TOPIC: turning filters off

Q: I have a 3-gallon tank and the filter is to loud for my mom at night. Is turning it off at night going to hurt my fish?

Question submitted by chloe, portland - oregon

Chloe, this is a short, but GOOD question. Most people do not know that turning off their filter will hurt their fish. And this is why:

FILTERS 101 :))

How filters clean your water:

  • mechanical filtration: foam, floss, sponges are placed inside many filters to provide mechanical filtration. Mechanical filtration means that the small particles (debris, food, etc...) will travel in the water, get sucked into the filter and remain trapped inside the filter because they cannot pass through the foam, sponge or floss. So this is one form of filtration.

  • chemical filtration: carbon is placed inside most filters because of its absorbent properties. Carbon will absorb all kinds of chemicals resident in your water and ZAP it. Including ammonia, nitrites and even (not a planned thing :) ) antibiotics. This is why most manufacturers of fish medication will tell you to remove the carbon while medicating your fish. If you don't remove the carbon, it will zap most of the (expensive!!!!) antibiotics you are dumping in the sick tank! Might as well take your dollar bills and flush them right down the toilet :((. Other alternative: send your dollar bills to me instead LOL.

  • biological filtration: Now Chloe we are hitting a home run. So pay very close attention cause this concerns you BIG time :). Biological filtration is probably one of the most important but also one of the most overlooked (as in: people don't know much about it, if anything at all) filtration form. All filters have biological filtration to some extent, but some really focus on it by adding some components that promote that type of filtration. When water runs through media, soon a colony of bacteria will settle into the area. That colony will take a few weeks to develop and will blossom (hopefully). These are called GOOD bacteria because unlike BAD bacteria which make your betta sick, this good bacteria (also known as nitrobacter) is a friendly bacteria that feeds on harmfull chemicals and breaks them down into less harmful ones. So what happens is that your fish fecal maters, as well as uneaten food, will rot producing a load of bad stuff. In turns, the bad stuff gets eaten up by the friendly bacteria and in the process gets ZAPPED. This cleans your fish's water and makes it safe :). In short the friendly bacteria and your fish live happily ever after...

That is until you step in. Your mom has been grouchier than ever because she can't get any sleep. ;). She threatens to throw you (and your 4 hamsters, 3 cats and 8 bettas) out. You panic (I don't blame you LOL) and figure: What the heck, I'll just shut down that noisy filter at night and everyone will be happy, right? WRONG! Your hamsters maybe, your cats probably, your mom, most certainly, but your betta? VERY VERY MUCHO NOT HAPPY.

Why oh why??? You cry out...

Because in order for the nitrobacter to remain alive, the colony needs a steady supply of oxygen. When you shut off the filter, the water no longer circulates and oxygen no longer reaches the colony. And the colony proceeds to die (mucho pronto). Results are two fold, and neither one of these folds is good :((.

  • fold one: colony dies and the filter no longer can breakdown the harmful chemicals properly, resulting in a dangerous rise of harmful nitrites, ammonia etc... Which hurts your betta.

  • fold two. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it just DOES. When the nitrobacter dies, it also releases a harmful, toxic chemical which also hurts your betta. Yikes!

How long can a filter remain turned off before the colony dies? Some books talk about a few minutes, while some others venture into saying it will take a few hours. I would not risk it if I were you and I personally never shut down a filter during maintenance for longer than 2 to 5 minutes tops.

If I had to chose between making my mom happy and making the nitrobacter colony happy? I'd chose to cater to my colony (sorry Mom!!) :)).

WAIT! You may not have to move out after all :))). The good news is: There is hope! You can simply select another (less darn noisy) filter. For a 3 gal I highly recommend the power corner filters I use. You can regulate the flow from almost inexistent to super jet :)) and they are 100% QUIET. You will need to perform a 50% water change every other week, but that beats the heck out of living under a bridge LOL

So look for internal corner power filters from AQUARIUM SUPPLIES. They attach to the inside of your tank, under the water, and you plug them directly into the power outlet. Hence no noisy air pump and no noisy water falling into the tank like a fountain. Everything is under the water and not a sound is generated :). They come in a couple of sizes, I'd pick the smaller one (rated for 10 gal) if I were you. Regardless, you can turn them down all the way so even the larger one is OK to use in a small tank. They are a bit pricey (not sure how much the retail is cause I get them wholesale for about $16 each - you may have to double that or even a bit more). But as I said a $16 to $30 investment beats the heck out of sleeping under a freeway overpass LOL. Besides, being nice to one's mother is a good thing in deed :). 

I hope this helps you both and that mothers, daughters and bettas can live together happily ever after :)).