How to Make a Stainless Steel Overflow Cover for Your Fluval Spec Aquarium

One modification that some people are interested in for the Fluval Spec aquariums is to add a cover over the overflow slots that lead into the filtration systems. This can be useful for those wishing to breed shrimp or fish and want to keep those critters out of the filtration system. It may also be beneficial for owners of betta fish who’s long fins can get caught and torn in the return slots.

I had thought that the best way to obscure the openings would be to affix some sponge blocks over the edge to cover the slot. I never have gotten around to try this; I think the resulting piece would be difficult to keep in place and wouldn’t look good. I found an alternative in a Spec Mods forum to use stainless steel mesh as a cover over the return slots. This seemed like a good solution and one I wanted to try out.

Stainless Steel Mesh Cover on Overflow of Fluval Spec V Aquarium

The good thing about this mod is you can make it yourself. The slightly tough part is finding the stainless steel mesh material, but I will discuss that more below. Another plus is that a stainless steel cover will be reusable; it is durable and rust resistant so you don’t have to worry about it wearing out like a foam piece would.

Materials – Where to Source Stainless Steel Mesh:

Stainless steel mesh is available in differing opening sizes. This is designated as the mesh size, which is the number of openings per inch. 10 mesh has 10 openings per inch; 50 mesh as 50 openings per inch. For our application, we want a balance between a very fine mesh (small openings) that will be soft on fish fins and keep out the smallest of critters and a more coarse mesh, that will be stiffer (easier to work with – more durable) but would let in very small criters.

20 mesh 304 stainless steel

The tipping point seems to be around a 20 mesh, which is what I bought and will recommend. Look for a stainless steel type of either 304 or 316; either will resist rust and corrosion, but the 316 is slightly better in this regard.

20 mesh stainless steel opening size

There are many sources for stainless steel mesh online. I got mine from Amazon: Stainless Steel 20 Mesh, 15 cm x 15 cm.

Here is what you will need to make your own return slot cover:

  • (1) piece of stainless steel 20 mesh, at least 10cm x 10 cm
  • A pair of scissors
  • a ruler (I prefer metric for the scale of this work)
  • a straight edged object with a thickness of around 2mm (such as the back of a large kitchen knife)
  • Optional: bench vise

How to Form the Stainless Steel Overflow Cover:

The concept is simple – you just need a flat piece of the stainless steel mesh cut to size to cover the slot openings in the overflow.  The design is to cover one side of the slots and have a small piece overhang the top and the other side to hold it in place. (never mind the shrimp inside the filter section in the photos – they snuck in before I got the screen in place!)

keeping shrimp out of fluval spec v with stainless steel mesh

The good news is the stainless mesh is easy to work with.  It stays fairly ridged as you bend it, but it still holds its shape.  You can cut it with scissors. The mesh forms a very nice grid that is easy to follow along for a straight cut.

cutting stainless steel 20 mesh with scissors

Step one is to cut to size to cover your slots and allow for a bit to go over the top.  I cut mine (for a Spec V aquarium) to 95mm wide and 55mm tall.

Once it is cut, you need to find a way to put the bend at the end to hook over the top of the return slot baffle.  You could just bend it right over the aquarium baffle to form it, but the forces might cause you to damage your aquarium.  Better is to bend it around another object of about the same thickness as the plastic of your aquarium filter baffle.

I measure the overflow baffle at around 2mm thick, so any straight object of around 2-3mm thick will do.  I found a good kitchen knife with a flat back edge that did the trick.

using a template to form stainless steel mesh

Since I have available a bench vice, I used that to put the final squeeze on it to form it around the template.

bench vice forming 20 mesh stainless steel

See the photos below (click to enlarge) for dimensions of where the bend is located:

dimensions for Spec V stainless overflow cover

The dimensions shown are for a Spec V.  I have also confirmed that these dimensions will also work with the Spec III.  It is not an exact science as I just designed it to overlap the slots by 5-10 mm.

width of stainless overflow cover in fluval spec v

Installation and use:

It’s very easy to install; just hang it over the edge.  You can have it either with the main cover inside the display tank or inside the filter section.

stainless mesh overflow cover in spec v aquarium

Water still flows freely through the mesh and doesn’t affect filtration negatively at all.

If you bend it correctly, it stays flat to the baffle and doesn’t allow critters up into the edges.

stainless mesh cover for aquarium overflow

The photo above shows the overhang in the display section and the stainless cover inside the filter section.  I found it a bit difficult to get the mesh inserted down next to the sponge filter and I think I prefer the opposing mount with the mesh inside the display tank. However, the tight fit against the sponge might ensure that nothing can get in; there is sometimes a gap between mesh and filter wall with the mesh installed in the display tank.

filter section of spec aquarium with stainless covering

While the mesh is a metal, it is fine enough to be soft and will not cause trouble to fish fins if they brush against it. I have only had it in place for a short time, but I have not noticed any corrosion, which would be unusual to see from 304 stainless steel.

Final Thoughts:

This is a Spec mod that does involve a bit of handiwork to fabricate, but I think many people would be able to do this themselves.  My use of a bench vise helped greatly to get the bend nice and crisp and I think this really helped the cover stay flat and clean.

formed stainless steel mesh

For those that absolutely want to keep fish fins, shrimp or fish fry, adult shrimp, or snails out of the filter section, this is a great mod.  I went through this process to try and help those out with this need.  However, I don’t expect the cover to be a permament install in our tank.  I don’t have a fish species that is bothered by the overflow slots.  I also don’t care about shrimp getting into the filter section.  It doesn’t ever seem to do them harm, even baby shrimp.  They seem to always make their way out and are safe.

However, if you are one that has need for an overflow cover, I hope this helps you out in your planning and execution.  You may even use this to come up with a better solution – let me know!

Edit: Since I first wrote this, I have found another very useful reason to keep this filter cover on our tank. When I trim our plants, especially the very small leaves on the HC Cuba, the tank can get flooded with plant bits.   Having this in place helps prevent many of those bits from getting into the filter section.  For the days following my trim, I daily turn off the pump, remove and wash this screen, then replace.  In a few days the bits are removed from the tank and the filter section stays clear of plants.

28 thoughts on “How to Make a Stainless Steel Overflow Cover for Your Fluval Spec Aquarium

  1. Hi! Your site is awesome. I was wondering whether or not this size would be able to block baby shrimp from being sucked through. It seems like the holes are still a little too big– have you found this to be a concern at all? Would finding a finer mesh really present a large issue to constructing the cover? Thanks for your time!

    • You can use a finer mesh if it makes you feel more comfortable and I don’t think it would restrict flow too much. However, I have had many generations of shrimp in this tank so I see how small the fry are; I don’t believe there is any way that baby shrimp can fit through the openings of the mesh pictured (20 mesh).

      Basically, 20 mesh works and smaller opening mesh (30, even 50) should work as well.

      • Thanks for your reply! I’ll take your word for it! =].

    • Dan, I take it you have used the product you link to. Does it work as they say?

  2. So in your experience you don’t need a overflow over when breeding rcs?

    • That is correct. I don’t know if I have ever lost any babies in there, but they breed just fine without the cover. I occasionally see them inside the filter section feeding at the top of the sponge, but I don’t get an indication they go further down or that they can’t get back out.

  3. I would first like to thank you for this awesome blog. It has helped me a lot with setting up my Fluval Spec safely for my Betta.

    He has recently taken a liking to hanging out next to the overflow cover so I’m currently trying to decide between using aquarium sponge or the stainless steel mesh. I’m leaning more towards the stainless steel mesh cover, but I don’t want to get something that could cause more harm than good. Did you test the edges of the stainless steel after cutting it to see if it would snag delicate fish fins (ie: running against pantyhose)?

    • Yours is a good question. There can be a bit of a rough edge where you cut the stainless mesh, something sharp enough to snag. I think there would be a way to burnish that edge with sandpaper to make it smooth; however, if it is a concern then going the sponge route might be the best.

      • A bead of silicone works wonders. Cutting a small piece of the lower “slit” in the tank and using silicone to keep it in place, as opposed to sealing it completely, works. The tank still looks stylish and if you smooth your silicone, it looks even better. This, of course, makes it a semi-permanent fixture. Since I have no plans to use this for anything other than a betta, I’m okay with that.

  4. This is an awesome mod, worked great for me! Thanks for the tip.

    Question, I recently pulled my off because i noticed a bunch of algae growing on it. Is that normal?

    Thanks!

    • I haven’t used mine long enough to collect algae, but anything that stays in the tank, with enough light, will grow algae. Should be easy enough to brush off.

  5. Great site – I found the edges were a little sharp – i ran a bead of epoxy along the edge and then sanded back. seems to work well

    • That’s a great idea for dealing with the unfinished edge of the stainless mesh – thanks for sharing!

  6. Great post and comments!

    We just added two CRSs to a Spec XII and darned if one of the little guys didn’t climb through the overflow right before our eyes. The only surprise was that it took him a day to find it.

    Thank you so much for the ideas and information. We’re going to create/add our own overflow cover, as described above, and will comment again if we have any experience that might be helpful. Thank you!

  7. I have a Spec V on its way to me.

    What would you think of the idea of using some nylon screen mesh and gluing it over the openings? Hardware stores sell this to repair window and sliding door screens.

      • I did what I suggested. I bought 6″ of 24″ wide screen for $0.36 and some silicone aquarium sealant. I cut a couple of pieces off the screen to size. I put some sealant around the edges of the cut pieces. I put a baggie on my hand to keep off the sealant. Then I put the screen on the Spec V vents, getting the sealant to squish up thru the screen and over the edges of the screen so no screen edges protruded. Some sealant did get on the glass. When it dried I used a razor to scrape it off.

        It came out pretty good. The screen color is a little off from the wall, but not too bad.

        Note the sealant has a pretty strong odor. Make sure you have ventilation.

        I have some photos if there is a way to upload them.

    • I’d actually like to see this idea in photos. If you could, send to my email at
      rdrdghd@gmail.com
      I have a very small 2.2 gallon and would like to get this tank and do the mesh method, but I would also like to glue the mesh on the bottom slot instead of sealing it, as I don’t want to worry about water not being able to pass through. It’s going to be a red cherry shrimp only tank, and I’m loving all the reviews and mods Nate has done, literally the best and most helpful site ever!

      • Hello rdrdghd:

        I just emailed photos to you, 2/13/2017 3:30PM Colorado time. Let me know if they don’t show up.

        Conrad

  8. Just finished making this overflow cover. Thanks for the detailed instructions!

  9. This mod upgrade is most definitely NOT required for a betta!! With 50 years experience raising bettas; I can assure all that based on my contacts with FLUVAL, this upgrade is only what someone else feels is required!! The mesh screen offered actually restricts flow into the filtration compartment, etc.,etc! If your raising shrimp it’s OK; but your still restricting flow into the filtration compartment-Believe it , or Not!

    • I appreciate your comment. I don’t keep betters and am only posting this as a mod that some people want. It’s most useful to me after I trim my plants to keep cuttings out of the filter section.

    • Though it may not be necessary for all bettas I think it is a very useful mod and one that I’ve been looking for. My betta has SBD as a birth defect, he basically always suffers from it and has a lot of trouble unsticking himself from the intake on my filter. I will be trying this method ASAP and hope it reduces the flow enough that he no longer has this problem.

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