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Figuring Out Filters


Courtesy of M_agullo, Dreamstime.com

It’s easy for customers to become overwhelmed by the vast array of aquarium filtration systems on offer. Here is a quick list of definitions that can help customers to better understand their choices.

External power filters: Also called “hang-on” power filters, these filters hang onto the back or side of your tank. They’re the most popular filter used by home hobbyists and are typically rated for aquariums up to 50 gallons. They’re suitable for both freshwater and saltwater tanks.

Internal power filters: Internal power filters are similar to external power filters, but they’re meant to be submerged in your tank. These filters are popular for low-water habitats like turtle tanks. They can also be used to supplement canister filters or external power filters in larger tanks, but their visibility within the tank is often a drawback.

Canister filters: These are external pressurized filters for 30- to 50-gallon aquariums. You can house them underneath or next to your tank, so you’re not limited in size as you are with power filters. 

Internal box or corner filters: These are inexpensive plastic boxes that use air pumps to move water through the media in their chambers. The low flow rate through these filters means they won’t suffice for large or heavily stocked tanks, but they can work as mechanical and chemical filters for smaller setups. You’ll have to clean them often, but they are simple to clean.

Sponge filters: Sponge filters are the simplest filters on the market. They consist of a piece of sponge or foam with an intake tube for an air pump to push water through them. Sponge filters provide good mechanical filtration and are excellent at biological filtration, with plenty of surface area that is easy for bacteria to colonize.

Undergravel filters: Once very popular, undergravel filters consist of a filter plate that sits under your aquarium gravel and uplift tubes that move water through your gravel and the plate. They can be driven by air pumps or air stones for heavier flow. Tanks with undergravel filters require regular vacuuming, and these systems can develop buildup underneath that may require complete tear-downs for cleaning.

Diatom filters: Diatom filters, mechanical filters that use diatomaceous earth, provide crystal clear water and remove algae, parasites, even harmful microbes that could harm your fish. Diatom filters can become clogged very quickly, so they shouldn’t be used continuously or for primary filtration.

Wet/Dry filters: Wet/Dry filters work by trickling water slowly through mechanical media, which allows the water to build up oxygen before it passes through the biological filter. Wet/dry filtration, especially within sumps (external reservoirs of water plumbed into the tank) is widely used with sensitive systems like large saltwater or reef tanks. <HOME>


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