We recently received a question from a customer regarding use of our Waste-Away bacteria, clogging of the mechanical filters and using the protein skimmer. This question brought up many good points and our customer, Kenny A., allowed us to reprint the question and DrTim's answer to help everyone.
Hello, I used waste-away for the first time in my reef aquarium after a water change and followed the instructions (shut off skimmer, UV, etc.) but when I went to turn on my skimmer the next day I noticed that my filter sock was nearly overflowing with water, I replaced it with a fresh one and a few days later it happened again, even my sump baffle sponges were getting backed up. I had to pull out all the sponges between my fuge and return pumps and wash them thoroughly so they would flow freely again and not mess with my water levels in my sump. Is this normal, I was under the impression that this was suppose to free up clogging in filter media not clog them more. I assumed this was due to my tank being dirty and that the bacteria was getting all the gunk and waste out of my sand bed, and rocks and it finally had a chance to be filtered by my tank....
The answer quick, short answer is that clogged sponges, pads and other mechanical filter can occur when first using Waste-Away due to increased production of bacterial biomass.
Why and how can this be prevented, or minimized, is the subject of this entry.
As the customer noted his tank was dirty and had a lot of organics. The Waste-Away bacteria break down fish wastes, organics, and nutrients (phosphate and nitrate) turning these into more bacteria. Normally, the skimmer would remove the bacteria as it was being produced and the mechanical filters should stay relatively clean. However, with the skimmer off for 24 hours the bacteria biomass grows and grows and gets trapped in the various mechanical filters which eventually causes them to clog. Filter socks are very prone to clogging since that are very fine mechanical filters. While clogged filters are a pain they tell you that your tank was pretty dirty and that Waste-Away was doing its job.
Reduce or Prevent
To minimize clogging but still get the most out of using Waste-Away if your tank is dirty we recommend when first using Waste-Away to not have the skimmer off for 24 hours (contrary to the instructions). Instead add a small amount of Waste-Away (10-20% of the normal dose), turn the skimmer off for just a few hours (always observe the tank - if the water started to become hazy turn the skimmer back on ASAP), then turn the skimmer on overnight. The day or two repeat and continue to repeat if you notice your skimmer is producing a lot of scum. Once the scum is reduced to you increase the amount of Waste-Away and the time the skimmer is off.
While this procedure will take more time it will reduce the amount of time and labor you spend cleaning filter socks and sponges.
Good fish keeping.