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Filtration & Media


December 13, 2018 | By Tom Sarac

by Tom Sarac

Your filter can be considered the lifeline of your aquarium just as the ocean is to the earth, without its reservoir of phytoplankton supplying the vast majority of the earth’s oxygen, we would not be able to survive. The aquarium filter in many installations is a key piece of equipment that can make the difference between life and death for fish.


The filter system is just that, a system. It moves the water’s surface, which provides oxygen by encouraging an efficient gas exchange at the surface of your aquarium, the interface between air and water. This is a key function of any filter system. Make sure it is moving the water’s surface to ensure adequate oxygen for your fish. When doing a water change, check that the water level is maintained because overfilling can reduce surface movement and thus reduce oxygenation. How do you know there’s enough oxygen? There is more than one way, but the simplest way is to just observe your fish. They should be breathing without labouring and demonstrating normal behaviour.


Filters will filter or ‘trap’ debris, also known as MECHANICAL FILTRATION. It will house chemical media that keeps water clear and odour free, which is known as CHEMICAL FILTRATION. It will also provide a home for vast colonies of aquarium friendly bacteria that deal with constant biological toxins originating from the fish we keep. This is what we refer to as BIOLOGICAL FILTRATION.

The best way to maintain peak efficiency is to clean mechanical filtration media at the beginning stage where water enters the filter. This is the point where we will most often see diminished water flow and clogging. Regular rinsing of mechanical media will ensure strong water movement, helping to oxygenate and support key beneficial bacteria.


There are things you can do to maintain optimal filter performance over the long-term and help you reduce filter maintenance. Here are some solid tips you can follow:

1- Help keep food from entering the filter by unplugging it for a few minutes while your fish eat.

2- Use ample pre-filter media to help prevent the filter from clogging. This will also support better water distribution through the filter which maximizes the efficiency of all media.

3- If you are using a fine mechanical or chemical filter media to clear or remove a specific element or water condition, replace it as soon as it has completed the job.

4- When installing your filter, do not leave extra hosing in loops that dip downwards. Cut the hose to the required length. This will provide a more direct path and help prevent debris from settling in the hosing, and potentially reducing flow rate.

5- Remove and clean the impeller each time you maintain your filter. If you have a marine aquarium, also make sure to clean and remove any calcareous deposits from this area as well.

6- Secure all hosing fittings and ensure that any locking connections are tight. This will help prevent air intrusion into the filter.

7- Any mechanical noise is usually a result of a worn impeller or impeller shaft, so replace as necessary.

8- If your filter has a priming device with a check ball in the strainer, make sure to clean that area regularly. Debris may get caught at that point and slow the flow down.

9- Keep spray bars clean to promote maximum water flow.

10- When priming your canister filter, always have the output at about water surface. This will allow the input line to fill properly while preventing performance-robbing air pockets within the filter.


Aquatic expert Tom Sarac discusses the 6 most common filter problems, while providing helpful troubleshooting tips on how to resolve them.


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