TMC Fluidized Sand Bed Filters
The TMC Premium Fluidized Sand Bed Filter increases Bio Capacity of any Aquarium system, with unsurpassed Nitrifying Bio-Filtration. An excellent compliment to any Canister Filter
TMC V² Ozone Generator
Top of the line Ozone Generator which raises oxidizing levels, making your Protein Skimmer more efficient which helps to break down harmful waste products produced by fish, removing yellowing compounds and creating crystal clear water
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 have found over the years that most filters work best when used in combination to compliment each other, this redundancy is also important for peace of mind in case one filter fails, another will keep your aquarium filtering.
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.
In fact a simple air stone creates good vertical circulation which is often a compliment to a filter that creates “cross circulation”. Non Stop air pumps are a better yet compliment to filter redundancy since these pumps have a self contained battery pack that allows the pump to continue operation even after a power failure.
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.
In fact 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. For instance Sponge Filters (especially the premium Hydro Sponge Filter) and Fluidized filters (which are unsurpassed by ANY filter for bio filtration capacity) are excellent bio filters, but not as good at mechanical filtration; so a good mechanical filtering canister filter or HOB filter that also has good mechanical filtering characteristics (such as the Rena Smart Filter) would be a good compliment to the previously mentioned filters
I give my opinion with each of these types of filters, based on 30 + 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 (of often dozens or more of any one filter), but also on feedback from other informed aquarium professional maintenance colleagues I generally talk/meet with at least once per month.
A couple notes before I get started here:
First off; if I am somewhat critical of a certain filter, often it is just because of over blown hype around this filter, not that it does not necessarily work.
Second; I attempt to give practical and educated/professional tips to getting the most out of your filter. I attempt to avoid the anecdotal reviews that permeate much of the internet such as those surrounding the Rena Smart HOB filter where uninformed users give negative reviews of what is in reality the positive of this filter: its unmatched HOB filter efficiency (see the HOB filter section for more).
This is why I strongly recommend readers avoid the popular Internet trend of customer reviews (such as on Amazon), as what I have found is often persons are simply not using their products correctly (in negative reviews) or are giving positive reviews of equipment based on initial use, however long term use often reveals a short lived defective product (such as the plethora of Internal UVs or the Turbo-Twist)
Third; I should point out that I do not believe in "magic" filters, conditioners, etc. that will do everything. Even products I really believe in, such as the Wonder Shell or Aquarium Cleaning Machine, could use some renaming. If it was up to me, the Wonder Shell, is not a “Wonder” but a useful tool (maybe “mineral block”) and the Aquarium Cleaning Machine is not a “monthly maintenance miracle” but a very useful tool for proper husbandry.
Finally, Although I obviously provide links to filters/products I sell, the reviews are based on real world use of literally 1000's of filters (& other products) by me and my colleagues, and the products that I sell are based on positive results in long term use. I only sell what I would use for me or my clients (with my clients, if I sold junk, I was responsible for free visits to fix problems, so selling junk was not good business either).
I sell several filters that are great and that I believe in, even though they are not moneymakers. I just want people to be happy with them and enjoy their pond or aquarium.
Below I discuss the attributes (and weaknesses) of each type of filter and I give trouble shooting tips for each as well.
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. Back To Top
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). For biological filtration the under-gravel filter still has some serious drawbacks to consider.
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. There was one under gravel filter that stood out; The Nektonics UGF, with its raised ridges without slots allowed for a much better water flow especially over time when cheaper flat plate designs were packing and slowing the flow rate. I have actually clocked a higher flow rate with Nektonics UGF vs. a flat plate UGF using a 1 gallon jug placed just under the out flow and timing the fill rate (it is noteworthy that Perfecto has a similar design under gravel filter to Nektonics).
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:
• Under Gravel Filters are also not real good for planted aquariums; the roots have a hard time thriving with the filter just below the gravel (although you can add potted aquarium plants to aquariums with UGFs).
• UGFs are also poor (or non existent) for de-nitrification, as they do not allow for the fine sand and anaerobic bacteria needed for Nitrate removal.
• Problems with Organic Mulm/ Sludge:
One reason behind my lack of recommending an under gravel filter is the buildup of organic mulm. This leads to high DOC (Dissolved organic compounds) from the amount of nitric acid products from decomposition. This in turn lowers GH, KH, and increases Nitrates and Redox, none of which is good. This can be reduced by regular siphoning under the plate with a siphon tube or using a reverse flow Power Head. Also the design of the Nektonics UG filter also reduces DOC.
To siphon under the plate, I usually move gravel away from the lift tubes then disconnect the lift tubes. After this I run a siphon tube (as large as will fit under the plate) and suck as much organic detritus (muck or whatever else you want to call it) as possible.
• Potential problems when an under gravel filter is either shut down manually or via a power failure/pump failure:
This relates to the last point, in that if copious amounts of mulm/sludge build up under the plate(s) and/or the gravel and then power is cut, the aerobic bacteria living in areas of nitrification will die quickly (usually within 4 hours) and this die off will quickly lower dissolved oxygen levels to dangerous levels for fish, as well anaerobic sulfur reducing bacteria will quickly take over (especially in areas of sludge/mulm) and this will add potentially toxic Hydrogen Sulfate to the aquarium.
If considering the removal of an Undergravel filter, I would first clean under the plate well then start a Sponge or other efficient bio filter, then removal the plate(s) every three weeks.
• Often owners of UG Filters will add more gravel thinking “more is better”, while it is true that tanks with Under Gravel filters generally need more gravel than tanks without (2-3” vs. 1.5 -3” of gravel), adding copious amounts of gravel simply leads to what is called channeling and this results in dead areas and often more problems with DOC.
The bottom line is if considering, DO NOT, rather consider a Sponge Filter
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.
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 and 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.
However its flow design and filter media type tends to lead to flow-by, resulting in poor mechanical filtration especially for more fine debris/organic mulm. For those doubting this, I performed tests using a “light” compost and the Aqua Clear faired worse than all others tested. I should also note that the Aqua Clear Filters have poor impellers, and in my experience, have a higher than average break down record due to the impeller.
The small Aqua Clears are really no better than any other HOB in terms of capacity than comparable Whispers, Rena Smart HOB Filters, SunSun, etc.
Before I seem too hard on these filters, they do have a lot of capacity and flexibility in the larger models, which is where I would recommend their purchase.
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. The design of the SuSun & VitaLife filter cartridges allows for multiple rinsings before the fiber degrades. As well, with a pre-filter, the cartridges can last a long time (often a few months) and many of the better models, such as the VitaLife, Whisper, Rena Smart Filter, Aqueon, SunSun, etc, come with grids, bio stars, or sponges to improve bio capacity.
The Aqua Clear Models I do recommend are the 70 (old 300) and the 110 (old 500), these are useful filters in terms of capacity and versatility. The model 110 is a good choice for aquariums over 70 gallons especially if backed up by another filter type.
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”) 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. Hopefully some of the impeller problems I have experienced in the past will (or are being) improved as the larger models of Aqua Clears are very versatile filters that I recommend. For smaller models, I still recommend the Rena Smart for a premium HOB and SunSun for economy along with some others which I discuss below.
Summarizing from my experience and tests as to Aqua Clear; the potential buyer should consider what their aquarium filtration needs will be, so I cannot make a blanket statement to purchase or not to purchase, however I can make an educated generalization that there are better HOB filters in terms of filtration and price than the smaller Aqua Clears, but for large HOB filtration the Aqua Clear #70 & #110 are more difficult to beat for larger aquaria.
This said, even here my personal preference for freshwater aquariums (especially when value is considered) would be to add two SunSun, Rena Smart, etc. or better 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 SunSun HBL-701 or Rena Smart Filter 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).
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.
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 (as they have no capacity for any type of nitrate reduction, but then this is not really a strength of any Power/HOB Filter, however others are easier configured to do this with volcanic rock, SeaChem Matrix or Purigen, etc.).
In fact as per Emperors Filters in EVERY case where I removed an Emperor Filter and replaced it in one test with a Hydro Sponge #5 and Internal Filter, along with the use of either SeaChem Matrix (SeaChem de-Nitrate in previous years) or Purigen; tank conditions improved considerably. Why might one ask? The reason is simple, and that is the basket arrangement in the Emperor is similar to many canister filters, with the exception that it does not allow efficient anaerobic de-nitrification with products such as SeaChem Matrix, de-Nitrate, volcanic rock, Bio Home, live rock crumbles, etc. and simply becomes a nitrate factory!
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.
If you already have one, back it up with a Sponge, Internal, Internal Wet/Dry, Fluidized, etc. (which you should with ANY filter anyway)
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; the Rena Smart Filter.
The Via Aqua VitaLife and Millineum are the excellent "Simple" Hang-On filters for freshwater tanks under 60 gallons, with the VitaLife 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. While I would rate the Rena Smart HOB Filter over these filters, it is more pricey and less simple (with a pre-filter required for best results required).
The VitaLife filters also have a low “flow by rate” with arguably one of the best, most durable cartridges and are thus much better for mechanical filtration (these cartridges are easily rinsed and re-used as well).
The VitaLife & Millennium have a bio grid that is a simpler and more reliable way to maintain nitrifying bacterial colonies than a bio wheel.
Unfortunately, both of these filters have suffered from the down turn in the economy that started in 2008 and are no longer available. However a cheap "knock off" off of the VitaLife is now made by by a rather unethical aquarium supply company (that will go un-named), avoid this filter that might look like a Vitalife, but is not the same filter in quality.
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 advantage is there is not 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 later advantage is definitely a selling point, however priming a HOB filter requires not more effort than pouring a cup of water into the filter, so this advantage is more hype than practical.
The disadvantage is it is easy for the filter minimum water level to be obtained via evaporation, especially if the aquarium owner is out of town. This can and has resulted in filter motor “burn outs”.
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 (see this article: “Aquarium Filter Media”).
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 and does not even hold up as well as the previous cartridge. Another point that is often missed in this subject of cost, is effectiveness, as the better made cartridges such as those offered for the SunSun HBL, Via Aqua M100/200 have a much better and tighter weave that traps more and smaller micron debris.
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 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 relatively new 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 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.
As well, for BEST results, I highly recommend the use of a Filter Max Pre-Filter, as this can greatly reduce this problem of quick clogging cartridges in the Rena Smart Filter, and in fact adds additional filtration (both bio and mechanical) that combined makes this far and way the best HOB style aquarium filter.
What is sad, 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/or add a pre-filter!
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.
That said, for those willing to spend the money, this is otherwise the BEST HOB/Aquarium Power Filter Money can buy.
The SunSun HBL-501 or SunSun HBL-701 are very good economy HOB filters (there are several "good" economy HOB Filters), with both cartridge AND Bio Sponges.
Another plus, while being a top notch economy filter, they only start at $11.99.
With the 'double' SunSun HBL-701, I often recommend removing one of the Bio Sponges and replacing with SeaChem Matrix or SeaChem Purigen for Nitrate Control.
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.
The Top fin is not a bad choice for those on a budget, however I strongly recommend that these filters be improved biologically with a Pre-Filter Sponge or simply be complimented with an additional filter such as a Hydro Sponge Filter since these economy filters do not maintain bio filtration capacities each time the filter cartridge is changed.
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).
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, or even the economy SunSun HBL-701 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).
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 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.
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 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 they still prevent fry from being sucked into the Aqua Clear.
A complaint with pre filters I have 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.
For those preferring the economy and simplicity of Power Filters (HOB) however do not have the space on the back of the aquarium, I would suggest the very unique Wet/Dry/Bio filters by ReSun. These are excellent and under rated filters, and in fact are actually more versatile than HOB filters (see the section further in this article about Wet Dry Filters for more about these unique, yet affordable filters).
Potential HOB Filter problems (Trouble Shooting):
* Make sure to clean the impeller regularly, also clean the area the impeller “nests” (impeller well) 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 design of HOB (power Filters) tends to allow carbon, or other grit such as rock, gravel, even particles of volcanic rock or other media to get caught in the impeller well between the impeller magnet and well wall.
A “buzzing” noise is a tell tale sign of this problem. All filter media, cartridges, carbon, volcanic rock, etc should always be rinsed to prevent this. Removal of this debris, is generally quite simple, often a back flush with water while turning the filter upside down will clear out the problem debris; if not removal of the motor unit with the impeller and physically removing the impeller and cleaning out the debris will remedy the problem (please note, the Penguin motor is built in, so you have to remove the impeller from the top to service this filter).
The impeller should be to turn 359 degrees before locking, if the impeller spins freely or not at all, it is broken.
Clean filter intakes with a foxtail brush to prevent build up that will slow the filter (a sponge pre-filter helps prevent this).
*Improperly seated impeller; this is a very common problem with all HOB filters with bottom fitted motors (which is the majority). The intake tube should securely and 'squarely' fit the area that houses the impeller.
The symptoms of this is rattling noises, sometimes very loud and poor flow.
* For bio wheels, make sure the Teflon ends on the bio wheel axle are clean and have no build ups of calcium, you can replace these with Teflon tape in a pinch. Also make sure the bio wheel assembly is not to tight, simply remove the bio wheel and gently stretch the assembly apart so the wheel can spin more freely.
HOB filters are good compliments to sponge filters or even under gravel filters.
Probably one of the most under rated filters available.
In fact with the exception of the superior Fluidized Sand Bed Filter when compared "apples to apples" there is no more efficient aerobic bio filtration filter.
This superior bio filtration is dependant upon the sponge material used, which sets the American made patented "Hydro Sponge Filters" above the many imports for aerobic bio filtration.
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.
One of the sponge filters benefits is their ease in cleaning, which in turn lowers the amount of organic material being broken down in the nitrogen cycle. It takes only minute to clean a sponge filter by rinsing it used aquarium water, while it may take half an hour to clean a canister filter.
Internal filters and HOB small aquariums are good compliments to sponge filters. HOB filters especially benefit from Sponge Pre Filters (for more about them, please read my Sponge Filtration article).
Canister filters are good compliments to sponge filters in large aquariums (or vice versa).
As noted earlier, the Hydro Sponge #5 PRO will out perform many large HOB filters such as the Aqua Clear 110 and can be part of a large aquariums filter system despite the more common anecdotal beliefs that Sponge Filters are only for small aquariums.
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.
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. They are useful for improved water circulation, generally are good mechanical and biological filters (although generally they do not have a large capacity). They are a great secondary or even third filter in large aquariums, and a good secondary are even primary filter in small aquariums (under 60 gallons).
Internal filters are a good compliment to almost any filter (especially fluidized), due to the cross circulation they provide.
As well most internal filters (such as the SunSun) can be placed horizontally in a small volume of water making these filters excellent choices for frog, turtle or other terrariums or vivariums.
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).
Power Heads are an excellent addition as these can add valuable cross currents that are especially useful in Marine Aquariums. Many such as Via Aqua 1300 have small sponges too and this is a size that fits many saltwater tanks well.
Another popular well made brand is the Rio Plus along with the medium/heavy duty Rio HF Pumps with exceptional head pressure due to their sealed Vortex Rotor Blade design.
The SunSun JP-23 is a good value/economy 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).
I am also not real keen on the reliability of Aqua Clear and Marineland Power Heads (I know many have used these later two brands with success, however IMO these are dinosaurs in technology and I have literally used 100s and have seen what they can and cannot do; the Marineland in particular has poor head pressure as well).
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!
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.
What can and DOES happen is calcium and other hard water deposits will harden inside the impeller well, in effect "gluing" the impeller to the inside of the pump, not allowing a start the next time it is used.
*Often Internal Filters or Power Heads are used to run external devices such as a UV Sterilizer or Fluidized Bed Filter.
If water is left in the line after cleaning/servicing the pump or internal filter, this can result in an inability to restart properly, especially with smaller pumps/filters.
Often the most simple way to correct this is to remove the return line that runs from the external device to the aquarium, then with the pump/filter running, place it into a bucket lower than the bottom of the aquarium so as to allow for a gravity assist to get the flow going again. Once flow is reestablished, replace the return line on the aquarium.
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.
Many aquarists will not clean canister filters often enough as they are “still running well”, but in reality have a large build up of organic sludge turning them into ‘nitrate factories”.
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, although their general use is in freshwater aquariums and even then filters such as the Fluidized Sand Bed Filter generally have 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, they presents many difficulties in initial set up and subsequent cleanings for many (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 (See Sponge Filtration), OR better yet a Fluidized Filter which depending upon the model can out perform ANY canister filter (see later in this article in the Fluidized Filter Section).
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 to keep these filters from becoming nitrate factories.
The use of SeaChem Purigen near the final phase (where carbon and other chemical media is placed) may also help considerably with nitrate production.
For more information about this, please refer to this article: Marine Aquarium Information
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.
I would use products such as Nirox Bio Care ceramic media for coarse filtration and bio filtration (rinse this with used tank water- never tap water!), then I would use a Medium Fiber or Ehfi-Fix, then I would use filter fiber or poly filter pads and place any chemical filter media between the fiber or even in a nylon bag.
For soft water (Amazon River Aquaria), I recommend Peat, Frog (Pillow) Moss, or Nirox Bio Lif which softens water like peat, but also helps trap pathogenic bacteria such as Aeromonas.
For value I prefer the SunSun (which is also sold under different names), although these are not necessarily the best canister filters, these are an excellent choice when price is a major consideration.
However I would caution potential SunSun, Grech, Perfect, or similar Canister Filter buyers that there are some flaws in the 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.
I strongly suggest avoiding the eBay, and other retailers that do not make this correction and instead sell an inferior version of what is otherwise one of the best economy aquarium canister filters for them money once this correction is made.
I suggest purchasing here (ALL SunSun Canister Filters are properly retrofitted here): SunSun Filters at American Aquarium
The best from my aquarium maintenance use is the 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.
Even with the popular and also excellent Eheim Classic Models, the Rena is the better choice.
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 the Fluval it is not as good as the Via Aqua 750, 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 Rena because I sell them should note that I do not have access to the cheapest source for Rena Products and therefore make very little on these filters (one model I sell at cost!!!), I sell these because I believe in them and hope that customers might purchase another product that I do make more money on.
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 often simply unreliable.
Even the highly touted Fluval FX5 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 is vastly over rated bio filtration when compared to Fluidized Filters.
The Fluval FX5 also still uses the flawed flex tubing that is much more prone to cracking and is very difficult to mate to UV Sterilizers or other equipment in-line. This said, the Fluval FX5 is certainly in a different league of canister filter than their very flawed 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 is more effective for aerobic 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.
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. However the Eheim is often way over priced for the questionably better quality than other top filters such as the Filstar.
In fact in my use, reliability is no better than many others (impeller failure is common) and head pressure is worse than the Rena, SunSun, Perfect and others.
Eheim has done an excellent job marketing their filters as they have convinced many in the anecdotal aquarium community that their filter is second to none which although they are very good, this is simply not correct (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 (the Eheim 2215 Classic is pictured above left).
Two large (& pricey) Eheim, Filters are the 2262 & 2080 are without equals in capacity and water flow (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 SunSun HW303 (or similar canister filter) combined with a TMC V2 1000 Fluid Filter would easily exceed either the Eheim 2080 or Fluval FX5.
For capacity, consider using a pressurized pond filter converted for aquarium use, you will find this is not only more economical, but is often simpler with less start up siphon hassles (see more later in this section about this subject).
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.
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 comparable Canister filters which is especially useful for running UV Sterilizer, 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.
Although popular, I am far less than impressed with the Fluval Canister Filter. They have weak motors, poorly designed impellers, poor flow patterns (as per tests I have conducted) and poor head pressure. 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 models (the ’05 models are too new to comment on as to longevity, however their design does not seem much improved to me). The Fluvals low head pressure, poor impellers, proprietary hoses, and more lead me to question why these vastly 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.
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 well the Vortex and Aquarium Cleaning Machine can be considered a micron canister filter in many ways.
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). The Ocean Clear Filter has a very large cartridge and can go longer before changes due to the amount of surface area, however even smaller micron filters such as the Magnum can run for longer periods of time if other forms of pre-filtration are used or if the filter is simply used with other filters that will pick up much of the coarse debris before the micron filter can (such as in the diagram below that shows tow plumbed canister filters).
It is also noteworthy that many Micron filters require a separate pump such as the Ocean Clear and LifeGuard systems.
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, Via Aqua 750, Filstar, to Ehiem, often powering UV Sterilizers and/or Fluidized filters this way in MANY high end filtration installations I have performed in my business.
I also set up a whole fish department this way. I generally replace the valves that come with most Canister filters with PVC ball valves for a more solid fit, more reliability and alleviating the main cause of leaks in most aquarium canister filters.
Please click on the picture for a better view
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.
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.
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.
However for Aquarium Keepers who can think “outside the box” a Clear Stream 1200 has vastly more bio capacity (it holds 5 liters of media) than about 80% of the current offering of canister filters currently available today for only $99 plus a power head or pump to run it.
What is also nice besides the price and bio capacity is that by using a pump such as the Rio 1100 inside your aquarium to pump water to your Clear Stream or similar filter, you do not have the problem of starting a siphon (or loosing a siphon after you thought it was started). Starting canister filters is the number on complaint with them I have heard over the years from clients.
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. The use of intake and return adapters is suggested (these can be found on the Clear Stream Pond Filter page).
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 most power heads have small sponges that prevent debris and most medium/small or larger fish from getting caught, so generally this is not necessary (see the Filter Max page for an example, which is near the bottom of the page). 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:
You can also connect a power head to a “dead” canister filter as well so as to continue to use it without buying a new filter. As well this can be performed to boost a weak canister filter which is especially effective when the canister filter is used to run other applications such as a fluidized filter or UV Sterilizer (some canister filters such as the Fluval and some Eheim models have notoriously weak/poor head pressure for which this can be a very helpful application.
As with the pressurized pond filter application, the pump (a Rio 1100 works well for this application for most canister filters) should be placed in line under the water for best results. When installed this way, your canister filter will fill without all the air bubble and priming issues common to 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.
Also use a small foxtail brush to clean the intake and exhaust tubes, otherwise these may get clogged.
For Coarse Air Bubbles being "burped out" the return/exhaust:
*Look for bad or cracked pipes/tubing or connections on the intake side of your filter.
*Test for leaks in the intake side by removing all water from the filter, then plugging the intake pipe where it would normally pickup inside the tank, then "suck" from the exhaust port/connection of your filter. It is important to suck rather than blow since blowing can seal a leak or bad connection where as sucking can reveal a bad connection that is bringing in air.
*Finally, make sure your intake is not placed near any air stones or other areation devices where ANY bubbles might be inadvertently picked up into the filter.
Siphon Issues (similar to above):
*Make sure your canister filter is at or below the bottom of the aquarium with the exception of the Rena Nexx, Magnum, and a few other canister filters with either bottom motors (most canister filters are top motored) or "In-Tank" motors (Nexx)
*Make sure you have no air bubbles inside before re-staring it, otherwise purge the filter of all water and re-start your siphon.
* For difficulties initially starting or re-starting a Canister filter (due to air bubble or other siphon problems).
I recommend disconnecting the return tube from the aquarium and placing the end into a bucket BELOW the tank level. Try starting the siphon while in the bucket, first by "sucking water into an empty filter until the water flows into the bucket via gravity.
Once water flows naturally into the bucket (via gravity) then turn the pump on for a minute or two (with the return hose still lower than the tank and in the bucket) to force any bubbles out. Then replace the return tube on the aquarium and restart your filter.
*Make sure your O Ring is properly seated by plugging the exhaust with your thumb and blow into the intake, if air escapes you need to re seat and possibly replace or lubricate your O Ring (Petroleum Jelly of Silicone gel works here).
For Fine Air Bubbles being "kicked out" the return/exhaust:
*Soak media prior to adding, especially porous filter media such as activated carbon or API Bio Stars.
*Check for bad connection on the return/exhaust side of your filter; these "bad" connects can draw air as water is pulled past these tiny connection leaks.
This can be checked by turning off the filter, closing the valve on the return side and the blowing back toward the filter and listening for small leaks ("sucking" can work even better for the smallest of leaks, just make sure all water is removed from the lines first, then is you cannot keep a strong suction, you have a leak).
Impeller will not start: *Check inside the impeller housing with your little finger and feel for deformities, this is generally not repairable if found (Fluvals are notorious for impeller housing warping). Also make sure that the impeller does not free spin and locks before turning more than 360 degrees.
*You can check for magnetic current by placing a screw driver in side the impeller housing with the impeller out and the motor ‘on’, you should feel a magnetic pull from all sides.
*Make sure clean your impeller EVERY time you open the filter for servicing (if at all possible). This includes the impeller itself AND the inside walls of the "impeller well" (the hole the impeller sits inside of).
For Leaky Valves; remove the valve and place you finger over one end and blow or better suck as this detects small leaks better due to the fact that your will loose suction shortly after you start thru the valve with the switch open and then listening for leaks, as you may just not have it tightened all the way. Replace any bad O rings or lubricate them with Petroleum Jelly.
Ball Valves purchased from local hardware stores often work as replacements too!
Dead Pump Motor/ Head; pump motor failure whether due to a jammed impeller from an overheat or many other reasons (4 out 5 failures over the years have been Fluvals) can still be solved without throwing out your canister filter.
Simply by replacing your filters intake strainer with a power head such as the Rio Plus 1100 or SunSun JP-066, will immediately bring your canister filter back to life with a filter that no longer requires priming!!
Finally, Canister filters are good compliments to internal and sponge filters too.
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Popular with marine aquariums in particular, these filters are great biological filters, but poor mechanical filters. They also can become “nitrate factories” like canister filters if not maintained properly.
These filters became popular in the 1980s and everyone and their brother made these (often home built), although they are still excellent filters, their popularity is based more on principle and hype than on results.
The principle is that the air holds more oxygen (which is true), thus by passing water thru bio balls partially exposed to the air you can achieve better bio filtration.
What is missed is the fact that an aquarium with proper circulation should have more than adequate dissolved oxygen, not just for the bacteria, but for the fish. Proof of this is the fact I have achieved better bio filtration with comparable fish loads with live rock (marine only) UNDER water as I have with wet-dry filters bio balls. I also have achieved comparable results and better with large sponge filter (sometimes placed in the sump). I also like to place live rock in the sump too as this prevents in tank nitrifying bacterial die off during power failures.
They are two basic types;
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, and then uses a pump or power-head to return the water. With this type of wet/dry you want to make sure that you do not over fill the aquarium past where the sump will over flow with the pump off in case of a power or pump failure. This type also usually has a pre filter box to add mechanical filtration to the wet/dry. You can run a variety of bio media in this type of wet/dry. Bio balls and ceramic bio media are popular; live rock, plant Refugium, sponge filters attached to the pump intake, or all of the above are also popular.
The Other Type is the Built into the Back Wet/Dry.
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”.
Internal filters are usually good compliments to wet/dry filters, and are simple way to power UV Sterilizers at a proper flow rate in tanks equipped with either style wet-dry system.Back To Top
A unique style of wet/dry is the internal Wet/Dry/Bio filters by ReSun. This filter is very practical for tank applications where the aquarist desires a quality biological filter however has no room on the back for a conventional Power filter (HOB) and no desire for a canister filter. This filter also contains a slot to place your submersible heater safely out of the way/out of view.
Honestly, this filter has many features that make this a better choice than an Aquarium Power Filter (HOB) or better yet the ReSun BF 100 or 200 can be combined with a HOB filter such as the Rena Smart Filter or combined with a Sponge Filter or Fluidized Sand Bed Filter for a VERY effective filter combination! Back To Top
Here are a few comparisons between Internal Wet/Dry and HOB:
Unfortunately many in the aquarium industry/hobby are “sold” on the HOB filter concept for economy filters, which is unfortunate, as this filter fills a major gap in the economy aquarium filter market along with Sponge Filters.
For marine applications I have removed the bio balls from both types of wet/dry filters and replaced the bio balls with broken cured live rock (about 1 to 1-1/2” in diameter) or volcanic rock and I have had great results with this method (including nitrates) over the bio balls. This method allows for some de-nitrification (depending on how large your live rock pieces are, too small will not allow the formation of anaerobic bacteria), this also helps with water buffering by passing the water over the calcium based rock, and finally this improve nitrification over bio balls.
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 very effective yet simple filter to power your sump filter (whether for one tank or a central system), the Hydro Pond IV Filter attached to the pump for mechanical copious amounts of nitrifying bio filtration is a proven and hard to beat method, even if not as common.
If you are building a combination filter I will generally add the live rock crumbles in the first chamber and in this case I deploy the Hydro Sponge on the water diffuser over the crumbles. My pump of choice would be a 370 gph to 740 gph Power Head Pump such as a Rio HF (Hyper Flow). A micron sleeve can also be employed for fine particulate mechanical filtration.
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 Pic
Potential Wet-Dry filter problems:
*Be careful of how your water is delivered to the sump in the even of a power failure or pump failure.
If water is removed via an overflow at the top of the tank, make sure your sump can handle the volume of water that might back up in the even of a pump/power failure by shutting down your pump temporarily.
Otherwise it is highly advisable to place a swing check valve in line where the water enters the sump (see the picture to the left).
*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”.
(For a larger view of this filter, please click on the picture)
A concept that is growing popularity (that in my view is an improved off shoot from the Refugium, but better) is the Algae Scrubber. The term “Algae Scrubber" refers to this systems use of algae to “scrub” the water of nitrates, phosphates and similar nutrients that often plague many reef tanks. Many claim that with the use of these, protein skimmers can be discarded (I still recommend some mechanical filtration and germicidal filtration).
There are many methods or concepts to this “scrubber” (filter), so please understand this diagram is based on the way a friend in the professional maintenance business has shown me. I have not personally used this method, but the early feedback is certainly very positive and the diagram here is a combined method that also utilizes optional Live Rock Crumbles for further nitrification/ de-nitrification as well a some Refugium concepts and deep sand bed methods too.
My colleague suggested a diverter spray bar added to the pump return line to better saturate the algae on the screen or spreader plate.
This picture uses a Rio 20HP, however this was used for a larger (150 gallon tank) and smaller power head such as a Rio 1100 would work fine for most smaller tanks.
Good daylight lighting (high PAR/6500K) is essential for success; for a smaller algae scrubber a small CFL, T5 or as pictured here an efficient T2 Daylight fixture works well (or 2-3 of these T2 lights).
For larger Algae Scrubbers (or for higher light needs) I would suggest the Super High Output Daylight Lamps (65 watt) for the lighting application.
(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. 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 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 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.
In my experience these are not good as the only filter and do not replace mechanical or especially germicidal filtration in marine tanks. They do make an excellent alternative or combination to sometimes difficult to use protein skimmers, and can be awesome filters when used in combination with other filters and live rock, especially when the pure Berlin Method of filtration is employed.
These filters are primarily biological filters only. They work well attached to an internal filter/power head or canister filer. Fluidized Bed Filters use fine sand kept suspended in a water flow for aerobic biological filtration. The plus is they are basically self cleaning as the sand is constantly rubbing against other grains keeping down the organic buildup. The only negative is these filters do not supply a lot of oxygen for the aerobic bacteria (this is easily remedied with ample water agitation/circulation and/or air stones).
I have set up fluidized filters in marine aquariums in place of wet/dry filters with excellent results (I set up a whole marine aquarium store department this way).
I fact in lieu of expensive canister filters such as the Eheim 2080 or the Fluval FX5, I would strongly recommend to invest in a smaller canister filter (such as the SunSun HW303B) and then place the Fluidized Filter in-line after this Canister Filter. OR simply do away from cumbersome canister filters completely and place your Fluidized Filter 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.
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). 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.
When one considers the price of these plus a powerhead such as the Rio 1700 mated to the #1500 is still much less than these large cumbersome canister filters; this becomes a no-brainer IMHO.
The Picture above/left displays a SunSun HJ-952 mated to a TMC #600 FB Filter. Most Internal Filters do not have the minimum flow rate (& head pressure) to power the larger FB Filters, however this Internal 210 gph has the minimum flow rate to run this Fluidized Bed Filter.
The Rio Plus line of pumps (best mated to a Sponge Pre-filter) as the earlier suggested #1700 along with the #1000, & #1100 generally are the pumps of choice for use powering a FB without a canister filter.
Based on the incredible bio capacity of these newest generation Fluidized filters; models are now being tested for large ponds with bio capacities of over 350 pounds of fish!
Aquarium fluidized bed filters are the way to go if you have a planted aquarium, because they won't wear off your CO2. They also make an excellent addition to any large aquarium with a heavy bio-load. Aquarium fluidized bed filters provide the most efficient biological filtration you can get in a large tank, and they are very easy to maintain.
I have set up many for clients/stores with drilled thru the bottoms of aquariums, powered by either an Internal Filter/Power Head or a Canister Filter/Micron Filter that then powers a Fluidized Bed Filter. 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 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.
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 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) 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!
*The one weakness with Fluidized Filters (when used without a canister filter, HOB, or similar filter present in the aquarium filter system) is the lack of chemical filtration (carbon, Purigen, etc.).
First it is noteworthy that a healthy established aquarium often requires little chemical filtration.
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).
I have placed SeaChem Purigen in a bag just behind a Filter Max Pre-filter with aquarium substrate in front for aesthetics to help hide the sponge and filter bag. The picture above left displays a Filter Max Sponge Pre-Filter with a carbon bag and Purigen in the left picture. The right picture displays the sponge pre-filter with just Purigen behind the filter and aquarium substrate in front (Please click to enlarge).
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.
*Sometimes pump or power failures can allow sand to back up, however the use of a correctly installed aquarium swing check valve can prevent this. As well some, such as the TMC FSB Filter come with valves to prevent this problem, but a second water swing check valve up-line from the FSB Filter can provide more and better redundancy.
*To 'fast' a pump (high gph) can cause sand to be ejected. Also if the water pick up for the filter is near a source of aeration or air injection, too much air can be added to the filter and again eject sand.
*Too little flow or more specifically "head pressure" will not allow a Fluidized Filter to properly fluidize the sand and also can allow air pockets to develop. Many low end "power head" pumps such as the Hagen and a few basic water pumps may have this issue, especially with larger Fluidized Filters.
*Too much pipe/tubing or an in-line pump MAY also impede flow (head pressure) and allow for "pockets", especially when coupled to a weak pump and even more equipment in line. Reducing pipe/tubing if at all possible, and changing pumps may help if this is the problem.
*Fluidized Bed filters will also tend to clog if water is not pre filtered first, however these problems are more common to first and second generation Fluidized Filters such as the Coralife Sea Storm or Pentair FB300, FB600 filters. The third generation TMC V2 Fluidized Sand Filters have much less of an issue with these potential problems.
Germicidal filtration is the use of UVC radiation or ozone to kill disease pathogens and improve the Redox Potential in aquariums. I believe they are essential to a healthy marine fish aquarium. But are equally important to expensive and sometimes delicate freshwater fish such as Discus. Many articles I have read state that a UV is not that beneficial to an established aquarium as a healthy aquarium depends on beneficial bacteria typically growing on media in your filter which neutralize ammonia. Unfortunately the problem with this statement is beneficial bacteria belongs in the filter, not in the open water. Also this is great for advanced aquarists who are not adding fish and have a healthy Redox Potential, but not in the real world of average and above average aquarists that I have dealt with in the 100s of aquariums I have serviced. I have a very in depth article about “Why you should use a UV Sterilizer and how it works” . I strongly recommend reading this article.
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.
Protein skimmers generally only work in marine aquariums (due to inefficiency of the bubble size in freshwater) where they are very popular in reef aquaria, as they are often needed to keep nitrates below .20 ppm for the delicate marine invertebrates.
Here are some important aspects to consider so as to a purchase a skimmer that performs correctly:
• Contact time of bubbles and water inside the chamber (the longer the reaction chamber, the better in most cases)
• The size and consistency of the bubbles produced (very fine bubbles are best)
• The relative volume of bubbles produced
• The ratio of air to water
• Turbulence or friction inside the reaction chamber which may cause poor efficiency in some poorly designed units
• The use of an Ozone Generator (Ozonizer) can greatly increase the efficiency of a Venturi style skimmer (making an already excellent venturi skimmer such as the TMC V2 Skim, a protein skimmer that is “second to none”). As well an Ozonizer can lower bacterial, viral, and other disease pathogens in the water column.
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!
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.
Here are couple of basic skimmers for beginners: Via Aqua Multi Skimmer for beginners or small to medium aquariums due to its relative simplicity, mechanical filter cartridge, bio filtration ability, and most of all the Multi Filters built in UV Sterilizer combination. This said, the Multi Skimmer has a very basic protein skimmer (as well as a basic mechanical filter and UV Sterilizer) and this is not for advanced marine keepers.
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 aquarium keepers.
I do not recommend the Sea-Clone.
Potential Protein Skimmer Problems:
Protein Skimmers often need regular adjustment to achieve a proper foam collection level and sometimes the cup will also overflow when not checked often (this doesn't usually make a mess, just makes for an ineffective protein skimmer). In my opinion many Protein Skimmers are best for more serious hobbyists do to the sometimes regular attention they need, but does not mean you have to be a professional to own one, just not someone who more just wants to look at his or her pretty aquarium with little “hands on”.
Also the diffuser in the pump (in pump driven models) can easily get debris such as carbon caught in the pump and make noise and not function properly this is more common in units with filter cartridges. To correct this; remove the carbon insert container, clean everything out, scrub it with a brush to remove all traces of the carbon particles, and then put it back together.
The key to keeping low nitrates with or without a protein skimmer is (& and this is NOT to say that a Protein Skimmer is not worth while to have in a Marine tank, this is only intended to give other ideas as although a protein skimmer is a useful tool worth having, in most cases its is also not essential either);
*Proper feeding of foods with highly digestible proteins so as to lower the nitrogenous waste produced.
*Good anaerobic filtration via live rock, live sand (deep sand beds), or mud filtration.
*Plant Refugiums and or good plant and green algae growth in the aquarium.
*Proper and frequent cleaning procedures. Using a gravel vacuum (as well as in between "sludge" removal using an Eheim Sludge Remover Vacuum) to remove waste before it can go thru the nitrogen cycle, but not digging so deep so as to disturb anaerobic filtration in the sand (I prefer a layer of fine sand under #3 gravel to achieve this).
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.
Simply put it is the use of live rock and live sand (or mud) to perform aerobic and anaerobic filtration as well as provide a breeding ground for beneficial copepods and other marine life forms.
This starts by adding ‘Cured’ Live Rock to your aquarium and even to some filters.
It is best to purchase this live rock from dealers that have had this in an established aquarium for 2-4 weeks). Besides being placed in the aquarium, this live rock can be placed in filters such as a Mud Filter, in place of bio-balls in a wet/dry of either type (this is accomplished by breaking it into 1-2” pieces), in HOB Filters instead of filter media such as an Aqua Clear 500 (again using broken pieces), or in a sump.
I really have had good success with broken live rock in built in wet/ dry filters in place of bio-balls (the “Dream Aquarium” is a good example where this can be applied.
Protein Skimmers can compliment this well, but so can under rated sponge filters or internal filters (as long as they are rinsed regularly so as to not become nitrate factories).
UV Sterilizers also compliment this method well. One reason stated to not use a UV in this method is the destruction of nitrifying bacteria, well studies have shown nitrifying bacteria stick to surface with a glue-like substance and are generally not water borne. Another misconception is that beneficial copepods will be destroyed, again if you employ a sponge pre-filter on the pump or internal filter, I have found this to be patently false.
I generally do not recommend Canister filters with this method (unless you can use live rock crumbles and/or volcanic rock inside the canister filter to improve anaerobic filtration), I have found them to just end up as nitrate factories, by ‘stealing’ a lot of the aerobic filtration with out the complimentary anaerobic filtration, and considering human nature, these are not as easy to quickly change and left full muck for two long (of coarse if you are willing to rinse it twice per week, then give it a try!)
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.
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. However as per my use and others that have used this device as well a true Micron Filter such as the Vortex, these are purely for organic sludge, mulm, over feeding removal, etc.
This said, the Eheim Battery Vacuum Filter is a good alternative for mulm/sludge removal for those on a budget or with small aquariums where the Cleaning Machine is not simply not practical.
The Aquarium Cleaning Machine which came out around 2005 can first be used as a power vacuum to vacuum and drain water even up to a sink, then set to re-circulate through a micron & carbon cartridge where you can get the rest of the mulm out with out changing too much water. The micron cartridges in these can filter very fine particle including some parasites too (down to 30 microns). The advantage of the Aquarium Cleaning Machine over the Vortex Filters is that you do not need to constantly “stir” your substrate/gravel to free up organic debris, which is not only stressful towards the fish, but is simply very inefficient as compared to the vacuum bell of the Cleaning Machine.
The Aquarium Cleaning Machine was a good tool for large "Monster Fish" aquariums, FOWLR saltwater tanks, and others.
Unfortunately this product is no longer available due to some poor business decisions by the manufacturer (in my opinion), and based on current customer service and business decisions, even IF this product goes back into production, I cannot recommend it anymore.
As with the Vortex Filters, the Cleaning Machine should not be used in place of water changes, however with the Garden Hose attachment, this machine can be used to drain water out of your aquarium as well (into the yard, sink, toilet, etc.).
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