HOW TO: DIY aquarium filter media
100 Comments


Hi everybody, Joey here again and welcome back. So in today’s video I’m going to show you my favorite do-it-yourself materials to use as filtration media for your aquarium. All of which are commonly available, very low costing and of course have a long, proven track record of being an effective alternative to filtration media materials. When it comes to filtration I categorize filters by the state the media is actually in, which are submerged, emerged and fluidized. And I’m going to be focusing on their biological media for this video. Personally, I’ve been in the hobby long enough to have large stockpiles of all kinds of media. However, when I need an alternative these are what I use and what I recommend. We’ll start off with submerged; submerged filters have their media in a static submerged state, meaning that the media is actually completely underwater. Filters like canisters, types of sumps, internal filters and hang on the back filters are some examples of submerged media filters. For these my favorite do-it-yourself media is lava rock. It is lightweight and highly porous which actually gives them a very large surface area, allowing them to house a massive amount of beneficial bacteria. Being inert is obviously a necessity as well and lava rock is meaning that it’s going to have zero impact on your water parameters like hardness as well as pH. Lava rock also doesn’t degrade or wear down over time either meaning it will literally last you a lifetime. That fact that you can customize it is actually one of my favorite aspects though. If it’s too big when you buy it, take a hammer or an axe and smash it into the sizes you need. A light hit with one of these will break the rock up into smaller pieces. A quick rinse after that and they’re good to go. Just be careful with that axe or hammer, especially if you’re not an adult. To find it you’ll want to go to a place that sells barbeques and simply buy a bag of lava rock which is commonly used in barbeques or go to a rock yard and see if you can buy it in bulk. I found that this would run you less than a dollar per pound in both cases. So the cost is obviously a huge benefit and I remember a time when I paid over $400 for media that I needed for a sump. When I could’ve just paid $20 for the same amount in lava rock. Remembering that sump is actually what inspired this video, sometimes even the best of us forget some of the simplest alternatives. OK, so let’s move on to emerged filtration. For the most part, we’re only referring to wet/dry filters or trickle tower filters when we talk about emerged. Emerged meaning that the media is actually suspended above the water and tank water is rained over the media. Lava rock wouldn’t do nearly as well here as it would be too difficult for the water to easily pass through it. Given that we’re relying only on gravity for this type of filter to work, chances of the water channeling are high. Meaning that water will simply find the path of least resistance and continue to follow that, whereas in a canister, for example, the water is forced through the media. So when it comes to an emerged filter we need something that is a lot more porous that isn’t going to allow channeling quite as easily. Ideally we would use bio-balls for this method of filtration if you have them. Being plastic they’re inert and last a lifetime plus the fact that they’re not extremely compressed means that water can evenly flow through them. However, they’re not really cheap and they take up a lot of room compared to their surface area. A very popular alternative would be plastic pot scrubbies. Not only do they offer approximately triple the surface area per square inch but are also plastic and can last a lifetime as well. Not to mention they’re much more pliable and you can really pack a lot more in. They’re also very common and you can grab six for $1 at your local dollar store and even Wal-Mart sells them and other places like that. The price makes these one of the most cost effective yet efficient alternative media you can get. The last method of filtration is fluidized. Now, typically speaking, K1 Kaldness would be the best in my opinion however in the average home aquarium it’s size and cost don’t make it really practical. For the average home aquarist pool filtration sand would be a much better solution. Although the filter can be slightly more difficult to build, the fact that one pound of this sand can filter 100 gallons yet only take up one liter of space is incredible. Not to mention the pound will only cost you pennies. Due to its grain size and its ability to fluidize with very little effort this is an ideal media for a fluidized filter. Any place that sells pools or or pool supplies will usually have it in 10 or 50 pound bags. I buy 20 pound bags for $10 all the time and I don’t just use them for filters. I also use it for substrate as well as sand waterfalls. I wanted to leave you guys with one more media. This time it’s going to be a mechanical media though. Polyester Filling also known as Quilt Batting. This has to be the most popular mechanical media alternative in the hobby. You can get large rolls like this at Wal-Mart or generally any fabric store and you can expect to pay less than $10 for something that’s going to last you several months as well. You just want it to say 100% Polyester Filling. You also want to avoid any packaging that states it’s mildew resistant and of course you don’t want any additives in it. Polyester filling can be used in virtually any filter and it does an excellent job. Not only is it polishing the water but it is also cheap and simple to replace. It’s actually the only media that I use in every single filter I have. Anyway guys I hope that you enjoyed todays video. I also want to thank you for watching and I’ll see you guys next Sunday for a new, do-it-yourself project.

100 thoughts on “HOW TO: DIY aquarium filter media

  1. I have a HOB filter its called the Marina S20. directions say to replace cartridges every month but that could get expensive! could I just remove the cartridges and fill it up with lava rock and be ok? also, would I have to wash the lava rock when doing water changes?

  2. LOL thanks man, I been watching tube to make my filter and none of them really address the cost factor. My first impression from you is: "save money on hoby". Good vid, keep it up

  3. Great video but can you tell me if you have a video with the pros and cons of using each type of filter. I have three turtles in a 75 very tall tank and im not sure its gonna work out for them but can you explain the uses of a trickle filter?? These guys produce lots of waste. I currently have two canister filters and a wisper 20i i shoved all the wat to the bottom and turned into a in tank filer.

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  5. have you thought of cut to fit plastic air furnace filter? lasts a long time, can be reused by rinsing if it gets gunked up

  6. I made my own DIY canister filter in right now I'm using lava rock and polyester filler what else can I use for a filtration system to go inside of my canister to get the final particles

  7. Okay actually made pvc canister just for lava rock and using a fountain pump about two years but you have not mentioned when to clean it but not sure because it is used as a biological filter !? Any one can answer Thx

  8. New to the hobby and was wondering instead of having the cartridges being replaced in the "hang on the back filter" using a mix of polyester and lava rocks. Assuming i could get it to flow properly with the pump it came with how long before i would need to change the polyester. Also would i need to rinse the lava rocks weekly/monthly?

  9. Have you ever used sponge gutter guards in a tank? I've seen the stuff at hardware stores, but I haven't been able to figure out whether it is aquarium safe. Its very cheap, and it seems like it would be perfect.

  10. I agree, I saw a Video with you and Gold Fish girl lol sorry, forget her name… But, you mentioned the "Biggest Mistake or Learning Curve" for you was your Nitrogen cycle… I would like to see a video of you explaining the cycle, or all cycles. I think it would be appreciated by all beginners. Thanks Joey, as always this video was a huge help.

  11. Joey I've been looking four videos on lava rock to see if it's safe for saltwater unfortunately I couldn't find it from anybody else so that's what I get with you and hoping the common will answer my question because I have not found any of this information

  12. I'm changing to carbonless and I'm using Seachem matrix and Purigen, I have Goldfish so I need to take precautions. What's your opinion? So far half of my filters since I have double filtration again bare in mind I have Goldfish. Please advise so far so good and is been 3 months.

  13. I love your videos but I keep getting more and more confused ha ha. You explain everything great but I want to set up my tank in the office (36 gallon bowfront) but donโ€™t know what type of filter to use. What do you recommend?

  14. You covered Mechanical and biological, but what about chemical media ? Or if you run enough biological you won't need chemical..

  15. i kid u not! i just priced out $20lb for regular filter media wen lava rock is virtually the same thing for like joey said $2lb i almost got out for the hobby for another year until i saw this video lol

  16. Thank you Joey for telling us about lava rock, mine is working great and even grew denitrifying bacteria!

  17. Pool sand fluidised? That would probably be a lot quieter than K1 so I think I might consider putting one of those together.

  18. Would lava rock and sponges work for a turtle? I plan on making a diy filter and Iโ€™m not sure what filter media to use

  19. Still confused about this do I keep the carbon pad in and put polyester around it or take the pad out and just put lava rock and polyester? Hob filter
    (Anybody)???

  20. Have you or anyone you know tried the "Ocean Free Hydra Filtron" or the "Ocean Free Hydra Stream" ?

  21. How do you feel about old-school charcoal filters? When I was a kid, aquarium kits came with a corner air bubble filter with room for charcoal and fiber filling as well as an under-gravel filter with air stones. I haven't seen either in a number of years.

  22. Seachem and marine pure are total rip offs and too expensive. Iโ€™m using clay pellets or left over eheim balls. Work great and very affordable. I will try some lava rock when I get my sump ready very soon. Will mix it in with my clay pellets. Great video Joey

  23. My friend told me that i could just drop lava rock in my tank and it would help with filtration is that true my tanks are clean i do 15 % water changes everyday and gravel vac weekly my filters not small but it has a current im using the tank as a grow out the filters to strong so i figure if i use this for the couple months ny babies are in their it would be ok but i dont know if they should be used as filter media or as a filter replacement?? Can someone help๐Ÿ˜ธ๐Ÿ˜ธ

  24. morning! I am curious to ask as i am in the midst of building my very first tank. my tank has 2 chambers for fish. Those fish being betta splendor. my tank has been fitted with a rear sump with a number of baffles. from chamber 1 the water flows from the bottom of the chamber, raising up through a filter media, over its first wall, under then again over where drawn up through 2 sponges and is air lifed to a resevour where the water flows into chamber 2 via means of a another water fall, then over flowing back nito chamber 1 via yet another waterfall as to where the process starts over. my question is knowing each of these fish don't eat much and generally are quite clean, what would be the best filter media's to be used within each part of the process.

    I would prefare it all to be gravity fed, but i am uncertain to how to incorporate the likes of a bell syphon or any other type of processes to move water from A to B without the aid of any mechanical instrumentation. I was always led to believe you can't make water go up hill. my dad however once upon a time showed me that the affects of Air pressure on the surface area of his pond alone could make a fountain some 4ft tall with quite the water pressure. but without that surface area, what methods could be potentially used and how could they be incorporated, i do so which i had asked him how he managed to have several spray bars spraying over different media types, but no electrical or air pumps

  25. Hi Joey! Writing from Chile! I had a question, what do you think about carbon media for fresh water tanks? I've noticed that many filters in the market include this feature, but i'm not sure how it works or if it is useful/beneficial at all. Ps: Your videos are amazing and very helpful! Thanks a lot!

  26. hi

    more media is more benefit for fish or is there any weight limit for media "for example 40 gallon water 1kg media"

  27. The dude at Home Depot asked me which kind of lava rock cause one of them is not for humans consumption. So I guess dont go with the garden purpose lava rock.

  28. The king of DIY you are awesome. I followed many of your videos. I built a DIY cascade filter for my aquarium that works perfect. I was moving some bio-media form a old filter to this new one and notice that my bio filter media was wearing out after 8 months

  29. Wow thanks so much for the info i was just about to set up for the first time a canister filter for a 50 gallon turtle tank and you gave me a lot of great options. Thank you

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