Diy Media Guide For Top Fin Silenstream, Aquaclear And Other Hob Filters

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This is a write-up on some methods and options for using DIY media in your HOB filter. My goal is to condense in one thread, easy and cheap methods of improving the filtration in your HOB filter while making it more cost effective. I enjoy the hobby and especially the DIY aspect of it.

Have you become frustrated with replacing HOB cartridges and crashing nitrogen cycles? Is your filter not keeping up with the bio-load of your fish stock? Do you want to hot rod the stock filter your tank came with? Are you on a budget? Do you like or want to attempt some easy DIY projects that offer great results with minimal effort? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you should be interested in this thread.

The following lists some DIY media options for adding coarse/fine mechanical filtration and for adding extra biological media to your HOB filters. It will work for 10 gallon betta tanks, 75 gallon cichlid tanks and anything in between.

I will focus on mainly the Top Fin Silenstream series of HOBs and also give some examples using Aquaclear filters. The Top Fin Silenstream filters are included with the majority of Top Fin aquarium kits from Petsmart. They are prevalent in our hobby and very cheap to buy separately. Aquaclear filters are on the other side of the spectrum of HOB’s. Between these two models of filter, most people will probably be able to use this guide to get ideas for the brand of filter they own with some minor tweaking.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but a general guide to give you ideas for cost effective, readily available and easy to use media for your HOB filter.

I will include specific media I have used in my personal HOB’s. There are many brands and variations of media available at different price points, for certain applications and specialty use. I can not list every brand/model of HOB filter or media. Again, this is a general guide to point you in the right direction.

What I demonstrate in this thread may not be applicable to your situation and needs. Sometimes experimentation is required in the amount/placement/type combination of DIY media to balance the flow rate, effectiveness of filtration and adjust to the tank’s biological load. You may tailor the DIY media to fit your specific needs and application.

Before I begin, I must thank everyone here on the Fishlore forum. I have gained a lot of information from a lot of good people. Everyone here wants to advance the hobby and are always available to give some advice or share their experience in a positive. Therefore I want to contribute back and share what I have learned.

I also want to mention some YouTube resources I have come across with valuable information that help to advance our hobby. These hosts are also genuinely passionate about our hobby and I have learned a lot from them as well: Richard from Pondguru channel, Cory from Aquarium Co-Op channel and Joey from King of DIY channel. There are many more great aquarium hobby channels on YouTube, but I cannot list them all.


Basics of Filtration:

Throughout the guide, the flow of water follows the same basic pattern through the media. It can apply to whatever your filter and media you choose.

Water enters the filter and flows through the media in this order then back out into the tank:

1st: Coarse mechanical filtration

2nd: Fine mechanical filtration

3rd: Biological filtration.


Water enters the filter where larger suspended particles gets trapped by the coarse mechanical filtration and smaller particulates gets trapped by the fine mechanical filtration. Then the biological media (where the beneficial bacteria colonizes) will facilitate the nitrogen cycle.

In this guide I purposely did not give options for chemical filtration, though if you choose to use it, I recommend it being the last thing the water touches before it flows back into the tank. I did not want to get into debates of the validity or specific times of when/when not to use chemical filtration.



Top Fin Silenstream filters and other cartridge based HOB’s:

The first example of using DIY media in a HOB will be for the Top Fin Silenstream series of filters. The Silenstream shares many design characteristics with other brands of HOB’s, so the DIY media mods listed below are easily adapted for use in other brands of HOB’s.

It’s a basic HOB filter design using a plastic bio-grid and a replaceable cartridge. They have a telescopic intake tube with a very handy adjustable knob that lets you adjust the flow rate. The knob turns a restrictor in the intake tube limiting the water flow that feeds into the impeller housing.

Top Fin is Petsmart’s in-house brand and the Silenstream filter is included with most of their Top Fin aquarium kits ranging from 10 gallon-55 gallon. Although considered an entry level HOB filter, with the right mods it can be made into a very reliable and effective filter. The following lists the gph ratings of the models. Although not indicated in the literature or online, I assume the gph ratings is for flow at the impeller assembly without media installed. Your actual gph flow may vary, especially when using different combinations of media.

Top Fin Silenstream 10 85gph

Top Fin Silenstream 20 100gph

Top Fin Silenstream 30 150gph

Top Fin Silenstream 40 200gph

Top Fin Silenstream 75 400gph



Models 20, 30 and 40 share the same filter body, intake tube and reservoir. The only difference is the gph ratings due to differences in the impeller/pump. The model 10’s reservoir is not as wide but has the same design as the 20-40 models. The Silenstream 75 model basically has 2 reservoirs joined together side-by-side with a stronger impeller/pump assembly rated for higher flow. Sharing the same basic design elements, the DIY media mods featured here can be tweaked for use in the 75 model also.

I own the Silenstream 20 model and it’s used in the following pictures. Although originally included with my 20 gallon Top Fin aquarium kit, it was re-purposed for use on my 10 gallon and I find it to be a very effective filter in this application.







 
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DIY Intake Pre-Filter Sponge, cost $3-$15:

The first mod than can be made to any filter (HOB or canister) is to boost the coarse mechanical filtration ability with the use of a sponge pre-filter on the intake tube. The pre-filter sponge will catch all the large muck suspended in the water before it enters the filter. This has 2 benefits. First it will keep the media in the HOB’s reservoir cleaner for a longer period of time. Second, it will be a host for beneficial bacteria to colonize.

There are different methods of attaching a sponge to the intake tube. The first two examples are easy and cost effective while the third option costs slightly more…..

One method is to use the Top Fin MF-20 filter refill available at Petsmart for about $3 and comes with a 2-pack of sponges. The are closed at one end and have an opening at the other end for the intake tube to slip into. These come with loose fill carbon granules loaded into the inner cavity. This can be discarded or saved for another DIY project. Either way, they are not to be used in this application. Use a plastic zip tie or a rubber band can be used to secure the sponge to the intake tube.




I use these green Top Fin sponges on my Top Fin Silenstream 20 and one of my Aquaclear 30 HOB’s. They have been very effective and have held up well after being taken off and on multiple times when they are rinsed off with tank water.

Another option is to buy a 3-pack of Aquaclear/Fluval sponge refills for either their AC50 or AC70 models and use 1 sponge to make an intake pre-filter. They are avaialbe at most brick-and-mortar stores and online for $3-$5 for the 3-pack.

The following YouTube video, DIY Intake Sponge from Chewy’s Bro Aquatics channel, shows how to quickly accomplish this. After finding this video, I started to use an AC70 sponge as an intake pre-filter on my AC70. It works great!





The 3rd option for using a pre-filter intake sponge is using the ATI Filter Max. Depending on the source, they range in $8-$15. The company ATI sells both sponge filters driven by airlines and pre-filter intake sponge kits. Their ATI Filter MAX I and II models use a fine foam and their Filter Max III uses a reticulated coarse foam sponge. They have a modular design so more than one sponge can be attached inline.

I use their Filter Max II model on one of my Aquaclear 30’s and their Filter Max III model on my Aquaclear 110 HOB. Here are some pics of the Filter Max III.


 
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Adding Extra Mechanical Filtration in HOB’s Reservoir:

Additional media can be added to the reservoir of the HOB to supplement the cartridge, or the cartridge can be completely omitted. There are different options for accomplishing this. Here are the 3 main methods:

1: Polyfil $5-$10


Polyfil is polyester fiber fill traditionally used in pillows and is available from WalMart and craft stores. Some bags are marked “flame resistant” or something similar. Avoid these bags because the poly fibers are treated with a chemical.

Polyfil is used for fine mechanical filtration and traps the smaller particles of muck in the water. It can be compressed or stuffed loosely into most spaces. Some people rinse it out and re-use it, but I choose to discard it when it is dirty and replace it with new material.

Adding a layer of Polyfil before your biological filtration is easy and cheap method for boosting your HOB’s fine mechanical filtration ability.


2: Aquaclear Foam Sponge 3-pack refills $3-$5


Aquaclear sells 3-pack refills of sponges for their HOB filters. The refills for their AC50 and AC70 filters are the best to use and only cost between $3-$5 for 3 sponges. They can be cut to fit your application and can be easily used in your HOB’s reservoir (or as an intake pre-filter).

These sponges can be used for your main mechanical filtration or as coarse filtration before your cartridge or DIY fine mechanical filtration. These sponges are well made and can be easily cleaned by swishing them around in a container of tank water.

They will also act as a host for your beneficial bacteria to colonize on.


3: Roll of Bulk Filter Media $11-$17



This is one of my favorite types of DIY media. Amazon sells different brands of bulk filter media, usually in 12” x 72” rolls (other sizes available). They run between $11-$17. Most are dual layered, where one side is more coarse and the other more fine. You want the water to flow through the coarse side first and out through the finer side. These bulk rolls can be cut to fit any application. They can be used to replace the HOB’s cartridge, layered before the bio-media, or stacked for increased filtration.

When they become dirty, they can be sometimes rinsed off and re-used or they may have to be discarded if the material starts to deteriorate and lose its form. I have found the bulk roll media that costs a few dollars more is usually slightly thicker and can be re-used a few times.

Using bulk roll media gives you endless options for DIY media replacement/configuration for your HOB. An initial investment of under $20 will save you money in the long run, if it allows you to stop buying replacement cartridges.
 
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Adding Extra Bio-Media to HOB’s Reservoir:

When using the stock cartridge in a HOB filter, every time it is replaced with a new one, the beneficial bacteria is lost and the nitrogen cycle is broken. With the addition of some bio-media in the reservoir, your nitrogen cycle doesn’t have to be broken when replacing the cartridge. A bag of bio-media can also be added when DIY mechanical media is used.

Beneficial bacteria can colonize in the pre-filter sponge on the intake and in the sponge in the reservoir if one is kept there. The beneficial bacteria colonized here will supplement the bacteria in your bag of DIY bio-media.

Here are some easy and effective ways to add some bio-media to your HOB. Other brands are available such as Seachem Matrix, Eheim Substrat Pro, BioHome, etc. I also use Matrix, but I focused on media less than $10 for this write-up.


These are bagged ceramic bio-media from Fluval and can be found for $2 online and at Petsmart. These are the same as the Aquaclear 30 Bio-Max refills that cost a few dollars more.

These little bags are good because they’re inexpensive and will fit in tight spaces for small HOB’s, or a couple of these can be stacked in a larger reservoir.

These are Fluval’s larger ceramic bio-rings and come loose in a bag. The bulk box has 500 grams of Bio-Max and around 80 count. They can be placed in a media bag, such as the one from the picture. It is a Top Fin 8” x 3” media bag that goes for $0.89 at Petsmart. Generic media bags of all sizes can be found on Amazon.

  • Cycled Bio-Media/Sponge from existing filters, free:

If you already have a tank set up, you may be able to obtain some bio-media or sponge from an existing filter that is already cycled. Placing the cycled media into a new HOB will instantly cycle a tank.

Here is a pic of a bag of cycled media I use in my Silenstream 20. It came from an Aquaclear I had set up on another tank. The dark colored sponge toward the left is also from another cycled tank. I keep that sponge in the reservoir. It is for an ATI Hydro-Sponge Mini and I can set up the sponge filter quickly for a instantly cycled quarantine tank.


 
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Putting it all together:

The following are pics of different combinations of DIY media that can be used in your HOB filter. For reference, I use the Top Fin Silenstream 20 HOB filter. Your HOB filter may differ but the same concepts will apply.

  • Intake pre-filter sponge + small bag of Bio-Max added to stock cartridge






  • Filter Media Pad cut from bulk roll + large bag of Bio-Max




  • Intake Sponge Pre-Filter + Polyfill + Aquaclear Sponge + large bag Bio-Max




There are other combinations that may be utilized w/ DIY media, but this will get you on the right track for your set-up......
 
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Aquaclear HOB Filters:

All of the media I mentioned above can be used in the Aquaclear series of filters. They differ from most HOB’s because of their removable media baskets and their water flow enters from the bottom of the reservoir and flows upward then out the discharge chute back into the tank.

I have included pics of one of my AC30’s and my AC110. For simplicity, I have not included my other AC30 and AC70. They are set up slightly different, but follow the same principles of the flow of water through the media that I outlined toward the beginning of the thread.

The media basket in the following pics are from one of my AC30’s on my 20 gallon. Although not shown, it uses the green Top Fin sponge as a pre-filter on the intake that I mentioned earlier in the thread. I cut down the stock sponge in the media basket to free up additional room for other media.

On top of the sponge is a layer of Polyfil, then a layer of filter media pad cut from a bulk roll, a 100-micron filter pad, then finally a bag of Seachem Matrix bio-media.








Next are some pics of my AC110. It uses the ATI Filter Max III shown earlier in the thread. I also cut down the stock sponge in the media basket to allow for additional media. Above the sponge is a huge layer of Polyfil, 2 layers of bulk filter media pads, then 3 bags of bio-media (Matrix and Bio-Max).

Here is a link of a write-up I did on the AC110 that I posted here on the forum (LINK).







The media baskets on Aquaclear HOB's are rather larger, even for the AC30. There is an infinite amount of combinations of DIY media that can be used for these filters. As far as I know, Seachem Tidal filters are the only other HOB's that utilize a media basket.

I hope this guide for using DIY media in HOB filters can be used as a reference and starting point for other members and their own DIY projects. I have had the idea for starting a thread about it for awhile now.

Many times I see people post questions in different sections of the forum, asking about filter media, alternatives to cartridges, how to add biological filtration etc. The subject of being on a budget comes up frequently, so I chose methods that have both worked for me and were inexpensive.

My goal was to post some cheap and easy ways to hot rod up your HOB filter and enjoy a DIY project that anyone can do themselves.

If anyone wants to post their own DIY media used in their filters, please do so. Descriptions and pics of your set ups are welcome.

If anyone here gets some ideas from the thread and mods their filters, again please post your results.

Thanks!
 

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In my slipstream 10 i found a different brand of filter that fits. I cut a section of bulk bonded filter and used the stock clamp system to hold it in place.

I also use a fluval pre filter and bulk marineland bio rings. I run the filters at 50 speed.
 

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can we get a sticky?

great write up.

and some info for the Tetra Internal filters and other similar internal/submersible filters.

 

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This is phenomenal Islandvic.
This may have been covered and maybe I missed it, in my kids' 5 gallon betta tank (which has the Top Fin 10), if I cut the filter (which I'm still using from 4-5 months ago as I try my best to clean in old tank water), where does the carbon reside? (or is there any in it?). I know there's a ton of good BB on that so would I just get rid of the black plastic frame and then just fit it in the reservoir part? I hope this makes sense. I haven't changed the cartridge yet.
 
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Thank you yinoma2001!

If the thread helped at least one person, then mission accomplished. If it helps out a few more, then bonus!

I'm not 100% sure if the cartridge is built the same for the TopFin 10 as the 20, but I believe it is.

The Top Fin cartridges has a layer of the white felt material on both sides of the inner plastic frame and inside is the loose carbon pellets.

In the past, I cut a slit on one side and dumped out the carbon.

If you're wanting to replace the cartridge with new media, but retain the beneficial bacteria, I would cut the slit and empty the carbon out and discard that.

Most people here on the forum advise that carbon is good for about a month, then it stops adsorbing and not effective anymore.

Cut away the remaining white felt material around the plastic frame and you can place it back into the reservoir with the new media.

This should keep your cycle going.

Good luck!
 

yinoma2001

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Islandvic said:
Thank you yinoma2001!

If the thread helped at least one person, then mission accomplished. If it helps out a few more, then bonus!

I'm not 100% sure if the cartridge is built the same for the TopFin 10 as the 20, but I believe it is.

The Top Fin cartridges has a layer of the white felt material on both sides of the inner plastic frame and inside is the loose carbon pellets.

In the past, I cut a slit on one side and dumped out the carbon.

If you're wanting to replace the cartridge with new media, but retain the beneficial bacteria, I would cut the slit and empty the carbon out and discard that.

Most people here on the forum advise that carbon is good for about a month, then it stops adsorbing and not effective anymore.

Cut away the remaining white felt material around the plastic frame and you can place it back into the reservoir with the new media.

This should keep your cycle going.

Good luck!

Ahh. So the carbon is probably dead anyways. If the floss material gets to frayed, could I basically roll it up and keep it tucked in the reservoir to preserve the BB? I also have a prefilter sponge that is hopefully amassing good BB. I also kept some loose biomax ceramic things at the bottom of the reservoir. I couldn't squeeze the bag into that (though I have done so on my Aqueon 20 for my 29 gallon).
 
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Yes, if it were mine, I'd just bunch the floss up and shove it down toward the bottom, where ever it fits.

Also, those sponge pre-filters work great!

Here is a quick video on the Aquaclear 70 from Richard "Pondguru" on his YouTube channel.


He stresses that the brand of the filter is not nearly as important compared to the media inside of it.
 

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Thank you for linking this in one of my posts (you linked it to help me out since I'm just starting out). This guide was great, I bought a Fluval C4, and kept their sponge pads, but added a 50 micron pad behind the original. I took out the activated carbon added a pound of Biohome Plus in the lower compartment and kept their c-nodes in the top. Since there is a bit of room, I added my old media from my previous filter into the sponge section of this one to transfer the beneficial bacteria. This post was really helpul, I didn't realize filtration was so involved. Thanks again!
 

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Awesome post, now I know what to do when I have replace my filter cartridge, as I am new to hobby you saved me a bunch
 
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Excellent!

When it is time to replace the cartridge, consider cutting away all of the white felt material from the plastic cartridge frame.

You can place that material in with the new media to transfer the beneficial bacteria over.

Also consider installing a sponge pre-filter on the intake tube before replacing the cartridge.

That way you can start colonizing more bacteria right away on that.
 

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Islandvic said:
Excellent!

When it is time to replace the cartridge, consider cutting away all of the white felt material from the plastic cartridge frame.

You can place that material in with the new media to transfer the beneficial bacteria over.

Also consider installing a sponge pre-filter on the intake tube before replacing the cartridge.

That way you can start colonizing more bacteria right away on that.
I will keep that in mind, and I am assuming I can reuse the blue tray that has small spikes thing on it right?
 
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The blue plastic bio-grid isn't hurting anything, but in my opinion it isn't helping much either.

You may certainly leave it in the reservoir.

On my Silentstream filter, my train of thought was that it took up space in the reservoir that could be better served by a sponge, bag of bio-media, Polyfil, etc etc.

The concept of the blue plastic bio-grid is that it creates surface area that beneficial bacteria colonizes on.

But in reality, the surface area is minimal and there is more surface area in the tank if you count the substrate, glass, ornaments and plants.

Considering everything in the tank, the surface area of the plastic blue grid starts to appear small.

That is why I removed it and inserted other media in its place.

For example, if you were to calculate the surface area of all the pockets on the exterior and inner structure of a block of foam sponge, you will have exponentially more surface area vs. the blue plastic grid. Plus the sponge catches muck and acts as a mechanical filter as well.

Same concept applies to a bag of bio-media. A handful of ceramic/sintered glass bio-rings or pumice stones will have an enormous amount of total surface area , both external and internal, due to their porous nature.

That is why in this thread the blue plastic "bio-grid" was removed for all examples. I felt there were many examples of other media that could replace it and do a better job.
 

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Following to steal great ideas!!

I love re-doing my filters using sponges, ceramics or biohome, and filter pads to replace the cartridges. You get much better surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow, better filtration, and save a ton of money by not replacing those cartridges so often (even if you wait for them to fall apart before replacing, it is still way more often than a sponge which lasts forever or ceramics that last a lifetime).

I have also added this prefilter sponge to my AC 110:
 

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Islandvic on the tanks that use Matrix, do you find you have less nitrates?
 

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I just noticed that your avatar is a Whataburger cup!! How can you do that to those of us that do not have one, but come from a place that does?? LOL. My husband especially has to eat there every time we go to Houston. It's the little things in life, lol.
 
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