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Using carbon to reset your aquarium and prevent problems

Art

Owner/Administrator
Staff member
Supporting
Founding Member
PAFF
  • Oct 29, 2022
    2,153
    2,402
    Miami, FL
    activatedcarbon.jpg
    Please keep an open mind. There are a LOT of people out there that have a preconceived idea about the use of carbon in planted aquariums. Some of it is valid and a lot of it is not.

    Topic:
    Why using the proper carbon every so often to perform an aquarium water column reset is a good thing.

    Background:
    Not all carbon is the same. The process of making carbon and the materials used will dictate the best use of that carbon.

    Some of it is designed for air purification. Others are specifically for water purification. The pore size and structure has a lot to do with what carbon will remove and won't remove.

    Some of it is cheap and widely available, unfortunately, it's not the best to use in a planted aquarium. Most of the aquarium carbon products are cheap bituminous and it's not what we want to use.

    The Argument:
    The is no need to run carbon continuously in a planted aquarium. Depending on the type used, it may have an impact on fertilizer as some of it (that bound with organic binders) may be removed. That is counter-productive and the costs thus outweigh any benefits.

    However, IMO it is beneficial to use the right carbon on occasion. By this I mean letting it run for 24 hours in your aquarium in a way that most of your water will run through it.

    The benefits are:
    • Removal of tannins and other impurities from your water that significantly reduce light penetration. We all know that carbon can make your water crystal clear. There have also been studies by Bulk Reef Supply showing how much light is lost to colored water.
    • Removal of organics and volatile organic chemicals that are no bueno for anyone. I know we all think that our 50% water changes keeps the organics (and, hence, algae) away but do the math. Organic accumulation will creep up until you have more than you want because you are only remove half with every water change. By using the carbon every 3 - 6 months, you are removing 100% of organics from the water column and reseting the starting point.
    • Removal of nutrients before they become a problem. As we've discussed in another thread on nutrient accumulation, there is an upward trend in the amount of nutrients in our water columns. This may have a detrimental effect in the long-term.
    1. Why do it if I don't have any problems at the moment? If it ain't broke, why fix it?
    Like with our health, prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is the main reason why adding the occasional carbon protocol is beneficial. You are proactively removing some things that may create a problem down the road.

    It's the same reason we do a water change even though nothing seems off. It's because we know that if we don't, thinks will go off the rails.

    2. I do the occasional big water change. I'm already dealing with these problems.
    While this is good, dropping in a bag or two of carbon will make this even better with VERY little hassle. The two are not mutually exclusive but supplement each other to achieve a better result.

    Whatever the water change left behind will be cleaned up by the carbon.

    3. I've heard that carbon removes fertilizer from the water. Why would I want that?
    It does remove some of the nutrients but that's exactly the point. We want to clean out nutrient accumulation and the start with a lower nutrient point.

    You will add back fertilizer as soon as you remove the carbon. After the 24 hour protocol.

    4. My water is crystal clear. I don't have wood in the tank.
    I'm happy for your maintenance skills but I would venture to guess that your water is not crystal clear. It's hard to tell in an aquarium. Just look at the BRS Investigates on carbon for crystal clear tank water.

    5. I have carbon and will use that.
    Great that I've convinced you to give it a try. However, don't just use any carbon. They are not all the same.

    Get yourself either a specialty carbon like BRS' ROX Carbon or a coconut shell carbon. Both have a mix of micropores and macropores that will properly clean your water. Make sure to get the small pellet size so that it maximizes water purification.

    Moreover, make sure to use it in a way that forces your water through it. Hanging it in your aquarium won't do. Either add it to your canister filter or pre-filter. Or, get your DIY mojo on and make yourself a simple canister and pump and hang it on your aquarium for 24 hours every 3-6 months. Ideally, combine it with a large water change and vacuuming.

    I promise you that you won't be disappointed.

    Anyone do this? I'd welcome any discussion of opposing point of view here.
     
    I have never used carbon. I did use purigen for a time but tired of the hassle and don’t see a benefit.

    You discussion points have convinced me to give a shot. I have a spare filter that would be great for just such a purpose.
     
    • Like
    Reactions: Art
    I'd welcome any discussion of opposing point of view here.
    I can try :)

    but do the math
    To be honest, I don't think the math will support the idea of a reset with Carbon. I think it supports a reset with water changes.

    Removal of organics and volatile organic chemicals that are no bueno for anyone. I know we all think that our 50% water changes keeps the organics (and, hence, algae) away but do the math. Organic accumulation will creep up until you have more than you want because you are only remove half with every water change. By using the carbon every 3 - 6 months, you are removing 100% of organics from the water column and reseting the starting point.
    The organics come from sources that will continue to discharge regardless of what is already in the tank. Fish, decaying waste etc. After a 'total reset' with Carbon these sources won't care, they will just continue as they did before the reset. This is unlike a bacterial colony, that will grow faster and faster when the population increases and will have a hard time to re-establish itself after a perfect reset (sterilisation).

    I do believe that Carbon can help to address a problem, but I am not convinced there is a case for preventive use.
     
    View attachment 3831
    Please keep an open mind. There are a LOT of people out there that have a preconceived idea about the use of carbon in planted aquariums. Some of it is valid and a lot of it is not.

    Topic:
    Why using the proper carbon every so often to perform an aquarium water column reset is a good thing.

    Background:
    Not all carbon is the same. The process of making carbon and the materials used will dictate the best use of that carbon.

    Some of it is designed for air purification. Others are specifically for water purification. The pore size and structure has a lot to do with what carbon will remove and won't remove.

    Some of it is cheap and widely available, unfortunately, it's not the best to use in a planted aquarium. Most of the aquarium carbon products are cheap bituminous and it's not what we want to use.

    The Argument:
    The is no need to run carbon continuously in a planted aquarium. Depending on the type used, it may have an impact on fertilizer as some of it (that bound with organic binders) may be removed. That is counter-productive and the costs thus outweigh any benefits.

    However, IMO it is beneficial to use the right carbon on occasion. By this I mean letting it run for 24 hours in your aquarium in a way that most of your water will run through it.

    The benefits are:
    • Removal of tannins and other impurities from your water that significantly reduce light penetration. We all know that carbon can make your water crystal clear. There have also been studies by Bulk Reef Supply showing how much light is lost to colored water.
    • Removal of organics and volatile organic chemicals that are no bueno for anyone. I know we all think that our 50% water changes keeps the organics (and, hence, algae) away but do the math. Organic accumulation will creep up until you have more than you want because you are only remove half with every water change. By using the carbon every 3 - 6 months, you are removing 100% of organics from the water column and reseting the starting point.
    • Removal of nutrients before they become a problem. As we've discussed in another thread on nutrient accumulation, there is an upward trend in the amount of nutrients in our water columns. This may have a detrimental effect in the long-term.
    1. Why do it if I don't have any problems at the moment? If it ain't broke, why fix it?
    Like with our health, prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is the main reason why adding the occasional carbon protocol is beneficial. You are proactively removing some things that may create a problem down the road.

    It's the same reason we do a water change even though nothing seems off. It's because we know that if we don't, thinks will go off the rails.

    2. I do the occasional big water change. I'm already dealing with these problems.
    While this is good, dropping in a bag or two of carbon will make this even better with VERY little hassle. The two are not mutually exclusive but supplement each other to achieve a better result.

    Whatever the water change left behind will be cleaned up by the carbon.

    3. I've heard that carbon removes fertilizer from the water. Why would I want that?
    It does remove some of the nutrients but that's exactly the point. We want to clean out nutrient accumulation and the start with a lower nutrient point.

    You will add back fertilizer as soon as you remove the carbon. After the 24 hour protocol.

    4. My water is crystal clear. I don't have wood in the tank.
    I'm happy for your maintenance skills but I would venture to guess that your water is not crystal clear. It's hard to tell in an aquarium. Just look at the BRS Investigates on carbon for crystal clear tank water.

    5. I have carbon and will use that.
    Great that I've convinced you to give it a try. However, don't just use any carbon. They are not all the same.

    Get yourself either a specialty carbon like BRS' ROX Carbon or a coconut shell carbon. Both have a mix of micropores and macropores that will properly clean your water. Make sure to get the small pellet size so that it maximizes water purification.

    Moreover, make sure to use it in a way that forces your water through it. Hanging it in your aquarium won't do. Either add it to your canister filter or pre-filter. Or, get your DIY mojo on and make yourself a simple canister and pump and hang it on your aquarium for 24 hours every 3-6 months. Ideally, combine it with a large water change and vacuuming.

    I promise you that you won't be disappointed.

    Anyone do this? I'd welcome any discussion of opposing point of view here.
    I feel like I just got smarter😀, still learning even though I have had tanks since I was a teenager.
    Now 57 😮
    So I am using a fluval canister filter for the first time, don't I already have carbon in there. This would be adding an additional amount of a more dense carbon for a 24 hour period? Interesting, thanks for the information!!
    Andy
     
    • Like
    Reactions: Art
    To be honest, I don't think the math will support the idea of a reset with Carbon. I think it supports a reset with water changes.
    @Yugang, I fully admit I really stink at math. However, can you explain?

    The assumption is that properly used carbon will remove 100% of the water-borne organics and other nasties.
     
    The organics come from sources that will continue to discharge regardless of what is already in the tank. Fish, decaying waste etc. After a 'total reset' with Carbon these sources won't care, they will just continue as they did before the reset.
    Yes, no doubt. I am not saying this protocol will remove organics and they will stay gone. The objective is to bring down the water-borne organics down close to zero at a certain interval of time. They will creep back up over the next 3-6 months with water changes keeping them increasing at a slower pace.

    To me, the synergistic effect of proper water change schedule plus the carbon every 3-6 months is a preventative measure that takes very little effort or cost.
     
    They will creep back up over the next 3-6 months with water changes keeping them increasing at a slower pace.
    Don't get me wrong, I believe you have a strong argument for using Carbon in certain situations. My point is that the 'math' to argue that Carbon is useful as a preventive reset quarterly or biannually does not hold as our intuition says. We can efficiently do a reset by having two WC on one day, or perhaps a 80% WC (as I do when uprooting lots of plants), but the use of Carbon for a reset seems a bit of an unnecessary expense and complication for me.

    The math can be easily understood when we do a 50% weekly WC. Assume that fish and other sources add X ppm 'organics' to our tank weekly. When I start on week 1 with X ppm, it will be X + X = 2X ppm at the end of the week, and again 2X/2 = X ppm after the 50% WC. So the tank long term stabilises at X ppm 'organics' just after the 50% weekly water change.

    So what happens now if we do a reset of the tank, so that we bring down the X ppm 'organics' to 80% of X, 60%, 40%, 20%, or pure water at 0% "organics? We can see this in below simulation

    1703894145598.png

    The dark blue dots represent no reset, and we see that the tank goes on week after week at X ppm after the 50% WC. If we reset to only 20% of X ppm (the light blue dot) we see that the tank is back at 80% of X ppm only 2 weeks later, so the effect of the reset is then nearly totally gone.

    The reset indeed creates a lower starting point as you aim for, but the effect will be significant in the tank for less than 2 weeks, not the 3-6 months that we are hoping for.

    I have never used Carbon, but will if I have a problem that I can't fix with a weekly 50% water change, or a multiple 80% WC for a reset.

    I really like this thread @Art , useful as always, but I hope it helps to bring in various perspectives.
     
    I came here expecting a spreadsheet, sketch or graph, and you delivered.
    Thanks to @Art starting another great discussion thread, and inviting for different viewpoints.

    I really like this mindset on ScapeCrunch, it is the diversity of skills and viewpoints that build the full picture and anyone can pick their own preferences or draw own conclusions when reading these threads. If there is one truth in our hobby, it is that there is never only one truth.
     
    Ive used it in the past but the article is absolutely right the different types are far and between along with the price tag. The crappy carbon we typically see wont do crap for our tanks. Buying the good stuff and changing it out will make a guy go broke. I suppose if your not doing lots or (normal) weekly water changes it might be good to use. That is the argument of water changes though, too get rid of all that stuff in the water coloumn.
     
    View attachment 3831
    Please keep an open mind. There are a LOT of people out there that have a preconceived idea about the use of carbon in planted aquariums. Some of it is valid and a lot of it is not.

    Topic:
    Why using the proper carbon every so often to perform an aquarium water column reset is a good thing.

    Background:
    Not all carbon is the same. The process of making carbon and the materials used will dictate the best use of that carbon.

    Some of it is designed for air purification. Others are specifically for water purification. The pore size and structure has a lot to do with what carbon will remove and won't remove.

    Some of it is cheap and widely available, unfortunately, it's not the best to use in a planted aquarium. Most of the aquarium carbon products are cheap bituminous and it's not what we want to use.

    The Argument:
    The is no need to run carbon continuously in a planted aquarium. Depending on the type used, it may have an impact on fertilizer as some of it (that bound with organic binders) may be removed. That is counter-productive and the costs thus outweigh any benefits.

    However, IMO it is beneficial to use the right carbon on occasion. By this I mean letting it run for 24 hours in your aquarium in a way that most of your water will run through it.

    The benefits are:
    • Removal of tannins and other impurities from your water that significantly reduce light penetration. We all know that carbon can make your water crystal clear. There have also been studies by Bulk Reef Supply showing how much light is lost to colored water.
    • Removal of organics and volatile organic chemicals that are no bueno for anyone. I know we all think that our 50% water changes keeps the organics (and, hence, algae) away but do the math. Organic accumulation will creep up until you have more than you want because you are only remove half with every water change. By using the carbon every 3 - 6 months, you are removing 100% of organics from the water column and reseting the starting point.
    • Removal of nutrients before they become a problem. As we've discussed in another thread on nutrient accumulation, there is an upward trend in the amount of nutrients in our water columns. This may have a detrimental effect in the long-term.
    1. Why do it if I don't have any problems at the moment? If it ain't broke, why fix it?
    Like with our health, prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is the main reason why adding the occasional carbon protocol is beneficial. You are proactively removing some things that may create a problem down the road.

    It's the same reason we do a water change even though nothing seems off. It's because we know that if we don't, thinks will go off the rails.

    2. I do the occasional big water change. I'm already dealing with these problems.
    While this is good, dropping in a bag or two of carbon will make this even better with VERY little hassle. The two are not mutually exclusive but supplement each other to achieve a better result.

    Whatever the water change left behind will be cleaned up by the carbon.

    3. I've heard that carbon removes fertilizer from the water. Why would I want that?
    It does remove some of the nutrients but that's exactly the point. We want to clean out nutrient accumulation and the start with a lower nutrient point.

    You will add back fertilizer as soon as you remove the carbon. After the 24 hour protocol.

    4. My water is crystal clear. I don't have wood in the tank.
    I'm happy for your maintenance skills but I would venture to guess that your water is not crystal clear. It's hard to tell in an aquarium. Just look at the BRS Investigates on carbon for crystal clear tank water.

    5. I have carbon and will use that.
    Great that I've convinced you to give it a try. However, don't just use any carbon. They are not all the same.

    Get yourself either a specialty carbon like BRS' ROX Carbon or a coconut shell carbon. Both have a mix of micropores and macropores that will properly clean your water. Make sure to get the small pellet size so that it maximizes water purification.

    Moreover, make sure to use it in a way that forces your water through it. Hanging it in your aquarium won't do. Either add it to your canister filter or pre-filter. Or, get your DIY mojo on and make yourself a simple canister and pump and hang it on your aquarium for 24 hours every 3-6 months. Ideally, combine it with a large water change and vacuuming.

    I promise you that you won't be disappointed.

    Anyone do this? I'd welcome any discussion of opposing point of view here.
    This is a great article, makes sense, I am going to try this in the near future.
     
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