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The Best Aquarium Filter Media for 2021

best aquarium filter media

It is very difficult to maintain an aquarium without using a filtration system, and it is not something I would recommend for beginners and casual aquarists. For most folks, an aquarium should have an efficient filtration system. This means you need to use the best aquarium filter media.

The filter media is responsible for catching most, if not all, of the solid waste suspended in the water. It can, therefore, keep the water clean so that your fish will always be healthy and happy in their artificial surroundings.

Unfortunately, you do not simply buy just any filter media and expect it to work flawlessly. Some brands are just better than others, and it is up to you to find out which ones they are.

In this article, you will be learning about the qualities and features that you can expect from a good quality aquarium biological filter media. If you are starting a new aquarium or looking for a solution that is always cloudy, then this guide can help you find the ideal filter media to use. Let’s start with product reviews.

Best Aquarium Filter Media Reviews

1. Aquatic Experts Aquarium Filter Media Pad

aquatic experts aquarium filter media pad

One of the reasons why I love using this replacement filter media is that it has two layers of filtration. The top part is a bit loose and has just the right porosity to catch the larger bits of waste floating in the water. The bottom is several times finer. This allows it to catch the smaller, microscopic particles that passed the first layer.

Speaking of filtering, the first time I used this filter medium, it drastically improved the quality of the tank water. The water used to be a bit cloudy, but after changing my filter media to this brand and using a couple of aquarium water conditioners, the water turned clear after an hour or two.

I am also glad that I can cut this filter media to the right shape and size that will fit any filtration system. Just grab a previously used filter sheet, place it over the new medium, and cut along the sides. It does not matter what brand or model of filtration you have. You can custom-make aquarium filter media pads for it using this product.

This product is also not just for one-time use. You can wash and reuse this filter multiple times until it significantly loses its effectiveness at filtering. You can bet that this would not unravel after just one or two washings. In my experience, it takes around 3 to 5 times before you need to replace this product.

Now, what I do not like, or at the very least, I am annoyed with is the seemingly inconsistent durability of this product. There are times when I need to replace the filter medium after 2 to 3 washings and other times, this product lasts up to 6 to 7 washings.

Pros
  • The product has two layers for efficiency
  • Can fit into any filter system
  • One package may last a long time
  • Effectively removes solid particles in the water
  • Can work in almost all brands of filter systems
Cons
  • Somewhat inconsistent durability and length of use

With the overall makeup and construction of this filter media, it would be like you are getting two different filters for the price of one. This product may be on the upper levels when it comes to price, but it is more than worth the money in my opinion.

2. AQUANEAT Aquarium Bio Balls Filter Media

aquaneat aquarium bio balls filter media

Other brands of bio-balls cost several times the price of this product, and this is already a bit expensive. With that in mind, you know that you will be getting more than your money’s worth already with this one. Although these bio-balls are smaller than the regular options, you can still expect them to work more efficiently.

As mentioned, these bio-balls are smaller than the ones you can usually find in aquarium supply stores. Despite their smaller sizes, they still have more surface area, thanks to the bio sponge inside each bio ball. This makes them more efficient at filtering solid particles. They also have more real estate for growing beneficial bacteria.

This product is also quite easy to use, even without consulting the instructions. You just treat it like any regular aquarium filter medium and place it in line with the water flow of the filtration system. If you notice that the bio-balls are losing efficiency, just rinse them in clean water and they will work like new.

Because these bio-balls are much smaller than regular ones, you can make them fit better inside filtration systems. Because more of these bio-balls can fit in the same amount of space, they make the aquarium filter a lot more efficient.

Aside from the rather steep price, which is, of course, subjective, there is nothing too serious that warrants a complaint. This product does what it advertised it would do, and more. It comes highly recommended, especially for aquariums that produce a lot of waste.

Pros
  • You will be getting a lot of Bio-balls per package
  • Completely safe for fresh and saltwater tanks
  • Easy to use and maintain
  • Smaller size while still providing more surface area
  • Fits all filtration systems
Cons
  • A bit pricey, but not by that much

These bio-balls are among the best filter media for reef tanks. They can fit in any filtration system plus they are reusable and can naturally control ammonia and nitrates. Although this product is a bit on the expensive side, you will surely be getting the most out of your money.

3. Aquapapa Biological Ceramic Rings Filter Media

aquapapa biological ceramic rings filter media

Unlike other filter media that you have to prepare before use, this requires nothing of the sort and you can use it straight out of the box. You will be receiving six bags of ceramic rings. Aside from rinsing them underwater, you do not need to do anything else before putting them into your filtration system.

The design of the ceramic rings allows water to pass freely through the mesh bag. In the process, the solid bits of waste products get caught on the porous rings. This allows you to use it for much longer than you would regular filter media. If it seems that your aquarium is a bit cloudier than normal, then use this product to clear up the water.

Moreover, the ceramic rings have porous surfaces, giving each ring an impressive amount of surface area. The more surface area, the better it is at catching solid waste particles. There is also more space for cultivating beneficial nitrifying bacteria, so you will no longer have any problems with ammonia and nitrates.

Another nice thing about this product is that you can use it multiple times. Most filter media, including this one, recommend that you replace the ceramic rings after 6 months of use. On the other hand, some brands say you can use them indefinitely.

When it comes to serious complaints, I have none. This product performed as expected, and more. In my case, not only did these ceramic rings help keep the water clean, but they also kept ammonia and nitrates almost always down to zero.

Pros
  • Ready to use straight out of the box
  • Allows smooth flow and prevents clogging
  • Porous material with a lot of surface area
  • Completely safe for saltwater and freshwater setups
  • Reusable and washable
Cons
  • Nothing to complain about – This product is legitimately effective

If you are a newbie aquarium keeper, or even if you have a couple of years’ worth of experience, I highly recommend this product. You can use it as either a replacement filter media or have it work in line with your existing filters. By doing that, there is a guarantee that you will have a crystal-clear tank.

4. Poly Filter Poly-Bio-Marine Filter Media Pad

poly filter poly-bio-marine filter media pad

The thing that I loved the most about this filter media is that it does not only effectively filter out contaminants from the water but also changes color to tell you what chemicals it filtered out from your tank. It removes harmful organic materials, ammonia, phosphates, and heavy metals.

This product is so efficient at filtering contaminants that it greatly reduces the number of times you need to change the water. I used to do weekly partial water changes, but after using this filter media, I now only do partial changes every month. Sometimes, if the toxin levels are not that high, I change the water every other month.

This filter can work with both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Unlike other brands of filter media, this does not break down in saltwater. Other filters deteriorate when exposed to high salt concentrations, thereby adding to the contaminants that the filters have to remove supposedly.

Another nice thing that I liked about this aquarium mechanical filter media is that it does not only filter out contaminants but also gets rid of other chemicals. I had to medicate my fish one time, and this filter got rid of the excess medicine from the water. It also did not take that long. After less than an hour, my aquarium is clear again.

The only thing that I am a bit annoyed with is that the color chart is a bit confusing, especially between the tan and brown transition. Other than that, I do not have anything significant to complain about. This product delivered on its promises and more.

Pros
  • Changes color depending on what it catches
  • Minimizes the need for water changes
  • Can work in both freshwater and saltwater tanks
  • Can fit in most filters without alteration
  • Filters chemicals out of the water
Cons
  • Color changes are a bit confusing even with the color chart

This product is one option for the best biological filter media freshwater that I have used so far. This product does not just filter contaminants out of the water but also tells you what chemicals it took out. This is ideal for aquarists who like to keep tabs on their tanks.

5. NEW EYES Bio Balls Aquarium Pond Filter Media

new eyes bio balls aquarium pond filter media

The thing that I found unique and also quite interesting about this product is that it contains different kinds of filter media – 11 to be exact. Each type of filter pellet does different jobs to help keep the water in the aquarium clear and clean.

Since I started using this product, I only needed to do partial water changes once a month, and all my fish are healthy and they all seem happy. If you are a beginner or experienced aquarium keeper, you should use this product to decrease all the hassle connected to the hobby significantly.

It doesn’t even matter if you have a saltwater or a freshwater aquarium as this product comes highly recommended as one of the best bio media for canister filters and the like. Unlike other filter media, it will not deteriorate when exposed to saltwater.

The different kinds of filter pellets all work together to create a stable underwater environment suitable for all kinds of fish. Aside from that, it works in keeping the water clear.

You will also be able to use this product for a long time. The instructions state that you need to replace it after six months. However, if you regularly wash and take care of them, the filter pellets can last for at least a year before you have to switch them out for new ones.

The only thing I did not like about it is the mesh bag that the filter pellets came with. The material is so thin that you can easily rip it open by just using your hands. If you leave the mesh inside your filter system for too long, the strands get weak and brittle.

Pros
  • The package comes with 11 different kinds of filter media
  • Helps stabilize the pH levels of the water
  • Increases the oxygen level of the water
  • Ideal for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums
  • Easy to use, reusable, and durable
Cons
  • The mesh bag that comes with the filter media is easy to rip

The filter media itself works quite well, but you need to replace the bag with something a bit more robust. When the bag inevitably bursts open, you will spend hours picking individual bio-balls and ceramic pellets inside your filter system.

6. Marineland White Diamond Filter Media

marineland white diamond filter media

My aquarium always had an ammonia problem and as a result, I have lost quite a few fish. I have tried a lot of products to control or eliminate ammonia, and only a few worked great, including this one.

This is the best bio media for freshwater not only because it got rid of the excessive amounts of ammonia, but also prevented ammonia spikes from happening again. It should form part of every new aquarium because it just works.

I used this when I started a new freshwater tank with goldfish, and everyone knows how much waste these fishes make. Thanks to the Marineland White Diamond. the ammonia levels did not rise beyond the safe levels. This is truly one of the best filter media for goldfish.

Aside from eliminating ammonia in aquariums, other people found other uses for this product. One of the popular uses is for deodorizing kitty litter. This product is so efficient at removing ammonia that it can almost render kitty litter odorless depending on how much you use.

This aquarium eliminates most of the work that goes into keeping an aquarium working flawlessly. Because you do not need to monitor the tank for ammonia quite as often as before, that is one task you can cross out from your almost never-ending list of aquarium maintenance tasks.

What I did not like, though, is that this product still contained a bit of dust. It would have been better if it came pre-washed. You need to rinse it well before you can use it on your aquarium. On the other hand, if you will be using it on your kitty litter, then there’s no need for rinsing.

Pros
  • Effectively removes ammonia
  • Ideal for new starter aquariums
  • Does not contain as much dust as others
  • Ideal for other odor-eliminating uses
  • Keeps the aquarium clean and safe for fish
Cons
  • Still contains dust

Although you will need to prepare this product before putting it inside your filter, it is a worthwhile compromise if you consider the benefits. If you want to keep your fish safe from sudden ammonia spikes and make your aquarium somewhat low-maintenance, then I think this product is for you.

7. Hygger Aquarium Ceramic Bio Media

hygger aquarium ceramic bio media

Although it is not as flexible as other filter media, these “bricks”, when stacked together can efficiently filter solid waste particles. Even the microscopic bits that make the water cloudy cannot pass through this filter media. If you want a crystal-clear tank, use this media in your sump.

These bricks are not smooth. They are quite rough and porous, which means every one of them has a lot of surface area. This is ideal because there will be a lot of space for nitrifying bacteria to latch onto and grow. This way, you are not only mechanically filtering your aquarium, but also removing harmful toxins and chemicals in the water.

As mentioned earlier, this product can filter chemicals from the water, including ammonia and nitrates. Technically, it is not the one that gets rid of ammonia but the bacteria that grow on the bricks. These are beneficial bacteria that process the ammonia and nitrates from the water and convert them into harmless nitrites.

These bricks measure 6.2 inches long, which is the perfect size for stacking inside a sump system chamber. However, if you do not have a sump tank, you can break these bricks into smaller sizes, place them in a nylon mesh bag, and use them on any filtration system.

This is one of the best filter media for a canister filter, which is why I can’t say a lot of bad things about it. However, if I had to mention one thing, it is that you cannot use it on saltwater tanks. Using this on a reef tank will cause the pH level of the water to spike. This is not much of an issue because all you have to do is avoid using this product.

Pros
  • Efficiently filters solid particles
  • Allows beneficial bacteria to grow and thrive
  • Can be broken to size
  • Reusable and durable
  • Keeps ammonia and nitrites in check
Cons
  • Not suitable for saltwater aquariums

If you have a sump tank, it will be in your tank’s best interest to use this filter media in the first intake compartment. This filter media not only catches solid waste particles but also lets nitrifying bacteria grow on its surface so it also gets rid of ammonia and nitrates.

8. Pinky Filters Pond Media Pads

pinky filters pond media pads

When I first received this product in the mail, I was quite surprised at how much material I got. There was a total of 4 square feet of material in the package. Since I only use about half a square foot at any one time and this filter is reusable, I am set for aquarium filters for at least a year.

This filter media is made in such a way that it will seem like you are using two kinds of filters. The white side of the filter pad is made of rather loosely woven fibers, and the pink side has a tighter weave. The white part catches the bigger particles while the pink layer deals with the particles that managed to get through.

Because this comes in a large sheet, you will need to cut this filter media to the right size and shape. This might seem like a complaint but that is not the case. This is great because this means you can use it on virtually all brands of aquarium filters. You do not need to buy a proprietary filter system to use this product.

If you have a sump tank, then you are probably annoyed by the constant dripping water coming from the overflow from the main tank. If you place this over the first sump compartment, it will help muffle the sound of the water coming from the main tank while starting to clean the water at the same time.

Although this product is great for mechanical filtering, it does nothing to help with denitrifying the water. It is better if you use this filter media alongside other products that let beneficial bacteria. This will help keep your aquarium safe and clean for your finned fishy friends.

Pros
  • You will be getting a lot of filter media in one package
  • Comes with a dual-layer configuration
  • Can be cut into any filter system
  • Muffles the sound of your sump tank or filter system
  • Safe for use in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums
Cons
  • Does not help reduce ammonia and nitrates

This is one of the most economical but still quite efficient filter media you can buy right now. This works well in catching solid waste particles, even the smaller bits that make the tank water cloudy. If you want to keep your aquarium clean and clear on a budget, then this product is for you.

9. Reefing Art Bio Filter Rings Ceramic Media

reefing art bio filter rings ceramic media

Each of these ceramic rings has rough and porous textures, thereby giving them a large amount of surface area. This means that biofilm has a lot of surfaces where it can latch onto and grow. Within this biofilm are different strains of bacteria that help keep the aquarium safe and livable by all your fish.

Speaking of surface area, this also means that these rings are excellent at mechanically filtering out solid particles out of the water. Having a lot of surface area means there are more places where the solid particles can stick onto.

These rings can also remove microscopic bits of solid waste suspended in the water. With that, expect the cloudy water to become clearer almost immediately. Each package of rings has a rate of 40 gallons of water, so you can use several bags if you have a large tank.

In addition, if you start noticing that the filter media is no longer working as efficiently as it once did, you can “recharge” them by rinsing them under clean water. Just be careful not to wash them too much as you do not want to get rid of the nitrifying bacteria colonies.

You will also get a durable nylon mesh bag for easier use and maintenance. Unlike the other cheaper brands, the nylon bag that came with the package will not deteriorate even after a long time of being exposed to the water. The zipper that closes the bag is also plastic, so it will not rust.

The only thing that might be worth having an issue with this product is the price. This product is a bit more expensive compared to the other filter media. The good news is that you will also be getting an efficient filter that performs not just mechanical filtration but chemical filtration as well.

Pros
  • Each ring has a lot of surface area
  • Each mesh bag of rings is useful for every 40 gallons of water
  • Provides a viable environment for beneficial bacteria to grow
  • Comes with a durable mesh bag for easier use
  • Does not contain any metals, making it safe for both freshwater and saltwater
Cons
  • A bit on the expensive side

Price can be subjective, but most aquarium keepers would agree that this product is pricier than others. Despite that, you will still like the fact that you will be investing in something that will not only help keep your aquarium clean but also provides a healthier environment for your fish.

10. EDOTFISH Bio Balls Filter Media

edotfish bio balls filter media

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this filter media is a dozen different types of material mixed in one bag. Aside from bio-balls, there are also ceramic rings, lava rocks, and others.

The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all porous, which means they have a lot of surface area. This further means that they are great at mechanical filtration.

As mentioned, this filter media can greatly reduce the amount of solid waste and debris floating in the aquarium. They might not look like whey would be as effective as filter pads. The reason is that the sheer amount of surface area on each type of media makes them much better at trapping small particles and debris.

Another nice thing about this product is that it provides nitrifying bacteria on a lot of surfaces where they can latch onto and grow. The more of these bacteria are in your filtration system, the clearer the water in your aquarium will be after a couple of hours, sometimes even sooner.

Because of the increased amount of surface area, there will also be more nitrifying bacteria to counter the rising levels of ammonia and nitrate, which will surely happen a bit later after starting your aquarium. With this filter media, the likelihood of dangerous ammonia and/or nitrate spikes will be quite low.

The only issue I have with this product is that it needs thorough washing before use. There is a lot of dust from the different materials mixed inside the bags. Sometimes, there are also some shells and corals that can be dangerous to freshwater fish.

Pros
  • Contains 12 different filter media
  • Can last up to six months
  • All filter media are rough and porous
  • Can efficiently filter solid particles and debris from the aquarium
  • Helps lower the ammonia and nitrate levels
Cons
  • Needs to be thoroughly washed

This product might need a bit of preparation beforehand. However, it is still one of the best filter media for the freshwater aquarium I have used thus far. Once fully cycled, this filter media will help keep your aquarium clean and safe for all the fish and other living organisms in it for months.

What to Look For When Buying a Aquarium Filter Media

aquarium biological filter media

Here are some of the features that you need to keep an eye out for when you are shopping for new aquarium filter media.

Porosity

The more porous a material is, the better it will be at mechanically filtering solid particles and debris that are floating in the water. In addition, the immense amount of surface area is ideal for cultivating colonies of beneficial nitrifying bacteria.

This means the filter is not solely a mechanical one. It can now also help convert the harmful ammonia and nitrates into harmless nitrites.

Ease of Use

As much as possible, get a product that you can use straight out of the bag or at least requires very little preparation before use. Ideally, you should be able to use the product straight out of the bag.

Another thing that you need to consider is how the product fits into your filtration system. Is the product pre-cut to fit inside your filtration system, or do you need to cut it to size? If you will be using bio-balls or rings, they should come in a mesh bag for convenient placement, and it will also make it easier to clean them.

Price

If you are on a tight budget, then you should get a filter media that fits in your price range. You will surely get what you paid for, but this does not necessarily mean that the cheaper filter media are vastly inferior to the expensive ones.

Shop around and check customer reviews. You will surely find a product that will exceed your expectations and still fit your budget.

Effectiveness

The true test of a filter media is how well it does its job. Now, there is no way for you to test how a product would work, but you can check out customer reviews for it and see if it has mostly positive comments.

Frequently Asked Questions

aquarium filter media pads

How Often Should you Change Aquarium Media?

It will depend on the aquarium. If the solid waste load is high, then you will need to replace the filter media more often even if it is reusable. This is especially true if you will be using filter pads as they deteriorate faster than bio-balls/pellets.

How Much Bio-Media Per Gallon?

This usually depends on the manufacturer, so you should check the label before you buy the product. Typically, you can use one bag of bio-filter media for a 40-gallon fish tank or smaller.

Conclusion

There are many kinds of saltwater and freshwater aquarium filter media that you can choose from, but take note that they do not all work the same. Since you made it this far, that means that you now know what to look for when you are shopping for aquarium supplies.

Using the best aquarium filter media will ensure that your aquarium will always be clean. More importantly, it will make sure that your fish are all healthy and happy.

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