06 Best Aquarium Filter Media (Review & Maintenance Guide)

Best Aquarium Filter media

Are you hunting down the best aquarium filter media for your tank? This article will give you a few options to ponder.  

The first and foremost thing anyone should do when setting up an aquarium is to get the water’s chemistry right, and most people would agree that this means having a good filter system in place. 

Once you install the filtration unit, the next challenge is to find the best filter media for optimum results. Filter media directly impacts the quality of filtration, cleaning, and maintenance.

A lot of people don’t understand what types of media are needed or how to maintain them properly. So, I am here to help with some tips on types of aquarium filter media, choosing and reviewing the best filter media available. 

Types of Filter Media and their Function

Sometimes it gets confusing to find filter media because many products are sold as aquarium filter media. Some are customizable for all types of filters, and others are only specific filter units. 

Therefore, you will have to carefully choose filter media that suits your filter. But before that, let’s know the types of filter media and their function first. There are mainly three types; mechanical, biological, and chemical.

Mechanical

Mechanical filter media clears all the gunks that float around in the aquarium water. It functions as a trap for solid waste, food scraps, fish poop, decaying plant matter, etc., to maintain clean and clear water. 

Functions of Mechanical filter Media

Course mechanical media are the primary types to use in internal, HOB, and canister filters. Finer media are used for extra polishing and to clear the microscopic particles. Common mechanical filter media are: 

  • filter pads 
  • sponges
  • Filter floss
  • Polishing pads

Biological

Biological filter media are probably the most important for aquariums. It would not be possible to maintain a home aquarium without biomedia. Because wastes that decompose produce ammonia and biological media houses good bacteria that convert ammonia. 

Functions of Biological filter Media

Ammonia is highly toxic, and if it builds up, the water becomes unsuitable for fish to live in. 

Bio-media are porous and designed to maximize surface area for the beneficial bacteria to grow. The process of establishing bacterial colonies is known as the nitrogen cycle. 

When you properly cycle your aquarium, biological media becomes the storehouse of bacteria. As it is one of the lifesavers for your fish, you should carefully choose biological media. However, the best biological media for your aquariums depends on the types of filter you’ve been using. 

Bio-media is diverse and may include:

  • Porous ceramic media like rings, disks, or cylinders.
  • Inert porous materials usually resemble small rocks.
  • Hollow plastic or foam balls, stars, or cylinders (may also hold chemical media).
  • Glass balls or rings.
  • Long-lasting, thick coarse sponge-like pads.

Chemical 

Chemical filter media removes harmful organic compounds, tannins, and odors from the aquarium water. These are pretty handy to keep toxin levels low and maintain a healthy aquarium. 

Functions of Chemical filter Media

There is disagreement in the aquarium community about whether you should always use chemical filtration in your tank or just for specific times. For example, some suggest using chemical filtration only if you have a sudden ammonia spike or clear out medication. 

On the other hand, some suggest keeping chemical filtration in place all the time to prevent any toxin build-ups. If you don’t run chemical filtration all the time, that can save some money related to replacing media from time to time. However, I will suggest keeping it running if you have the option. 

The most common type of chemical filter media is activated carbon. There are some other types also, but activated carbon is prevalent and widely available. Other types are: 

  • Ammonia-absorbing resins
  • Zeolite 

How to Choose Your Filter Media

You already know the various types of media, and now the question is how to pick one which is perfect for you. It depends on several factors. 

What types of filtration do you need?

Examining your aquarium water and current filtration setups and determine what is lacking. For example, is debris floating in the water, or do you prefer further polishing? In that case, Improving R replacing mechanical filter media could be the goal.  

More activated carbon might do the trick if the aquarium water becomes discolored because of tannins and other substances or producing bad smells. The tank with higher bioloads containing high fish density or waste-producing fish like Goldfish may need enhanced ammonia removal options. This indicates using resins or zeolite in the media baskets or adding more bio- media may help. 

Therefore your aquarium setups and water conditions are the primary criteria for choosing aquarium filter media that match your needs.

How Customizable Is Your Filter?

This is one of the most significant criteria because you can buy various media types, but if your filter isn’t customizable, that could not help you much. 

Some filter cartridges are designed to only fit one type of filter, forcing you to buy replacement filters from that manufacturer for life. In addition, those cartridges are often more expensive than buying the equivalent media and installing it yourself. That also makes customization of your filtration system difficult. 

So, look into your aquarium filter and read the instructions from the manufacturers and find out if you have the option to use customized media or not. Then, if you have the opportunity, you can easily use your preferred filter media.

Media Size and Filter Shape

Media size and your filter shape need to be looked at closely. This is only for mechanical filter media. If the media shape is different from your filter media basket, you must cut it to the desired shape. But sometimes, it’s not possible, so be careful. If the media doesn’t fit snugly, some of the water may bypass the media. 

Chemical media and bio-media often come in mesh bags; you can just place them in your HOB’s or canister filters. Mesh bags work as a barrier to contain the filter media and prevent floating away with the water. 

Best Aquarium Filter Media Reviewed

AquaPapa Sponge Filter (Type : Mechanical)

AquaPapa Sponge filter is one of the best mechanical filter media. It is suitable to use in any filtration system, and you can cut it to fit in your aquarium filter chamber. 

It’s highly durable, and you can use it up to 16 times after cleaning. Although it is medium-coarse; therefore, you need to use more delicate sponges to trap microscopic particles. 

Pros

  • It can be cut and fit to any filter
  • Long-lasting

Cons

  • Can’t clean small particle

Encompass 50 Micron Polishing Pad (Type : Mechanical)

Encompass 50-micron polishing pad is ultra-fine media that provides you the extra polishing required in your tank. Since it traps super fine particles, it eventually helps to reduce Ammonia producing organic matter. 

You’ll never have to worry about going out of replacement filters again with the heavy-duty 36 “x24” (91×61 cm) roll. So make sure you’re stocked up on all your filter needs and cut as many pieces from this big reel as needed for any size or shape polishing pad!

Polishing pads are usually used in conjunction with other coarse sponges. However, since it is a fine media, it clogged up quickly, so regular cleaning is required to maintain the filter performance. 

Pros

  • Traps finer particle
  • Budget-friendly than other polishing pads
  • You can cut it to fit in any filter

Cons

  • Clogged quickly

EHEIM Substrat Pro Biological Filter Media (Type : Biological)

Eheim Substrat Pro is a biological filter media known for its high quality. Their sintered glass provides the best possible environment to house beneficial bacteria that remove toxins from your water!

Substrat Pro has 1800 sq ft of surface area per gallon, which is substantially high, meaning more room for beneficial bacteria to colonize. It also provides longer intervals between required maintenance. For example, you can reuse Substrat Pro by gently washing with aquarium water every 1 to 3 months. It’s recommended to replace the media every 3 to 6 months following the media condition. 

The open structure of this filter media allows water to penetrate the media more efficiently, meaning your bacteria colony will grow quicker, and you’ll be able to get the benefit sooner. This product is manufactured in Germany and is suitable for experts as well as new hobbyist use.

Pros

  • High porosity media support bacteria growth
  • Reliable and reusable
  • Suitable for almost any filter

Cons

  • Pricey but very effective

Biohome Ultimate Filter Media (Type : Biological)

Biohome Ultimate Filter Media is made from recycled glass and sand. It has been oven-fired at extremely high temperatures to create a highly porous pellet with many small spaces for bacteria to thrive in, unlike other filtration media that are only effective on the outside due to their smooth surface.

Biohome’s filter media will not clog up as quickly because of its innovative design. Moreover, it can be cleaned off much more efficiently while retaining water quality over time.

Biohome claims its media will support both aerobic and anaerobic types, which are critical for a healthy tank because these two organisms help to control nitrates. This allows aquariums with less frequent water changes.

Biohome filter media is designed for use in canisters, HOB’s, and sump filters. It provides excellent filtration, so you don’t have to worry about deadly ammonia harming your fish. 

This material works well with freshwater and saltwater tanks, and it doesn’t release any impurities back into the water column.

Pros

  • Highly porous media, helps bacteria to thrive
  • Doesn’t clog up quickly
  • Supports both aerobic and anaerobic type bacteria
  • Suitable to freshwater to saltwater aquariums

Cons

  • Expensive

CNZ Aquarium Filter Media Kits (Type : Chemical)

Chemical filtration is essential for maintaining the quality of your aquarium water, but it can be a hassle to measure bulk media. Therefore, CNZ pre-filled bags of activated carbon pellets are ideal for you. 

CNZ Activated charcoal filter media are easy and reusable. You just rinse out the bag before placing it in your filter! The cylindrical shape is ideal for water exposure and will help remove colors as well as odors from aquarium water. 

Pros

Easy to use and affordable

Cylindrical in shape

Contained in mesh bags

Cons

Compressed carbon pellets are hence difficult to rinse clean

Mesh bags and pellets are not long-lasting

Seachem Purigen (Type : Chemical)

Purigen is a unique, macro-porous polymer that removes soluble and insoluble impurities from water. Commonly used in aquariums to filter out dissolved organics for crystal clear water. 

Purigen changes color when exhausted and can be easily renewed with bleach by treating the exhausted product.

Purigen removes nitrogenous organic waste that would otherwise release harmful compounds like Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. So, Purigen removes wastes before bacteria do the cleaning, which can negatively affect the size of bacterial colonies. Therefore, you should use it at the final stage of your filtration system.

You may find it expensive initially; however, it’s not because 100 milliliters is enough to filter 100 gallons of water. 

Pros

Unparalleled efficiency in removing organic waste

It changes color and let you know when it’s exhausted

It can be reused after bleach wash

Cons

Removes waste before bacteria can feed on it

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What order should you place filter media in the filter?

So what order should you follow while placing filter media in the filter? The best option is to look at the manufacturer guidelines. The user manual provides the best direction on what will be the ideal arrangement. Placing the filter media in the wrong place will hamper the filter operation and performance. 

For example, placing finer filter media at the first stage will be easily clogged. As a result, that will force the water to bypass the filter media or create backflow to the tank. Therefore, coarse sponge, foams, and loose media work better at the primary stage.

So, it’s obvious you need to pay attention to the correct order of the filter media. Here are some general guidelines: 

  1. Coarse Mechanical Media: First, use coarse mechanical filter media to capture large particles and keep unobstructed water flow to the latter stages. 
  2. Chemical Media: Chemical filter media is used along with or immediately after the first mechanical filtration stage. 
  3. Polishing pads: Extra fine mechanical filter media you can use afterward to polish water further by capturing microscopic particles in the water.
  4. Bio media: Biological media are recommended to use at the final stage Once the water is clean and well oxygenated. That will enhance the detoxifying effect of the bacteria. 

How often should you clean filter media?

It actually depends on your aquarium setup, including the size of your tank, fish density, types of aquarium filter, fish types, media, etc. 

Mechanical filter media needs to be cleaned when it accumulates large amounts of debris so that it tends to become blocked and restrict the water flow. Usually, it takes a month for coarse filter media to get clogged and a few days for finer media. The fact is, it’s a matter of trial and error to find out the cleaning frequency of the filter media you have been using. 

Chemical filter media does not need to be cleaned. However, bio-media requires gentle rinsing to clean the scraps from the surface. But be careful, do not use tap water because it contains chlorine which may destroy the beneficial bacteria bio-media carries

How often should filter media be changed?

Mechanical filter media, especially the coarse ones made of tough materials, can be used several times after cleaning. It only needs to be changed when they start to fall apart. 

Finer filter media don’t hold up during the cleaning. Therefore you need to change them as soon as they become clogged. 

Activated carbon should be replaced every three weeks. If you are using the blend of carbon and Ammonia absorbing agents, replace them at the same schedule. Some toxins absorbing resins like Seachem Purigen can be reused. In that case, you need to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to clean and recharge them. 

It’s not recommended to change bio-media unless it starts to degrade because when you change the bio media, you lose the bacteria with them. Therefore you should not replace all the media at a time, rather only half a portion with the new one. This way, the new media get enough time to colonize bacteria. 

How to clean filter media?

Mechanical filter media are usually cleaned by spraying water with a water hose or gently squeezing after soaking in water. You should clean biological media by gently rinsing in a dechlorinated water. Otherwise, you may lose a notable amount of beneficial bacteria during cleaning. Chemical filter media are not needed to clean but to replace the regular interval. But some types can be rejuvenated so that they can start absorbing again. 

Conclusion

Choosing the best aquarium filter media for your tank can be a bit overwhelming sometimes, but don’t worry! Expectedly, this article will help you make an informed decision about which is right for you. 

I’ve also studied and compiled a list of my top picks; you can also find your perfect match from that list. If there’s anything more you want to know, please leave me a comment below!

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