How to Clean Canister Filter in 15 Simple Steps

Clean water is the best way to keep your fish healthy, and by installing a canister filter in your aquarium, you ensure cleanliness. However, like any other device or product from human-made materials, maintenance is required for upkeep.

Therefore, you need to clean out all of the filters regularly, depending on their performance levels.

There is a lot of confusion out there about how to clean canister filters. It sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be!

I’m going to break down the basics for you so that you can get back to enjoying your time with your fish and avoid feeling like you’re drowning in aquarium maintenance. Let’s dive in! 

What You’ll Need To Clean Your Canister Filter

The first thing we need to do is gather supplies, so nothing gets damaged in the process. Here is a list of necessary items:

  • Toothbrush
  • Scrub pad
  • Sink and hose
  • Towel
  • Q-tip
  • Clean workspace
  • Bucket of aquarium water 
What You Need To Clean Your Canister Filter

How To Clean Canister Filter – Step By Step

How do you clean your canister filter? Well, it’s really quite simple! All you need to do is follow the proper steps. I have prepared a 15-step method that is effective for most of the models of canister filters. But for more product-specific guides, it is better to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 1: Turn Off The Filter

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 1

The first essential step in cleaning a canister aquarium filter is to turn off the power. So, unplug it from the socket and check for any water coming out of the outlet tube; if there’s no water flowing, then you are safe to proceed with further steps.

Step 2: Turn Off Shut Off Valves

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 2

Now you have unplugged your filter, and there is no more water in the tube, it’s time for the next step. Turn shut-off valves off horizontally to an “off” position, which will eliminate any chance of water leaking when you disconnect the hose from the motor housing. 

Step 3: Unscrew The Tubes

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 3

Turn the locking nut on your threaded pipes until it becomes loose. As you do this, be careful of all that water trapped inside! Set the pipes aside for later use after loosening the locking nut and letting out some excess liquid from within.

Step 4: Move The Filter

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 4

Take the filter to a suitable place where you can clean it with water. I recommend doing this at the kitchen sink or outside near a hose for maximum efficiency and convenience. You’ll need really high pressure of water.

Step 5: Remove The Motor Housing

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 5

Now it’s time to remove the motor housing of your filter. As you can see, there are four locks on all sides that need to be released for you to take off this piece. Again, be very careful not to spill water.

Use a towel and lay it down around the filter to protect it from spilling out too much onto anything else around here! Once removed, set aside the housing gently. 

Step 6: Remove The Guts

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 6

This step includes removing all but the biological media trays. Leaving these submerged in water prevents a loss of beneficial bacteria. Please keep all the items close to you organized so that you can put them back in very quickly. 

Step 7: Perform Cleaning The Filter

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 7

Cleaning the media trays and filter pads is a crucial step for keeping your tank healthy. Take an old toothbrush or scrub pad to clean the media trays thoroughly – it removes all of that slimy algae from every surface.

It is also essential to clean the filter pads. The best way to do this is by taking your high-pressure hose or sink faucet and giving them a good rinse.  

Step 8: Remove The Impeller

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 8

Carefully remove the impeller from the motor housing. Do not be rough because these ceramic parts are highly fragile and can easily break if you’re too careless with them.

But impellers are sold separately, and thankfully, they sell replacements almost anywhere for people who want a new one!

Step 9: Clean The Impeller Body

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 9

To make your filter work like new, you should clean off the gunk around it. If the impeller doesn’t rotate freely, it can damage the motor by imposing an extra load.

You may want to use a toothbrush for cleaning the plastic parts around the impeller, as a scrub brush can put too much pressure on the impeller and cause it to break.

Step 10: Clean The Impeller Hole

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 10

Cleaning the impeller hole is an essential step in resolving filter performance issues. This task entails using a Q-tip and stuffing it up in the hold where your impellers are sitting, or you can also use a vacuum cleaner hose which would also be effective for this purpose.

The gunk that collects on either side of these holes will cause an issue with how well your filters work, so make sure you take care of them! If you don’t clean your filter regularly, impeller holes can accumulate sludges in massive amounts!

Step 11: Remove Bio Media Trays

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step No 11

Make sure to grab your biological media trays as fast as possible, take them out, and set them aside. Then, if possible, place these in a bucket of aquarium water so that the beneficial bacteria don’t die off!

But it is an optional choice only, and there is no significant harm in not keeping bio-media in old water.

Step 12: Cleaning The Canister

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 12

For a canister filter that needs cleaning, use high-pressure water to clean it out. You’ll want to rinse the whole piece off from top-to-bottom until you’ve removed all of the algae and slime buildup.

Then, if required, spray some inside while rinsing things down outside with your hands or cloth.

Step 13: Reassemble

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 13

Now that you have the motor housing back in place, it’s time to put all of those parts and pieces back inside. Quickly drop them into their designated slots on the canister filter unit! 

You’re almost there – now just screw items like shut-off valves to threaded pipes on the housing. 

Tips: Don’t overtight things – it could cause thread damage!

Step 14: Turn On The Shut Off Valves & Water Fill

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 14

To get water back into the canister filter, make sure all shut-off valves are turned to “on.” Once you do that and try filling up the container with water again, there may be some trapped air inside, causing it not to fill on its own. To fix this problem, take some manual actions.

You can quickly fill the canister back up all it takes is lifting the front locking bracket, and your water will automatically start filling. Once the level reaches that motor cover thingie right there, lock everything in place again, so nothing spills over or anything!

Step 15: Plug It In & Turn it On

How to Clean Canister Filter - Step 15

Finally, plug your canister back in and prime it a few times by pressing the priming button on top. Ensure that everything is working as it should before you finish up with this final step.

Be careful not to get any wet fingers near the plug while you’re doing this – we don’t want you taking the risk of getting electrocuted!

When To Clean Your Canister Filter?

When it comes to canister cleaning frequency, the answer is different for everyone. However, you don’t have to do this every day or even weekly, and several factors determine how often you should clean them to keep everything running smoothly.

The cleaning frequency will depend on your filter size, brand, tank size, bio-load in your aquarium (is it heavily stocked or lightly), etc. The usual frequency could be every three months, but go for cleaning whenever you see any symptoms of filter blocking.

Why Cleaning Safely Is Important?

Cleaning your filter can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to remember the dangers of exposure. Be sure not to get any bacteria on yourself or let others do that for you!

The next time you clean your aquarium filter, make sure not only to store away all those pieces with care; don’t forget about being careful after cleaning as well.

After handling fish tank filters directly, always wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and antibacterial soap before touching anything else – this way, no harmful germs will contact you and your nearby people.

Wrapping Up

Keeping an aquarium tidy might seem like it should be easy, but many factors go into maintaining one – from what type & size of the filter will keep them healthy to how often you need to change out their filters.

A well-maintained filter is key to keeping your fish tank in good shape. I hope that this has been a helpful tutorial on how to clean canister filters.

If you have any more questions or want help with any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below.

I am always happy for feedback and appreciate it when people share my blog posts with their friends who love keeping aquatic animals as pets.

Sujit Modak

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