Necessity of Biological filtration media vs just plain water polishing - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 04:17 PM Thread Starter
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Necessity of Biological filtration media vs just plain water polishing

Hey Guys,

Previously in my aquarium experience I never much cared about biological filtration. I always worried myself with #1 high tank turnover rates, and #2 really good water polishing. My prior planted experience is pretty primitive compared to some of what I see on here, I had a 180 gallon tank plumbed into my 300 gallon sump that was filtering another 1,000 gallons of breeder tanks and a 300 gallon display tank. The tank flourished, but it may have just been an elaborate algae scrubber in the end, lol.

I retired that setup and sold off the breeding business about 4 years ago and am focusing on getting back into the hobby. I noticed a few things.

#1 Marketing is oppressive. There is so much marketing that if you don't dive into forums its very hard to get to the bottom of an issue. Substrate confusion was the reason I setup this account.

#2 Purists make no sense. I had heard this issue previously before getting into breeding but the cost of discovering the truth was much lower, both in terms of time and money. For planted tanks there are just so many more variables it's hard to run a BS test on every sacred cow.

I'll give you an example of something I learned with my prior setup. I learned that a basic sponge filter per volume is going to do a better job of polishing water than all that expensive filter media you can buy. I replaced all "biological filtration media" with mechanical filtration, more sponges, more filter socks, and more flow.

My prior foray into plants I learned that Aquarium plants eat Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates. I learned that typically if you have algae blooms its because you are missing other nutrients that your plants need to be able to consume those things, your iron, potassium, C02 or whatever is not adequate.

So I ask all this to restate, why do I see "biological filter media" promoted so much? It just seems kinda counter intuitive to what you are trying to accomplish with the plants. Help me understand. I'm more inclined to focus on water polishing, purging particulates, etc from the system than spending that cabinet space and resources on dedicated media for optimizing the cycle.
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post #2 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by jkellyid View Post

So I ask all this to restate, why do I see "biological filter media" promoted so much? It just seems kinda counter intuitive to what you are trying to accomplish with the plants. Help me understand. I'm more inclined to focus on water polishing, purging particulates, etc from the system than spending that cabinet space and resources on dedicated media for optimizing the cycle.
Yes and no....

Biomedia is promoted so much because it makes them money period. Cheap sponges will work just as well for our purposes.

Most us on this forum are not going to claim our plants are part of our filtration system, yes they will uptake nutrients, but they are far from filtering the tank.

Not many of us here are only growing plants to aid in nutrient uptake... dozens of reasons to grow plants, and on my lists of reasons, filtering the water is way at the bottom.
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post #3 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 04:44 PM Thread Starter
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Yes and no....

Biomedia is promoted so much because it makes them money period. Cheap sponges will work just as well for our purposes.

Most us on this forum are not going to claim our plants are part of our filtration system, yes they will uptake nutrients, but they are far from filtering the tank.

Not many of us here are only growing plants to aid in nutrient uptake... dozens of reasons to grow plants, and on my lists of reasons, filtering the water is way at the bottom.
I totally agree, I guess I was trying to discern if there was something different happening in a CO2 infused planted tank that I was missing. Else I'll just polish the snot out of my water as I would on a non planted tank and relish in the immaculate metrics I get when testing it w/o concerning myself with these premium filter media.

I literally have a 100 gallon tub of "bioballs" in my garage and another 10 gallons of ceramic rings, and another 10 gallons of some other biomedia type. I took them all out of my 300 gallon sump and just packed it with sponges. I'm not sure if this will embed properly so I'll try to post a photo of the sump, but that is 4" PVC and x8 - 32" long 100 micron filter socks.


EDIT:
OK that works, so yeah I'm not trying to build this style of setup again. I'm just demonstrating my Asymmetrical approach to designing filtration on a tank. A simpler example is just doubling the sponges in Aquaclear 110 filters where I used those.


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Last edited by jkellyid; 02-06-2020 at 04:47 PM. Reason: Tested if something worked then remarking on it.
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post #4 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 06:13 PM
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Marketing is good at selling mechanical, biological and chemical filtration, and high gph all in one filter. But the only things matter are good oxygenation to promote anaerobic conditions, and good mechanical to clarify water for my enjoyment.

The best biological filtration is good oxygenated flow over substrate, and I see no need for dedicated biofilter or bio media unless one overstocks fish in a bare bottom tank. Air sone, sponge filter, and wave makers are better and cheaper options to furnish oxygenated flow, not just from high gpd filters as marketed.

I don't guage the adequacy of filtration by gpd or media volume and type, but by the clarity of water, specifically how long it clears up after feeding messy fish.
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post #5 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 07:56 PM
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I have a high tech setup and spent many years with it having no biomedia in the filter at all (including sponges). Plants consume most of the nitrogenous waste and BB in the tank take care of the rest. So, you can use only mechanical filtration, if you wish.
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post #6 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 08:18 PM
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I also generally fill up my filter with sponges over time. I've never noticed any issue. Even when i accidently killed off the biomedia in my filter, there was no problem with the tank going through a cycle, etc.

I could see the biomedia being more important in the filter if you have a small nano that doesn't have alot of plant mass with a large canister filter, although the substrate might be able to tow the line.


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post #7 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 10:18 PM
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I have a high tech setup and spent many years with it having no biomedia in the filter at all (including sponges). Plants consume most of the nitrogenous waste and BB in the tank take care of the rest. So, you can use only mechanical filtration, if you wish.
I have been keeping fish only tanks for decades without biomedia in the filters, only mechanical. As long as oxygenated flow goes over the substrate and decors, there are plenty of bb to consume ammonia nitrogen . Plants will compete with bb to consume nitrogen during photo period, and bb will take care of it off photo period. Plants provide even more surface area to populate bb so biomedia is even less needed.
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post #8 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 10:31 PM
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Anything and everything inside of an aquarium is biological filtration media. If it has a surface for bacteria to grow on, the bacteria will do their thing. If whatever surface that bacteria chooses to grow on also happens to polish the water, then its even better!
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post #9 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-06-2020, 11:39 PM
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Anything and everything inside of an aquarium is biological filtration media. If it has a surface for bacteria to grow on, the bacteria will do their thing. If whatever surface that bacteria chooses to grow on also happens to polish the water, then its even better!
Completely agree. I recently removed the HOB from an establish tank to cycle a new tank. The old tank is heavily stocked with angels that are incredibly messy eaters and also poop a lot. I replaced it with a new slightly undersized sponge filter, but doubled the sponge area by stacking a coarse & finer sponge. I carefully monitored for any ammonia/nitrite/nitrate spikes, but nothing. The sponge filter works beautifully for a fraction of the price, and doesn't seem to need cleaning as often. It's also much quieter--which matters since I'd moved that tank to my bedroom.

The American Aquarium Product website waxes rhapsodic about the virtues of sponge filters. Thought it was more marketing hype, but it makes sense, and my experience thus far bears it out.

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post #10 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 02:15 AM
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I used nothing but 2 pond sized air-driven sponge filters from AAP in my 125 with no issues at all.
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post #11 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by lksdrinker View Post
Anything and everything inside of an aquarium is biological filtration media. If it has a surface for bacteria to grow on, the bacteria will do their thing. If whatever surface that bacteria chooses to grow on also happens to polish the water, then its even better!
Yep, this. There's no such thing as only having mechanical filtration, for example, since it unless that's being replaced quicker than bacteria can grow it will be colonized. Sponges work just fine for biological filtration after all.

MOST people don't get that filters are mainly just a way of increasing the surface area in the tank for bacteria to colonize, providing them with conditions they need to thrive, and making sure water is circulated properly. That's why arguing about the "most room for bacteria to grow" on media is usually fairly pointless.

So when you see talk of tanks being "overfiltered" with extra canisters etc, they don't really get that you don't get extra bacteria by doing so, just extra room for them to grow and more water flow. Bacteria populate to the food load available, not to the amount of total filter space.

So as long as you have adequate space (which 99.99% of setups will), extra filters at best buy you finer debris removal, more water flow and increased maintenance windows. Oh, and bragging rights on forums lol.
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post #12 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 02:20 PM
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Once the pores clog up and the filter fills with crud, it's nothing but a water pump and a mechanical media housing. Clean it out regularly for best results, both tank "health" and filter mechanical "health"
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post #13 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 03:09 PM
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Yeah, just not entirely sold ( so far by what is posted here) in taking out my bio-media and just using the mechanical for my wild discus. My couple of plants here and there in this aquarium hardly equates with the heavily planted systems most have here. Even then, I would need far more evidence that sponge filters would do it-- long-term- in a densely stocked discus tank where water changes weren't being done daily. Breeders do this, yes, they are the filter for these tanks- they change water daily and make the filter superfluous. The sponge filter in these bare-bottomed tanks are not mechanical, they are used for their biological benefits.
Nor would I just use mechanical media in my 180 gallon. This tank houses very expensive fish--a few fish reaching 8 inches. I mean, lets put it in perspective, the biomedia for the 2 -FX6 filters in this tank costs less than one of these 8 inch fish.

I do believe that bio-media can be omitted from some systems, but to claim that it is not necessary at all in all cases ( just a marketing ploy) is really not very convincing.
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post #14 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 03:58 PM
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I found that most biological bacteria in the aquarium will consume the vast majority of the waste in the aquarium.
Having kept reef aquariums for 40 years. I was one of the first to adopt the Berlin reef system which relied on just live rock in the aquarium. You learned that all bio media outside of the tank became useless. An could be removed. Because the bacteria on the rock was consuming all the food that the external bacteria need to survive. Itís always funny to see people adding tons of bio media to their systems as extra. If there is no food for the bacteria they can not survive on the extra media.
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post #15 of 108 (permalink) Old 02-07-2020, 04:30 PM
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I've never used bio media in my filters for decades, and I used to keep heavy stocked cichlid tanks. Now I keep planted cichlid tanks with Penguin HOBs without installing biowheels for mechanical filtration only, which is necessary to keep the water clear for my enjoyment. Fish don't care. The reason I uninstall biowheels is to avoid reducing flow which is a trade off. In my fry and grow out tanks, I have no mechanical filter, only air drive sponge filters. But I keep up with regular water change in all my tanks, including substrate vacuuming, which is the ultimate filtration.

The idea of external bio media came with the invention of canister filters for home aquarium in the 80s. But long before it, UGF have been using gravel inside the tank as the bio media. Early power filters in the 70s provided mechanical filtration only, and added bio filtration later in the form of bio foam, bio grid, bio wheel and other names in marketing to compete with canisters and one another. Vendors make you believe that their bio media is the best and without it, your fish will die.

Setups that mandate external bio media for survival are heavily stocked bare tanks to house sting rays, bichir, Oscar and other tank busters that dislike substrate or aquacuture tanks for lobsters and food fish.
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