Choosing an Aquarium Filter
Which Aquarium Filter is Right for Me?
Guest Post by Michael David
Installing a fish tank can be a great way to add some color and life to your home or workspace. It can even provide a sense of peace in the midst of a stressful day. However, keeping your fish happy and healthy goes beyond the daily sprinkle of fish food. Proper aquarium setup and adequate water filtration is crucial to the survival of all aquarium life.
Why Do I Need a Filter?
Let me answer this question with an example from the news. A few months ago, Carnival Cruise Line’s Triumph experienced a power failure during a four-day excursion to the Caribbean. This power failure also disabled the ship’s septic system, resulting in backed-up toilets and human excrement littering every floor. These unsanitary conditions caused many of the passengers to become sick. Had they been out there any longer, the consequences could have been much worse.
Much like a cruise ship, your fish tank is an enclosed environment with a high-density population. In nature, fish do not normally need to share such a small space. However, the higher concentration of fish leads to a larger amount of fish waste. If left unchecked, fish waste releases ammonia, which is harmful to fish. Without some kind of filtration system in place, your fish will get sick and eventually die.
How is the Water Filtered?
In nature, this ammonia is removed from the water through biological filtration. Naturally-occurring bacteria will oxidize and break down the ammonia into a less toxic form which can then be absorbed by plant life.
Installing a biological filter is one way to replicate this break-down process. In addition to installing a biological filter, it’s also wise to plant some underwater plants to absorb any additional toxins not initially broken down by the bacteria. Biological filters require very little maintenance, however, the bacterial colonies will take some time (six weeks minimum) to develop, so avoid adding too many fish too quickly to your new aquarium.
If you’re looking for something very low-maintenance, you might consider an under-gravel filter. As the name suggests, these filters are placed beneath the aquarium’s gravel, moving water through the gravel and creating ideal conditions for the bacteria to grow. Wet-dry filters are another good choice, particularly if you want to install a saltwater aquarium. These filters are exposed to both the water and the air, which allows for the maximum number of bacterial colonies to spawn.
Unlike biological filtration, which breaks down waste products, mechanical filtration simply removes undissolved waste materials (excrement, uneaten food, and other debris) from the water. Mechanical filters usually involve a water pump as well as a mesh material that catches debris. And while this is a great way to remove waste from the aquarium before any ammonia is released, mechanical filters do require more frequent maintenance and thorough cleaning before placing them back in the water.
Both power and internal power filters are the most popular and effective mechanical filter models on the market. Power filters hang off the back of your tank while internal power filters are placed inside the aquarium itself. Many have replaceable cartridges, which makes for fast and easy maintenance.
Another popular method for filtering waste from your fish tank is through chemical or active carbon filtration. Activated carbon contains numerous microscopic pores, which allow it to absorb any dissolved chemicals in your aquarium. This is a fairly low-maintenance method to keeping your tank water clean, but you will need to replace your carbon every couple months or so.
While canister filters can be adjusted to provide both biological and mechanical filtration, they are most often used for chemical filtration. The advantage to using a canister filter for active carbon filtration is that they are significantly larger than most other aquarium filters, meaning you won’t have to replace your carbon as often as you would with smaller filters.
Michael David is a freelance journalist and blogger living in New York City. Michael loves writing about DIY projects, home improvement, and garden-related topics, and suggests you look into aquarium filters.