Cleaning Specialty Filters

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Take care of your gear to prolong equipment life

This article was contributed by Aquarium Advice member Mycatsdrool

Bio-Wheel Filter Cleaning:

Tools needed:

Old toothbrush
Dental Floss
Bucket large enough to fit filter in
bowl or bucket to hold media
Running water
scrubby type sponge (new, never used with soap, well rinsed)
large Pipe cleaners, test tube brush, filter brush (if you can get them)

For BioWheel, Power and HOB filters: Unplug the filter


1. Remove intake tubes from media housing. Disassemble if sectional. Put in Large bucket.
2. Empty the media, biowheel, and remaining water in the filter into the bowl for media.
3. If you can figure out how (most filters you just twist and pull), remove the motor assembly from the media housing. If not, set housing and motor aside for now, after removing the impeller.
4. Remove impeller from motor assembly. Should just pull out. Put in large bucket
5. Set motor assembly aside somewhere dry.
6. Put cover and media housing in large bucket.

Cleaning Motor assembly: With impeller removed from the motor casing, dip a q-tip in relatively clean used tank water. rub the inside surfaces with the q-tip. If there are plant parts or other gunk that you cannot remove with fingers or q-tip, use a toothpick to lift it out. Continue with the q-tips until the one you used last is relatively clean. Set assembly aside.

Cleaning Media housing and cover – Dip in and out of relatively clean used fish water a few times. Using hands, rub insides until most of the slimey feeling stuff is in the water and off the housing. Using HOT TAP water, toothbrush and scrubby sponge, clean as well as you can, until rinsing clear. NO SOAP. For hard water stains, and lime, use vinegar, toothbrush, and elbow grease.
Rinse in TAP, set in large bucket used to rub bacteria slime off.

Cleaning Impeller – Using relatively clean tap water, and q-tips, rub surfaces of impeller with q-tip. Remove tangled plants etc with tootpicks or small scissors. Place in large bucket with relatively clean aquarium water

Cleaning intake – Using either toothbrush, filter/test tube brush, or pipe cleaner, clean insides of all intakes, rinsing in either HOT tap or aquarium water. clean outsides with sponge. Clean hard to reach areas with dental floss (between intake teeth, etc). Rinse and put in large bucket. Reassemble all parts except media. Hang back on tank. Rinse media in clean, used aquarium water, until fairly clear. Replace in media housing. Plug in filter and prime. should be good to go.

To CHANGE filter media: Set aside 1/4-1/3 of the used, old filter media.
If using a biobag, put in used media, then new, rinsed media on top of it.
If using straight media, mingle old media with rinsed new media. Put in housing.
Filter media only needs to be changed when it is falling apart (if floss, sponge or bonded.)
Activated Carbon only once per x, depending what you are using it for.

For Canister type filters: Whether you have a Fluval, Ehiem or XP, the method of cleaning is very similar. The only difference is the structure of the media baskets.

That being said, cleaning them is not very complicated but is far different than any other filter as it has more components. It is always best to do filter maintenance during a water change and especially so with canisters and definitely the larger models. You will see why that’s important as we go along. Let’s get started:

• Step 1 – (Note: If you do not have your canister housed in a rubber tub or other water catching device, do yourself a favor and get one). While siphoning out your tank water, reserve most of it for rinsing your media. As we all know, the media needs to be rinsed in tank water. A couple of 5gal buckets (or more if you are so inclined) should do it. I know, you’re thinking: “Should I save the water that is being gravel vacuumed too”? I wouldn’t save that water for the cleaning as it will do nothing to help clean your media. Do the gravel vacuuming after you saved enough “clean” water.

• Step 2 – After you’ve completed your siphoning, shut off the water flow and disconnect the intake/outflow assembly. Hmmm…there’s some residual water in the hoses. Good thing I have that rubber tub! Disconnect the power supply and take your canister to your cleaning area. Depending on your canister’s size, it can be quite heavy. Always remember when lifting heavy objects to bend your knees and not your spine.

• Step 3 – Secure your power cord so that it cannot come in contact with any water during the cleaning process. Whether you wear gloves is up to you but it cannot hurt and definitely can help if you have sensitive skin or any open wounds. At this point, any number of methods for rinsing the media can be deployed. The most important thing is to make sure you do not cross-contaminate what you have cleaned with that which has not. My method is to rinse the sponges first, leaving the bio-media for last. I leave the bio-media in the canister with its remaining water until the sponges are done. I then take out the bio-media and empty and clean the canister, then immediately re-fill the canister with enough of the reverse tank water (remember the suggestion to reserve as much tank water as possible?) to cover it upon its return after rinsing. This will keep the bio-media moist throughout the process.

• Step 4 – Re-insert the remaining media and reconnect the top. Reconnect your hoses. At this point, prime (re-start the flow manually and fill the canister) the canister. Connect power and check that all is correct.

Cleaning the hoses – Eventually, you will need to give the hoses and tubes a good cleaning. You will need a flexible tube cleaning brush (the longer the better). This process can be a bit bothersome but, if done with a bit of patience, you can come out of it in one piece. It is best to perform this task after step 2 above. Start by disconnecting the intake valve and work in reverse order until you’ve disconnected the outflow hose and whatever outflow device (PH or spraybar) you have. The cleaning can be done with warm tap water. Run water through the tubes and hoses. Scrub the innards with the flexible brush. When done, re-assemble the hoses and tubes exactly the way they were before you started. Don’t fret; I’ve snapped a few rubber band connectors so it would be a good idea to get some replacements at some point.

Hope this helps.

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