Canister Filter Troubleshooting

  • #1

I'm having issues with my canister filter. I'm an experienced keeper of freshwater aquariums, but I can't figure out what's going on here (and this is my first time I've ever used a canister filter).

For ~7 years I've had one or two Penguin 200 biowheel filters on my 36 gallon aquarium. They've always done a great job, but I was ready for something with more media flexibility, something quieter, and something easier to hide. So I bought a Cascade 1000 Canister Filter (good up to 100 gallons). Yes, I know it's a non-fancy off-brand, but it gets great Amazon reviews, so I have a hard time believing that my problems are just because I didn't buy a mainstream filter.

At first it seemed to work just fine, but quickly I noticed that my tank was just DIRTY. All kinds of gunk started collecting on the plants. Basically it just seemed like the mechanical filtration was non-existent. I had some normal filter pads and filter floss in the canister filter, but I was afraid I was maybe restricting the flow too much so I switched things up a bit (more on that in just a second). Then my fish started dying. Turns out I had a faulty heater and while I was on vacation it completely failed and I came home to 92 deg water and almost all my fish dead.

So I started over and super-cleaned the tank. I took out all my driftwood because I thought maybe that was causing too much debris and clogging the filter. Within a few short weeks though, the aquarium was back to it's same disguising state even though I only had 5 fish in there (3 cories and 2 otocinclus). Sure, I wasn't cleaning my filter every week, but with my Penguin filters I could have left it all YEAR and it would have never reached this state of filth. So at this point I don't know if I should just give up on the canister filter. What could I be doing wrong with this thing? Here all the details:

Filter Info
Filter: Cascade 1000 Canister Filter
Top Basket: Marineland Diamond Blend Ammonia Neutralizing Carbon and Purgien (used up in the picture)
Middle Basket: Fluval Biomax Bio Rings
Bottom Basket: Fluval External Power Filter Pre-Filter Media
Return method: Spray bar that spans the length of the aquarium
*See bottom for s. Yes, I know that the filter looks like it could use some cleaning, but that's nothing compared to what the tank looks like (I let it run for about a month after all the fish died). The filter traps some of the debris, but most all of it remains in the aquarium.

Water Info
Tank: 36 gallon, non-planted, gravel substrate
Ammonia: 0
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: ~30 ppm
pH: High, but that's normal for this area

Any ideas? I wonder if maybe there's something wrong with the impeller and it's not cycling the water enough, but the spray bar return seems pretty forceful. I also wondered if the water wasn't circulating in the tank enough, so I angled the spray bar down, but that didn't seem to help. Thanks in advance for any help you can give!

Filter (Cascade 1000 Canister Filter)


Top Basket (Marineland Diamond Blend Ammonia Neutralizing Carbon and Purgien)


Middle Basket (Fluval Biomax Bio Rings)


Bottom Basket (Fluval External Power Filter Pre-Filter Media)

  • #2
Welcome to Fishlore Marimba12!

I am sorry you are having all these troubles. Here is what I would try.

Bottom tray: Sponge. This will catch a lot of the large debris without restricting much flow. As it is, the model you have is much more than needed, so restricting a little flow won't hurt anything.
Middle tray: Combine your bottom two trays into this tray. This will be your biomedia tray that will do all the work of converting ammonia. If there is room, add a layer of filter floss on top. This will catch some finer debris that gets through the sponge.
Top tray: If you can't fit all the media suggested for tray 2 and the filter floss, put some of the media in this tray, along with the purigen. You can also add another layer of filter floss here as well if you wish.

You can also try adding an air stone to the opposite end of the tank as your filter intake to get the water moving on both sides of the tank. This may or may not have much effect, but it might be worth a try if you got the equipment laying around.
  • #3
Welcome to the Fishlore, marimba12!
@ is right, you've got no real mechanical filtration. Follow his suggestion for setting up your filter and your problem will be solved.

Edit: actually, the mechanical prefilter media you have in the bottom tray doesn't make a very good biological media. It's not nearly as porous as the ceramic rings you have in the second tray. I'd leave a thin layer of the prefilter media in the bottom tray and put the sponges and floss/pads on top of it. It will help some of the solids to settle out of the water before they hit the sponges.
  • Thread Starter
  • #4
Thanks for all the help! I did pretty much what alink said. I might move some prefilter media back to the bottom later. What exactly is the prefilter media supposed to do? Thanks again!
  • #5
Thanks for all the help! I did pretty much what @ said. I might move some prefilter media back to the bottom later. What exactly is the prefilter media supposed to do? Thanks again!
It's suppose to catch large debris before the water gets to the next stage of filtration which should be some kind of coarse sponge.

To go with what else has been suggested I would get some filter floss. You can put that on the bottom of the tray with the bio media. Then if you want you can put it on the very top too. It will help get fine particles of debris out of the water.

And for what it's worth, Cascade's are good filters. Apparently they just don't come with all the stuff you need.
  • #6
Hey marimba, as above really, the muck in your aquarium is getting sucked straight through the filter and back out again. The pre filter material will slow flow down a little and catch larger particles in eddies etc, but if flow is too much it will get blown through, so either completely fill will pre filter ceramics or top up with a coarse foam. The mid level needs some medium sponges, either factory ones or buy a sheet of it and cut to size. The bio rings will clog up with muck that gets through bottom tray and will struggle to hold the bacteria you want, so put them in top tray with some fine filter floss, once again either factory precut or buy a sheet and cut to size, this will polish out all the fine particles from water and stop the bio rings getting clogged up with gunk. Tbh I wouldn't bother with the bits you have in the top atm, use them if and when they are actually needed, but once you set up the filter it shouldn't be necessary.
  • #7
I agree with the above advice. I have SunSuns, I have prefilter stuff under my lowest tray, you will be amazed how much mulm collects there. My lowest tray has 3 blue sponges, the bottom sponge will never be blue again, I have thinner sponges under Matrix, floss on top in my middle tray, I have a pad and Purigen in my top tray.

I service my SunSuns every 10 - 15 days.

Good luck.

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