# Filter media, which one is better?

ruud
I'm almost one year on Fishlore. Hurray, I survived. I am still far from being a fish expert, but I do know a thing or two about planted tanks and biology and ecology in general.

The one thing that stands out on Fishlore, in comparison to e.g. planted tank forums, is the enormous attention nitrification / cycling is getting. Ammonia oxidizing microbes only account for a tiny part of the microbe community. Why bother about choosing between sponges, ceramic rings or pumice? Or about replacing media instantly and losing "most of the beneficial bacteria" in your system?

Let me grab a beermat and a pen and do some calculations.

Suppose I have 20 small fish, each 1 gram, so 20 grams of fish in total. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
They consume about 2% of their body weight, daily. Hence, 0.4 grams of feed is required on daily basis.

Next, feed to waste conversion:
Protein content of feed is, let's say, 25%
N content of protein is 16%
70% of this is excreted as waste
Conversion NH3 (for sake of argument) / N = 1.216

So 0.4g feed / day converts to 0.014g NH3 / day

Now suppose these 20 small fish live in a 25 gal / 100 liter tank. This results in 0.14 ppm NH3 / daily.

Now we turn to nitrification. For the sake of argument (doing this constantly as I only have a beermat to fill), we turn to Total Ammonia Nitrogen (TAN, NH3/NH4+) and unlimited dissolved oxygen.

TAN conversion rate is typically expressed as TAN (g) / surface area (m3) /day and sometimes as TAN (g) / surface area (m2) / day. I'll use the latter.

Given all the figures in papers related to aquaculture, and one in which also reference is made to aquaria (Grommen et al, 2002), again for the sake of argument, lets be really conservative and assume TAN conversion rate to be a very modest 0.2 g / m2 / day.

We have a staggering 0.014g to process. This can be accomplished by 0.07 m2 or 700 cm2 area. This equals to 0.75 square feet or 109 square inch. I hope...feel free to calculate.

This area is easily covered by the inside of an empty canister with all the tubing, a large HOB without media, or just your tank with some water flow, or a heavily planted tank with or without filter.

So what to choose? Sponges, ceramic rings or pumice? Perhaps leave it out and avoid filter clogging, which can lead to real issues.

For the sake of nitrification, and other purposes also, my advice would be to pay more attention to dissolved oxygen instead. For instance, make sure your water surface is crystal clear at all times.

I believe when issues arise with fish, the finger should most often be pointed to other causes than ammonia.

So comment all you want, or not , I'm off for holidays. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

member144186
Your tanks are beautiful! What type of substrate do you use?

ruud
Your tanks are beautiful! What type of substrate do you use?

Sand (overpriced ADA La Plata) mixed with dead and rotting plant matter.

member144186
So, what you’re saying is that an aquarium which is heavily planted, would really just need a good oxygen supply, and could go without a filter?
I am a relatively new aquarist, and I thought that that 95% of the nitrifying bacteria existed in the filter media. In my Betta tank (heavily planted), if I removed the internal filter, wouldn’t I crash my cycle, and potentially harm my fish?

Azedenkae
I'm almost one year on Fishlore. Hurray, I survived. I am still far from being a fish expert, but I do know a thing or two about planted tanks and biology and ecology in general.

The one thing that stands out on Fishlore, in comparison to e.g. planted tank forums, is the enormous attention nitrification / cycling is getting. Ammonia oxidizing microbes only account for a tiny part of the microbe community. Why bother about choosing between sponges, ceramic rings or pumice? Or about replacing media instantly and loosing "most of the beneficial bacteria" in your system?

Let me grab a beermat and a pen and do some calculations.

Suppose I have 20 small fish, each 1 gram, so 20 grams of fish in total. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
They consume about 2% of their body weight, daily. Hence, 0.4 grams of feed is required on daily basis.

Next, conversion to waste:
Protein content of feed is, let's say, 25%
N content of protein is 16%
70% of this is excreted as waste
Conversion NH3 (for sake of argument) / N = 1.216

So 0.4g feed / day converts to 0.014g NH3 / day

Now suppose these 20 small fish live in a 25 gal / 100 liter tank. This results in 0.14 ppm NH3 / daily.

Now we turn to nitrification. For the sake of argument (doing this constantly as I only have a beermat to fill), we turn to Total Ammonia Nitrogen (TAN, NH3/NH4+) and unlimited dissolved oxygen.

TAN conversion rate is typically expressed as TAN (g) / surface area (m3) /day and sometimes as TAN (g) / surface area (m2) / day. I'll use the latter.

Given all the figures in papers related to aquaculture, and one in which also reference is made to aquaria (Grommen et al, 2002), again for the sake of argument, lets be really conservative and assume TAN conversion rate to be a very modest 0.2 g / m2 / day.

We have a staggering 0.014g to process. This can be accomplished by 0.07 m2 or 700 cm2 area. This equals to 0.75 square feet or 109 square inch. I hope...feel free to calculate.

This area is easily covered by the inside of an empty canister with all the tubing, a large HOB without media, or just your tank with some water flow, or a heavily planted tank with or without filter.

So what to choose? Sponges, ceramic rings or pumice? Perhaps leave it out and avoid filter clogging, which can lead to real issues.

For the sake of nitrification, and other purposes also, my advice would be to pay more attention to dissolved oxygen instead. For instance, make sure your water surface is crystal clear at all times.

I believe when issues arise with your fish, the finger should most often be pointed to other causes than ammonia.

So comment all you want, or not , I'm off for holidays. Enjoy the rest of the summer.
Yep! Turns out a tank can produce very little ammonia. CerMedia did a test for the MarinePure product, and what they found was whether they filled the canister filter in their experiment entirely with bioballs or without... actually made no difference. The empty canister filter and the one filled with bioballs handled the exact same amount of ammonia...

This may be exactly why for at least some fishkeepers, they could constantly replace their biomedia, etc., and found no major issues. Perhaps over time they ended up having enough nitrifiers on their filter walls itself that no matter the change in media, there was still plenty of ammonia oxidation occurring.

In their test, the canister filter CerMedia used, even when empty, could handle over 25ppm ammonia a day in a 20 gallon tank. Whew!

With that said, there are some considerations here. First, 25% protein content is probably lower than what is in a lot of food out there. I find generally they are around 50%, up to 60%+. Second, the stocking may be quite a bit higher. So ammonia production can be quite a bit higher. Third, we don't all have a big canister filter attached to a 20 gal.

Using your same calculations for example, my 10 gal produces roughly 1.3ppm total ammonia a day. Not surprisingly, cichlid keepers can end up really dealing with 2ppm total ammonia a day. There can then be consideration for biomedia in such case.

But yes, you are right. It is certainly a consideration, about whether media is absolutely necessary when conditions are right - lower stocking, low feeding, and especially with plants that can soak up ammonia directly.

ruud
I
So, what you’re saying is that an aquarium which is heavily planted, would really just need a good oxygen supply, and could go without a filter?
I am a relatively new aquarist, and I thought that that 95% of the nitrifying bacteria existed in the filter media. In my Betta tank (heavily planted), if I removed the internal filter, wouldn’t I crash my cycle, and potentially harm my fish?

If you are fairly new to the hobby, I would continue to use a filter. Because filtration is more than nitrification.

Regarding the residence of nitrifying microbes, they require nitrogen compounds and lots of dissolved oxygen. With plenty of flow, no doubt you'll find many in a properly working filter. Without a filter, they must be somewhere else. And with plenty of plants; Azedenkae and myself recently had some discussion about it: Cycling a walstad tank without a filter | Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle Forum | 525301

A201
I believe the best filter media is an aged tank w/ a deep, BB infused, gravel substrate.

SparkyJones
I'm outrageously overstocked, like insanely, well not insane, insane would be another 30 fish of similar size in there.
My angel's, 30 growing juveniles of about 2"diameter body size, eat a half gram of food each per day, 15 grams of food each day to the tank, 1 pound a month. they'd eat more if I let them.

Hows that calculate for ammonia? if I have the ballpark right, 0.035 per gram, 0.53 ammonia per day, supposing 72 gallons/ 272 liters..... 5.30 ppm ammonia a day?

1 ppm ammonia becomes 2.7 ppm nitrite or 3.64 ppm nitrate, in a day 19.29 nitrates, not counting the uneaten food that falls to the bottom and under the rocks to break down over time and become nitrates also. but something like 578 nitrates a month if I just let it all sit there for the month.....

the math's ain't my strong suit. This sounds about right actually compared to testing and water changes.
although my math is likely off somewhere. what I know is I get a TON of nitrates and the fish eat like horses.

Now I've got 2 cubic feet of space in the old wet dry for bioballs.

You lost me with the TAN completely to much metric, I understand metric, just to much conversions for me to make things work to figure it out once I'm down to volume, then bioballs per gallon (100) or bioballs per cu.ft. (700) ir bioballs per cubic gallon... Yeah, I don't feel like thinking that hard anymore.
What I know is that filter doesn't struggle at all with handing whatever ammonia is thrown at it., would I get the same result if I got rid of the surface area of the bioballs? I'm not sure....
Or if I got rid of the filter and just let the tank handle that..... Doubtful.. ..

the reason most of the colony is in the filter is because that's where all the oxygen is, but if you didn't have one, they would obviously be found in other areas with higher oxygen in greater numbers than in areas of lower oxygen and be found in less hospitable locations as well.

I know nothing about planted tanks, and probably not a lot about anything in particular, but maybe just enough of everything in general.
I know Walstads CAN work, I know anaerobic zone plenums CAN work, I know a lot of things CAN work, but like everything else with this hobby, one size does not fit all, and your results may vary compared to someone else's results and as always we will continue to do what works for us. and get rid of what isn't working.

And many many folks don't even care to or want to understand HOW it works, just that it works.
I am quite certain many folks can get by on a lot less filter than they have. I can get by on a lot less filter than I have also, especially with a lot less fish, but I'm still pushing my luck on volume of water and the ppms are adding up even if it's not ammonia and good old non-toxic nitrates.

here's an interesting question.
How much plant do I need to clear out approx.20 nitrates a day/600 nitrates a month?

PS I really enjoy there kinds of technical conversations, it feels like, and I actually do learn from them. It sure beats the usual "why is my cycle taking so long" posts!

Thanks Ruud!

Azedenkae
I'm outrageously overstocked, like insanely, well not insane, insane would be another 30 fish of similar size in there.
My angel's, 30 growing juveniles of about 2"diameter body size, eat a half gram of food each per day, 15 grams of food each day to the tank, 1 pound a month. they'd eat more if I let them.

Hows that calculate for ammonia? if I have the ballpark right, 0.035 per gram, 0.53 ammonia per day, supposing 72 gallons/ 272 liters..... 5.30 ppm ammonia a day?
Very close, the last part about the conversion to ppm is what got ya. XD

15 grams * 0.25 (protein fraction) * 0.16 (N fraction of protein) * 0.7 (excrete) * 1.216 (conversion of N to NH3, for the sake of argument) = 0.51072 grams, or 510.72 milligrams.

72 gallons is 272.55 litres.

510.72 milligrams / 272.55 litres = 1.874 mg/l (ppm).

Though now that you did an actual calculation for your tank, I am curious. Can you check your protein content? :3 Want to know exactly how much is being produced.

SparkyJones
Very close, the last part about the conversion to ppm is what got ya. XD

15 grams * 0.25 (protein fraction) * 0.16 (N fraction of protein) * 0.7 (excrete) * 1.216 (conversion of N to NH3, for the sake of argument) = 0.51072 grams, or 510.72 milligrams.

72 gallons is 272.55 litres.

510.72 milligrams / 272.55 litres = 1.874 mg/l (ppm).

Though now that you did an actual calculation for your tank, I am curious. Can you check your protein content? :3 Want to know exactly how much is being produced.
I can. it's tetramin tropical flakes, the cheap stuff! 46.0% crude protein. I ain't embarrassed to say it!
that stuff is on sale at Petsmart for like a 4.52 pound bucket of it for \$42.89. like \$9.50 a pound.

And my fish will hit that 4" body size coming up, but I should be able to cut them off the food around there as they should be adults and about finished with the speed growing window and won't need so much mass gain to grow. they'll just start getting fat with it at that point. then it's time for the diet.

member144186
I

If you are fairly new to the hobby, I would continue to use a filter. Because filtration is more than nitrification.

Regarding the residence of nitrifying microbes, they require nitrogen compounds and lots of dissolved oxygen. With plenty of flow, no doubt you'll find many in a properly working filter. Without a filter, they must be somewhere else. And with plenty of plants; Azedenkae and myself recently had some discussion about it: Cycling a walstad tank without a filter | Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle Forum | 525301
I'm outrageously overstocked, like insanely, well not insane, insane would be another 30 fish of similar size in there.
My angel's, 30 growing juveniles of about 2"diameter body size, eat a half gram of food each per day, 15 grams of food each day to the tank, 1 pound a month. they'd eat more if I let them.

Hows that calculate for ammonia? if I have the ballpark right, 0.035 per gram, 0.53 ammonia per day, supposing 72 gallons/ 272 liters..... 5.30 ppm ammonia a day?

1 ppm ammonia becomes 2.7 ppm nitrite or 3.64 ppm nitrate, in a day 19.29 nitrates, not counting the uneaten food that falls to the bottom and under the rocks to break down over time and become nitrates also. but something like 578 nitrates a month if I just let it all sit there for the month.....

the math's ain't my strong suit. This sounds about right actually compared to testing and water changes.
although my math is likely off somewhere. what I know is I get a TON of nitrates and the fish eat like horses.

Now I've got 2 cubic feet of space in the old wet dry for bioballs.

You lost me with the TAN completely to much metric, I understand metric, just to much conversions for me to make things work to figure it out once I'm down to volume, then bioballs per gallon (100) or bioballs per cu.ft. (700) ir bioballs per cubic gallon... Yeah, I don't feel like thinking that hard anymore.
What I know is that filter doesn't struggle at all with handing whatever ammonia is thrown at it., would I get the same result if I got rid of the surface area of the bioballs? I'm not sure....
Or if I got rid of the filter and just let the tank handle that..... Doubtful.. ..

the reason most of the colony is in the filter is because that's where all the oxygen is, but if you didn't have one, they would obviously be found in other areas with higher oxygen in greater numbers than in areas of lower oxygen and be found in less hospitable locations as well.

I know nothing about planted tanks, and probably not a lot about anything in particular, but maybe just enough of everything in general.
I know Walstads CAN work, I know anaerobic zone plenums CAN work, I know a lot of things CAN work, but like everything else with this hobby, one size does not fit all, and your results may vary compared to someone else's results and as always we will continue to do what works for us. and get rid of what isn't working.

And many many folks don't even care to or want to understand HOW it works, just that it works.
I am quite certain many folks can get by on a lot less filter than they have. I can get by on a lot less filter than I have also, especially with a lot less fish, but I'm still pushing my luck on volume of water and the ppms are adding up even if it's not ammonia and good old non-toxic nitrates.

here's an interesting question.
How much plant do I need to clear out approx.20 nitrates a day/600 nitrates a month?

PS I really enjoy there kinds of technical conversations, it feels like, and I actually do learn from them. It sure beats the usual "why is my cycle taking so long" posts!

Thanks Ruud!
I’m woefully ignorant when it comes to technical anything—I think I’ll just stick with the filters I have in my tanks, which seem to do quite well so far lol

SparkyJones
I’m woefully ignorant when it comes to technical anything—I think I’ll just stick with the filters I have in my tanks, which seem to do quite well so far lol
that's most people really, "hey it works, who am I to argue with results!"

Azedenkae
I can. it's tetramin tropical flakes, the cheap stuff! 46.0% crude protein. I ain't embarrassed to say it!
that stuff is on sale at Petsmart for like a 4.52 pound bucket of it for \$42.89. like \$9.50 a pound.

And my fish will hit that 4" body size coming up, but I should be able to cut them off the food around there as they should be adults and about finished with the speed growing window and won't need so much mass gain to grow. they'll just start getting fat with it at that point. then it's time for the diet.
46% crude protein... so your daily ammonia production would be more like 3.45ppm than 1.87ppm, more considering usually the actual volume of water is less than that tank size, can be anywhere between 10% to 30% lower depending on the setup.

... That IS a lot of ammonia lol.

SparkyJones
46% crude protein... so your daily ammonia production would be more like 3.45ppm than 1.87ppm, more considering usually the actual volume of water is less than that tank size, can be anywhere between 10% to 30% lower depending on the setup.

... That IS a lot of ammonia lol.
Yeah, whole lot of nitrate production also....I've been testing with 1 liter of matrix in a media bag and stability coming on the 2nd month and it's promising. Once above 20ppm the matrix seems to be reducing nitrates by about 10 maybe 15% and I'm hoping it can go to 20-30% after a couple months.

I'm a long way out on that though at some point I want to cut out the stability monthly doses and see if the denitrifying bacteria can carry on without it and not collapse.
If I have to continue using the stability than I have to do a cost/benefit and see if it's worth it. I mean I'm still doing water changes, it does something but if its like 90 nitrates a week and it's reducing it by 9 or 12 and doesn't get better than that, it's probably not worth bothering with, but I could of course lower the bioload and maybe then it's more useful but if I'm not chasing nitrates with bioload then do I even really need it? Lol.

A201
SparkyJones
You don't need to apologize about feeding Tetra Min. Lol. I mix it in daily with Omega One pellets & NLS Thera +A. I think it's good stuff.
IMO, given at least two power heads, an aged tank, deep gravel bed substrate, plenty of rocks & driftwood hardscape, ones tank is probably good to go.
Plants would definitely be useful, but not neccessary, If a sufficient amount of aeration is present.
BB colonies should coat the decor & surface of the substrate. Anaerobic bacteria should populate the under layers of the deep gravel or sand bed.
Couple this with a weekly 30% - 50% WC, there should be no need for filter media.
Of course this is just my opinion. Newbies stick with a HOB or canister power filter until you've gained a lot of experience.

GlennO
IMO, given at least two power heads, an aged tank, deep gravel bed substrate, plenty of rocks & driftwood hardscape, ones tank is probably good to go.
What about mechanical filtration? I figure if you're going to use powerheads, may as well have sponges attached to them.

RayClem
When I first started tending aquariums decades ago, undergravel filters were quite common. They use the substrate as a filter media. Sand or fine gravel is a wonderful filter media, both for mechanical and biological filtration. The problem is that it is difficult to prevent debris from building up in the substrate. Thus, undergravel filters have fallen out of favor.

One of the very best filter media is polyurethane sponges. They have lots of tiny pores to trap debris and allow for growth of colonies of beneficial micro-organisms. Some tests have shown sponge filters to be highly effective at supporting nitrifying bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite. Thus, I recommend always using filter sponges, both as a prefilter on the intake of your filters as well as the initial filter media in HOB and canister filters. In a smaller tank an sponge filter driven by an air pump might be all your need.

In saltwater tanks that incorporate a sump and a trickle/shower filter, bioballs are very effective as you can use a high volume of filter media. However, in HOB and canister filters, you normally do not have sufficient room to incorporate a sufficient volume of bioballs, so use another type of media.

There are lot of different types of ceramic balls, cylinders, and rings. Some are better than others. When you are purchasing ceramics, it is hard to know what you are getting, but they are still better than plastic bioballs.

Some of the best filter media is volcanic rock: lava rock, pumice, and perlite. These are formed when molten lava from a volcano cools. Hot gases inside cause the rock to explode like a popcorn kernel forming rocks of low density with a huge number of tiny pores. That is exactly what is needed for a great biofliter. Seachem Matrix is pumice which has been graded for size, but you can purchase pumice from a garden center if you wash and grade it yourself.

Then there are the synthetic media such as sold by Biohome. It is essentially a manmade rock formed into uniform cylinders. It seems to work well, especially in canister filters. However, it is expensive. I purchased 5 lbs for nearly \$100 to use in my canister, however, I also have a prefilter sponge, filter sponges and pumice in the canister. The combination works quite well. I only clean out the canister itself every six months, but have to clean the prefilter every few weeks.

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