Setting up filter media in an aquarium filter (Trickle / Shower / SUMP filter):

Trickle filter uses the phenomena of freely flowing the excess water into a container using an overflow. When water crosses a certain level then it starts to flow out of the fish tank using a pipe. This method is used in reservoirs & swimming pools to avoid an overflow.

Trickle filters are also called shower filters & this filter is mainly used in aquariums. It is very easy to build an aquarium trickle filter using household items. If you are interested in building a trickle filter then check out the tutorial below:

In this tutorial I have discussed in detail how to set up an aquarium trickle filter media. Learn how to setup mechanical & biological filter media in a shower filter. This filter is however a bit different from an original trickle filter because instead of an overflow, water is pumped to the overhead trickle filter using a submersible pump. This concept of trickle filter is very similar to a SUMP filter. Water in the overhead filter flows through the mechanical filter media that traps solid particles then it flows through biological media that remove dissolved impurities, & clean water flows back to the aquarium through a shower using gravity.

Watch how to setup a shower filter in a video below:

How to setup filter media in a trickle filter

How to setup filter media in a trickle / shower filter:

  • Coarse, & fine foams are used for mechanical filtration.
  • Both bio balls & seachem matrix can provide biological filtration.
  • I have connected an underwater pump that has a sponge at the filter intake to avoid sucking fish fries & shrimps.


What is the use of a filter in a fish tank?

Filters are used for removing impurities from the aquarium water such as fish waste, leftover food, dead leaves, & other debris that over time release toxic chemicals that are harmful to fish. If an aquarium has a low level of ammonia byproducts, then it seems okay but if that level is high then it could be highly toxic to the fish. Some fish are very sensitive to ammonia byproducts so they need very clean water. Make sure you use a powerhead that can pump large volumes of water to the filter for efficient cleaning.

Biological media of the filter holds heaps of useful bacteria. Fish waste releases ammonia, & bio media breaks down ammonia into nitrites & then into nitrates. Nitrates are less dangerous than nitrites, & nitrites are less dangerous than ammonia. Useful bacteria grows everywhere in the aquarium. They are found on mechanical filter media too. They need a surface to cling to. Large surface of biological media allows large colonization of useful bacteria to grow on its surface.

Aquarium filters can provide three types of filtration:

  • Mechanical Filtration
  • Biological Filtration
  • Chemical Filtration


Mechanical Filtration:

Mechanical filtration can trap all solid particles in the aquarium water. In the absence of mechanical filtration, fish waste can be seen floating in the water. Also, your aquarium water will seem cloudy if the filter is turned off for a longer period of time. Fish waste & other debris will release toxic chemicals that can be toxic to the fish. So, it is very important to keep running your filter all the time. Mechanical filters use media for trapping solid waste. 3 types of media are used for mechanical filtration I.e., coarse, medium & fine foams.

Coarse foams have big pores that will remove all big particles. Medium foam will trap medium sized particles. Small particles will be tapped in the fine foam due to small pores.

If fine foam can remove all types of particles, then why is it important to use coarse & medium foams too?

Because large & medium particles will clog fine foam quickly so it is important to use 3 types of foams to enhance the efficiency of fine foam. If your fine is clogged then its cleaning efficiency will be reduced.

Setup filter media in the following order: Coarse foam followed by medium & fine foams.


Biological Filtration:

Setting up biological filtration media in a trickle filter

Biological filter media is used for holding heaps of good bacteria that can wipe out toxic chemicals. Nitrifying bacteria breaks down ammonia into nitrites & nitrates. Nitrifying bacteria can’t remove nitrates from the water. Denitrifying bacteria wipes out nitrates. Denitrifying bacteria lives in oxygen free regions & they live in tiny little pores of the filter media where air can’t enter. Not every filter media can hold denitrifying bacteria. Certain media have very tiny pores that are hardly seen without using a microscope, allowing bacteria to grow inside these pores. Still, you can’t skip frequent partial water changes because fresh water contains minerals that are good for the fish & live plants.

It is very important to cycle your aquarium for biological filtration. If you haven’t cycled your aquarium yet then follow this tutorial: How to cycle your aquarium

I am using the following bio media for biological filtration:

  • Bio balls
  • Seachem Matrix


Bio balls:

Bio balls hold heaps of nitrifying bacteria due to its large surface. They are small plastic balls that can offer a large surface for good bacteria. You can open this bio ball. Inside the bio ball, you will find a foam. Heaps of useful bacteria can grow on this foam.

Bio balls can only break down toxic ammonia into less toxic forms. However, it can’t remove nitrates from the water. It has a big advantage because it does not need replacement.


Seachem Matrix:

Seachem matrix is a highly porous bio media that provides the best biological filtration. It provides room for the growth of both nitrifying & denitrifying bacteria. It looks like a small porous rock. Denitrifying bacteria can live inside the tiny little pores. Seachem matrix can wipe out every impurity including ammonia, nitrites & nitrates from the water. However, dirt or debris can enter the tiny little pores of the seachem matrix, & can clog the media & can completely block them. Unlike bio balls, seachem matrix overtime needs replacement.

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