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7. Choosing the Right Filter
• Hanging/Box • Internal • Pleat
• Canister • Trickle Filter
The single most important factor in successful fish keeping is water quality. Fish and other livestock, including invertebrates and plants, are captives in a tank environment so it is imperative that keepers accept the responsibility to ensure that that environment is clean, healthy and free of disease and disease-causing situations. Most new keepers, and some seasoned keepers as well, are unaware of how quickly ammonia can pollute an entire tank and kill fish within hours. Everything can look great but within a short span of time, everything is dead.

With the wealth of information, equipment and products available today, fish keeping should be easier and more successful than ever, but, unfortunately, too often keepers ignore the basic rules and face problems. Equipment and products may come and go, but the science of maintaining a clean, disease-free environment never changes.

 
Filtration is critical to water quality. A filter is a compact unit packed full of high surface area media where millions of beneficial organisms flourish. As the aquarium water, filled with fish waste and other debris, passes through the filter these organisms 'consume' the wastes, thus eliminating the pollutants that could eventually kill the fish. The market is saturated with filters of all types and choosing which type is right for you is an important decision. The first rule of fish keeping is - understand the Nitrogen Cycle. The second rule is - buy the best filter you can afford. Every single time your tank has water quality problems, the solutions are associated with these two rules.

Filter Types and Ratings
The filters types below are described and are given a rating system from 1-5, 5 being highest based on the criteria listed below. N/A means that feature is not applicable to that filter type.

Chemical Filtration - space to acommodate carbon, resins, phosphate removers, etc.
Mechanical Filtration - capable of removing actual particulate material
Biological Filtration - active surfaces for reducing ammonia and nitrite
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life - time between cleanings and media replacement
Aeration - capable of oxygenating the tank water
Ease of setup


• Hanging/Box Filters View All
Probably the most popular type of filter. Although easy to both install and maintain, these filters require frequent cleaning and pad/sponge replacement. This is, however, a fairly easy task. Remember, these units hold the aquarium away from the wall 3-5 inches. For better water quality, opt for multiple box filters instead of bells and whistles. If one filter goes down, there is a backup. Never change both pads in a double padded filter or both filters in a dual box filter setup at the same time when cleaning. Alternating the media replacement preserves important bacteria. Some filters have room for additional bio media which should be used. Some have aeration features - moving surface water also aerates but remember, heavily loaded systems benefit from a decoratively placed airstone.
Prefilters, like the
AquaLife Prefilter, fit most models and increase biological and mechanical while preventing small fish and invertebrates from being injured. Rinse these filters at the first sign of reduced flow.

Rating
Chemical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration
Ease of setup



• Internal Filters View All
Many filters fall into this category. They include internal sponge, powered internal, and internal box or canister filters - air powered and motor powered. Breeders love them. They are easy, low cost, low hassle filters. They all aerate and biologically filter. The old fashioned, floss-filled internal air driven box or canister filter is great for breeding tanks, small tanks or for quarantine tanks. Internal filters can be packed with a range of filter media for biological, chemical or mechanical filtration depending on the application. Because they operate by forced air, they both aerate and filter the water. If a larger tank is having problems, add an internal filter filled with high quality carbon and floss. The disadvantages of filters in this class is size - they are simply too small to handle much fish load, must be hidden and take up space in the aquarium.

Rating
Chemical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration
Ease of setup



• Pleat Filter
While we don't stock them regularly, pleat filters are a great form of mechanical filtration. If removing small particles prior to a UV sterilizer, carbon, or heater chamber is your goal, these are the type of filter you are looking for. Pleat filters, however, do come with a price. Most of the filters in this category require advanced installation abilities and are best suited for commercial or large scale use. They also are best used with some form of biological filtration and additional aeration. Large sand filters, while not actually pleat filters, are included here. When packed with sand, they are used for large scale mechanical filtration and they also have biological capabilities. Consider them also with modified packing for koi ponds - see The Ultimate Koi Pond - Pond Solution 17.

Rating
Chemical Filtration N/A
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration
Ease of setup

• Canister Filters View All
Canister filters are quiet running filters with high biological capacity and should be considered second choice to trickle filters. Canister filters have both pros and cons. The better designed units have good chemical filtration because no water by-passes the media. Canisters are also ideal for planted freshwater systems or when trickle filters are simply too large for the application. Canister filters provide long service life if packed properly with quality media and are economical to operate compared to box filters. Remember, these filters are closed systems and usually have lower flow rates. Use a small air pump and a decoratively placed airstone in aquariums without live plants or in saltwater systems without protein skimmers. Air pumps increase oxygen levels and act as a fail-safe in the event of a filter failure. Choose a canister filter one size larger than manufacturers recommend for heavily loaded systems or for saltwater. Larger filters are more efficient and have higher flow rates. Stay away from filters that use small internal baskets for media. Better units have either large internal baskets or trays and can be completely packed using 99% of their space for media.

Rating
Chemical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration

• Trickle Filters View All
This is the most important decision keepers make. Saving a few dollars at this stage can mean countless dollars in fish losses. Underfiltered tanks cause problems again and again and make fish keeping a headache instead of a pleasurable, exciting hobby. Trickle filters are the best choice for tanks above 30 gallons. Good mechanical and biological filtration maintains robust oxygen levels and keeps harmful fish waste and other decaying debris from polluting the water and killing fish. Trickle filters, because of their size and expanded biological surface area, perform these tasks better than any other form of filtration and should always be considered the first choice. Trickle filters are more reliable and easier to maintain. Since there are no costly cartridges to replace, trickle filters are also more cost effective to operate.

Rating
Chemical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration
Ease of setup

The LS Pro Matrix Sump with Sock Filter is the sump we all want on our own tanks. These filters have the versatility that allows customers to configure the units for their own needs. The bonded padding pre-filter chamber has ample room for other media and can be used with or without the sock filters. Pre-filtering the water before it is enters the socks extends the interval between sock cleanings. The unit ships with 250 Micron mesh socks and can be used as is or to hold other media. (200 Micron felt socks are optional.)

A crate at the bottom of the prefilter chamber can be used on the rails provided for Bio Matrix Live Rock to increase biological filtration and denitrification. The adjustable skimmer overflow walls make the sump ideal for a many types of skimmers, and the final stage sponge filter is wide enough to add additional bio media or other chemical filtration, like Poly Filters. Always use loose media in a filter bag. AquaLife offers a range of media for advanced filtration.

Additional refugiums can be used beside the filter. Aquarium Life Support Systems makes them in many sizes to fit nearly any configuration.
Rating
Chemical Filtration
Mechanical Filtration
Biological Filtration
Ease of cleaning
Economical to use
Packing Life
Aeration
Ease of setup




• Miscellaneous Filters
Many odd filters with specific applications fit into this category. Surface skimmers and various filter add-on units are available to supplement the main filtration system. If you have a canister or box filter and want a surface skimmer or you are looking for more advanced odd filters look here.

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