impeller in the same way you did for the canister filter. Be sure to rinse out the services lines as well, using a toothpick to remove any accumulated debris. If your sponge filter has an air filter, check it and make sure that it is clean – if it has become discolored it may need to be replaced. To clean the sponge itself, place it in a bucket of tank water then squeeze the sponge gently a few times to remove most of the solid debris. Make sure not to let the sponge dry out during cleaning.
Hang-On Filter – Maintenance for a hang-on filter is essentially a combination of the cleaning process for sponge filters and canister filters. You need to disassemble the filter and scrub the impeller and intake tubes as well as any small parts. Depending what type of filter media you are using, you may need to use a similar process as listed above to clean out the sponge. If your filter has a bio-wheel or some other biological filtration component, float it in the tank or place it in a bucket of tank water to keep it from drying out during cleaning.
In-Tank Filter – These aquarium filters are usually very similar to hang-on filters but they are much smaller. Be sure to replace the filter media at least every three to four weeks and give the filter housing a quick rinse. If any algae or debris has accumulated in the intake tube, clean that as well.
Undergravel Filter – When cleaning this type of filter you should coordinate it with your routine water changes because vacuuming the gravel over the filter is the most effective method for cleaning it. Undergravel vacuums work by sucking tank water down through the gravel and into the filter bed then releasing it back into the tank through an air stone. Over time, the gravel becomes compacted and solid debris accumulates in the substrate. When you perform a water change, focus on vacuuming the gravel to remove that debris then refill the tank with fresh water.
If you have multiple filtration systems installed in your tank, try to alternate your cleanings so that you do not do both of them in the same week. Try to create a regular cleaning schedule and then stick to it as closely as you can.