In my experience AquaClears are the best hang-on-back filters on the market. They have a massive amount of media and exceptional flow. Both the flow and amount of media are comparable to canister filters. However, the only problem with them is their intake strainer. Frankly, it is horrible. They pull all that flow through that little tiny strainer and it just doesn’t spread out the flow enough. I have seen healthy fish become stuck to the strainer and even had a mystery snail pulled out of its shell by the flow on an AquaClear 110.
Fortunately there are many options now on the market to help address this problem. They all have their pros and cons.
AquaClear Quick Filter:
This isn’t necessarily made for AquaClear hang-on-back filters (they are actually made for AquaClear powerheads, which of course have a slightly different intake on them so it doesn’t fit perfectly). Since they don’t fit properly on their own you need to use a zip tie to attach the intake strainer on the AquaClear to the white grating on the inside of the Quick Filter. It works with or without the white mesh filter pad in the Quick Filter. They are pretty big and bulky though. And it always bothered me that there were three layers of plastic mesh between the tank’s water and the actual intake pipe of the AquaClear.
DIY AquaClear Foam:
If you take the foam for an AquaClear 50 it fits well over the intake strainer of an AquaClear 70 or 110. Just cut a slit right down the middle of it lengthwise, just don’t go all the way through. Take the foam and slide it right on to the intake strainer. You may need to use a zip tie to keep it in place. The down side to this is that the foam will collect debris so you will have to occasionally take it out and clean it. It also looks pretty bad.
Sponge Filters made for filter intakes:
At least one company has started making sponge filters specifically for going on filter intakes. They do work well but like the DIY version using foam they do collect debris and therefore need to be cleaned. In addition they are not that cheap at about $15 shipped if I remember correctly (I bought one for a client on eBay). They also look bad, taking up a lot of space in the tank. I personally don’t like the idea of having another filter on my filter, just more to clean. You can use it without foam but it looks even worse and is a lot of money to spend on a grate.
DIY black needlepoint canvas:
I got sick of not having better options and one day when I tried to use a Quick Filter and it wouldn’t fit on the tank (intake was too close to the back wall of the tank) I finally made my own strainer. I used black needlepoint canvas from the craft store and zip ties. I wish I had taken pictures while I made it but I wasn’t sure it was even going to work. I simply wrapped it around the tube to get the right diameter and kept the length nice and long so it would definitely cover the intake and go up the intake pipe enough to fit securely. I overlapped the squares of mesh by one square rather than the mesh barely meeting to give a better grip for the zip ties. I zip tied a square of needlepoint canvas on the end and cut the corners to cap it off. The final touch was running a zip tie through the mesh and tightening it on to the intake pipe so it fit snugly and wouldn’t come off. This is by far the best strainer I have ever used and it is the cheapest at less than $1 for the mesh and zip ties (maybe a little over $1, but you will be buying more materials than you will use in that case, so you will have extra for next time). I have not had any issues at all yet, even with small guppies and slow fancy goldfish. I completely cut off the intake strainer on the intake pipe in order to reduce any resistance to the flow of water. This looks great, blends in well, and works perfectly.