AQUARIUM FILTRATION (Filter Information, Review),
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
The purpose of this article is to help the reader choose the right filter or filters for their aquarium filtering needs and also help with troubleshooting of existing filters (or even bring back to life a "dead" filter as in the case of canister filters with failed motors).
There are several different types of aquarium filters, each aquarium filter with advantages and disadvantages.
I would also like to point out that I am a big believer in filter redundancy, meaning having more than one filter or at least more than one water circulation device which even an air pump driven air stone counts as.
Back to an air pump/air stone combination, this can still perform some bio filtration simply by moving current and adding dissolved oxygen (at the surface via gas exchange, not by virtue of the column of bubbles); this current will move water by nitrifying aerobic bacteria clinging to the surface of rocks, décor and in the case of marine aquariums, live rock which, by itself is a very efficient bio filter provided ample water current is provided around the live rock.
As per "Live Rock", the use of power heads, especially the newer propeller pumps (such as the Koralia or better yet Seio line propeller pumps) that direct water around and through this live rock is essentially a primary bio filter for this marine aquarium!
An important aspect of filter redundancy is back up bio filtration, which is also useful for “seeding” new aquariums or quarantine/hospital aquariums, added mechanical filtration, added water movement, and preventing filter emergencies (especially while you are sleeping, out of town, at work, etc.), since your second filter takes care of filtration until you can fix or replace the failed filter.
Another aspect of dual filters is to compliment each other.
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
I give my OPINION/REVIEW with each of these types of filters, based on 38 + years maintaining a large aquarium maintenance company in Los Angeles, California. I used many different types and brands of filters during this time, and continue to try new ones out.
These reviews are not meant to be the end all, as it is far from a complete list, but hopefully this can help readers with similar filters make good decisions.
Further Reading: My Aquarium Keeping Bio/Experience
A few notes before I get started here:
In each section below, I discuss the attributes (and weaknesses) of each type of filter and I give trouble shooting tips for each as well.
For Marine Aquarium filter systems/combination suggestions, please see this article: “Marine (Saltwater) Aquarium Filter Set Up Suggestions”
For Freshwater Aquarium filter systems/combination suggestions, please see this article: “Freshwater Aquarium Filter Set Up Suggestions”
Important Filter Parameters to aid in Choosing a Filter:
These parameters are important to consider. I will rate a few different brands in these categories where applicable (please only use this as a guide).
*Capacity; by this I mean the amount of bio load and debris a certain filter can hold. I will rate this (based on comparisons to similar size filters, in other words a Hydro Sponge I will not be compared to Via Aqua 750 Canister Filter).
*Bio Load capacity; similar to above, however this pertains to bio filtration (nitrifying, not de-nitrifying) abilities in particular.
*Flow By; this is the efficiency of a given filter to trap particulates of a given size without the water going around the media. I have determined this by measuring a micron filter insert, sponge or other Media’s debris collection after a given time.
*Head Pressure; this is the ability of the filter or pump to lift vertically. Many pumps and filters will claim 300 gph at 0 head pressure, however when devices such as a UV Sterilizer are added or the filter/pump has to lift vertically any distance (such as a canister filter on the floor), many pumps/filters will have much lower gph. This is a common problem with Fluval Canister filters for instance.
UNDER GRAVEL (UGF);
An old standby that is good for biological filtration (the conversion of fish waste from ammonia and nitrites to less harmful nitrates), but is poor for mechanical filtration (the removal of debris- organic and inorganic).
Although I have used many over the years with good results (there is generally more work involved in achieving reasonable results with an UG Filter than with other filters), I do not generally recommend them anymore.
Another style of under gravel filter that was somewhat popular in the 1970s into the early 80s was the tube style. These tubes could be plastic or sometimes homemade from PVC pipes with slits or holes cut on the bottom for intake of water through the gravel.
I had extensive experience using these in the 1970s into the 80s and in every case the flow pattern and resulting bio filtration was poor compared to other under gravel filter designs.
Further Reference/Reading: Aquarium Saprolegnia
Most UG filters also do not perform chemical filtration although some have small carbon cartridges that go on the exhaust of the lift tube (Lee’s makes such a UGF).
If used, I recommend a HOB (power filter) as a compliment, they have better mechanical and chemical filtration, but tend to be lacking in biological filtration (some are better than others for this).
Here are a Few Reasons to Not Use an Under Gravel Filter:
The bottom line is if considering, DO NOT, rather consider a Sponge Filter or if your budget allows; a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter (which the TMC model is unsurpassed by ANY bio filter in capacity and efficiency).
Potential UGF Problems/Maintenance:
Make sure to use a bottle brush to keep the lift tubes flowing smoothly, vacuum regularly especially around the lift tubes to prevent organic build up that can impede flow.
As an example the Hydro Sponge #3 outperformed the AquaClear 50 as well as other Power Filters such as the Marineland Penguin 170 in controlled tests I performed many years back.
These filters are excellent biological filters and reasonable mechanical filters. They are simple and inexpensive. The type of sponge material makes a large difference in the filters bio capacity.
Internal filters and HOB small aquariums are good compliments to sponge filters.
Canister filters are good compliments to sponge filters in large aquariums (or vice versa).
As for the brand of sponge filter I would recommend, the Hydro Sponge (by ATI) rises far above the rest as they hold most of the patents for sponge technology.
Just as important, the ATI Hydro Sponge Filters are one of the few USA made aquarium filters you can buy, and all the knock-offs not only are inferior (& sometimes infringing on USA patents), they are all made elsewhere!
HANG ON BACK-POWER FILTERS (HOB);
HOB filters (hang on the back- power filters) are quite popular for good reason. They are generally inexpensive and simple to operate.
Most of these filters are good for mechanical and chemical filtration, while many are generally poor to fair for bio filtration as the single cartridge HOB filters do not retain healthy bio colonies.
This does vary widely with the model and can be improved via add-ons as well.
The Aqua Clear is better than most HOBs for biological filtration (if not the best) and is deservably very popular for this reason among many experienced aquarists.
I should also note that the Aqua Clear Filters have poor impellers and impeller well design that more easily warp, and from my records (based on literally 100s of Aqua Clear applications in my large aquarium maintenance company), have a higher than average break down record than many other HOBs due to the impeller and impeller well/motor design.
Another "non-issue" in my opinion is that the filter media such as the carbon or sponge might float up in the basket. This can be remedied by soaking and removing any and all air prior to introduction to the filter, then placing a small rock on the basket (this may not work for all models though).
Before I seem too hard on these filters, they do have a lot of bio and coarse mechanical capacity and flexibility especially in the larger models, which is where I would recommend their purchase.
However, I do not buy the argument by supporters of Aqua Clears that the cartridge style filter is more expensive to operate and vastly less efficient biologically.
One more point in favor of Aqua Clears (or at least the Model #70 and # 110), these can also be converted into a pretty good Nano Reef Filter with some live rock fragments (about 1”), SeaChem Matrix, or volcanic rock and even a small mud filter with the mud or even live sand in a fine nylon bag placed in the bottom of the filter.
*Volcanic Rock Bio Media
*SeaChem Matrix Premium Aerobic and Anaerobic Bio Media
Summarizing from my experience and tests as to Aqua Clear;
Points to consider for the AquaClear:
This said, even here my personal preference for freshwater aquariums (especially when value is considered) would be two different filters 'TYPES' such as a Hydro Sponge #5 PRO filter, Fluidized Bed Filter, or Wet/Dry Internal filter AND a smaller HOB such as the AAP/SunSun HBL-702 rather than one Aqua Clear 110 for an 80 gallon aquarium (although a Aqua Clear 70/110 can be complimented as well with another filter for more bio capacity and important filter redundancy).
SeaChem Tidal; This is a newer entry into the premium aquarium HOB power filter niche from a company already known for their quality products & information.
This filter takes many of the concepts from the Aqua Clear as well as the newer Tetra/Whispers and improves on them and provides a top notch 3 year warranty to back these filters up.
What I like is is it uses the concept of multi media use in a larger capacity filter similar to the AquaClear, but then provide a better tray feature, skimming, a maintenance monitor shows when the filter basket needs cleaning, better self priming motor, and simply a more solidly built filter.
However one of the negatives also found in the AquaClear is found in this filter and that is its "flow by" is higher and fine particulate mechanical filtration is not as good as some other HOB filters. This said, the way the basket fits is still better than the AquaClear with lower "flow by"
Time will tell on its durability as while I have used literally 100s of Aqua Clear filters over the years, I do not have this experience of time & numbers with this filter, but based on my experience of using many different HOB Filters over the years, I expect this filter to not only stand up as the premier HOB filter in its class, but also be a durably long lasting filter too with an unsurpassed warranty too!
Product Resource: AAP/SeaChem Tidal Aquarium HOB Filters
The Penguin & Emperor has good mechanical filtration (little flow-by), but are not as good for bio filtration even with the Bio-Wheel, which is vastly over-rated as per the tests I performed through my aquarium maintenance business. I removed the bio wheel on penguin filters in comparable aquariums with comparable bio loads and fish and found no discernible ammonia spike. Yet when HOB filters that had running Sponge Pre Filters attached to their intakes were removed, there were discernible ammonia spikes. What this means is that the Bio Wheel was NOT the primary source or even an important source of bio filtration for the tanks with the bio wheels.
For more FULL information about my experiments with Bio Wheels, please read this article:
There are NO penguins I recommend, ESPECIALLY the Emperor models as I have had so many impeller problems with these, not to mention they have the problem of becoming "Nitrate factories".
While I would not throw away one of these filters if you already own one (as these filters can and do work); the bottom line as to Emperors/ Penguins despite some anecdotal hype around these filters, DO NOT waste your money on one if you are in the market for a new filter.
I will also note that the Aqua-Tech sold by Walmart is simply a stripped down Penguin with no bio capacity at other than the cartridge, which when thrown away destroys all nitrifying bacterial colonies. At least the Bio Wheel maintains some bio colonies, but his filter does not and should be avoided more so than the Penguin if used as the ONLY filter!From my experience, your money is better spent with an Aqueon, SunSun or Whisper, or especially the premier HOB (when used CORRECTLY with a pre-filter); the Rena Smart Filter.
Product Resource: Rena Smart & SuperClean Filter; Models, 20, 30, 50, 55
The New Rena Superclean, and older Via Aqua VitaLife and Millineum are the excellent "Simple" Hang-On filters for freshwater tanks under 60 gallons, with the SuperClean getting the edge due to the surface skimmer feature (not to be confused with a protein Skimmer), lower price (and thus better value), & reliable impeller design.
The SuperClean filters also have a low “flow by rate” and are thus much better for mechanical filtration (these cartridges are easily rinsed and re-used as well).
The SuperClean utilizes a unique plastic "fence" where highly porous ceramic bio media are placed (supplied with filter), that is a simpler and more reliable way to maintain nitrifying bacterial colonies than a bio wheel
Unfortunately, both the ViaAqua VitaLife and Millineum filters have suffered from the down turn in the economy that started in 2008 and are no longer available (except for a few of the M100 models). However a cheap "knock off" off of the VitaLife is now made by by a rather unethical aquarium supply company, avoid this filter that might look like a Vitalife, but is not the same filter in quality.
A useful feature beside the fact that these filters are supplied with the well documented BioChem Zorb which is superior to carbon used in other filters, these filters will have the option of cartridges with NitriZorb (for ammonia/nitrate removal)& Phoszorb (for phosphate removal)
The older Whisper Filters are an industry standard for simple economical Hang-On Aquarium Filters with additional bio filtration. While not the best, these are reliable filters with a popular following for good reasons.
The new Aqueon and Whisper EX series aquarium power filters feature the pump (power unit) outside the aquarium instead of at the bottom of the filter as most Aquarium HOB Filters are configured.
This has its advantages and disadvantages; the main advantage is there is not a need to prime the filter by adding water to it or the risk of debris such as carbon getting sucked into the impeller well, thus jamming the filter impeller.
The Whisper EX version of this design has a “time strip tab” to indicate the exhaustion of carbon, however my opinion of this is it is a gimmick, as most persons over use carbon in healthy established aquariums and over rate its need.
I would recommend the lower priced Aqueon over the Whisper even though it does not have the “time strip tab” feature. Neither the Aqueon or the Whisper EX offer the bio bag, however the filter cartridges are easily rinsed or purchased in multi packs for better economy.
A note as to Filter Cartridges: Whisper has come out with a new filter cartridge that does not hold up well at all. Even the popular Bio Bag (which I have used for years and have enjoyed its versatility), is made from a weakly “spun” poly fiber that does not hold up as well as many better cartridges, however the price of these bio bag cartridges when bought in bulk boxes generally made up for this.
However this new cartridge is not as inexpensive as it once was, and does not even hold up as well as the previous cartridge.
This is a good example where the cost of a product may not truly reflect its value, since I have rinsed many of these VitaLife as well as those for the similar AAP/SunSun HBL series Filter Cartridges over a dozen times before disposing of them, which actually makes them a better price for a vastly better cartridge.
Premium HOB Filters;
The Rena Smart HOB Filters are an excellent idea for an HOB/Power Filter as they have the lowest flow-by of ANY HOB filter as they operate much like a canister filter by their unique design pulls water through filter columns as well as passing water through a 4-sided filter cartridge which contains Bio Chem Zorb and Bio Chem Stars for excellent chemical and bio filtration.
The only negatives of the "Smart Filter" in my opinion (based on my professional aquarium service partners) are that the cartridges are expensive to replace and can clog quickly due to high filter efficiency. As long as the user is aware of this and checks the cartridge sleeves regularly, especially when the filter is newly installed on a dirty tank, this should not be a problem.
What is unfortunate, is the uninformed anecdotal reviews (such as at Amazon) that permeate the Internet condemning this filter for what is actually a positive. As noted earlier this filter is so efficient, that it can clog easily; this is NOT a flaw, rather users simply should be aware of this and maintain this filter accordingly and add a quality pre-filter as recommended by aquarium professionals!
The end result has been one of the best HOB filter ideas, is now a discontinued filter line.
For the major negative of these filters, please see the note in the API SuperClean Filter section.
In summary, the initial filter purchase price is high, but the filter sleeve part of these cartridges can be removed and then rinsed clean with a strong jet of clean water so as to extend the life of cartridge sleeves.
The AAP/SunSun HBL-501 or AAP/SunSun HBL-702 are very good economy HOB filters (there are several "good" economy HOB Filters), with both cartridge AND Bio Sponges/Grids.
Product Resource: AAP HBL-501 & 702 Economy HOB Filters
The 501 model has a small skimmer/aerator feature, while the 702 model has the new and popular feature of an "in tank" motor (similar to the Aqueon & Tetra) that makes for a very easy start up and more importantly lowers the risk of the impeller drawing debris that settles inside the filter impeller well, often from stray carbon.
As well, these filters come with a cartridge that is actually superior to many more pricey HOB Filters such as the Whisper or Penguin in that it is easily pressure rinsed for re-use in mechanical filtration.
With the 'double' SunSun HBL-702, I often recommend removing one of the Bio Grids and replacing with SeaChem Matrix or SeaChem Purigen for Nitrate Control, especially these are to be used and small saltwater aquarium.
The only negative I have found, is that the directions are somewhat "sparse", however this is only a very minor flaw as anyone with any familiarity with aquarium HOB power filters should have no problem connecting a SunSun HBL Filter to their aquarium.
Another Economy HOB filter is the Top Fin which is actually a mass market version of the Whisper Filter, however it does not include the bio sponge insert that is available with higher end Whispers, as well the Top Fin is prone to some impeller problems.
There are many other Economy Aquarium Power Filters available, too many to mention, but from my use of many, as well as simply knowing from experience which features are important for a healthy aquarium; the SunSun HBL series is certainly the best of the bunch and often outperforms many much more expensive filters including the Penguin.
Further Hang-On Filter Suggestions, Information:
I generally prefer/recommend cartridge filters with additional Bio Sponges or grids for a good mix of mechanical, chemical, & bio filtration.
However, you need to look at what you need your filter for. If you have little debris in your aquarium (requiring good mechanical filtration) but a high bio load, the Aqua Clear may be for you (their mechanical problems aside).
However with small economy HOB filters often sold at Walmart or PetsMart such as the TopFin or small Whispers without any bio filter capacities, a Pre-Filter Sponge will considerably aid in bio filtration & is strongly suggested (for only about $6).
Even though HOB Filters are not first choice for marine aquariums, they can and do work here as well, usually in smaller applications (under 60 gallons).
For whatever your choice may be, the addition of Live Rock fragments, SeaChem Matrix, SeaChem Purigen, or volcanic rock via a filter bag will improve marine aquarium filtration (I remove the bio grid in the M 200 and substitute the filter bag instead).
One more note about the older style (not the new EX series) Whisper HOB filters; one nice thing about these filters is you can buy the “Bio Bag” filter inserts in bulk boxes cheaply at many local fish stores. I like this feature as it gives you options of economy and ease of carbon removal for treatment or established aquariums (which I rarely use carbon in except occasionally).
Many years back I performed a few tests on “flow by” on Aqua Clears vs. Whisper and a couple other HOB filters (for mechanical filtration and chemical filtration).
*Test ; Using a bare tank (20 gallons) and original carbon. I added Methylene Blue and the Whisper removed the Methylene Blue quicker.
*Test ; I added a washed gravel slurry again to a bare 20 gallon aquarium and again the Whisper removed the debris much quicker this time than the Aqua Clear. I also have used the Penguin and Via Aqua Vita Life; both were also quicker at removing the debris as well (the Via Aqua was the fastest). During this test I used an air stone on the bottom to keep the debris suspended.
This brings me to the point that many HOB filters can be equipped with Pre Filters (the Filter Max is the best due to its patented sponge technology).
A complaint with pre filters I have occasionally heard (not from experienced users) is that they end up performing all the mechanical filtration duties of your HOB filter; HOWEVER this is not true.
Potential HOB Filter problems (Trouble Shooting):
Not as common a filter but a much less costly alternative to expensive and bulky canister filters. Internal filters are basically a power head with a filter of varying capacity attached.
I prefer the SunSun Internal Filters for the flow rates, internal sponges and value.
I will briefly mention Power Heads here as well as many internal filters are simply glorified Power Heads (I do not mean that in a bad way either).
The SunSun JP-23 is a good value/economy true power head pump that is superior to similar earlier versions of this more basic power head pump design such as the Marineland Penguin.
The Power Sweep by ZooMed has not had a good track record from my experience; this pump breaks down in short order (the gears are of poor quality) and is under powered (poor head pressure).
Another new segment of the “Aquarium Pump” category are the Propeller Pumps such as the popular Hydor Koralia Pumps, however the Seio Propeller pumps have improved on the Hydor pumps in a slightly better design (as per durability) and a vastly better price (value). What is unique about this style pump is that they can move large volumes of water with small amounts of energy consumption in a VERY small pump; for example the Seio 320 Pumps uses 4.5 watts to move 320 gph in a small 1.9" x 1.5" x 2.5" pump!
For a more thorough review of some popular power heads, please see this Aquariums Answers Post:
Potential Power Head/Pump & Internal filter Problems:
*Make sure to clean the impeller regularly, also clean the area the impeller “nests” to prevent debris from stopping the impeller. The impeller should be to turn 359 degrees before locking, if the impeller spins freely or not at all, it is broken. Make sure the media is rinsed in used tank water or de-chlorinated tap water regularly (if sponge media, change occasionally if the media is a cartridge or similar). Internal filters do not have the capacity of their larger cousins the Canister Filters, so check the media often.
Cleaning of the impeller & impeller well is especially important if you pump is only used occasionally, such as to pump water out during an aquarium cleaning.
*Often Internal Filters or Power Heads are used to run external devices such as a UV Sterilizer or Fluidized Bed Filter.
Popular filters for larger aquariums in particular, Canister filters are known for their large capacity (most canister filters with the exception of Magnums are the ‘Kings’ of capacity), which sometimes can be their problem.
I GENERALLY recommend them if they are serviced regularly, as their ability to hold large amounts of different filter media and their excellent mechanical filtration set canister filters above many other filters. However their general use is in freshwater aquariums and even then filters such as the Fluidized Sand Bed Filter generally have considerably more bio capacity and are preferred for planted freshwater aquariums.
Canister filters, despite many improvements in designs and features, seem to be a filter that not only is time consuming in changing for some, they presents many difficulties in initial set up and subsequent cleanings for many basic aquarium keepers based on the many questions and service calls I have had/made (which is why later in this article I provide an extensive troubleshooting guide), for this reason these are often not the best filter for many, and why a high performance sponge filter may be a better choice for less experienced aquarium keepers or those who are simply less "handy".
Canister filters are still one of the best choices for a filter for fresh water aquariums over 100 gallons, especially when well maintained with regular rinses in de-chlorinated water (including foam and ceramic media).
If used in marine aquariums, I recommend the use of cured live rock crumbles, SeaChem Matrix or volcanic rock (better than bio balls or ceramic rings) to keep these filters from becoming nitrate factories.
For MORE about filter media, please see this article:
Most Canister filters have a water flow pattern that flows from the bottom (not in the Magnum though); in these filters I would start with coarse filter media at the bottom of the canister.
For "VALUE", I prefer the AAP/SunSun 300 & 400 series (which is also sold under different names, but many including the SunSun VARY CONSIDERABLY in quality), although these are not necessarily the best canister filters (& in fact are NOT), these are an excellent choice when price is a major consideration for high capacity, generally reliable canister filter, just be aware these are economy filters.
SunSun has a newer 600 series canister filter, these are simply an economy-economy filter that are basically a "throw away filter" at the price they sell for. These 600 models (such as the SunSun 603) are extremely cheaply made and when something breaks you are better off just purchasing another filter. Better it to be wise and purchase a better filter such as the Filstar if you have already made the mistake and purchased a 600 series SunSun.
I would caution potential SunSun, Grech, Perfect, or similar Canister Filter buyers that there are some flaws in the switch mount, return and intake piping, and unfortunately almost all retailers of this filter are not aware of this and do not provide the retrofit of this problem or test the switch. Another flaw in the newest 700 series is these simply are more cheaply built and all the testing and retrofitting in the world does not fix these flaws.
I suggest purchasing here (ALL SunSun Canister Filters are properly retrofitted here):
Other similar value canister filters include the now discontinued Via Aqua line, and the Hydor PRO series canister filter which has MANY design similarities to the Via Aqua 750 and other models (really almost a carbon copy of the Via Aqua filters).
Product Resource: Ball Valves to Replace Hydor or Other Canister Filter Ball ValvesHere is a video for the Hydor Pro Filter: YouTube; Hydor Professional Aquarium External Filter
The best standard canister filter (non "pro" model) from my aquarium maintenance use is the AAP/Rena (API) Filstar XP (although more money than the SunSun & similar economy filter, but often less than the Fluval which are but an economy canister filter).
Another advantage is that some sellers of the AAP/Rena Filstar include the super premium filtration media "Bio-Chem Zorb" which is vastly superior to carbon. This product is similar to a high grade carbon and Purigen combined.
In fact from my experience, the Rena Filstar XP Filter Systems are the best canister filters in their category (when apples to apples models are compared)!
For those reading this article thinking to themselves that I am promoting the API Rena because I sell them should note that I do not have access to the cheapest source for API-Rena Products and therefore in the end sell these at just a little more than cost!!!
For a installation/instruction video for the Filstar, please click here:
As for the ever popular Fluval, I am often left scratching my head as to its popularity, as I have literally used 100s over the years in my maintenance business and found these to have poor head pressure, poor flow patterns and are unreliable at a higher rate than others, even some economy models such as the SunSun have proven to be equal to or better reliability.
I have had dozens of Fluvals on my maintenance route over the years, and their longevity is less than most others, even in the newer ’04 & '05 models.
Even the highly touted Fluval FX5 and FX6 which has some great design ideas (such as the placement of the power supply/pump at the bottom & enclosed impeller), is a flawed filter that often fails or falls short of other filters such as the Filstar XP4 or Eheim 2080. As well, the FX5/FX6 is vastly over rated for bio filtration when compared to Fluidized Filters where you are better off with a lower priced model Fluval or other canister filter mated to a FSB filter!!!
One more feature of the Fluval FX5/FX6 is the so-called Smart Pump Technology, which continually monitors the pump, constantly measuring impeller speed and force. It also manages the filter’s self-starting feature and evacuates air that may enter or build up within the filtration system during a 12-hour cycle, during which the pump will pause and allow trapped air to escape.
This all said, the Fluval FX5/FX6 is certainly in a different league of canister filter than their Fluval predecessors.
However if you going to spend the amount of money this filter requires, my choice would be for more redundancy with two Rena Filstar, SunSun or similar.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the Fluval also performs mechanical and chemical filtration, hence I recommend a Fluidized filter be paired with another filter type, even a HOB (power filter).
As well all one has to do is type Fluval FX5 Review (such as at discusforums.com/forum) and find that I am not the only user that finds the Fluval flawed, even the high end models.
The Eheim is a generally excellent filter with excellent capacity, good solid construction, and an excellent flow pattern with little flow-by.
Eheim has done an excellent job marketing their filters as they have convinced many in the aquarium community that their filter is second to none which although I still find the Eheim an excellent filter (one of the best), this is simply not correct. I also do not like the return policy of any Eheim product which forces the consumer to send their products back to Eheim instead of the speed and convenience of the retailer.
The most popular Eheim Filters are the 2213, 2215, & 2217 Classics, and frankly are still the best value in Eheim filters over the over hyped larger Eheims such as the 2080 (the Eheim 2215 Classic is pictured above left).
The newer "Eheim Ecco Pro Easy" models; 2232, 2234,& 2236 are excellent values for those who are sold on the Eheim name. These models have an excellent build, and feature a new pre-filter which gives the user longer intervals between cleanings.
Two large (& pricey) Eheim, Filters are the 2262 & 2080 are without equals in capacity and water flow, as well as superior to the Fluval FX filters (the 2062 is my preference). However the head pressure is poor in relation to the water flow, as well I would personally recommend more filter redundancy rather than either of these large filters.
As noted with the Fluval FX5; a vastly more effective filter system (especially when price is considered) would be a pair smaller Eheims, Rena Filstars or SunSuns (or many other canister filters) OR one mated to a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter. The bio capacity of a say an AAP/SunSun HW403 (or similar canister filter) combined with a TMC V2 1000 Fluid Filter would easily exceed either the Eheim 2080 or Fluval FX5/FX6.
Their Wet/ Dry Model (2229 W/D) is not a true Wet/ Dry rather it purges water in and out of the canister, this produces a poor flow rate for larger aquariums in particular and tends to prone to problems. This is the one Eheim I would consider a flop, with the largest Pet Supply distributor in North America (Central Pet) no longer stocking it due to problems.
In summary, if an Eheim is what you have decided on; I would recommend the 2213, 2215, & 2217 Classics or the Ecco Pro Easy 2232, 2234,& 2236. If your tank is large, rather than a 2062 or 2080, I suggest multiples, OR BETTER; a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter with a separate pump.
The Magnum has unique convertible features (the ability to switch between standard canister filtration and micron, which is a nice feature), as well there is NO easier canister filter for the ease of start up due to their bottom motor which resists "siphon-stopping" air pockets. The Magnum is one of the few canister filters that can be placed at tank level rather than under an aquarium for proper water siphon operation (although no higher as it still utilizes a siphon, it just has a bottom motor that is easier to start and maintain a siphon under marginal siphon conditions).
However their capacity is poor at best when compared to about any other canister filter. Before one dismisses Magnums for their capacity, they have about the best head pressure as compared to other Canister filters which is especially useful for running UV Sterilizers, Fluidized Filter, etc. The Magnums also have an occasional problem with leaking around the O ring, but generally good O ring lubrication maintenance can prevent this.
Micron Canister Filters include many canister filters that can be run either as a regular multi-media canister filter such as the Ocean Clear Filter, the Magnum, and others.
As a generalization the term micron filter applies to filters that use cartridges or pads to filter down to 20 -50 microns. Often without other filters or pre-filtration these types of filters can not be run long before the need to change or clean the filter media, this is especially true the smaller the micron size (such as 20 microns or less).
Finally as to Micron Filters; an aquarist can convert an efficient standard canister filter with low flow by (such as the Filstar, Via Aqua 750, & the Eheim) to a somewhat effective micron filter by utilizing fine micron poly pads. This does not usually work in most standard Fluvals (such as the 405) due to their design and high flow-by.
Hard Plumbed/Pre-Drilled Canister Filters:
Another often forgotten aspect of canister filters is that you can drill and use bulk heads to attach a canister filter. I have installed many canister filters from Magnum, AAP/SunSun 402/403/404, Filstar, to Ehiem, often powering UV Sterilizers and/or Fluidized filters this way in MANY high end filtration installations I have performed in my custom aquarium design and maintenance business.
In larger aquariums (such as 125 gallon plus), I have often plumbed more than one canister filter together with one intake split by a PVC ‘T” or hose barb ‘T”. However any return should be separate for each canister filter as the motor will not function correctly otherwise. When more than one canister filter is employed on a single aquarium, I will generally set up each canister filter differently, with one containing primarily bio media and chemical nitrate removal products such as Purigen, while the second Canister filter would be set up primarily as a micron/mechanical filter. I generally would connect the UV Sterilizer to the canister filter set up as a micron/mechanical filter as this combination would work better for UV Sterilization.
This next diagram/picture shows how I have plumbed a 250 gallon aquarium (& larger), both fresh and saltwater (reef).
To provide more security from leaks, I suggest adding a small bead of quality aquarium silicone on both sides of the bulkhead just prior to final tightening. This idea was handed down to me by an old timer aquarium builder years ago (Bill from Prestige Aquarium) and it has allowed him to have bulkheads last as long as the aquarium itself (despite inaccurate videos by a popular online Reef supply discounter)!
Recommended viewing for proper Bulkhead use!
The over the top installation is more typical and works fine, however I have achieved better performance, and a MUCH cleaner look when drilled. When used this way your Canister filter is often easier to service (when valves are employed) and can more easily power additional equipment such as a UV Sterilizer, Fluidized filter, or Heater module.
Canister Filter Alternatives
Many aquarists are not aware that many high bio load capacity pond filters make EXCELLENT aquarium filters, often at lower prices to comparable canister filters.
What is also nice besides the price and bio capacity is that by using a pump such as the Rio 1700 inside your aquarium to pump water to your pressurized pond filter, you do not have the problem of starting a siphon (or loosing a siphon after you thought it was started).
The concept is simple, you place your power head in an appropriate place in your aquarium, then run the correct size of aquarium tubing from the power head out to the Clear Stream Pond Filter and then back into the aquarium.
You may also connect a Pre Filter or similar for additional pre-filtration before sending the water to the main filter or to prevent small fish from getting trapped, although many power heads have small sponges that prevent debris and most medium/small or larger fish from getting caught.
Please Click on the picture to enlarge for a better view
Please note that this concept has worked very well for me over the years, but if your “DIY abilities” are not very good, I would stick with traditional Aquarium Canister Filters such as the second to none Rena Filstar Filter which has in depth instructions as well a demo video.
Supplemental Pumps for Canister Filters:
A Rio 1100 along with the AAP/SunSun JP-065 (for smaller canister filters) or AAP/SunSun JP-066 works well for this application for many canister filters.
Canister Filter Maintenance to Prevent Problems:
Make sure to clean the impeller regularly, also clean the area the impeller “nests” to prevent debris from stopping the impeller. If the impeller stops, check for carbon caught in this area and make sure impeller itself is not broken. The impeller should be able to turn 359 degrees before locking, if the impeller spins freely or not at all, it is broken.
WET/DRY FILTERS, Including Trickle and Sump Filters;
Popular with fish only marine aquariums in particular (although not so much with pure reef enthusiasts), these filters are great biological filters for control of ammonia and nitrites, but poor mechanical filters.
The Under Tank (Sump) Wet/Dry
This type (which is the most common, especially for Central Filter systems) uses a siphon or drain to take aquarium water out to the “sump” where the bio balls or other biological media are place in a "trickle" filter prior to reaching the sump, and then uses a pump or power-head to return the water.
Often a wet/dry is not your best choice, where as a sump that technically has no "wet/dry" aspect. the obvious and proven issues with wet/dry is that these can be nitrate factories
This diagram displays a more advanced marine aquarium sump that does NOT employ a wet/dry aspect (which IMO/experience is outdated and much less efficient).
This sump includes:
Standard Sump & Central Filter System Sump; DIY
You can easily build your own Sump, Wet/Dry, or Mud-Sump combination. A simple over flow from your tank works well for the pick up (I prefer a bulkhead in the back or bottom of the tank).
For a real simple sump you can simply use an Rubbermaid container filled with live rock crumbles and a pump with a pre filter (although this is not the best, it does work).
The diagram below is a simple and effective sump I've used in the past that keeps nitrates low naturally.
Overflow versus drilled aquarium as a means to get water to your sump:
Obviously with a sump below or even beside an aquarium, there must be a means to get the water to the sump. Getting the water back to the display tank is generally easy with using the many pumps available depending upon flow rate and head pressure needed.
My preferred method is with an overflow tube that is attached via a bulkhead drilled in the bottom or side of the aquarium.
This is where the traditional overflow box is used that allows water to over flow into the box, and then uses a siphon to move the water to the sump. Use of a one way (out) check valve attached to air line tubing makes it easy to start the water flow by sucking out the air. The same air line can be attached to a power head running in the aquarium that uses an air line to diffuse air into the aquarium, thus helping to prevent loss of siphon from an air bubble forming in the top of the siphon tube.
A newer method employs the use of PVC pumps, generally 3/4 to 1" pvc to act as an overflow with a lower likelihood of loss of siphon than with the traditional methods.
Regardless of what method is used, a caution in case of siphon failure; make sure that your sump hold ANY VOLUME OF WATER that might over flow the aquarium.
Potential Wet-Dry filter problems:
Product Resource: Swing Check Valve for Wet Dry Filter Sump
*Make sure to clean the bio balls or other bio filter media occasionally by rinsing in USED aquarium water to keep them from slime build up and to keep the water from “channeling”.
FLUIDIZED SAND BED (FSB) FILTERS/REACTORS;
These filters are primarily biological filters only. They work well attached to an internal filter/power head both inside the main aquarium or attached to a sump. As well, many can be easily run off of a canister filer.
*Note with the exception of the NPX Bioplastics that require a reaction chamber, NO other products should be place in your FSB filter other than the sand (place these products such as Purigen, Marix, Phosphate Removers in a separate filter).
The plus is they are basically self cleaning as the sand is constantly rubbing against other grains keeping down the organic buildup.
I fact in lieu of often expensive canister filters such as the Eheim 2080 or the Fluval FX5 & FX6, I would strongly recommend to invest in a smaller canister filter (such as the SunSun HW303B or Eheim Classic models 2015-2017) and then place the Fluidized Filter in-line after this Canister Filter.
OR simply do away with sometimes cumbersome canister filters completely and place your Fluidized Filter/Reactor in-line to a power head (the addition of a pre-filter sponge is recommended for best results) or Internal Filter (most though do not have the head pressure/flow rate to power FB Filters). Then provide additional aeration/agitation with an air pump or sponge filter driven by an air pump.
The other popular option is running the FSB Filter /Reactor on the side or in a sump.
Pictured above right is the newer & patented AAP/TMC React 500 Filter which replaces the older 600 FSB Filter with much more flow rate flexibility, rugged construction, and a design that is simply much less troublesome when it comes to fluidation than ANY other FSB Filter /Reactor (not to mention more flexibility in use)
Ease of servicing the TMC FSB filter is another attribute which helped make my decision to move on to these models over previous generation FSB filters. The top easily screws off allowing for easy access to add sand media or other products such as NPX Bioplasitcs. The earlier generation models (which are still widely sold) only allows access via a small opening in the valve assembly.
My own extensive use (and this was with the older generation and less efficient LifeGuard/ Pentair Fluidized Filter) showed vastly better bio load capacity with a generic canister filter or power head mated to a fluidized bed filter than with a larger more expensive canister filter (such as the very pricey Fluval FX5).
More bluntly the newest generation Fluidized Bed Sand Bed Filters have models such as the TMC #1500 with a Bio Capacity higher than ANY Aquarium Canister Filter including the Eheim 2080 or Fluval FX5.
Aquarium fluidized bed filters are the way to go if you have a planted aquarium, because they won't wear off your CO2, as well these adapt better than most bio filters to the cycles of plant respiration and the affects plants have on the aquarium nitrogen cycle.
The beauty of this method is that they may move water slower than say a wet-dry, but they are much more efficient, less of a Nitrate factory, and move water at the perfect speed to optimize UV Sterilization (if also utilized).
In fact, the goldfish aquariums installed this way were among the healthiest and most trouble free I have maintained.
As for the potential Nitrate Factory issue, the use of a de-nitrifying filter media such as NPX Bio-Plasitcs Media placed inside the Fluidized Filter (especially useful for reef aquariums) OR the use of Purigen and/or Matrix placed in a filter bag near a power head or in a separate filter (usually a canister or HOB) can help to nullify if not eliminate this problem.
*NPX Bioplastics Nitrate & Phosphate Reducing Polymer Media
*SeaChem Purigen; Removes Nitrogenous Organics from Water
*SeaChem Matrix for Nitrate Removal
The bottom line, if properly installed, their strengths will shine as they are not the nitrate factories that wet/dry filters often become especially if the pre filter used to power the Fluid Filter is rinsed regularly.
As for those who find canister filters messy, cumbersome, and unreliable; a premium Fluidized Filter IS superior in aerobic bio filtration to most canister filters, INCLUDING the over priced and over hyped large capacity Fluval FX and Eheim models.
Be aware that many "cut and paste" web sites such as About.com (whom promote the LifeGuard and do not even mention the TMC Filter), they do little research or update their content and while the LifeGuard may have been the best more than a decade ago (as per my own extensive use), the TMC Patented Reactor line is the newest generation with less issues with correct sand fluidation along with the ability, when used with oolitic sand, to maintain alkalinity in African Cichlid and Marine Reef or Fish aquariums!
Tips for Mounting/Installation:
This video below might be helpful for those looking to set up a 3rd generation FSB Filter:
Here are a few other helpful YouTube Videos about FSB Filters:
*TMC V2 Bio Fluidized Sand Filter Cleaning 1
*TMC V2 Bio Fluidized Sand Filter Cleaning 2
*TMC V2 Bio Fluidized Sand Filter Cleaning 3
*Tips & Tricks TMC V2 Bio Fluidized Sand Filter Cleaning 4
Below is an example of a mounting of a Model #600 FSB filter along with a Rio 1000 Pump, Filter Max #3 pre-filter, & Vecton-2 8 Watt UV Sterilizer:
Here is a Diagram of how I installed these with a Canister Filter & UV under the aquarium:
If chemical filtration is necessary (even in low amounts), this however can be overcome by placing a filter bag with carbon draped over or behind a pre-filter sponge (assuming this is used with a water pump/power head).
Another option is to power your FB Filter with an Internal Filter such as the SunSun 952 and then place carbon or other chemical filter media in one of the compartments.
The problem with this suggestion is most internal power filters have little room for chemical filter and more importantly most do not have the head pressure to run a FB Filter, especially larger models such as the 1000 or 1500.
The bottom line from my experienced use of FB Filters WITHOUT a canister, HOB, or similar mechanical/chemical filter is that this method of placing a filter bag with chemical media behind the filter works reasonably well for most aquarium needs, albeit not as well as a canister filter for chemical filtration (IF NEEDED!).
*For best results with a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter, a separate aerating power head/propeller pump and/or air stone (or air driven sponge filter) are suggested since Fluidized filter do not aerate water well.
Product Resource: Seio Superior Performance Aquarium Propeller Pumps
Potential Fluidized Bed Filter Problems (Troubleshooting):
For further information about the often unknown Fluidized Filter, please read this outside article:
“About Fluidized Filters” Back To Top
ALGAE SCRUBBERS, REFUGIUMS, & MUD FILTERS;
(For a larger view of this filter, please click on the picture)
Refugium (& deep sand/mud filter):
These filters are primarily biological filters. Their advantage is that they work both aerobically and anaerobically (removing nitrates, de-nitrification).
These filters are very popular in Germany from what I understand. They work best if they have plants or algae such as Caulerpa Algae (or any other green marine algae/plant that grows quickly) to aid in de-nitrification (You would need to add lighting over this filter if plants are included).
I also recommend the use of a micron filter sleeve for pre filtration and/or a sponge media for further filtration before reaching the pump (which should be rinsed regularly so as to not themselves become “nitrate factories”.
The picture above is of a Refugium with a deep sand bed for anaerobic filtration. In this basic picture/diagram the Refugium is mounted slightly higher than the tank so the pump in the display tank pumps water to the Refugium and the water is redirected by the overflow/outlet to the main display tank. The Refugium/Mud Filter can also be place under the display tank and then the tank has an overflow or siphon to the Refugium and then a pump is placed therein to return the water back to the display tank.
Here is a video displaying a working Refugium that is also utilizing "state of the art" AquaRay LED lighting for phenomenal growth:
Protein skimmers remove nitrogenous wastes (protein based organic waste) via foam refraction. The protein skimmer collects this waste in a cup, where it is then emptied. There are pump driven and air driven models. Within the pump driven there are different types: Venturi, Aspirating, Downdraft, and Spray Injection; the first two being most common.
Here are some important aspects to consider so as to a purchase a skimmer that performs correctly:
The advantages of a Protein Skimmer are that they remove nitrogenous waste before they can go thru the nitrogen cycle and become nitrates. The disadvantages are they can be messy, take frequent adjustments (at least on many lower end commercial models), and in my experience, over rated especially for marine fish aquariums. I also have kept many reef aquariums successfully with and without protein skimmers although I do recommend protein skimmers for reef aquariums.
What I personally find interesting is that many of the aquarists that swear by protein skimmers totally trash UV Sterilizers, yet I have found from experience (I had to service what I sell, and if I sold trash, I had to service trash!) that often UV sterilizers had a more positive attributes than protein skimmers.
That said, a good Protein skimmer a useful tool in marine aquariums especially if an Ozonizer is connected to the Skimmer and/or when used in conjunction with the Berlin Filter Method for reef aquaria and should be considered, more so if you are planning on keeping delicate corals such as Acropora or Zoanthids!
The Tropic Marine V2 Skim is one of the better ones with the latest in technology. This skimmer has a venturi injection system which optimizes the perfect mixture of fine air bubbles and water and ensures intensive, efficient skimming and the removal of proteins and other harmful toxins (waste) from the aquarium. For advanced Marine Aquarists (or even beginners looking to step up) this is the Protein skimmer I would strongly recommend.
Product Resource: V2 Skim Pro Saltwater Reef Aquarium Skimmer
For a really simple protein skimmer for a Nano tank I recommend the Rio Nano Skimmer. As with the VA Multi Skimmer, this is an entry level skimmer and not intended for advanced marine reef aquarium keepers.
BERLIN FILTER METHOD:
This is not a filter per say, rather a method of filtration for Marine Aquaria only that can employ many different filter types to accomplish it.
Cleaning filters of note include the Diatom Filter (Vortex used to be a popular model), Aquarium water changers, Sludge Removers, and Filters such as the Aquarium Cleaning Machine.
The Diatom filters use diatomaceous earth to filter water down to very fine micron size, and even filter out ich tomites. Often these filters were/are used in place of a water change, which they should not be.
Also in my experience diatomaceous earth tends to strip some electrolytes from the water.
Product Reference (Discontinued): Aquarium Cleaning Machine
Another cleaning “filter” is the Eheim Sludge Extractor Battery Vacuum; this is sort of an economy version of the Aquarium Cleaning Machine (although it cannot be used to changes water). This Eheim Battery Vacuum is a vast improvement over the “bag” versions that came before it that let about 90% of organic mulm, through their fine mesh bags.
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