Why Your Aquarium Filter is Too Loud, How to Make it Quiet
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Aquarium bring aquatic life close to you and form a breathtaking display in your home, but they also come with a noise liability.
Sometimes, it’s an electric buzz from the filter or pump that sounds like a high pitched generator hum effortlessly grating on your nerves.
On other occasions, your filter will make clunk noises and a sound akin to the mini-splash of a waterfall caressing your inner ear in a headache provoking tune.
As such, it is not entirely bizarre to wonder whether all fish tank filters are intended to make noises.
From my personal experience, the only acceptable noise is the buzz caused by the filter’s powering mechanism, which is barely audible if the unit is correctly placed.
Any other loud noise away from these smooth electric hum is a clear sign something is wrong
Given that background, in this post we’ll delve into aquarium filter noises to help you identify the source and implement the best remedy for each off-sound.
Most aquarium filters and air pumps do hum, but that is as much noise as they should ever make while operating optimally, any other off sounds like rattling are a clear sign that something is amiss.
What Should A Fish Tank Filter Sound Like
As I’ve mentioned above, your average aquarium filter should make a smooth electric hum that is barely loud, sometimes coupled with a flowing water resonance that can be quite tranquil and calming.
If your filter is more emphatic than that, then it most likely has a problem either with the water flow or one of the moving parts inside the unit.
In case of a flow issue, buzzing sounds develop and increase when not enough water is passing through the system. This is mostly created by obstructions such as dirt and grime, and if left unresolved, can result in filter pump burn-out.
A good cleaning should reduce this noise.
On the flip side, a broken filter part will cause more of a rattling noise and vibrations as opposed to buzzing or humming sounds. Moreover, the rattles will be internalized and gradually increase over time as the damage escalates.
In which case, I recommend you start by checking the impeller inside the filter.
Below are a couple other causes of odd filter noises and how to fix them.
Aquarium Filter Waterfall Noise
Aquarium filter waterfall noise is especially common with hang-on-back, bio wheels and power filters, which although calming in lesser frequencies, can be quite unsettling when the sound is too loud.
Usually, the splashing noise is more when the water level is too low, causing the water to fall a longer distance than is ideal. Thus, raise the water level in your fish tank to just below the top surface to lessen the sound.
You may also need to come up with a top-up schedule because water evaporates from aquariums quite rapidly; lowering the water level and causing the loud waterfall effect.
Reducing Aquarium Filter Waterfall Noise
I’ve briefly looked at this in the paragraphs above, but I thought it is necessary we delve on the solution a little more because its a complaint I get from other fish keepers quite often.
Certainly, topping up your water is an effective remedy, but due to evaporation and excess splashing, this solution can be quite cumbersome.
So, first try lower your water flow rate to keep the water from falling too powerfully and splattering all over, before you get your top-up schedule rolling.
Besides, reducing the flow rate will also solve problems with any other sounds related to the filter running at very high speeds.
If you are having a challenge knowing when to reduce the flow rate, the rule of thumb is if your filter is making a lapping or splashing noise, it too much and you need to adjust the pump setting after making sure the return hose is well placed.
Go low until the water is not making as much noise when it re-enters the aquarium, though not too low as you still need the filter to clean the water adequately.
Another brilliant solution would be to lower the spray closer to the water level or put a plastic wrap around it that drapes over into the water.
Adding an extra filter sponge into the filter outtake to decrease the current will work as well.
Aquarium Filter Bubble Noise
The other characteristic noise you can expect to get from your filter is bubbling sonances, especially with sponge units.
I know some fish keepers find the sound quite tranquil and don’t have a lot to complain about, but for some, it can be annoying.
The best solution to this noise is to make the bubble smaller by running an airstone attached to the airline inside the foam media.
Having a fully enclosed hood or trying to divert the bubbles from hitting straight up on the water surface will also muffle the noise a bit.
learn more about sponge filters.
Aquarium Filter Pump Noise
With air-driven aquarium filters, you will need an air pump, which can also be a source of the noise. As such, you must understand to isolate and deal with such rackets as well.
For starters, please note that if the pump is resting on your stand, it might create a resonance with the wood, which can easily skew to the less desirable side of annoying.
So, try resting your pump on a piece of sponge or foam or put it on the floor if you have a carpet.
Some people even place them in large containers so that it hangs suspended in mid-air, thereby eliminating contact between the pump-body and stand.
The other sure way to keep your pump quiet is buying a unit that is rated for your aquarium size. Check the rating on the packaging or the filter manual before you making the purchase.
While at it, also consider a quiet brand (or model) like a Tetra Whisper or Hygger, which are made with a noise reduction aspect in mind.
How To Reduce Common Noises in Your Fish Tank Filter
Now, if you can establish where the noise in your fish tank is coming from, it will be easier to resolve it because the approach you take depends on the cause or source.
Personally, I follow the 8 step process below to promptly isolate any sonances coming from my tank and even down to the filter.
- The first step is to try and cancel all other noises in your aquarium room and fish tank to be able to identify the sources of the filter buzz correctly. If necessary, turn off all powered equipment such as aircon systems, fans and refrigerator.
- Once you’ve canceled-out noises from the surrounding area, and your sure the buzz is coming from your tank, eliminate sounds from other tank kits like bubblers, air pumps, lights, and heaters. It would be best if you turned them off.
- Once you’re convinced the sound is coming from your filter, you then want to isolate the precise part that’s causing the noise. The first thing I do is to inspect the unit for any external damages with bare eyes. If it’s dark, I use a flashlight or the room’s ambient lights because they barely make a sound.
- If there are no visible damages, put your hands gently on the filter, then move them across the whole area. Try to isolate any vibrations or parts that are shaking more than usual. It is ok to press the unit gently as slight damages can cause lesser noises and movements which are easy to miss.
- If there are vibrations or movement on your filter, especially coupled with clunking noises, a part of your equipment is most likely broken. In which case you will have to fix it, or buy a new filter in case of significant damage.
- Usually, when there is no vibration or rattling in the filter unit, the other common culprit is dirt and debris blocking the filtration and resulting in the odd noises. Of course, the obvious remedy is to clean your equipment. Things like solid fish waste, plants debris, sand, and pebble will cause this type of sound problems.
- Once you’ve successfully isolated which part of your filter is causing the noise, then its time to fix it.
How to Fix a Loud, Vibrating Filter
We’ve already established that any filter that is making a loud noise and vibrating might very likely have a broken part inside the unit.
Even so, it might be something as little as a clogged up inlet or the attachment mechanism that is the issue. So before you dissemble your filter, inspect and resolve the lesser matters first.
Stuff filter-foam or aquarium safe sponge between the filter and surface to dampen any noises that might be coming from the unit rattling against your aquarium walls.
Next inspect the filter inlet for any dirt such as algae, limescale, or sand particles harbored inside. Clean out the in-flow and the outflow ports to ensure there is smooth flow throughout the filter system.
If the noise persists even after cleaning your filter unit, its time to disassemble it and inspect the internal components.
Because different filters have varying parts, it best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when doing this.
Luckily, most newer types are made with the most critical parts easily detachable, so you’ll be able to quickly remove, clean or replace them.
One part that might be the problem is the impeller, so make sure you clean it gently with a brush, and if any part is broken, replace it.
Canister and power filters also come with an inbuilt water-pump which they use to move the water back into the tank.
If it can’t suck in the water because of obstruction surrounding the impeller or a fault with the pump itself, the filter might become loud.
Therefore, once you’ve resolved all the issue with the impeller, I recommend you turn your focus to the water pump next.
Begin by making sure that the sound is not isolated to inside or around the water pump. If so, then you have your culprit. But if you are not sure, you can try pumping the water manually, bypassing the possibly damaged pump.
If the pump fails either of the two tests, inspect it for broken pieces, crack, or debris stuck in it. You may be able to service the water pump and replace the damaged parts if you can identify them.
Depending on the filter type you have, you can quite easily find a replacement part on amazon or your local fish store.
In older filters, you would also need to inspect the diaphragm and valves. If your unit has them, clean, repair and replace the parts where need be.
A Few More Hacks to Make Your Fish Tank Filter Quieter
You won’t always be lucky to isolate the part causing the loud noise in your filter, meaning you may need to try several hacks to see what works best.
Therefore, use the following tips, together with the ones I’ve mentioned above to see which one works best for your situation.
#1 — Clean Your Filter
While you mainly get an aquarium to keep fish, you also want to add decorations for better aesthetics and to provide your fishes with an ideal home.
But some of the decorative items used, such as sand and fine gravel, can be a pain in the neck when they get blown up into your filters, which occurs quite often, especially with internal units.
Algae and salt deposits from hard water do establish and can also be a problem over time. All of which results in a loud filter
Regular cleaning of your filter will help to remove such debris and detritus and keep the water flowing unrestricted with zero noise resulting clogging.
Ideally, concentrate on cleaning your filter media, impeller, inlet and outflow vents. You can also clean the water pump every once in a while, albeit needing a wash less often.
But please note that cleaning your filter too often will result in the loss of beneficial bacteria, something you don’t want to happen. So, do a little research on how to wash the type of filter you have before tossing it in water.
#2 — Lubricate Moving Filter Parts
Filter like any other mechanical units have several moving parts that might need lubricating to keep them running smoothly.
Bigger units like canisters and HOBs usually have more moving parts, as such, they are more prone to make clunking sounds and needing more lubrication.
Pay particular attention to the filter housing parts that use O-rings, gaskets, or seals.
That said, make sure you only use aquarium-safe silicone-based lubricants to keep your fish safe even if trace elements find their way into your tank accidentally.
Some fish keepers also use petroleum jelly to lubricate their external filter parts which work fine, but I would not recommend using such oils on internal or power-filters because of their close proximity to the water surface and fish.
#3— Purchase A Quieter Filter
Different filter types have varying noise footprints with some deafeningly loud and other surprisingly quiet.
Experientially, canister units tend to run silently than other types, which include HOBs and sponge filter, if used correctly. They also have superior cleaning capacity, albeit being more complicated to put together and use.
Into the bargain, it’s also possible to compare different canister filter brands to ensure you get the best. More so because, while Fluval filters are arguably the cream of the crop when it comes to aquarium clarity, they are not necessarily the quietest.
The quiet crown would go to the Penn Plax Cascade canister filter, in my opinion of course, and is also one of the most affordable alternative available in the market.
If you must use HOB or sponge filters in your aquarium, I’m sure you will get a relatively quiet option like the Aquaclear, but I would not recommend using them on bedroom aquarium, trust me you won’t sleep.
Lastly, remember to use the hacks I mentioned earlier in the article to quiet your filter if you already have either a HOB or sponge filter on your tank.
The tips might not entirely hush the sounds, but they will definitely simmer the filter down.
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