Underfiltering - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 08:13 PM Thread Starter
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Underfiltering

I currently have an AC50 on my 20gal long tank, but I really don't like it, it's super noisy and having the motor/impeller on the outside of the tank makes me nervous (a weak seal, or worn o-ring I worry it might leak). I also don't like that it has to be primed.

My favourite filter has been a Marina Slim that I used on my old 10gal. Super quiet, motor/impeller is inside the tank (no chance of leaking), and it's self priming. But the largest size they sell is the S20 model, rated 'Up to 20gal'.

I know it's normal to try to use a filter rated higher than the volume of the tank, but is it ok to have a smaller filter? I'm moderately planted, and I don't think I'm heavily stocked. I have a betta, 2 guppies (going to get a couple more and I know there will be fry, but I figure the betta will help keep numbers down and my local community is pretty busy, I can easily give some away), 7 cories, and pest snails.

Long story short, is a filter rated 'up to 20gal' actually ok for a 20gal tank?

Thanks!


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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 10:56 PM
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Short answer: YES


Longer answer: Maybe


It is all going to depend on your bio-load and your maintenance schedule. If you are willing to do the required (possibly DAILY) water changes and cleaning you could go without a filter completely. The only way to find out is to test daily and see with your normal routine how long it takes to build up to waste levels that require maintenance and then THAT is how long you can go regardless of how much or what type of filtration is present.
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 11:30 PM
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To answer your immediate question, the answer is on my opinion is "probably." But with a strong caveat. We are keeping living aquatic animals who naturally reside in comparatively large bodies of water in glass boxes.
The aspect we necessarily lack the most in is water dilution (think the vast Pacific Ocean vs a 75 gallon tank). Filtration and flow are, if not "the reason" a huge reason why this is possible. The first thing that your post stated I would like to ease your mind on. Filters and their seals don't just "go out." They don't last forever obviously, but often do for decades. The earliest part to go out is typically the impeller, which I think you might have gotten a faulty one in your Aqua Clear. It should run quietly. If yours does not, call the store and they should replace it. I sell Hagen filters at my own shop, they will replace them for your dealer. It happens, and more often in the last 15ish years since Hagen went from Germany to Italy to make that part. But even still, if you get a normal one (made to spec), the impeller should last between 5 and 10 years. I have an Aqua Clear 2000 on one of my tanks. They stopped making that model in 1997. It has never leaked. That's just one example, but I think everyone here with some years in the hobby has had filter failures. But I bet few of us -regardless of brand -have ever had one leak water out of the tank. My LFS had 100+ aquariums running off Aqua Clears for 6 years and the only leak I ever had was at home. If you never clean it and the sponge fills up with debris, that can float up but it would take a lot of times looking at it and not fixing anything before such would leak water, unless perhaps put on a turtle tank or such. If your Aqua Clear is noisy, take it back to where you got it. They will hopefully take the impeller and replace it and test. If you bought on the internet, that's the downside of buying on the internet but you could still buy a new impeller for for $15 bucks and you will be golden, I promise. And they are as quiet as any other brand. There is a lot I don't know in this hobby, but having owned a local fish store, one thing I have gotten to do is try lots of free filters from different manufacturers. Aqua Clear is still marginally my favorite, but no matter the brand -few are noisy, and none leak unless something is quite wrong and it slipped manufacturer's quality control.

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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 11:31 PM
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Your AC50 should be nearly silent. Take that sucker apart and lubricate whatever is necessary, clean what's necessary, put it back together.

I've run myriad ACs for more than 15 years. Maybe 20? Who even knows? I've never had to replace an o ring on one and I've taken them apart so many times it's impossible to count. I've stored them in high temps. Stored them in freezing temps. Had them in the back of moving trucks. Used them at high altitudes. Cut down the intake tubes. Altered impellers. You name it. They just hold up and work consistently. So don't worry too much about leaks.

Priming shouldn't be too big of a deal for you. Just pour/squirt some tank water into the filter when you plug it in and it's good to go.

As @Bandit1200 suggests, it's definitely enough of a filter for your tank. But there are caveats. For your tank in its current state and critters? Absolutely fine as long as you don't have dead spots with no flow.

I run two AC70s on one 20gal long, a 110 on another, two 110s (one with a wonky impeller) on another. But that's primarily because I like have all kinds of room for filter media for my hordes of shrimp.

The best part about your current setup? It's cheap and easy to repair. And if you need more filtration or flow? Just add another AC filter on the other side of the tank.


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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 11:33 PM
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Why not just get another Marina Slim and run 2......will be a bit overfiltered which is always better than under . I overfilter all my tanks cause I believe in oxygenation and waste removal and etc,etc , but that is just me . You will get many opinions on this....lol

My wife says if I get one more aquarium she is going to leave me . I sure am going to miss her fried chicken .
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-20-2019, 01:24 AM
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The broader question: is a filter rated at tank size, or less, good enough? Depends on many things, starting with what it is that you want the filter to do.

For mechanical filtration, which is trapping debris for easy removal and, perhaps, the most critical aspect in a planted tank, then you can judge based upon what you see accumulating every week. My filter turnover is 5-6 times / hour, which is enough to trap quite a bit and keeps the tank free of most debris. This, in turn, minimizes organic build-up. This may be the most important part of a filtersí purpose. Weekly cleaning of the filter is enough. If it isnít, then you need to look at the health of your plants and feeding regimen.

The purpose of biological filtration is to keep the ammonia down. The substrate and other surfaces will also do this, but much more slowly, as will healthy plants. If you have a sufficient quantity of healthy plants, you may not need a bio-filter at all. I have a 29-gal heavily planted, high tech tank (rapidly growing plants consume a lot of ammonia) with a very heavy fish load (2.3 times what is recommended on AqAdvisor - Intelligent Freshwater Tropical Fish Aquarium Stocking Calculator and Aquarium Tank/Filter Advisor). I have only mechanical filtration in my filter. All ammonia created by the fish is consumed by the plants and BB in the substrate and on the surfaces.

If I had a low tech tank (Iím assuming yours is) with the small fish load that you have, I would also try a filter with only mechanical filtration (you should gradually reduce the bio-filter if trying this). I believe, as many do, that plants prefer the ammonia/ammonium form of nitrogen to the nitrates created by bio-media in a filter. Why not let them have first access to it? If your pH is below 7.0 all the better because then the ammonia is in the relatively harmless ammonium form.

Having good circulation is as important as having good mechanical filtration. You may need a pump to boost circulation if your filter wonít do it well enough. I have two of the smallest Hydor Koraliaís pointing straight up to not only give me good surface agitation, but also to provide good circulation throughout the tank where dead spot otherwise would develop.

In sum; Iíd focus on making sure the filter can remove all the debris without clogging over a weeksí period of time. Bio-media is less important, and can be monitored for need, based upon ammonia readings.
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-20-2019, 01:31 AM Thread Starter
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The AC I have is old, I can't even remember where/when I got it, maybe it's just past its best before day. It's just rattly, you can hear the impeller and it's louder with the lid on. It's not like a race car loud, but it's in our living room, which is where we read, work on our computers (post on forums, hah!), do quiet things, so it's extra noticeable. But thank you for the extra assurances about not having to worry about extra leaks, I do feel a bit better about that now!

I also have an AC30, a Fluval C3, and an Aqueon something or another from years gone by. The Marina Slim is still my favourite out of all of them, you would have to focus to hear it. I wish they made them in a larger size, not sure why they topped out at a 20gal!

Thanks for all the advice and insights, I'm going to leave it for now, but maybe switch to the Slim S20 and an extra sponge filter or something in the future (an airpump is quieter than the filter).

Hi Deanna, I was typing and missed your post. You had some really interesting points!

When you talk about having mechanical filtration only, and reducing the bio-filter, what do you mean exactly? All the filters I have are HOB's, and I use a combination of sponges and bio-max media in them. How do you reduce the bio-filter? Just add more sponge instead of the bio-max? Our tap water is around 7.6ph. I'm definitely low tech, and not heavily planted, but moderately I think.

Good points about the circulation, right now the AC50 is doing a good job of that, and I'm sure it will do a good job of handling the debris. I definitely want the tank to be as healthy as possible for the fish, which is why I'm trying to figure out my options. I appreciate your help!


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Last edited by Darkblade48; 08-20-2019 at 09:28 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-20-2019, 10:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tinkerpuppet View Post
Hi Deanna, I was typing and missed your post. You had some really interesting points!

When you talk about having mechanical filtration only, and reducing the bio-filter, what do you mean exactly? All the filters I have are HOB's, and I use a combination of sponges and bio-max media in them. How do you reduce the bio-filter? Just add more sponge instead of the bio-max? Our tap water is around 7.6ph. I'm definitely low tech, and not heavily planted, but moderately I think.

Good points about the circulation, right now the AC50 is doing a good job of that, and I'm sure it will do a good job of handling the debris. I definitely want the tank to be as healthy as possible for the fish, which is why I'm trying to figure out my options. I appreciate your help!
The BioMax ceramic rings are the bio-media and a sponge filter also doubles as bio-media (it also acts as a mechanical filter). Those would be the things to remove/reduce if you really wanted to try using only your plants and substrate as the bio-filters. Just be sure to monitor ammonia if you decide to pull out the bio-media as it is now the primary ammonia converter. Once the substrate develops a full load of BB, you can stop monitoring ammonia. Gradually remove/reduce the bio-media over 3-4 weeks. Iíd start by pulling the sponge out. Keep in mind that Iím not saying full 3-stage filtering is bad - it does provide a safety cushion. I just see more benefits to just having a filter act as purely a mechanical filter.

Prior to our discovery of the nitrogen cycle, we used to run HOBís that had activated (some not) charcoal and filter floss only (long before CO2 injection). We threw both of those media out every week, so BB never developed in the filters. It was all in the substrate and surfaces exposed to the water, but we didnít realize this. Once we discovered the nitrogen cycle, putting bio-media into our filters gave us an over-the-top cushion against ammonia problems - backup in depth - particularly in non-planted tanks.

I assume the sponge is placed over the strainer. If you do that, you donít need the BioMax or the foam insert. A sponge filter can be used as a standalone filter. The BB will form in it and it will also capture debris. Personally, I donít like them: they can be eyesores in the tank and clog rather quickly, which will dramatically reduce flow. After about 6 months, they become filled with gunk and require replacement. Then, the BB need to be re-built.

The activated carbon in your HOB is a chemical filter and is useless after about a week (AC does not remove ammonia). If you want a chemical filter, which removes some organics and can increase water clarity (if you have a problem with clarity), Iíd recommend Purigen over the short-lived AC.
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-21-2019, 08:52 AM
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Go order you a replacement impeller for AC. Thatís probably the most likely cause of noise, impeller is worn out and out of balance.
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-21-2019, 06:47 PM
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I've found that having a filter that extends deeper, works to mix the lower levels, and adding rainwater and not all regular water, because regular water has things that make the water turn sour in my experience ie more bacteria from adding more regular water. Also, there's 33 gallons of water in the tank, and it's taller, but it's a 40 gallon filter, and I turn it to the lowest setting (for 10 gallons). Too much water motion is not good for the fish.
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-21-2019, 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Go order you a replacement impeller for AC. That’s probably the most likely cause of noise, impeller is worn out and out of balance.

That's what I was trying to get to in about 200 fewer words! I would replace the shaft as well, since they do tend to wear badly. Not sure if new shafts are sold with Hagen impellers these days or not (didn't used to be).

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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 08-21-2019, 08:25 PM
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It sounds like at the moment you are fairly lightly stocked so it would probably be ok, particularly if you have fast growing plants in your tank. However, there is no point swapping one worry for another.

First question is what is your worry? Not enough media for bacteria or not enough flow? There are a few things you can do - you could use two of the smaller filters e.g. one each end - that ups capacity and flow. I don't know what the standard contents are, but at a guess foam and some sort of bio media - you could remove the foam and use an intake sponge to replace it, then add extra bio media to up your capacity. Or you could use just one of those and then add in a little powerhead for extra flow.
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