Filters help clean and purify the water in your fish tank, but unfortunately, the filter cannot properly do its job if it’s clogged with filth.
When and How to Clean your Filter
When should you clean your aquarium’s filter? Well, when it is dirty of course, but you should wait at least a week from the last time you cleaned the fish tank. That way your fish will have had time to adjust to his new environment before another shock to his system happens with the disruption of his water and routine.
The second thing to remember about cleaning your aquarium filter is that the cleaning method you should use depends on the type (or types) of filter that you have. This should be fairly obvious to you just by looking at your filter, but be sure to consult the owner’s manual to make sure there are no specific directions on cleaning for your particular model. Then look up your filter type below and get started.
Cleaning Mechanical Filters
If you have a mechanical filter, you will most likely have a sponge or pad that sits inside it. This is the main component of the filter that you will need to clean. Here’s how:
1. Siphon or scoop out some water
You will need about two cups of water from the tank to use to clean the filter’s sponge. For the benefit of your fish, you will want to use existing tank water, not tap water or distilled water. Sure the filter may not smell as clean and fresh, but your fish will be less sensitive to the change. Use your siphon, plastic cup, etc., to remove as much water as you think you’ll need. Drain it into a medium sized bowl, like a small mixing bowl, or drain it in a bucket and transfer it to the bowl.
2. Unplug the filter
This step is pretty self-explanatory. Unplug your mechanical filter to avoid shocking yourself as you clean it. Then take it off of your tank if you can. This will make your life a lot easier. To save your floor, you will want to have an awaiting bowl, bucket or sink.
3. Clean the sponge or pad
Since you’ve already got your bowl of water assembled, this step should be relatively quick and painless, which is good, since you don’t want your fish to be filter-less for long. Simply wash all of the gunk off of the sponge with the water and your hands. Squeezing the sponge to get out the gunk will not remove all of the beneficial bacteria that is on the sponge, which is what is protecting your fish from ammonia in the water, so feel free to wash the sponge until the water moving through it runs clear. If touching aquarium water is too icky for you, either wear gloves or recruit a friend to do it for you.
*If your sponge or pad is horribly dirty, feel free to replace it. But do not do this unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary.
4. Scrub the casing and tubes
Use the leftover water in the bowl to clean the other parts of the filter, or grab a little more from the tank if the water in the bowl is too dirty. You can scrub any hard to reach spots by using a filter cleaning brush, which you can find at most pet supply stores.
5. Put the sponge or pad back
That’s it. Now return the sponge or pad to the filter and return the filter to your fish tank. Pour any remaining water from your cleaning project inside it, if it isn’t crawling with gunk, that is, and turn the filter back on.
Cleaning Chemical Filters
If you have a chemical filter on your tank, the only cleaning it really needs is for you to swap out the carbon on a regular basis, say once a week or whenever the water seems cloudy, whichever comes first. Just follow steps one, two and four from above. Remove the carbon before you start step one and replace it with the new carbon when you’re done, right before reattaching the filter to the tank.
Cleaning Biological Filters
Since you want your biological filter to be filled with lots of delicious and tank skimming bacteria, you don’t want to clean it much. If you do need to clean it, just give it a quick once over with water from the tank. Follow steps one, two and four from above. Then put the filter back of course.
*As a final step, make sure it is functioning properly. If it’s not, check for clogs. Still not working? Check the owner’s manual or call the manufacturer.
Keeping your Aquarium Filter Clean
Aquarium filters don’t really stay clean as a rule. Their whole raison de vivre is to get the gunk and pollution out of your fish tank. Therefore they will always require cleaning on a regular basis. The rule of thumb for the specific filter types is as follows:
Mechanical filters: These filters need to be cleaned the most often of the three types, at least once every four weeks. You will want to schedule your filter cleaning days so that they are several days removed from your weekly or biweekly regular tank cleanings.
Biological filters: Replace the carbon when the aquarium water turns cloudy, or at least once every two months.
Chemical filters: Give the chemical filter a good cleaning out when it appears to be clogged, malfunctioning or working very slowly.
More frequent cleanings may be needed if your fish is sick. Ask a veterinarian or aquarium store employee for advice during these times.