How to Upgrade an Aquarium Filter (And Save Money!)


How to Upgrade an Aquarium Filter (and Save Money!)

Did you ever buy a new hang on-back filter from a pet shop and find out that the instructions state you must change the cartridge at least once per month? Most beginner fish keepers don’t realize that you can replace those disposable cartridges with reusable filter media that can last for the lifetime of the filter. This article will teach you how to optimize an aquarium filter with just a pair scissors.


Step 1: Purchase a Prefilter Sponge

Beneficial bacteria are a naturally occurring form of biological filtration that consume the toxic nitrogen compounds produced by your fish’s waste, thus making the water safer for the fish to live in. They tend to grow on any underwater surface, including the gravel and walls of your aquarium. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to encourage their growth is to increase the amount of surface area in your tank with a prefilter sponge. (If you aren’t familiar with the three types of filtration – mechanical, biological, and chemical – you can read our article called Fish Tank Filters: Which One Should You Get?)

Prefilter sponges are a foam cylinder that fits around the intake tube of your canister or hang-on back filter. It is similar to a sock for a foot. Not only do prefilter sponges grow lots of beneficial bacteria, but they also help with mechanical filtration by preventing food, small fish, leaves, and other large debris from getting sucked into the filter’s motor compartment.

Pick an appropriately sized prefilter sponge for your filter, and you can easily double its filtration capacity.

Install the prefilter sponge so that it barely covers the slits on the bottom of the intake tube; that way the filter pulls water from the bottom of the prefilter sponge for maximum filtration. To make it more snug, cut off some of the prefilter sponge. Also, if you notice that the water flow from your filter is decreasing, make sure to regularly clean the prefilter sponge about once a month by squeezing out the debris in a bucket of old aquarium water.

Step 2: Dispose the Disposable Carridge

At the beginning of the article, we mentioned that you should replace the default cartridge the filter comes with. But why is it so bad? Most cartridges are made from fine filter padding to remove water debris and activated carbon for chemical filtration. This is used to remove drugs and other impurities. Unfortunately, the fine filter padding and activated carbon quickly become saturated with waste and impurities, greatly lowering their effectiveness, and their dense materials are hard to clean and reuse.

Step 3: Install the Reusable Filter Media

Fill up the filter compartment (where the filter cartridge was supposed to go) with coarse foam sponge and bio rings. These media types can be reused, offer more biological filtration surface, and can even increase the filtration capacity by up to fourfold. You don’t have to replace the filter media or throw away any beneficial bacteria. Just rinse them in old aquarium water once per month.

Coarse sponge pad removes debris from the water. They can be re-used by simply rinsing them every month.

For mechanical filtration we use coarse sponge pads. You can cut them to fit any space in a hang on-back filter or canister filter. Because they are not easy to clog, can last for 10 years, and are relatively inexpensive, we offer coarse sponges. You can also use bio rings bags that have many porous holes to allow beneficial bacteria to grow. If the bag does not fit into the filter well, you can purchase a resealable media bag that contains enough bio rings to fill the entire filter.

Bio rings help boost the growth of biological bacteria, which consume the toxic nitrogen compounds produced by fish waste.

To install the filter media, determine the direction in which the water flows through it. AquaClear filters, for example, allow the water to flow upwards from the bottom to the top of the filter and then back into the aquarium. Place the coarse sponge pad at the bottom of the compartment (so that the water hits it first), and then place the bio rings on top of the sponge. This will allow the coarse sponge to remove most of the gunk and also ensure that the bio rings, which have smaller pores, don’t get as dirty.

If you have a nano tank for your betta fish that comes with a built-in filter compartment, you may not be able to fit as many layers inside. Therefore, we recommend switching out the disposable cartridge with only coarse sponge, which provides both mechanical and beneficial filtration.

Step 4: Clean the Reusable Media Filter

Make sure to regularly maintenance your filter and rinse the filter media once a month. Mechanical filtration (such as prefilter sponges and sponge pads) acts like a garbage can that collects waste – which means you as the fish owner are still responsible for cleaning the filter media (in other words, “emptying” the trash can before it overflows and causes water to spill out of the aquarium).

How can I upgrade my filter for crystal clear water?

A layer of finely textured poly pads can be used to polish water. It has small pores and is capable removing very fine particulate. These fine filter pads, like the cartridges will eventually have to be thrown away and replaced when they are clogged with debris. These pads have the advantage of being very affordable and easily cut to any size.

Poly pads are great at removing fine particles so that you get crystal-clear water and your fish look like they’re flying in midair.

Final Thoughts

Your aquarium system will be more efficient and maintain a high level of water quality by upgrading to reusable filter media. Although it may cost more upfront, reusable media can last for many years, which will save you lots of money over the long-term.