What does carbon really do in your aquarium?
Possibly the most versatile media one can install into their filtration system. Whether it is a hang-on-back or canister filter, carbon should almost always find a home in your aquarium system. Carbon is the building block of life and is manufactured through the use of either coal or wood and is used in various industries from fish keeping, to automotive, to cycling, to board sports and a plethora of others. Many people overlook or do not care to know the abilities of carbon to help their water quality. Part of it may be lack of understanding, but maybe we can help with that.
What does it do? Why is it so important?
Carbon, when used in an aquarium application, is a form of chemical filtration that is capable of doing a multitude of things. It helps remove odors, discoloration, medications, organics and inorganics from the water by allowing those particles to bond or become trapped by the pores in the carbon. It also helps water clarity bypolishing the water, more so then a fine filter pad. The finest of filter pads still have larger pores then carbon, rendering carbon a powerful tool in removing particles at the microscopic level. BUT, be sure to use a filter pad to prevent the carbon from prematurely gunking up.
Trapping the particles in the pores is called absorption; just like a sponge, it provides a porous surface area for particles to get ‘stuck’ in. One may ask, “If it’s like a sponge, can’t I just rinse it?” There is another process called adsorption; notice a “d” instead of the “b.” This process actually chemically bonds particulates, therefore trapping them in the chemical makeup of your carbon. Particulates that are adsorbed cannot be removed by any conventional standards. Think of it like baking a cake; all of the ingredients are separately added and the outcome is drastically different then a bowl of eggs, milk and other cake batter ingredients. Now think if you wanted to back track while making a cake; you would have to go to a science lab and chemically extract each ingredient and even then, that may not be possible as the protein in the milk may have bonded with the egg whites, and so on. So once your water smells or is becoming discolored; it’s time for new carbon. No matter how much you rinse your carbon, it is effectively useless for chemical filtration once all of the pores are clogged.
Investing in a high quality activated carbon will help ensure that your filtration system is performing at its best by providing an ample amount of pores for particles to stick or bond to. Replacing your carbon monthly or when your tank begins to yellow or smell, will ensure that your water is healthy. Having trouble telling what color your water is? Try pouring a cup full of water into a clean toilet. Does the toilet water change color? If so, time for new carbon!