Can You Clean the Fish Tank Filter Cartridge?

Can You Clean the Fish Tank Filter Cartridge?

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When you have a fish tank, it’s inevitable for your filter to clog up over time. This creates a host of problems like preventing beneficial bacteria from entering the tank, slowing down water flow and inhibiting proper oxygenation.

Because the filter is one of the most important aspects of a home aquarium, many people ask, “can you clean the fish tank filter cartridge?” Yes, you can. But there are some things to think about, pay attention to and consider. Regardless of anything, DO NOT use tap water. Always fill a bucket with aquarium water to clean a tank filter.

Can you clean the fish tank filter cartridge?

If you clean the fish tank filter cartridge the right way, it will help maintain the delicate balance of your aquarium’s ecosystem. But doing it incorrectly can remove beneficial bacteria that can harm aquatic life.

Why shouldn’t you use tap water to clean the fish tank filter cartridge?

Tap water is incredibly dangerous to the overall health of your tank. You must treat, filter/purify and, if for a saltwater environment, salinate it. If it doesn’t before coming into contact with your tank, you will create a crisis.

The beneficial bacterium inside the filter material takes a while to establish and they don’t’ like any amount of shock. If you use tap water, you’ll wash all of it away which can cause an ecosystem collapse, resulting in dead fish. It’s best to use a bucket of aquarium water for cleaning your fish tank filter.

When should you clean your aquarium filter?

Many factors go into determining when will be the best time to clean your aquarium filter. Things like water parameters, how powerful the filter is and how much waste it contains will all be necessary considerations.

The best gauge is to check the outflow on a regular basis to see if it feels weaker. If so, it’s a sure sign of clogging and time for cleaning. You’ll also know if outflow is weak by the movement of your fish and plant life.

How do you clean an aquarium filter?

Before you begin to clean the aquarium filter, ensure you don’t mistakenly create a severe fluctuation in water parameters. This means not replacing the entire cartridge at one time, not using tap water and not using soap.

As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t have to change it unless it becomes so filthy that you can no longer clean it. Only change out half the media at first and then finish the change in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, not all filters are the same and they, therefore, don’t have the same materials. But, here’s a brief guide on how to clean each possible stage of the system.


First, unplug the filter from the electrical socket and then remove it out of the tank. Put it right into the bucket of aquarium water to prevent spilling excess water all over the place. Then, disassemble the filter for cleaning.

Filter Floss/Wool/Pads

Because this is the part of the filter that comes into contact with all the debris in your tank, you will have to replace it often. These trap the most particles to prevent clogging of the rest of the filter. Remove it, squeeze and roll it between your hands to ensure all the dirt and grime gets out. If it’s ineffective, you have to replace the material.


Layered after the floss in some filters while being the only material in others, you’ll have to clean the sponge a little less than the floss. Clean it the way you would any sponge but be mindful of the beneficial bacteria. Give it a few good squeezes until all dirt is no longer visible.

Bio Filters

Biological filtration is the stage that turns Ammonia into Nitrates and then into Nitrites. Otherwise known as “cycling,” it’s crucial to a healthy aquarium. Any upset to this cycle can be detrimental to the aquatic life in your tank.

Plus, biological filters provide more surface area for beneficial bacteria. Unless it looks filthy, leave it be. When you absolutely have to clean it, observe using the utmost care. Carefully swish it around in the bucket of aquarium water and avoid using brushes or sponges for a deeper clean.

Motor ; Other Non-Media Parts

Use the aquarium water to clean off the motor and any other mechanical parts with a clean cloth. Don’t use tap water or soap.


Cleaning the fish tank cartridge isn’t difficult and you can do it. You just want to make sure you don’t kill the beneficial bacteria in the biofilter or the sponge. But, if you can exercise caution and avoid using tap water, you should be able to clean it without creating issues for aquatic life in your tank.

See Also:
How to Make Tap Water Safe for Saltwater Aquarium?
How to Raise Phosphate in a Reef Tank
How Do You Test Fish Tank Water without a Kit?
Can Fish Die from Overfeeding?