How to Customize Your Aquarium Filter with Filter Media
There are many aquarium sizes, stock levels and different types of fish. This makes it easy to tailor the filtration for each individual. Many filters, such as corner box, hang-on-back, corner box, internal, sump, and canister filters, can be modified by changing which types of filter media are used. Filter media refers to the different layers of materials that tank water gets filtered through before returning to the aquarium. Continue reading to find out about the various types of media and the functions they perform, as well as which ones you should choose.
1. Mechanical Filter Media
Mechanical filtration uses sponges, foam pads and filter floss to physically remove any debris from the water and keep fish or baby shrimp out. It is similar to a coffee filter. It is porous to allow water to flow through it. The size and shape of the pores determine the size particles trapped within the material.
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 use sponge pads to replace many disposable filter cartridges included in aquarium kit filters.
If you are still seeing small particles in your aquarium and want clear water, consider adding a fine poly pad or filter thread. This mechanical filter media features a very fine porosity and can catch even the smallest bit of flotsam. The floss pads have a dense design that can easily clog and should be replaced once they turn brown. You can modify both the coarse sponge and fine poly pads by cutting them down to make them fit your filter exactly.
Fine poly pad (left) and coarse sponge pad (right) for mechanical filtration
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. Because beneficial bacteria grows on any surface area in the tank that is well-oxygenated, the filter is a primary location to boost the population. Biological media, such as
and bio balls) come with lots of porous or intricately patterned surfaces to serve as “housing” for the bacteria colony. (In fact, beneficial bacteria also readily grows on the coarse sponge pads used for mechanical filtration.) The bio media is also designed to allow water to flow freely between them. This allows for more oxygen to be delivered to the bacteria. These surfaces can be covered by aquarium gunk, so you should clean the bio media once every three months. You can gently wave the media or rinse it in old tankwater until any debris is gone. (If you are using loose bio media that does not come in a bag, put it in a filter media bag to make it easier to pick up and clean.)
Aquarium bio rings for biological filtration
3. Chemical Filter Media
Chemical filtration is able to remove contaminants and some chemicals from the water. The most commonly used type is activated Carbon, which is a highly porous carbon that easily absorbs medicines, tannins, as well as other impurities. Activated charcoal for aquariums comes in loose granules, and should be contained in a filter medium bag. We prefer using
Carbon-infused media pads
They are also easier to handle and can be cut to any size you require. To add chemical filtration, cut off a section of the pads and wrap it around a sponge filter. Once the activated charcoal pores are clogged up with pollutants, it is no longer functional.
Instead of using reusable chemical filtering, you can use a synthetic adsorbent such purigen. Pre-packed in a media bag with polymer granules, the media bags are ready to absorb organic wastes and tannins. The adsorbent’s color changes from white to dark brown and the pores must be cleaned. To clean the Purigen bag, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Use a bleach solution to burn off organic impurities.
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. To keep the phosphate levels under control, you can use a phosphate media pad. This will prevent algae from taking advantage of it. Some articles on aquariums recommend that you keep a phosphate level of 0.5 to 2.0 ppm for healthy growth. Otherwise, the leaves may yellow and become brown.
Carbon, ammonia and phosphate pads are used for chemical filtration
Frequent Asked Questions about Filter Media
What order should I put the aquarium filter media?
There are many ways you can layer your filter media. Here are some suggestions. The first step is to look in the manual and find out which direction the water flows through the filter. We like to use a coarse sponge to filter out large particles of debris as they enter the filter media basket. You can also use the ammonia and phosphate media pads here for mechanical filtration. As a final mechanical filtration layer, you have the option of adding the fine poly pad to catch even smaller particles floating in the water.
The next layer is the biological filtration, so fill the media trays with bio media. Finally, you can choose to use chemical filtration like activated carbon or Purigen at the very end right before the water leaves the filter and reenters the aquarium. Although not all these products are required, we recommend at least one layer each of coarse mechanical filtration as well as one layer of biological filter if there is enough space.
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. The dirtiest sponge pads can be rubbed vigorously to remove as much dirt as possible. Bio media, which houses beneficial bacteria, should be gently agitated and not scrubbed in the hot water. Chemical filtration needs to be replaced entirely when used up (unless you’re using Purigen, which can be cleaned with diluted bleach). The frequency of maintenance will depend on the size of your aquarium, the media used, and the food you feed it. 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 or bio media, in a filter bag to make it easy to transport and contain.
How long does aquarium filter media last? Reusable filter media – such as the coarse sponge pad, bio rings, and Purigen – can last for many years, as long as it can be cleaned sufficiently so that its functionality is not impaired. Fine poly pads should not be used if they become brown or water is unable to pass through them. You can only measure the water to determine if any chemical filtration such as activated carbon, ammonia pads, or phosphate pads has been used. 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.
Do I need carbon in my aquarium filter? Because activated carbon (and most chemical filtration) is disposable and cannot be reused, we like to save it for specific instances when we know there are pollutants or tannins that we wish to remove. If you are preparing for an aquarium photoshoot, you may choose to use carbon to ensure the water is extremely clear. Hobbyists generally don’t use carbon daily because it quickly depletes and can lead to 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.