Activated Carbon!

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Isabella

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Hi all, and hi Vin !!! LOL, yes you Vin because you have inspired me to write this post, hehe.

As a result of my LONG conversation (or rather "debate") with Vin and others in this thread: , I would like to know more about activated carbon and charcoal. What is the amount of time during which a.c. and charcoal are effective? When do they expire? Are a.c. or charcoal "absolutely" necessary in a filter? If so, why? (Or why not?) Suppose a person does VERY FREQUENT water changes (like 50% a day), does that person still need a.c. or charcoal? I would like to know what all of you think, as well as what the CORRECT answers are, as we all want what is best for our fish, right?
 

0morrokh

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To make the answer short, carbon is not absolutely necessary. As far as I can tell, it does not do much for the fish. A lot of people just like it because it removes discoloration and odors. But I, as well as others, just don't bother with it. Don't get me wrong--if you want to use it, that's fine--but I see it as just one more thing I'd have to buy.
 

Butterfly

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I don't use charcoal in my tanks unless I'm clearing some thing out(meds etc.) Its just a personal choice because the filter pads are so expensive and wear out faster than the foam I use.
When I was a new fish keeper I did use the filter pads, did rinse them out until they fell apart and never noticed any problems with anything leaching back into my water. (I'm a compulsive water tester).
Carol
 

poefox

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Well, what other options are there? It's just that while you are spending money it is not that much and you get this neat little package you know you can have last 3-4 weeks. If there are other options though I'd like to know...
 

MaryPa

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I agree with everything Carol said. I might add tho, carbon also removes an additives you might want to keep in the tank. IMO it`s a waste of money unless you have meds to be removed.
 

vin

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We all know where I stand on this subject, so I won't go into my long diatribe. (I'll keep it brief).....While others choose not to use it for their reasons and some insist (without naming names) that it is and I quote "absolutely not" necessary, there is tons of information that indicates otherwise...And that it's sole purpose is not just to "remove medications, odors or discolorations"....

I will say this - Whisper (Tetra), Penguin (Marineland) and a host of others that manufacture filters also manufacture AC filled floss bags or cartridges for the sole purpose of polishing your water and recommend their use and regular replacement. This is the filtration media that performs the cleaning and polishing for that particular type of filter...Nearly every hobby book that I have read, magazines and internet articles recommend using AC in some form to properly filter and polish your water..As mentioned in another thread, I have also spoken to a marine biologist at the local aquarium (not LFS) who told me that in an enclosed environment that AC is the best filter material you can use to keep your water at it's cleanest though he did also mention that many aquarist do not feel that it is necessary....Now before you say "see I told you so" he went on to say that although they feel that it is not necessary, they would find that their water would be cleaner and clearer and they would be performing water changes not only less frequently, but less volume as well. (also supported by several articles) He went on to say that it is important that you replace it regularly as it doesn't last forever and can be harmful if left in too long and you do not keep up with routine maintenance. This is consistent with everything I have read except for on these boards. This is not to say that this is incorrect and supports what some on here feel and I'm sure that there are other sources that indicate and support what is said here and I probably just haven't seen them.

Once again, below are the articles and links I've posted in other threads...You can read them or not and then make the decision for yourselves.....


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From: "Practical Fishkeeping Magazine" - A well respected hobby publicatation....

How often should I replace my carbon?
Activated carbon removes certain chemicals from the water via a process called adsorption.

Activated carbon and carbon-impregnated pouches and pads have a limited lifespan of around two to eight weeks, and if left in the aquarium too long, there's a risk that they could leach chemicals back into the tank via a process called re-adsorption.

Check with the manufacturer to see how often the carbon needs to be changed as the lifespan may be linked to quality.
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From Aquarticles: Greenfield & Straughan:



As I said, read them for the information that they supply and make up your own mind. I personally have had success using it regularly along with my routine maintenance.....I can now change my water less frequently and change less. I've gone from 3 gallons every week to 2-3 gallons every other week. I can probably go longer based on my test results, but choose not to push it. I do however test my water weekly to be on the safe side....My parameters have been perfect....Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, pH - 7.0, Nitrates between 5-10.

Buying large size BioBags (the size I need) at Wal-M*** in 4 packs for $6.99, each one lasts 4 weeks...That's about $1.75/month....I think I can afford that if it means that I use less water and my tank water is clean and clear. I spend more than that every day on a cup of coffee.
 
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Isabella

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Vin, lol, feel free to to mention my name. I don't mind at all. I know you had me in mind.

Now, you probably think that I believe that carbon isn't necessary. I never said so. When we had our "debate", we did so in the context of a FRY TANK, not a regular fish tank. All I was maintaining in that thread was that IF you do huge daily water changes in a fry tank, such as 50% or more, you won't need carbon because precisely with so many large water changes you remove the toxins and chemicals that carbon would normally remove. It is UNDERSTANDABLY a wholly different story with a REGULAR FISH TANK. In a regular fish tank, you do not perform so many and such large water changes and that is why there are more chemicals and toxins accumulating over time. In such a tank of course it is beneficial to have and to change the carbon regularly. However, I don't think it would kill your fish if you changed that carbon less frequently than once a month. And, if you do large and frequent water changes in a regular fish tank, with a thorough bottom cleaning (gravel vac.) with each water change - I don't think you'd need carbon in such a tank either.
 

ebbandflow

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I, like vin, have never come across any published information (books, magazine articles) that has said AC is unnecessary and is only for cosmetic use (keeping water looking clear, removing odor) or to remove meds. Could somebody direct me towards such information? Its just that I have found many books that talk about how AC removes dissolved materials from the water that can be harmful to fish but never any that say it is not beneficial in some way. Thanks.
 

MaryPa

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If a person does their weekly water changes how will the water get nasty?
 
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Isabella

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I believe that the size and frequency of water changes is inversely proportional to the need of having carbon. Namely, the more and the larger the water changes, the less need there is for carbon. Carbon's function is to remove toxins, chemicals, and other dangerous impurities from the water that cannot be removed by a sponge or a bio-bag. So, it logically follows that if one does frequent and large water changes (with thorough gravel cleaning with each water change), one is thereby manually removing all these toxins and chemicals that otherwise would be removed by carbon (if one didn't do these water changes).

Ebb, I am sure all the magazines and publications advise to use carbon. But how many of these magazines and publications mention water changes and how it relates to the need of having carbon? It seems most of them assume people don't do large and frequent water changes. Well, in fact, most beginners and even a bit more advanced fish keepers don't do large and frequent water changes. So they would obviously need carbon to do the job for them. These magazines and publications are largely targeting the audiences who are not up with water changes, because statistically more people don't do frequent water changes. And a business will advertise a product that responds to the needs of the statistical majority - otherwise how would a business make money? And to say that companies selling activated carbon or charcoal are not businesses would be absurd. They're businesses with a primary objective to make money - which is why businesses exist.
 

ebbandflow

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I agree Isabella its just that I think by this point I have come to the conclusion that it will make your water conditions, whatever they may be (good or bad), at least better. As long as this is true I dont mind spending the extra five bucks a month for my fishies. I dont know how much other people have to pay for AC but my inserts are really not that expensive.
 
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Isabella

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Ebb, there is nothing wrong with using carbon. It's certainly not harmful. So whoever likes to use it, they're certainly free to do so. I wasn't speaking about carbon in the context of its price at all. It's not expensive for me to buy either. I was just trying to explain whether it is necessary to use carbon, and if it is: when. I was changing carbon every month too until I learned it's not absolutely necessary with regular water changes. I would still be buying it every month if I didn't do regular water changes.

However, there is one situation I can think of (and that I have read about somewhere) in which it wouldn't be advisable to use carbon. And that is when one has a heavily planted tank where the plants need the nutrients in the water - all of which would otherwise be removed by carbon.
 

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Thats true about the plants Isabella. I counted up today how many filter/carbon pads I would have to change every month If I did it that way-15 pads every month. If I felt it were necessary then I would do it.
Carol
 

vin

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Actually, if you read, Carbon does not remove all nutrients...It does keep nitrates in check....If it removed nutirients, they would not use it to filter drinking water that has been fortified.........It removes chloramines, chlorine, nitrates, solid wastes, inert gasses that are derived from fish waste (The type that can kill your fish if you stir up the substrate too much)...Plants require phosphorus, nitrogen, iron and potassium to grow.....Most of these are neutralized by the additives we put in our water to dechlorinate and detoxify it....

My tanks is fairly planted and my plants have to be trimmed regularly to keep them from overgrowing the tank......
 
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Isabella

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That's great Vin. What kind of plants do you have and what type of lighting? In how large a tank? Any CO2 injections? What kind of substrate? Any "plant food" additives?
 

vin

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I have a small tank....15 g....8 plants.....that have grown and I have split to create more...I now have 3 small amazon swords, 2 cardinal plants, 2 cryptos and an anubias nana that has doubled in size in 5 weeks. Single tube 20w fluor. total spectrum lamp.

The substrate is a mix of fine and pea gravel. No plant additives as they really aren't necessary unless the plants are not growing or turn yellow. The waste that the fish create and the nutrients in the water are all the plants should need. The AC does not remove all of them and the dechlor really only neutralizes the chlorine and turns them into trace ammounts of ammonia which is broken down by the aerobic bacteria....Since I'm not having problems with plant growth I add nothing....In fact, I've split the crypto 4 times and gave 3 away and replanted one. The Amazons give off runners which I've replanted and given a couple away. I also allowed one shoot to reach the surface where the gourami loves to hide.

No co2 injections. Not showing signs of necessity. No problems with water parameters.....
 
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Isabella

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I am not convinced about the safety of CO2 injections either - I heard what happens when a CO2 device (or whatever it is that people use to add CO2) breaks .... and I wouldn't want to risk it with my fish. Besides it is still possible to grow beautiful plants without CO2 injections if one understands well the ecology of the aquarium and the forces that are at work there. If you're interested Vin, I recommend a great book about how to maintain a successful planted tank without any CO2 injections. It's called "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist" by Diana L. Walstad. I think I will use this book as a model for a heavily planted large tank that I want to have one day. The author has a very interesting approach to maintaining a planted tank and she speaks out of experience. I loved reading this book. The only requirements are that you have a LOT of plants, a good substrate (the best being natural soil), and appropriate lighting. If you read the book you'll see why that is. Very interesting.

I also have a couple of Amazon Swords, and while they are alive I think they just "survive" rather than "thrive" in my tank. I believe that's because my "watts per gallon" ratio is very low (only 20 watts in a 30 gallon tank) and Amazon Swords are plants that require at least moderate lighting. But I am glad they're not dying, considering the low light that I have.
 

vin

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Thanks Isabella. I'll keep an eye out for that book....I've really been learning a lot by reading a lot on the internet and also taking some practical horticultural knowledge into consideration.

If you up your wattage, I'm sure your plants will thrive....Even if you only boost it to 30w...You won't be over lighting your tank and your plants will benefit at the same time. 1w/gallon is certainly not too much....You might even be able to go a little higher. Also, remember, even though the wattage is 20w, over time as the lamp ages, the color begins to fade and the spectrum changes....The life is long, but that just means that it won't burn out as quick as an incandescent lamp would, but doesn't have anything to do with the color or temperature.
 

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I read that book lately Isabella. Very interesting I must say. I actually conducted a little experiment as a result of that book, just wanted to check the theory for myself you know how it is. I took two coke bottles: One had about one third soil in the bottom, my control had nothing. Ok so one bottle has soil, a nitrate fertilizer and tap water, the other has no soil, nitrate fertilizer and tap water.

Day 1 both show nitrate readings
Day 2 (yes only day two) soil bottle has half the nitrate of no soil bottle.
Day 3 soil bottle has very low nitrate reading no soil bottle no change.
Day 4 soil bottle has a 0 nitrate reading no soil bottle remains unchanged.

The results refelected exactly what the book suggested. Soil substrate really is the way to go for a balanced, healthy planted aquarium.

Anyway back to the topic... if you use AC and are comfortable that it works for you use it.... if you dont and are comfortable not to then dont. There are many ways to maintain a healthy aquarium, you just need to find a formula that works for you on the options availaible and HAPPY Auariamingmingningthingy.
 
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Isabella

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Ncje, I am glad you have read the book. And, wow, you did your own experiment That reassures me that the book is indeed very valuable. The reason I believe Diana Walstad is because she did a lot of research and experiments, so she doesn't speak just out of theory but also out of experience. She herself said that she maintained many tanks set up this way. When I set up my planted tank in the future, I want to try and do it Diana's way.

P.S. What kind of soil did you use in your experiment? Aquarium-safe, a regular soil taken from the outside, or yet some other type??
 
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