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I am setting up a small 4g aquarium. I have a large filter from my old tank that I want to reuse. Is there a disadvantage at putting 50g filter into a small tank?

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If you put shrimp in the tank make sure that you have a protection against them being sucked into the filter.

If the filter is made for a 10 times larger aquarium it will consume a multiple of the necessary energy for the small tank. Check the power consuption. There're reliable filters for 20 l tanks with 2 W consumption. The investment of buying an (eventually second-hand) matching filter can compensate within one year already.

And like @Diether pointed out: the pump might be so strong that the whole aquarium will be a water strom.

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    On top of that, I would imagine that you'll get a small storms in the small tank. There should be some water circulation, but with such a big filter, I assume it will be a little too much. But you can try it out. – Diether Mar 13 '17 at 9:06
  • I am planning to add shrimp to the tank. So, if I get a smaller filter to match the tank, and put up protection (a sponge cut out to fit the "vacuum"), would that significally lower the flow? I don't have to compensate for it with a stronger filter? – tuco Mar 13 '17 at 15:12
  • If you get a new filter, just get a "shrimp-safe" one and you don't need to worry about that. I recommend the Dennerle Nano series with 2 W. Generally the filter pumps are quite strong and you won't manage to significantly lower the flow no matter what you put in front of the inlet. It's a hundred times than more important than the filter dimension that you observe the functioning of your filter by checking water values and cycle your aquarium before putting living beings inside. – Karl Richter Mar 13 '17 at 19:30
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Putting a 50g filter in a 4g aquarium is not good. There is a reason filters are rated by the gallon. It will be way to powerful for any fish you put in there. Small fish will be blown around, as if in a tornado. If you insist on using it, stuff the filter area with the extra filter pads you can get at fish stores to slow the flow way down.

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