|Types of Aquarium Filtration:|
• Includes Potential problems (troubleshooting) in each filter type section,
Such as Canister Filter Troubleshooting
(2) Under Gravel Filter (UGF)
(3) HOB (Power Filter)
(5) Internal & Power Heads
(6) Canister (Filstar, Fluval, Eheim, etc.)
(7) Canister Filter Alternatives/Supplemental Pumps
(8) Hard Plumbed Canister
(9) Wet/Dry or Sump, including Central Filter System Sumps|
(10) Fluidized Bed High Bio Load Filters
(11) Algae Scrubbers/Refugiums Mud Filters
(13) Protein Skimmer Filters
(14) Berlin Filter Method
(15) Cleaning Filters
*Download of this article
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 40+ years experience
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).
A lot of this article is simply subjective based on my experience, however the troubleshooting sections are much more objective and useful regardless of whether one agrees with my reviews and experience.
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.
*Non Stop AC/DC Air Pumps
*Million-Air; Professionally Proven Reliable Aquarium Air Pumps
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!
Product Resource: Seio Propeller Pumps, Glass Mount Aquarium Water Pump; Model 320, 530
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.
Further Reference: Using Seasoned Filter Media to Seed a new Aquarium.
Another aspect of dual filters is to compliment each other.
For instance Sponge Filters, especially the premium AAP Hydro Sponge Filter, along with Fluidized Filters (which are unsurpassed by ANY filter for bio filtration capacity) are excellent bio filters, but not as good at some mechanical filtration (though certain Sponge Filters can be a reasonably good mechanical filter); so a good mechanical filtering canister filter or HOB filter that also has good mechanical filtering characteristics would be a good compliment to the previously mentioned filters.
If just Sponge Filters are used, using a reticulated (PRO) Sponge and high capacity standard sponge can also compliment each other.
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
I give my OPINION/REVIEW with each of these types of filters, based on 38 + 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 (often dozens or more of any one filter), but also based on feedback from other informed aquarium professional maintenance colleagues I generally talk/meet with at least once per month.
These reviews are not meant to be the end all, as it is far from a complete list, but hopefully this can help readers with similar filters make good decisions.
More importantly as I noted earlier, the troubleshooting tips for many of the "types" of filters reviewed here are more universal and objective. Hopefully reader will find these very useful, even when they might disagree with a review.
Further Reading: My Aquarium Keeping Bio/Experience
A few notes before I get started here:
In each section below, I discuss the attributes (and weaknesses) of each type of filter and I give trouble shooting tips for each as well.
For Marine Aquarium filter systems/combination suggestions, please see this article: “Marine (Saltwater) Aquarium Filter Set Up Suggestions”
For Freshwater Aquarium filter systems/combination suggestions, please see this article: “Freshwater Aquarium Filter Set Up Suggestions”
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.
Please Reference this article for much more about Head Pressure (a MUST Read):
Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Filters/Pumps
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 to fair for mechanical filtration (the removal of debris- organic and inorganic).
For biological filtration the under-gravel filter still has some drawbacks to consider too, but generally when used in an incorrect application.
It is noteworthy that I set up the entire Bahooka Restaurant (this restaurant was featured in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and had 110+ aquariums, most over 75 gallons) with only under-gravel filters and they preformed well under the proper care and optimum conditions for this type of filter (some even planted too).
Although I have used many over the years with good to very good results (regular vacuuming and lower bio load is needed for good results), I do not generally recommend them for high bio load aquariums (but again not because they do not work for the correct application and maintenance, because they do despite anecdotal comments to the contrary).
There was one under gravel filter that stood out that is no longer available; 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 & Lees Premium (pictured above) has a similar design under gravel filter to Nektonics.
Another style of under gravel filter that was somewhat popular in the 1970s into the early 80s was the tube style. These tubes could be plastic or sometimes homemade from PVC pipes with slits or holes cut on the bottom for intake of water through the gravel.
These have been brought back to life recently by at least one company I know of.
I had extensive experience using these in the 1970s into the 80s and in every case the flow pattern and resulting bio filtration was poor with the pipe design compared to other under gravel filter designs.
Worse, I found these types of under gravel filters tended to allow the accumulation of organic matter that would in turn attract Saprolegnia growths.
In EVERY case when I removed these filters for even another better designed under gravel filter, the problems with Saprolegnia and other opportunistic diseases improved dramatically.
About the only positive of these tube style UG filters is they work better for planted tanks as they do not interfere with roots as much as other designs.
Further Reference/Reading: Aquarium Saprolegnia
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 when Not to use an Under Gravel Filter:
The bottom line is if considering, note the drawbacks and that not all are equal or rather consider an AAP Sponge Filter or if your budget allows; a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter (which is unsurpassed by ANY bio filter in capacity and efficiency).
*Hydro Sponge Premium Aquarium Sponge Filters
AAP Fluidized Sand Bed Filters
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.
All negatives aside, I can state that I've run many fresh & saltwater aquariums with undergravel filters with great success, just note that not all designs are the same and that bio load is more sensitive as are control of nitrates.
With the Bahooka Restaurant, I performed regular vacuuming and kept low bio loads and here they worked well and actually fit better with there decor since I could hide them easily and ran ran air pressure from a large pump to all the filters.
In Summary; Do not believe the many anecdotal negatives that these filters are junk, because they are not; but these filters are certainly not for everyone either.
Probably one of the most under rated filters available today!
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.
Product Resource: Filter Max Sponge Pre-Filters
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.
Product Resource: Hydro Sponge #5 PRO
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.
Recommended Product Resource: AAP, Lustar Professional Sponge Filters
Just as important, the ATI Hydro Sponge Filters are one of the few USA made aquarium filters you can buy, and all the knock-offs not only are inferior (& sometimes infringing on USA patents), they are all made elsewhere!
I have a lot more information about sponge filters in this article:
"SPONGE FILTRATION; How sponge Filters Work and the Benefits of using Sponge Filters in Aquariums and Ponds"
This is a very in depth article and worth reading!
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 as 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 HOBs for biological filtration (if not the best) and is deservably 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 in the water and the Aqua Clear faired worse than all others tested.
I should also note that the Aqua Clear Filters have poor impellers and impeller well design that more easily warp, and from my records (based on literally 100s of Aqua Clear applications in my large aquarium maintenance company), have a higher than average break down record than many other HOBs due to the impeller and impeller well/motor design.
This of course does not make these a bad filter, as I have had more good ACs than bad ones, but this is still a noteworthy flaw that many should be aware of.
Another "non-issue" in my opinion is that the filter media such as the carbon or sponge might float up in the basket. This can be remedied by soaking and removing any and all air prior to introduction to the filter, then placing a small rock on the basket (this may not work for all models though).
So not let this minor issue deter you from the Aqua Clear if you like other features about this filter.
Before I seem too hard on these filters, they do have a lot of bio and coarse mechanical capacity and flexibility especially in the larger models, which is where I would recommend their purchase.
However, 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 SunSun, SuperClean, VitaLife, & other filter cartridges allows for multiple rinsings before the fiber degrades.
As well, with a pre-filter (such as the AAP Filter Max), the cartridges can last a long time (often a few months) and many of the better models, such as the Whisper, Rena Smart Filter & SuperClean, Aqueon, SunSun, etc, come with grids, bio stars, ceramics, or sponges to improve bio capacity.
The Aqua Clear Models I do recommend most 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”), SeaChem Matrix, 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 be improved as the larger models of Aqua Clears are very versatile filters that I recommend.
Otherwise, I still recommend the AAP Tidal Filter for a premium HOB, the API/Rena SuperClean for a good Value HOB, the and SunSun HBL line of HOB filters 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 and very experienced 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 (although the newer AAP SeaChem Tidal Premium HOBs are testing out well).
Points to consider for the AquaClear:
This said, even here my personal preference for freshwater aquariums (especially when value is considered) would be 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 AAP/SunSun HBL-702 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).
One suggested product link: AAP Premium Hydro Sponge Filter
AAP/SeaChem Tidal; This is a newer entry into the premium aquarium HOB power filter niche from a company already known for their quality products & information.
The feedback from professionals is so far good.
As well, I am currently testing the filter too with it so far being now my first choice for a top notch HOB aquarium filter.
This filter takes many of the concepts from the Aqua Clear as well as the newer Tetra/Whispers and improves on them and provides a top notch 3 year warranty to back these filters up.
What I like is is it uses the concept of multi media use in a larger capacity filter similar to the AquaClear, but then provide a better tray feature, skimming, a maintenance monitor shows when the filter basket needs cleaning, better self priming motor, and simply a more solidly built filter.
However one of the negatives also found in the AquaClear is found in this filter and that is its "flow by" is higher and fine particulate mechanical filtration is not as good as some other HOB filters. This said, the way the basket fits is still better than the AquaClear with lower "flow by"
Time will tell on its durability as while I have used literally 100s of Aqua Clear filters over the years, I do not have this experience of time & numbers with this filter, but based on my experience of using many different HOB Filters over the years, I expect this filter to not only stand up as the premier HOB filter in its class, but also be a durably long lasting filter too with an unsurpassed warranty too!
Product Resource: AAP/SeaChem Tidal Aquarium HOB Filters
Beware of clearance Tidal Filters sold via Amazon, Chewy, and other online discounters at prices that are "too good to be true", these are not authorized by SeaChem and have no viable warranty and many are damaged items.
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.
Yet when HOB filters that had running Sponge Pre Filters attached to their intakes were removed, there were discernible ammonia spikes. What this means is that the Bio Wheel was NOT the primary source or even an important source of bio filtration for the tanks with the bio wheels.
For more FULL information about my experiments with Bio Wheels, please read this article:
Do Bio Wheels really work?
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".
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, Purigen, live rock crumbles, etc. and simply becomes a nitrate factory!
Product Resource: SeaChem Purigen
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 (when used CORRECTLY with a pre-filter); the Rena Smart Filter.
The New Rena Superclean, and older Via Aqua VitaLife and Millineum are the excellent "Simple" Hang-On filters for freshwater tanks under 60 gallons, with the SuperClean 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.
The SuperClean filters also have a low “flow by rate” and are thus much better for mechanical filtration (these cartridges are easily rinsed and re-used as well).
The SuperClean utilizes a unique plastic "fence" where highly porous ceramic bio media are placed (supplied with filter), that is a simpler and more reliable way to maintain nitrifying bacterial colonies than a bio wheel
Unfortunately, both the ViaAqua VitaLife and Millineum filters have suffered from the down turn in the economy that started in 2008 and are no longer available (except for a few of the M100 models). However a cheap "knock off" off of the VitaLife is now made by by a rather unethical aquarium supply company, avoid this filter that might look like a Vitalife, but is not the same filter in quality.
A useful feature beside the fact that these filters are supplied with the well documented BioChem Zorb which is superior to carbon used in other filters, these filters will have the option of cartridges with NitriZorb (for ammonia/nitrate removal)& Phoszorb (for phosphate removal)
Prices are from about $20 for the 20 model and $35 for the 50 model.
AAP/Rena SuperClean HOB Aquarium Power Filters
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.
The even newer SunSun HBL 702 series HOB filter also has this new feature.
This has its advantages and disadvantages; the main advantage is there is not a 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.
The minor disadvantage is it is possible 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 failure. With normal maintenance, this is problem that should not occur.
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, Types and Uses”).
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 as it once was, 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 AAP/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 AAP/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.
The Former Rena Smart HOB Filters were an excellent idea for an HOB/Power Filter as they had 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 professional aquarium 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 and ONLY use Filter Max Pre-Filters along with the Rena Smart Filter. 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 when correctly configured!!
See product link: Rena Smart Filter & Filter Max Pre-Filter
What is unfortunate, 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 add a quality pre-filter as recommended by aquarium professionals!
It is noteworthy that there is NO PROBLEM with the leveling feet, rather it is the lack of use of a pre-filter as previously noted that can cause this filter to leak out the back due to clogging.
Unfortunately Amazon has "no skin in the game", provides no service or scientific knowledge to the products they sell and most importantly since they have no knowledge of how the Rena Smart Filter should be properly set up, do NOT sell this product with the correct pre-filter, thus resulting in the irresponsible and incorrect reviews.
The end result has been one of the best HOB filter ideas, is now a discontinued filter line.
Remember this next time you shop with Amazon for anything aquarium related, as they provide no real information with their format, nor can one as an Amazon retailer (I know this for a fact as Amazon has courted me several times and my principles have not allowed me to sell under their system).
Reading reviews on Amazon and then purchasing many aquarium products there is akin to doing the same for your medical needs then complaining to your Doctor when they do not work correctly!
In summary, 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, with the highest efficiency, along with one of the more reliable and quiet motors of any HOB aquarium filter.
Economy HOB Filters;
The AAP/SunSun HBL-501 or AAP/SunSun HBL-702 are very good economy HOB filters (there are several "good" economy HOB Filters), with both cartridge AND Bio Sponges/Grids.
Another plus, while being a top notch economy filter, they are inexpensive.
Product Resource: AAP HBL-501 & 702 Economy HOB Filters
The 501 model has a small skimmer/aerator feature, while the 702 model has the new and popular feature of an "in tank" motor (similar to the Aqueon & Tetra) that makes for a very easy start up and more importantly lowers the risk of the impeller drawing debris that settles inside the filter impeller well, often from stray carbon.
For the price the AAP HBL 702 is definitely a better value than the more pricey Aqueon & Tetra of comparable size as I have found no difference in quality of build or filter efficiency!
As well, these filters come with a cartridge that is actually superior to many more pricey HOB Filters such as the Whisper or Penguin in that it is easily pressure rinsed for re-use in mechanical filtration.
Also, these filters have proven to be reasonably reliable and quiet; again at least comparable to the Aqua Clear, Penguin and other filters I have used in the 100s over the years.
With the 'double' SunSun HBL-702, I often recommend removing one of the Bio Grids and replacing with SeaChem Matrix or SeaChem Purigen for Nitrate Control, especially these are to be used and small saltwater aquarium.
SeaChem Matrix & Purigen
The only negative I have found for an otherwise excellent value economy HOB filter, is that the directions are somewhat "sparse", however this is only a very minor flaw as anyone with any familiarity with aquarium HOB power filters should have no problem connecting a SunSun HBL Filter to their aquarium.
The "in-tank" pump feature is both a positive and negative. As a positive it makes staring these filters more simple than eve, however as a negative, if you are one who lets your tank evaporate several inches, this may not be the feature for you as the motor can then run dry and malfunction. Also for tanks used for turtle, frogs, etc where you actually want the water level to be low, this filter along with the Aqueon and Tetra Filters with this feature are not for you.
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.
Product Resource: Filter Max Aquarium Pre-Filters
There are many other Economy Aquarium Power Filters available, too many to mention, but from my use of many, as well as simply knowing from experience which features are important for a healthy aquarium; the SunSun HBL series is certainly the best of the bunch and often outperforms many much more expensive filters including the Penguin.
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).
See product link: Filter Max Sponge Pre-Filters
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 (although now discontinued), or even the the SunSun HBL-702 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).
Product Resource: Volcanic Rock
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 & SunSun 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 (this is one of the reasons I like these two filters is the economy of filter cartridge reuse).
Many years back 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.
Product Resource: Kordon Methylene Blue
*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 these pre-filters still prevent fry from being sucked into the Aqua Clear.
A complaint with pre filters I have occasionally 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.
Potential HOB Filter problems (Trouble Shooting):
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.
I prefer the SunSun Internal Filters for the flow rates, internal sponges and value.
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).
The SunSun JP-23 is a good value/economy true power head 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).
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).
For a more thorough review of some popular power heads, please see this Aquariums Answers Post:
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.
*Often Internal Filters or Power Heads are used to run external devices such as a UV Sterilizer or Fluidized Bed Filter.
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.
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.
This is a well known secret among many professional aquarium design persons such as myself, but not as well known among popular forums & Youtube celebrity hobbyists that often go for the splash of the biggest filter such as the FX, often thinking (or unaware) this is automatically the best. HOWEVER controlled tested by adding copious amounts of organic matter then testing say otherwise to this anecdotal popular thinking---- so beware and save your money!!
Canister filters, despite many improvements in designs and features, seem to be a filter that not only is time consuming in changing for some, they presents many difficulties in initial set up and subsequent cleanings for many basic aquarium keepers based on the many questions and service calls I have had/made (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 for less experienced aquarium keepers or those who are simply less "handy".
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 (better than bio balls or ceramic rings) to keep these filters from becoming nitrate factories.
For MORE about filter media, please see this article:
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.
For "ECONOMY/VALUE", I generally suggest the AAP/SunSun 300 & 400 series (which is also sold under different names, but many including the SunSun VARY CONSIDERABLY in quality especially if purchased via a discounter such as Amazon), although these are not necessarily the best canister filters (& in fact are NOT), these are an reasonable choice when price is a major consideration for high capacity, generally reliable canister filter, just be aware these are economy filters with absolutely NO quality control in manufacture..
SunSun has a newer 700 series canister filter, these are simply an economy-economy filter that are basically a "throw away filter" at the price they sell for. These 700 models (such as the SunSun 704B) are extremely cheaply made and when something breaks you are better off just purchasing another filter.
I would caution potential SunSun, Grech, Perfect, or similar Canister Filter buyers that there are some flaws in return and intake piping as well as there are simply no quality controls resulting in a high number of poorly functioning and/or defective filters making for some poor "out of the box" reviews that would not exist if these persons writing the review had purchased from a source that actually has testing & quality controls in place!!
Another flaw in the newest 700 series is these simply are more cheaply built, which includes a low output ballast and medium pressure UV lamp (resulting in a UV Clarifier that is not even a Category C UV), so all the testing and retrofitting in the world does not fix these flaws, SO AVOID!
The standard 300 & 400 series models come with almost no filter media, while the AAP upgraded/tested models has more filter media including higher bio capacity (both aerobic & anaerobic) Volcanic Rock.
Suggested place to purchase:
Other similar value canister filters include the now discontinued Via Aqua line, and the Hydor PRO series canister filter which has MANY design similarities to the Via Aqua 750 and other models (really almost a carbon copy of the Via Aqua filters).
Product Resource: Ball Valves to Replace Hydor or Other Canister Filter Ball ValvesHere is a video for the Hydor Pro Filter: YouTube; Hydor Professional Aquarium External Filter
The best standard canister filter (non "pro" model) from my decades aquarium maintenance is the AAP/Rena (API) Filstar XP (although more money than the SunSun & similar economy filter, but often less than the Fluval which are but an economy canister filter with a high price tag).
Another advantage is that some sellers of the AAP/Rena Filstar include the super premium filtration media "Bio-Chem Zorb" which is vastly superior to carbon. This product is similar to a high grade carbon and Purigen combined.
In the end, THIS IS MY CHOICE for canister filters when price, quality, & effectiveness are factored in.
In fact from my experience, the Rena Filstar XP Filter Systems are the best canister filters in their category (when apples to apples models are compared)!
For those reading this article thinking to themselves that I am promoting the API Rena because I sell them should note that I do not have access to the cheapest source for API-Rena Products and therefore in the end sell these at just a little more than cost!!!
For a installation/instruction video for the Filstar, please click here:
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 unreliable at a higher rate than others, even some economy models such as the SunSun have proven to be equal to or better reliability.
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 & '05 models.
Even the highly touted Fluval FX5 and FX6 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/FX6 is vastly over rated for bio filtration when compared to Fluidized Filters where you are better off with a lower priced model Fluval or other canister filter mated to a FSB filter!!!
One more feature of the Fluval FX5/FX6 is the so-called Smart Pump Technology, which continually monitors the pump, constantly measuring impeller speed and force. It also manages the filter’s self-starting feature and evacuates air that may enter or build up within the filtration system during a 12-hour cycle, during which the pump will pause and allow trapped air to escape.
This all said, the Fluval FX5/FX6 is certainly in a different league of canister filter than their 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.
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.
Eheim has done an excellent job marketing their filters as they have convinced many in the aquarium community that their filter is second to none which although I still find the Eheim an excellent filter (one of the best), this is simply not correct. I also do not like the return policy of any Eheim product which forces the consumer to send their products back to Eheim instead of the speed and convenience of the retailer.
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 such as the 2080 (the Eheim 2215 Classic is pictured above left).
The newer "Eheim Ecco Pro Easy" models; 2232, 2234,& 2236 are excellent values for those who are sold on the Eheim name. These models have an excellent build, and feature a new pre-filter which gives the user longer intervals between cleanings.
Two large (& pricey) Eheim, Filters are the 2262 & 2080 are without equals in capacity and water flow, as well as superior to the Fluval FX filters (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.
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 AAP/SunSun HW403 (or similar canister filter) combined with a AAP #150 Fluid Filter would easily exceed either the Eheim 2080 or Fluval FX5/FX6.
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. This is the one Eheim I would consider a flop, with the largest Pet Supply distributor in North America (Central Pet) no longer stocking it due to problems.
In summary, if an Eheim is what you have decided on; I would recommend the 2213, 2215, & 2217 Classics or the Ecco Pro Easy 2232, 2234,& 2236. If your tank is large, rather than a 2062 or 2080, I suggest multiples, OR BETTER; a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter with a separate pump.
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 other Canister filters which is especially useful for running UV Sterilizers, 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.
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 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).
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, AAP/SunSun 402/403/404, Filstar, to Ehiem, often powering UV Sterilizers and/or Fluidized filters this way in MANY high end filtration installations I have performed in my custom aquarium design and maintenance business.
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”.
This next diagram/picture shows how I have plumbed a 250 gallon aquarium (& larger), both fresh and saltwater (reef).
To provide more security from leaks, I suggest adding a small bead of quality aquarium silicone on both sides of the bulkhead just prior to final tightening. This idea was handed down to me by an old timer aquarium builder years ago (Bill from Prestige Aquarium) and it has allowed him to have bulkheads last as long as the aquarium itself (despite inaccurate videos by a popular online Reef supply discounter)!
Recommended viewing for proper Bulkhead use!
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.
Canister Filter Alternatives
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.
What is also nice besides the price and bio capacity is that by using a pump such as the Rio 1700 inside your aquarium to pump water to your pressurized pond filter, you do not have the problem of starting a siphon (or loosing a siphon after you thought it was started).
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.
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 many power heads have small sponges that prevent debris and most medium/small or larger fish from getting caught.
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:
A Rio 1100 along with the AAP/SunSun JP-065 (for smaller canister filters) or AAP/SunSun JP-066 works well for this application for 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.
Canister Filter Trouble Shooting; & Other potential canister filter problems:
WET/DRY FILTERS & SUMP FILTERS;
Popular with fish only marine aquariums in particular (although not so much with pure reef enthusiasts), these filters are great biological filters for control of ammonia and nitrites, but poor mechanical filters.
These filters became popular in the 1980s and everyone and their brother made these (often home built), although they are still good filters for certain applications, their popularity is based more on principle and hype than on scientifically proven results.
This high nitrate production is good for a planted freshwater aquarium, but then another negative to these filters emerge, and that is CO2 scrubbing. While it is often possible to have a heavily planted aquarium with say a sponge or FSB filter and need to add little artificial CO2 (such as in the Walstad Method), it is quite rare to maintain such a planted tank without the need to add CO2 via often elaborate CO2 systems.
For the above issues, in almost every instance where I took on a new client with a wet/dry, in particular with marine or planted freshwater aquariums, in the end I REMOVED/REPLACED with a different system (including a pure sump with no "wet/dry" aspect) with much better results.
The principle of "wet/dry" 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. A typical wet/dry trickle filter is picture above left
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.
I also like to place live rock in the sump too as this prevents in tank nitrifying bacterial die off during power failures.
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 place in a "trickle" filter prior to reaching the sump, and then uses a pump or power-head to return the water.
You can run a variety of bio media in this type of wet/dry.
Often a wet/dry is not your best choice, where as a sump that technically has no "wet/dry" aspect. the obvious and proven issues with wet/dry is that these can be nitrate factories
This diagram displays a more advanced marine aquarium sump that does NOT employ a wet/dry aspect (which IMO/experience is outdated and much less efficient).
This sump includes:
Standard Sump & Central Filter System Sump; DIY
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 or volcanic rock over/around a Hydro-Pond Sponge connected to the return sump pump. My pump of choice would be a 370 gph to 1200 gph Water Pump such as a Rio HF (Hyper Flow).
For large multi-aquarium systems with a central sump, this idea can easily be expanded with multiple Hydro Pond Filters (often stacked) along with a high output system pump.
For a real simple sump you can simply use an Rubbermaid container filled with live rock crumbles and a pump with a pre filter (although this is not the best, it does work).
The diagram below is a simple and effective sump I've used in the past that keeps nitrates low naturally.
Overflow versus drilled aquarium as a means to get water to your sump:
Obviously with a sump below or even beside an aquarium, there must be a means to get the water to the sump. Getting the water back to the display tank is generally easy with using the many pumps available depending upon flow rate and head pressure needed.
My preferred method is with an overflow tube that is attached via a bulkhead drilled in the bottom or side of the aquarium.
This is where the traditional overflow box is used that allows water to over flow into the box, and then uses a siphon to move the water to the sump. Use of a one way (out) check valve attached to air line tubing makes it easy to start the water flow by sucking out the air.
A newer method employs the use of PVC pumps, generally 3/4 to 1" pvc to act as an overflow with a lower likelihood of loss of siphon than with the traditional methods.
Regardless of what method is used, a caution in case of siphon failure; make sure that your sump hold ANY VOLUME OF WATER that might over flow the aquarium.
Potential Wet-Dry filter problems:
Product Resource: Swing Check Valve for Wet Dry Filter Sump
*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”.
FLUIDIZED SAND BED (FSB) FILTERS/REACTORS;
These filters are primarily biological filters only. They work well attached to an internal filter/power head both inside the main aquarium or attached to a sump. As well, many can be easily run off of a canister filer.
*Note with the exception of the NPX Bioplastics that require a reaction chamber (or Phosphate Removers which do not require a reaction chamber, but work better in one), NO other products should be place in your FSB filter other than the sand (place these products such as Purigen and Marix in a separate filter).
The plus is they are basically self cleaning as the sand is constantly rubbing against other grains keeping down the organic buildup.
I fact in lieu of often expensive canister filters such as the Eheim 2080 or the Fluval FX5 & FX6, I would strongly recommend to invest in a smaller canister filter (such as the SunSun HW303B or Eheim Classic models 2015-2017) and then place the Fluidized Filter in-line after this Canister Filter.
OR simply do away with sometimes cumbersome canister filters completely and place your Fluidized Filter/Reactor 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.
The other popular option is running the FSB Filter /Reactor on the side or in a sump.
Pictured above right is the newer AAP PhosBan 150 Filter which replaces the older models with simple yet effective design, not to mention more flexibility in use.
Ease of servicing the AAP FSB filter is another attribute which helped make my decision to move on to these models over previous generation FSB filters.
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).
More bluntly the newest generation Fluidized Bed Sand Bed Filters have a Bio Capacity higher than ANY Aquarium Canister Filter per square inch of actual filter chamber, including the Eheim 2080 or Fluval FX5.
The Picture above/left displays a SunSun HJ-952 mated to a TMC #600 FB Filter (now replaced by the AAP PhosBan 150). 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.
Aquarium fluidized bed filters are the way to go if you have a planted aquarium, because they won't wear off your CO2, as well these adapt better than most bio filters to the cycles of plant respiration and the affects plants have on the aquarium nitrogen cycle.
Further Reference: Planted Freshwater Aquarium Care
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.
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 (especially useful for reef aquariums) 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.
Be aware that many "cut and paste" web sites such as About.com (whom promote the LifeGuard and do not even mention the AAP Filter), they do little research or update their content and while the LifeGuard may have been the best more than two decades ago (as per my own extensive use), the latest AAP Reactor line is the newest generation with less issues with correct sand fluidation along with the ability!
Tips for Mounting/Installation:
This video below might be helpful for those looking to set up a 3rd generation FSB Filter:
Here are a few other helpful YouTube Videos about FSB Filters:
Below is an example of a mounting of an older Model #600 FSB filter along with a Rio 1000 Pump, Filter Max #3 pre-filter, & Vecton-2 8 Watt UV Sterilizer:
For parts used for the above example and source of these parts, here is a list:
Here is a Diagram of how I installed these with a Canister Filter & UV under the aquarium:
The one possible 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.).
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).
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 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.
Product Resource: Seio Superior Performance Aquarium Propeller Pumps
For further information about the often unknown Fluidized Filter, please read this outside article:
ALGAE SCRUBBERS, REFUGIUMS, & MUD FILTERS;
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.
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.
As with other algae scrubbers, the idea is simple and that is the algae in this "scrubber" removes nitrates, phosphates, and other nutrients from the water column thus lowering in tank algae growth and keeping nitrate levels lower for sensitive aquatic life (in particular marine reef tanks).
I am currently testing this product and if it checks out will recommend and sell this product.
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).
The picture above 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.
Here is a video displaying a working Refugium that is also utilizing "state of the art" AquaRay LED lighting for phenomenal growth:
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.
For algae (plants) for your Algae Scrubber, Refugium, Mud Filter, or just your display tank, here is site I found:
My extensive experience and research shows that while not essential, the use of Germicidal filtration (UV Sterilization in particular) is something any serious aquarium keeper should not be without. 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.
I have a very in depth article about this subject.
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.
For a much more in depth discussion of Protein Skimmers, please see this Aquarium Answers article: "Aquarium Protein Skimmers"
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:
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.
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 a really simple protein skimmer for a Nano tank, the Rio Nano Skimmer is one I used to use with reasonable results for an economy skimmer (now discontinued). As with the VA Multi Skimmer, this is an entry level skimmer and not intended for advanced marine reef 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”.
BERLIN FILTER METHOD:
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.
This starts by adding ‘Cured’ Live Rock to your aquarium and even to some filters.
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.
Product Reference (Discontinued): Aquarium Cleaning Machine
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.
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 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.
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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