Having a well-rounded filtration system that included mechanical, biological and chemical filtration is key to long-term success. But sometimes conditions change where more sediment or debris gets into the water column and instead of just letting it settle, you need to boost your mechanical filtration for a short period of time.
Remember mechanical filtration is the means of capturing large particles and other organic compounds (fish waste, food, algae, etc.) out of the water typically involving some sort of filter material working like a strainer.
Now imagine you’re doing a water change and are clearing the gravel, or moving around your aquascaping and you kick up a bunch of murky junk that is clouding the water. Chances are, if you keep your filtration and water movement as it currently is, most of the debris will settle down and not get removed from the tank. So what can you do?
Planning ahead is key and there are a couple of things to keep in mind that will help you out:
Ensure you have enough filtration
Every aquarium is unique and you should take your fish into consideration when it comes to water flow (turnover) and filtration. But the rule of thumb is to have four times turnover and buy a filter rated for a tank higher than what you have. For example, you want to ensure your water movement in a 30 gallon tank it at least 120 gallons and your filter is rated for at least double than your size (some advocate more). Canister filters are typically the some of the more effective filters for mechanical filtration, however some of the hang on back (HOB) power filters are pretty effective too. If you are going for a HOB vs. a canister then definitely go larger.
Invest in good quality media and change/clean often
This is the workhorse of the aquarium and is a great way to protect your fish investment so try not to skimp on poor quality or inadequate media. Make sure the mechanical part of it is adequate enough to capture fine materials to eliminate excess organics in your water. Also make sure you clean or change it often. Think of the mechanical filter like an air mask on your face. If it gets too clogged, its harder to breathe and for your filter, it means less water is going through the filter.
Buy a polishing filter or spare filter
Make sure to pick up a polishing filter like a Marineland Magnum polishing filter, another canister or power filter to add to the system when you need it. The added filtration power will ensure you clear the water in a shorter time. The added water movement also keeps things moving and from settling before the filter can do its job.
Have a flocculating agent on hand
Flocculating agents a good option for short-term use. They are designed to bind small particles together to form larger particles that make it easier to extract from the water. There are a variety of options on the market like Seachem Clarity. Keep in mind you typically need to replace the filter media every 24-48 hours, but by bumping up aquarium flow and filtration, you should be able to clear it up within this time. If you have a lot of debris, you might want to replace it after 12 hours.
When to put it to use?
When you do you water change or aquascaping, keep the cleanup in mind and have your plan ready. Once you are done, add the flocculating agent and added filtration to clean it up as quickly as possible.
Sometimes the murky water is the look you are going for with a planted tank for example. But other times a clear tank is more appealing and you might find your aquarium water to be just cloudy even with water changes. It is always good to check your water parameters (ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, etc.) to ensure its not an ammonia spike or something from poor maintenance.
If all looks good, you might just want to give your water a polish. Adding your extra filter for a few hours or a day can go a long way. Just make sure to take your fish into consideration and don’t add too much more flow than what they can withstand. You might want to start out with a lower setting on the filter and slowly increase it over time.
Bottom line is, there is no better way to keep water clarity and quality up than by using the right level and type of filter, regular water changes, keeping stocking levels balanced and don’t over feed. But, there are times where your mechanical filtration might need a little boost.