How to Clean Activated Carbon for Aquarium? [Step By Step Guide]

How to Clean Activated Carbon for Aquarium

Activated carbon is a widely used water filtration agent. People have been using this for a long time to preserve their fish tank. If you have an interest in fish keeping, you will know the benefits of using activated carbon in aquariums. But, what happens after the carbon stops working?  How to clean activated carbon for aquariums?

Activated carbon usually has a short life span. When you put it in your aquarium, it starts working right away. It discards the toxin substances like chlorine and heavy metals. You can see the water getting cleaner, giving off a fresh smell that is healthy for the fish living in the tank.

But it will wear off after a period. The depletion of activated carbon takes almost three or four weeks. Some might not last that long due to the dirty water condition of the aquarium. To utilize it to the fullest extent, make sure your aquarium is clean before putting the Activated Carbon in it.



So, when do you know that your activated carbon has stopped working?  It is when you notice the water color turning into a yellow one, but the most significant change will be the scent. You can’t always detect the color change. So if you start getting an odd smell from the water, you will know that it is time to change the carbon.

How To Clean Activated Carbon?

Sometimes activated carbon gets jammed up by the existing debris of the tank. In that case, you just have to clean the charcoal filter, and it will start working fine like before. Cleaning activated carbon is not a hard thing to do. You only need to take some proper measures regarding the cleaning method.

  • Step 1: First of all, shut off all the electrical connections of the aquarium. If you have any water controlling valve, switch it off as well. Then carefully remove the filter bag from the aquarium.
  • Step 2: After carefully taking off the filter, move it to a basin or bathtub. Try to avoid spilling the dirty water on the floor.
  • Step 3: Your filter could have the charcoal in a casing, or in a loose state. Either way, take out the container or the loose charcoal from the filter.
  • Step 4: Immerse the charcoal into distilled warm water for five minutes. Then again rinse it with running water for several minutes. It will eradicate any extra residues from the charcoal body.
  • Step 5: After cleaning it thoroughly, take out the activated carbon. Now try holding up the coal near your ear. Can you hear anything? If you can hear faint cracks or crunching sound coming from it, put it back in the filter. If no sound can be heard, then the carbon is no longer functional. You need to replace it.

Changing Activated Carbon

Sometimes activated carbon gets clogged due to debris in the tank water. After cleaning the charcoal filter, if you see that it is no longer functioning, you should opt-out for a replacement. Remember to use it with a good quality filter bag. Otherwise, it won’t be able to work properly. 

Activated carbon should be changed once it loses its functional ability. Not that it affects the aquarium environment in any way, in fact, it won’t be a problem even if you forget to replace it. But the replacement is necessary to maintain the tank’s healthy environment.

The activated carbon is a multi porous particle. When it is put in the water, the pores either trap the organic chemicals or bind with them. Thus the contaminants get plugged into the AC. But the more it cleans the wastes, the more activity it loses. And at some point, it stops working.

Some say if you reheat it, you can reuse activated carbon even after it loses its effectiveness. But that is not possible. You have to use extreme temperatures to reactivate the carbon, which is not possible in our normal ovens. You will need special equipment to do that.

You just need to be a little cautious about using activated carbon. Observe if it needs to be cleaned or you should do a total replacement. Leaving it unattended may not harm the water at all, but for better safety, you should change the deactivate carbon with a new one.

Final Words:

For an aquarist, fishkeeping is more than a hobby sometimes. You have to maintain the tank environment for keeping the fish in a healthy place to live. Changing the fish tank water regularly, keeping it clean, etc. are some of the things we must do from time to time.

But we sometimes forget to do the regular thing. It could slip out of our minds, which is not a big issue. In such cases, using activated carbon is going to give your aquarium extra security. It will remove the toxic chemicals, and also keep the water fresh and clean.


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