Do You Need A Media Reactor For Reef Tanks?
The answer is no. A media reactor is not required but they can make a great addition to your reef tank. A media reactor is one of those pieces of equipment that can be very helpful. Not everyone has the option of using one and it can be argued that they are not necessary. Which I agree with.
With that being said, there are many advantages to having one which I will discuss in this article.
What is a media reactor?
A media reactor is basically a tube that is used as a filtration device that holds different types of filter media. There are many different types of media reactors but they all operate on the same principle.
How does a media reactor work?
Media reactors work by forcing water through the reactor using a pump. The reactor will increase the effectiveness of the filter media by directing the water that enters to be in contact with the entire media inside.
The advantage of using a media reactor is the water will stay in contact with all of the media increasing its effectiveness. Unlike using filter media in a bag placed in a filter or sump. Anytime you can increase the water’s contact time with filter media, the more efficient it will be.
Water is pumped from your main display tank or sump tank using a small powerhead or pump. Most reactors will come with the recommended size pump but not always.
It’s important to note that you don’t want a high flow rate through the reactor as this will only reduce its efficiency and possibly destroy the media inside like GFO.
The flow is controlled by using a ball valve, or if your pump is a controllable flow pump. Certain media will require different flow rates so using a ball valve will allow you to easily control the flow going through the reactor. Being able to fine-tune the flow will be an advantage for using certain media like carbon where you will want a very slow flow rate.
Also, GFO media needs to tumble slowly, if the water flow is too high, the media will just be crushed and no longer be effective.
The inlet water is then driven to the bottom of the reactor and through the dispersion plate. It will then travel through the sponge and filter media. Contact time with the media here is key.
The water will then pass through the top sponge where any leftover debris will be filtered out.
The clean and filtered output water will then be returned to your main tank or sump tank.
Benefits of media reactors
There are a few benefits that using a media reactor on your reef tank can provide.
- Increases the effectiveness of filter media
- Certain reactors can be used for different media types
- They don’t take up much space and can be mounted in different ways
- Affordable and easy way to address water issues
- Provides additional filtration to your existing filtering methods
Types of media reactors
The most commonly used media reactors in saltwater tanks are:
- Phosphate / GFO reactors
- Carbon reactors
- Biopellet reactors
- Calcium reactors
- Kalkwasser reactors
Phosphate / GFO reactors are specifically designed and are very helpful in reducing phosphate levels. There are different phosphate reducing medias available, but the most commonly used is GFO or Granular Ferric Oxide. GFO is a chemical filter media meant to be added to a reactor in small amounts based on your tank size and needs to tumble to be effective.
GFO hinders algae growth by removing phosphates from the water column. I have had great success using the Two Little Fishies TLF 150 Phosban reactor. It is very affordable and does a great job. The Bulk Reef Supply GFO is also a great GFO to use.
Carbon reactors are used with activated carbon chemical filter media. The purpose is to filter out toxins, waste, and help purify the water. It is also great for keeping your water crystal clear. Carbon media should never tumble, as it will just break apart.
Many people will use carbon and GFO together in the same reactor, but I wouldn’t recommend that as they require different flow rates. GFO needs to tumble to prevent it from compacting and carbon should not tumble. A dual media reactor or two single reactors would be a better choice. Seachem Matrix is a great choice for activated carbon.
Biopellet reactors use biodegradable polymer made from bacteria in the form of a pellet to enhance the beneficial bacteria in your tank. These pellets will colonize and grow beneficial bacteria helping to remove nitrates from your water column. The pellets are more efficient when they tumble within the reactor.
You can use the TLF 150 reactor mentioned above or the Reef Octopus MF300B is great as well. I recommend the TLF Bioplastics media.
Other media reactors that are a bit more advanced include the Calcium reactor and Kalkwasser reactor.
Calcium reactors are used to create a balance of alkalinity in your tank. It uses CO2 to lower PH value by producing a solution high in carbonic acid and dissolves calcium.
They are more expensive than the other reactors but are more complex as well. I recommend the AquaMaxx C-Tech T-1 Calcium reactor. It is available at Marine Depot.
Kalkwasser reactors are great for maintaining proper levels of calcium and alkalinity. They basically just mix your RODI water with Calcium hydroxide and the clear solution will drip slowly into your main aquarium or sump tank based on your tank’s needs. Kalkwasser reactors are affordable and easy to use.
I recommend the IceCap KM-120 Kalwasser reactor or if you are looking for a cheaper option, the Two Little Fishies TLF300 Kalkwasser reactor.
Dual vs single media reactors
Are 2 better than one? Well, that depends. For the most commonly used medias such as GFO and carbon, it is much better to have 2 single reactors instead of using a dual reactor. It’s also better to have 2 single reactors instead of mixing GFO and carbon into one reactor.
The reasons being that carbon media should not tumble to be effective. GFO needs to tumble or it will become hard and turn into a brick. So they require different flow rates.
Also, carbon media is normally changed more frequently than GFO. So if you have them in the same reactor, it will be impossible to do that. You will end up changing the GFO at the same time which is just not efficient or affordable.
Dual media reactors like the AquaMaxx Fluidized GFO and carbon reactor are great as you can put carbon in one side and GFO in the other. But you have to watch the flow rates and make sure it is adequate for both sides.
AquaMaxx reactor video:
How to install a media reactor
Media reactors can be installed in a couple of ways. Some are a hang on the back style like the TLF 150. They simply hang on the trim of your tank or sump with the pump inside the tank. They are very easy to install and use. This style is also easy to access and maintain versus a reactor that is mounted within your stand.
Another way to install a media reactor is to attach to the inside of your cabinet underneath the main tank. This reactor will be hidden from view and easy to run into your sump tank. The trouble with this is they are harder to access and maintain.
You can also have a reactor that sits inside the sump tank or stands beside it on the outside. Very easy to install this way.
No matter how you choose to hook up your reactor, there are many options available and they come in a variety of sizes sure to suit your setup.
Consider using a media reactor to enhance the health of your saltwater aquarium. They are very effective, easy to use, and affordable. Although they are not really required to have, sometimes your tank can really benefit from using one.