Learning about aquarium filters can be overwhelming, and that’s before you even start looking for the right piece of equipment for your tank. However, once you’ve built your device, you’ll face a new challenge: deciding which filter media to use inside it! Let’s take a look at these items and see which one is best for your tank!

A Quick View of the Best Filter Media.

Product Features

Fluval Pre-Filter MediaFluval Pre-Filter Media

Type: Mechanical
Material: Ceramic
Filter: Canister

CNZ Aquarium Filter MediaCNZ Aquarium Filter Media

Type: Chemical
Material: Compressed Carbon Cylinders
Filter: HOB/Canister

Marineland Neutralizing BlendMarineland Neutralizing Blend

Type: Chemical
Material: Activated carbon and zeolite
Filter: HOB/Canister

Fluval Biomax Filter MediaFluval Biomax Filter Media

Type: Biological
Material: Ceramic
Filter: HOB/Canister/Sump

Seachem Matrix Bio-MediaSeachem Matrix Bio-Media

Type: Biological
Material: Ceramic
Filter: HOB/Canister/Sump

AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax FilterAquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax Filter

Type: Biological
Material: Porous Inorganic Compound
Filter: AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax HOB Filter only.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Filtering Media

Marineland Neutralizing Blend

Since there are literally hundreds of products marketed as “aquarium filter medium,” many of them seem to have little in common, this can be a confusing subject. To narrow down the possible candidates and classify the types that will work with your device, you’ll need to look at the filter’s specifications.

Some products are made to fit within particular filtration systems, while others can be modified to fit almost any filter. We need to talk about what different types of media bring to the filtration game before we can find the right product for your tank!

Aquarium Filter Media Types.

Within filtration systems, the media is used to remove physical debris and contaminants from aquarium water. Despite the wide range of media available, they all perform at least one type of filtration, and a few even have multiple types of filtration in one product. There are three main ways that media can filter aquarium water:

Mechanical Filter Media.

You’ll need filter media that can mechanically eliminate any particles or debris floating in your water, whether you’re filtering freshwater or saltwater fish tanks. Food scraps, solid fish waste (poop), and rotting plant material are all examples of things that may foul your tank and cause problems.

Finer, more easily clogged mechanical media is used to eliminate microscopic particles further within the filter, while coarse mechanical media is used for a simple internal or HOB filter, or the first stage within a premium device. They contain things such as:

  • Pads for filtering (may also be filled with chemical media).
  • Sponges for aquarium filters at the end
  • Porous ceramic pre-filter rings.
  • Pads for water polishing that are perfect.

Chemical Filter Media.

Your water would appear cleaner without the chunky particles, but it will not always be pure or healthy for your fish. Organic materials in your substrate or furniture can still discolor your bath, and animal waste can poison your tank. Toxins can be absorbed by chemical media, and any odors or colors in your water can be removed.

You can understand the intent of this stage of filtration if you’ve ever used a water filter to remove odors from tap water or filtered cheap vodka through one to enhance its flavor. Toxin levels can be kept low and your fish safe with the use of chemical media. They involve, for example, the following media:

Activated Charcoal

  • Activated carbon chips or formed pellets that neutralize odors and extract tannins and organic materials from water.
  • Ammonia-absorbing resins are used to make rocks or chips.
  • Zeolite is a natural mineral that absorbs contaminants including ammonia and nitrate.

Biological Filter Media.

What role does filter media play after mechanical and chemical filtration? It depends on the filter, as many don’t have a dedicated stage for this, but some do have biological filtration media that lasts a long time. Bio-media is porous and has a lot of surface area, which helps to keep healthy bacteria colonies alive within your filter.

If you’ve cycled your tank properly, you should already have a healthy population of detoxifying bacteria in the substrate, but you can never have too much biofiltration in an aquarium. Your aquarium’s best bio-media will be determined by your set-up. You may not want to give up the space required to keep this form of a filter within a small or simple filter.

Biofiltration media, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense for premium HOB and canister systems. The bacteria will keep your ammonia levels down while still supplying nutrients to your live plants. This form of media is important for aquarium sumps in saltwater and reef tanks. Bio-media is a broad category that includes:

biological media

  • Rings, disks, and cylinders made of porous ceramic media.
  • Tiny porous inert materials that resemble small rocks.
  • Stars, cylinders, and hollow plastic or foam balls (may also hold chemical media).
  • Glass splinters, disks, circles, or balls
  • Pads that are dense, coarse, and last a long time.

How to use  Filter Media.

When it comes to filtering media, even among the three forms, there is a great deal of variation. Your filtration system’s ability to customize how you use the media you’ve selected would have a big impact on how you use it. It’s not always simple or even practical to change inexpensive systems that use pre-made inserts or cartridges in this way.

Apart from aquarium sump systems, most high-end internal and HOB filtration systems allow for some customization, and canister filters, with their many media baskets, are the most customizable.

Filter Stages Arrangement.

In what order should the filter media be placed in the filter? The user manual for your device will point you in the right direction, and you should follow their advice. Depending on the type of filter you’re using, putting media in the wrong position within it could cause issues with its operation.

For example, using a fine water polishing pad in the first stage of a HOB filter could cause it to clog quickly, forcing water to bypass the other stages or backflow into your tank. For the first stage of debris filtration, coarse sheets, sponges, and loose media perform best. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Use coarser mechanical filtration media in the first stage(s) to remove large debris and allow water to flow freely to the subsequent stages, especially in HOB filters.
  • After the large debris has been removed, chemical filtration media is typically used in conjunction with mechanical filtration or as a separate stage.
  • Later stages of fine mechanical filtration media are used in premium HOBs and most canister filters to polish the water and eliminate microscopic particles.
  • Once the water is clean and completely oxygenated, biological filtration media is best used as a final stage. This will enhance the bacteria’s detoxifying abilities.

Cleaning Filter Media.

What is the best way to clean filter media? It is conditional on the form. Filter pads, sponges, and pre-filter ceramic rings, for example, can be rinsed gently under running water until clean, then reused inside your filter. This is something I do once a week to once a month, or whenever I clean my filtration device.

Filter media

This, however, can destroy any beneficial aquatic bacteria that are present. If you wash your bio-media like this, the chlorine in the tap water will flush out your bacterial colonies, and you’ll lose all of your biofiltration. Instead, when this form of media appears dirty, gently clean it in a bucket with some aquarium water.

Changing Filter Media

It’s worth noting that I didn’t cover how to clean chemical filtration media. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of these forms cannot be washed and reused. You’ll have to replace it instead.

  • Every three weeks, activated carbon should be replaced.
  • Replace both the carbon and the ammonia absorbing media on the same schedule if you’re using a carbon mix with an ammonia absorbing media.
  • Some toxin-absorbing resins and zeolite products may be reused if they aren’t combined with activated carbon, but you’ll need to refer to the package directions for cleaning and rejuvenating the media.

Filter pads and sponges of all kinds can normally be washed and reused until they’re almost threadbare, but biological media can last much longer.

  • You only need to replace bio-media as it begins to break down or crumble in the filter, so a batch can last at least six months, if not longer.
  • Replace no more than 12 of the media with fresh stuff in these situations, and allow the bacteria a few months to develop themselves before swapping out the old 0.5.

How To Choose The Most Appropriate Filter Media.

Now that you’ve learned about the different forms of media and how to use them, how do you choose the right media for your filtration system?

What Filtration Do You Require?

The best way to start is by inspecting your aquarium to see what’s missing in your current setup. Is there any large debris to remove or do you need to polish the water a little more? Then you might want to work on improving the mechanical filtration in your tank. More activated carbon can be necessary if your water is muddy or smelly.

You can need the extra power of an ammonia-removing media in tanks with a high bioload, such as goldfish tanks, or in tanks with sensitive fish or a lot of live plants. This may include applying bio-media to your filter or using resins or zeolite in a media basket. Your filtration device will determine which choice is best for you.

Is Your Filter Customizable?

Examine your filter and the manual that came with it. Is it even possible to go for a personalized media set-up? Pre-filled plastic cartridges are used in undergravel filters and the majority of low-cost internal forms. You may not be able to change their media arrangements unless you have a 3-D printer and some crazy design skills.

Pre-Made VS Customized Pads And Media Mixes

While it is almost always possible to change the pads and, at the very least, the chemical media in a HOB filter, it is not always necessary. Sticking with pre-made or labeled filter pads can be easier. However, extra media baskets are common in high-end/large HOBs and canister filters, and you can easily choose the mix you use in them.

Size And Shape Of The Media

If you want to customize, pay careful attention to your media baskets. Choose a media that is large/coarse enough to allow water to flow freely through the basket. At the same time, you don’t want the media to escape through the mesh of the basket and cause your filter’s motor to malfunction.

Filter media in mesh bags that you can simply put in your HOB or canister filter is becoming increasingly common. The finer particles are trapped in the mesh, which prevents them from flowing away with the water. However, gravity forces the media to the bottom rather than pushing water into it, so mesh bags don’t always fit well in HOBs.

Best Filters Media Reviews.

It’s difficult to recommend the best filter media because the best type(s) depends on your aquarium community’s needs as well as the limitations imposed by your filtration device. Here are some common filter media items to think about:

1. Fluval Pre-Filter Media.

Fluval Pre-Filter Media

Type: Mechanical
Material: Ceramic
Filter: Canister

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Fluval is certainly known for its premium filters and these ceramic pre-filters are an excellent way of removing large scrap from the water of your tank filter mechanically. You will fill it up with these hollow ceramic rings instead of using a ground pad in the first step. They are similar but of smaller size to the ceramic Fluval medium below.

The motor of the filter pushes the water through the pile of rings to absorb waste. These rings have the advantage of being clamped less than a pad. The filter pads and sponges often last a lot longer and sometimes operate well before replacement is required.

This media is not rendered by Fluval, so it will not fit HOBs. This media can be used in canister filters. If the rings were placed inside a mesh sack the majority of the water will flow through the media, since it is pulled to the bottom of the filter by gravity. In these forms, you will be better off using a filter pad.

Fluval Pre-Filter Media Pros & Cons
  • Mechanical filtration is long-lasting and effective.
  • Do not block pads and sponges as quickly as they filter.
  • Simple to keep and clean to rinse.
  • Won’t fit with HOB and can’t be suitable for all filters in the canister.
  • Just go for big waste and your water won’t polish.
  • Frequent washing and rinsing are necessary in order to avoid clogging.

2. CNZ Aquarium Filter Media.

CNZ Aquarium Filter Media

Type: Chemical
Material: Compressed Carbon Cylinders
Filter: HOB/Canister

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If you would like to add some chemical filtration to your filter but don’t want to handle bulk media measurement, these prefilled pellet bags might be the solution to the problem you face. The reusable mesh bags facilitate the rinsing and tossing of your charcoal right into your filter so that the colors and smells are removed from your aquarium.

Although CNZ produces premium ceramic media kits, the pellets of their charcoal pellets are much less impressive. These are compressed in form as opposed to activated charcoal chips in the Marineland medium below. When you rinse them, they tend to fall apart and I found some of the charcoal floating in my water days after I put it in my filter.

I’m also not sure that many HOB filters would perform well unless they were included in an internal media kit. The mesh bag is not quite resistant and cannot maintain a uniform distribution of the media inside your filter. In a canister filter, however, the bags may be helpful.

CNZ Aquarium Filter Media Pros & Cons
  • Simple to use and cost-effective.
  • Comes in pre-filled mesh bags, so no messing with bulk media is necessary.
  • The cylindrical form is suitable for optimum exposure to water.
  • Carbon compressed pellets are difficult to purify.
  • The pellets easily break down and don’t last long.
  • Mesh bag is not long-lasting and will not keep media safe in most HOBs.

3. Marineland Neutralizing Blend.

Marineland Neutralizing BlendType: Chemical
Material: Activated carbon and zeolite
Filter: HOB/Canister

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In a golden tank, or in a tank with plant species or sensitive criteria, if you want to reduce toxins, you certainly need to consider using this premium media mix from Marineland. It’s a blend of carbon and zeolite-activated chips that have twice the filtration ability. It neutralizes the water for ammonia and nitrates and eliminates discoloration or odors!

For years I used this blend in my HOB filters planted in my community and have never had a water quality issue or ammonia spike. The small chips are the perfect size and shape to optimize your water interaction and use most custom filtration systems.

The Marineland mix can fit easily in your media baskets and allow water to flow easily and your equipment will not be affected by particulates. The active carbon and zeolite media are also sold separately by Marineland if you choose to use them at various levels. This is one of the best in quality!

Marineland Neutralizing Blend Pros & Cons
  • Ideal for optimum absorption and purification capacity size and shape.
  • The Bulk media combination makes the HOB/canister filters suitable for versatile use.
  • Neutralizes poisonous ammonia and plus nitrites serves as a remover of water odor/discolor.
  • You need to weigh and disperse media within your filter into baskets or mesh bags.
  • Requires monthly substitution and cannot be washed and reused.
  • Premium commodity comes at an extra cost.

4. Fluval Biomax Filter Media.

Fluval Biomax Filter Media

Type: Biological
Material: Ceramic
Filter: HOB/Canister/Sump

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This product I listed above in my other review of Fluval, but look at these great pottery cylinders if you’d like the best biologic filtration! The hollow rings have been designed to help thriving colonies of good aquatic bacteria stretch them through the media and provide your filter with a lot of detoxifying strength.

This is a good medium for many filter forms, including large HOBs and most boxes, and is suitable for both fresh and marine aquariums. In your swamp scheme, you might also use these rings although a better alternative is the Seachem product below. It is also long-lasting and robust.

I prefer this form of biomedia to the types of plastic or glass, but it may not be suitable in some circumstances. Ceramics become porous as they age, so clean the media carefully. In addition, to protect the bacteria from chlorine and other toxins in the tap water, you must flush it with aquarium water. It remains a bio-media, if not one of the best, on the market!

Fluval Biomax Filter Media Pros & Cons
  • Durable and durable ceramic cylinders provide biofiltration-worthy years.
  • Works in HOB, tanks, and sump filters for aquariums.
  • Porous ceramic hollow forms perfect for biofiltration because bacteria can become media.
  • Mechanical or chemical media are harder to keep than.
  • Ceramics are long-lasting but gradually break down and become weaker over time.
  • In essence the same as other Fluval media, yet another size/type.

5. Seachem Matrix Bio-Media.

Seachem Matrix Bio-Media

Type: Biological
Material: Ceramic
Filter: HOB/Canister/Sump

Check Price

I am also the first to admit that it is maybe the best option for any filtration device as I am a great fan of the Fluval bio-media. If you would like to replace a media you never have to, then consider Seachem’s premium alternative. The bacteria are made of pore inorganic compounds and can expand both in the media and on the surface.

The Seachem is built for water sumps while it functions in HOB and canister systems. Such slow filters will enable aquarium water to spend a lot of time in the media while being exposed to oxygen, increasing bio-media performance. Sadly, in a HOB or canister filter, you won’t see the same results.

While it might not be the most appropriate for every case, if you run a swamp it’s the media that I’d go for, although initially, it’s more costly. The fact that you never need a substitute for it ends up balancing things out. I have also successfully used this product in a turtle filter, and it is definitely flexible to use.

Seachem Matrix Bio-Media Pros & Cons
  • Didn’t implode and never have to substitute.
  • Ideal for sump filters for aquariums.
  • A highly porous surface permits the growth of bacteria within and outside.
  • A quite dusty substance that needs to be rinsed when used in HOBs or canister filters.
  • For certain systems, a mesh bag may be required for small particles.
  • The initial investment could be expensive depending on the amount of your filter to fill.

6. AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax Filter.

AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax Filter

Type: Biological
Material: Porous Inorganic Compound
Filter: AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax HOB Filter only.

Check Price

If your choice in biofiltration is the easiest one of our rated AquaClear filters, these branded filter inserts may be the perfect choice for your tank! Contrary to others, biofiltration is considered to be the AquaClear HOB. This media comes in a mesh jar, so it’s only going to be popped into your filter!

This insert fits into the top of your filter above the sponge of water polishing and gets full oxygen exposure. The Aquaclear design does not allow the flow of water around, or bypass, the bio-mediate level, even if it may be awkward in other HOBs. The inorganic noodle composite makes a lot of bacterial growth surface area.

AquaClear suggests that every three months bio-media be replaced, thus reducing the effectiveness of biofiltration dramatically and causing harmful ammonia spikes. Frankly, I don’t know that. I substitute this medium only if the mesh bag or particles begin to break down. It worked without problems with a monthly rinsing in aquarium water, but this is one of these personal calls.

AquaClear 70-Gallon Biomax Filter Pros & Cons
  • No hassle, toss in the filter end!
  • AquaClear HOB Filter Ideal Kind of bio-media.
  • In pre-filled mesh bags, longer-lasting media are available.
  • After 3 months the manufacturer suggests substitution.
  • It suits only labeled filters and is not suitable for other HOBs, but can be used in canister filters.
  • Price choice if reimbursed as prescribed every 3 months.

Final Thoughts.

Do not fool you about the variety of filtration media products; choosing the perfect kind is not difficult once you know how it works and how your movie works best. In most cases, there are several choices between labeled, pre-filled inserts and mixtures for bulk media. We would love to hear from you about your preference in the media.

Consider the following if you are still uncertain about the product to pick:

I’d choose the Marineland carbon and zeolite mix for chemical filter media. The price and value are excellent, simply one of the best choices in the industry. The Fluval Biomax is the right option if you would like to add a bio-filter to your HOB filter and canister, even if you have an AquaClear filter. However, I’d choose the Seachem over the River for aquarium sump filters.

With a canister filter and a more robust and long-lasting mechanical option for replacing your filter pad, the Fluval pre-filter media could be your best option!

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