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Which Filter To Choose Article

Discussion in 'Aquarium Equipment & Decor' started by Anthony, Jun 9, 2008.

  1. Anthony

    Anthony Thread Starter Active Member

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    A basic question facing all hobbyists is what filter should I use for my aquarium. This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on many variables.

    When choosing a filter one needs to consider the size of the tank, the type and size of the fishes in the tank, and the time one has to maintain the filtration system. I’m sure considering the tank size and fish is something you have read before but how does one’s time factor into the decision? Quite simply, every filter needs maintenance, some more than others, and if you won’t take the time to do the maintenance then the filtration system will become ineffective. The importance of one’s time will be clear with a few examples.

    There are many standard types of aquarium filters. Some of the most common are the undergravel filter (UGF), the outside hang-on-tank power filter and the canister filter. Many people would consider these filters to be equals and would recommend any of them as a filter for your aquarium. However, the undergravel filter is not a complete filtration system. Furthermore, the undergravel filter requires regular maintenance just like the canister and power filters. But in reality how many people really maintain an UGF? In fact, how many people know how to maintain an undergravel filter? Now to the long-term hobbyist this may seem like a crazy question but I have talked to many people with undergravel filters who have no idea what a gravel washer is for. As an aside: if you’re reading this column and work in a pet/fish store, I would ask that when you sell a filter, any filter, take a few minutes and go over with the buyer how to maintain the filter. Conversely, when buying a filter ask the sales clerk about how to maintain the filter. This seems like commonsense but my experience tells me that there are a lot of fish aquarium owners that have little clue on how to maintain their aquarium filter.

    Consider the time and problems with maintaining an undergravel filter. The goal is to remove dirt from between the gravel on top of the filter plate so that the water can flow freely through the gravel and contact the nitrifying bacteria which colonize the gravel grains. To do this, one has to siphon through the gravel which can disrupt the decorations and planting. You also have to completely remove the light fixture and glass lid to clean the UGF effectively. Add in that one needs to replace the airstones, the air pump diaphragm, clean the inside of the lift tubes and replace brittle airline tubing and this starts to sound like work! This is why I feel that most aquarium owners with undergravel filters, who know better, still don't maintain them. Human nature is such that we put-off those tasks that we don’t like for as long as possible.

    Does your thinking that an undergravel filter is your choice for that new aquarium change when you consider the time and hassle factor of maintaining it?

    Contrast the UGF with the modern power or canister filter. The hang-on-tank power filters that are available today are engineering marvels when you consider that for less than $70 in most cases, they run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with little trouble and cost only pennies a day in electricity to operate. One can have a successful aquarium with a power filter as the only filtration system. Service is convenient and takes only a few minutes a month. Plus servicing can be done without having to remove the light fixture or the lid.

    In general, hang-on-the-tank filters are for someone looking for an easy to use, effective filter that will need some routine maintenance such as changing the pad. Fortunately, changing the pad is easy for most hang-on filters and takes less than 5 minutes. The old pad is lifted out of the filter and thrown away, a new pad is taken out of the box or bag and slid into the filter. In most cases, the filter does not have to be turned off. How often the pad will need to be changed depends on how much food is put in the tank and the number of fish in the tank. Every once in a while a more thorough cleaning of the filter should be done. This means cleaning the inside of the intake tube, cleaning the impeller and the area where it sits, and cleaning the filter box.

    Canister filters are generally more complex than a power filter but they still have many convenient features and can be serviced in 15 minutes or so. The features that distinguish a canister filter from a hang-on filter are they generally contain much more media. Most canister filters can hold 12 to 15 oz of carbon versus only one or two hang-on filters with that capability. In the same aquarium situation, a canister filter will generally run longer between cleanings than a hang-on filter.

    The drawbacks to canister filters include the continued reduction in water flow as the filter clogs. As the filter traps dirt, less water will make it through the filter which means a lower flow back to the tank. In extreme cases of filter neglect, the flow back to the aquarium will be completely cut-off. This is in contrast to the hang-on filter which will always pump water back to the aquarium but that water may not be filtered. Cleaning a canister filter is more involved than a hang-on filter. To clean a canister filter it must be taken apart which means dealing with the hoses, valves, pump and other parts of the unit. While not difficult, cleaning a canister filter is more involved than cleaning a power filter.

    Which filter you should use depends upon the type of aquarium you plan to set-up and the way you approach filter maintenance. No one filter will be the best for every case, conversely none will maintain water quality if they are not serviced. If you want a simple filtration system for an aquarium that will not be overstocked or overfed and you are willing to do monthly filter maintenance, then the hang-on-the-tank filter is probably the filter for you. Change the filter pads at least monthly and every other month clean the entire unit. The time needed for maintenance is minimal but it must be kept in mind that the system cannot be overwhelmed with fish or food.

    If the tank you want to set-up is large and/or is going to have a lot of messy fish then a canister filter is the one for you. African cichlid tanks and goldfish aquaria are examples of aquaria that would commonly be filtered with canister filters. If you are rather lazy about performing filter maintenance (you’ll do it but probably every other month) then a canister filter is a good choice. It will provide a lot of filtration capacity and can be abused more than a power filter.

    Finally, to correctly answer the question of which filter is best for your aquarium you have to be honest with yourself. How much time are you willing to allocate to servicing the filter? If the answer is “as little as possible” then get a power filter with easily changeable filter cartridges. If you think the filter is too complicated don’t buy it; you’ll probably not service it often enough. Go with something simpler that you understand. Don’t be intimidated by a sales clerk who is trying to sell you the latest cutting edge filter and don’t, for a second, consider a filter which claims it does not need servicing! Lastly, make sure you understand how the filter works and what you need to do to clean it before leaving the store.

    So what filter is the correct one for your aquarium - the filter that you’ll maintain on a regular basis (and don’t forget the partial water changes).

    -Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec
     
  2. mooncon

    mooncon New Member

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    You left out hydro sponge maybe the best bang for the buck plus a seeded sponge in a new tank and you ready to add fish.
     
  3. WhiteGloveAquatics

    WhiteGloveAquatics New Member

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  4. heatherine

    heatherine Member

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    Internal vs External?

    I'm seeking opinions on those who use hanging filter types. I have two Whisper 40i internal filters in my 55 gallon. They work exceptionally well, very quiet and keep the water sparkling clear (and this is in a dempsey/synodontis tank - messy!) I really like how quiet they are and that I can have the tank fairly flush with the wall, I like how they don't stick up over the edge of the tank, and I like how they are so uncomplicated. Dislikes? I dislike how they are harder to hide unless you use a black background, and that I have to leave an inch or so of space at the top of the tank so that visitors viewing my tank always say, "Hey, you should add some water." :rolleyes:

    If you use a hanging filter, which type do you prefer?
     
  5. heatherine

    heatherine Member

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    Re: Internal vs External?

    One of them just quit on me yesterday afternoon after unplugging it for a water change...am going to try and fix it tonight. But it's worked nonstop for several years.
     
  6. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Active Member

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    Personally, since I've splurged and upgraded to the canisters I can't see myself without them (rena filstar xp4 canisters). Easy maintenance, love the quick release and 4 BIG media bins which allow you to use ANYTHING in them, and not backbreaking heavy like the eheim 2080. Accessorys are perfect for just about any configuration you can think up, but the downfall is that it's not easy to hide the intake/outtake unless you have a black background (and even then, you can still spot it).

    Recent hob was the aquaclear 110 hob which I'm utilizing now (just simply easier when I NEED to use carbon- lift the lid and toss it in) plus it has HUGE area for various media. Also, I knew it was easily fitted with the Lustar Max prefilters (I prefilter ALL of my filters). The intake DOESN'T hide well at all and is quite big (like heater tube diameter, actually a bit more) and the flow is powerful (even when packed with media and set on lowest flow). For my setup (discus) I'd really like to see something with killer suction/intake power and subtle output/outtake flow, but we can't have it all. And when my power went out I had to prime it with a few cups of water to give it a "jumpstart", but that's pretty common with the hobs.

    Even prior to the canister upgrades I utilized emperor 400's for YEARS! Those babies ran and ran and had the perfect amount of output/outtake flow imo. They hid easily with a crystal black background, the grey slotted cartridges were nice because you didn't have to use media bags for that jar media and if you plucked out the mfr carbon cartridges they easily held foam, purigen, terra cotta, etc in place excellently! They too had to be primed when shut off and restarted (as in power outtages), but once you got them running the ran like a champ! My only real gripe about them is that I wished they used a cylinder intake rather than the square design (cylinder shaped intakes are easier to fit with prefilters, at least store bought ones that is). Also know the flow is just under the ac110.

    the 20L I use the Aqueon Brand hob filters, I love them! They run like the should, don't have a killer output that blows your fish/shrimp across the tank and have a good intake suction even when prefiltered. The intake is slim and cylinder and somewhat adjustable in length, the black color hides fairly descent on a black background, and they can be prefiltered easily with fluval edge prefilters. Also note, this is one hob that I haven't had to prime after power outtages either (another plus in my book) and runs extremely quiet. My only gripe that comes to mind is that their isn't much room to customize the media inside of it IF you opt to do without the mfr carbon cartridges.

    and prior to using the aqueon's on the 20L I used a Rena Smartfilter hob, which I didn't care for because the media couldn't be customized (as in buy cheaper and not be forced to use mfr cartridges). Also, read where many experience overflow (as in water overflowing the top and out the back of the unit and onto your floor)..I however didn't experience this.
     
  7. dwbarger

    dwbarger New Member

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    I swear by the sponge!!! its cheap easy and works great and constructing one requires very little money or know how.