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Best Aquarium Filters
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Best Aquarium Filters - Aquarium Filtration

This subject could easily fill a large book. For every type of filtration available, there are a hundred opinions on their use and effectiveness. There are three basic forms of filtration, mechanical, biological, and chemical. Mechanical provides the means to physically remove particles and containments from the water. It works much the same way as a filter in a vacuum cleaner or furnace.

Biological filtration provides surface area conducive to the growth of bacteria cultures necessary to convert fish waste, uneaten food and fish respiration into less harmful gasses. (much more on this later) Chemical is a method of inducing specific materials into the filtration systems to condition the water. Forms of this media would be charcoal, ammo-chips, etc. Many of the filters available today provide for all three types of filtration.

Before we get into the specific filters available, I should cover some basic rules of aquarium filtration.

  1. First is how much filtration should you have for a specific tank. Most all active filters are rated in gallons per hour. Because of the necessity to provide pristine water conditions for your cichlids, you will want in the area of 8 to 10 times your tank size filtered per hour. In the case of a 55 gallon tank, this would equate to 8x55=440gph to 10x55=550gph or 440 to 550 gallons per hour.

  2. Next would be redundancy. This is often an overlooked aspect of filtration. I have read numerous posts on forums about someone coming home from work to find their filter had failed and all fish were either dead or darn close to it (it doesn't take a long time for ammonia and nitrite to build to dangerous levels if a system fails). With all the monetary, emotional and time invested, it just stands to reason to build the filtering system with redundancy in mind.

    Using our previous example of a 55 gallon tank, you could build your filtration system around 2 filters with 250gph capacity each for a total of 500gph, well within the desired gph range. This redundancy also facilitates servicing the filters in such a way as to minimize the impact on the bacterial colonies created. The mechanical and chemical medias require replacement on a regular basis. When you remove the old and replace with new, you are destroying portions of your bacterial colonies. With 2 filters, you can stagger this maintenance between them keeping half of your colonies in tact and thereby minimizing the overall impact to your bio-system.
  3. One common form of filtration that I won't get into deeply would be under-gravel filters. While this method is widely accepted in the hobby, it is not recommended for an African Cichlid tank. This filter works by drawing water down through the substrate via a plastic grid under the gravel and back through tubes into the aquarium.

    Waste and uneaten food is trapped in the gravel, bacteria breaks down this debris and converts it to less harmful gasses. African Cichlids are notorious for digging up the substrate and if a portion of the grid is exposed, it will greatly deplete its effectiveness making it dangerous to the fish.

Aquarium Filter Reviews - Best Canister Filters Reviewed.

Common types of filtration; (there are other types but these 3 encompass 90% of what's used)

best aquarium filters






 Power Filter

  • Impeller type motor
  • Often incorporates a bio wheel that provides an excellent bio surface
  • Most accommodate multiple types of media

 Hang on Back

  • Inexpensive initial investment
  • Easy to service
  • Simple design usually means very reliable
  • Visible (to some quite unsightly)
  • Media is typically prepackaged and therefore expensive over time
  • Some designs can be noisy

 Canister Filter

  • Impeller type motor
  • Fully sealed system
  • Several media options

 Usually in the cabinet below tank

  • You can use bulk media deferring cost over time
  • Very quiet
  • Very efficient use of media
  • Not visible
    Expensive initial investment
      More difficult to service
        Requires water to exit tank making it possible for accidents

         Wet -Dry System

        • Most take the form of a sump style tank
        • Provide trays for many media options
        • Pump power is typically not integral to the system

        Located in cabinet below tank

        Used in conjunction with an overflow system either built into the tank or hung on back

        • Perhaps the most efficient system
        • Provides for all 3 filtering types
        • Provides for the most extensive bio area
        • Increases effective water volume
        • Not Visible
        • Easy to service
          Expensive initial investment
            Most require the purchase of an additional pump (usually submersible)
              Requires water to exit tank making it possible for accidents

              Filter Substrates

              The substrate is the material used to cover the bottom of the tank. If you visit your LFS, you will notice that most, if not all tanks, have gravel as the substrate. This is impart due to the wide use of the previously mentioned under-gravel filter systems which are the most cost effective for the store.

              Because more and more African Cichlid enthusiast no longer use under-gravel filters, it has become common place to use sand in the African Cichlid tank. Sand provides for a natural, clean look and the fish absolutely love it. My fish spend half of the day grazing for food and the other re-arranging the substrate. Because of the density of the sand, debris tends to collect on the surface making it very easy to clean. Sand, like gravel, is available in many different colors. I've seen everything from pure white, to gold, tan, brown and even black. You can even supplement the sand with crushed coral or shells to improve the look and PH buffering ability.

              Sources of sand varies from the LFS to home improvement stores and landscaping suppliers. There are 2 basic compositions available, Aragonite and Silica. Aragonite has the added advantage of buffering your PH ... another subject covered in the chemistry portion of this article. I have read several times in the forums that Silica based sand tends to harbor algae growth but have not found that to be the case.

              If you choose to use sand there are a couple of considerations to keep in mind. First of all be sure that the grains are fairly uniform in size and not too fine. Secondly, if your tap water is low in PH, it may be worth it to find Aragonite based sand to aid in buffering the desired higher ph that your cichlids require. And perhaps the most important advise I can give you, clean it extremely well prior to placing it in the tank and when your sure you have it clean, clean it again.  

              The method I used was to fill a 5 gallon bucket about 1/3 full with the sand. Using a garden hose, I filled the bucket with water and let it overflow while agitating the sand with my hand. I would then dump the excess water and do it again until the water remained clear no mater how much it stirred things up. You repeat this until you have enough sand for your tank.

              How much is the right amount of sand? To have a uniform 2-3 inches of sand, you will require about 1 pound of sand per gallon of tank capacity. A little more or less depending on the shape of your tank.

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