Changing the Filter Media in Home Water Filter Tanks: The Hard Part Is Getting the Old Media Out

Home tank-style water filters, either backwashing filters or simple “in/out” units that do not backwash, are essentially trouble-free performers, but eventually, usually after a few years of service, the filter medium inside the tank has to be removed and replaced. Removal is usually the hard part of the job.

Professional water treatment dealers often have special tools and tricks to make media change easy. They also may have a couple of muscular young guys who are used to dealing with heavy tanks.

Here are a few tricks for homeowners, who usually have none of the above.

If the filter is small, and if it is installed in an easily accessible location, the job can be pretty easy.  If the filter is large–like a 13″ X 54″ tank, for example–and/or if it is installed in a hard-to-reach spot, the job won’t be easy.

After you have turned off your water supply to the filter and disconnected it from your plumbing, you can open the filter by simply screwing the control head off of the tank.  It’s like a lid on a bottle. No tool is needed, but if it’s on tight it may be a two person job, with one holding the tank and the other screwing off the control head. Tip: If your filter has a Fleck 2510 control valve, don’t remove the clamp just above the lip of the tank. Screw the entire head, clamp and all, out of the tank.

With a small tank that’s easily accessed, the best strategy is to muscle the tank outdoors or to a floor drain, invert it and dump out the water and media inside. If you’re outdoors, it’s very easy to tilt the tank to a 45 degree angle and insert a garden hose, with water running, into the tank to rinse out the media.

However, if the tank is large and heavy, and especially if it is installed in a cramped space where is would be hard to remove, a

A 1.25″ vacuum wand will fit even into tanks where the riser tube cannot be removed.

suggested option is the use of a small wet vacuum, often called a “shop vac.”   Using a shop vac you can suck the water and the spent media from the tank  without moving the tank.  Depending on the size of your shop vac and the size of your filter tank, you’ll have to empty the shop vac a few times to accomplish the task.  It can be a messy job, but it’s much easier than moving a heavy filter tank.

Before you start the job, be sure that the vacuum cleaner’s wand will fit into the mouth of the tank.  Standard tanks have a 2.5″ opening at the top. You may be able to pull the center tube (riser) out of the tank to make the job easier. However, if you have a “Vortech” style tank with a fixed riser, you’ll have to work around it.  With a fixed-riser tank, you’ll need a vacuum wand that’s no larger than 1.25″ in diameter. As the picture shows, you can nudge the riser to the side to get the vacuum wand into the tank.

When the tank is empty, you may want to rinse it by using a garden hose if you have it outdoors or by adding water then vacuuming it out if your tank is being serviced in place.  It is normally not necessary to sanitize the tank before adding media, but if you want to, add a couple of spoonfuls of household bleach, refill with water, and let it stand for a few minutes before removing the water.

When the tank is ready to reload, if you have a removable riser reinsert it into the tank and be sure it goes all the way to the bottom and stays there while you pour in the gravel underbed and the media. (No gravel is needed in fixed-riser Vortech tanks, like the one in the picture.)

A useful tool for filling the tank is a media funnel; if you don’t have one, you’ll have to improvise.  Before you pour in the media, be sure to close off the top of the riser with tape or a small plastic bag to prevent media from going into the tube.  Pour in the gravel (if needed) first, then the media.  In most cases you’ll end up with a tank that’s about 2/3 full.

When the media is loaded,  lube the o ring at the bottom of the control valve and the o ring inside the center hole of the valve where the riser tube will slide with silicone grease. Be sure the tank threads are clean as well as the threads on the control valve. Clean away any media that may have fallen into the threads.  Screw on the head securely, but don’t over-tighten.  Reconnect your plumbing and you’re ready to go.

Most filter media needs some “soak” time after the tank has been refilled.  A good soak and a good rinse before water is sent to the home will prevent filter media from entering service lines. Although there are many ways to start a filter with new media, a good practice that works well in most cases is fill the tank slowly with the valve in backwash position,  give it a long soak, then, still in backwash, run water at half speed into the filter, gradually increasing the speed.  Give it a long backwash to clear out media “fines” (small particles) before putting the control into service position to send water to the home.

Media loads for most residential size tanks

Gravel load for non-Vortech tanks is indicated.  No gravel is needed in Vortech tanks. Some media (Filox, for example) are sometimes loaded a bit lighter than the list indicates.

8″ X 44″ tank. 10 lbs. gravel, 3/4 cu. ft. of filter media,

9″ X 48″ tank. 13 lbs. of gravel, 1 cu. ft. of filter media.

10″ X 44″ tank. 16 lbs. of gravel and 1.25 cu. ft. of filter media.

10″ X 54″ tank. 16 lbs. of gravel and 1.5 cu. ft. of filter media.

12″ X 52: tank. 20 lbs. of gravel and 2.0 cubic feet of filter media.

13″ X 54″ tank. 35 lbs of gravel and 2.5 cubic feet of filter media.