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How To Set Up An Aquarium Filter

Many who start their first fish tank ends up with bacteria blooming or fish dying. 

Why is this?

Well, the most likely culprit is inadequate filtration.

Filtration is important in an aquarium to filter the waste products from the fish caused by excrement and breathing. If these waste products aren’t filtered from the water, the contamination levels rise leading to an unhealthy tank.

For a healthy tank, it’s vital to manage the nitrate cycle. 

There are 5 stages to this cycle: 

  1. When you feed your fish, nitrogen enters the system
  2. Your fish eat the food and they then produce ammonia
  3. As the ammonia levels rise, bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrite
  4. Nitrite then converts to nitrate
  5. Plants absorb nitrate to be used as food

An aquarium filter sucks water in and passes it through a sponge full of bacteria which removes the nitrates then transfers it back into the tank. That’s how a filter regulates the build-up of nitrates in the tank.

Many beginner tank owners purchase a kit from somewhere like Petco or Petsmart, typically including a tank, lighter and filter. These kits are pretty good although the filters tend to be limited. 

So, what do we need to look for in a filter to ensure that it runs well?

Before that, we’ll look at what a filter is made up of…

What Parts Make An Aquarium Filter?

  • Filter housing
  • Filter Cartridge / Mechanical Filter
  • Sponge
  • Biological media
  • Chemical media (carbon)

The two main things you need in your filter are a mechanical and a biological filter. When you buy your aquarium kit, the filter usually comes with a mechanical filter inside it. The bubbles float up into the filter, and through the mechanical filter. The problem with these kit filters is that at some point the mechanical cartridge filter will clog up. It’s possible to clean the cartridge but this will mean washing off the beneficial ingredients that are filtering.

One solution for this is to add biological media to the cartridge. Lava rock is an excellent medium to use. Lava rock is available at aquarium stores. You can pick a 20lb bag for around $4. All you need to do is add some lava rocks to the caddy containing the mechanical cartridge. Just doing this will eliminate a lot of issues. 

With aquarium filters, the water will pass through the mechanical filter first, then through the biological media next, which collects the beneficial bacteria and helps to keep the tank stable.

You never need to change the biological media, but you must change the mechanical filter as soon as it gets dirty. You can substitute mechanical media with pillow bedding, it works just as well. But, remember, never change the biological media, only the mechanical media. That way your tank will remain stable, and you should never have problems.


Where Should You Place Your Filter?

With a 10-gallon tank it doesn’t matter where you place your filter. However, with a 20-gallon tank make sure you avoid placing it at the end corner of the tank. Due to the size of the tank, you’ll only be filtering water in the corner of the tank rather than the main part of the tank. You’d be best advised to place the filter in the middle of the tank or you might want to use two filters.

Hang-on-back filters literally hang on the back of the tank. The only problem with this type of filter is that there is not much space between the filter intake and the output. If you have the intake on the opposite side to the output, you’ll create a nice flow of water across the tank. 

An important thing to remember when you set up your aquarium filter is to add bacteria supplement and water conditioner to the water. The bacteria supplement will help to establish the bio-media. The water conditioner will remove chlorine and other chemicals present in the water that may not be aquarium friendly. It’s a good idea to research the quality of the water in your area so you know what’s in it. 

Should You Use An Internal Or External Filter?

External filters are normally a lot bigger than internal filters, although they work on the same principle. Like internal filters, external filters contain media to filter the water. Placing a filter outside of the tank allows it to be a lot bigger and therefore more powerful. External filters are ideal for larger tanks as they are capable of filtering a higher volume of water.

The internal set up of an external filter is much the same as an internal filter containing sponge and media. 

Internal filters are much smaller so they are best suited to tanks under 100 liters.

As external filters are hidden from view, they don’t take up valuable space in your aquarium, so you have more space for plants. External filters are far superior in terms of filtration, and it takes a long time before it needs cleaning.

While shopping for a filter, you may wonder why some smaller internal pumps are rated for the same volume as larger external pumps. This is to do with stocking levels. Some are designed for lower stocking levels, while others are designed for higher stocked tanks.

If you don’t mind taking the extra time to clean and maintain your filter, the external filter will always be the better choice.

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Closing Words

We hope you know have a clear idea of how to set up and aquarium filter. Bookmark Pet Gear Zone and come back soon for more handy guides on all aspects of keeping fish at home. We’ll also be giving plenty of attention to other favorite household pets so be sure to pop back soon!

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