10 Most Effective Filter Media for Your Aquarium to Have the Cleanest Water

We picked reliable filter media of all types – from mechanical to biological and chemical – that turned out to be the most effective to clean water in saltwater or freshwater aquariums.
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Last updatedLast updated: October 22, 2021
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Picked By Fish is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links.

Choosing the best aquarium filter media can be a little headache for novice aquarists. You have a choice to make between different types, shapes, specializations, and brands. But there’s more to choosing the filter media than just grabbing something that has a brand-specific score.

Without the ideal types – that is, the ones that really work in your type of aquarium – you will see a build-up of things like algae and other nasties. And if these things grow, you can start to lose plants and fish.

We’ve handpicked the 10 best filter media for the aquarium, taking criteria such as the type of filtration, form, quantity/volume, and purposes into account. We’ll start by quickly introducing all the products to you below.

Top 10 Aquarium Filter Media Products Review 2022


SunSun Sun CBR Canister Filter Media SetEditor’s Choice

  • Type: canister filter media
  • Form: bio-rings, bio-balls in a mesh media bag, activated carbon
  • Volume: 40 pc bio balls; 1lb ceramic rings; 1lb activated carbon

Best for: all SUNSUN and aqua top canister filters; filtering water; promoting gas exchange; beneficial bacteria growth; increasing dissolved oxygen levels

The SunSun Sun CBR product is a canister filter media type. The pack includes 40 pieces of bio balls. The particularity of these organic balls is that they are exceptionally porous, which will increase their efficiency. The pack also includes one pound of ceramic rings and one pound of activated carbon. This media helps to reduce the levels of ammonia and nitrate in the water, as well as filters water, promotes gas exchange and beneficial bacteria growth, making your aquarium a favorable place for fish.

Plus, it’s the right product for marine, freshwater, and reef aquariums. Now another quality of the product is that it is extracted naturally and does not contain any harsh chemicals that could impact the development or health of your fish.

What are our favorite features?

  • It increases dissolved oxygen in the water and ensures the growth of beneficial bacteria.

What could be better?

  • The bio balls do what they're advertised they do and there's nothing to complain about.

Fluval Biomax Bio RingsBest Biological Filter Media

  • Type: biological filter media
  • Form: porous rings
  • Volume: 17.63 oz.

Best for: biological filtration in freshwater environments and reducing ammonia and nitrate in a marine tank; beneficial bacteria growth; maintaining healthy nitrogen cycle

Fluval BioMax Bio Rings feeds your aquarium using a surface level for the filtration of any aquarium. While allowing the movement of water flow through the media during contact time, they have more capabilities than most filtering media.

Porous rings can also be very helpful in catching debris and helping to balance ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates to remove them from your aquarium water. They’re inexpensive and really work in most types of aquariums.

What are its best features?

  • We love the layout of this BioMax Bio Rings. They are made from a mixture of aluminum oxide and a ring formed silica. We love the internal pore system which provides plenty of surface area for nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria to colonize your aquarium.

What could be improved?

  • The media are large and will not suite smaller tanks; also, there are not mesh media bags included.

Seachem PurigenBest Synthetic Filter Media

  • Type: synthetic adsorbent
  • Form: macro-porous synthetic polymer in a bag
  • Volume: 4.97 oz.

Best for: marine and freshwater aquariums; filtration and removing nitrogenous organic waste

The Seachem Purigen is a 100ml synthetic absorbent filter media with a high organic removal capacity. The filter media helps control ammonia and nitrate in water. And when it wears off the color changes.

The filter media has a macro-porous synthetic polymer. Overall, it weighs 4.97 ounces. It is recommended for freshwater and marine aquariums.

The macropores are huge for denitrifying bacteria to come inside in addition to nitrification. Compared to other possibilities, this function allows bacteria to eliminate nitrites, ammonia, and nitrates.

What are its best features?

  • The Purigen does what is advertised it does. It filters and removes nitrogenous organic wastes.

What could be improved?

  • No tamper-evident seal.

AquaClear 110Best Carbon Filter Media

  • Type: carbon filter media
  • Form: activated carbon filter insert
  • Volume: 9 oz.

Best for: both freshwater and saltwater aquariums up to 110 gallons; absorbing odors, discoloration, and impurities

When it comes to absorbing most of the chemical pollutants and toxins in the tank water, this is truly unmatched. Likewise, it comes in a different style which means you can find the one that suits your aquarium needs.

It’s ideal for freshwater and saltwater. The product helps prevent types of ammonia, impurities, and other water contaminants that could endanger the life of plants and pets.

The ammonia and carbon crystals provide a safe atmosphere for plants and fish to thrive and make it efficient in maintaining your tank water. What defines it is heat actuated and its bituminous activity function.

It is essential to remember that this element should be used with caution. The reason for this is that it can be toxic if inhaled and can irritate the eyes. So you need a face mask to protect your eyes.

What are its best features?

  • It ensures convenient use of freshwater ponds, saltwater pools and reservoirs. The product is excellent for absorbing contaminants and dangerous toxins.

What could be improved?

  • It may irritate the eyes and become harmful to the body if inhaled.

Fluval ClearMaxBest Chemical Filter Media

  • Type: chemical filter media
  • Form: science-grade resin in nylon bags
  • Volume: (3) 3.52 oz. bags

Best for: freshwater and saltwater aquariums; absorbing phosphate, nitrite, and nitrate

This item is compatible with almost any version of filter that you may have on your aquarium. It is not difficult to install.

It comes in three 3.5-ounce bags, so more will be left over than other products. Another fantastic thing about the item is that it is compatible with fresh water in addition to saltwater.

The media not only removes ammonia but is also great at removing odors and discoloration from water. It’s a science-grade chemical filter resin packed in nylon bags.

What are our favorite features?

  • It's compatible with all types of filters. Also, it's suitable for use with fresh water and saltwater.

What could be better?

  • Doesn't make the water clear completely.

CerMedia MarinePureBest for Saltwater Aquariums

  • Type: biological filter media
  • Form: 1.5-inch spheres
  • Volume: 1 gal.

Best for: freshwater and saltwater aquariums; ammonia and nitrite removal; nitrate reduction

The CerMedia MarinePure is one of the best saltwater aquarium filter media products as it nitrifies aerobic germs and denitrifies anaerobic germs to grow efficiently.

Unlike many other biological media which do not alter the characteristics of water, this one also helps control ammonia and keep ordinary water nitrate levels on the proper account.

This helps in preventing the discoloration of the water and making it rancid. It facilitates the development of beneficial bacteria which in turn maintains the beneficial aquatic environment for your fish.

What makes it special?

  • It's a suitable product for saltwater and freshwater aquariums and may help maintain proper nitrate levels and odorless water. Also, it is compatible with all types of filters.

What cons did we find?

  • Now the problem is with the high price of this product. It is by far one of the most expensive products on this list.

Renew Phosphate SubstituteBest Price

  • Type: phosphate-free carbon substitute
  • Form: filter substitute
  • Volume: 1 gal.

Best for: soft water aquariums; reefs and planted aquariums; removing organics and particulates in the sub-micron range; controlling ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates

The Renew aquarium filter media is a phosphate-free carbon substitute. The Seachem product measures one gallon or four liters and is best for aquariums with soft water. It is also ideal for reef and planted aquariums. The product helps remove particulates and organics within the sub-micron range.

You can use it to control nitrate, ammonia, and phosphates. The filter media is less aggressive than carbon-activated filter media. But this makes it suitable for reefs and planted aquariums.

The media filter will filter out micro and macro plant supplements. It’s a great alternative to carbon filter media. There is no leaching and it removes bad stuff from water.

What are our favorite features?

  • Despite its size, it's still reasonably priced and offers great value for money.

What could be better?

  • It's less aggressive than carbon activated filter.

Aquatic Experts Bio BallsBest for Freshwater Aquariums

  • Type: biological filter media
  • Form: balls with mesh bag
  • Volume: 300-count

Best for: freshwater and saltwater aquariums; beneficial bacteria growth; increasing oxygen levels

Safe and easy to use, this item is one of the best aquarium biological filter media because it is what every aquarium hobbyist can use.

Whether you currently maintain a marine or freshwater tank, this can be used in all types of water. It comes equipped with a tote, which makes it much simpler to maintain.

This bio-tech filter would be your best value for money. The balls are absorbent, which makes them useful for harboring good germs. The fantastic thing is that it is cheap.

However, there are a few drawbacks that if you have chosen to purchase this item you will need to anticipate. It requires careful and long rinsing because it is extremely dusty before using it. And another issue is that the balls are going to leave crumbs at the bottom of the aquarium.

What stands out?

  • The tote bag allows for easy handling and it is made with a superior absorbent structure that allows fine bacteria to grow quickly. Its price is also unbeatable.

What cons did we manage to find?

  • It's always dusty before using it. Hence, the balls are going to leave crumbs at the bottom of the aquarium.

Fluval Foam Filter BlockBest for Fluval Aquarium Filters

  • Type: mechanical filter media
  • Form: foam filter block
  • Volume: 2 inserts

Best for: Fluval 404, 405, 406 and 407 aquarium filters; trapping waste and debris; maintaining even flow

If you use a Fluval filter you are in luck. This biological filter media technology will be a good fit for it. Fluval Foam Filter Block is among the best choices available on the market for filter media. It combines biological and mechanical filters while you work with your aquarium.

It also provides the bacteria in the filter with a large area for growth, which means more beneficial bacteria.

And, technically a disadvantage and an advantage, the Fluval Bio-Foam is tailor-made for Fluval filters. For those who use 404 to 407 filters, this is a wonderful fit.

Why is it special?

  • We love the structure of this Bio-Foam. It is capable of trapping particles that the first stage foam filter cannot.

What are the flaws?

  • It's not for those who don't have a Fluval filter.

Brightwell Aquatics BrickBest Brick Filter Media

  • Type: biological media
  • Form: brick
  • Volume: 9 x 4.5 x 2.5 in/ 1.5 lbs

Best for: freshwater and saltwater aquariums up to 1,000 gal.; efficient bacterial colonization; reducing toxic ammonia and nitrites

The brick system from Brightwell Aquatics is for those who want the best bio-filtration system. Designed to support thriving populations of large aquatic bacteria, the dimpled brick allows bacteria to spread through the media and detoxify water in your aquarium.

It works for salt and freshwater aquariums. It is also incredibly long-lasting and effective. It is one of, if not the best, bio-media systems of its type available in the industry!

Why are we impressed?

  • The brick is efficient for bacterial colonization and reduces toxic ammonia and nitrites.

What negatives must you be aware of?

  • It may not be the best choice for every filtration system. If you prefer a media that you never have to replace, then look for another model.

Things to Consider

There are many brands and types of filters available in the market. This makes it less painful to find the one that suits your taste and requirements. Besides the purchase price, there are several things that you will need to think about before making your choice.
Take into account the brand to buy from. This is largely determined by the type of filter you have, the aquarium type, and the fish to be maintained; for example, you might think about what type of tank you have: freshwater or marine. In addition to that, you will need to think about the size of the tank you are keeping, the amount of fish residing in your aquarium, and more.
In this buying guide, we’ll go more in-depth on the process of choosing a filter media for an aquarium.

Why do you need filter media for your aquarium?

10 Most Effective Filter Media for Your Aquarium to Have the Cleanest WaterAll aquariums will need to be cleaned and the water in the tank will need to be filtered. The point is, there are some elements that you cannot remove in a traditional strategy.

It is a necessity to get a filter media if you are maintaining an aquarium. This helps to remove particles, chemicals, and chemicals that exist in the tank and can hamper the health, growth, and even kill the raised organisms in your aquarium.

The types of filter media help combat high levels of nitrite, ammonia, and nitrate. They help create a base for bacteria to thrive as you know they are invaluable in maintaining a cleaner center for aquarium plants and pets.

These are simple to use. They are inexpensive and the majority of them are safe to use. Since they are meant to be reused, many models do not need to be replaced. And, since they’re safer to use, it usually means they’re environmentally friendly because they don’t contain any substances.

What types of aquarium filter media are there?

10 Most Effective Filter Media for Your Aquarium to Have the Cleanest WaterThere are generally three types of filter media. These include:


This is beneficial because it allows good bacteria to thrive in the atmosphere of the tank. It is important to understand that these germs are responsible for controlling the amount of ammonia present.

Changing it during the entire life of the tank is not advised.  It is better to purchase filter media such as those made from beads or biological materials. These can be placed from the aquarium filter sump, which has the potential to help keep the water free and pristine of any level of toxic ammonia.

Additionally, there are a few aquarists who prefer to use absorbent ocean rocks that are supposed to serve as the basis for a brand-new tank. Rock works by maintaining the nitrogen cycle at the right conditions.

Some of the biological media are the Brightwell Aquatics Brick and the Aquatic Experts Bio Balls.


This can be effective for different filter functions. It is offered in a selection. The filtration system removes particles with the help of other forms of adsorbents, activated carbon, and resins. This procedure helps to maintain the quality of the water.

Well-known compound media are activated carbon and resins. On the other hand, electrons with protein and ozone skimming are just a few types of chemical filters.

One of the models using a chemical filter is the Fluval ClearMax.


This type of filter media includes elements that indicate that they will do nothing to interfere with the chemistry of the water in the container.

This type removes particles such as sludge, uneaten food, fish blossoms, or dirt. And to avoid build-up, the filter media should be cleaned. Be warned! As soon as the media release the dirt they contain, a replacement is necessary.

This type of filter media is offered in many porosities which limit the size. The larger the pores of the power media, the larger the particles must be to be siphoned off by the filter.

How does it work?

10 Most Effective Filter Media for Your Aquarium to Have the Cleanest WaterFilters are essential for the well-being of the aquarium. By maintaining the nitrogen cycle, they work and play a role in keeping fish and aquarium cultures more alive and in good condition.

There is a filter media placed in a tank filter which is meant to be changed. There are different types of filter media and all of them consist of filtration but work differently.

The filtration of the aquarium water can be four types:  mechanical filtration, biological filtration, chemical filtration, and sterilization.

The first two are “mandatory” in any aquarium, in the sense that, without them, the quality of the water would be so bad that life in the aquarium could not be maintained without practically daily water changes.

Chemical filtration and sterilization, meanwhile, are used only at specific times, to remove certain specific substances. Sterilization is not even going to be discussed in this article, because it is more focused on the world of marine aquariums.

Mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration occurs mainly (although not exclusively) inside the aquarium filter, thanks to the aquarium filter materials that are layered inside the device.

For the aquarium filtration to be efficient, we must choose the aquarium filter well (looking carefully at characteristics such as flow, power, etc., the size of our fish tank, the amount and type of fish).

Without filter media, there is no filtration. With poor quality filter material, there is poor and inefficient filtration. So before setting up a planted aquarium, you have to know what types and quantities of aquarium filter material you have to buy.

The function of filtration is to remove harmful chemicals and compounds from the aquarium, as well as to clean the water of suspended particles that would otherwise cloud the water and affect the aesthetics of the aquarium and the photosynthesis of aquatic plants.

While in rivers, lakes, and natural swamps, the water is continually renewed and filtration is “automatic”, in an aquarium, the water is stagnant inside an urn without natural renewal. Hence, you must simulate it with an artificial filtration system.

Know that the artificial filtration system of an aquarium is composed of:

  • An aquarium filter: It is responsible for recirculating the water in the tank and passing it through the filter materials for aquariums, which will retain the harmful substances. Subsequently returns the already filtered water to the aquarium. There are external aquarium filters and internal filters for fish tanks.
  • Aquarium filter media: It is located inside the filter. The water passes through the layers of different filter material and undergoes mechanical, biological, and/or chemical filtration.

Filter media stages

What sequence should you set the filter media in the filter? Your system manual will guide you to the perfect layout and you should focus on their recommendations. Placing the media in the wrong place in your filter can cause functionality issues, depending on the type of filter you are using.

Using a nice water-based polishing pad in the very first stage of some filters, for example, can cause them to clog and force the water to restart another phase or be turned back into your tank. Course clamps and free-standing media work best for your very first phase of debris filtration. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Use coarser mechanical filter media from the first stage (s) to remove large debris and allow water to continue to flow unobstructed in other stages.
  • The chemical filtration network is usually used alongside the mechanics or as a separate step after the huge debris has been removed.
  • Many cartridge filters also use good mechanical filtration media in the later stages to polish the water and remove microscopic particles.
  • Biological filter media is best used as the last stage, when the water is clean and completely discharged, which can maximize the unwanted side effects of these bacteria.


Even on all 3 types, you can see that there is a lot of diversity when it comes to filtering media. The best way to use the media you have selected largely depends on the quality of your filtration process. Inexpensive systems which use prefabricated inserts or capsules are not always simple or even possible to adapt in this way. Most indoor and high-end filtration methods allow at least a bit of customization, and cartridge filters, using their multiple media baskets, would be the most customizable alongside aquarium sump systems.

To ensure its effectiveness, the carbon media must be replaced once every week. It cannot be washed. It can be reused, however. It could work even if it is out of shape since the job of the filter media would be to stop pieces of residue. Inspection is however essential.

Our Verdict

Rated 9.9 out of 10, the SunSun Sun Canister Filter Media is our Editor’s Choice. The pack includes 40 pieces of bio balls, as well as ceramic rigs and activated carbon. The particularity of the organic balls is that they are exceptionally porous, which will increase their efficiency. It is our choice of the best all-in-one aquarium filter media.

The Fluval Biomax Bio Rings, rated 9.7/10, is our option of the best biological filter media. The Bio Rings feed your aquarium using a surface level for the filtration of any aquarium. While allowing the movement of water flow through the media during the contact time, they have more capabilities than most filtering media.

The best filter for denitrifying bacteria is the Seachem Purigen. With a rating of 9.7, it is a 100ml synthetic absorbent filter media with a high organic removal capacity. The filter media is one of the best for controlling ammonia and nitrate in water.

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