Are Bio Balls Still Of Any Use In The Aquarium

Bio BallsAquarium filtration is at the very heart of the aquarium. Without it fish waste, uneaten food etc cannot be processed and with the aquarium being a closed environment before long the aquarium inhabitants are going to suffer.

An aquarium cannot function without filtration.

There are various ways to implement a filtration system to the aquarium one of which is the bio ball.

But are they any good – do they work?

Before I answer that question I suppose it may help to describe what a [tag-self]bio ball[/tag-self] is.

A bio ball is a small ball (about 1″ in size) which has a geometric design and a huge surface area, therefore large biological loads can be maintained with a smaller filter.

Bio Balls can be placed in either a closed compartment like a canister filter or they can be utilised in a wet/dry filtration environment.

So do they work?

Yes they do however there is a but (isn’t there always)

The trouble is they work to well – they are to efficient.

But isn’t the good I hear you say.

To be honest no it isn’t. Bio Balls are known to be what has been classed as a nitrate factory. Due to the large surface area on them they are able to process large amounts of [tag-self]ammonia[/tag-self] and [tag-self]nitrite[/tag-self] but they do not have the capability to be able to process [tag-self]nitrate[/tag-self]. For this reason you can end up with high readings of nitrate in the aquarium. Nitrate which you have to manage. You can manage this by water changes, nitrate removal devices, nitrate removal chemical or by natural methods but at the end of the day you need to implement another system or manual process to control this.

There is another downside. They become dirty very easily. If left uncleaned the filtration can become blocked and your fish, corals etc will start to suffer. They can be cleaned quite easily in aquarium water when a water change is performed but for me live rock and/or a deep sand bed is so much easier.

Bio balls are sometimes used is a sump in the first compartment where the overflows enter the sump. The reason for this is that they help break up the water rushing into the sump and prevent micro bubbles from progressing. They work great for this, however they do become biologically active and will fight with your prime filtration. Personally I would consider using live rock rubble instead of bio balls – this is what I use and it works a treat.

I don’t know about you but I get a great amount of joy and satisfaction from just sitting and watching the aquarium. If there is anything I can do to remove maintenance without effecting the fish, corals etc then I consider it. If I find it beneficial to both myself and my aquarium then I implement it. The financial side as always needs to be considered but if I had to choose between bio balls and live rock then to me there is one winner – live rock.

Bio Balls in my opinon can be used in an aquarium system as long as the aquarist is aware that they will need to control the nitrate which is produced and manually clean the bio balls every so often. Of course a prefilter could be applied but this would need to be cleaned.

In my opinion live rock and a deep sand bed is the best type of filtration to apply to a saltwater aquarium but live rock can be expensive and compared to bio balls there is a large difference in cost.As always it comes down to budget.My recommendation – if you can afford live rock then get live rock – if not then consider bio balls but if you can obtain live rock in the future then do so.


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  1. I had BioBalls in our tank for a short stretch and subsequently removed them and have experienced no adverse affects from the change.

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