How to Clean the API Filstar XPL (Rena XP3) Canister Filter

I’m in the process of writing up a review of my new API Filstar XPL (use to be called Rena XP3) Canister Filter when I thought I could also share how I go about cleaning the thing. This can be helpful for people who have never owned a canister filter and are interested in knowing what is involved in cleaning them. I know for myself I was a bit hesitant in thinking it would be pretty complex compared to the basic HOB (Hang on Back) filters.

When I clean my canister, I like to start the tank draining so I can do a water change at the same time. Since it takes a long time to gravity drain a large 125 gallon tank I have plenty of time to get the canister cleaned while it is doing this and not come back to an empty tank. Use your own judgement on if this will work for you or not.

The first step of course is to unplug the filter. Once it is off, pull up on the quick release handle for the hoses. Be sure to carefully (slowly) lift the hoses to allow the small bit of water in the connector to drain into the canister. I leave a towel under it to catch the little bit of water that is left.

API XPL Rena XP3 Canister Filter Tubing

Canister Filter Tubing and Quick Disconnect

Next you just lift the canister out of your stand and carry it to a large sink or bathtub for cleaning. On the lid of the canister there are handholds you can use, remember that it is full of water and therefor will have some weight to it.

Rena XP3 API XPL Handles

Handles on the side of canister lid

Lift away all the latches holding the lid to the base of the canister.

Rena XP3 - API XPL - Canister Latches

Undo the latches on the lid of the canister

Set the lid aside upside down, the large circle in the center is where the impeller is. The impeller is what pumps the water and should be cleaned occasionally. You shouldn’t have to do this every time you clean your canister. Once a year to maybe twice a year is all you need to do that.

Rena XP3 API XPL Impeller Housing

Bottom of the lid where the impeller is located

To remove the impeller just twist the circle to unlock it then pull it out.

Rena XP3 - API XPL - Impeller

Impeller after it is removed from the lid

You can remove the impeller from the shaft by simply pulling it off. Rinse in water to clean, but do not use soap of any kind.

Rena XP3 - API XPL - Impeller Removed

Impeller removed from drive shaft

Next you should remove the cover for the media baskets and cringe at how nasty dirty that media is looking.

Very dirty canister filter pad

Very dirty canister filter pad

I know what you’re thinking, that it’s so bad and so nasty that there is no hope of saving those filter pads and you’ll need to get thick rubber gloves and throw that thing away. In reality you would be quite surprised at how clean you can get those pads! I recommend just taking them to the sink and begin rinsing and squeezing them out.

Rise out dirty filter pads in the sink

Rise out dirty filter pads in the sink

Yes, you heard me right, use the sink. You may be screaming at your computer right now that you’re suppose to use old tank water because the chlorine in tap water will kill the beneficial bacteria in the media. You are correct that the chlorine will kill the bacteria, however it is important to also remember that the majority of the beneficial bacteria is in the substrate, decorations, and walls of the aquarium itself and not in the filter media. In old tanks you will not see any kind of a mini cycle if you rinse or even replace your filter media, the only time you need to be careful with your media is if your tank is still new (less than 6 months).

Cleaned canister filter pad after washing

Cleaned canister filter pad after washing

Ta-da! See, now that pad looks almost brand new! In fact, the specks you see in my filter pad above are actually Malaysian Trumpet Snails that made their way into the filter. Filter pads can be reused like this until they either start to fall apart or they lose their shape and no longer fill the media basket and thus allowing water to bypass them. After that, any remaining pads and sponges in your media baskets will not look so hopeless!

Dirty canister filter sponge

Dirty canister filter sponge doesn’t look as bad since it started out black to being with

The last step for actual cleaning is to go after your pre-filter media, if you use it of course. Some people just use sponges for their first stage, but I like to use the Fluval Prefilter Ceramic Rings as they do a great job in catching the large particles. For example, when a plant sheds a leaf and it gets sucked up into the filter it will get caught in these rings and not clog up the finer sponges and pads. To clean I just run them under water and shake the basket around, along with mixing the media around with my hands.

Dirty Fluval Prefilter Ceraming Rings

Dirty Fluval Prefilter Ceramic Rings

That’s it! For cleaning at least, how you have to put it all back together.

Clean media back in their baskets

Clean media back in their baskets

This is easy though, just put your baskets back into the canister in the order you started with. First stage first, last stage last, easy enough to remember.

Rena XP3 - API XPL - Media Baskets

Media baskets placed back inside the canister filter

Once your baskets are back in place, put the basket lid back on and be sure you have the side with the printing on it up. This is pretty easy since the printing says “This side up” =)

Rena XP3 - API XPL - Media Basket Lid

Media basket lid placed on top of media baskets with correct side facing up

Last of all you need to put on the canister’s lid and snap all the latches to seal it up. It may not be a bad idea to add a bit of grease to the rubber seal to keep it lubricated and avoid it drying out on you. If it dries, it will crack, and if it cracks it will leak.

Now that your canister is nice and clean now, you just have to bring it back to your aquarium and attach the hoses again. Don’t open up the quick release valves yet though! You wait to wait to do that until you refill the aquarium with water so that when you do open up the quick release valves water will drain by gravity into the canister getting it primed and ready to go. As you can see from the picture below, by the time I’m finished cleaning the canister the tank has drained enough to be filled back up with fresh water.

125 Gallon Aquarium Water Change

125 gallon aquarium water change perfect timing

Once your tank is full, and you’ve opened the valves, you’re ready to go! Once the filter is full of water, plug in your canister and you should hear it start right up and blow out the last bit of air in the system. That’s it! You’re done! Good job, and enjoy your nice clean filter. You should clean your filter out whenever you notice a decrease in flow, the time that will take depends on your fish load and if you have live plants.

Happy cleaning!

API Filstar XP-L Canister Filter

New From: $159.97 USD In Stock

6 thoughts on “How to Clean the API Filstar XPL (Rena XP3) Canister Filter

  1. I followed the steps but its blowing out tiny micro bubbles and actually blowing out the dirt WHAT SHOULD I DO??????

    • Hello!

      After cleaning and opening the valve above the filter, it should start filling with water on its own. Once the filter is completely full of water you can plug it back in. If it does not fill with water on its own, close the valve again and fill the intake tube with water via the screw on cap at the top of the intake. Once the tube is full, put the cap back on and re-open the valve. Gravity should take care of the rest.

      In the first few seconds the filter will blow out any remaining air, and you’ll get some small air bubbles that can last a few minutes. If after an hour it’s still shooting out some air you can try tilting the filter around to get out some of the air. If after an hour it is still doing that you likely have an air leak. The leak could be either the valve assembly not being all the way in, the gasket around the lid, or your hoses are not on all the way (either end). Push down on the valve & lid to see if it stops, if it does then your problem is either the valves seal to the filter, or the filter lids seal to the bucket. Otherwise try squeezing the hoses at each connection one at a time until you find the problem.

      As for debris, that’s the gunk that gets built up in the exhaust hose getting blasted out and I’m afraid there isn’t really any easy way to avoid that, it should stop in a couple seconds since it’s just the stuff that was build up in the hose and the violent blast of air/water knocks it loose when you turn the filter back on. You can clean the hoses by attaching a cloth to a piece of string, on the other end of the string attach a weight that will easily fit through the tube. You will have to remove the intake/outtake attachments and the valve. Drop the weighted end through until it comes out the other end, then pull to force the cloth end through the hose. I’d only recommend going through the effort of cleaning the hoses if the buildup is severe enough to affect the flow.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Wow thank you SO MUCH for this article. I was freaking out thinking my water filter was broken because it wasn’t starting after a cleaning. I followed your directions to clean the motor and now it works beautifully. I never would have known if it weren’t for this article. THANK YOU!!

  3. Wouldn’t a sponge prefilter reduce the need to clean so often, and eliminate gunk and leaves (and snails) :) sucked into the unit while providing even more surface area for bio functions? This was a very helpful review on cleaning it, by the way. Thanks!

    • It would reduce the amount of leaves, but that’s about it. Snails will make their way through no mater what, and any leaves caught on the sponge would biodegrade on the sponge and still break down small enough to eventually make their way into the filter and add to the ‘sludge’.

      Canister filters usually have enough space for pre-filter media though, so not really any benefit like you’d get with a HOB filter. I have the Fluval ceramic pre-filter rings in my canister which keep any large debris from clogging my pads.

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