How to Properly Install Your Aquarium Filter: The Cloth Side Matters Most

Setting up an aquarium filter correctly is crucial for maintaining a healthy and thriving underwater ecosystem. One of the most important aspects to get right is the orientation of the filter media – specifically, which way the “cloth” side should face. Getting this detail right can make all the difference in ensuring your filter functions optimally and keeps your fish safe.
The Importance of Filter Orientation
When it comes to aquarium filters, the general rule of thumb is that the “cloth” or “sponge” side should always be the first thing the water passes through before reaching the other filter media. This is because the cloth or sponge is designed to capture solid waste and debris, such as uneaten food, plant matter, and fish waste.
If you were to install the filter with the plastic side facing the tank, the water would flow directly to the activated carbon or other fine filter media. This would quickly clog and overwhelm those components, rendering them ineffective. The solid waste would bypass the mechanical filtration stage and end up fouling the biological and chemical filtration stages.
By contrast, having the cloth side face the tank allows it to trap the solid particles first, before the water flows through the rest of the filter. This prolongs the life and effectiveness of the other filter media, ensuring optimal water quality for your fish.
Step-by-Step Filter Installation

Hang-On-Back (HOB) Filters

For hang-on-back (HOB) style filters, the general installation process is as follows:
Make sure you have enough clearance behind your aquarium to accommodate the filter. HOB filters take up space at the back of the tank, so you may need to move the tank slightly forward.
If your aquarium has a lid or canopy, you may need to cut out a section to allow the filter to hang properly. Some lids already have pre-cut openings for this purpose.
Attach the filter securely to the back of the tank, ensuring it is level. Many HOB filters have adjustable tabs or screws to help with this.
Prime the filter by filling the media chamber with aquarium water before plugging it in. This helps the pump start up properly.
Arrange the filter media with the coarse mechanical filtration (the cloth or sponge) on the intake side, closest to the tank water.

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Canister Filters

Canister filters are typically installed underneath the aquarium, in the cabinet space. The process is a bit different:
Place the canister filter on a stable surface, like the cabinet floor, and connect the intake and output tubing.
Ensure the tubing is routed properly, with a “drip loop” to prevent water from flowing back down the cord and into the electrical outlet.
Fill the canister with aquarium water before turning it on, to help prime the pump.
Again, arrange the filter media with the mechanical filtration (cloth or sponge) closest to the intake, followed by the biological and chemical filtration media.

Internal Filters

Internal filters are the simplest to install, as they are designed to be submerged directly in the aquarium:
Place the internal filter on the back wall of the tank, securing it in place.
Plug in the power cord, making sure to create a drip loop.
The filter media is typically pre-arranged, with the mechanical filtration closest to the water intake.
Regardless of the filter type, the key is to always have the mechanical filtration (cloth or sponge) as the first stage that the water passes through. This ensures optimal water quality and a long-lasting, efficient filtration system.
Maintaining Your Aquarium Filter
Proper maintenance is crucial for keeping your aquarium filter functioning at its best. This includes:
Regularly cleaning the mechanical filter media (cloth or sponge) to remove accumulated debris.
Replacing filter cartridges or media as recommended by the manufacturer.
Keeping an eye on flow rate and adjusting as needed to maintain adequate water circulation.
Monitoring water parameters and making adjustments to the filter setup if issues arise.
By following these best practices and ensuring the filter is installed correctly, you can create a thriving, healthy environment for your aquatic pets. With the right filtration system in place, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and enjoyable aquarium hobby.

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