How to Setup & Clean an Aquarium External Filter: Canister Filter:

External filters are located outside of the aquarium. They use intake / outtake pipes for drawing water from the aquarium & pumping water back to the fish tank. They don’t consume space inside aquarium so fish have more space to swim around. They are usually located inside the cabinet so hidden from the human eye.

Canister filter works by drawing water from the aquarium. Dirty water will be pushed to the bottom of the canister using an internal hose. Then it will rise upward through the filter media, & clean water will be forced back to the aquarium.

Oscar Fish Tank Filtration
Oscar Fish Tank Filtration

In this article, I have explained: How to setup & clean an aquarium external filter.

How to Setup an External Filter: Canister:

I have bought a canister filter & its baskets contain some media. But I noticed that the media is not enough to fill the baskets so I will suggest you to add more media too. I only received fine foam. Chemical filter media as well as bio media was available in the filter basket.

In video below I have shown you how to setup an external aquarium filter:

External Filter For Aquarium Setup & Cleaning

Step 1: Open the Lid of the Canister Filter:

Remove the lid from the filter. See the screws that are holding them together. If you can’t see them then have a look at the filter instruction manual. Then open the screws to remove the lid from the filter body.

After opening the screws, it is time to safely remove the filter lid. After separating the lid, you will see filter baskets that are located just below the lid. Filter baskets are holding the media that are used for cleaning water.

Open lid of the canister filter & take out the baskets

Step 2: Take Out the Baskets:

Open the canister filter & take out every basket. Use coarse, medium & fine foams as mechanical filter media. I have added cycled media from one of my tanks because cycled bio media consists of lots of good bacteria. I would recommend adding aquapro booster balls if you don’t have cycled media because it will boost the building up of good bacteria.

Step 3: How to Setup Inflow / Outflow Bars:

It is easy to install intake & outtake pipes of the canister filter. Have a look at the picture above if you want to install pipes. Inflow pipe is used for drawing dirty water from the aquarium. A strainer will stop the small fish. But if you want to setup canister filter in fish fries or shrimp’s aquarium then use a sponge at the filter intake that will stop the fries from entering the filter intake. When water is filtered, then it is sent back to the aquarium with the help of a hose attached to a spray bar.

Step 4: Stuff that Comes with the Canister Filter:

Canister filter comes with the following components:

  • 4 Baskets
  • Fine foams for mechanical filtration
  • 2 varieties of bio media for biological filtration
  • 1 activated carbon that is used for chemical filtration
  • Intake / outtake bars

I have used 3 types of foams such as coarse, medium & fine foams to crystal clear water. I have removed chemical media from the filter basket because I am not using it. I have used 3 different types of biological media for removing toxic chemicals from the water.

Connect hose to the inflow / outflow connectors
Connect hose to the inflow / outflow connectors

Step 5: Connect Hose to Inflow / Outflow Connectors:

Use a hose at the inlet of the canister. Use a separate hose for the outlet of the filter that will push water back to the aquarium. Water inlet hose will suck water from the fish tank. Water will be pushed to the bottom of the filter & then it will rise upward through the media, & clean water will be forced back to the tank.

Setting up 1st basket of the canister filter
Setting up 1st basket of the canister filter

Step 6: 1st Basket of the Canister Filter:

My filter comes with fine foams only but I replaced them with three types of foams: coarse, medium & fine. All foams go into the first basket of the filter. Mechanical filter media will be used for collecting fish poop, uneaten food & other particles. Water will flow through the coarse foam first, then it will pass through the medium & fine foams. All big particles will be trapped by the coarse foam, & medium & small particles will be collected by medium & fine foams.

Setting up 2nd basket of the canister filter
Setting up 2nd basket of the canister filter

Step 7: 2nd Basket of the Canister Filter:

Fine foam as well as aqua one premium ceramic media will go into the 2nd basket.

Aqua one premium ceramic media is a very porous media & many filters use this media. It offers the best environment for the production of beneficial bacteria. Because it is very porous, large colonies of beneficial bacteria will develop on the surface of the media.

Setting up 3rd basket of the canister filter
Setting up 3rd basket of the canister filter

Step 8: 3rd Basket of the Canister Filter:

Bio bakki balls as well as ceramic rings will be added to the 3rd basket.

Beneficial bacteria will convert toxic ammonia into less toxic forms. The end product of the nitrogen cycle is nitrates, & they are not as toxic as ammonia. Bio bakki balls are used for breaking down ammonia into nitrites & nitrates. It will consume ammonia & nitrites but nitrates will be left.


Ceramic Noodles:

Ceramic noodles have lots of small pores where air can’t enter. These holes will provide space for denitrifying bacteria. This bacteria will consume nitrates. Denitrifying bacteria grow in oxygen free areas. Ceramic noodles will allow both nitrifying & denitrifying bacteria to grow on its surface. It will provide a large surface for the growth of abundance of good bacteria. Large surface will allow lots of good bacteria to grow on it.

Surface area is increased due to many tiny pores.


Top Up:

On the top of ceramic rings & bio bakki balls, Seachem Matrix is added.

Seachem Matrix offers the best biological media for wiping out toxic chemicals. It provides both internal & external surface for removing nitrogenous waste. The inside of the Seachem Matrix is known as macropores for providing space for nitrifying & denitrifying bacteria which is used for wiping out nitrates as well as ammonia & nitrites.

Setting up 4th basket of the canister filter
Setting up 4th basket of the canister filter

Step 9: 4th Basket of the Canister Filter:

I have added fine foam & ceramic noodles in the 4th basket.

If water is still dirty then fine foam will clean it even more & ceramic noodles will wipe out toxic chemicals released from fish waste before clean water is sent back to the fish tank.


Top Up:

Fine foam & ceramic rings will be topped up by bio bakki balls. If there is still ammonia & nitrites present in the water then it will be wiped out by bio bakki balls.

Close the lid of the canister filter
Close the lid of the canister filter

Step 10: Close the Lid of the Canister Filter:

It is time to put the lid back on the filter & screw it in place. Then fill the canister filter with water.

Now attach the canister to the aquarium. Keep all connections in locked state till you complete the step of attaching the filter.

Then it is time to unlock the attachments & see if bubbles are releasing from the filter outtake & intake pipes. Make sure you turn on the filter after all bubbles come out from the pipe.

Setting up Inlet & Outlet Pipes

Step 11: Setting up Inlet & Outlet Pipes:

Connect the inlet hose to the inlet bar. The end of the inlet bar is attached to a strainer which will allow water to flow from the fish tank to the canister filter & will stop fish from entering the valve.

Connect the outlet hose to the spray bar to allow water to flow back to the fish tank. Spray bar allows water to flow smoothly & provides a waterfall-like effect in your aquarium.


How to Clean an External Filter: Canister

  1. Make sure you clean the canister filter using your fish tank water. So, it is nice to clean the filter at the same time when you are changing partial water of the aquarium.
  2. Turn off the power & disconnect the plug of the canister filter. Close the tank connections before cleaning an external canister filter.
  3. Use a safe place where you can rinse the filter. Dirty water of the filter will flow outside of the filter so choose a safe place. Open all connections & allow the water to flow out of the filter.
  4. Open the lid of the canister filter. After removing the lid, you will see the filter baskets that are located just below the lid.
  5. It is time to take out the media baskets from the filter. You will find multiple media baskets that are connected together with the help of the rods. It is time to open the rod & remove the baskets from the filter.
  6. After taking out the baskets, the canister filter will be empty. Inside the filter, you will find some debris that needs to be cleaned. Use tank water to clean the inside of the canister filter. Wash it with water till all the debris particles are removed from the filter.
  7. Take out the foams from the inside of the canister filter. Place the empty baskets as well as the foams in the basin for cleaning.  
  8. Clean the baskets & foams with aquarium water. As you rinse the canister filter with water, then all the blackness will fade away. Clean the media until all the murky water is washed away.
  9. After cleaning of the canister filter, then it is time to put back the media inside the filter. Put the baskets back in the filter. Place the things back in the same order as it was before you removed it.
  10. Time to close the lid. Now you can safely fill the filter with water.
  11. Connect filter to the fish tank. Turn off all connections before filter is attached to the fish tank.
  12. Then unlock all connections, & witness the bubbles that are releasing from the filter outlet & inlet pipes. Turn on the filter only when all bubbles are released from the pipe.
  13. Also, the tubes & pump require cleaning. But they don’t require frequent cleaning like the media of the canister filter.

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