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I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Dana – Altadena, CA

A: The media you use in your filtration system matters. Just think about its purpose: To house billions of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that keep your pond alive, crystal clear and algae-free. Thanks to their ample surface area, both lava rock and bioballs will work, but bioballs have some benefits over the rock. Read on to learn more.

Lava Rock’s Limitations

Lava rock – that igneous rock that’s formed as an erupting volcano’s molten lava cools and hardens – is very porous. When chunks of it live in your filtration system, you’re providing a lot of surface area for those beneficial bacteria to colonize and grow. That’s what makes it such a great filter media.

It does, however, have its drawbacks.

  • Clogged Holes: Over time, the porous rock can become easily clogged with muck and debris. Once the holes and pockets are clogged, they can become very difficult to clean out – which ultimately creates less overall surface area.
  • Hard Water: Lava rock naturally contains a variety of minerals, including iron and magnesium, that could affect your water’s pH, making it harder. Hard water could make it more difficult to treat algae that forms.
  • It’s Heavy!: They may be porous chunks of rock, but hefting bags of it takes some strength – particularly when its wet and full of gunk.

Benefits of BioBalls

Bioballs, like The Pond Guy® BioBalls™ filter media, are plastic spheres made up of dozens of thin rods that provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria to thrive. Two hundred of the bioballs in a mesh bag will filter about 1,000 gallons of water in a pond with minimal fish.

Compared to lava rock, bioballs have some definite benefits.

  • Easy to Clean: Bioballs can also become clogged, by they’re easy to clean. Just rinse them off with water from your pond and you’ll be good to go.
  • Indefinite Lifetime: Because they’re made from long-lasting material, bioballs will not degrade and will function equally well year after year.
  • Shape Shifters: The bioballs’ round shape allows them to more easily conform to any filter, no matter its shape.
  • Lightweight, Easy to Handle: Each one of these tiny, 1 1/2-inch plastic spheres weighs a scant 0.3 ounces; 200 of them weigh a whopping 3 1/2 pounds. They’re easy to deposit and remove from your filter thanks to a mesh filter bag.

Consider making the switch from lava rock to bioballs. You’ll see better results and you’ll need to do less maintenance. What’s better than that?

Pond Talk: Why do you prefer bioballs over lava rock?

Lightweight & Easy to Clean - The Pond Guy® BioBalls™

10 Responses

  1. Use both. A properly set up a filter should have far more biological filtration possible than would ever actually be needed. The bacteria colonies that break down ammonia and nitrite have natural life cycles they Wax and Wane and travel and re-establish based on the BioLoad. While a container of Bio balls should always do the trick, a bag of crushed lava rock or a bag of ceramic rings or both in addition to the bio balls just give you that much more surface area. It’s also good for cleaning options. Clean your lava rock and not your balls. Clean your balls and not your lava rock. Vastly disturb one colony of beneficial bacteria and not the other.

  2. I have always found it amazing how lava rock is bad mouthed by the “experts”. I have used it with no issues for 28 years. The lava looks like the day I put it in. Yep that lava rock is getting old. So are some of my 28 year old koi.

  3. The only filtration I have is a skimmer
    What is the best method for filtration?

    • Hi – A skimmer filter is a good mechanical filtration system, however they are mostly used for removing large debris and not for cleansing the water. You may want to look in to adding a biological filter such as a waterfall, pressurized or in-pond filter. Here is a link to these types of filter systems.

  4. Will these bio-balls work mixed with lava rock (or alone) in grow beds of an aquaponics system to add to the availability of good bacteria, or are they only used in filter application? Ginger

    • Hi Ginger – I’m not sure if the Bioballs have been tested for use in an aquaponics system, but they should accumulate beneficial bacteria in any system that has sufficient oxygen and water movement passing through them.

  5. But my fish like hard water! I keep cichlids from Lake Malawi in a 5000 gallon pool in the summer. That much water has plenty of bacteria in it already. But your article gave me an idea. Take the bioballs out and put crushed coral in the filter. That should help to keep the pH from dropping!

    • Hi Steve – Every fish has different needs so you may need to adjust depending on your goals like raising cichlids. Happy Ponding!

  6. I find even bioballs got quite heavy when clogged and that was pretty often. I now use layers of filter material (coarse to fine) that I can remove separately and discard rather than try to clean.

    • Many customers have also come to us with the opposite problem of to many filter mats clogging and becoming to heavy to move. It may depend on the size filter you are working with. Thank you for the comment!!

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