07-24-2012, 01:10 PM
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I don't replace my filter media until they fall apart, or loose shape so gaps form letting water past without going through.
I don't use carbon though, activated carbon only lasts a couple weeks before getting exhausted, but only the carbon needs replaced. The filter pad does not.
Better filters will have each part seperate so you don't have to replace it all at once, but most HOBs use cartridges. This is why for a HOB I recommend the Aquaclear filters (or canisters for larger tanks).
I would not replace the cartridge during the cycle, the filter is where most of the bacteria will be in a new tank. Eventually it will be everywhere but in the start most is in the filter.
If yours is cartridge based, I recommend getting a pre-filter sponge to put on the HOB's intake tube. You just squeeze it out a few times in old tank water and put it back on, forever. I get the ones at Petsmart made by Fluval, it's for their Edge tanks but it fits on pretty much every HOB in existance, they are around $2. That way you always have something on the filter keeping bacteria plus it helps keep the pad clear from getting clogged.