The Woefully Underappreciated Sponge Filter

aclockworkorange

Fire Eel
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Jun 24, 2010
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The Sponge Filter

This simple and effective device is often overlooked by today's modern aquarium hobbyist and seen as outdated technology that belongs in the era of VHS tapes and audio cassette players. Many fore-go their use in favor of more "modern" filtration methods, such as the latest canisters and wet/dry systems. Certainly, there is much to be said of the advances in filtration technology in recent years... but I would like to suggest that not only do sponge filters have a place in the modern aquarium, but that their benefits so supersede any of their perceived downsides that one would be almost foolish not to at least seriously consider their use.

How It Works


(not my picture)

As illustrated in the photo above, sponge filters, as their names suggest, are sponges that use pressure to draw aquarium water through their porous bodies and trap detritus as a method of mechanical filtration. As illustrated above, this may be done with an external air pump and tubing, or alternatively a powerhead.

While sponge filters do provide a simple method of mechanical filtration, their major strength lies in their effectiveness as biological filters--the most important aspect of filtration in our tanks. Pound for pound, sponge filters will outperform many other types of biological media for the amount of beneficial bacteria they harbor.

The Benefits

Let us explore the beneficial use of sponge filters, on their own, and in addition to an already properly filtered large aquarium:

Cheap and Easy:
Large sponge filters, such as the Hydor V, can be found online for a mere fraction of what most HOB and canister filters cost, and can often be found secondhand in a LFS for next to nothing. There are also great DIY methods.
While they do require additional equipment to run--either an air pump or a powerhead--many hobbyists already have these on hand, and if they do not, they are multipurpose tools that any serious enthusiast would do good to own.
Cheap and effective additional filtration should be welcome in any setup.

Halp! I need teh oxygen!
Running an air pump or a powerhead is a great way to increase surface agitation and water flow and up the amount of oxygen available in the aquarium. However, sponge filters do this as well, with all the other added benefits they provide! This leads us to...

Baby when the lights, go out...
Power loss is a nightmare for any aquarium hobbyist. Our fish rely on electrical power to run their life-sustaining filtration and heating systems. Perhaps the most effective method in dealing with this is buying a backup generator, but for many living in urban areas and without much of a budget, this is arguably not a very feasible option.
During a power loss, your power filters obviously stop circulating tank water through their different forms of media, and thus beneficial bacteria loses its food source of fresh fish waste--this can and will lead to a crashed cycle in less than a day. When experiencing power loss, one would ideally immediately move their media from their power filters in to the tank itself with the fish, and run a battery powered air pump to provide oxygen to your tank.
But what if no one is home (or even worse, your idiot roommate is the only one there!)? What if it happens in the middle of the night and you sleep through it? Automatic battery powered back up pumps partially solve this problem, but then you still are starving your bacteria in your external filters...
Sponge filters, even without battery powered back up pumps to an extent, solve this problem. They are already in the tank, with large colonies of bacteria in contact with tank water. Coupled with a battery powered back up, they laugh in the face of power loss... or at least chuckle.
Additional info on how to deal with power loss:
http://www.monsterfishkeepers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=48578

Got ANOTHER tank? (What will the wife say?!)
Cycled sponge filters from established tanks are one of the best methods for seeding beneficial bacteria in a new aquarium. By running multiple sponges in your setup, you will always have one on had should you buy a new tank, need an emergency hospital or quarantine tank, or even a fry tank if you are lucky enough to have fish that breed... without having to stress about the cycle. Also, they are great for helping out someone new to the hobby as well!

Low maintenance (like the girl you SHOULD have married...)
Ever try taking apart and cleaning a large canister filter, like an FX5? It's not pleasant, and for many hobbyists this can sometimes lead to neglect that can affect the full performance of these filters. Sponge filters do not suffer from this problem! They simply require an occasional squeeze and shake in used tank water.


But they're UGLY...

Any good fish keeper worth his salt (no pun intended to you SW guys...) should be able to hide sponge filters without issue:


(not my picture)
Above is MFK member JK47's SA cichlid 125 gallon... while you can obviously see the sponge filter in the middle of the tank, this is partially due to the angle of the picture. Besides that, there are actually THREE Hydor V sponge filters in this tank.
Furthermore, java ferns and other plants will actually grow on sponges as well...

(not my picture)


In Closing...

For their cost, simplicity, and multiple benefits, sponge filters are perhaps one of the most effective additions you can add to your tank. While they are entirely capable of acting as the sole method of filtration for a tank, I believe they are most effectively used as additional filtration in the modern aquarium, where their simplistic effectiveness can truly be appreciated without fault put on their inherent limitations.


Sources and additional info:
http://www.americanaquariumproducts.com/sponge_filtration.html
http://aqualandpetsplus.com/Misc Sponge Filters.htm
 

knifegill

Dovii
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Sep 19, 2005
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I'm running a DIY sponge in my fry tank right now. But the idea of just using sponges worries me. I see too many dead fish in tanks with sponge filters. And when you add tap water, is chlorine harming the nitrifyers before you add Prime? And what about all that muck that inevitably sloughs off the sponge when you remove it? I like them in the short run for a little bio, but they really fail as mechanical filters for larger particulates. A fine addition to any existing set up, but I wouldn't rely on them the way some LFS do.
 

aclockworkorange

Fire Eel
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knifegill;4473214; said:
I'm running a DIY sponge in my fry tank right now. But the idea of just using sponges worries me. I see too many dead fish in tanks with sponge filters. And when you add tap water, is chlorine harming the nitrifyers before you add Prime? And what about all that muck that inevitably sloughs off the sponge when you remove it? I like them in the short run for a little bio, but they really fail as mechanical filters for larger particulates. A fine addition to any existing set up, but I wouldn't rely on them the way some LFS do.
My thoughts:

aclockworkorange;4473193; said:
While they are entirely capable of acting as the sole method of filtration for a tank, I believe they are most effectively used as additional filtration in the modern aquarium, where their simplistic effectiveness can truly be appreciated without fault put on their inherent limitations.
However, myself and others have found them to be capable of running tanks on their own... You may see dead fish in those tanks for many other reasons than the filtration system. My biggest LFS uses them in the majority of their MANY smaller tanks and I have only seen a dead fish maybe once or twice.
As far as questions on water changes, I personally add Prime first when adding new water with my Python system... if you were overly concerned I would simply remove the filter before adding new water and keep it wet.
 
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_Jessica_

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I run a sponge type filter in my betta tank...it does great bio filtration, but definitely not much for particulates.

I also made a DIY one for a clawed frog tank at work..I took a betta cup, put many holes in it, ran an airline into the bottom of it, it works good for the bio.
 
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Aisle17AorE

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I have sponge filters in all my tanks. The $$$$ you save!!!! on wattage and the backup bio load coverage. You can see the difference in water clarity. Extremely good article.
 

aclockworkorange

Fire Eel
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Jun 24, 2010
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_Jessica_;4473251; said:
I run a sponge type filter in my betta tank...it does great bio filtration, but definitely not much for particulates.

I also made a DIY one for a clawed frog tank at work..I took a betta cup, put many holes in it, ran an airline into the bottom of it, it works good for the bio.
I agree they have limitations, see my response to the first poster, and this:

aclockworkorange;4473228; said:
While sponge filters do provide a simple method of mechanical filtration, their major strength lies in their effectiveness as biological filters
 

JK47

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I LOVE sponge filters. The one that was in the middle/air powered is now behind the anubias on the right, you can't see them at all. I like sponges (in every tank) as insurance. Any time you start up a smaller fry/hospital tank you have a cycled filter. The other reason is if the power goes out, you have something IN THE TANK with a bacterial colony that can be ran off of battery powered air pumps. (you also get to hook up buddies when they start up a tank up) :D

I'll see if I can drum up a pic of the tank when it was piled high in cichlids lol with nothing but sponges, hang on..
 

JK47

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Before the sand, FX5 and UV this in this tank it was entierly sponge filtered for quite a while. (same as above before the geos)

x1 Hoplarchus Psittacus (true parrot)
x2 green severums
x1 rotkeil severum
x1 gold severum
x2 C. Myersi (juvies)
x2 pictus cats.

 
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