Safe T Sorb or Eco Complete? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-08-2018, 06:27 PM Thread Starter
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Safe T Sorb or Eco Complete?

Hey guys. Planning my rescape soon and will also be ditching my pool filter sand. Ferts and root tabs, I'm still not getting good plant growth since I've moved to sand.

I was planning on going with Eco Complete as I've had it before and it's easy to use, but now I've seen people apparently using Safe T Sorb.

I'm all about saving money but if Eco is really that much better, I wouldn't mind going back to it. This will be for my 125 gallon community tank.

I realize I'll still need to add Ferts and root tabs, but just mostly wanted an opinion on if safe t sorb was any good, safe, any any cons. Thanks!

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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-08-2018, 07:56 PM
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I've seen that Safe-T-Sorb had a much higher CEC, and I'd probably go that route. But I'm tagging @Seattle_Aquarist because I know he's run larger tanks with it for quite a few years. He's be my go to resource on that substrate

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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-08-2018, 10:23 PM
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I guess my biggest input would be - how much do you plan on re-arranging your plants? I have Eco Complete and I know it is reasonably clean when it comes to moving plants every weekend.
I suspect Safe-T-Sorb would be a much bigger mess (have not personally used it).


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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 01:55 AM
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Accidentally quoted myself, see below

Eco Complete is overpriced lava rock. Provides no nutrients to your plants as it's inert. I just pulled a 5 gallon bucket full of the stuff from one of my tanks, I don't like it at all. Carpeting plants don't take very good hold at all. I had an awesome carpet of DBT that was well manicured that ultimately floated because the roots weren't getting enough to hold onto. DHG... forget it. Granule size is too big.

I've switched to PFS in this tank I mentioned, and my other tanks are running PFS for a while now with zero issues. Growing everything just fine. I bring this up because I'd question whether your substrate is the issue.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 02:34 AM
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Eco Complete is overpriced lava rock. Provides no nutrients to your plants as it's inert. I just pulled a 5 gallon bucket full of the stuff from one of my tanks, I don't like it at all. Carpeting plants don't take very good hold at all. I had an awesome carpet of DBT that was well manicured that ultimately floated because the roots weren't getting enough to hold onto. DHG... forget it. Granule size is too big.

I've switched to PFS in this tank I mentioned, and my other tanks are running PFS for a while now with zero issues. Growing everything just fine. I bring this up because I'd question whether your substrate is the issue.

This would explain alot - I have never had much luck growing any carpeting type plant in my Eco complete.


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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 03:02 AM
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Originally Posted by mgeorges View Post
Eco Complete is overpriced lava rock. Provides no nutrients to your plants as it's inert. I just pulled a 5 gallon bucket full of the stuff from one of my tanks, I don't like it at all. Carpeting plants don't take very good hold at all. I had an awesome carpet of DBT that was well manicured that ultimately floated because the roots weren't getting enough to hold onto. DHG... forget it. Granule size is too big.

I've switched to PFS in this tank I mentioned, and my other tanks are running PFS for a while now with zero issues. Growing everything just fine. I bring this up because I'd question whether your substrate is the issue.

This would explain alot - I have never had much luck growing any carpeting type plant in my Eco complete.
Yeah. My avatar pic is actually with Eco Complete, that beautiful DBT carpet. I kept that thing trimmed very neatly, but I started getting areas that would free themselves anyways. Over a couple months time, it got to the point where the center was totally free floating and it was only anchored by the edges. Very upsetting, took quite some time to achieve that carpet. Bottom was healthy, hadn't died out, that wasn't the issue.

I tried DHG, it really struggled to send shoots into the substrate. It spread, but it was spreading OVER the substrate instead of through, and the end runners frequently just ended up going airborne. It also never spread very well. Doing GREAT in PFS though, both plants actually.

OP, I've never tried Saf-T-Sorb, so I can't offer insight on that. My personal feelings are ... almost anything is better than EC.

Are you running high tech OP?
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 02:33 PM Thread Starter
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No, low tech. Thinking of adding c02 after Christmas however.

I had eco before and my tank grew like crazy. It was only a 55 gallon though with a single finnex planted plus on a 10 hour timer. Picture below.

Since I've had the 125, I've had no luck except for anubius and Java fern. The only thing that changed was the substrate and 2 36" finnex planted plus 24/7 CC lights on a custom timer.
Pic below.

I'm just extremely frustrated and no idea what to do.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 03:09 PM
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I have used safe-t-sorb in several of my tanks. I like it but there are some downsides. It has great cation capacity and you can "charge" it with ferts ahead of time (I probably did not do enough of this). It looks nice- I like the natural color- but is very lightweight and stirs up easily. It has a lot of dust. If you try rinsing it will take forever. I sifted mine through a kid's sand sieve beforehand, to get out all the fine dust- and ended up only using half the bag I bought, the larger particles. It can strip the calcium out of your water column and mess with pH. I advise soaking with baking soda before you add it to your tank- test the water after each addition and watch for pH dropping. When pH quit dropping after I added some baking soda, I deemed it safe to put in the tank. It breaks down after several years. I tore down a tank after 3 years to move it, and the bottom inch under substrate was just mud. It was very messy. But if you don't bother it, might last a good while longer I am not sure. My 10 gal still has safe-t-sorb substrate, longer than 3 years now and it hasn't given me any problems yet.

There's some other threads discussed use of safe-t-sorb if you do a search.


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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 04:39 PM
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Hi @Aparker2005

Thank you for the 'tap' @natemcnutty.

I've used calcined montmorillonite clay substrates such as Soilmaster Select Charcoal (discontinued) and Turface Pro League (grey) starting in 2009. I started using Safe-T-Sorb in tanks starting with my 10 gallon low tech in August of 2013 so a little over five (5) years. I set up my 75 gallon with Safe-T-Sorb in the spring of 2014. Currently all five (5) of my tanks use montmorillonite clay substrates.

Here is my low tech ([email protected] / 2X 10 watt CFL; no CO2 but ferts and Excel/glutaraldehyde) 10 gallon when I set it up in August 2013


Here it was four (4) weeks later on 9/13


And here it is on 10/17


My 75 gallon (high tech with CO2 and [email protected]) on 3/21/14 shortly after planting


And the 75 gallon on 7/19 about 4 months later


I personally have not tried Eco-Complete however is does contain a goodly amount of nutrients like clay substrates however I do not know the CEC of the product. It could be good or it could be like Seachem Flourite and have a low CEC.

Eco-Complete label


I agree that Safe-T-Sorb and for that matter all calcined clay substrates are relatively 'light' however I've used ADA Amazonia in the past and I would describe calcined clay to be about the same weight or maybe even a little heavier than Amazonia. My ADA Amazonia 'broke down' after about 3 years and when I did a complete 'breakdown' of my 75 gallon this spring (after 3 years) I re-used my Safe-T-Sorb but in retrospect I think it would have been smarter to start with fresh because the Safe-T-Sorb was just starting to break down and will likely not go another 3 years (unlike Soilmaster Select which is still going strong after almost 9 years).

As mentioned calcined clay substrates will absorb minerals from the water including carbonates resulting in a drop of pH and dKH and dGH as well; I had to add baking soda and GH Booster for several months until the substrate stabilized. Also they are the most 'dirty' substrate I have come across during my decades in the hobby, but as the pictures above show the results can be excellent. Safe-T-Sorb is very inexpensive, 40# for $6.49 at Tractor Supply. I screened mine with 1/8" hardward cloth to remove most of the 'fines' and dust for the 75 gallon, this resulted in not using about 50% of the bag but provided a much more uniform sized substrate that cleared very quickly after filling the tanks and didn't 'dust up' anywhere near as much as unscreened STS when moving plants. Hope this helps! -Roy

Hmm, an interesting thought came to mind; maybe set up a 10 gallon with one side Safe-T-Sorb and the other side Eco-Complete with the same plants on both sides and see how they do "head on head".

Roy_________
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-09-2018, 06:24 PM Thread Starter
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I was looking at cost mostly, but if it's that messy I think the clean eco may be better for what I'm doing.

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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 09-13-2018, 07:19 AM
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I'll offer my US$.02 with the caveat that I'm a relative noob:
5 months ago I set up a 65 gallon with an AC 110 HOB and a refurbished Fluval Edge 6 gallon, both with a blend of 75% Safe T Sorb and 25% Eco Complete. My interest was in anoxic filtration so they both have plenums under 3" of substrate in the 65 and 1.5" in the Edge. Knowing the reputation of the dustiness of the Safe T Sorb I dumped a bag and a half in a wheelbarrow (not all at once) and stirred and flushed it with a garden hose (on our well) for 20 minutes or so. It never ran clear so I went ahead and placed it in the new, unoccupied tanks after I ran out of patience. It was very cloudy to start but within a day and a half or so it settled and cleared.

As far as I can tell this has worked out beautifully. While I did see slightly elevated pH in the Edge (around 8ish) I added some peat and that's come back down to the mid 7's. Nitrates have just about zero'd out. The 65 gallon has always had a natural pH in the mid 7's and while nitrates have always been slightly elevated (I believe, because I put my faith in the API test which now turns out to be bogus). Using the Salifert test I'm seeing nitrates at or under 25.

Plants, some red sword, anubias, hornwort, all look great and have really rooted well. Plecos and Corys flop around on it and never seem to disturb it.

Since then I've found that I can lightly vacuum it without a dust storm but I rarely need to vacuum. Stuff just doesn't seem to accumulate on the surface. I don't know if this has to do with the substrate or something else consuming it, but it is odd. If I know I'm going to do something disruptive to the scape I'll charge up a Marineland Magnum with some DE and run it (On the 65 only, of course) and it clears things up within 30-40 minutes with no apparent effect on the fish. Last week I moved some things around in the Edge and whatever dust there was settled within 10 minutes.

HTH
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