Best Aquarium Filter Media

The importance of filtration cannot be overstated. It is by far the most important phenomenon taking place in your aquarium that has the greatest bearing on the health and also the life span of your pets. While we pay a great deal of attention to the filters and protein skimmers in our tanks, one important subject that flies under the radar for many people is the filter media, which in fact is the working engine of the filter.

In today’s article, we will discuss in great detail about filter media. Then we will go into the options available to you in the market and layout their features.

What exactly is a filter media?

Think of your filtration unit in this way. The filter is the body. The filter is the muscles and bones. While the filtration media are the organs inside the body. The filter provides the space for the filtration media to be kept inside it and coordinates their functions meanwhile the filter media are the parts that actually do the real job which is filtration. In simple terms, filter media are the substances so designed as to carry out and help in the filtration process of your aquarium water.  Any substance that changes the quality of the water passing through it for good, is a filter media.

I think the definition alone tells us why exactly filtration media are important. The filtration media are the substances that actually carry out the process of filtration. A filter works in a way that it sucks in the water of the tank into it, whether you have an air-powered filter or electrical pump filter, every filter works that way. When the water is inside the filter, it is made to pass through the media basket before the water is pumped back into the tank. In the media basket, the water passes through the various filter media that have been kept by the owner. Accordingly, the filter media remove the physical debris from the water, remove the color, odor from the water and also provide shelter for bacteria that work to remove ammonium compounds and nitrates from the water.

Hence, a filter media carries out the filtration process. Simple as that.

Types of Filter Media

The filter media are divided into three types on the basis of the function they perform or let’s say on the basis of what part of filtration function they perform, the filter media are of three types:

Mechanical filter media

Mechanical filter media are those that remove the physical debris from the water. These work to remove the pieces of food that are left uneaten, solid fish excreta, or any other kind of solid, physical junk that may have collected in your tank. These are the most common types of filter media and almost every filter already has one. Maybe that is why you don’t find many variations in the market for independent mechanical filter media.

However, filter sponges and filter wool are two very popular kinds of mechanical filter media. All kinds of internal and external filters use fine, coarse, or both kinds of filter sponges to trap aquarium debris and not let them hamper with the rest of the filtration process. As we move into our products list, you will see in detail how this works.

Chemical filter media

The physical debris is the unwanted substances in the aquarium that can be more or less seen with our eyes. However, there are unwanted things that remain invisible to our naked eyes. The disintegrated food materials, various chemicals that add unwanted color and odor to your water can be filtered out by using chemical filter media. These come in the form of activated carbon or activated charcoal, resins, and also zeolites and work by adsorbing and absorbing such unwanted chemical impurities that are dissolved in your aquarium water. However, many users have complained about activated carbon breaking down and further clouding the water causing as much harm as it causes benefit. So, these are slowly being pushed out of the market while other chemical media products are being phased in. However, we do not recommend using Zeolite in an amateur aquarium.

Biological filter media

Biological filtration refers to the process of nitrogen fixation by useful bacteria inside the tank. The bacterial colony present inside the tank converts the ammonium waste, which is the main excretory product of fish and almost every aquatic animal, into nitit3s a d finally into less harmful nitrates. Biological filter media do not actually carry out the nitrogen cycle. They provide a shelter, a home where the bacteria that carry out the biological filtration can grow and divide. Ceramic rings and bio-balls are famous biological filter media.

However, during water changes, we must keep in mind that if we throw out the complete biological filter media, it may lead to the beneficial bacteria colony being completely wiped out. A new colony will take time to set up and this may also lead to cloudiness in water.

Best Aquarium Filter Media

Here is the list of 6 best filter media available in the market.

Aquatic experts aquarium filter pad 

Our first product comes from Aquatic Experts, a company that works solely in this sector of producing goods that enhance the purity of the water in your tank and keep your pets safe and healthy. And this is a very simple but very effective product.

Basically, what this is, is a roll of creatively made filter pad that provides mechanical filtration for your aquarium water.  It comes in various sizes, or let’s say it comes in various lengths of the roll. We have the smallest roll at 12 inches of width and 1 foot of length that comes in a package of 5 and is 1 inch thick. Moving upwards we have the second size, 12 inches of width, and 12 feet of length. It is ¾ inches to 1 inch thick. Then we have the one which is 12 inches in width but 24 feet in length with ¾ inches to 1 inch of thickness. And finally, we have the one we are talking about right here, the medially sized roll, the 72 inches or 6 feet long roll. It too is 12 inches in width and ¾ inches to 1 inch in thickness. It is white in color which makes the trapped debris easy to be noticed and washed off.

The greatest thing about the Aquarium Expert Filter pad is how it is made. If you look at it sideways you will clearly see that there are two distinct regions in the pad. The upper region is loosely packed and more expanded, like a bread loaf that has been kept to cool down after it has been freshly baked. While the lower region is more compact and tightly packed. This is by design and not by mistake and Aquatic Experts have named this the Dual Density Filter Roll. What you see here are 100% polyester fibers that are loosely packed in the top layer while they are processed to produce a thinner, denser, and very tight fiber network in the lower portion giving it two different density.

The top region, when the water passes through it, traps the larger and medium-sized debris. Then the water passes on to the lower portion with denser fibers. Here the minuter and finer particles that the filter may have missed out are trapped. Consequently, the water coming out from the other side is cleaner and free from unnecessary mechanical garbage. The material and the construction of the roll makes it stretchy just to the right amount and strong too, you wouldn’t have to worry about tearing it accidentally while fitting it. All the while, these rolls are wide and long enough and tensile enough to be cut into any shape and form you want. This makes it easy for you to cut them into pieces to exactly fit your canister filter. This saves you the extra cost if buying pre-cut, readymade filter material. These also work perfectly for all kinds of tanks, freshwater, saltwater, wet or dry filters, sumps, canister filters, and every kind.

The filter pad is so made that the water should be passed through the open side first. If you put the tighter side towards water first, then it catches all the finer particles first and gets easily clogged. Hence, place the open side upwards. You can also reuse it and this makes it an exceptional alternative to expensive filter cartridges. Another benefit is that it contains no dyes or chemicals that may leak into your tank, not even glue. It gives you clear, debris-free, and polished water.


  • Strong and just the right amount of tensile. These are durable and can be cut to fit the shape of your filter basket.
  • No chemicals, no glue, no dye. These add nothing harmful to your water.
  • These are reusable and environmentally friendly.
  • Incredibly cheap.  


  • Gets clogged up easily and may require changing more often than not.
  • Slightly slows down water flow.

Aquapapa bio sponge filter

Our second product too is a simple pad. However, the Aquapapa, which is a very catchy name, is just more than your run of the mill filter pad.

It comes in a plastic wrap and has only one size in the offering. It is 25 inches in length, 4.75 inches in width and ¾ inches in width. It comes in black color.

It is made up of synthetic sponge material. It is tough and you wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally tearing it. But it can still be cut by a pair of scissors and fit in any shape or form you want. A single roll of this is perfect for a small Hang on Back filter.

However, it is just mediumly coarse and not fine enough. It has 30 pores per inch making it slightly looser. What that means is that while it can trap larger and medium-sized waste materials in your water, it can and it will miss out smaller and finer particles. So you will still need to pair it with another finer filter pad for proper mechanical filtration. What makes it different from normal filter pads is that it also provides biochemical filtration as well.

Another great feature is that you can wash it with your hose and re use it again and again up to 16 times.


  • It is cheap and can be easily reused by washing under the flowing tap.
  • It is tough and durable but can also be easily cut to fit the filter baskets.
  • It also provides biochemical filtration apart from mechanical filtration.


  • It has a medium coarseness. It cannot trap finer and smaller debris.
  • Just like many filter pads, it requires frequent change because it gets clogged easily.

Encompass all premium polishing filter pad

This is a filter pad roll from the American company Encompass All that provides you with mechanical filtration.

It comes in a single, huge size. It is 24 inches wide and 36 inches in length, meanwhile it is only 0.125 inches thick making it very fine. You could make a mattress for your bed if you wanted to. Encompass All market it as a polishing filter pad and it is exactly that. It is a professional grade premium 50-micron polishing pad.

Since it is so fine, it does a great job of trapping extremely thin and fine debris and stopping the unnecessary particles to build up and spike ammonium levels in your tank. And like every other product featured in our list, this too is can be cut to fit into any size you wish to. However, the downside is that since it is so fine, you will need to pair it up with something coarser. Yes, you can still use it singly but since it is so fine it has high chances of getting clogged up pretty quickly. And unlike every other product featured on our list, this cannot be reused. You will have to throw it and cut a new piece after a single-use.


  • It can be cut to fit any shape and size for your filter baskets.
  • It is far more economical than many other polishing pads available in the market.
  • You can easily rely on it to trap finer debris particles in your tank water.


  • It gets clogged up real quickly and will have to be paired with larger pored, looser filter pads to elongate usage time.
  • It cannot be reused.

CNZ Aquarium Filter Media Kits

This is the fourth product on our list and this is the first product that encloses all three forms of filtration: mechanical, chemical as well as biological filtration. This kit is manufactured to cater to complete filtration solutions.

Now, first thing, when you go to Amazon to buy this you will see 6 options for purchase depending upon what exactly do you want to buy? You can buy just the activated carbon in 3 packs or a better deal in that would be carbon 5 packs in just a few more dollars. Or you can buy Carbon in a 5-pound pack or Carbon in a 10-pound pack. Then we come to the complete kits, where you can buy a “Double pack” that contains 2 bags each of activated carbon, ceramic rings as well as bio balls and just for a slightly higher price you can buy the “Triple pack” where you get three packs each of the carbon, ceramic rings, and bio balls. So it is up to you to choose what package you would want. Although all the packs cost less than or around $30, so it is a bargain in any way.

But what exactly do these stuff in the CNZ Aquarium Kits do and are they worth it? Well, first we have the activated carbon. These come in slender, cylindrical chalk sized sticks. These are meant for chemical filtration. Activated charcoal or carbon is meant to absorb the organic materials that form due to the disintegration of uneaten food or extra food that did nit get filtered off in the water. These also absorb the odor and unnecessary color from the water. However, these can be a bit sketchy as many customers have reviewed that the carbon bag is very dusty. However, this is not a new or unique problem as charcoal generally are always dusty. So you will need to rinse them off very, very well before putting them into your tank. And you will need to give it time. No matter how many times you rinse it, it is bound to have some dusty texture and your water will initially get a bit dusty. Let is settle and it will stabilize over time. Also, be careful if you are going to put the carbon in a bag under the waterfall type of filter as the bag is flimsy and may just disintegrate with time.

Next are the ceramic ring and the bio balls. What we must understand about biological filter media is, that these are primarily used so as to provide a suitable home for the beneficial bacteria that carry put nitrogen cycle in the tank. These provide the surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow. The ceramic rings and the bio balls both are biological filter media. The difference is that the ceramic rings are more porous than the balls, these have the larger surface area and hence grow more bacteria than the balls. However, the spherical balls due to their smaller surface area float. So, it is down to your personal usage and preference.

All in all the CNZ Aquarium Filter Media Kits provide reliable overall filtration albeit the carbon can cause the initial cleaning to be a bit of hard work.


  • Comes with a choice. You can purchase just the carbon for chemical filtration or the entire kit for a medium price.
  • Helps you clean off the coloration as well as odor from your tank water.
  • At the same time, the ceramic rings and bio-balls help cultivate beneficial bacteria.


  • The activated carbon or charcoal is quite dusty and causes cloudiness initially that may scare off owners.
  • You will need to get something else for effective mechanical filtration.

Marineland diamond blend media

MarineLand should not be a new name to you if you have had even the slightest of interests in aquarium keeping hobby and searched for various equipment over the internet. It is from them that our fifth filter media comes from, the Diamond Blend Filter Media.

Now the name of the product seems quite complicated and different from any other product we have featured until now. It’s not your simple filter pad that removes physical debris or your regular ceramic rings. What this is, is a mixture of charcoal or activated carbon and zeolite. It is named Black Diamond Blend for its appearance. The zeolite particles are silverish white and they are complemented by the black charcoal particles, both of which are cut in the shape of small granite pieces. This lends the mixture a stark black and white appearance hence named as Black Diamond Blend. The white pieces actually are zeolite gravels. Zeolites are crystalline solid structures made up of silicon, aluminium and oxygen. These are one of the most important inorganic cation exchangers and are widely and very effectively used in industrial water and wastewater treatment, even in nuclear waste treatment. Meanwhile, you also have your regular activated charcoal that absorbs the odour, colour and leftover organic materials from food and waste products. Together, these work to remove toxic ammonia and other impurities from your tank water. So, you can say these are very effective tools for chemical filtration in your tank.

The product comes packaged in a toffee plastic box which weighs 454 grams but also comes in many sizes to fit your personal needs. However, the problem with it can be in the usage as many customers seem to be unaware of what portion of it to use. We personally would like to suggest that you use 8 teaspoons full of this for every 10 gallons of water. But before using it, you will have to rinse it properly and dust it off.


  • It is a suitable product in case you have a new freshwater tank.
  • These act to remove not just toxic ammonia but also other impurities like chloramine.
  • Works really quickly off the mark.


  • Almost with every product that features the activated charcoal, this too suffers from it being quite dusty and requires thorough rinsing.
  • The problems however don’t end at rinsing because the carbon starts to stick to everything after being put under wafer flow.
  • We wouldn’t recommend this product in case you have a fairly amateur experience in aquarium handling.

Seachem purigen filter media

Another popular name in the world of the aquarium hobby, Seachem brings to us our last product on the list and perhaps the most sophisticated one too.

This comes in a bag of 100ml which has a weight of roughly 60 grams or 21 oz. Although the description comes in volumes, it does not come in liquid form. It comes in the form of small synthetic resin beads that are lumped together. These beads have minute macropores, internal networks and trap a variety of organic compounds found in the saltwater reef, in freshwater aquariums. These naturally occurring organic compounds are continuously released into the aquarium by fish as waste products, by algae, through by-products of biological filtration and food products have been left uneaten. In the water, these complex substances breakdown into undesirable compounds such as ammonia, phosphate, nitrate. This causes a build-up of organics which lowers water quality, redox potential, and water clarity and even increases the chances of your pet fish and other tank inhabitants catching unwanted diseases.  

The Purigen has small resin beads with roughed up surface and these adsorb nitrogenous wastes from the water. Pretty standard stuff, just like activated charcoal. So what exactly makes it so different? Well, Seachem says that their Purigen selectable captures and holds these organic wastes while ignoring essential trace elements. That means that if you have used essential fertilizer in your tank, the Purigen will lap up the unwanted nitrogenous wastes but leave your fertilizer alone. Using Purigen in your aquarium clarifies your water allowing light to penetrate into your tank, you will notice an increase in color and growth rates among your florals and it also reduces the organic load on your protein skimmer.

Another cool feature is that the beads of the Purigen turn brown or black when loaded with organics. But these beads can be regenerated using a strong bleach solution and if desired, they can then be reused inside of your aquarium filtration unit.

This should be placed into a media bag and then placed into an area of high flow inside the tank. A media reactor is not required but can be done as long as the media is kept inside of the fine mesh media bag.


  • Cleans your water off harmful nitrogenous wastes.
  • It can be an effective replacement for activated carbon or charcoal and doesn’t require rinsing and even doesn’t cause cloudiness as carbon does.
  • You can reuse it after washing it with a strong bleach solution.


  • Doesn’t actually remove the color of the water caused due to unwanted organics.

Our top pick

Our top pick is a simple but very effective mechanical filter media: The Aquarium Experts Aquarium Filter Pads. Yes, these do not clean the chemicals dissolved in the water or provide living space for beneficial bacteria as ceramic rings do but these filter pads were not designed to do that. You cannot judge a ship for its aerodynamic ability of flying. These pads were meant to filter out debris from the water and these do their jobs without any space for complaints. What makes them different from any other mechanical filter product in the market is their double-layered design. They have a more porous layer on top and tightly woven fibers underneath. Both these work in tandem to completely trap debris from you tank water making it clean and clear. It does what it says. That is why it is our top pick.

How often should I change the filter media?

The answer to this depends upon what kind of filter media you are talking about. Chemical adsorbents like carbon have smaller usage of life than other filter media. It is ideal if you replace them once every three weeks.

Many people also believe that you should change your sponge once in 2 or 3 months. However, the mechanical media can be used and reused depending upon the company and quality of the manufacturer and many of them are quite reusable. We suggest using them until you start seeing physical disintegration.

There are products like Seachem Purigen which can be reused by washing the old media with strong bleach. Hence, the answer really depends upon what media you use. Generally, there are directions on the package.

How do I clean my filter media for reuse?

Many mechanical filter Medias like sponges and filter wool are so designed and structured that they can be kept under a hose or tap and the debris they have trapped can be washed away. And you can reuse them until you start to notice that they no longer do their job properly or start to physically disintegrate.

For chemical media, more often than not, you will have to replace them. Chemical media act by adsorbing the chemical wastes in the water and their adsorbing capacity has a limit. Once that is reached, it’s time to replace them.

It is biological media that you have to be very careful while replacing. If not handled with utter care you can even wipe out or throw out the entire beneficial bacterial colony in your media. Remove half of the old biological media before it is exhausted fully, and put a new one. Let it sit for about 30 days before adding the new half portion. This way, it allows for the bacteria to get settled into a new colony.


Filter media are the substances that actually carry out the function of filtration. If your filter is the chassis then the filter media is the engine that makes your filter work. Filter media are divided into types based on what portion of the filtration procedure they carry out and depending upon their types there are so many options available in the market for you. We hope that in this article we were able to inform you about the best options that you could choose for your filter. See you next time on some other informative article about the aquarium keeping hobby.

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