Replace carbon in HOB filter with something else? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 04:32 PM Thread Starter
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Replace carbon in HOB filter with something else?

Hi all,

New to plated tanks, just found out activated carbon can be bad for plants. I have a Fluval C3 HOB filter on a 29 gallon tank.

I also have an EHEIM 350 surface skimmer at the opposite end of the Fluval C3.

Should I replace the activated carbon insert with something else? If so, sponge, ceramic rings, other?

Also, is this amount of filtration too much surface agitation since I am currently not injecting co2 (I will be in the future!)

Thanks for any and all advice!
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 04:57 PM
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Contrary to popular belief using AC in a planted tank is a good thing. If anything use it at startup for a month or two. You need all the help you can get to keep the water clean of organics and toxins to prevent algae and the AC will help. Especially in the beginning plant growth is slow and the bio filter hasn't been established. This is a major reason why many have bad algae at startup. You could also use Purigen, but I like AC better.
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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Asteroid View Post
Contrary to popular belief using AC in a planted tank is a good thing. If anything use it at startup for a month or two. You need all the help you can get to keep the water clean of organics and toxins to prevent algae and the AC will help. Especially in the beginning plant growth is slow and the bio filter hasn't been established. This is a major reason why many have bad algae at startup. You could also use Purigen, but I like AC better.
This is contrary to everything I have been reading for quite a while. Are you advocating only using carbon at startup or throughout the life of the tank?

Certainly I could understand that when you are using an active substrate such as aquasoil or dirt it would make some sense to want to capture those excess nutrients that are not removed through water changes. But once a tank is established and you are past the first month or so, does activated carbon do anything but cost money and remove the fertilizers we end up adding to the tank?
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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by minorhero View Post
This is contrary to everything I have been reading for quite a while. Are you advocating only using carbon at startup or throughout the life of the tank?

Certainly I could understand that when you are using an active substrate such as aquasoil or dirt it would make some sense to want to capture those excess nutrients that are not removed through water changes. But once a tank is established and you are past the first month or so, does activated carbon do anything but cost money and remove the fertilizers we end up adding to the tank?
For anyone asking I'm advocating using carbon for the 1st month or two. If you want my personal opinion, the amount of ferts that are removed by carbon are extremely minimal and I have used carbon long-term. I've never seen anything showing me otherwise.

it's especially important in the beginning since their is no bio-filter and there is no plant growth initially to remove toxins. The carbon isn't magic, but it's another weapon against organic buildup in addition to water changes.

You might be surprised but 75% of the media in ADA filters are carbon at startup. Both ADA Amano and Barr use it.

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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Asteroid View Post
For anyone asking I'm advocating using carbon for the 1st month or two. If you want my personal opinion, the amount of ferts that are removed by carbon are extremely minimal and I have used carbon long-term. I've never seen anything showing me otherwise.

it's especially important in the beginning since their is no bio-filter and there is no plant growth initially to remove toxins. The carbon isn't magic, but it's another weapon against organic buildup in addition to water changes.

You might be surprised but 75% of the media in ADA filters are carbon at startup. Both ADA Amano and Barr use it.

Ah this makes sense then. Especially the ADA part since their advice is based around the use of active substrates. If not using an active substrate I can't imagine you would get the same mileage from using carbon.

To the OP then, your filtration is fine but the surface skimmer is probably not doing much since you have a HOB. If you like then leave it in but you could just as easily take it out.

If you have an active substrate you should leave the carbon in for the first month or two apparently but if its past the first month or two, or you have an inert substrate such as gravel or sand, then you can ditch the carbon in my opinion. As for what to put in its place. There are lots of videos online about hotrodding HOB filters but basically what you might consider doing is either dumping some biological media in there such as lava rock, ceramic rings, etc. And/or putting as much filter sponge as you can comfortable fit into the filter. This way you don't have any disposable parts for your filter. Just every few months wash the sponge, lava rock etc. in some used tank water when doing a water change. Never in water fresh from your tap.

Hope that helps!
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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 07:22 PM
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Ah this makes sense then. Especially the ADA part since their advice is based around the use of active substrates. If not using an active substrate I can't imagine you would get the same mileage from using carbon.
I understand what your saying about actvie substrates, but actually my advise is to use carbon with any substrate whether it's inert or active at startup. My current setup i used for 2 months, had very little plant mass and the tank started up clean.

Very few tanks can process toxins from the getgo. It doesn't take a lot of ammonia to turn spores into algae. There is nothing there, not enough plant growth and not enough BB. The carbon just helps remove organics that will release these. I have always found it reduces the likelihood of algae issues at startup when the system is most vulnerable.
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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 07:49 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by minorhero View Post
Ah this makes sense then. Especially the ADA part since their advice is based around the use of active substrates. If not using an active substrate I can't imagine you would get the same mileage from using carbon.

To the OP then, your filtration is fine but the surface skimmer is probably not doing much since you have a HOB. If you like then leave it in but you could just as easily take it out.

If you have an active substrate you should leave the carbon in for the first month or two apparently but if its past the first month or two, or you have an inert substrate such as gravel or sand, then you can ditch the carbon in my opinion. As for what to put in its place. There are lots of videos online about hotrodding HOB filters but basically what you might consider doing is either dumping some biological media in there such as lava rock, ceramic rings, etc. And/or putting as much filter sponge as you can comfortable fit into the filter. This way you don't have any disposable parts for your filter. Just every few months wash the sponge, lava rock etc. in some used tank water when doing a water change. Never in water fresh from your tap.

Hope that helps!
I'm using eco complete substrate. Is that active? Tank has been up and running 6 weeks now, so it could be time to replace carbon with something else.
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 08:43 PM
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Originally Posted by AverageSteve View Post
I'm using eco complete substrate. Is that active? Tank has been up and running 6 weeks now, so it could be time to replace carbon with something else.
Eco-Complete is not an active substrate it is inert. Regardless of whether you subscribe to Asteroids philosophy or mine you would be in the market very soon for something that is not carbon at 6 weeks. I would look up some videos on hotrodding or modding your filter and then choose the path you want to go for added biological filtration and only reusable mechanical filtration.

If it were me I would probably just use a big piece of foam and if there was space then add some ceramic rings but the latter is likely not needed in planted tank with substrate.
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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 08:59 PM
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Id just leave it out, usually not needed. If you have a high fish bio load switch to purigen, its also rechargeable.
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 09:12 PM
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I would agree with @minorhero that once the tank matures whether you use it or not is probably not that important in most setups. At startup, I personally think it helps a lot, at the 6 week mark you can go either way since the BB will be developed. Now if you have a tank full of good growing plants, even less important, but a tank that is more hardscape with minimal planting it could still be beneficial IMO.
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post #11 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 10:48 PM
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IMO, everyone is correct ...up to a point. AC can remove some of the metals we dose, but it's minimal. I think Purigen is a better option as it will remove the nitrogenous organics more efficiently than AC and those are the only organics we are really concerned about (neither AC or Purigen will remove the organic phosphorus). AC works, but it will be useless after about a week or two (sooner with a lot of organics). So, if you use AC, make sure to put new AC in weekly and be sure to select high-quality AC, as increasing amounts of phosphates are often leeched from carbon as quality decreases. Purigen will last longer and does not unload organics once filled and, as mentioned, can be recharged. Like AC, Purigen can remove some traces, but it is my understanding that such activity is far less than AC.

We should also mention that neither of these chemical filters remove nitrates or ammonia. They remove the organics that ultimately can become those products.
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Last edited by Deanna; 09-12-2019 at 11:08 PM. Reason: add
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post #12 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 11:10 PM
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I'm not new to Purigen, I mentioned it in my 1st post. I've used both and have always found Carbon to be more effective. I've never heard of carbon being useless after a few days to a week. Tom Barr and many others including ADA always state around a month.

Purigen will also exhaust at different rates based on tank conditions.

edit:

Yes the whole idea is to remove the organics before they decompose, which is the reason you can dose inorganic salts and not worry about it. Whoever has run a tank with carbon will release the benefits far outweigh what if anything it will remove in terms of what plants need.


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post #13 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-13-2019, 01:36 AM
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I've never heard of carbon being useless after a few days to a week. Tom Barr and many others including ADA always state around a month.

Purigen will also exhaust at different rates based on tank conditions.
"Useless" was probably the wrong word since, once the AC pores are filled, the carbon becomes a home for BB (which can develop quickly - a week or two) and that, of course, will convert organics (not remove them), but the AC should probably be removed at that point if we are just looking for organic absorption rather than conversion. Although I don't think I suggested "a few days", if the tank is dirty enough, and the AC isn't placed after the mechanical filter, a few days could be all you can get before the pores fill. With very clean water, along with water changes, a month or more may be possible before the pores fill. I do seem to remember some very high quality spherical AC that provides a longer time before all of the pores can fill, but can't remember who makes it. Could probably search it, though.

I don't recall any studies by Barr on the topic and thought that Amano was more a proponent of using it in the substrate for it's CEC benefits, but I wonder if the AC would give up a nutrient load very readily. Again, without searching, my memory may be faulty on this. If you have some links handy, I'd be very interested in reading them, but don't spend time on it if they aren't handy for my sake since I no longer use any chemical or biomedia.

Given equal water contamination, Purigen should greatly outlast AC before needing recharging.
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post #14 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-13-2019, 01:50 AM
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@Deanna

I appreciate your comments and your knowledge, but I think your missing the context of the thread. I have no desire to debate what's better Carbon vs Purigen. It's been done thousands of times. We know they both remove organics before they breakdown.

The OP simply asked if he/she should remove the Carbon. My advise was no, especially if the tank is new, since from MY experience tanks start up cleaner with Carbon and/or Purigen in the filter. They help bridge the gap until a bio-filter is established. It is more of an advantage at startup then it is a disadvantage to anything it might take out which is minimal if anything since I've started countless hi-tech tanks without issue using Carbon as has Barr and its part of ADA Dogma as I showed above.

The OP happened to have Carbon, if he/she had Purigen my advise would have been pretty much the same.
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post #15 of 25 (permalink) Old 09-13-2019, 02:41 AM
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Plus exhausted carbon just becomes beneficial bacteria surface area.

Style: Organic soil (dirt), sand, gravel, plants, moss, algae, biofilm, mulm, snails, shrimp, small fish
Tech: Fluval Plant 3.0 Nano, Top Fin MF10, Tunze 3161, Eheim Skim 350, Neptune Apex EL
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