What’s a aquarium sponge filter and what is it used for?
A sponge filter is simple, but one of the most effective ways to provide filtration for aquarium water. It’s also a form of filtration, which is often overlooked by many aquarium keepers. This is due to the fact they are so simple and appear unnecessary. This article is based on successful use of these filters for over 30 years now.
A sponge filter is a porous type of material, which draws water towards and through the sponge. As water passes through the sponge, larger debris is blocked from entering the sponge and only small particles will be let through. This is also the part of the debris, which contains good bacteria and is used within the aquarium to get and keep the water cycled. Because of the nature of how the porous material is designed, these sponge filters can hold a very large amount of this good bacteria.
This good bacteria is known as aerobic bacteria, which lives in the pores material and feeds on nitogenous ammonia and nitrites waste suspended in the water.
ATI Sponge Filter videos at the end of this article.
How do they work?
Water is pulled through the filter media one of two ways. If using an air pump on a sponge filter, the water is drawn into the filter by lift, which is caused by air bubbles floating up from the pump. These bubbles lift the water up and out of the lift tube attached to the filter. This is cause for a nice easy circulation around the filter.
The sponge filter can also be used as a pre-filter on some type of a motorized filter like a hang-on-the-back. With this method of using the sponge, water is still drawn into the sponge via the HOB filter. The big difference between the two is flow rate and how the water tension around the filter is affected. The sponge being used as a pre-filter, will have more flow than a sponge ran by a air pump. Some filters need these sponge pre-filter to operate properly, so a sponge is a great option. Also, because the flow is greater, a different design of a sponge is needed. A sponge with larger pores is recommend. Look for sponge filter advertised as a pre-filter.
Sponge filter design has a big impact on flow and versatility, such as the modular design first patented by Lustar then sold to ATI and now used for the AAP/ATI Hydro Sponge.
As well and even more important is the sponge material itself. Long time aquarium professional Carl Strohmeyer performed tests years back and found a profound difference in the capacity of most sponge materials. Even more recent tests involving how many times a sponge has to be rinsed before it runs clear have confirm this.
By far the clear winner is the AAP Hydro Sponge Filter, which means this filter can accumulate much more debris in mechanical filtration and has a much higher bio load than ANY OTHER Sponge filter on the market, well worth the couple more dollars these still American Made filters will cost over the imports [mostly from China].
Each AAP Hydro Sponge and Filter Max sponge filter come in a variety of sizes, based on size of the tank. Make sure to find the size sponge needed for aquarium size and design. Having a larger sponge than what is recommended never hurts also.
Best for methods
A air pump method of using a sponge filter would be best for:
- For a hospital aquarium
- Breeder or fry tank
- For fish, which prefer a lighter flow such as Discus or betta
- When simplicity is needed. Best for beginners
A power head method of using a sponge filter would be best for:
- Higher flow required
- Less water tension breaking releasing C02
- Cross currents are wanted
- For larger fish, which will be more destructive
- Marine reef applications
Know the recommend flow rate for the type of aquarium being kept. This will determine if a little flow from an air pump is needed or more flow from something like a power head or other filter is required.
A pre-filter method of using a sponge filter would be best for:
- When pre-filtration for another filter is required
- Any risk of small or weaker fish being pulled into an intake
- No sperate filter is wanted for the aquarium
Please note, there are aquarium sponge filters on the market, which have patented designs. This is due to a ability of being able to collect and hold good micro bacteria better. As well the better patented sponge filters sponge and flow design allows for better water movement within the sponge filter and a higher capacity of mechanical debris filtration.
This where differences will be seen in price and design.
The best of the best are the patented AAP Hydro Sponge Filters, sold via authorized sellers such as American Aquarium Products.
What are the pros and cons?
- A sponge filter can be considered a better filter for some aquarium types, because they strip away less Co2. This Co2 could be needed for a planted aquarium.
- Sponge filters have a very gentle flow, which is needed for tanks that contain species like shrimp.
- A sponge will prevent small animals to be sucked into a filter intake.
- Best choice for aquarium bowl. This is due to bio capacity, low flow, and safeness.
- A excellent snack for shrimp, crabs, and some fish.
- Fish love to hide fry on sponge filter
- One of the only ways a sponge filter can fall short is chemical filtration. The sponge will not allow for chemical upgrades if needed.
- Another con could be appearance. Some people don’t like the look of a sponge in an aquarium.
Seeding Aquarium- Another major advantage.
Another major advantage of a sponge filter, which deserves it’s own section, is the ability to use a sponge from an established to cycle a new aquariums. A used sponge can be placed in a higher flow area of a new tank to speed up the process of cycling a new tank. With this method and the use of cycle aids, a new tank can be fully cycled in a matter of days.
A new sponge can also be place right next to another sponge filter or in the substrate of the aquarium, which will seed it very quickly. This is excellent option if another sponge is needed quickly, for something like hospital tank.
Make sure to have regular maintenance of sponge filters. Because of this large bio-load they can hold, they can become Nitrate factories. During weekly maintenance of the aquarium, rinse the sponge in de-chlorine water and squeeze it out. It’s best to have more than one filter in the aquarium, so you can rinse one, one week and the other the next. Cleaning any filters, this should be in mind. Only clean one filter at a time. After a few months of use from the sponge, replace it with a new one.
As far as filters go, the sponge filter should be in every aquariums keepers tank. The sponge filter could either be the primary form of filtration, or it could be an excellent choice as a secondary form of filtration. Redundancy is very recommend for aquarium filtration. An sponge filter is an awesome way to have Redundancy. Also, consider a sponge filter for the multiple uses it does have. All scavengers love the sponge filter. Because of it’s bio-capacity of the sponge, this form of filter out perform most the rest.
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