When you first begin to setup an aquarium one of your first considerations should be the type of filtration you choose to employ. Freshwater and saltwater fish tanks alike both require quality filtration, depending on your goals and finished product. There are multiple types of filters available, including: biological, chemical and mechanical filtration. Fortunately it is possible, as well as highly recommended, to utilize more than one type of filtration, in order to create the most balance ecosystem possible. There are a few brands we strongly recommend in order to keep your tank running in tip top shape. Some of these modes of filtration come down to user preference, and whether or not you are running a high-tech, or low-tech tank.

  • Biological filtration develops over time, whether hobbyists are planning to put it in place, or not. This is because bacteria begins to colonize once you initially cycle an aquarium. Porous surfaces, such as most substrate, sponges and especially rocks, make the best home for said nitrifying bacteria. Biological filtration also includes plants, which sucks up the waste within your tank.
  • Chemical filtration includes products such as activated carbon, in order to neutralize impurities and remove medications. While it can be an important aspect, especially in emergency situations, many hobbyists prefer not to use them on a regular basis. Chemical filtration may be used on its own, or included as part of a mechanical filtration system, depending on the needs of the tank. However, once the carbon has been used to absorb these pollutants, it is virtually rendered useless.
  • Mechanical filtration takes advantage of a variety of methods in which to capture solid waste, ammonia and more. These aspects include sponges and ceramic media as part of mechanical filtration, just to name a few. The issue here is that something like a hang on back (or HOB) filter, is that they solely rely on an individual to physically clean it out on a regular basis. Another form of mechanical filtration includes canister filters, which provide a more powerful option to keep your tank running smoothly.

When you first begin to cycle your aquarium, the goal is to build up a colony of nitrifying bacteria. Like most life forms, aquariums and fish are both supported by strains of bacteria, in order to maintain balance and health. Nitrifying microorganisms take various forms of waste and process it through nitrification. This bacteria naturally forms colonies upon surfaces, including: glass walls, substrate, lava rock, driftwood, plants, sponges and more. Nitrifying bacteria is beneficial, and definitely something you are hoping to cultivate throughout the cycling process. Sponge filters are a great haven for this type of biological filtration, as it provides a large, porous space for bacteria to form upon.

Sponge filters are very beneficial to a variety of tanks, especially hospital and nursery tanks where a powerful flow may damage delicate fish. By providing a large sponge, this type of biological filtration utilizes an air pump and some small tubing, in order to run air through a vertical sponge. Large colonies of nitryfing bacteria are allowed to form, which eat up waste, and control ammonia levels between water changes. Some aquatic hobbyists prefer to use sponge filters, with no other forms of filtration, for goldfish, rams, shrimp and more.

Hang on back filters, or HOBs, utilize a plastic housing in which hobbyists may customize them to their needs, and taste. High-quality brands, including Fluval, also allow users to determine how much of an output flow creates enough surface agitation, without stressing out their fish. A long intake tube sucks up solid fish waste, decomposing plant leaves, etc., and runs it through various filter stages before it flows through the output, back into the aquarium. HOBs are widely used, and most commonly employ ceramic media (within a mesh bag), various sponges and activated carbon (which largely depends on the application).

Canister filters are a bit more involved in their initial setup, but run in a similar way to HOBs. The same idea of operation is employed, where a small motor brings water through an intake tube, filters it through multiple modes of filtration, before sending it back through to the aquarium with an output tube. Generally, a canister filter provides more surface area for bacteria to colonize upon, and provides superior filtration compared to a HOB, or simple sponge filter. While they are more pricey, they are also rather cost effective, and many models are nearly silent in comparison.