How To Install Fish Tank Filter Cartridge?

Lack of filtration in your aquarium can cause total mayhem to the tiny ecosystem. An unhygienic, stagnant tank may result in the overgrowth of algae, pungent smell and cloudiness, to name just a few symptoms.

Filtration is a process by which water in the aquarium is pumped through a series of filter media which block all debris before releasing the clean water back into the tank. Aquarium filters do this job with the aid of filter cartridges.

How to install fish tank filter cartridge? This article talks about filters that use cartridges, types of such filters and how to install them.


Types of Fish Tank Filter Cartridge

Filters can be broadly categorized into four types—external, internal, air-powered and powered. In this article we will be talking about filters which use a cartridge system to insert the filter media, which are as follows:

  • Internal Air-Powered Filter
  • External Hang-On-The-Back (HOB) Power Filter
  • Internal Power Filter
  • Internal Tetra Filter
  • External Canister Filter


1) Internal Air Powered Filter

These filters are for small aquariums that cannot handle an external filter. They are driven by air pumps.

When it is switched on, air bubbles form and rise in a lift tube which causes water to enter via the base of the filter then through the filter media. The filter media could be a sponge or something as simple as that.


2) External HangOnTheBack (Hob) Power Filter

One of the most popular power filters is the HOB filter which is suitable for tank 5 gallons and larger. They are designed to be hung on the back of the fish tank, thus the name.

There are small HOB filters for nano tanks as well. The pumps draw water from the aquarium into the filter box. The filter box has a slip-in cartridge system that acts as the filter media. The water of the fish tank passes through these filter cartridges, get cleaned, and goes back into the tank.


3) Internal Power Filter

They are just like HOB filters, the only difference being that these filters need to be fully submerged in water.

These power filters are hung on the side or the back of the aquarium. They are suitable for nano tanks as well as tanks of up to 30 gallons.


4) Internal Tetra Filter

These filters use three filter media—mechanical, biological, and chemical. There are filter cartridges present inside the filter box where all debris are captured when water is pumped through it.

The filter media also contain carbon and bio-foam which trap all impurities and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.


5) External Canister Filter

Medium and large-sized fish tanks use canister filters. These filters are placed under the aquarium, and the number of canisters you would want to use depends on the quantity of water you would need to pump to the fish tank.


How To Install Fish Tank Filter Cartridge


1) Internal Air Powered Filter

In these filters, water is pumped with the help of an air pump. These filters need to be hung using suction cups on the side of the filter, and should be installed below the water level.

These air-powered filters are used in combination with powered filters, just as a backup, in case power filters malfunction.

Always install a check valve when you use an air pump. A check valve maintains the water flow in the right direction and prevents the back siphoning of water. The backflow of water may take place in cases of power failures therefore remember to install a check valve.

Filters available in the market usually contain the following easy-to-install items inside the package—the filter itself, airline hose, air pump, and control valve.

Before installation, rinse and disinfect the filter because they might have worm eggs or microscopic algae stuck to them.


2) External HangOnTheBack (Hob) Power Filter

HOB filters are hung on the back of the fish tank. Before installation, make sure that there is enough space on the back or side of the aquarium.

How to install fish tank filter cartridge of HOB filter? You can attach the filter to the fish tank with screw or tabs which ensure that the filter does not tilt too much or else water might splash out and create a mess.

Also use a drip-loop for the power cord to prevent accidents due to short circuits, incase water from the filter spills and comes into contact with the power system.

HOB filters need some priming prior to being plugged in. Air surrounds the impellers of the pump which gets pushed out when water rushes in. As soon as the water starts flowing, you need to understand that the impellers have started functioning. So fill in the filter with water before switching it on.

Alternatively, just make sure that the aquarium is filled up with water before setting up the filter. In the first few minutes, you might hear a lot of gurgling noises, which is caused by water replacing the air around the impellers.

Also, ensure that the uplift tube is properly attached over the impellers or else the pump will not be able to draw water in.

Vibration and noise are common in HOB filters during the first hour after installation. Consider it as the breaking in period of the new filter.

You can also DIY your HOB filter boxes by adding sponges and pads into your filter, or whatever you find fit for your tank.


3) Internal Power Filter

As we have read already, these filters are identical to HOB filters except that HOB filters are hung at the back and not submerged, and these power filters are fully submerged in fish tank water. The whole box, including the motor and the cartridges, all need to be underwater.

The filters are attached to the tank with the help of suction cups or clips. Aeration valves might also be included in the package which can be adjusted. The pump pulls in air and sends it to the pump nozzle, and the amount of air that passes can be controlled by these valves.

If too much air passes through, you might hear loud gurgling noises. This is the method to install fish tank filter cartridge of power filters.


4) Internal Tetra Filter

Tetra filters are quite similar to canister filters in using the three filter media—mechanical, chemical and biological. Hang the filter in place by using suction cups.

Insert the first filter cartridge into the main unit, positioned slightly higher than the top of the main unit. Submerge the filter a little below the waterline. Plug it in and it is ready to work.

Check on the cartridge and the carbon every couple of weeks and replace them if they get very dirty. Cartridges are quite popular so they are readily available in pet stores. Change the filter cartridge once every month.


5) External Canister Filter

As described earlier, canister filters are placed under the aquarium and they use canisters to hold all the equipment necessary for filtration.

Inside each canister are fitted filter cartridges in a series, each cartridge playing a different role in removing debris from the water and turn the fish tank into a comfortable habitat for the fish and other useful organisms.

These filter cartridges or media are basically three—mechanical, chemical and biological. Mechanical filters remove rougher and bigger particles of solid gunk in the fish tank.

When water passes through a mechanical filter, solid waste gets trapped in the filter’s foam, pad or floss and gets separated from the fish tank water.

Chemical filters basically remove debris which is responsible for the filthy smell and discoloration in the fish tank. This filter uses activated carbon, among other alternatives, to carry out its function.

Biological filter contains and nurtures good bacteria which turn harmful compound like ammonia and nitrites into harmless substances.

The filter is run by a water pump that is built into the cover or at the base, or you might need to install a separate water pump altogether.

The pump pulls in water from the tank via uplift tubes. The water is then pumped through a series of filter media inside the canister, gets cleaned, and then pumped back into the aquarium.

Canisters could use different sorts of filter media. They could use cartridges, baskets, bags or DIY isolated chambers. Canister filters are great for large tanks.



Q.1) How do I change a cartridge?

Ans: So now that you have understood the process of how to install fish tank filter cartridge, now is the time to understand how to replace it when it gets dirty.

After water change, turn off the filter. Take a new cartridge out, which basically looks like a rectangular white pouch with or without activated carbon in it. If there is carbon inside it, tilt the cartridge upside down so as to ensure that carbon is evenly distributed inside the pouch. Take a look at Aqueon Quietflow product filter to understand how cartridges look like.

Rinse the cartridge using the same water which you replaced from the tank. Open the lid of the filter box to expose the cartridge slots. Simply pull out the old cartridge (which should look black with gunk) and place it on the back of the cartridge slot, and replace the empty place with a new cartridge.

You should keep the old cartridge inside the box for at least 2 weeks so that good bacteria can shift and colonize the new cartridge.


Q.2) How will I clean a filter media and how often should I clean them?

Ans: A filter media like sponge, pads, or floss, which you might reuse, should be cleaned by rinsing using old tank water. Refrain from using tap or distilled water.

Do not scrub the filter with soap, and make sure the water is neither too hot nor too cold. Even a new cartridge should be rinsed using old tank water before being installed.

Cartridges, by the way, do not need to be cleaned, just replace them with a new one when they go completely black with gunk.

As for chemical filters, just replace the carbon. Biological filters do not need that much of cleaning. Just rinse them gently in old tank water to remove visible debris.

Mechanical filters should be cleaned once every four weeks, whereas carbon in chemical filters could be replaced once in every two months.


Q.3) Can I turn the pump off at night?

Ans: The pump aerates the water in the fish tank providing O2 to the fish. If the pump is separate from the filtration system, then yes, the pump can be kept off for a few hours.

If your tank is quite large with less fish in it, keeping the pump off for as long as 7-8 hours should not harm the fish in any way.

However, if your filter is completely dependent on the pump, then you cannot and should not turn the pump off at night.


Final Word

Filter cartridges act as the filter media, separating all detriments from the aquarium water thus helping to maintain a healthy habitat for the fish.

Filters could be installed very easily in fish tanks. Filters which use cartridge system, usually have trays where cartridges fit in perfectly. Just fit the cartridge in, switch the pump on, and it is good to go.

The process of how to install fish tank filter cartridge is child’s play. So do not wait any longer, gift your fish a good home by setting up filters in your fish tank.

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