Cheap & DIY Aquarium Filter Media Alternatives!




Cheap & DIY Aquarium Filter Media Alternatives!

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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.

Fish Pond 3 Piece Foam Filter Sponge Set - 17" x 11"
  • Fish Pond 3 Piece Foam Filter Sponge Set - 17 x 11

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.

Aquarium Water Changers Bio Ceramic Rings for Aquarium Fish Canister Filter
  • Biological filter media for aquarium canister filters porous
  • Extremely porous ceramic media for efficient biological filtration
  • Ring size: 1/2" x 1/2" media bag size: 8.0" x 5.5" package included: 2000g of ceramic rings in 4 filter media bags, 500g in each bag

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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7 thoughts on “Cheap & DIY Aquarium Filter Media Alternatives!”

  1. Mari, You are doing awesome. I also didn’t purchase precut and branded pads. I had also the same big bag of filter floss lying around. It is a really helpful article for both experts and begginears. When I bought my canister filter it helped me like an indicator.

  2. There are many kinds of saltwater and freshwater aquarium filter media that I can choose from. Since I made it this far, that means that I now know what to have the best filter media.

  3. Great article! I use shapecrete, perlite and aragonite sand to make bio bricks for my reef tank. I imagine it would work very well with a cichlid tank or any 7.5 ph or higher freshwater tank. The salt creates great porosity within the bricks and the perlite adds to this, only downside is having to wait for it to cure . Sad how much companies mark up products the moment they decide to market to aquarists!

    • I definitely agree! Some things you just need to put out the money for, but otherwise, there are so many things you can reuse and repurpose.

  4. Thank you for the tip about the generic ceramic bio rings. I was about to buy sintered glass pearls by Eheim, but your Amazon link is half the price for a similar volume of material. Now, I have heard you can use polyester pillow stuffing as filter floss. I don’t have any filter floss so I will try this.

    • Glad to hear the article was helpful! I’ve heard about the pillow stuffing as well, makes sense to me. Good luck setting up your filter 🙂

  5. 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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