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How to Fix a Noisy Top Fin Fish Filter

When it's working properly, an aquarium filter should be making a smooth, electric, humming sound. So, what can you do if it starts making a strange noise?

The information in this help guide explains the process for examining the equipment and how to find a solution for a noisy fish tank filter.

Why Do Aquarium Filters Make Loud Noises

The common reasons why a fish tank filter has suddenly started being loud and noisy, include:

So, one of the regular questions asked by first-time aquarists is... "what should a Top Fin® fish tank filter sound like when it's working according to the manufacturer's specifications"?

It's fair to say that when modern aquarium filters are functioning normally, you should hear a quiet drone - like a purring sound.

Here's the thing:

You can consider the noise from your filter as being low if it creates no more than 40 decibels (dB). This is similar to the noise level that you might experience in a public library.

But, a decibel level above 80 (dB) is loud (about the same as a household alarm clock). If so, you may be hearing a buzzing, vibrating, or a weird rattling noise.

For example, an obstruction (or a broken part) can make a filter noisy. Even though this is not commonplace with modern aquarium accessories, you may need to think about upgrading your filtration system.

Is Loud Noise Bad for Fish?

By and large, sounds made above water tend not to travel well underwater. But, one of the important lessons for scuba divers is learning that sounds travel very well underwater if they're produced below the surface.

A good example is the deafening cacophony made by rotating boat propellers - which can be around 180 decibels (dB).

In fact, scientific studies show that fish have delicate hearing (called auditory sensitivity). In other words, almost all sea life creatures can detect weird noises, especially if a constant din is strong and loud.

Pro Tip: It's unreasonable to expect an aquarium filter to be completely noiseless. But, the Top Fin® Silenstream Power Filter is one of the quietest fish tank filters - and made specifically for aquariums for beginners.

Basic Steps for Fixing a Noisy Filter

Check for Dirt and Detritus

In the vast majority of cases, the presence of dirt or debris will be the reason your fish tank filter is making a loud noise.

Has it been a while since you last cleaned the filter? If so, this is a good place to start. A buildup of excess gunk is going to obstruct the normal water flow, which can cause elevated noise levels.

Here's the best way to clean a dirty fish filter:

Pro Tip: Another help guide explains what to do if your Top Fin filter is not working and how to change the most common replacement parts.

Is the Impeller Faulty?

The impeller, or rotor blade, uses centrifugal force to move water through the filter. Thus, sometimes the source of a noisy filter will be a defective impeller.

Loud, or even weird whirring noises, won't always mean that you have a broken rotor blade. Often, the culprit will be a lack of lubrication.

The solution?

Applying a friction reducing lubricant (e.g. Vaseline or special silicone oil) should quieten down the pump and filter.

But, the pump could be broken if there is no water moving through the filter. In most cases, this means you need to replace the impeller or buy a new aquarium filter.

Do You Have the Correct Placement?

Once you have finished setting the temperature on a Top Fin® heater you should place it in an appropriate position inside the tank.

In fact, the inappropriate placement of a fish filter is one of the common mistakes beginners make. Plus, doing so can have a significant impact on the noise level.

For example:

Is there a gap between the back of the filter and the tank glass wall? If so, the unit might be creating vibrations as it rattles against the glass. But, you could still be getting vibration-related noises even if there is no gap.

Pro Tip: There is a cheap and easy way to reduce vibrating sounds. You can make a Top Fin fish tank filter quieter by placing an aquarium sponge in the space between the glass and filter. Doing so will help to absorb any irritating vibration sounds.

Is the Water Pump Defective?

If an aquarium filter is making a weird buzzing noise, it usually points to either a defective or a completely broken water pump. Check to see if it pumps water when it's not connected to the filter assembly.

The typical reasons for pumps to make loud noises are debris, malfunctioning parts, or cracks in the assembly. So, you'll need to replace it if the problem is because of a faulty part.

Is the Water Flow Rate Set Too High?

There are several moving parts in modern aquarium filters. As a result, it is normal to hear a slight buzzing sound when they are working properly. But, setting the water flow rate too high can exacerbate the reverberation.


Think about this. All the moving parts need to operate faster, with greater friction, when the flow rate is at a high setting.

Pro Tip: It's important not to decrease the flow too much. Doing so is likely to affect the cleaning efficiency and a faster build-up of water pollution.

When to Upgrade the Filter

So, you tried troubleshooting all the reasons why your Top Fin® filter is noisy and you still can't find a solution? If so, it may be a good time to replace it - especially if it's an outdated version.

It goes without saying, aquarium filters are always going to be louder as they get old. We also should accept that buying one of the latest models - with innovative noise reduction features - is going to be much quieter.

Related Information and Help Guides

Pro Tip: The short video tutorial [6:41 seconds] presented by 'More Palmer Aquatics' explains some simple fixes and adjustments to try when a hang-on-the-back aquarium filter stops working.

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