Aquarium Filter Innovations
Aquarium Filter Innovations in History
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive history of aquarium innovations, and I am basically listing innovations that I have found noteworthy in my nearly 44 years in the hobby, 34 of which were in a professional capacity.
Comments that would add to this article are certainly welcome (any pictures would also be welcome)
I will start with the lowly aquarium corner filter (also known as an internal bubbler filter and other names as well). The one pictured to the left is the first style I owned with multi level intakes.
Later models included these Bubble-Up Filters that used an air stone to increase flow and had dual level intakes.
This same principle was also applied to the Slim-Jim Bubble-Up Outside (Hang on the back filter) where a rising column of air was used to expel water out of the filter (siphon tubes brought the water in).
These were simple filters and served their purpose, although the Bubble-UP HOB filters were often problematic and I personally would rather have an internal corner filter or the impeller driven HOB Filters that were also becoming common during this time.
POWER HOB (HANG ON THE BACK) FILTERS
The Aqualogy Power Filters such as the Aquamaster 300 or 600 were the "Kings" of the outside, hang on the back power filter.
These Filters employed often 2-4 large siphon tubes to bring water into the filters where is would be pulled through to the base of the filter via large motor (not an electromagnetic motor as found today).
These were popular with many of the "monster fish keepers" of the 70s, although often large fish would knock a siphon tube some loss of intake (and more noise)
The Dynaflo Motor Filter that came out in the mid 1960s also employed a siphon tube to bring water into the filter and the motor to expel water back into the aquarium. Instead of a top mounted motor as found in the Aqualogy filters, the motor was located at the bottom of the filter box in a plastic case and employed a magnetic drive impeller. These became one of the most popular filters during this time along with under gravel filters.
The picture to the left depicts one of these first Dynaflo filters.
Living World/Metaframe came out with a new Dynaflo (Marineland and others followed) in 1975 that used an overflow method and cartridge.
These filters used a motor to pump water in rather than out as its predecessors did (the Aqualogy and similar).
This eliminated the problematic siphon tubes, however I found the over-flow method less efficient than the older style and the cartridges used there in could not hold nearly as much waste as an Aqualogy 600 or similar.
These motors were also problematic with many of the bearings often seizing in either the siphon or early over flow style (the early Dynaflo filters also had issues with carbon or other debris getting trapped under the impeller causing loss of flow).
Hagen’s early Aqua Clears employed a "pinky finger" sized well that housed an impeller that used an electromagnet to pull the water in.
This also turned out to be problematic with the plastic housing warping, often from heat or trapped carbon, sand or similar, and then resulting in total failure of the filter as it was often impossible to pull this melted plastic piece from the motor/power unit.
What followed next is what is now common, the electromagnet motor with a usually more durable magnet impeller that fits into a directly attaching motor that is sealed via an O ring.
A few generations of Aqua Clears, Whispers and similar employed this method, with newer innovations utilizing other innovations such as the simple Bio Bag by Whisper, Bio Grids by Millennium, Via Aqua and similar.
Whisper also used a sponge Bio filter to preserve nitrifying bacteria.
Marineland came out with their unfortunately over blown Bio Wheel (see this article: Aquarium Answers; Bio Wheels).
Even though my tests showed the Bio Wheel over rated, it along with the grids, sponges, etc. were a vast improvement over the throw filter media that often resulted in higher ammonia levels after filter cleanings.
The Rena Smart Aquarium Power Filter combined some of the best of a canister filter with the simplicity of an aquarium sower (HOB) filter when an aquarium prefilter is also used with this filter
- Rena Smart Aquarium Power Filter from American Aquarium The ONLY seller selling these filters CORRECTLY with recommended pre-filters!!
- Filter Max Aquarium Prefilter
Another similar innovation is the Internal wet/dry style filter utilized in the Bio Cube Aquarium and Resun/SunSun Filter Bio Filters.
Although the technology really is not all that new, the simplicity and application at low cost is. These utilize proven Sponge bio capacity, along with Wet/dry style flows, and in the case of the ReSun BF100 in particular versatility such as the ability to add UV Sterilizers or other nitrifying or de-nitrifying filter media (such as crushed coral crumbles, volcanic rock, or the especially effective Matrix)
UNDER GRAVEL FILTERS
These were and still are to some extent popular filters. Some early DIY versions also included tubes of pvc with slits on the bottom. These however had many dead spots and performed poorly according to use by Carl Strohmeyer.
Metaframe came out with their Hi-Fl undergravel filter that was popular for years. Penn-Plax, Hagen and many others followed.
Nektonics came out with a patented design that used raised channels that not only prevented some of the packing and dead spots of gravel, they allowed for higher flow rates and demonstrated higher bio capacity as per tests conducted by Carl Strohmeyer in the late 1970s.
CLEANING DEVICES, FILTERS
This is another area that I will note a few changes as in the implications for improvements in aquarium care/maintenance.
The simple Aquarium Gravel Vacuum was great improvement to siphons or similar methods of removing water and as well the battery operated vacuums that added much of the waste back into the aquarium.
I immediately found improved tank parameters such as nitrates and less stress to both me and the fish when I began to use these vacuum/siphons.
Later (I believe the 1980s) Python came out with a variation of the vacuum/siphon that allowed the user to both empty and refill and even empty "uphill" which was an improvement over buckets, especially over large tanks. HOWEVER, I was already using my own version of the Python that is EXACTLY the same for less money. This involved vinyl tubing and/or hoses, sink adapters, and waterbed drains.
I still use this idea and I have more about this DIY version at the bottom of this page:
Gravel Vacuum; DIY Maintenance System.
The Vortex Diatom/Micron Filter was another innovation I found very helpful for multiple tank cleanings (I used in my fish stores in the 70s and 80s). This was/is a simple way to remove large amounts of large particulate organic material suspended in the water and even Ich Tomites. The biggest negative to the Vortex Diatom is that for it to be most effective, the gravel needed to be stirred (similar to water changes prior to vacuums). This often added to fish stress and the highest volume of organic matter quickly fell back to the bottom of the tank.
After this, the next innovation that combines the Gravel Vacuum/Python innovations with the best of the Vortex is the "Aquarium Cleaning Machine.
When this first came out I was questioning this cleaning filter somewhat, however when some friends in the Aquarium Maintenance business told me about this product, I gave it a try and I was immediately sold!!
The Aquarium Cleaning Machine removes volumes of Organic matter that can cause an unstable pH, high nitrates, Aeromonas bacterial activity, poor Redox, even Ich Tomites, WITHOUT changing volumes of water as would be necessary with a Python or similar (as well the Python does not remove the contaminants a Cleaning Machine can). There is not the disruption to the fish that using a Vortex Diatom filter causes (since constant stirring of gravel is not necessary).
Further Reference: Aquarium Redox
Like a Python or similar DIY, the Cleaning Machine is great for large tanks or several smaller tanks, however with single small tanks set up and tear down makes the Cleaning Machine more of a time hog than time saver (but if time is not your reason for this device, this machine is still a good idea for providing more thorough aquarium cleanings with little disruption of fish and sudden water parameter changes that further stresses fish).
Sadly though the effects of a poor USA economy, poor business decisions, and a retailers business practices that caused financial harm to the manufacturer of the cleaning machine (Ancient Mariner), have led to the demise of this great product.
As an editorial; the retailer that led to the demise of this product is Doctor Foster & Smith, whom Quality Pets (also now out of business) and others inside the industry have stated that they allegedly have poor business practices that only hurt the industry. In this case Quality, and Ancient Mariner both stated that Doctor Foster & Smith returned dozens of these machines that were damaged from improper use, this resulted in so many losses that the company could not come up with the minimum costs for a production run.
My opinion is to avoid Doctor Foster & Smith, Pet Mountain, Amazon, and other discounters that allegedly go around traditional distribution channels and place too much responsibility on manufacturers to cover costs of returns that THEY are responsible for, and often these returns are only because these retailers do NOT properly educate buyers on proper use as do high end retailers such as American Aquarium Products.
It is noteworthy that if it seems too cheap, there is a reason, often these are not the same exact product or business practices that do not allow fair competition have been used.
Remember, regardless of of these accusations from those who have been in the aquarium industry for years; When you purchase from a discounter that sell at low prices, you only in the end hurt the industry as this drives out those who spend 1000s of hours in educating aquarium hobbyists of proper use based on real time experience, then all you are left with is the same non innovative & copycat products with a few extra dollars in your pocket and NO REAL professional to turn to for help!
Recommended Aquatic Sites
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This is an example of good science and experience based information that will disappear if aquarium hobbyists purchase only from discounters
The article below is a MUST READ for anyone interested in moving from basic aquarium keeping to more advanced aquarium keeping, including a better Redox Balance:
TRUE Ultraviolet Sterilization, Advanced Aquarium Keeping
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Another example of a science and experience based article that contradicts the information and products pushed by discounters!
UV Replacement Bulbs/Lamps; Aquarium or Pond
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Copyright; Steven Wright with input from Carl Strohmeyer