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3 Best Filter Medias for Planted Tanks (With Pictures)

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By Lindsey Stanton

aquarium filter media

The clarity of the water is one of the most striking aspects of Aquascapes. It’s also one of the most challenging. Filter media plays the most important role in keeping your water filtered & clean. Let’s talk about some of the best options to do that.

Besides filter and substrate selection (more on that here), your filter media will probably be one of the most important choices you make for your aquascape.

Media plays such a big role in your tank’s health that it’s worth spending a bit of time doing the research to be sure you have the correct filter media for your tank’s circumstances.

When I first started aquascaping, this was one of my hardest decisions to make as I had so many questions like;

  • What’s the best filter media for planted tanks?
  • What type of media do I need?
  • Do I need K2 media?
  • Is ceramic media for aquariums that much better?
  • What kind of media for fish tank filters?
  • Should I be using bio balls for my aquascape?
  • Or maybe even some sort of higher-grade ceramic tube media?

There were so many questions that I didn’t know where to start. I had to figure it out the hard way, and that’s why I wrote this guide: to help new aquarists figure out what type of filter media they should be using for their tank.

Why Use Filter Media?

Coral biological filter media
Image Credit: NRien, Shutterstock

Filter media is vital for the health of your tank. If you don’t choose wisely, your fish and plants will suffer, and you won’t get that photo-quality aquascape you’re looking for.

Water Clarity

This is what separates the professionals from the amateurs: it’s pretty challenging to get water that so clear you can’t see it in a photo. This can be ‘faked’ in Photoshop, but you can’t photoshop real life!

Using the proper filter media can polish your water to the point that you get that crystal-clear look.

Aquascape Health

Your overall aquascape will benefit greatly from the correct filter media.

With good mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, your water will come out looking crystal-clear and ready for photos.

Choosing Your Media

So you know by now that filter media is a pretty big decision for your Aquascape. But the question still remains: which media type should you choose? What’s the best filter media for aquascapes?

Check out this list we’ve gathered of some common media types and situations where you should be using them:

NOTE: Do yourself a favor before doing anything and buy a Media Bag. They’re easy, inexpensive, and incredibly useful for managing filter media, especially in canister filters. (which you should be using!)

wave tropical divider

The 3 Best Types of Filter Media For Aquariums

Here is a quick summary of the three main types of filter media:

1. Mechanical Media

Mechanical Media

This media physically blocks detritus and other waste from going through your filter. It usually filters out things like fish waste and food, but can also catch other things, like decaying plant matter and other physical materials in the tank. Mechanical filtration is very important.

Most mechanical media is pretty much the same: some sort of netting or wool that catches waste as it’s pulled through the media’s string-like material. However, there are a few good choices we’ve had great results with:

  • Sera Filter Wool: this is great for adding that polish to your water. It comes in a big 1 pound bag, so it’ll last quite a while (Click here to buy Sera Filter Wool at Amazon).
  • Pet Solutions Multi-Pack Pads: This pack is great for filters that have multiple layers (as most canister filters do). A no-brainer for most aquascapes.
  • Generic Foam Canister Filter Pads: We’ve ordered these in bulk. While they’re technically made for EHEIM filters, they’ll fit nearly any canister filter.

Note: When you’re putting media in your filter, you’ll want to put this media in first. (You’ll likely be changing this out most often.)

2. Biological Media

Biological Media

This media is alive. Seriously though, the microfauna that lives on this media is what keeps your water column healthy, so it’s important to get it right.

While this doesn’t matter quite as much in a planted tank, it’s still important to make sure you’re providing optimal conditions if you’re going for that crystal-clear water.

Here are some biological filtration media choices that we’ve had fantastic success with:

  • Fluval G-Nodes: We use this in every tank we build (you can buy Fluval G-Nodes at Amazon by clicking here).It’s that good and what we feel is one of the best biological filter medias for planted tanks. It has so much surface area that it does the work of much more conventional media in half the space. The star-shape really helps this media stand head-and-shoulders above the rest.
  • Matala Filter Mat: This might look like mechanical filter media, but if you place it after all the mechanical media (and before the chemical media), you’ll find some great bacterial growth on this stuff. It’s got a great surface area, which is what you’re looking for in biological media.
  • EHEIM Substrat Pro: This stuff is great for most tanks. It’s made from sintered glass, which gives it literally magnitudes more surface area than conventional media. Not to mention it’s a great value for the price. We bulk order this media for various applications in smaller tanks.

Note: Put this media after all mechanical filtration, but before chemical filtration. Chemical filtration can occasionally affect the microorganisms that grow on this media, so don’t put it after any chemical filtration!

3. Chemical Media

Chemical Media

This media should be the last step your filter does before sending the water back into the tank.

Just in case you missed the previous paragraph: put this after biological filtration. Otherwise, you might kill off your biological media when you’re running some types of chemicals.

These are the only chemical media that we use:

  • Marineland Black Diamond Carbon: This stuff is great for giving your water that extra polish (click here to buy Marineland Black Diamond Carbon at Amazon). If you’re taking photos of your tank, be sure and drop some of this into the last step of your filtration the night before, and you’ll see a noticeable difference. Grab the 40 ounce for the best value. It’ll last a while. In a pinch, you can actually boil activated carbon and get some more useful life out of it.
  • SeaChem SeaGel: Use this after you dose meds for your fish. It gets out most of it, and keeps your water a bit cleaner, as well.



Let us know in the comments below about what you’ve used in the past, and how your experience has been with certain types of media!

We’re open to any questions you might have about your setup, and we’d be glad to provide some input.

Featured Image Credit: Chatchai Kuntrakornkiti, Shutterstock

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