The Emperor series of hang on back filters are an excellent choice for most aquariums. There is plenty of room for extra media and the spraybars help keep the biowheels in motion, a problem that the spraybar-less Penguins have. There are a few issues with the Emperor, however. One, the cost of media replacement is a bit on the silly side. It’s not that expensive, but there’s no need to pay for a whole new set of cartridges when only the carbon needs replacing. Then there’s the issue of how to get the carbon out when medicating the tank becomes necessary. Removal of the cartriges could spell disaster for the cycled tank that has taken so long to stablish. Finally, the fact that a lot of good bacteria grow on the filter cartridges is also a problem because the carbon must be replaced relatively frequently, thus destroying all the wonderful bacteria. With all this in mind, here are some solutions to these problems, solutions that could easily be adapted to other filters of similar design.
First, purchase your favorite brand of carbon. I prefer Diamond carbon, in the handy jar. If you want something other than carbon or a carbon mix, that’s fine as well. Taking a razor blade, make a slit through the blue floss material at the top of the cartridge. Best way is same-direction strokes to avoid too much ripping of the material.
Now, get a plastic bag, preferably in a garbage can, and shake carbon contents out. You will need to reach in with a spoon or your hand to dig out the carbon as well as tap the cartridge to loosen the granules. Eventually, most will come out. No need to remove all, it takes long enough just to get the majority out! Now, take a few spoonfuls of the carbon/chemical resin and pour it into the cartridge through the slit. Shake to distribute evenly.
Rinse out, IN DECHLORINATED WATER (otherwise the existing beneficial bacteria could be killed), and replace in tank. If slit is high enough, carbon will remain in cartridge until it’s time for another change. Now you can save all those beneficial bacteria until the cartridge is too beaten up to use After a few months, it will show wear and tear, the plastic may start to break as mine is, but so long as it’s intact and doing it’s job keep using it. A replacement will only be needed when the cartridge is damaged beyond usability. Carbon replacement can be done every month to two months, though your mileage may vary.
No need to change a cartridge if it’s clogged with fish wastes. Simply fill a large bowl with either tank water or dechlorinated tap water at a temperature near the tank’s temperature and swish the cartridge in the bowl, rubbing lightly to remove all extra particles. Filter will look much better and most of the bacteria will be intact.
The Emperors come with filter media baskets. USE THEM! You may stuff these with anything you desire, and it’s in your best interests to place anything you can in these baskets. In my Emp 400 baskets, I have ceramic biomedia in one and crushed coral in the other (not only does it provide a good surface for bacteria, but it raises pH and hardens my water which I need for the cichlids). This way, a good source of bacteria will build up on those cartridges. Keep them carbon-free! If the need to medicate the whole tank arises, remove the cartridges that contain carbon and leave the filter media baskets in place. These will maintain biological filtration. For mechanical filtration, floss can easily be stuffed in the place of the cartridges that were removed. When the treatment is finished, replace with NEW cartridges, as the bacteria would likely be dead by this point.
Rather than use the suggested Emperor filter cartridges, filter floss may be used as the mechanical filtration. One media basket can hold a fine mesh bag of carbon and the other basket can hold media of choice. This way, when medicating is required, all that’s required to remove is the basket containing the carbon.
These money- and bacteria- saving tips should definitely help out anyone who owns an Emperor or similar filter.