Are UV Sterilizers Good for an Aquarium?

Are UV Sterilizers Good for Aquariums Question; Are UV Sterilizers Good for Aquariums?
As a generalization, this is a question that really should not be asked anymore based on research of the benefits of Level 1 Sterilization that includes disease prevention & control, fish immunity based on redox balance, and water clarification.

However while there are few reasons not to have a UV Sterilizer on your aquarium, most of the reasons NOT to have one of these devices is based on myths that simply will not go away despite verified controlled use of these devices.
The other reason to NOT have a UV Sterilizer is the plethora of low cost quality “Category C” UV Sterilizers made by companies such as AquaTop, Jebo, Green Killing Machine, and others that simply do NOT provide level 1 sterilization; ONLY clarification.
You need to look for a “Category A”, or at the very least a “Category B” UV Sterilizer if you want to see some actual Sterilization results beyond clarification.

What I will then look at based on my aquarium service business observations, as well as feedback from others I know in the business as to what are the positives and the negatives. With the negatives I will also look at negatives that are caused by UV Sterilizers of poor dwell time design, poor over all construction, poor quality, and simply poor installation.

UV STERILIZER POSITIVES (based on science and professional use, not here say)

  • At flow rates of 20-25 gph, depending upon dwell time inside UV Sterilizer, a UV Sterilizer will kill or render helpless most pathogenic bacteria
  • A UV Sterilizer will NOT kill beneficial bacteria since these aerobic bacteria reside in the substrate and filter media in a healthy established aquarium
  • A UV Sterilizer will NOT kill copepods in a marine reef aquarium.
    Simple use proves this, as well, the science behind how a UV Sterilizer shows that when correctly plumbed, the UV Sterilizer would not be powerful enough nor would a copepod even get into the UV Sterilizer chamber based on how and where they live and correct pre-filtration prior to water entering the UV.
  • A UV Sterilizer WILL improve Redox Balance resulting improved fish immune response
  • A UV Sterilizer can help slow or occasionally even stop Oodinium, Ich or other single cell aquarium parasite infestation.
    Level 1 Sterilization will slow many of these parasites, if only by improving fish immune response. Level 2 can even kill some single parasites, although not always completely.
    However I should caution a prospective buyer that even the best UV should not be purchased with the belief this will put an end to future Ich, Velvet, Oodinium or related infestations. Purchase a UV as a tool to aid in control and prevention (keyword: TOOL)
  • A UV Sterilizer will clarify an aquarium with cloudy or green water

UV STERILIZER NEGATIVES

  • A UV Sterilizer is NOT a cure all to poor water chemistry as per Redox, over crowding often resulting in poor water clarity, poor disease prevention, and other poor aquarium maintenance management
  • If not correctly installed AFTER filter inline or in a sump loop, too high a flow rate, poor dwell time, poor UV Sterilization chamber design; you often will have useless piece of aquarium equipment.
    This unfortunately happens way too often.
    I have made countless “house calls” where a customer incorrectly installed the UV Sterilizer or purchased one of the countless junk UVs such as the Jebo or AquaTop and then would tell me the UV did not improve my fish’ health. This resulted in this customer stating ALL UVs are useless, when in fact they made this anecdotal opinion based on incorrect installation or use of poorly designed UVs that are NOT capable of Level 1 Sterilization.
  • A UV should not be used while planktonic foods are added to the water column. This is common in many reef aquariums.
    However the UV Sterilizer can still be used and should be placed on a timer so that it is run two hours after the introduction of these foods.
  • Many UV Sterilizer have ballasts that do not last (such as the Coralife), or gimmicks such as baffles, twists, wipers, that do little or even lower UV irradiation efficiency.
    Do not waste your money on these UVs, otherwise you may end up with a poor opinion of what a good UV can do for your aquarium.

Here is an excellent video by ReefGrrl that many might find very helpful too:
Reefgrrl UV Sterilizer Review
Got UV? I Do! Let Me Tell You a Little Bit About It

Here is another excellent video showing how the AAP/TMC large aquarium or pond UV is superior over the still excellent Aqua Ultraviolet UV of the same category [due to longer dwell time, price, and parts availability]:
Aqua UV versus TMC UV Sterilizer
Aqua Pond UV vs TMC AAP Pond UV Clarifier Sterilizer

What is also important to know is lamp/bulb maintenance.
To purchase a UV Sterilizer, including a better model such as the TMC and then to rarely if ever change the lamp will slowly result in a device that does nothing for your aquarium.
With 24/7 use, these lamps will already be at 50% in just 6 months, which is when they should be changed. After a year of continuous use the lamp is mostly useless.

The other issue in our competitive marketplace, is that many if not the majority of online and sellers, especially Amazon and Ebay, sell medium pressure and cold cathode UV lamps so as to make a better profit all the while keep the selling price lower than the wholesale cost of the better high output replacement lamps/bulbs.
To make the mistake of purchasing one of these lamps like so many do based on my home and office visits where the aquarium service client is complaining that their UV no longer works as well or that the fish are getting sick more often, is to purchase a UV lamp with 1/4 to 1/3 the useful UVC output! In my opinion this is self defeating!!!

For more on this subject, I STRONGLY suggest reading this article:
Actual UV-C Emission from a UV Bulb; Aquarium or Pond

Before just taking my word and observations, I suggest reading these resources on this subject:

*Aquarium UV Sterilizer Use
*Redox in Aquariums
*UV Sterilizer Review
UV Bulbs; Problems of Quality?

An amateur/anecdotal article about UV Sterilizers to AVOID that shows a complete lack of real research that unfortunately has been circulated:
blog.marinedepot.com/2017/03/the-truth-about-uv-sterilizers-and-reef-aquariums.html

Here are a few UV Sterilizer that I know from practical use work well and reliably.

*AAP/TMC Vecton, Advantage
*Aqua Ultraviolet
*Emperor Aquatics UV
*Gamma UV

Of the four above, I have had the highest longevity, least gimmicky features, and the highest dwell time with the AAP/TMC Advantage & Vecton UV Sterilizers.

Here are a few Economy UV Sterilizer that I know from practical use work reasonably well; at least level 1 sterilization and reasonable reliability:

*Via Aqua Terminator [discontinued]
*AAP/SunSun CUP Series (not the JUP series which do not provide level 1 sterilization)

UV Sterilizers to Avoid; either due to poor level 1 sterilization and/or poor reliability

*AquaTop
*Jebo
*Coralife Turbo Twist
*Green Killing Machine

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Fluval FX 6 or 5 OR Fluidized Filter

Fluval FX5 Aquarium Canister FilterFurther Revised 1-18-2014

Canister Filters have been around for many years, long before I got my start professionally (working for an aquarium service company in 1986).
Eheims, Fluvals, Marineland Magnums, Rena Filstar, are just a few of the brands I have and still use.

Unfortunately these filters can occasionally be a nightmare in priming or loosing their prime due to connections, air bubbles, etc.
I managed these problems well since a leaky filter is something my clients pay me to NOT have.
However I also get many calls (as did my previous employer) from non-clients who request one time service calls for canister filters purchased elsewhere that they simply cannot get started or re-started.

This brings me to the point of this review; while canister filters are awesome for their capacity (assuming proper set up), these filters often can be be nitrate factories for high bio load fresh & saltwater aquariums.
As well, these filters are easily the number one cause of aquarium “headaches” based on my experiences with regular clients and one time service call customers.

One of the problems (among many) is the motor on the top which often gets an air bubble in the impeller well resulting in the filter stopping.
The Fluval FX5 addressed this problem with a bottom/side pump, which is by far the main improvement this filter offers in my experience (I emphasize experience, not just opinion).
The Fluval FX5 has many other features as well including what Hagen (the manufacturers) calls “Smart Pump™ Technology”. Personally I find this feature more of a gimmick as well as most of the other so-called features which are not much more than any other canister filter, except this filter retails generally for over $300 compared to much less for otherwise comparable filters.

As with ALL other canister filters, changing this filter is often a chore, despite some of the claimed “new features”.

TMC Fluidized Sand Bed Aquarium Filter, connected to pump, sponge This brings me to my comparison with a Fluidized Sand Bed Aquarium Filter.
These filters when properly set up (also assuming manufacturer) have a bio capacity that the Fluval FX5 or any other canister filter simply CANNOT match.
As well the simplicity is mind boggling when compared with ANY canister filter, since the filter is essentially self cleaning due to the abrasive action of the the sand in liquid suspension.

These filters also beat a wet/dry filter hands down on bio capacity and for planted freshwater aquariums are a no brainer when compared to a wet/dry since these do not “scrub” CO2 nearly as much as a wet/dry filter can and does do.

Part of the problem these filters have not “taken off” in my opinion is the fact that the aquarium hobby is very anecdotal and unwilling to think outside the box much of the time. This includes how to set up a Fluidized filter.

The picture to the above left displays a top of the line TMC V2 1000 Fluidized Filter mated to a water pump (SunSun JBQ 3500), then a Hydro Pond Sponge Filter attached to it. The Hydro Pond #4 by its own rights can handle an aquarium over 100 gallons, so when added to a Fluidized Filter that can handle 20 lbs of fish bio load (this is a lot of fish for an average aquarium under 200 gallons), you have a filter system second to none.

The negative of this set up is the large and sometimes obtrusive Hydro Pond #4, for which I generally prefer the vastly smaller Filter Max Pre-Sponge Filters (4 inches by 2.75 inches).
The other somewhat negative is the general lack of chemical filtration, however this is easily overcome by placing filter saver nylon bags of your favorite chemical media (such as carbon) behind the sponge pre-filter in the area of highest flow.
As well the use of products such as NPX Bio Plastics can be added directly to the Fluidized Sand Bed Filter which then aids in nitrate and Phosphate removal.
So you can see this second negative really is not a negative.

Back to positive, the ease of rinsing the sponge filter is so much easier than the cumbersome task of opening up a canister filter, and changing a small nylon chemical filter bag (if needed) is simple as well.

As to the Fluidized Bed Aquarium Filter itself, I have many types and have found TMCs V2 Fluidised Sand Bed Aquarium Filter by far the best due to the excellent fluidation and ease of adding additional sand or other media (this is where the popular Lifeguard model fails in my experience).

The other feature I like about the TMC over other designs is the ability to add Oolitic Fluidation sand which during its action in the chamber aids in buffering water for essential mineral cations and pH; this is a major plus for Liverbearer fish, African Cichlids, and of course any saltwater fish or reef tank, often taking the place of a Calcium Reactor when calcium needs are low to moderate.

The final feature I like is, as noted earlier, the use in planted freshwater tanks (using standard silica media) where this filter does not strip CO2 the way many other Hang on or canister filters can do. This makes this the filter of choice for any planted freshwater aquarium.

In summary; while the expensive Fluval FX5 is an improvement over older Fluvals and some other canister filters, for my money it is an over priced piece of equipment that is more than 50% more than a Fluidized Filter, Pump, and Filter Max Pre-Filter combination that can easily out perform it, all the while being a simpler filter system to maintain.

See Also:
Aquarium Fluidized Sand Bed Filter Review

Sponge Filters for Aquarium , Sump, Pond

AquaTop Hang On UV Filter Review

Hangon UV Filter Review:
PF-15, PF-25, PF-40, & PSE1 UV Hang-On Filter as well as IL5-UV & IL10-UV

PF40-UV Hang On Filter With UV SterilizationI felt this should be my first post based on what I have read and questions I have had asked of me by clients.

First these are a nice idea, that at first glance appears to be well made.

I will first start with the positives I do see:

(1) Simple to operate

(2) Compact Design

(3) Efficient Filter design for an economy filter

(4) Performs very basic water clarification (via UVC Sterilization)

Now the Overwhelming Negatives:

(1) No true Bio Filtration since there is no room for a Bio Sponge, Grid, etc.
This can be a major negative since aerobic bio-filtration is an essential aspect of aquarium filtration.

(2) Due to the nature of how an HOB power aquarium filter works, it is common for calcium deposits to build up on the quartz sleeve, slowly degrading what little actual UVC actually reaches any possible algae for clairifcation.
Eventually even the ability to perform UV Clarification is lost yet alone level one sterilization which this UV/Filter never truly attains, even out of the box.

(3) Now that these have been out for a while, I can comment on the “well made” aspect of these UV units.
The simple answer is leaks and ballast failures are all too common after 6 months to a year.

(4) As per the advertised UV Sterilization by the manufacturer and some sellers, this is where I really find the advertisements misleading as they claim these filters “aids in the health of your aquatic creatures by eradicating free-floating parasites”.

The FACTS are free floating parasites are only achieved by Level 2 UV Sterilization, and this filter cannot even truly perform Level One Sterilization (which is all most aquarium users require).
Level Two Sterilization requires a flow rate under 8 gph for most UVs, although some well designed UVs such as the TMC Vecton, True UV Sterilizer can perform this in under 12 gph.
Further Reference:
TMC Vecton UV Sterilizer Review

This brings me to another point; this is not a well designed UV, not because of any specific design flaw, but only due to this concept, as this concept WAS attempted 20+ years ago (by Nektonics), despite manufacturer claims.

The concept of a UV Sterilizer built into a Hang On (HOB) Aquarium Power Filter simply cannot have a good dwell time!

The dwell time of this filter is under 1.50 watts of UVC energy per second for this filter.
Compare this to 1.95 watts of UVC energy per second for the “Terminator 13 watt” versus 2.08 watts of UVC energy per second for the “8 Watt Vecton“.

What this boils down to is this is a blatant lie, as to parasite eradication; if the manufacturer would only state “Effective for Water Clarification” I would have less of a problem.
The bigger picture problem here is that over the years many aquarium UV Sterilizer manufacturers have made similar claims and then aquarium keepers have purchased these products based on these claims (example; Green Killing Machine, Submariner).
The Result? These persons then go on to state in forums, Yahoo Answers, or even me how UV Sterilizers are “Crap” as their fish continued to get sick after installing these types of UV Devices.
The end result is the continued “cut & paste” of misinformation that UVs are useless, when in fact it is what was purchased or how they are installed that makes the difference.

This would be analogous to purchasing a mini pickup to pull a 10,000 fifth wheel trailer and when it fails complaining about all pick ups, when in fact this person should have purchased a 350/3500 full size pick up truck.
There simply is a reason a UV such as this can have a filter and UV and cost less than $70 while a quality UV sterilizer (without any other gimmicks) of similar wattage costs about $125

Finally, I might add that before I push Level Two Sterilization,; for most aquariums Level One Sterilization is all that is necessary for disease prevention and fish immunity, via Aquarium Redox Balance.
However this Filter cannot even perform Level 1 Sterilization and thus should NOT be purchased if this is what you need for your aquarium.

Further Reference: Aquarium Redox Basics

The bottom line is ANY True in-line UV Sterilizer is better than these essentially decorative UV light emitting devices. This does NOT mean the low quality AquaTop IL5-UV or IL10-UV which although better than the AquaTop Hang On UVs, these still have poor dwell times and construction that is prone to leaks and ballast failures.
Simply put, from my use of many AquaTop products, they are a company to avoid , in particular for their line of so-called UV Sterilizers!!!

Better yet would be a high Dwell Time UV such as the TMC Vecton (see the link below)

Recommended Reading:
TMC Vecton & Advantage In-Line UV Sterilizer Review