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Aquarium Filter Media Order


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You just got that beautiful aquarium for your house, and it is looking good. The fish are healthy, the lights are shining through bright, and the entire space is transformed. But after a few days, things start to change. You notice the water turning color and becoming murkier by the day, yet you installed the filtration system. What could possibly have gone wrong? 

There are many minor issues that a filtration system can develop that could lead to the aquarium not getting cleaned efficiently, and one of this is the order in which you have placed the filter media. It is never random, there’s a process to it, and that’s what we are going to discuss today. So if you have been experiencing this kind of problem, this is for you.

Table of Contents

What Order Should My Filter Media Be In?

There are three well-known filtration methods for aquariums that are widely used. Mechanical, Chemical and Biological. All of them are unique in their respective ways, and there are instances where they can be combined. But what order should they be placed in for the filtration process to be successful? The following is how you do it if you chose to combine all three methods at once.

Mechanical Filtration

Filter media used in mechanical filtration should be the first line of defense. This includes all the sieves and solid filter materials that can physically trap visible debris, bringing them under control. Mechanical filter media will handle all the visible dirt like leaves, large food particles, and any other thing that may fall into the water. These will then be removed physically using various equipment depending on the size of the aquarium. What you should never do is insert your bare hands into the water to pick out the debris, which is dangerous as it introduces harmful microbes into the water that could cause problems for the fish.

Some common examples of mechanical filter media include filter pads, filter flosses, sieves, and many others. The bottom line here is that you are aiming to get rid of any visible dirt without using any chemicals.

Biological Filtration

White ceramic koi pond filter media

The second-order has to be biological filtration. Once you have cleared the debris from the aquarium, it is time to now deal with invisible contaminants, and they are many. A closed ecosystem like an aquarium could be a breeding ground for a lot of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that could poison the water, making the aquarium inhabitable. Biological filtration is a unique process as it uses bacteria to fight other bacteria. It begins by culturing beneficial bacteria on ceramic rings and other media filters. Once these bacteria have spread out nicely in the aquarium, they can start filing the toxic waste released when waste is decomposed inside the water. This is a natural process that takes time, but once it starts running, there’s nothing that can stop it.

When cleaning out the aquarium, don’t drain out the water as that will also get rid of the beneficial bacteria, and starting another culture from scratch could be a lot of work. Biological filtration doesn’t require too much monitoring; once the pieces are in place, let nature take its course.

Chemical Filtration

Mountain Tree Koi pond UV Sterilizer

Chemical filtration should be the last line of defense as it is able to deal with all the contaminants that manage to escape biological and mechanical filtration. Of the three processes, it is the most expensive and sophisticated, and this is the reason why many aquariums never use it. However, it is among the most diverse with many options available. The most common one is the use of a UV sterilizer which blasts all living contaminants with UV rays that kills them without affecting the fish in the water. All you have to do is set the sterilizer in the water, and the rest is taken care of.

This possessive has drawbacks, though. It end s up eliminating even the beneficial bacteria, and this could be counter-productive for the biological filtration process. Setting up chemical filtration is also expensive as the sterilizers don’t come cheap, and once they break down, replacing them can be quite a hassle.


Keeping a clean aquarium takes work and dedication, and if you are the type that doesn’t have enough time for this, then problems will surface in your little fish tank. Fortunately for you, you only need to pay attention to the filtration once in a while, and if you invest in a good system, then you will have a clean aquarium that will serve your needs perfectly. For more information on aquariums and filtration processes, and materials, check out our website at your earliest convenience.

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