How to Customize Your Aquarium Filter with Filter Media
Aquarium sizes and stock levels can vary widely so it makes sense for people to have the ability to tailor the filtration to suit their needs. Many filters, such as corner box, hang-on-back, corner box, canister and sump, can be modified by changing which types of filter media are used. The different layers of media that aquarium water passes through before it returns to the tank are called filter media. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of media available, their functions, and which ones should you use.
1. Mechanical Filter Media
Mechanical filtration is made up of foam pads, sponges and filter floss. These filter out any particles from the water much in the same way as a coffee filter. The pores in mechanical media are porous, so water can still flow through them. Also, the size of the particles caught in the material determines how big they will be.
Coarse sponge pads
with large pores are good for blocking most debris like fish poop and dead leaves, and when they become full of waste, you can squeeze them out in old tank water and reuse them over and over again. They don’t clog as quickly so you don’t have to clean them as often. We often use sponge pads to replace the disposable filter cartridges that come with many aquarium kit filters.
If you’re still seeing tiny particles floating in the aquarium and want to get crystal clear water, try adding a fine poly pad or filter floss. This mechanical filter media can trap the smallest particles of flotsam, jetsam, and other debris in your aquarium. Because the floss pads are very dense by design, they can clog up easily and should be replaced when they turn brown in color. Both the coarse sponge pad and fine poly pad can be customized by cutting them into smaller sizes so that they fit your filter perfectly.
For mechanical filtration, coarse sponge pad (left) or fine poly pad (right).
2. Biological Filter Media
Biological filtration refers to the usage of beneficial bacteria and aquarium plants to consume the toxic nitrogen chemicals generated from fish waste, thus purifying the water. Since beneficial bacteria can grow on any surface of the tank that is well oxygenated, the filter is a prime location to increase the population. Biological media (such
Bio balls and bio sponges have many porous or intricately pattern surfaces to provide housing for bacteria colonies. Beneficial bacteria can also grow on the sponge pads that are used for mechanical filtering. Bio media’s shape allows water to flow freely through them, which in turn brings more oxygen to the bacteria. These surfaces can become covered in aquarium gunk over time. To clean them, gently wash or rinse them in old tank water until they fall off. To make it easy to clean, you can use loose bio media without a bag.
Aquarium bio rings for biological filtration
3. Chemical Filter Media
Chemical filtration has the ability to remove pollutants and certain chemicals from the water. The most popular is activated charcoal, which is a porous carbon that easily absorbs medications, tannins, as well as other impurities. Activated Carbon for Aquariums is typically supplied loose granules that must be placed in a filter bag. We prefer using
Carbon-infused media pads
They are easy to use, can be cut to a desired size, and provide mechanical filtration for straining water debris. For added chemical filtration, you can cut a portion of the pad and wrap it around a sponge filter using a zip tie or rubber band. The activated carbon media must be replaced once the pores have become clogged with pollutants.
You can also get synthetic adsorbents like Purigen if you prefer chemical filtration. The pre-packaged polymer granules are ready to absorb organic and chemical waste. The adsorbent’s color changes from white to dark brown and the pores must be cleaned. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to create a diluted bleach solution that burns off the organic impurities so that the Purigen bag can be reused again.
Certain types of filter media are made to target specific chemicals and filter them out. For example, ammonia spikes are prone to occurring when the balance of your fish tank has been disrupted, such as after moving an aquarium, experiencing a power outage, or thoroughly cleaning a fish tank. To prevent toxic levels of ammonia from building up, you can preventatively install an ammonia filter pad to absorb the ammonia and keep your fish safe.
If phosphate levels are excessively high in your aquarium, it can lead to algae growth and compromise your fish’s health. Try using a phosphate media pad to keep the phosphate under control so that algae can’t take advantage of it. For healthy growth of live aquarium plants, a few articles suggest keeping 0.5-2.0ppm phosphate. If you don’t want to see yellowing or browning, it is best to keep the phosphate under control.
Phosphate, ammonia and carbon-infused pads for chemical filtration
Filter Media: Commonly Asked Questions
Which order should I place the aquarium filter media in?
There are many ways you can layer your filter media. Here are some suggestions. Look in the manual to find the direction the water flows through the filter. To prevent large chunks of debris from getting into the filter media, we recommend using a coarse sponge pad to mechanically filter the water. These pads can be used as mechanical filtering if you have to use ammonia orphosphate media pad. You can add the fine poly pad as an additional layer of mechanical filtration to capture even smaller particles in the water.
The biological layer is next. So fill your media trays with biomedia. Finally, chemical filtration can be used at the end of the filter just before water exits the aquarium. While not all products are required, we recommend that you have at least one layer in coarse mechanical filtration followed by one layer in biological filtration.
How do I clean an aquarium filter without killing bacteria? Remove the filter media and rinse them in old aquarium water or dechlorinated water to remove any accumulated waste. Coarse sponge pads are the dirtiest and can be vigorously wrung to clean it as much as possible. Bio media contains beneficial bacteria. They should be gently agitated in the water and not scrubbed. Except for Purigen which can be washed with bleach, chemical filtration must be completely replaced. The frequency of filter maintenance depends on many things, like the size of the filter, amount of media, and amount of food being fed to the aquarium. We recommend that you set a reminder on your calendar to clean your filter once every three months.
Place loose media (such as activated carbon and biomedia) in a bag for easy transport.
How many years does aquarium filter media usually last? As long as it is clean enough to not impair its functionality, reusable filter media such as coarse sponge pads, bio rings and Purigen can last many, many years. Fine poly pads should be disposed when they turn brown in color and water cannot move through them as easily. The only way to tell if chemical filtration like activated carbon, ammonia media pads, and phosphate pads are spent is to measure the water. It’s time for you to replace activated carbon if there are tannins or other unpleasant odors present in your water. The chemical media pads may be saturated if you measure ammonia or excessive phosphate levels in the water.
Is activated carbon necessary for my aquarium filter? Since most chemical filtration is disposable, it cannot be reused. We like to keep it in reserve for those instances where we are certain that there are tannins or pollutants we want to get rid of. If you are preparing for an aquarium photoshoot, you may choose to use carbon to ensure the water is extremely clear. But, hobbyists tend to not use carbon on an everyday basis as it can quickly become depleted and may only see temporary results.
To take your fish tank filtration to the next level, learn how to upgrade your aquarium filter with filter media in four easy steps.