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Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:11 pm
by redshark1
Hello Clown Loach lovers, just kidding about the title, but I have done this recently for my own reasons.

After years of consistent and successful care I have recently taken two steps to improve my enjoyment of my 17 year old Clown Loaches.

First and as reported earlier I changed my black gravel to 75kg of natural gravel (gradually over several weeks) and the Clown Loaches responded with vibrant colours.

Secondly, I upgraded my undergravel filtration and removed my Fluval 403 external canister which has been operating continuously since 1995 with no servicing required other than media rinsing.

I decided on this course of action after two people I know had disasterous floods when their canister filters leaked the contents of their aquaria onto their floors I realised I have been very lucky in this regard.

After all I have my beloved Clown Loaches to think about, 90 gallons of water to worry about and my family to accommodate.

I upgraded my two undergravel filters to stretch the full length of my aquarium and purchased new more powerful powerheads rated at 2,400 lph of turnover to power them. The total cost was £48 which to my mind is a bargain when you consider the amount of filtration I’m getting. The cheap powerheads work well and quietly and deliver a greater flow than I had before. I did the changes gradually in stages over a month.

For those interested in these cheaper powerheads I have a Sunsun JP-025 1600 lph powerhead, costing £15.29 from allpondsolutions1 and a Hidom Aquarium Powerhead 800 lph, costing £8.16 from Orinoco Aquatics – both of these via eBay. Both needed some minor modifications to fit my uplift tubes. I purchased two sizes as the smaller one pushes water across the aquarium and the larger one pushes water along (the length of) the aquarium.

I have waited for a couple of months before reporting to make sure this was a good course of action. I have measured my nitrate levels and checked that I did not want to turn back for any reason. Nitrate is stable at 5ppm which is at the level it comes out of the tap so naturally I am over the moon.

There is nothing wrong with undergravel filters in this situation when the cost, longevity and above all results are so much in the aquarist’s favour. Plus I love gravel vacuuming LOL!

I am now at a stage where I can say that I am very happy with the steps I have taken. I have just taken the following pictures which I hope you will enjoy.

What I have is not state of the art, but it is something I am very happy with.

Here is the whole shoal of six foraging together (Anthia left of centre, Tiama right of centre):

This is my largest, Anthia, who is just over 8":

Here is my other female Tiama, who is a little shyer and usually is at the back of the aquarium:

Tiama (left) and Anthia (right) together - they have frequent trials of strengh but are always together afterwards:

The whole aquarium, with Tiama prominent:

Finally, my favourite due to the vibrant colours, with Tobi (male, above ) and Anthia (below):

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2011 5:03 pm
by KittyKat
As a counter suggestions for those who still like their externals, I recently came across someone who was running the outlets from the external filters through a reverse underground filter to get a much larger surface area for bacteria and a much lower flow for the discus while decreasing the need for manual cleaning (relying on the externals to push up the dirt from the gravel and pick it up). It seemed like a very interesting idea…

My own experience with externals is that everything which is not Eheim eventually leaks because the plastic snaps, the o-ring goes unusually quickly, some other bit doesn't fit in… on the other hand, I have an Eheim which is at least 21 years old and most likely older than me, which is working flawlessly.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2011 9:47 pm
by chefkeith
I like my Fluval FX5 the most. Best filter I've ever purchased. Will eventually be purchasing more of them to replace my Eheim and Filstars.

As for leaking, it can happen with about anything that holds water. Aquariums themselves may start leaking if there is a defect, such as a silicon seal going bad, glass cracking, ect. The fish keeper needs to pay attention to all the small details. Needs to inspect the tank and equipment daily. Have a back-up plan if there is a leak or failure.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 3:35 am
by millsn
Another FX5 vote. I have two which run my system. They are easy to clean (although they don't seem to need it) and have a high flow output too. The valves on them are less fiddly than eheim valves too. They're basically just a big bucket with an external pump which is nice straightforward engineering. They pull in large items and don't clog too.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 1:31 pm
by Boromark
Wow! Fantastic pictures, gorgeous fish!

I'm wondering how much vacuuming you would need to do, because presumably the detritus will build up in the gravel? How good would this gravel be for barbels?

My Corydoras used to lose their barbels with undergravel filtration I had before I kept loaches, but their barbels and loach barbels do fine with sand and a heater cable to circulate water through the sand. Loach barbels are virtually a hand, they can spin Tetratabs and suchlike round with great dexterity.

Currently I use two Tetratec 1200's with my Clown tank, but I stand them in cat litter trays to give me some chance of noticing the drop in tank water level before a leak reaches the carpet!



Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 4:43 pm
by redshark1
Thanks everyone for the comments and also to the other readers of my account of my experimentation with undergravel filters.

Hi Mark and thanks for your positive comment :) . I do a light vacuum on half the tank floor each week. The gravel is deep so I vacuum the top half. This gives me a 20% weekly water change. As I feed often but sparingly the gravel is truly not very dirty. I then clean the glass and hood. I listen to my favourite music while cleaning and enjoy doing this as part of my weekend. I will spend an hour but if time is tight can complete it in 30 minutes.

Regarding the barbels, if you look closely you can see them in my photographs. I feel the rounded gravel rather than the angular pieces are kind to barbels. The fish are able to lift the stones individually to search for buried food and do this often.

Millsn, I am glad that the newer external filters are easier to use. Mine was a pain to clean. One main point about my system is low cost, to show that Clown Loaches can be kept healthily without a big budget. I have had no disease since the whitespot they came with in 1995. In my eyes the Clown Loach is a remarkably healthy species.

Chefken, thanks for the good advice regarding avoiding leaks and you make some good points to bear in mind. I am suggesting that with no external filter the overall risk is reduced and flooding from an external filter fault is eliminated.

Kittykat, I tried the reverse filtration in exactly the way you described in another experiment of mine. Unfortunately, I found that the water appeared much dirtier with lots of particles being carried in the water column and I didn't like this at all. Also, as my external was difficult to clean I didn't want the dirt accumulating in this part of the system. Perhaps I would do better now with my greater experience.

Anyway, the bottom line is this experiment has been fun and has yielded satisfying results all round in this application.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2011 3:12 am
by millsn
The fish look great BTW. and yes, the FX5s weren't cheap :oops:

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:56 am
by redshark1
I am resurrecting this old thread in order to report that the several inexpensive powerhead brands that I have purchased including Hidom, Sunsun and Aquarline did not turn out to be the bargains that they first appeared :( .

All have worn quickly and began to rattle unnacceptably and I was not able to repair them satisfactorily or clean or adjust them so they would stop rattling permanently. So, they were eventually binned. :(

I went back to using Aquaclear powerheads :) which I have used extensively in the past and have no further problems to report.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the Algarde undergravel filters, a one-piece design with slits in the corrugated plastic, broke where the uplift tube entered and the blanking off plugs, stopping gravel getting under the plate, did not stay in place. :(

I replaced these with Boyu modular undergravel filters which are comprised of many smaller pieces which slot together. Algarde also market a similar system but it was more expensive (and it may only be the name which is different). I found this system much improved as when I first tried it many years ago the plastic was more brittle. Now it is stronger. :)

Of course, I know that most people these days will not be using undergravel filters :wink: :D and I am not saying that they give better filtration than external filters because I do not believe this to be true. But for those who do not wish to use external filters this information may be useful and I think I have proven that undergravel filters can be made to work effectively and cheaply.

Pic of Romio, male 6 inches, 20 years old

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 8:47 am
by The Skinny Chef
when i saw you had updated on this was worried. but i'm glad it was just broken equip!

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 8:55 am
by redshark1
Yes, the number of topics I've seen that lack vital feedback must number in the thousands. So, I decided to follow best practice and update with the new information.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 2:47 pm
by Jim Powers
Its good to see someone else who likes undergravel filters. I have always used them and have few complaints. I like the fact that there are no dead spots in the gravel. I have even modified them to use as river tank manifolds. In one of my tanks I have a powerhead on the undergravel set on reverse flow and the gravel in that tank seldom needs vacuuming. Unfortunately, undergravel filters seem to be hard to find these days as people tend to use other types of filtration. I always have a hang on the back filter to supplement the UG and provide extra flow. As for powerheads, when I read the original part of the thread again (somehow I missed this in 2011) I wondered about those powerheads you chose. I have tried several brands and have found that Aquaclear is hard to beat. Marineland also makes good powerheads. I also have a Second Nature powerhead (my first) that has been going strong since 1999. I don't know if that brand is even around anymore.
My only problems with UG filters are that sometimes, if you have spawning going on, you can get fry under the plate and in the uplift tubes. They can be difficult to extract or save. I have found many hillstream fry and some panda garras in this way. I managed to save all the garras and some of hillstreams. Another problem can result if the caps on the unused uplift tube attachment points get pried off by a curious loach or even a catfish. I have found both sinobotia and bumble bee cats under the plate and had to use strong light to chase them out through the open uplift tube attachment point. They really seem to like the space under the plate. I have heard of fish living for years under a UG plate, only coming out at night or feeding time.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 4:47 pm
by millsn
As feedback goes my filters were new when I posted about fx5s. Some years on. No complaints.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Thu Jan 30, 2014 5:39 pm
by MandaMunky
Wow! This is my first time seeing this post. I've learned a lot from it & would like to thank you for posting it & then updating, RedShark!

I've always been leery of external canister filters so we use the hang on the back variety along with air pumps... don't know too much about under gravel filters or power heads, but after reading this post it seems like something we maybe out to look into? Anyway, definitely food for thought...

Also, your fish are just flat out magnificent!

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 2:12 pm
by redshark1
Thanks, that's very kind of you to say so.

I realise that all the different kinds of filtration have their strengths and weaknesses. I have employed them all in my five aquaria.

Re: Throw away your canister filters !

Posted: Fri Mar 07, 2014 3:16 pm
by Sonic
If you drill a small hole in the return pipe below water level a canister filter wont be able to empty the tank.