What’s better: Bio balls or ceramic rings?

One of the most common questions we receive is whether our customers should choose bio balls or ceramic rings for their aquarium. While we obviously have our biases, the answer isn’t always black and white. Both of these filters are designed to perform differently and that’s necessary to understand.


Before we get into that, however – it’s important to know the two types of bacteria that these two filters are designed to clean out. The first is nitrifying bacteria that eats ammonia and nitrates. Most of the time you’ll find them on the surfaces of your aquarium. The second type is called denitrifying bacteria – and they do what they say they do – which is eat nitrates.


Bio balls only eradicate nitrifying bacteria, while ceramic noodles can do both.


Now – we know you’re probably thinking 1+1=2, here. That because ceramic noodles can carry both that they must be better. But this isn’t a ‘one or the other’ kind of thing. Ceramic noodles are designed to do more things, so they do. What bio balls do well however, they do really, really well.


Ceramic rings basically increase their surface over time. This happens because they have small pores that aren’t visible to the human eye. Those pores are where bacteria and other baddies make themselves at home. What can happen in many cases – is that they can become clogged easier than bio balls and especially in tanks where there is no real mechanical filtration – and this can cause problems.


When this happens, filtration becomes less effective and eventually you’ll find yourself having to replace your ceramic rings. Conversely, Bio Balls require about 20% of the maintenance and don’t need to be cleaned or replaced nearly as much.


Now, what should also be noted is that Bio Balls shouldn’t be seen as a panacea for all your filtration needs. Bio balls should only be used for biological filtration only. They simply exist to trap and remove waste. Ceramic rings will ultimately trap more bad stuff, but your bio balls will ultimately do a better job of denitrifying bacteria.


To get the most out of your Bio balls, you should always have your other filtration systems in place to catch waste before you depend on the bio balls, themselves. With that in place; between your filter and bio balls, you should be able to radically reduce the number of nitrates in your tank.


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