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Lost Eventide 07-22-2012 08:43 PM

Filter malfunction: how long are bacteria safe when the filter stops running?
I know this is probably a bit long. I bolded my main questions so they are easier to find, I just tend to type a lot.

So, I had a mini-heart attack when I got home today. We were away at family's like we normally are on Sundays (we left around three, got home around nine, so roughly six hours), and when I got home I went to put the weekly fertilizer in my 29g only to find the filter was not running. It's a Tetra Whisper 30.

I panicked and fooled around with it a bit (while freaking out and trying to figure out where I could possibly buy a new filter at 9:00 on a Sunday night in an attempt to save my bacteria) and thankfully got it to start going again. The only thing I can think is maybe the accordion piece from the biowheel I'm seeding slipped and jammed the intake temporarily.

I have no idea how long the filter was out, though I did pull up my main filter sponge and it did seem to be still damp at the very least, and I do have water going through it again. However, how do you think my bacteria stand? How long can they usually survive when a filter starts to dry out? Is there any buffer time at all once a filter is completely dry (which I, thankfully, don't think mine was).

Normally I would just take a deep breath and say "okay, fish-in cycle, daily water changes," but I'm going away to school in roughly a month, which I'm not sure is enough time for a fish-in cycle to complete. I'm leaving the tank to my mom and stepdad to feed while I'm away, and I should be home on weekends frequently enough to take care of water changes in an established tank seeing my campus is only a little more than an hour away, but there is no way I'd be able to keep ammonia/nitrite levels down if it's still cycling by the time I leave. My mom has never kept a tank in her life, while my stepdad kept a saltwater tank ages ago, but I'm not sure if he fully maintained it himself or just forgot/did a lot of things differently seeing he doesn't seem to be terribly familiar with the water change process and conditioning water and such.

Plus he wanted to use bleach to clean away some of the calcium build-up on my hood and filter, so I'm hesitant about leaving anything with general tank maintenance up to him. I told him bleach was not good for fish obviously, and he has stayed far away from my tank when he's carrying his trusty bleach bottle around since then, so I doubt anything really bad would happen, I'm just a bit iffy. He's excellent with raising tropical plants like palms and such even in Pennsylvania, but for watering he can get away with just spraying them with the hose and dousing them with straight tap water without any sort of conditioner. Hence why I had a mini-panic attack.

I do have live plants, but it is by no means plant-dependent seeing it's not yet planted heavily enough, and I just changed my substrate from gravel to sand, so I'm not sure there would be a ton of bacteria in the substrate either.

I'm going to test the water first thing tomorrow morning to see if there's an ammonia/nitrite build-up. I may be jumping the gun a bit here, but this is possibly one of the less favourable times for the biological filter to risk crashing.

Chesh 07-22-2012 08:52 PM

I've read so much information on this. . . it boggles my mind. I don't have an answer for you, but I'm betting you'll be just fine - especially with the plants in there. We recently lost power for nearly FIVE DAYS, and yes - I agitated the water and did water changes, but I slept at night, too (as well as I was able in the ridiculous heat wave!) and I never saw a wiggle in my numbers when I tested for ammonia, nitrate, or nitrite. Additionally, the filter that I had on MY tank seeding was was able to start a new tank perfectly a week and a half to two weeks later. So. . . I'm not an expert, some people told me that it would only last about as long as necessary to do a water change, but someone else pointed out that they use filter media in the bag when they ship fish to keep things stable in the bag, and some people online even sell/ship filter media to others who need a kickstart to their cycle. 6 hours out should be a walk in the park!

Do you water testing, please - do your changes, too. Can't hurt to play it safe and be extra careful. Skip a feeding or two, and feed lightly for a week - juuuuuuust to be sure. But I bet you'll be just fine! G'luck!

Lost Eventide 07-22-2012 09:42 PM

Okay! Thanks for the reassurance. I'm definitely going to check the parameters first thing in the morning just to see if there is a noticeable build-up at all. I just did my weekly water change on Friday, so I'm hoping if there ends up being a reading at all it will be well in the manageable category.

Lol, my poor guys may be be sorely disappointed though. Whenever I open the lid of the tank they all shoot to the top and start nibbling on my fingers/tweezers/whatever else I put in the tank seeing they know the lid normally means food. Wait until they find out it may be extra water changes on top of a little diet instead.

However, my filter ended up shutting down again while I've been home. Well, not exactly shutting down seeing it was still operating and making noise, but it stopped taking in water until I pulled the intake out and settled it back in again. I wish I knew what was causing it. It's well above the substrate line, and the water is not low at all. I also felt around to see if sand or something got sucked into the intake because maybe my pleco kicked some up while he was rooting around, but nothing was in there either xx;

I hope it's not trying to tell me it really needs replaced now. I've been meaning to upgrade my filtration capacity sooner or later anyway to maybe the next size up just so I have a buffer on how well it deals with filtration in general (better to have a little more than not enough!), but I was hoping that was something that could wait for next summer.

Chesh 07-22-2012 10:14 PM

*fingers crossed*
Let me know how everything goes, and I hope you are able to figure out what the problem is with the filter :/ That sucks!
If you have a spare bubbler, you might want to consider tossing that in there, just to be even safer. . .

Lost Eventide 07-23-2012 01:12 PM

Well, checked my levels this morning and ammonia and nitrite are both zero, so there was no build-up whatsoever. If there was any die-off at all from partially drying out, it doesn't seem like it was enough to cause any problems.

The filter also hasn't shut down anymore, so I'm hoping that was just a fluke. Regardless, I'm going to keep my eye out for filter sales just in case. I'm going to keep an eye on things for the next week or so just to make sure there aren't any spikes though.

Unfortunately, I don't have a spare bubbler at the moment. I had one in there but removed it when I added plants, and the pump is now operating the sponge filter on my betta tank xD

Chesh 07-23-2012 02:03 PM

At least everything is okay :) You might want to consider getting a bubbler JIC it stops working before you find a sale. It'll be safer with the bubbles in, should something happen, you can just switch 'em on!

Glad to hear everything is well over there. Aquarium bacteria seems to be tougher stuff than some people give it credit for! (thank goodness!)

Byron 07-23-2012 05:53 PM

You have solved the problem, or rather there were no issues so it is solved. But for reference you might want to read this article on bacteria:

Shutting off the filter for several hours will usually kill most of the nitrifying bacteria, perhaps for lack of oxygen from the water flow having stopped but more probably from the suffocation of the nitrifying bacteria by the anaerobic bacteria as explained in that article. Your plants helped with this, however many/few they may be. And bacteria elsewhere in the aquarium would also be a factor.

I rinse my filters under the tap, which is much the same result...killing the nitrifying bacteria. But this is never an issue if there are live plants and the aquarium is balanced and established. It is usually wise to rinse the filter if it has been off for an extended period; this removes the sludge and allows the bacteria to re-establish more easily.


Chesh 07-23-2012 07:52 PM

Was hoping you'd chime in here - you have a wonderful way of clarifying things, and making it all so SIMPLE! Thanks, Byron . . . good to know!

Lost Eventide 07-24-2012 11:44 AM

Okay, thanks for clarifying, Byron =3 The article was a really good read. I normally do rinse my filters off in a bucket of old aquarium water during water changes, so I haven't noticed any sludge build-up fortunately. If I was lucky it just went off soon before I got home.

Thanks for the information! I'll be sure to keep that article in mind.

jaysee 07-24-2012 02:04 PM

I left the marine land 250 HOT canister unplugged since June 13. It's a quarantine tank with virtually no substrate and no decor. The water was left in the filter. There were MTS in the tank, and I added a fish on Wednesday. I tested today and got zero ammonia and zero nitrite. That's 6 weeks with the filter turned off.

I'm going to add a few platys and see what happens.

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