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Under Gravel filter Cleaning

By Tim Gautrey (---reprinted with permissions---) Most people complain about the cleaning of UGFs and their effectiveness after a while. It involves taking the tank down, re-locating the fish, plants, ornaments etc., emptying the gravel out and cleaning it, lifting the UGF and washing it off, (holding your nose while doing this), scrubbing the tank itself and rinsing it out and then putting the whole lot back together, re-cycling and then putting the fish back in.

I have found a solution to this chore that is simple, easy, quick and completely safe and stress less for the fish and the human. It does not involve pulling the tank apart, unsettling plants or even removing the fish! (You might want to take out small ones though, just to be sure).

What you need

A wet/dry vacuum, preferably the bottle type with adjustable power;

A hose adaptor to fit onto the UGF riser pipe and the cleaner hose; (You may have to make this beforehand); About five minutes of your time!

What you do:

Remove the cap and air stone or power-head from the UGF riser tube. (If you have more than one riser, plug the other one(s) up, so that water or air can’t get in)

Connect the adaptor to the riser.

Connect the other end to the wet/dry vacuum suction hose.

If you can adjust the power, turn it down as low as possible. (If you can’t adjust the power, just drill a hole in the adaptor that you can put your finger over should you need to. This will effectively reduce the power of the vacuum by drawing air through the hole. You can adjust the strength of the suction by moving your finger over the hole changing the amount of air it can draw.)

Switch the vacuum on for as long as it needs to reduce the water in the tank by 20%. (You need to vary the time according to the size of the tank, size of the riser tube, the adaptor and the power of the vacuum.) Top up the tank to normal level with clean treated water.

Switch the vacuum on again as above, and stir the gravel while it’s running.

Disconnect the adaptor from the riser pipe.

Put the air stone and cap back into the riser(s). (You may want to change the air stone, depending on its condition. Sorry, this will cost you a few pennies if you do!)

Top up the tank to normal level again.

Rinse out the vacuum, holding your nose while you empty it!

You’re all done! The gravel, UGF and water are now clean and clear.

Repeat the procedure every 6 months to ensure the efficiency of the UGF. (Now who says that UGF’s are difficult to clean?)

Points to note:

Unless you have alternative filtering in the tank, this process will force a cycle, as any total clean will do. I always ensure that there is an alternative filter in the tank for at least a week before doing this, therefore stabilizing the tank afterwards while the bacteria re-colonizes the UGF.

If you have all the bits to hand, the whole job can be completed within five minutes and the tank will be good for another 6 months or so. This will clean out any UGF irrespective of the length of time it’s been operating. Once done, the job becomes much easier if done regularly. If you are cleaning the filter for the first time, take care to adjust the power on the vacuum so as not to collapse the filter. It is better to take a little more time and flush through several times than to try taking everything out first time and risk damaging the tray. Also, you may have plant roots obstructing the channels. Too much suction will damage these roots, and in extreme cases, destroy the plant.

This process does create quite strong down currents, especially on smaller tanks. This is why I recommend that you remove small fish before starting, as they may not be strong enough to compete with these currents. Saying that, I have not lost a fish yet! (Bottom dwellers such as cories are particularly vulnerable). If you are concerned at all, just take the fish out, but I have never done this myself, or found the need to.

Recommended reading about filters

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