Types Of Filter Media

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Mechanical Filtration

Mechanical filter media is made of an inert, porous material. It works to remove unsightly particles, waste and sludge from your aquarium by trapping them within its fibers. Mechanical media can range from very coarse to very fine in order to trap all different sizes of particulate matter. The chart below illustrates the purpose of the different grades of mechanical filtration media.

Biological Filtration

You can think of biological filter media as a house. Inside of that house lives healthy bacteria; your aquarium’s best friend. Fish waste and uneaten food in your aquarium create ammonia, which is toxic to fish. As more ammonia is created in your aquarium, the ammonia eating bacteria housed in your biological filter media reproduce, and “eat” the ammonia in the water. In the process, they give off a chemical called nitrite. Once nitrite is created, another type of bacteria begins to reproduce and feed on the nitrite. These two types of bacteria work together in harmony to maintain a healthy environment for your aquarium inhabitants.

Chemical Filtration

Chemical filter media are specialized chemical additives that are designed to remove certain types of impurity from your aquarium, such as copper, chlorine, water impurities and odors. The most popular type of chemical media is carbon, as it removes a laundry list of impurities from your aquarium including copper, chlorine and other tap water impurities, odors, dissolved proteins and carbohydrates. It’s extremely popular with aquarium hobbyists because of its ability to remove any discolorants from water, which increases the clarity of the aquarium. Carbon is filled with tons of microscopic pores that attract these impurities and absorb them. Carbon can also remove any drugs or antibiotics you’re using to treat your aquarium, so it’s important to remove any carbon filtration in your aquarium prior to any sort of drug regimen or treatment. Once you’ve finished treating the aquarium, put the carbon back into your aquarium and it will work to remove any excess medication from your tank.

While carbon is the most popular type of chemical filtration media, there are many other heavily specialized options, such as ion exchange resins. Ion exchange resins work by attracting a specific molecule (like ammonia, or nitrate) to adhere to the resin. While chemical filtration in your aquarium isn’t a necessity, it can certainly be very useful, and strengthen the power of your aquarium’s filter.

Order Of Filter Media

The most important aspect of aquarium filtration is the order of your media. Arranged properly, the different media types will work in harmony with each other to create a healthy environment in your aquarium. Arranged improperly, and the entire system will be thrown out of sync, rendering your filter useless, or at the least, severely hindered.

The foundation of your filter media is going to be your most course mechanical media (such as a coarse sponge or foam block.) This will trap the largest particulate matter in your aquarium before sending the water up through the next stage of filtration, which in most cases will be a finer mechanical media, such as a floss pad. This will trap the finer particulate matter in your filter before sending the water up to the next level, which will be your chemical filtration. If you’re using more than one type of chemical filtration, you’ll want to start with carbon, followed by whatever more specific type of chemical media you’re using. At this point, most of the particles and impurities in your water will have been removed, which leaves the final stage of filtration, biological. The chart below illustrates the order of aquarium filtration media. 

It’s important to note that this is a fairly comprehensive guide to all of the different types of filter media. Depending on your needs and the needs of your aquarium, you may not need to use all of these types of media. In fact, you may not have to use most of these types of media. If your aquarium has a light bio load, you may find that just course mechanical filtration and biological filtration are more than adequate for your needs. If you have questions on just how much filtration you need in your aquarium, feel free to get in touch with us, we’re happy to steer you in the right direction!


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