Aquarium Filter Media

The single most important factor in successful fish keeping is water quality. Fish and other livestock, including invertebrates and plants, are captives in a tank environment so it is imperative that keepers accept the responsibility to ensure that that environment is clean, healthy and free of disease and disease-causing situations. Most new keepers, and some seasoned keepers as well, are unaware of how quickly ammonia can pollute an entire tank and kill fish within hours. Everything can look great but within a short span of time, everything is dead. This is why aquarium filter media is so important. Some of the most common types of aquarium filter media are carbon, ceramic media, biological media rings, and resins.

With the wealth of information, equipment and products available today, fish keeping should be easier and more successful than ever, but, unfortunately, too often keepers ignore the basic rules and face problems. Equipment and products may come and go, but the science of maintaining a clean, disease-free environment never changes.

 Filtration is critical to water quality. A filter is a compact unit packed full of high surface area media where millions of beneficial organisms flourish. As the aquarium water, filled with fish waste and other debris, passes through the filter these organisms ‘consume’ the wastes, thus eliminating the pollutants that could eventually kill the fish. The market is saturated with filters of all types and choosing which type is right for you is an important decision. The first rule of fish keeping is – understand the Nitrogen Cycle. The second rule is – buy the best filter you can afford. Every single time your tank has water quality problems, the solutions are associated with these two rules.

Media Filtration Types

There are a variety of different filter types, but only three different types of filtration. Chemical, mechanical, and biological all do a singular job of leading to an aquarium with clean water. However, combining different types of filtration allows for a more effective water treatment, leading to clean, healthy water for your fish and plant in habitants.

-Chemical filtration is a process by which additives remove dissolved wastes from the water. The most common method for chemical filtration uses activated carbon. Carbon absorbs harmful chemicals, organic compounds, metals and proteins, while leaving water sparkling clean without odors or unnatural colors. Carbon is a great choice for your aquarium filter media that would be a great accompaniment to your aquarium filter. Chemical Filtration also allows space to accommodate other carbon, resins, phosphate removers, etc.

-Mechanical filtration utilizes a piece of machinery that removes solid particles from the aquarium water by circulating it and straining. Purchasing a box or canister filtration can help you with your water filtration, but mechanical filtration on its own is not sufficient as it does not remove or convert ammonia, nitrate, or nitrite in the water. Combining it with a filter media material will allow free-floating waste to be removed before it decays while also breaking down contaminants in the water.

-Biological Filtration has active surfaces for reducing ammonia and nitrite, is easy to clean, and economical to use. For the beneficial and helpful bacteria to thrive, oxygen-rich water is needed, as well as a surface that bacteria can attach to, such as rocks or sand. Biological filtration is the process where beneficial bacteria (nitrifying) break down ammonia and nitrite and transform them into compound nitrate, which is much less toxic. All aquariums should have a form of biological filtration, such as pumice rock or media rings, and with very small fish populations, this would be sufficient for a healthy aquarium. However, in most aquariums, biological filtration will be just one method that is combined with others.

Types of Media Filters

Aquarium Undergravel Filters

The old standby. People either love them or hate them. Undergravel filters have huge surface areas for biological filtration and can be operated with either airstones and an airpump or powerheads. When using powerheads, remember to use the aeration feature on powerheads or an airstone. These systems are occasionally the only filters that will fit the application. The down side is without frequent gravel cleaning via water changes, undergravel filters are a problem waiting to happen. Always use additional filtration, whenever possible.

Aquarium Hanging / Box Filters

Probably the most sold type of filter. Although easy to both install and maintain, these filters require frequent cleaning and pad/sponge replacement. This is, however, a fairly easy task. Remember, these units hold the aquarium away from the wall 3-5 inches. For better water quality, opt for multiple box filters instead of bells and whistles. If one filter goes down, there is a backup. Never change both pads in a double padded filter or both filters in a dual box filter setup at the same time when cleaning. Alternating the media replacement preserves important bacteria. Some filters have room for additional bio media which should be used. Some have aeration features - moving surface water also aerates but remember, heavily loaded systems benefit from a decoratively placed airstone.

Prefilters fit most models and increase all aspects of filtration for these units while preventing small fish and invertebrates from being injured. Rinse these filters at the first sign of reduced flow. Multiple filters can be hooked together if flow is restricted or cleaning is required too often.

Aquarium Internal Filters

Many filters fall into this category. They include internal sponge, powered internal, and internal box or canister filters - air powered and motor powered. Breeders love them. They are easy, low cost, low hassle filters. They all aerate and biologically filter. The old fashioned, floss-filled internal air driven box or canister filter is great for breeding tanks, small tanks or for quarantine tanks. Internal filters can be packed with a range of filter media for biological, chemical or mechanical filtration depending on the application. Because they operate by forced air, they both aerate and filter the water. If a larger tank is having problems, add an internal filter filled with high quality carbon and floss. The disadvantage of filters in this class is size - they are simply too small to handle much fish load, must be hidden and take up floor space.

Aquarium Pleat Filter

Pleat filters are, with out question, the best form of mechanical filtration. If removing small particles prior to a UV sterilizer, carbon, or heater chamber is your goal, these are the type of filter you are looking for. Pleat filters, however, do come with a price. Most of the filters in this category require advanced installation abilities and are best suited for commercial or large scale use. They also are best used with some form of biological filtration and additional aeration. Large sand filters, while not actually pleat filters, are included here. When packed with sand, they are used for large scale mechanical filtration and they also have biological capabilities.

Aquarium Canister Filters

Canister filters are quiet running filters with high biological capacity and should be considered second choice to trickle filters. Canister filters have both pros and cons. The better designed units have good chemical filtration because no water by-passes the media. Canisters are also ideal for planted freshwater systems or when trickle filters are simply too large for the application. Canister filters provide long service life if packed properly with quality media and are economical to operate compared to box filters. Remember, these filters are closed systems and usually have lower flow rates. Use a small air pump and a decoratively placed airstone in aquariums without live plants or in saltwater systems without protein skimmers. Air pumps increase oxygen levels and act as a fail-safe in the event of a filter failure. Choose a canister filter one size larger than manufacturers recommend for heavily loaded systems or for saltwater. Larger filters are more efficient and have higher flow rates. Stay away from filters that use small internal baskets for media. Better units have either large internal baskets or trays and can be completely packed using 99% of their space for media.

Aquarium Trickle Filters

This is the most important decision keepers make. Saving a few dollars at this stage can mean countless dollars in fish losses. Underfiltered tanks cause problems again and again and make fish keeping a headache instead of a pleasurable, exciting hobby. Trickle filters are the best choice for tanks above 30 gallons. Good mechanical and biological filtration maintains robust oxygen levels and keeps harmful fish waste and other decaying debris from polluting the water and killing fish. Trickle filters, because of their size and expanded biological surface area, perform these tasks better than any other form of filtration and should always be considered the first choice. Trickle filters are more reliable and easier to maintain. Since there are no costly cartridges to replace, trickle filters are also more cost effective to operate.

Miscellaneous Filters

Many odd filters with specific applications fit into this category. Surface skimmers and various filter add-on units are available to supplement the main filtration system. If you have a canister or box filter and want a surface skimmer or you are looking for more advanced odd filters look here.

Filter Media Bulk Options

There is a range of filter media that you can purchase for your aquarium filter. Some of the most common types of filter media are carbon, ceramic media, biological media rings, and resins. Carbon allows some organic and inorganic materials to stick to its microscopic spores and removes many harmful elements from your aquarium. Aquarium filter media comes in different forms and can be purchased for different stages of filtration. Purchasing filtration media in bulk allows for filtration to always be on hand instead of having to buy it more frequently. It is also a good idea to purchase filtration media in bulk as a more economical option.

Researching the best filter for your aquarium as well as the best media for it will result in a clear and clean water and a healthy environment for your fish and/or shrimp. We offer various types of media, from pumice to filter sponges to carbon and seeded media rings, as well as a wide variety of filters such as canister filters (internal and external), box filters, corner filters, and sponge filters, as well as media bags to place your media in and put inside of your filter.