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Properly Cleaning Filter Pads – Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Picture of Matala Filter Pads.

Water Gardens & Features Q & A

Q: I have been cleaning my filter pads once a week with a garden hose because they are filled with gunk all the time. This doesn’t seem normal. How often should I be cleaning my filter pads? – Tonie of Massachusetts

A: There are quite a few customers that I talk with that don’t know why their filter pads build up with “gunk” so fast. I didn’t understand it either when I first stepped foot into water gardens, but filter pads provide a very important role in your water garden’s ecosystem and in reality should not be cleaned very often.

The Purpose of Filter Pads
Filter pads (or other filter media) contain a large amount of surface area. This surface area within time will grow increasing amounts of beneficial bacteria. This beneficial bacteria (also called nitrifying bacteria) will break down ammonia from fish waste into nitrates. Also, some customers mistakenly believe this beneficial bacteria is “gunk” and will unfortunately clean it off having to have the beneficial bacteria start over again!

The Proper Way to Clean Filter Pads
If the “gunk” on your filter pads becomes over abundant and restricts water flow from your pump, only then would it be necessary to clean them. Usually when this is the case, it has a buildup of other debris besides beneficial bacteria. To properly clean the filter pads I suggest to take a bucket of water from your water garden and dip the filter pad into the bucket knocking off any debris and leaving the “gunk”. I DO NOT recommend using tap water from your garden hose to do this because the water contains heavy metals or chlorine that will kill off the beneficial bacteria on your filter pads. After cleaning your filter pads or if you accidentally used tap water to clean them, you can use PL Gel. PL Gel is like injecting beneficial bacteria directly into your filter pad. PL Gel will reduce bacteria start-up time by up to 80%. I have found it to be very successful.

Yearly Maintenance & Replacement
You should really only have to clean your filter pads a couple times a year. Once during spring startup and again during fall shutdown. Most filter pads will last up to a year before you should have to replace them. If you are looking for longer lasting filter pads we highly suggest the Matala Filter Pads. They will last several years.

POND TALK: Tell us how often you clean your filter pads?

24 Responses

  1. I have to clean my filter pads every other day or the water goes down and my pump starts gurgling which I cleaned them out last night today I went outside and it’s a gurgling. I cleaned the pad again and it still gurgling so I unplug the pump to get a part and cleaned off the bottom of the pumper sucks the water in because there was some debris there and I plugged it back in it’s doing the same thing the water levels going way down and the pump is gurgling and I don’t want to burn it up. So how do I get the water out of the skimmer so I can see under the pump and see if there’s any debris down in there. Please help because I’m 67 my husband’s got cancer and I have no family left at all I have no friends here where I live because I’m in a small town. The only Pond Place is out of town and they don’t like to come way out here so I need some help please somebody please help me. Thank you so very much

    • Hi Denise – Do you have your pump sitting inside a skimmer? Do you know what size pump you have and if you do use a skimmer what flow rate it is designed for? If the media pads were clean and the pump is running dry in a short period of time usually you see that happen if the pump is too large for the skimmer or the water level is not high enough on the skimmer. If you are using a skimmer the water level should be only an inch below the opening.

      • Thank you for your help you’re the only one I could get to respond to me but in the meantime I finally figured it out that the pond was low on water. I had the pond built two years ago with an water Auto refill and the valve leaks on my husband had to unhook it. I had forgotten that there is no Auto refill. My husband has cancer and is not living in the house anymore so I was unable to get information from him. Life seems to be hard and I’m bearable at times when you get older and no one there’s wanting to help but I appreciate you answering my email more than you know. It’s late but at least you were helpful and it was the right answer. Thank you so very much for your kindness and help.

      • I apologize for the delay in response Denise, little slower to respond over the weekend, but I’m so glad you were able to discover the issue. I’m sorry to hear of your husband having cancer, I know that must be tough and we will keep both of you in our thoughts. Please let us know if you need help with any other pond issues.

      • Kathy,
        You can’t begin to know how much your kind words mean to me.
        Thank you so much for being so thoughtful I really do appreciate it.

        Kindest regards, Denise Toman

  2. We have algae in our pond this spring as well and we have to clean it like every 2-3 days or it stops the water flow. Super annoying I’d personally just like to get rid of the thing but my husband likes the gold fish. We have a pond master square 12×12 filter with those 1 white and the 1 black square filters that go in it. We spray with the hose to clean them out. Smells awful. It’s a small pond maybe 50-70 gallons. There is a lot of fish in it, they were here when we bought the house. I think there are 6 or 7.

    • Hi Terri – Have you tried using natural bacteria such as Liquid Clear or Muck Defense? The natural bacteria will help breakdown the muck and fish waste and may reduce how often you need to rinse your filter.

      • We did find a liquid to kill the algae so we are in the process of trying that.

      • Hope you are able to enjoy the pond soon, keep us posted!

  3. Once a week maybe more especially if I use an algaecide. I stopped using algaecide and bought some snails. I bought 6 golf ball size snails and one died within a week but I think the rest are still doing their thing.

    • I clean my filter big matala filter pads 3 times a weak and it stops the water from flowing no matter how good I clean them. What should I do? I live in Bisbee Arizona.

      • Hi Talon – Does the water go through a skimmer net or box before getting to the Matala filter pads? What color/densities do you have? We recommend the water flows the lowest density filter pad first.

  4. I have to clean my filters at a minimum of once a week. That ‘gunk’ seems to buildup quickly and does restrict water to the pump. All this time I really thought that the ‘gunk’ was just stuff being filtered through ie fish elimination etc…. I also use the hose to clean it, but have good well water and don’t have to worry about chorine and other metals. I do have 7 koi in my 1800 gal water garden, and realize that’s a couple too many.

    So, how do I tell the difference between ‘beneficial bacteria’ and ‘gunk’?

    • Pam,

      I want to make sure we are talking about the same thing. When the “gunk” builds up and restricts the flow to your pump, I am assuming you have a pump that sits directly into the water and that it has a pre-filter on it? Is this correct? Or does your pump sit inside a skimmer?

      Is this particular question and answer, I was referring to the filter pads that are either in a pressurized filter (sits outside of your pond) or a waterfall filter (filter designed to create a waterfall). It is the filter pads here that are most important when it comes to how you should properly clean the filter pads.

      If your pre-filter on your pump is getting clogged with debris, then you will have to clean it or this could cause issues with your pump. These “pre-filters” are not designed to to be filters for your entire pond, only to be a pre-filter for the pump and not allow certain sized debris to get caught in the prop.

      Hopefully this makes sense.

      Also, as for 7 koi in an 1800 gallon water garden, you actually should be good. Thats not a bad fish load.

  5. I have to clean my filter pad about every other day so far this season because of hair algae bloom early this spring. I used to clean it every 3-4 days.

    • Hey Simon,

      How many fish do you have and approximately what is the size of your pond? Maybe we can pin down whats causing the algae bloom so you don’t have to clean so much.

      Let me know!

  6. The recent buidup of gunk that the Massachusetts pond ownert spoke of was probably due to heavy pollen falling into the pond during the spring. I had to give my ponds a good bottom scrubbing and then a vacuuming to clean it up. Now, the water is as clear as usual. The pond vacuums that the Pond Guy sells do a nice job of vacuuming the pond’s bottom and sides.

  7. I clean my skimmer filter about every 3 days by then it is restricting my pump. what am I doing wrong?

    • Allen,
      What kind of skimmer filter do you have? Does it have filter pads in it or just a skimmer debris basket? If its just the basket you should be fine, but you must be receiving a ton of debris if that debris basket is filling up and restricting flow to your pump in just a few days. Let me know!

  8. I have several areas for filtration in my pond. I have a skimmer basket that contains filter material, behind that I have a black, green, and blue Matala pads. Then the water gets pumped to my three stage filtration system. (Three barrels, with a fiber mat in the first two, and the thirs barrel is filled with lava rock, and then to the falls and back into the water.) I have to clean out the filter media in my skimmer basket about once or twice a week due to GREEN GUNK buildup, but as the seaon progresses, I find myself doing it less and less, I guess the benificial bacteria are starting to win the war sort of speak. So far, so good, knock on wood. I also put blue dye in my pond to cut down on algae growth.

    • I do not have as many areas of filtration as you, but I find that I too am cleaning the filter media once or twice a week due to the dreaded green gunk. I am still waiting for the bacteria to pick up speed. Do you find that there is a difference in the media pads that you are using? Mine are all regular white. Also, does the blue dye really help to cut down on the algae growth?

      • Maureen,

        The blue dye is a life saver, it also makes my pond look more natural with the blue tint. The water has been crystal clear this year, knock on wood, and the fish can be seen all the way to the rocky bottom. I have finally accomplished getting all the bottom debris off my pond’s bottom, and I do believe that my bio filtration is starting to do the job. I bought this house from a guy that was a lineman for our local power company, and he put in the pond. Here is what I have. My skimmer/pump area is an old bucket from a cherry picker truck, so it is about 4′ deep. My pump sits in the back on top of a concrete block. The water comes in a hole cut into the top of this bucket, got into a basket that has some white filtration media in it, and then through a black, then green, and finally blue Matala mats and then gets pumped to the other side of my pond into a three barrel filter, with the final barrel being full of lava rock in media bags as another area of bio filtration. If you give me your email address, I could send you some photos. I used to have to clean the white media in the skimmer basket about once a day, but now I am down to once a week with the green gunk that starts to restrict the flow to my pump. I check it often to make sure my pump is still getting water to it. I also have a barley bail in one of my barrels, and some barley in a bag near my falls. That too may be helping with my algae this year. I knew nothing last year, and I am learning by leaps and bounds, but I still have a long way to go. I use MicrobLift PL once a week as well.

        Hope this helps you!

  9. Sometimes the gunk that you refer to is from frogs that are in their reproductive life style.

    • All my frogs died this spring. Found 10 dead frogs, don’t know why either. Water tests fine. I just kept finding dead frogs on the bottom of my pond in March and April. I would see them alive, and then a few days later, they would be dead. Have not heard one frog in my pond all spring! I miss them!

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