Estes Marine Sand (aka Stoney River, Ultra Reef, and Imagitarium at Petco and Petsmart) is the only sand I use or recommend. It doesn’t need to be cleaned before or after going in (this alone is worth the extra cost over cheapo options), is the perfect grain size, very uniform, sinks quickly when they mess with it, comes in different colors (I usually do half black and half white), is actually made for aquariums, and costs no more than gravel. In over ten years of using it, I have NEVER had it develop toxic gas pockets, even without anything stirring it (snails or manually) and even when it is 3″ thick. There is a reason it is the sand in my 300-gallon planted goldfish community, 235-gallon reef system, and my 75-gallon. You buy a sand once. In a year, you won’t even remember what the cost was. The type of sand you choose will make a big difference in the aquarium for years to come. It is not something worth cutting corners on.

All filters should be cleaned monthly. There’s nothing magical about the inside of a canister that makes it so they don’t need to be cleaned. They collect the debris for us to remove it from the system. If we don’t, it just rots and lowers water quality. There’s nothing beneficial about letting it get so clogged up that it can’t even move water. The idea that they don’t need to be cleaned is nothing more than an excuse for laziness. The good news is that if you actually clean them every month, it’s very quick and easy (as little as 10 minutes).

Heaters are the number one cause of tank crashes. Having worked in retail and service for many years, we’ve seen it happen over and over with all types of heaters. The following are ways to protect against heater problems.

1 – Don’t use glass heaters, they can all be problems (even the almighty Eheim). I only trust Aqueon Pro and Cobalt Neo-Therm. The Cobalts have a much narrower range of temperature, they only let the temp vary about 0.1 degrees F as opposed to most heaters which allow up to two degrees variation between turning off and turning back on again.

2 – Keep it weak. All recommendations are too strong. A heater that is too strong WILL kill your entire tank one day when it fails on. 4-5 watts per gallon is more than enough to lethally overheat a tank in most homes (unless your house is unusually cool). I aim for about 2 watts per gallon. This is enough to heat the tank, but not enough to overheat the tank too much if it fails on. So a 75-gallon should only have about 150 watts TOTAL.

3 – Split that amount of power between two heaters. This allows one heater to stay off if the other fails on. For example, if you want 150 watts total, you buy two 75-watt heaters.

4 – Use a controller. Set the controller to your desired temp and use it to control two or more heaters that are set for two degrees warmer than your desired temp. This means the heaters will always be on when the controller tells them to be, but they can shut themselves off if the controller ever fails on or has some other issue (such as the probe coming out of the water).

5 – Replace your heaters every 1-3 years. If you just use one or two of these methods, replace them every 1-2 years. If you are using all of these methods and therefore have more redundancy, you can go 2-3 years. But just waiting for your heaters to inevitably fail isn’t the way to go. Replace them routinely before they are a problem so you have almost no risk of your heater failing and destroying your tank. They are cheap, especially compared to the value of your livestock in a fully stocked tank. It’s worth it.

Buoyancy problems can have multiple causes. It’s especially problematic in fancy goldfish because we took an elongated football-shaped body and bred it to be highly compressed and shaped like a tennis ball. This means the organs aren’t arranged the way they are naturally, so the digestive system, swim bladder, and swim bladder duct can all be compressed, have extra folds, or not even fill the area they do naturally.

1 – It could be a digestive system problem. This could be because they get too much air when eating. Feed high quality sinking pellets. DO NOT SOAK FOODS, this removes water-soluble vitamins. Feed gel foods if sinking pellets are still problematic.

2 – It could be a swim bladder infection. This could be caused by the swim bladder duct or swim bladder itself being infected. Make sure your water quality is good, do some extra water changes, make sure your filters aren’t neglected, and step up the weekly water changes to be larger.

3 – It could be that the swim bladder or swim bladder duct is fully or partially compressed. If part of the swim bladder is compressed, then that side of the body will dip lower than it should. There isn’t much that can be done about this. In my experience, this is the most common issue. You should still try the other treatment options to make sure it isn’t one of those issues since they can actually be treated.

At the end of the day, we bred these fish to be shaped ‘wrong’, so we can’t be surprised when they have problems with their organs not being arranged properly, and buoyancy problems is the most common problem we see in these guys due to that.

I’ve worked with sumps and canisters on a wide variety of tanks. I’ve found canisters to be much more reliable and effective. They are a guaranteed win right out of the box. Their routine maintenance is easier too. Sump maintenance is usually a lot shorter, but it’s much more often (something the pro-sump people always conveniently forget to mention). Swapping out a filter pad or filter sock in a sump takes a couple minutes tops, but that’s usually twice a week. And if life happens and you miss one, the water just bypasses it and it’s doing NOTHING. With a canister, you drag it to the sink and clean it every month. If you actually do it every month, it will be pretty quick and easy (literally 10-15 minutes). AND, if life happens and you miss it for a week or two, no big deal. The water’s still not bypassing the media. In addition, because canisters are closed, they force the water through the mechanical which means you can do much finer mechanical (literally cram in filter floss as tight as you can).

Another huge downside to sumps is you can either spend too much on a manufactured one that probably isn’t the exact design you really need or want, or you can design and build it yourself. There are some great ways to go cheap, but that’s still researching all of the following: what size sump, what type of overflow, is your tank tempered so you can ever drill it, are you sure THAT panel of your tank isn’t tempered, what layout for the sump, what type of glass should I use for the baffles, which silicone is safe again, what media exactly, should I use filter socks or filter pads, if I do socks, should I clean them in the washing machine (eww!), in a bucket, or replace them very regularly, which return pump flow rate do I need, should the return pump be AC or DC/controllable (that one’s easy, the answer is DC/controllable), how to plumb it all, I hope it doesn’t leak, what if my design ends up not being perfect the first time, and more. Oh wait, what was that perfect answer in a box ready to go that was a guaranteed win without having to do anything else? Oh yeah, a good canister!

Some people doubt or try to downplay the capacity of a canister. My own first-hand experience with them leaves little room for doubt about what they can handle. The best examples I’ve worked with were: 1 – A 220 with 2x 2′ pacus and a 2′ achara catfish. The tank was run by just one Fluval FX5 with no issues. 2 – A 220 packed with African cichlids. Again, it was run by just a Fluval FX5. A 300 that was at least moderately stocked with fancy goldfish and community fish. It had a sump, but the sump never achieved the mechanical filtration the tank needed. Eventually, I added a Fluval FX6 to it and it was immediately cleaner than it had ever been.

Another issue often used to support sumps is their increased media capacity. This is legitimate, but let’s think about this. If a single FX6 can handle a 220-300 gallon tank, then it has enough media. It’s actually really hard to not have enough biomedia, that would cause the tank to literally never cycle. The other major issue is mechanical. Again, because they are closed, canisters can actually exceed sumps when it comes to mechanical, even though they lack the capacity to have unnecessarily redundant types of media. The other issue I see a lot are people recommending absurdly more filtration than needed. As shown above, a single FX6 can handle anything you can throw at it from about 125 gallons up to about 300 gallons. At about 300 gallons and up, I would consider a second FX6. Under about 125 gallons and you don’t need anything more than an FX4 (unless you’re getting close to a 125 and it’s a heavily stocked tank).

Does all this mean there are no tanks with sumps that look amazing? Of course not. But, for the average aquarist who doesn’t have experience working with various designs and would highly prefer to have great filtration right out of the box, a canister is by far the better option.

These fish are dragged out of the ocean, left to overheat on a dock, shipped halfway around the world, re-bagged, shipped halfway across the country, get crammed into a retailer’s tanks with fish they can’t get away from, are forced to start eating bizarre new foods or else starve to death, get taken home where they get a whole new set of tankmates, half of the fish die during all this, and the ones that actually make it we’re doing to roll the dice and risk them jumping out to end up dried up on the floor?

I wish people would drop it with the anti-Glofish thing. If you don’t like them, fine. No one is asking you to buy them or even like them. But them being GMO doesn’t harm the fish in ANY way. And in fact, they single-handedly eliminated 99% of the demand for fish that are harmed by means of being dyed, injected, and tattooed.

Them being GMO isn’t an issue. They took a gene for a pigment and added it to a fish. It didn’t hurt the fish, they don’t have to do it to every fish before being sold since it’s genetic. There are lawmakers out there who have no clue about science in general, let alone the details of genetics or GMO making laws to ban it in some places because they don’t understand what’s going on. That doesn’t mean there is actually any harm.

If you want to get upset about harm to fish, get upset about all fish in the hobby. Most don’t end up in tanks of people who come to places like this to find out proper care. They end up as a disposable decoration in a tank that never gets water change, gets fed the cheapest food, and the fish slowly die over the course of a year or two. That happens to every fish out there, not just Glofish. It happens to every Oscar in a 55. It happens to little 10-gallons with small community fish that even if they fit in a 10, the care slowly kills them. Don’t get your panties in a knot over Glofish where there is no actual harm taking place. Get upset over the mass harm done by this hobby as a whole. Again, not those of us who care enough and actually take good care of our tanks, but the masses who will never ask a question in a group like this and unknowingly kill their fish.


NLS 125g Thera+A 1mm

Fluval FX4

Fluval FX6 FX6, hands down. They are strong, silent, hold a ton of media, and have great hardware. They’re a guaranteed winner right out of the box.

AquaClear 110

Filter Roller

Jebao DC Controllable Pump

Jebao DC Controllable Powerhead

Reef Octopus DC Controllable Protein Skimmer

Aqueon Pro Heaters

Cobalt Neo-Therm Heaters

InkBird Heater Controller

Screw-in Refugium Light

Black Box Refugium Light

Kessil A360WE Tuna Blue

Nicrew RGB 30″

Fluval 3.0 48″

Phlizon Black Box LED

Bright Nicrew LED 18″

Seachem Matrix

Seachem Matrix Carbon

K2 Media

Seachem Flourish

Seachem Flourish Tabs

Seachem Cichlid Lake Salt

Seachem Malawi Buffer


Eshopps Overflow Box 75

General Cure



E.M. Erythromycin






Innovative Marine ATO

Golden Pearls

Water Bandit Rubber Python Adapter

Coral Photo Filter

Water Alarm

Wifi Power Strip

Ziss Internal Tumbling media reactor


GE Silicone 1

Test Tube Holder