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 can grow on any surface underwater, even the gravel or walls of your aquarium. Prefilter sponges are a great way to encourage them growth. (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.

A prefilter sponge of the right size for your filter will double its filtration capabilities.

Place the prefilter sponge in a position that covers the intake tube’s slits. The filter will draw water from the sponge’s bottom for maximum filtration. If your prefilter sponge seems a bit loose, you can trim the excess and stuff it into the hole in the middle. You should also make sure that you clean your prefilter sponge at least once a month if the water flow is declining.

Step 2: Dispose of the Disposable Cartridge

We have already mentioned at the start of this article that you need to replace the standard cartridge with which the filter came. 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, activated carbon and fine filter padding quickly get clogged up with impurities and waste, reducing their effectiveness. Also, their dense materials can be difficult to clean and reuse.

Step 3: Install the Reusable filter Media

The filter compartment, where the cartridge was supposed to be placed, should be filled with bio rings and coarse foam sponge. These filter media types are reusable, have much more surface area for biological filtration, and can increase the amount of capacity filtration by up to four times! As with the prefilter sponge, there is no need to constantly replace them and throw away all that beneficial bacteria; just rinse the filter media in old aquarium water once a month.

Coarse spongy pads can remove any debris from water and can be used again by rinsing on a monthly basis.

We use coarse sponge pads for mechanical filtration. These can be cut to fit any part of a hang-on back or canister filter. We offer coarse sponges because they do not clog very easily, are fairly low cost, and can last 10 years or more. For biological filtration, you can use bags of bio rings that have lots of porous holes for beneficial bacteria to grow in. If the bag doesn’t fit perfectly into the filter, you can also buy a resealable filter media bag and pour the right amount of bio rings that will fit inside the filter compartment.

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

Find out the direction that the water flows through your filter media before you install 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 on the bottom of the compartment, so that the water hits it first. Then place the bio rings above the sponge. The coarse sponge will remove most gunk from the water, and the bio rings with smaller pores won’t become as filthy.

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. The disposable cartridge should be replaced with coarse sponge. This will provide both mechanical and beneficial filtration.

Step 4: Clean the Reusable Filter Media

Regular maintenance is important. Rinse the filter media at least once per 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. Like the cartridges, these fine filter pads will eventually need to be thrown out and replaced once they become saturated with debris. However, the advantages are these pads are very cheap and can be 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

Upgrading your filter with reusable filter media makes your aquarium system much more efficient and better at keeping the water quality high. The upfront cost may be a little more at first, but reusable filter media tends to last for the lifetime of the filter, saving you a lot of money in the long run.