AQUARIUM FILTRATION (Filter Information, Review),
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).
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
I give my OPINION/REVIEW with each of these types of filters, based on 36 + 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.
As well many reviews are NOT only based on my professional use (often dozens or more of any one filter), but also based on feedback from other informed aquarium professional maintenance colleagues I generally talk/meet with at least once per month.
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.
More importantly as I noted earlier, the troubleshooting tips for many of the "types" of filters reviewed here are more universal and objective. Hopefully reader will find these very useful, even when they might disagree with a review.
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.
Please Reference this article for much more about Head Pressure (a MUST Read):
Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Filters/Pumps
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).
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).
*Hydro Sponge Premium Aquarium Sponge Filters
*TMC Fluidized Sand Bed Filters
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.
Flow will be poor if too fine a gravel or sand is used, #3 gravel works best. If you use too coarse of gravel (especially do not use marbles), bio filtration will not be effective (and mechanical filtration will also be poor). If gravel is too shallow near the lift tubes, you will get a poor circulation pattern. Make sure gravel is deepest near the lift tubes.
As noted earlier, make sure to siphon underneath the plates to keep problem causing mulm/sludge to a minimum.
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 for biological filtration and is very popular for this reason among many experienced aquarists.
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.
*Volcanic Rock Bio Media
*SeaChem Matrix Premium Aerobic and Anaerobic Bio Media
Summarizing from my experience and tests as to Aqua Clear;
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.
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 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.
However this new cartridge is not as inexpensive as it once was, and does not even hold up as well as the previous 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 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.
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).
As I will note elsewhere in this article, a pre-filter will vastly improve bio-filtration in many cartridge style HOB Filters, although many Whispers, SunSun, & similar come with a secondary sponge or bio grid for added bio filtration (the VitaLife & Millennium have a bio-grid).
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).
See product link: Filter Max Sponge Pre-Filters
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).
I generally prefer the Aqua Clear, Via Aqua VitaLife M200 (although now discontinued), or even the the SunSun HBL-702 for this application.
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).
Product Resource: Volcanic Rock
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).
You can “cut” the carbon out of Penguin, VitaLife, Sunsun, or other filters or simply let it become a bio media by not removing it and only rinsing the fiber part of the cartridge, thus saving money on new cartridges.
I often clean my VitaLife & SunSun Cartridges with a strong jet of water and use them over many times, which unfortunately the Bio Bags are too cheaply made to tolerate this “jet” of water or even a simple rinsing without falling apart (this is one of the reasons I like these two filters is the economy of filter cartridge reuse).
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.
Product Resource: Kordon Methylene Blue
*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 experiment included these filers at the time it was conducted:
Aqua Clear 150 (now the #30), Whisper 2 (#40), Penguin 170 (replaced by 200), and Via Aqua Vita Life 200.
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).
Pre Filters vastly increase bio filtration, are inexpensive, prevent baby fish from being sucked into the filter, and provide a measure of bio stability when the cartridge is changed.
It should be noted that with Aqua Clears, pre filters are not as necessary for bio filtration (they still improve it though), although these pre-filters still prevent fry from being sucked into the Aqua Clear.
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.
With cartridge style HOB filters (Penguin, Whisper, Via Aqua, etc.), the pre-filter will remove most of the medium to coarse debris BEFORE passing into the cartridge where the cartridge will then remove the more fine debris. This will have the added benefit will be longer periods between cartridges which will also save you money.
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 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 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!
See these product links:
Potential Power Head/Pump & Internal filter Problems:
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.
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".
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.
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 (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, these are an excellent choice when price is a major consideration.
Other similar value canister filters include the now discontinued Via Aqua line, and the Hydor PRO series which has many design similarities to the Via Aqua 750 and other models.
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). This canister filter is probably about the best with flow pattern, efficiency, solid construction, reliability, ease of use and surpasses the Fluval & many others.
As well, the Filstar is supplied by some sellers with Bio-Chem Stars which are also a superior bio filtration media to the ceramic rings many filters are supplied with. Product Resource WITH complete premium filter media:
*API/Rena Filstar Canister Filter Systems
ALSO for the media only:
*Bio-Chem Zorb, from AAP
*Bio-Chem Stars, from AAP
In fact from my experience, the Rena Filstar XP Filter Systems are the best canister filters at any price (when apples to apples models are compared)!
The only negative with the Rena Filstar head pressure, as although the head pressure is better than some comparable models of Fluval, it is not as good as the Via Aqua 750, Hydor PRO, SunSun and Magnum.
A few rumors also exist that the Filstar has leaking problems, but in dozens my maintenance company (& colleagues in the service business) have maintained, I have NEVER seen this to be a problem, and I would attribute this to "cut & paste" urban myths that likely got started when someone put their Filstar together incorrectly.
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!!!
I sell these because I believe in them and hope that customers might purchase another product that I do make more money on.
For a installation/instruction video for the Filstar, please click here:
Filstar Installation, Instruction Video
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.
The Fluvals low head pressure, poor impellers, proprietary hoses in some models (which do not easily lend the filter to accessories such as UVs), and more, lead me to question why these often over rated filters are so popular, and I base this statement on years of use of these filters and other canister filters in REAL world applications.
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!!!
The Fluval FX5 also still uses the flawed ribbed/flex tubing that is MUCH more prone to cracking and is very difficult to mate to UV Sterilizers or other equipment in-line.
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.
Personally in the literally 1000s of canister filters I have used, I have never seen a need to monitor impeller speed. Nor have I had an issue with air unless set up incorrectly or with a cracked or similar issue, in which you need to fix this problem before it gets more serious, NOT have a system that lulls you into complacency!!!
In my professional experience this is simply a feel good gimmick to take money out of your wallets and a potential part to break down!
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.
OR BETTER, pairing with a Fluidized Filter, which a modern Fluidized Filter (such as the AAP/TMC FSB Filter) is more effective for aerobic & even anaerobic bio filtration as per controlled tests than ANY canister filter by themselves, including the Rena, or even a Hydro Sponge #5 PRO Filter.
In fact even the small TMC #600 Fluidized Sand Bed Filter has a bio capacity of 35 pounds of livestock (fish) and there are models (in testing) with capacities of 350 pounds (this model in testing will be for ponds). With just a power head, the #600 still outperforms the Fluval FX5.
Product Resource: TMC #600 Fluidized Sand Bed Filter
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.
When compared apples to apples, I and many other aquarium maintenance colleagues still prefer the other European designed canister filter; the Rena Filstar.
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.
The only negative is the poor head pressure, making it a poor choice for running add on devices such as Fluidized Sand Bed Filters (although a separate pump to run a FB Filter is a good idea anyway for redundancy).
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.
I HAVE maintained more healthy water conditions/parameters with multiple quality filters often of different types RATHER than one large filter.
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.
Product Resources: SunSun HW403 & TMC Premium Fluidized Bed Aquarium Filter
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.
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.
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.
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.
See these product link examples: Filter Max; Small Sponge Pre-Filters & Hydro-Pond 3 & 4; Large Sponge Pre-Filters.
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.
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.
Also use a small foxtail brush to clean the intake and exhaust tubes, otherwise these may get clogged.
Canister Filter Trouble Shooting; & Other potential canister filter problems:
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.
These wet/drys are usually much more reasonably priced (along with the aquarium they are attached to: a good example is the “Bio Cube Bow-Front Aquarium”). They usually do not have the versatility or capacity as the under tank wet/drys do, but have the advantage of no overflow possibilities.
A unique style of wet/dry is the internal Wet/Dry/Bio filters by ReSun.
Standard Sump Wet/Dry & Central Filter System Sump; DIY
You can easily build your own Wet/Dry or Mud-Wet /Dry 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 a Rubbermaid container filled with live rock crumbles and a pump with a pre filter (although this is not the best, it does work).
(For a larger view of this filter, please click below) Basic DIY Wet Dry Filter PicOverflow 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.
Here is a list of many water pump specifications:
Aquarium/Pond/Sump Pump Specifications
My preferred method is with an overflow tube that is attached via a bulkhead drilled in the bottom or side of the aquarium.
There is little problem of loss of siphon with this method, whoever these drilled holes are best made prior to setting up the aquarium, especially with glass aquariums. Obviously this is not always feasible with an already set up aquarium leading to the use of a HOB Overflow that uses a siphon to get water from the aquarium to the sump.
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.
Example, if the sump holds 8 gallons, the volume your main aquarium holds ABOVE the siphon is NOT LESS THAN 8 GALLONS (for some margin 10 gallons or more would be better)
Potential Wet-Dry filter problems:
FLUIDIZED BED FILTERS;
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.
I should also note that these tests were conducted with a store set up that was fully cycled along with tanks set up with wet/dry, and other tanks with large canister filters.
I then added liquefied fish food and noted the spikes in ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. The result was the Fluidized filter systems beat both the large canister filter systems and wet/dry systems with equivalent bio loads!
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 a decade ago (as per my own extensive use), the TMC 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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