First off I’m all about saving money. Do not fall to Media Hype! If you use any of these and you have cycled aquarium with 0 Ammonia 0 nitrites and have some nitrates there is NO need to upgrade. You do not “need” to change bio media as all of these worked. ALL WORKED! In fact, if you used any bio media(even those not listed below) and have those parameters there is no need to change. You may want to change for easier maintenance, but if you’re not struggling there’s no reason to change.
Secondly, In general, this is my experience and what I feel comfortable recommending.
If you are too busy/lazy to read, my favorites are Hydroton(expanded clay balls) and Sponges. And you can skip to down below for why.
I am writing this post because many YouTubers with a few exceptions kinda avoid the question “What is the best bio media?”. Joey “The King of DIY” has a video of his favorites. Mike at DIYaquapros has a video of his favorites. Joey and Mike are out to give you an Idea of what is available for a DIY. But others don’t really go in depth about it because quite frankly it all works.
Pondguru talks about Biohome and gives some convincing reasons why bio home is the best media, based on nitrate reduction. But I have heard a few arguments against his science. But I have never used it, the pricing and availability make it an unwise choice for me.
So, what is bio media? Bio media is the primary the home of beneficial bacteria in an aquarium. Beneficial Bacteria is the engine of the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle is the process of converting ammonia to nitrite and eventually to nitrates. This conversion is important as ammonia and nitrites are toxic to fish. While fish will tolerate nitrates in low levels.
So what makes good bio media?
Many will say surface area and I agree; The more surface area the less media you will need. But if you have the room why should this be the only criteria? As mentioned in my previous post I think many have too much filtration devoted to biological filtration. Even though surface area is important, I believe other criteria should be taken into consideration. Setup-if it is a “DIY” media. Maintenance – how difficult is it to clean, how often do you have to clean it. Durability – will it need to be replaced anytime soon. Overall Value – based on cost.
I’m going to be giving an number from 1 – 10 for each of these categories: Setup, Maintenance, Durability, Value. The medias below I have tested in either a canister, overhead sump, hob, filter sponge filter and cornerbox.
Generic Pumice gravel (I don’t recommend) – There are a few videos that review Seachem Matrix and some of the negatives were this is just pumice gravel. I have not used Seachem matrix. But if Seachem Matrix is not just pumice gravel, it has to be really nice a premium pumice gravel cause it’s nothing like the generic pumice I purchased. Because I’m so cheap I decide to go to my local nursery and buy a bag of generic pumice gravel and try it out. It may be an issue of brand, but I didn’t have success with the brand I purchased. So if you have to search for a specific brand, I feel that I’d rather just buy another media instead of search for a specific brand/type of pumice gravel.
- Setup – 1 – this stuff sucks the size ranges in the bag from sand to maybe 1/4 inch at best. I had to sift it to get the sand out and while sifting a lot of the larger parts broke down further. Eventually I had enough to fill a tray in my canister filter.
- Maintanence – 1 – It clogged pretty easily trapping poop and food and overall this stuff was difficult to rinse.
- Durability – 1 – The only bio media I have thrown out.
- Overall Value – 1 – I only put it in this blog post to warn people to stay clear. This is very different from matrix. I wish I didn’t follow the negative reviews of Seachem Matrix.
Plastic bio balls – I got these with a combo pack with ceramic rings. Used it in with other media in my canister filter.
- Setup – 10 – literally the easiest to rinse
- Maintenance – 6 – these are designed not to clog and because for this if it gave the best flow compared to other medias. But because these are designed no to clog my concern would be when rinsed do you wash away a lot of bacteria. Would you go through a mini cycle after rinsing this media. The mini cycle makes this difficult to rate.
- Durability – 10 – these are very durable
- Overall Value – 7 & 4 – I would use these again depending on filtration method. These are perfect in an emerged filtration such as a trickle tower, shower filter or whatever. In a submerged like a canister I would give this a 4. I feel in canister filter there are other medias that have more surface area and have other advantages.
Ceramic Rings – I got Fluval ceramic rings and cheaper chinese rings in a combo pack. The quality control on the Fluval rings were obviously better there were any broken rings. The cheap rings were cheap many came broken. *Sarcasm Alert* Bacteria tend to shy away from broken ceramic rings lol. Reminder: Bacteria do not care what it’s growing on! Broken or Whole it doesn’t matter to bacteria.
- Setup – 9 – Rinse and go not much to say
- Maintenance – 8 – These were easy to rinse. These get a higher rating than plastic bio balls just because I feel that the bacteria can cling better to the media making it a little less susceptible to mini cycles.
- Durabilty – 10 and 7 – The cheap ones broke and the fluval ones didn’t.
- Overall Value – 3 – These are pricier than many of the other medias. I did not throw these away. But in general I found other media with similar performance for much much less.
Lava Rock – In the DIY forums I would say that this is the highest recommend bio media. It’s cheap and modifiable. You can use it as tank decor this stuff works. Joey goes over this in depth on his video.
- Setup – 6- Requires a lot of rinsing. It can be broken up into smaller gravel to fit into canister trays.
- Maintenance – 6 – This stuff is jagged and catch a lot of debris. but with good mechanical filtration it may be a non issue. The rough edges has potential to scratch your hands with manual agitation lol. *ouch* and it’s heavy.
- Durability – 8 – this stuff is durable as durable as any of the other medias.
- Overall Value – 7 – Overall this stuff is cheap and there is a reason why it’s the highest recommended. Yes it has lower setup and maintenance scores than other, but if in a proper set up those become negligible. Would I use it again, I highly recommend it and I have not found a real reason to use anything else.
Hydroton (highly recommended) – This stuff has a ton of names: Leca(lightweight expanded clay aggregate), Expanded Clay, Clay Pebbles and many more. I think this isn’t recommend as much as lava rock because honestly not many people know about it or even tried it. This stuff is inert and is mainly used in hydroponics and aquaponics grow beds. This stuff is cheap. In fact, my first trial of this stuff was free from a hydroponics shop. This media is regular in shape and a lot of it can fit in a canister tray. Because it has such a regular shape and it can be packed tightly in a filter tray, it has potential for higher surface area than others. Per filter tray it probably has more surface area than lava rock.
- Setup – 8 – It’s a slightly lower score than ceramic rings, because it’s dusty and needs to be rinsed. But still gets a high number because it’s easy to clean and it doesn’t need to be smashed like lava rock. Some of it does float a first but once water logged it sinks. I found these to be the perfect size for a lot of application right out of the bag.
- Maintenance – 8 – very easy to rinse and no jagged sharp edges like lava rock. It’s lighter than lava rock. So carrying a canister filter filled with this. The round shape lead to less clogging and the round shape made it easy to rinse.
- Durability – 9 – it’s lighter than lava rock, but still very durable. And it’s a ceramic media. I haven’t thrown any of it away.
- Overall Value – 9 – at about a dollar and change a liter a Sunsun HW-304b canister filter can be filled up for about $6 worth of media. Because it’s originally intend as a hydroponic substrate, this stuff inspires ideas like the aquaponics setups in this blog. I have used it in emerged settings, in a corner box filter, in a canister, in a hob, and in an overhead sump. This is hands down my favorite pure biological media.
Sponge (highly recommended) – Wait… sponges are bio media? Yes! There is a reason why many fishrooms and local fish shop use sponge filters; They are very effective biomedia And mechanical filtration. It’s no secret I love sponge filters, but as strictly a canister filter media; I believe sponges have a lot to offer over other filter media. It may not have the as much surface area as the other media but it has some very interesting properties the other media doesn’t have.
- Setup – 9 – Sponges can be cut to fit any canister filter tray, hob on back filter, or any other media compartment. Sponges compress to fill in all the gaps of a the tray etc. creating no gaps. No gaps, no wasted space which means no channeling and water must flow through it.
- Maintenance – 6 – It’s advantage is also it’s disadvantage. Because it has mechanic filtration properties sponge will trap a lot of debris. So it does need to rinsed out often, but in general it very easy to clean.
- Durability – 7 – compared to other media sponges may need to be replaced more often. but compared to other mechanical filter media polyfil filter floss this last a very long time.
- Overall Value – 9 – Pricing varies on sponges, but because it performs double duty as both mechanical and biological filtration. Sponges are at the top of my list. Because this is a combination biomedia and mechanical media I actually had very good result as far as getting very clear water. As recommended in my previous post I highly suggest sponge prefilters. I’ve used them as baffles in overhead sumps. I’ve seen them used as matten filters, and matten prefilters. Because this is a combination biomedia and mechanical media I actually had very good result as far as getting clear water.
Once again these thoughts in general are based on my experience and what I am comfortable recommending. At the end of the day, If I could have give the beginner me instructions on how to setup a filter. I would have told him use a combination of Polyfil(mechanical media), Sponge(bio/mechanical media), Hydroton(bio media), and Purigen(chemical when needed).