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Cleaning filters - tap water

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Pretty much a question around the title but first up a disclaimer that I don't recommend this or anything like that and I run three filters in my tank which makes it a little more robust.

Background is this tank has been running for a few years so well established, has two canister filters and one internal for mechanical filtration / powerhead.

When cleaning a canister filter (say one every 3 months), I use the hose (town water) to spray out the filter wool (or just replace), the sponges and the ceramic ring biomedia. Ceramic biomedia always stays wet and gets more of a quick rinse.

I use the API FW master test kit and have for a long time never had a mini-cycle doing this. I know the test works as I've had ammonia readings testing DIY substrate ferts in a bucket and on an unrelated mini-cycle.

So it's bugging me on why I'm not killing off my bacteria population with a filter clean to some degree. Tank is well stocked.

I'm assuming that most bacteria in the filter are in the biomedia and are protected as I only give it a quick spray. Also perhaps tap water treatment isn't strong enough to kill off bacteria with only short exposure? And that the bacteria in the other filter plus in tank gravel,etc pick up the slack before I can notice it. Is that possible??

I mean I find it great I can give the filters a really good clean but .... Wondered what others do for cleaning filters?

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i have not used tank water on cleaning filters (3 or 6 months depending if I have time). i just spray the compartments and media with tap water. i also throw filter wool and put new ones in every clean. I don't clean all filters at the same time though - so bacteria on uncleaned filters might be enough for my tank. I don't have a sump so a few canister and internal filters compensate for that.

I even have one canister that I have not cleaned for almost two years now. Tank is not heavily stock.

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Enough microbes are surviving within the internal surface areas of the hard bio media.

You are however killing off all sorts of larger microbes that make mature tanks so notoriously bullet proof.

In short the science is sound for why you are getting away with it.... but it would only take a longer soak of the hard bio or even doing at a time of elevated chloramine levels to perhaps cause terrible terrible risk.

Knowing the rules well allows us to bend them.... but when things break due to doing so..... its our own fault and you aint gonna get sympathy.

Risk : Reward

Can cause a lot of frequent large water changes a day apart.... trying to save a few minutes.

Not a risk I take.

Way way way too lazy to risk that lol

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Enough microbes are surviving within the internal surface areas of the hard bio media.

You are however killing off all sorts of larger microbes that make mature tanks so notoriously bullet proof.

In short the science is sound for why you are getting away with it.... but it would only take a longer soak of the hard bio or even doing at a time of elevated chloramine levels to perhaps cause terrible terrible risk.

Knowing the rules well allows us to bend them.... but when things break due to doing so..... its our own fault and you aint gonna get sympathy.

Risk : Reward

Can cause a lot of frequent large water changes a day apart.... trying to save a few minutes.

Not a risk I take.

Way way way too lazy to risk that lol

Hi all, thanks for the replies. Lol, yes - it would be strange to rock up to the neighbors and not for the old borrow a cup of coffee, but pinch a pail of filter media. There is a hint of a mention of microbes being more protected within biomedia in a seachem post I read so that seems to make the most sense. The other theory is that eventually the biomedia gunks up and there are actually no nitrifying bacteria living in the filter but that seems really odd.

By larger microbes I'm guessing you are talking about hetero bacterial colonies? And the loss of these perhaps leading to a tank bacterial bloom?

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By larger microbes I mean things other than bacteria. A mature biofiltration culture is infinitely more complicated than a few bacteria species eating ammonia and nitrite.

This is in essence a discussion about surface area. You are only sterilizing a certain % of it. Enough critters are surviving elsewhere to recolonise filter quick enough to prevent a total crash. Could always remove the gravel next time you clean in tap water and see how that turns out for you :)

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I wouldn't assume that any microbial communities are protected in any way and although bio media is specifically selected for microbial colonisation due to surface area, colonisation will occur throughout the entire system. Assuming that there is adequate surface area microbial growth is not limited by surface area, the limiting factor is usually nutrient load.

You say that you only clean one filter every three months so with very liberal numbers thats roughly one quarter of your total bio filtration capacity that is affected at any time. And since your careful with the bio filter where there is likely to be a higher concentration of biological colonisation the percentage of affected biological capacity would be more likely to be half of the quarter of the total, around 12.5% or less.

When a bio filter is fully established there will always be a degree of death and growth within the microbial communities due too the changing thickness of the zoogleal layer and oxygen availability. To some degree you poor husbandry practice is interacting with this normal ebb and flow of death and growth where excess nutrient load as a consequence would be dealt with by the existing microbial that can increase efficiency as competition for nutrients is temporarily eased.

Biological filters should only be lightly rinsed in aquarium water.

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Thanks for the response. I've stacked the ceramic rings so there is double or triple the amount the filter came with. So there is a lot of media (I think - I've no idea how much media is actually needed). However, I've always thought the bacteria would establish to match the ammonia load. The largest canister filter is double the size of the next canister filter. Cleaning the largest filter results in no ammonia or nitrite spike and that is where I'm guessing most of the bacteria are. Tank is fully stocked so nutrient load should be high.

Para 2:- I'm thinking I didn't give enough detail here for maths? First filter is internal and small compared to canister filters (say 0.25kg of media), first canister is say 2.5kg of media and largest canister is say 5kg of media. These are just really rough numbers to give an idea of filter size. The amount of nitrifying bacteria in tank substrate gravel I'm not sure on. So my impression has been that if I'm going to get an ammonia spike it should be after cleaning the largest canister filter. Yet zippo. On discussion elsewhere a person was interested in my filter by size (hence thinking I didn't give enough detail) as she uses 4 FX6's and rotates through each one cleaning with tap water spray or simply replacing media.

Para 3:- That's really interesting. Are you saying there that the bacteria may have a "growth spurt" to catch up as there is more nutrients (ammonia) in the water? Thus 0 on test results. I have also wondered that if the bacteria population is establishing to match the ammonia level, what does that mean. Are there say 100 bacteria all fat and happy. Or are there 200 semi-starved bacteria just waiting for any ammonia that comes along.

Also when I first started using canisters I came across references to replace half the media each time and replace sponges when they got too gunked up to allow good water flow. Replacing half the media I was told was because the bacteria die off and new bacteria can't get established over the top. Do you think this is possible? I hardly replace any media at all now.

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However, I've always thought the bacteria would establish to match the ammonia load.

Thats exactly it, more ammonia more bacteria, less ammonia less bacteria. But as Donny said it's much more than just two simple strains of bacteria, it's a complex mixed microbial community. And it's more than just ammonia too, I prefer the term 'nutrients'. The amount of media is not that important as long as you have bio media - for fresh water. In a real 'heavy load' system such as an old fashioned sewage works they're not concerned with surface area, they use fist sized rocks of the same grade or size and the microbial community grows to suit the nutrient load not the surface area.

Don't worry too much about the maths, I applied the percentages just to demonstrate how little impact your current cleaning technique has on your entire system. It's easy to get caught in the numbers game or second guess ourselves and wonder if where doing it wrong or could we do it better. The media manufacturers love the numbers game, to them its all about who's got the greatest surface area but as long as you've got enough media and a matching flow rate life's good.

Testing is good but we often fall into the numbers game hear too. Chasing numbers when there are so many variables. A zero ammonia test is good but it's ironic because no ammonia would also be a bad thing too. We know there is ammonia present even though the test kit tells us there isn't any, ammonia is being consumed at the same rate as its being produced.

Para 3:- That's really interesting. Are you saying there that the bacteria may have a "growth spurt" to catch up as there is more nutrients (ammonia) in the water? Thus 0 on test results. I have also wondered that if the bacteria population is establishing to match the ammonia level, what does that mean. Are there say 100 bacteria all fat and happy. Or are there 200 semi-starved bacteria just waiting for any ammonia that comes along.

I would think of it more like 200 semi-starved bacteria but try to stay away from the numbers. Think of it as a lean, healthy mixed microbial community, put more food on the table and they will eat more.

I wouldn't recommend or encourage anyone to replace half their media, its a big waste of money and can adversely affect your biological communities and the entire tank. There will always be a degree of bacterial die off but it will be closely matched by growth. There's no need to change bio media just give it a light rinse in tank water and put it back. Feel free to use as much tap water you like for the sponges but I would always give them a final rinse in tank water or treated tap water. Chemical media is changed or recharged and given a final rinse in tank water or treated tap water. Expensive equipment or increased surface area is no substitute for good husbandry.

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What test kit are you using? Curious on how accurate at low doses it is. Also' date=' you dont get to choose where microbes colonise. They do their thing. Best you can do is set up what would seem to be a perfect home for them.[/quote']

It's an API one (liquid based). Reasonable test kit? Seem to have collected API test kits mostly.

Did see API vs another test kit (forgot name) with pics for one saying 0 ammonia and other saying 0.25...

I'm not sure with aquarium test kits but for rock assays, the results are generally a little iffy around detection limit. Perhaps aquarium test kits are the same?

Tap water here is 0 according to API so I just compare from there.

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How does it go with products that detoxify ammonia like API ammo lock or seachem safe?

A little off topic. Did look it up. I had looked at this before for the light meter. It may be of interest. I had a different par meter on my Christmas wish list so idk.

Not sure on forum rules if I can post questions on it in thread or pm you or ??

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