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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Types of filtration media




Choosing Your Biological Filter Material


Part 1: Mechanical and biological media

Filter wool

Synthetic filter wool is used primarily as a mechanical filter medium. Whilst sponges and ceramic chips can also be used thus, filter wool traps finer particles more effectively than either of them. The more tightly it is packed into the filter, the finer the particles it will collect, making it ideal for 'polishing' aquarium water by straining out things like silt and mulm. Because it is inexpensive, many aquarists simply replace filter wool once it gets dirty, but it can be reused. The trick is to rinse it off every couple of weeks, before the filter wool gets too matted with dirt. Once that happens, it is very difficult to clean satisfactorily.
Filter wool can also be used as a biological filter medium. It is one of the best media to use in box filters, because it is easy to shape the mass of wool to fill the box nicely. Coarser media, like ceramic chips, tend to leave big gaps around the edges through which water will pass without being cleaned. Air-powered box filters are especially useful in breeding tanks.
Advantages: Inexpensive, and easily installed into practically every type of filter.
Disadvantages: Difficult to clean and needs to be replaced frequently.
Usage: Outstanding for mechanical filtration, but also good for biological filtration.
Maintenance: Remove from filter at least once a month and rinse thoroughly in plenty of clean water.

Sponges

Synthetic sponges are included with most aquarium filters, ranging from simple clip-on air-powered devices through to the big canister filters. Sponges are wonderfully durable compared with filter wool, and if properly looked after, can last for many years. Because sponges are usually designed for a specific filter, they fit the inside of the filter very neatly, providing maximum efficiency. On the downside, sponges are much more 'open' than filter wool, and so aren't nearly so good at removing silt and other fine particles. Neither do they provide quite the same surface area per unit volume as the best ceramic media, making them slightly inferior as far as biological filtration goes. Sponges are very much 'jack of all trades, but master of none' when it comes to filtration.
While simple filters may only have a single sponge, most filters will include a variety of different sponges, each meant to serve a certain function in the system. One popular all-in-one series of aquaria comes with filters containing no fewer than three different types of sponge: coarse sponges for mechanical filtration, fine sponges for biological filtration, and carbon-impregnated sponges for chemical filtration. The carbon sponge has a definite lifespan, and after a few weeks will need to be replaced. Regardless of the type of filter system, it is important that sponges are cleaned regularly if they are to remain useful. Squeezing them a few times in a bucket of aquarium water will usually do the trick, but periodically you may want to give the sponges a more thorough clean. Washing under running water will bring an old sponge back to near-pristine condition, but in the process, virtually all the filter bacteria on it will be killed. It is therefore important to only do this to some of the sponges at any one time, leaving the others where they are, so that they can re-seed the clean sponge with filter bacteria afterwards.
Advantages: Versatile, durable, and easy to clean.
Disadvantages: Sponges are not as good for biological filtration as the best ceramic media, or as effective at removing silt as filter wool.
Usage: Useful for both mechanical and biological filtration.
Maintenance: Rinse in a bucket of aquarium water periodically, and if a deeper clean is needed, only do some of the sponges at any one time.

Ceramic media

Ceramic tubes of various kinds are widely considered the best substrate for biological filtration. This is because the ceramic tubes have a finely pitted surface area that allows for a vast population of nitrifying bacteria. Ceramic tubes won't become too tightly packed, either, making sure that there is a good water flow around each piece. On the other hand, this does mean that you cannot wedge so much of the stuff into a small space, so ceramic media works best in big filters where there is plenty of space. Being rigid, it can also be used in wet-and-dry filters and trickle filters, where sponges or filter wool wouldn't work well, if at all. All of the major manufacturers of filters produce their own brand of ceramic media, and whilst each purports to have its own advantages, they all work well.
Though not able to trap such fine particles as filter wool, ceramic media can also be used as a mechanical filter medium. Many manufacturers produce their ceramic media in two grades, a coarser media for mechanical filtration, and a finer one for biological filtration. The coarser media is a bit cheaper than the finer stuff, but both are relatively expensive compared with filter wool or sponges. Ceramic media will last for many years though, making it very good value over the long term. As with all filter media, maintenance is important. Periodically, a quarter to a third of the media should be removed and replaced with some fresh media. The old media can then be vigorously cleaned in warm, soapy water and then left to soak in a bucket of water for day or two. Rinse and soak a few more times to get rid of any traces of the soap, let the media dry, and then pack away somewhere it won't get dusty. Next time you need to do a change of filter media, this now-spotlessly clean filter media can be pressed into service, and some of the dirty media taken from the filter and cleaned in the same way.
Advantages: High surface area to volume ratio means they support lots of bacteria.
Disadvantages: Expensive, and work best in large filters.
Usage: Best for tanks with large filters and where biological filtration needs to be optimised.
Maintenance: As with sponges, clean regularly, and only replace a little at a time.

Gravel

Undergravel filters are among the most effective aquarium filters, even if they are somewhat out of fashion these days. Undergravel filters do have many shortcomings, it is true: undergravel filters inhibit plant growth by oxidising mineral nutrients; they require regular cleaning if they are to remain effective; and they restrict substrate choice to a uniform layer of gravel around 8-10 cm or so in depth largely unobstructed by big pieces of bogwood or stone. Undergravel filters cannot be used with special substrates such as laterite or aquarium soil either, limiting their usefulness in tanks where plants are important.
These limitations aside, a good undergravel filter is astonishingly effective and contains a vast surface area on which the nitrifying bacteria can grow, and compared with canister filters, maintenance is relatively straightforward. On a weekly basis, the accumulated detritus on the top of the gravel bed (known as mulm) should be siphoned away, and every month or two the gravel should be more vigorously stirred and cleaned.
Advantages: Cheap and effective.
Disadvantages: Undergravel filters are difficult to clean and inhibit plant growth.
Usage: Principally used a part of an undergravel filter.
Maintenance: Siphon off mulm weekly, and periodically stir the gravel and give it a more thorough clean.

Part 2: Chemically-active media

Coral sand

In marine aquaria coral sand is often used as a biological filtration medium, but in freshwater tanks it is more normally used as a chemical filtration medium. As water passes through the coral sand, the coral sand slowly dissolves, raising the pH and hardness levels. This is very useful in tanks containing species such as Rift Valley cichlids, Central American cichlids, livebearers, and brackish water fishes, all of which appreciate hard, alkaline water. Coral sand can either be incorporated into an undergravel filter alongside plain gravel, or installed in one of the compartments in a canister filter.
One limitation to coral sand is that it only buffers the water when it is clean. Once installed in a filter it will accumulate a coating of bacteria and algae. These insulate the grain of coral sand from the water, preventing the movement of the pH and hardness modifying chemicals from the sand to the water. So, for maximum effectiveness, coral sand should be cleaned or replaced each time the filter is cleaned.
Advantages: Good substrate for biological filtration and also raises the pH and hardness of the water.
Disadvantages: Buffers pH and hardness only when clean.
Usage: Either as a part of an undergravel filter or as a chemical medium inside a canister filter.
Maintenance: As an undergravel filter, requires similar maintenance to gravel; as a chemical medium, should be washed or replaced at least monthly.

Activated charcoal (or carbon)

During the early days of the hobby, received wisdom was that the old water in an aquarium was somehow good for the fish. It was believed that water changes should be performed only infrequently, for fear of disturbing the balance of the aquarium. Old aquarium water wasn't very attractive though, having a yellow tint formed by various dissolved organic compounds. The solution was to incorporate carbon into the filter, as this would remove the organic compounds very effectively.
Modern fishkeeping recognises the value of frequent water changes, with weekly changes of at least 20% being generally recommended. When this is done, the water doesn't turn yellow, and so the job of carbon no longer exists. Nonetheless, carbon is still sold in aquarium shops, and so many aquarists assume it serves a purpose. It doesn't, and you don't need to buy it. If anything, carbon is counterproductive in most aquaria. Because it removes organic compounds indiscriminately, it will take out not just bad stuff but also medications. Anyone treating fish for whitespot or any other ailment must remove carbon from the filter before dosing the tank. The best approach is simply not to use carbon at all.
Advantages: Adsorbs organic compounds effectively.
Disadvantages: Serves no particular purpose in a well-run aquarium.
Usage: Unnecessary in most aquaria; can be used to remove unwanted medications and other organic compounds.
Maintenance: Replace periodically.

Ammonia remover

Like carbon, ammonia remove (zeolite) is widely sold and thus assumed to be useful, but in fact it isn't required in most aquaria. A healthy biological filter does just as good a job, but unlike zeolite, a biological filter doesn't become 'saturated'. Zeolite can only absorb a certain amount of ammonium; after that, it stops working, which puts your fish at risk. If zeolite is used instead of a biological filter, it must be replaced regularly, and a careful check made on ammonium levels in the tank using the appropriate test kit. Once saturated, it is usually possible to recharge spent zeolite by soaking it in salty water for a few days. For this reason, buy at least twice as much zeolite as you need, so you can have one batch in the aquarium while another batch is being recharged.
Zeolite is most useful in tanks that need to be set up quickly. A hospital tank, for example, may need to be pressed into service without time to mature a biological filter. Moreover, because the hospital tank needs to be 'clean', moving mature filter bacteria from the main aquarium would carry the risk of transferring more of whatever parasite or bacteria you were attempting to treat. Being a chemical rather than a biological medium, zeolite is unaffected by antibiotics and other strong medications that can harm filter bacteria. Zeolite works very well in tanks such as these, where stocking density will be low, so the zeolite will not be saturated particularly quickly.
Advantages: Removes ammonium at once without any need for filter bacteria.
Disadvantages: Once saturated, stops removing ammonium, so must be replaced regularly. Only works in freshwater.
Usage: Use in quarantine, emergency, and fry rearing tanks where there isn't time to mature a biological filtration or medications would inhibit the growth of filter bacteria.
Maintenance: Periodically needs to be recharged or replaced.

Peat

Ordinary peat has been used widely in the past as a way to condition aquarium water, softening it and lowering the pH. This is particularly appreciated by tetras, South American cichlids, and many killifish, which may live in harder water, but won't breed in it. Peat granulate is a concentrated form of peat that is especially convenient and easy to use, taking up only a little space in a canister filter. It is perhaps the most widely sold form of peat for use in filters. When used properly, peat gives the water a lovely dark tint that dramatically enhances the luminous colours of fishes such as neons, cardinals, glowlight tetras, and rasboras.
Using peat granulate is tricky because it can cause quite rapid changes in pH and hardness. Always read the box carefully, follow the instructions, and err on the side of using too little rather than too much. As water gets softer, its ability to resist changes in pH decreases, and so soft water is often chemically very unstable. Whilst some fish can tolerate quite a low pH level, most aquarium fish only want slightly acidic conditions (around pH 6.5), so it is important to measure pH regularly.
Advantages: Softens water and lowers the pH.
Disadvantages: Colours the water, which reduces its transparency to light, inhibiting plant growth. Soft, acid water can exhibit sudden changes in pH, which stresses fish.
Usage: Use sparingly as a chemical medium in a canister filter.
Maintenance: Replace periodically.
Here is an incomplete list of what carbon does and does not remove based on a University Research Paper;
What Carbon CAN remove:

Inorganic Contaminants:

*Arsenic Complexes
*Chromium Complexes
*Mercury (Hg+2) Inorganic
*Organic Mercury Complexes

Organic Contaminants:
*Benzene
*Endrin
*Lindane
*Methoxychlor
*1,2-dichloroethane
*1,1-dichloroethylene
*1,1,1-trichloroethane
*Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs)
*Toxaphene
*Trichloroethylene
*2,4-D
*2,4,5-TP (Silvex)
*Para-dichlorobenzene

What Carbon CANNOT remove:
*Microbes,
*Sodium,
*Nitrates, nitrites, ammonia
*Fluoride,
* Hardness.
*Lead and other heavy metals are removed only by a very specific type of AC filter

Sponges and Foams

Japanese Mats:

Surface area/cu.ft.:120

Upsides: A fairly easily obtained and inexpensive material suitable for both bio-media as well as a pre-filter media.Often available in bulk.

Downsides:on the low side as far as surface area, compresses somewhat over time.

Overall: Excellent choice for bio-media in a sump with no lack of space.I had mine stacked about 12" high and the compressed somewhat over about a years time...perhaps flipping them occasionally can prevent this.

japmat1japmat2

Filter Sponges/Foams

Surface area/cu.ft.: roughly 75-175 depending on porousness

Upsides: An excellent all around choice of media in most applications.Technically you could run sponges or foam of varying porousness in your entire sump.Holds up well under "Rinse and re-use" conditions.

Downsides: Clogs.not the highest in terms of surface area.If you have a rather large bio-load or somewhat of a lack of space you may want to look into media with a higher surface area.Rather pricey if needed in large quantity as well, IMHO

Overall:A good pre-filter or bio-media however frequent rinsing will be needed if you are using this as your primary source of mechanical filtration

foam1



Natural Sponge

Surface area/cu.ft.:100

Upsides:Rather inexpensive.descent micro-polisher.

Downsides:Clogs easy.Not as porous as one would think,so water doesn't flow well through the center....although giving them a few good pokes with a kitchen knife works wonders.I am told they break down over time,although I have seen them successfully used in a sump for around 8 months.

Overall:Not the best choice for either mechanical or biological but can be used until a better media is obtained.

sponge1
sponge2

Plastic and Nylon Scrubbies/Strippers/Scourers

Pot Scrubbies

Surface area/cu.ft.:370

Upsides: Whats not to love?Fairly high surface area, clog resistance and an easily stackable shape make these an all time favorite for experienced aquarists everywhere.Not to mention they are cheap as hell.

Downsides:If your bio-load is huge yet your sump is less than massive, you will still most likely eventually find yourself looking to add some media with a higher surface area.

Overall:Best bang for your buck as far as bio-media

potscrubbies1

Scour Pad

Surface area/cu.ft.:150-200

Upsides:Excellent flow rate through media, among the best stacking medias in the "Guide" allow for maximum media coverage in tight spaces.Good as a "filler" media tucked here and there to fill in empty spaces in the sump.

Downsides:Once again with a massive bio-load or very little space to work with you may find yourself wanting a smaller media with a higher surface area.

Overall:Much the same as pot scubbies with some surface area sacrificed for far greater stackability.

scourpad2
scourpad1

Floor Buffer Stripping Pads

Surface area/cu.ft.:175-225

Upside:Good flow rate,stackable,fair surface area.

Downsides:Same as scourers.

Overall: Much the same as the scourers but usually tighter woven providing more surface area with a slight reduction in flow rate.

strippingpad1
strippingpad2

Body Scrubbers
Surface area/cu.ft.: 75

Upsides: free if you have a girlfriend (they always keep extra....)

Downsides: Not pretty if your girlfriend ever finds out where her body scrubbers went, also they compress, have a low surface area and can sometimes contain perfumes built right into the plastic/nylon.

Overall: Best used to soap up naked ladies.

bodyscrubber

Flosses,Pads and Fibers


Polyfiber

Surface area/cu.ft.:?

Upsides:Great mechanical filtration,extremely cheap when purchased in bulk.Can be rinsed and reused.Can also be purchased in pads.Cheap at the LFS and 5 times cheaper at a fabric store.

Downsides:Clogs fairly quickly.Fibers can be (and often are) found tangled on your impellor or floating in your tank.

Overall:The mechanical counterpart to pot scrubbies.Cheap,easy to maintain,and reusable.


polyfiber1

Filter Sock
Surface area/cu.ft.:NA

Upsides:Unless your tank is super messy you can often get away with having a filter sock or two as your sumps primary source of mechanical filtration,freeing up valuable space for more bio-media.

Downsides:If your tank is super messy these will clog and mess with your flow rate somewhat.

Overall:Not a bad addition to a sump with proper maintenance.

sock1

Felt

Surface area/cu.ft.: NA

Upsides:Excellent for last stage mechanical filtration.Acts as a "micro polishing pad" for your sump.

Downsides:Clogs extremely easy unless the water goes through several stages of mech filtration before going through the felt.Also the felt is often dyed (even the white felt is often dyed that color) so a bit of searching or a lot of rinsing is required.

Overall:Often unnecessary yet hard to beat as a micro polisher for you tank.
felt1

LFS Filter Pads
Surface area/cu.ft. NA

Upsides:Easily obtained,often best choice for mech filtration.Varying levels of porousness for further customization of mechanical filtration.

Downsides:Somewhat pricey.Not often sold in what I would consider "bulk"

Overall:Probably the most frequently used mechanical medias available.Most often what people choose to put in their drip trays.

filterpad
filterpad2

Matala Fiber Pads

Surface area/cu.ft.:60-175

Upsidesbiggrinoes not compress.Good for use as a permanent mech filtration pad that can be rinsed and reused.Sold in bulk.Buoyant, otherwise much the same as a scouring pad such as scotch brite.

Downsides:Expensive,Buoyant,Low surface area per cu.ft. means alot would be needed for bio.

Overall: Basically a large scouring pad
matala

LFS Bio-Media



Canister Media

Surface area/cu.ft.:ALOT (Varies)

Upsides: most surface area in the smallest space possible is what canister media is all about. If you have a very large bio-load than a sump full of pot scrubies may not cut it, which is where the canister bio-media comes in handy.

Downsides: Pricey

Overall: I'm sure it would be great if we all had the money to fill our sump with cannister bio-media like cell pore and the like but for those of us who don't defecate money I suggest just buying a container at a time and tossing it in your sump,eventually youll have quite a bit.
My main chamber in my sump is filled with scrubbies however I toss in a container of cannister media whenever I have a few extra dollars (cell-pore,eheim pro,biomax,etc.) and I am slowly but surely filling my third chamber.

cannistermedias




Bio-Balls

Surface area/cu.ft.:100-175

Upsides:fair surface area,shaped for maximum aeration,can be purchased in bulk,often for a fair price if shopped for online.One of the best things you can put in the wet/dry section of your sump.

Downsides:can be pricey if your too lazy to shop around.I also hear Pot Scrubbies work at least as well as bio-balls in the wet/dry chamber,though I have not personally confirmed this.Effectiveness supposedly greatly diminished when submerged.

Overall:The media most people use in the wet/dry section of their sumps, followed by scrubbies in a close second.

bioballs3
bioballs1
bioballs2

Bio-Bale

Surface area/cu.ft.:250

Upsides:Good surface area.Sold in Bulk.

Downsides:Can become somewhat compressed over time, countered by the occasional "fluffing".

Overall:Used much the same as you would pot scrubbies or bioballs, either in the wet/dry or fully submerged.
bio-bale

Lava rock
Surface area/cu.ft.:15-25

Upsides:very easily obtained and rather inexpensive.Good filler in a sump on a tank with a light bioload

Downsides:Very low surface area really.If pores get clogged than you might as well just drop a stone in your tank for biomedia.

Overall:Not the best choice for biomedia.Even If you were to keep the pores of the rock very clean your sump would still have to be about the same size as the tank your filtering.For those who still insist on using lava rock I might suggest breaking it up with a hammer and putting it in a media bag.

lavar

Bio-Wheels

Surface area/cu.ft.: ?

Upsides:Supposedly house a super concentrated bacteria colony.Wet/Dry design.

Downsides:Very high Evaporation.Somewhat of a price factor involved.

Overall:Used with succes on smaller HOB's but not widely used in conjunction with sumps (unless you have a tidepool sump).Thought about adding one to my sump.
biowheel

Plants and Refugiums

Upside:eat nitrates.

Downside:Usually need special lighting.Not always room for a full size refugium,and often not enough space in your sump for a "mini-refugium"

Overall:I fairly good idea.I want to put a refugium on my sump but have not decided how exactly to go about doing so.

refugium



These are the primary choices for filter media that we as aquarists have available to us,and I hope this "Guide" is of some help to many an aquarist who are scratching their head,looking at that empty chamber on your filter and wondering what to place there.

 

 

Mechanical Filtration

Mechanical filtration is simply using filter media to remove waste debris from the water. Water is drawn up into the filter through the filter intake tube and is pushed through media such as filter floss, sponges, and filter cartridges. Debris such as fish poop or left over fish food will be removed and the water will flow back into your tank much cleaner.

To maintain a successful home aquarium, most agree to purchase an aquarium filter that turns the water over 8-10 times per hour. This means that if you have a 20-gallon fish tank, you want a filter that is rated between 160-200 GPH (Gallons per Hour). This means that your water will flow through the filter and around 10 times in an hour therefore more loose particles of waste will be removed much faster.

Mechanical Filter Media


Filter Pads
When we discuss mechanical filter media, filter pads are a very common media type used. Filter pads can be made of polyester, felt, or sponge. Usually precut to fit in an exact filter model. Can be purchased in a roll and you can cut it to customize your filtration. Some filter pads are made with a combination of material to better filter particles out of the water column. Mechanical filter media that can be used several times when cleaned properly. After 2-3 cleanings should be disposed of and replaced.

Micron Filter Pads

Pads that are made to polish the water. Made of polyester and nylon, these pads trap the very fine particles that are loose in the water column.

Filter Floss

This type of mechanical filter media comes in several different styles. The most popular is the polyester filter floss. Most in the fish keeping hobby simply stuff a filter media bag with it and place in their aquarium filter. Filter floss does an excellent job in removing very fine particles from the water.

Sponge Block Inserts and Sponge Pads

Sponge filter media are a favorite they are available in very fine, fine, medium, and course. Multiple sponge pads can be used together to have superior mechanical filtration. The greatest benefit to using sponge media is that the sponges are easy to clean and can be reused. They tend to hold up far longer than some of the other filter pads available.

Ceramic rings and cylinders

Ceramic pieces that are great mechanical and biological media. Ceramic rings or cylinders will trap the larger particles in your tropical fish tank’s water. So you would have to use another finer media to filter out the smaller particles. Ceramic pieces are usually hollow and allow for great water flow while debris sticks to the walls of the ceramic pieces. I use these in my tanks and absolutely love them.

Please note that when selecting your mechanical media, keep in mind the coarseness of the media. If the filter pad is fine, or medium, you will need to clean them often usually every 2 weeks. If the media is course, you can get bye with 3 weeks but I suggest 2 weeks for course also. Clogged media will lead to dirty water, water parameter problems, poor fish health, low water flow, and possible filter leaks.
** Note** Cleaning your filter media is dependent on several factors including how many fish you have, the amount you feed, and how many filters you have on your tank. So you should make a judgment call on how often to clean your mechanical filter media. You do not want an overflowing filter due to clogged filter media.

Fish Tips

Sponge blocks or pads can be bought to match your filter make and model. Some can be cut to fit. Sponge blocks and pads are excellent in cleaning your water and are very cheap. They can be reused as long as kept clean. Sponge blocks or pads are great money saving media.

Biological Filtration

The biological filtration process is difficult to understand for some. Good bacteria called nitrifying bacteria converts ammonia into nitrates and then the nitrites are converted into nitrates. This good bacteria is found naturally in our environment.
Good beneficial bacteria needs three things to grow in your home aquarium.
  • A place to grow
  • Food
  • Oxygen

A Place to Grow

The home that the beneficial bacteria will thrive in your aquarium tank can be in the tank itself or in your filter. The bacteria will grow in your aquarium gravel, plants, and decorations. The place where most will grow and multiply will be in your aquarium filter media.
Surface area is very important when selecting biological filter media. The larger the surface area of the media, the more beneficial bacteria will be found in your filter. Porous ceramic media or sponges house a large amount of beneficial bacteria. The biological media must have sufficient water movement through it so the media does not clog with waste therefore negating the process of biological filtration.

Food

The beneficial bacteria will eat the fish waste (poop) and left over food in your fish tank. The result is ammonia. Ammonia can be deadly to your tropical fish. Luckily, your beneficial bacteria feed on ammonia! The ammonia is then converted to Nitrite. Nitrite is yet another potentially deadly pollutant.
Guess what!
The bacteria will now feed on the nitrite and convert this to a less harmful product called nitrate. Nitrate can still be harmful if left in the tank and in large quantity. Nitrate levels can be reduced through regular water changes.

Oxygen

The last requirement that your beneficial bacteria will need to survive is oxygen. The bacteria in your biological filter are aerobic. Aerobic means that oxygen is needed for survival.
Some filters provide for more oxygen in the water and filter than others. We-dry filters do add more oxygen by allowing water to slowly poor over the filter media keeping the media wet enough for bacteria to thrive.

In order to properly grow your beneficial bacteria colony, be sure to select the best Biological Filter Media available for a healthy tropical fish tank.

Biological Filter Media

Biological filter media is any media that can be used to house as much beneficial bacteria as possible. Very porous media is desired because this will allow for more beneficial bacteria per square inch. Surface area is key when choosing the correct biological media.
So, what types of filter media make great biological filter media?

Porous ceramic cylinders

Ceramic cylinders are great biological media that you can add to just about any aquarium filter. Each cylinder will average 3/8”x 3/8”. Most often kept in media bags and kept as the last layer in your aquarium filter closest to the top. Ceramic cylinders allow for great water flow while providing exceptional surface area for your bacteria to grow and reproduce.

Bio-Glass

Bio-glass is very similar to the ceramic cylinders. Bio-glass is made of a natural silicate and is in the shape of a hollow cylinder. Most often kept in media bags and kept as the last layer in your aquarium filter closest to the top. Bio-glass allows for great water flow while providing exceptional surface area for your bacteria to grow and reproduce.

Bio-Balls

Bio-Balls are specially designed balls that are made to fit into your filter and house the much-needed beneficial bacteria colonies. One gallon of bio balls has the equivalent surface area of 21 ½ square feet. Works great in wet/dry and canister filters.

Quartz Biological Balls

Sphere shaped bio-media that is made from natural lava rock. Allows for great water flow while housing the much needed beneficial bacteria. Should be kept in aquarium filter media bags. Can be used in just about any aquarium filter.

Biological Stars

A polymer material Biological filter media that is in the shape of a star. Provides excellent surface area to build up your beneficial bacteria. Four stars will treat 20 gallons.

Eheim Ehfisubstrat

Ehfisubstrat is a sintered glass that offers a huge surface area of nearly 19,000 square feet per gallon. Designed to house beneficial bacteria. Ehfisubstrat can be housed in many different aquarium filters. Can be added to aquarium filter media bags.

Biological Media Replacement

You may be thinking about how often you will have to replace biological filter media. Well, you probably will not have to! As long as the filter media is in good shape, and you are able to clean it, you should be OK. Most bio-filter media is reusable and only needs cleaning.

Cleaning Biological Media

How do you know if your biological filter media needs cleaning?
When you notice a great deal of detritus (fish waste and dirt) built up, or your water flow has slowed, you should clean your filter media.
You can wash out mechanical filter media under the faucet, but you should not wash your bio-filter media in this manner. Biological media needs to be washed out in a bucket of aquarium water. When you rinse your biological media out under a sink faucet, the chlorine will kill an beneficial bacteria you possess. Killing beneficial bacterial will lead to potential problems and possibly a mini-cycle. Always wash out bio-filter media in a bucket of aquarium water.


Specific Surface Area (SSA)
of biological filter media

All bio media in fish pond filters or bio filters of any type can be classified according to its specific surface area (SSA). The higher the SSA the more probable is it that the bio media will be more effective in a fish pond filter. SSA refers to how much surface area per unit volume of a type of media is available for colonization by bacteria inside fish pond filters.
When comparing filter media, it is important to compare not only the media's SSA, but also its open space, easy of cleaning, weight, and cost.  For example:  Sand has an extremely high SSA of 600, but very low open space so it clogs and channels very quickly.  It is inexpensive, but very heavy and difficult to clean.
While there are literally hundreds of types of filter media, the list below is compiled of the most popular, and most widely used.

Hydro FilterSilk™

Used in Hydro Vortex™ filters.  Black color.  Sold in 1.85 cubic foot packages.  Free-floating media designed to fill entire filter.
61 SSA per square foot.
366 SSA per cubic foot.
90% open space.
High resistance to channeling.
Easily cleanable.
Low pressure cleaning.
Super light weight.
Each package contains 677.10 square feet of Specific Surface Area (SSA).

HydroFoam™ Beads

Styrofoam beads used inside HydroBead Vortex™ Filters. Sold by the cubic foot. Free-floating media designed to remain in a fluidized motion state.
75.37 SSA per square foot.
452.20 SSA per cubic foot.
50% open space.
High resistance to channeling.
Easily cleanable.
Low pressure cleaning.
Super light weight.

Poly-Flo

FM56JC cream color.  Used in virtually every brand of "Pad-&-Media-Bag" style waterfall filter on the market.  Sold in bulk by the square foot, or in pre-cut pads.
49 SSA per square foot.
294 SSA per cubic foot.
Open space is considered "good", but percentage is not listed.
Resistance to channeling if kept clean.
Requires high pressure cleaning.
Light weight when clean.

Poly-Flo

FM56JCII-ESA black color.  Similar to FM56JC with the addition of marble dust attached to the fibers to increase surface area.  Used in several late models of "Pad-&-Media-Bag" style waterfall filters...  Sold bulk by the square foot, or in pre-cut pads. 
76 SSA per square foot.
456 SSA per cubic foot.
Open space is not listed, but less than FM56JC due to the bonding of marble dust to the polyester fibers.
Resistance to channeling similar to FM56JC if kept clean.
Requires high pressure cleaning.
Light weight when clean.

Savio Springflo™

Used in Savio Livingponds™ Filters.  Sold in 3 cubic foot rolls with 180 square feet of surface area.  Green color.  Free-floating media designed to fill entire filter.
10 SSA per square foot.
60 SSA per cubic foot.
180 SSA per 3 cubic feet.
Over 90% open space.
High resistance to channeling.
Easily rinses clean.
Low pressure cleaning.
Light weight.

Kaldness

Used in Aqua-Evolution filters. Sold in bulk. Free-floating media design.
41 SSA per square foot.
244 SSA per cubic foot.
90% open space.
High resistance to channeling.
Easily rinses clean.
Low pressure cleaning.
Light weight.

Aqua Ultra

Used in Aqua UV Ultima II filters. Sold in bulk. Non-floating, sinking media. Hollow design with internal "Y" wall shape to increase surface area.
125 SSA per sqare foot.
750 SSA per cubic foot.
40% open space.
Moderate resistance to channeling.
Difficult to completely rinse internal small "Y" spaces.
High pressure cleaning required to rinse small "Y" spaces.
Light weight.

Lava Rock

Primary media used in the media bags of virtually all brands of "Pad-&-Media-Bag" style waterfall filters.  Usually red in color.  Sold in 1 cubic foot, 35 pound bags at most home & garden centers.  Place inside the "media bags" inside "Pad-&-Media-Bag" style waterfall filters. 
14.35 SSA per square foot (average)
86 SSA per cubic foot
20% or less open space
Low resistance to channeling
Very difficult to clean
Requires high pressure cleaning
Heavy

Matala

Used as an "up-grade" alternative to typical filter pads.  It is available in 4 different colors with different SSA's.  Available in sheets, or in round rolls for barrel filters. 
Black
10.33 SSA per square foot, 62 SSA per cubic foot, 92% open space
Green
16 SSA per square foot, 96 SSA per cubic foot, 93% open space
Blue
20.67 SSA per square foot, 124 SSA per cubic foot, 94% open space
Gray/White
28.50 SSA per square foot, 171 SSA per cubic foot, 94% open space
High resistance to channeling.
Easy to clean.
Low pressure cleaning.
Light weight.

Bio-Balls

Sold primarily as a replacement or alternative for lava rock for "Pad-&-Media-Bag" style waterfall filters.  Many shapes, colors, and sizes are available from a wide variety of manufacturers and retailers.
16.67-26.67 SSA per square foot depending on ball size.
100-160 SSA per cubic foot depending on ball size.
50% open space.
Moderate resistance to channeling.
Easy to clean.
Low pressure cleaning
Light weight.

Rock and Gravel
Used as substrate in water garden ponds.
3/8" - 1/2" smooth round gravel 12 SSA per square foot at 2" deep
72 SSA per cubic foot.
 4" - 24" rock has an average 4 SSA


Chemical Filtration

Chemical filtration is somewhat different when compared to mechanical filtration. Unlike mechanical filtration, we cannot see some pollutants in our fish tanks. A chemical filter involves more of a molecular filtration process where a certain media absorbs the pollutants rather than just catching or trapping it.

There are certain times in the hobby where you may need to run chemical filters on your tropical fish tank. Most hobbyists do not have chemical filters running all of the time. There are many types of chemical filter media available and each performs a special function.
Activated carbon or charcoal is the most popular chemical media used. The carbon acts as a magnet and attracts pollutants and then absorbs them. Activated carbon is usually used to remove medications that may have been used or tannins that leach out of your driftwood.

A chemical filter can be a special filter that you may have to purchase, or it can be a power filter that you already own. Many power filters allow for chemical media to be placed directly within them. Special chemical filters such as Phosphate reactors, multimedia reactors, or UV fluidized bed reactors can be purchased to help battle specific problems that may occur in your tropical fish tank. Each filter would be filled with a specific media type that you wish to use to help remove impurities in your water.

I would like to say that each of the above mentioned chemical filters do a great job, but you should never depend on chemical filters alone. Regular, large water changes will help remove any impurities in your aquarium tank. This is a mistake that alot of new fish keepers make. People tend to fall behind on water changes because they believe they have a chemical in their filter that will remove any impurities. The truth is that chemical media only last a few weeks to a few months. Therefore, the pollutants tend to grow in the water when you think they are being removed.
If you use a good chemical filter along with regular water changes, you should have very happy fish.

Chemical Filter Media


Activated Carbon

The most common chemical filter media used is activated carbon or charcoal. Activated carbon absorbs many pollutants that are in the water column. Depending on the filter you use, carbon can be included in filter cartridges, or carbon media bags.
Activated carbon is relatively cheap, and can easily be purchased. There are many different brands on the market, but most do the exact same thing which is Absorb impurities.
Many tropical fish keepers do not use activated carbon on a regular basis, but rather only when needed.
So, you may be asking yourself, well when would I need to use activated carbon?
Activated carbon can be used when you first set up your tropical fish tank. It is a safe practice to run the activated carbon in your filter for several weeks to ensure that any contaminants that may have been on the aquarium glass, decorations, or substrate are removed from the water column.
One may also use carbon to remove discolorations in the water. If you use driftwood in your aquarium tank, you may notice that your water has a tint of brown to it, this is called tanning. Activated carbon will absorb the tannins and help clear up the water.
Another use for activated carbon is that it removes medication from your water. If you ever have the misfortune of medicating your tank due to a sick fish, activated carbon will remove the medication from the water column.
Lastly, activated carbon will remove pollutants that cause odor in your aquarium water. If you have a “funky” smell to your aquarium, there is a reason. This reason could be many things including decaying food, a dead fish, or just poor water maintenance.
Activated carbon will only last 2-3 months in your aquarium. After this time, the carbon needs to disposed of and replaced.
Using activated carbon will help, but I must state that most of the benefits of activated carbon can be matched with regular water changes. Do not depend on carbon alone.

Ion Exchange Resins

There are two types of media that apply ion exchange principles. Man-made and natural resins.
Man-made resins and natural resins attract contaminating pollutants and exchange those compounds with beneficial compounds. Ion exchange resins work great in combination with activated carbon.

Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic Polymers are very similar to activated carbon. The exception is that synthetic polymers can reduce ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Synthetic polymers can also be recharged and reused many times over and over again. Unlike activated carbon that only last a few months and then has to be disposed of and replaced.

Phosphate controlling media

This type of chemical filter media absorbs phosphates and other pollutants from your water. High Phosphate levels are a contributor to algae growth. If you aquarium has a very bad algae problem, phosphate-controlling media could be used along with regular water changes to help control this problem.

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