Articles Water quality

Cheap & DIY aquarium filter media alternatives!

May 22, 2016
aquarium filter material

I recently bought a large used canister filter (review soon!). Unfortunately, it came without any filter media. As ‘branded’ filter media can quickly become very expensive, I decided to go for the more DIY & budget route which worked out quite well.

If you’re looking to fill up a canister filter (or even just a smaller internal filter) without breaking the bank, be sure to keep reading.

Cheap filter sponge solution

When looking for Eheim brand sponges for my Eheim canister, I found out that these can cost $10 or more for two small pieces. That seemed a bit over the top to me, so I went to my local koi dealer/pond store to look for something slightly cheaper. And I found it! As expected, a huge pond filter sponge mat was only $10, the same price as those tiny sponge pieces even though it was made of almost the exact same material.

I bought one big mat and only made a very small dent in it while filling up my canister; I can probably fill ten more filters from the same sheet. You can buy three large filter mat pieces for $13 online here or have a look at your local pond store.

Cheap biological filter media solution

After finding my sponge, I went to look for some biological filter media. I figured ceramic rings, pumice or lava rock would be a great option. I found some ceramic rings, but the price was quite startling – 250 grams cost $12 in the aquarium section!

So I headed over to the pond part and found a much better priced brandless product yet again. Now I’ve noticed that in the US these ceramic rings are a little cheaper, but going brandless still saves you a few bucks especially if you buy in bulk. 500 grams (1.1 lb) of Fluval ceramic rings are around $14 and 2000 grams (2.2 lb) of these brandless rings cost almost the exact same. This amount will last you multiple large canister filters and if you’ve only got smaller tanks it’s probably enough for the rest of your fishkeeping days.

biological filter material

Filter floss

I already had a big bag of filter floss lying around. Same formula here: don’t buy the precut, branded pads. Just get a large bag and layer it yourself!

Setting up your filter

Once you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to set up your filter. The filter mats discussed above aren’t cut to size yet, so it’s time to take a pair of scissors and get cutting! Just cut as many pieces out of your mat in the shape of your filter as you need to fill it up to the desired height. Most filter intakes are at the bottom, so layer as follows: a piece of filter floss, sponge layered from coarse to fine if you’ve got different thicknesses, and your biological filter media on top.

For more information about how the different types of filter material work, have a look at this article.


If you have any more questions about budget filter media or want to share your own aquarium budget tips, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!


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1 Comment

  • Reply Jenny June 6, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I do the same thing! I did some research and found that you don’t have to use carbon unless removing meds from the water, so I just bought a big thing of filter floss and I cut it to fit my filters. Saves a lot of money in the long run!

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