DIY living aquarium – how to keep the water clear
Fishtank maintenance worker – the filtration system
The filtration system plays an important role in keeping the tank clean.
No matter how beautiful and impressive your fish tank setup, without the right filtration system it will still be a dirty, ugly mess.
Through excrement and respiration, fish will always produce waste in the tank. Although other methods such as decomposers and bottom-feeders can be used to keep the tank clean, a good filtration system is an absolute must to keep your setup healthy for your fish and your eyes.
Filtration systems use two main mechanisms to keep the water in your fishtank clean:
- Chemical Filtration
- Mechanical Filtration
Mechanical methods pump water through a screen which restricts the flow of particles of a certain size, biochemical methods process the smaller particles which cannot be filtered by mechanical methods, sometimes even changing harmful chemicals into useful ones.
There are a wide variety of different materials that can be used for aquarium filtration. The most popular and cheapest option are known as “filter wools”. Don’t be confused!
Not made from this wool!
This wool does not come from a sheep (include picture of crossed out sheep in fish tank), this wool is made of a material called polyethylene terephthalate (commonly known as nylon).
Other synthetic materials include: ceramics, sintered glass, silicon products and igneous gravels.
Surface area is a very important, materials with a large surface area allows for more water to pass through, increasing the filtration efficiency.
Usually, aquarium filters are never purely mechanical and always have some sort of biological function to prevent bacteria growing and clogging the pores of the filter. Porous materials like activate carbon and zeolites added to the filter.
The most basic aquarium filter has filter wool and activated carbon. The filter wool removes large particles and the activated carbon adsorbs (not to be confused with absorbs! Adsorbs means that it is held on the surface) the smaller particles which are left behind. Xxx Although this is an efficient system, the filter and wool must still be changed at regular intervals.
If an activated carbon filter is not replaced regularly then it will release the adsorbed particles back into the environment in very large doses, if it is allowed to be saturated without replacement. Unfortunately, activated carbon can’t be simply replaced by boiling in water or heating wave. If you had access to a military-grade laser beam or any other method which can heat the activated coal to temperatures of 500 – 900 degrees then they can be thermally regenerated. Fortunately, activated coal is very cheap and easy to replace.
Types of filters:
POWER FILTERS (most commonly used and easiest to replace)
These filters are called “HOB – hang on back” filters which cling to the edge of the aquarium wall. These filters are powered by a spinning propeller fan called an “impeller” which pushes water from an aquarium into several different layers of waters for cleaning before being pushed back.
Depending on your requirements, you can use many different types of filters in a HOB filter for your aquarium. It will be very easy to clean a HOB filter without disturbing the fish in the tank because it is placed outside of the living environment. The disadvantage of the power filter is that they are quite loud, due to the rotor vibrations – this may be loud for both your fish (if you are keeping highly sensitive species) and yourself & friends/family (you’ll have to keep it in the lounge, not your bedroom!).
CANISTER FILTERS (larger capacity than HOB filters)
Unlike a HOB filter where the water flowing back into the tank can fall through the air, a canister system is fully sealed. This means that the water in the aquarium, intake/output tubes and canister are all joined into a single body of water. This adds an extra layer of protection to your aquarium system by preventing anything from outside the tank entering the water.
The main advantage of canister filters compared to HOB is they provide a much greater choice of filtration material in both range and combination. There is an intake pipe at the bottom of the canister through which water enters, the water passes through the filter material inside the canister filter and comes back through the other side through the pipe returning the water. This filter works by a very clever siphoning system which relies on gravity to save electricity and power.
A huge benefit of a canister filter is that it does not reduce the space available inside your tank because the large filtration unit sits outside. This also allows for a larger filter capable of handling greater loads because the weight does not sit on the fish tank.
Because the canister sits outside of a fish tank, another huge advantage is added, installation of other aquarium equipment is alowed, such as water heaters and carbon dioxide diffusers. Some equipment can be removed the tank and installed directly into the return pipe of the filter.
However, canister filters come with their challenges too. First of all, they are more expensive to buy. Secondly, they are harder to clean than power filters due to the tight concealment of the pipes needed to maintain a clean, fully sealed system to keep your aquarium clean.
Another type of filter is called a “trickle filter” or “trickling filter” or “wet/dry filter”. The most common type of trickle filter is placed at the bottom of the aquarium, some trickle filters are placed at the top.
Sometimes a wet/dry filter can be placed above the tank. Water is pumped over several perforated trays filled with nylon wool, gravel or another material. This wool is kept wet constantly which lets helpful bacteria grow and help filtration through their aerobic respiration processes. The water then returns to the aquarium like rain.
Usually, the wet/dry filter is placed at the bottom of the tank. With this design, gravity forces the water to be fed to the filter below the aquarium. Pre-filtered water is sent to a drip plate. Pre-filtration occurs in the aquarium through a foam block, overflow sleeve or siphon weir, or it may simply be prefiltered by filter wool sitting on the perforated plate. The unfiltered dirty water from the aquarium spreads all over the drip plate and rains down to the bottom through some sort of medium. This medium can be filter wool or a plastic sheet rolled into a spiral like a mosquito coil ( DLS “double layered spiral” ). Another popular medium is a bunch of “bioballs”.
As the water flows over the filtration materials, oxygen is gained, carbon dioxide is released, bacteria transforms the waste materials into less-harmful, sometimes beneficial materials which is fed back into your aquarium. In the final stage, water enters the sump of the filter. You can do a lot of customisation to the sump, it can contain many compartments for different accessories, such as heaters and thermostats.
In my opinion, algae filters are one of the most interesting ones there are because you are filtering the water by introducing another living, breathing organism into the environment. Algae filters allow your aquarium to operate just like in the wild, you capture every section of mother nature into the beauty of your own fish tank.
Here’s a video of how it works
One major problem faced by owners of algae filters is the growth of harmful outside bacteria which causes disease for your fish and algae filter. Although the harmful bacteria can be killed with an ultra-violet light (the same as sunlight) the problem is that the UV light will kill the helpful bacteria too. Therefore, UV should be only be used when absolutely necessary.
Fluidized bed filter
A fluidized bed filter (FBF) sounds complicated, but this type of filter works just like quicksand.
The idea is to direct water so it flows through a sand bed from below so the sand behaves like a liquid. (this is exactly how quicksand works) Sand has a very large surface area so as the water flows through bacteria will be trapped between the sand particles.
A FBF aquarium filter can be very easy and fun to build yourself.
One of the oldest types are undergravel filters. An undergravel filter has a porous plate which sits underneath the gravel on the base of the aquarium with one or more uplift tubes.
Usually undergravel filters are simply powered by air displacement. Air stones are placed at the base of the uplift tubes. The air stones create negative pressure and force water out of the uplift tube through the medium. After that, water filters through the gravel which acts as the filtration material.
A higher flow rate of the water through the gravel can be achieved by using a water pump instead of air displacement.
The gravel is colonized by good bacterial which provides biological filtration for your aquarium. With underground filters, the substrate of your aquarium can double as a filter!
Undergravel filters come with a potential problem – they are not good for underwater plants. Fine substrates such as feces, sand or peat may clog the undergravel filter. Once the filter is clogged, the entire substrate must be removed for easy cleaning, this will disturb the roots of any aquatic plants if they are rooted in your aquarium. If the gravel bed becomes uneven, the water will tend to flow through the thin part exclusively, causing the area to become low in oxygen and unhealthy for aquatic plants.
In this article we have covered the various types of aquarium filters and their uses. Depending on the size of your fish tank, the species of fish, other organisms, temperature requirements, aesthetics and other factors, different types of filters will be suitable for you.Tags: algae, algae filter, bed, canister, ceramics, dry, FBF, filter, filter systems, filtration, fluidized, gravel, hang off back, hOB, igneous, power filter, scrubber, silicon, substrate, trickle, trickling, wet, wet/dry, wool