Best Aquarium Filter Media (Reviewed 2021)

Updated on January 30, 2021 by

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What is the purpose of aquarium filter media?

A tank can really go from being great and promising when it was first set up, to becoming a dangerous habitat for all your aquatic buddies if proper filter media is not in place.

A filter media can simply be regarded as any device, tool, or mechanism employed in a filter (either internal filter, HOB filter, or canister filter) that influences the water quality that flows through it in a positive way.

A good filter media ensures that all your aquatic organisms (plants, animals, and microorganisms) have the safest environment to live and thrive healthily. The filter media plays a vital role in the tank’s nitrogen cycle.

Some filter media can be targeted to maintain the water conditions and provide a healthy environment for a planted aquarium, while some other filter media focuses on balancing the water quality for the safe and healthy living of the fish and other aquatic inhabitants.

However, few filter media strike a balance at maintaining optimal water conditions for both planted aquariums and the fish tanks.

What are the types of aquarium filter media?

Owing to their different functions, aquarium filter media is generally divided into three categories, namely: Mechanical Filter Media, Biological Filter Media and Chemical Filter Media.

What’s the role of aquarium mechanical filter media?

The aquarium mechanical filter media is aimed at removing solid particles from the water that flow through it. It is inert and does not affect the water chemistry.

This is usually the first media in the filter before the water reaches other media. This filter media should be cleaned regularly to avoid the buildup of waste which may spoil the filter or even find its way back into the water.

The mechanical filter media should be replaced when it’s clogged and it cannot release the collected dirt.

What’s the role of aquarium biological filter media?

The aquarium biological filter media is aimed at balancing the biological metabolism in the water by facilitating the growth of beneficial bacteria that help to break down the solid waste, ammonia, and nitrites, basically removing any toxic stuff from the water.

These bacteria also help to maintain the nitrogen cycle in the water by reducing the ammonia buildup in the water.

What’s the role of aquarium chemical filter media?

The aquarium chemical filter media is usually employed to remove chemical impurities and harmful elements through activated carbons, resin, and various other adsorbents. They are effective at removing dissolved impurities that are present in the water.

It is often said that the mechanical and biological filter media work together as the bacteria housed by the biological filter media may feed on the solid waste trapped by the mechanical filter converting them to a less toxic matter.

However, when the pores of the chemical filter media are clogged it would mostly work as a biological filter.

These filter media can be in a form of fiber, cylindrical ceramic cones, balls, matrix or powder among many other forms.

This article covers a review of different, affordable and easily accessible filter media to suit your preference and filtration types.

Best Aquarium Filter Media Compared

ImageProductRatingPrice
Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval BioMax Filter
Fluval BioMax Filter
9.7
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Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval SPEC Biomax
Fluval SPEC Biomax
9.5
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Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval PreFilter Media
Fluval PreFilter Media
9.1
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Bio Rings Filtration
Aquaclear Biomax White
Aquaclear Biomax White
8.8
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Bio Balls Filtration
Seachem Matrix Bio Media
Seachem Matrix Bio Media
8.6
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Removes Ammonia
Marineland White Diamond
Marineland White Diamond
8.2
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Activated Carbon
MarineLand Diamond Media
MarineLand Diamond Media
8
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Activated Carbon
Kolar Lab Filter Carbon
Kolar Lab Filter Carbon
7.7
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Bio Balls Filtration
Marineland Bio-Filter Balls
Marineland Bio-Filter Balls
7.4
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500 Bio Balls
Bio Balls Filter Media
Bio Balls Filter Media
7.2
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Fiber Filter Media
Aqua-Flo Filter Media
Aqua-Flo Filter Media
7.2
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Best Filter Foam
Aquarium Filter Pad Premium
Aquarium Filter Pad Premium
7.2
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1. Fluval BioMax Filter – Best Bio Filter Media for Fresh & Saltwater

Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval U Underwater BioMax Filter - Best Bio Filter Media for Fresh & Saltwater

Fluval U Underwater BioMax Filter

This is a great biological filter media for any freshwater and marine aquarium filters. 

The Fluval Underwater Biomax filter is suitable for the U series Fluval canister filter models including the U2, U3, and U4 models.

The filter media create an excellent environment that facilitates the optimal growth of beneficial bacteria. The bio ring is built with an optimized pore function that encourages beneficial bacteria to grow and thrive.

This product is also great at reducing and maintaining the level of ammonia and nitrite formation.

It is fairly pricey when compared with most of the other filter media, and it might not be suitable for a low budget plan. However, the price tag is not compared to the high-quality service this will benefit you.

This product will last for a long time during its active period without having a need to be replaced.

PROs
  • Improved quality biological filtration media
  • Optimizes beneficial bacteria growth
  • Reduces ammonia and nitrite levels
  • Suitable for all Fluval U series filter models
CONs
  • Quite pricey

2. Fluval SPEC Biomax – Best 3 Stage Bio Filter Media

Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval SPEC Biomax - Best 3 Stage Bio Filter Media

Fluval SPEC Biomax

This is a great filtration media fortified with stage three biological filtration mechanisms.

It helps to provide a safe and healthy environment for the fish and other aquatic species by establishing an excellent bacteria colonization that acts to deteriorate the harmful waste and converts it to less harmful and beneficial elements.

This is a great substitute for carbon filters and also helps reduce the ammonia level and releases micronutrients that are beneficial for the plants growth. The Fluval Spec Biomax comes in excellent bags and box sizes that can fit into basically any filter canister.

It also comes with a 1 year warranty that covers for factory malfunction and in-transit damage during delivery of packages.

However, this product will relatively break down easily before most other filter media. Also, before first use, always rinse the filter under a tap as it may contain some amount of chalk that could cloud the water.

PROs
  • Stage three biological filtration mechanism
  • Chemically inert and won’t affect water chemistry
  • Comes in a perfect size for any filter
  • Excellent against ammonia levels
  • 1-year warranty
CONs
  • Breaks down relatively easy

3. Fluval PreFilter – Best Bio Media for Aquarium Canister Filters

Bio Rings Filtration
Fluval PreFilter Media - Best Bio Media for Aquarium Canister Filters

Fluval PreFilter Media

Third on our list is the Fluval External Power Filter Pre-Filter Media. This is a great Biological filter media that is specially designed to capture and disintegrate solid wastes from the water before it reaches other media.

This filter is suitable for freshwater and marine environments and is ideal for coarse and medium size filtration.

Filtration media specially designed with inert solid ceramic rings that are ideal to optimally trap large and medium-sized particles which could clog finer sieves, therefore reducing the rate at which other filtration media needs replacement.

This product comes in a box with enough filter media for two large canister filters. The pre-filter media is also excellent at establishing good bacteria colonies that act on the solid and fish wastes, therefore converting them to less harmful matters.

It can be easily cleaned through simple agitation and rinsing making it reusable over a long time. As a matter of fact, with adequate care and maintenance, this filter media can last for several years.

PROs
  • Extremely cost-friendly
  • Enough filter media for two canister filters
  • Great at reducing the need for filter media replacement
  • Excellent at speedily building good bacteria
CONs
  • Relatively low porosity compared to other similar products

4. Aquaclear Biomax – Best Bio Filter Media for Fast Nitrogen Cycle

Durable Bio Filter Media
Aquaclear Biomax White

Aquaclear Biomax White

The AquaClear Biomax is a biological filter media specifically designed for the AquaClear 110 Power filter.

This is an easy to use filter media that promotes the buildup of beneficial bacteria that are targeted at reducing the ammonia and nitrite level.

This is a great choice for the various aquarium tank environments and ponds including freshwater, saltwater, and even brackish water.

It is built with 85% micro-tunnels and 15% micro-cavities that are highly efficient at filtering the water.

This product is reusable and reduces the rate of changing filter media which is very cost-effective. When it is heavily clogged, it can be easily rinsed in used aquarium water.

It has a great longevity and will remain active throughout its service period.

PROs
  • Highly efficient with 85% micro tunnel and 15% microcavities
  • Suitable for aquarium tanks and ponds
  • Reusable and can be easily rinsed with used aquarium water
  • Encourages buildup of beneficial bacteria colonies
  • Fairly cheap
CONs
  • Might encourage algae buildup

5. Seachem Matrix – High Porosity Bio Filtration Media

1 Liter Highly Porous Filter Media
Seachem Matrix Bio Media - High Porosity Bio Filtration Media

Seachem Matrix Bio Media

The Seachem Matrix Bio Media is a highly porous filter media aimed at providing excellent biofiltration.

This matrix is naturally mined and is void of chemical treatment making it unable to affect the water chemistry, particularly the pH levels, and therefore makes it safe for the aquatic inhabitants.

The matrix encourages the growth of biological filtration in the aquarium by supporting useful denitrifying bacteria which helps in reducing and eliminating the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.

However, due to its size, shape, coloration, and density of the natural matrix, the materials might slightly differ from different packages. However, these differences do not affect the ability of the product in delivering high-quality filtration and maintaining great water quality.

This product is sold in volume with each liter containing over 160,000cm2 (170sq. Ft) of surface which is equivalent to 10 gallons of a standard plastic ball media.

PROs
  • Has an exceeding surface area
  • Encourages growth of denitrifying bacteria
  • Suitable for any filter system
  • Effective at reducing nitrate levels
  • Naturally mined
CONs
  • Products might differ in size, shape, color, and density

6. Marineland White – Best Filter Media Against Ammonia

Ammonia Remover Filter Media
Marineland White Diamond 50 Ounces - Best Filter Media Against Ammonia

Marineland White Diamond 50 Ounces

This is another great filter media product manufactured by the well known Marineland brand.

This filter media is specially produced as clinoptilolite zeolite ammonia crystals targeted at neutralizing and removing toxic ammonia from the water and creating a clean and safe aquatic environment for the aquatic species.

The filtration media can be used in all freshwater aquariums and ponds and are ideal to control the sudden ammonia spike in the water by removing up to 4 times more deadly ammonia, thereby producing a clean and healthy tank.

The White Diamond filter media from Marineland is also highly effective at eliminating odors from the tank.

For optimal results, these diamond crystals should be replaced every 2-3 weeks and about 4 teaspoons are recommended for every 10-gallon tank. The filter media crystals also come in various convenient sizes that suit a large variety of filter cartridges.

PROs
  • Comes in various sizes to suit your choice
  • Highly efficient at neutralizing and reducing ammonia levels
  • Suitable for all freshwater aquariums and ponds
  • Eliminates odor
CONs
  • Not suitable for a saltwater aquarium
  • Requires frequent replacement

7. MarineLand Premium Activated Carbon – Best Carbon Filter Media

Premium Carbon Filter Media
MarineLand Media - Activated Carbon - Best Carbon Filter Media

MarineLand Media – Activated Carbon

Marineland Black Diamond Media is a great chemical filter media from the Marineland brand.

This filter media is ideal for all filter types used in the aquarium hobby and will serve multiple functions.

The carbon activated filter media possess a black diamond premium activated carbon which aims at removing odors, discoloration, and impurities which creates clear and sparkling aquarium water.

The black diamond carbon is specially built from a heat-activated bituminous coal-based carbon.

This carbon filter media comes in a special size that makes it more effective than other competitors at eliminating waste and filtering the water of toxic substances.

However, this product has the tendency of making the water gloomy for some months during its initial use. This product is quite pricey but the price becomes irrelevant when we think about the high-quality filtration outcomes the filter media renders.

PROs
  • Multiple functionality carbon filter media
  • Specially sized for effective operation
  • Suitable for all aquarium environments
  • Reliable and durable carbon filter media
CONs
  • The water might get gloomy for some months during the initial period of use

8. Kolar Labs Crystal Activated Carbon – Cheap Carbon Activated Filter Media

1 Gallon Activated Carbon
Kolar Labs Aquarium Filter Carbon - Cheap Carbon Activated Filter Media

Kolar Labs Aquarium Filter Carbon

Kolar Labs Crystal Cal Activated Carbon is an excellently treated chemical filter media suitable for fish tanks.

It has a laboratory-grade granular wash and steam-activated carbon crystal cal which is produced according to the Food Chemical Codex (FCC) standards that provide an excellent aquarium filtration.

The activated carbon is made of a sub-bituminous coal base that possesses an optimum pore structure that facilitates a high-quality removal of colors, odors, tannins, medications, and several other organic wastes.

This carbon filter media has a low level of contaminant extractable which inhibits phosphates and other contaminants from leaching back into the water.

Sadly this product contains lots of dust and residue which requires lots of rinsing before use.

It also helps to deal with cloudy water from all aquarium environments. This product also comes in different sizes to suit all sorts of filters and cartridges.

PROs
  • Food grade activated carbon
  • Low level of contaminant extractable
  • Suitable for any aquarium environment
  • Comes in different sizes
CONs
  • Requires lots of rinsing before use

9. Marineland Bio-Filter Balls – Best Deal Bio Filter Media

Bio Balls Filtration
Marineland Bio-Filter Balls - Best Deal Bio Filter Media

Marineland Bio-Filter Balls

For many years, the Marineland brand has been in the business of providing an easy, safe, and healthy fish keeping experience for aquarists.

Bio-filter Balls are specially built with a larger, multi-faceted biological filtration area that encourages the optimal growth of good Bio-spira bacteria.

This aerobic Bio-spira bacteria is great at reducing and eliminating toxic ammonia and nitrite.

Each pack of this product contains about 90 Marineland Bio-filter balls that are specially designed to fit all the Marineland C-series canister filters. They can be easily rinsed with water from a cycled aquarium when there is an excessive buildup.

This eliminates the need to frequently replace them and they’ll remain active.

However, it is discouraged to wash or rinse this filter media with unconditioned tap water. This can kill all the beneficial bacteria that are colonized by the filter media.

It is fairly cheap when compared with most filter media and is most suitable for a low budget plan.

PROs
  • Comes with an instruction manual on the side of the carton
  • Reusable at a very convenient price
  • Suitable for all Marineland C-series canister filters
  • Excellent at maintaining a clean aquarium
CONs
  • Relatively low longevity

10. KINJOEK Bio Balls – Large Bio Filter Media Balls

Effective Bio Balls Filter Media
KINJOEK 500 PCS 1 Inch Bio Balls Filter Media - Large Bio Filter Media Balls

KINJOEK 500 PCS 1 Inch Bio Balls Filter Media

This is a great bio ball filter media with remarkable qualities to ensure high-quality biological filtration.

The bio-balls are specially produced from high-density polypropylene plastic, which makes them a secure and reliable biofilter media for fresh and saltwater.

This peculiar design and construction also inhibit them from degrading while also maintaining their shape and remaining active throughout its service period.

The peculiar shape and size of the balls make them suitable for any filter system.

Each ball is coated with a spine which greatly increases the surface area of each ball and provides enough space for an exceeding amount of good bacteria to colonize and thrive.

These bacteria will feed on the toxic wastes and convert them into less harmful substances, thereby making the aquarium environment safe for the aquatic species.

The bacteria also helps in improving the water quality by reducing and eliminating the ammonia and nitrite level.

PROs
  • Constructed from high-density polypropylene plastic
  • Increased surface area
  • Encourages buildup of massive amounts of beneficial bacteria
  • Efficient in reducing and eliminating ammonia and nitrite levels
CONs
  • Can get clogged sometimes depending on the tank’s bio-load

11. Aqua-Flo Pond & Aquarium – Best Aquarium Fiber Filter Media

Best Fiber for Internal Filters
Aqua-Flo 12

Aqua-Flo 12″ Pond & Aquarium Filter Media

Aqua-Flo 12’’ Pond and Aquarium Filter Media is a fiber filter media that is produced from 100% polyester fiber aimed at providing an optimal filtration.

It is produced with a dual-sided filter media which consists of two layers having a white and green color. The white layer is coarser and specifically entraps larger particles while the green layer is finer and aims at entrapping smaller particles.

This fiber is not chemically treated which makes it safe and suitable for all aquatic environments including freshwater, saltwater, brackish water, tanks, and ponds.

Moreover, the fiber can easily be cut to fit with a pair of scissors. This will save you stress and the cost of having to find and buy a pre-cut filter media to fit your filter.

PROs
  • 100% Polyester fiber
  • Can be easily cut to fit
  • Fiber consists of a double layer for effective filtration
  • Not chemically treated
  • Suitable for marine, freshwater, and ponds
CONs
  • The product is not so thick as it claims

12. Aquarium Filter Media Roll – Best Filter Foam for Aquarium

Long Lasting Filter Media
Aquarium Filter Pad

Aquarium Filter Pad

Aquarium Filter Pads roll is an almost perfect filter media for freshwater and saltwater aquarium environments.

This product comes with 3rd generation dual layer aquarium filter pads that are highly effective at maintaining crystal clear water.

The top layer has an open fiber construction that traps larger particles, while the bottom layer has a dense fiber network that traps finer particles.

Its dual layer works together in synergy to create crystal clear water.

The filter rolls can easily be cut to any size to suit what your filter needs. This also cost-effective as it would save the cost of purchasing an already pre-cut filter material which will most often not give you the perfect needed dimensions.

This filter media will fit most filter systems including wet/dry filters, sumps, canister filters, aquaponics systems etc.

The rolls are made of durable polyester fibers which are bonded with special resins which allow for optimized filtration.

PROs
  • High-quality filter media foam
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Suitable for freshwater and saltwater setups
  • Allows the option to easily cut to fit
  • Effective at improving water quality
CONs
  • Quite pricey for a foam filtration media

To conclude

Getting the best aquarium filter media is undeniably one of the most important equipment needed in setting up and cycling a successful tank. This will help to maintain a safe and healthy environment for the aquatic species and of course increase their longevity and well being.

From our reviews, the Seachem Bio Media Filter is our top pick.

The filtration media have an exceeding large and porous surface area which allows for a large number of beneficial bacteria colonies including denitrifying bacteria to grow.

Unlike most filter media, this filter media in addition to reducing the ammonia and nitrite level, it also reduces nitrate level.

It is also produced from naturally mined elements which are void of chemical treatment, making it safe for all aquatic lives.

Top of it all, it is fairly cheap and pocket friendly to easily carry it back home and use it in the canister filters!

Frequently asked questions

What is the best aquarium filter media?

From our reviews, the Seachem Bio Media Filter is our top pick.

What is aquarium filter media?

Filter media used in the aquarium hobby refers to the things placed in the filters that alter the water parameters while flowing through.
Specific types of filter media can be used to facilitate custom environmental parameters in the aquarium water.
There are three main types of filter media, namely: mechanical, biological, and chemical.

How to best clean aquarium filter media?

In order to protect the beneficial bacteria that set in the aquarium filter media, one should always clean and wash the media using aquarium water.

Avoid using tap water to rinse your filter media, as this water in most places around the world contains chlorine which will kill the entire colony of beneficial bacteria.

How often should the aquarium filter media be changed?

A crucial part of the aquarium filtration is the biological one. Therefore, one should never change the entire bio filtration media at once. Best is to change about half the balls or ceramic rings, or sponges every 6 months.

When it comes to the chemical filtration media and carbon pads or gravels, those should be replace about once every month.

Foam and fine filter media should be changed more often and monitored as well. It is the filter media that gets really dirty the first.

Mechanical filtration media should also be changed about once every 6 months to get the maxim efficiency out of your mechanical filtration system.