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UV Sterilizers for Reef Aquariums

UV Sterilizers for Reef Aquariums

Updated September 11, 2015
A UV sterilizer is a valuable piece of equipment to add to your reef tank or fish-only saltwater aquarium. Read more to learn about their benefits.
Even if you are new to the aquarium hobby you are probably aware that certain pieces of equipment are necessary in order to cultivate a healthy and thriving saltwater aquarium. What you may not know, however, is that there are options in addition to the standard filters, heaters and lighting systems that can help make your life easier as an aquarium hobbyist. An Ultraviolet sterilizer, for example, is a piece of equipment that can greatly enhance your reef tank environment with little to no extra effort required on your part.

If you are struggling to control algae in your reef tank, or if you are looking for a way to control bacteria and parasites, a UV sterilizer might be a good option for you. Before you decide whether or not to purchase one of these devices you should take the time to learn a little bit about it so you can select the right model for your tank. Below you will find some basic information about UV sterilizers as well as specific information regarding the pros and cons as well as how to use this type of equipment.

What is a UV Sterilizer?

No matter how often you perform water changes in your aquarium and regardless how meticulous you are about changing your filter media on a regular basis, your reef tank will still accumulate algae and bacteria. As long as you maintain high water quality in your tank, a little algae or bacteria is unlikely to cause any serious harm to your fish. If you do not properly maintain your tank, however, you could experience a problem with excessive algae growth. UV sterilizers are a simple way to help control algae, parasites and bacteria in the home aquarium.

Because algae, parasites, and bacteria are often difficult or impossible to view with the naked eye, it can be extremely difficult to control them. You cannot fight what you cannot see. Or can you? UV sterilizers target these microorganisms, altering their life cycles and limiting their reproductive capabilities in order to keep them under control. In simple terms, UV sterilizers work by passing tank water over an ultraviolet bulb – the UV light kills off the bacteria, algae and parasites in the water before returning it to the tank. In conjunction with a quality filtration system, UV sterilizers are an excellent way to help keep your reef tank clean.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The main benefit of a UV sterilizer is that it helps to keep nuisances like algae, parasites and bacteria under control in your tank. If you do not properly maintain your tank, even a few algae cells or parasites can quickly reproduce and cause a major problem. UV sterilizers serve to eradicate these microorganisms, thus preventing them from reproducing. Most UV sterilizers can be hooked directly in to your aquarium filter, though stand-alone options are available. These units come in a variety of different sizes to accommodate all types of tanks and they also feature different flow rates to target either parasites or bacteria and algae.

One drawback of UV sterilizers is that they only target free-floating organisms in the tank water – they will not have any effect on algae that has already adhered to tank surfaces or on bacteria and parasites that have already infected your fish. UV sterilizers can also interfere with chemicals and medications so, if you plan to use any of these products, you will need to turn the device off during the treatment period. Another drawback of UV sterilizers is that they can be a little expensive, especially if you have to buy one on top of all of the other necessary equipment for your tank. In the long run, however, the cost is usually worth it.

How to Use a UV Sterilizer

There are two different types of UV sterilizer – in-line and hang-on. Hang-on UV sterilizers are stand-alone devices that can be mounted to the back of the aquarium and they are generally fed by a submerged powerhead. These models are fairly easy to install and simple to maintain – they are particularly well-suited to small aquariums. In-line UV sterilizers are installed directly in the main filtration system as the last in-line device before the filtered water is returned to the tank. These models are generally recommended for larger aquariums and they often incorporate bulbs with higher wattages. In order to determine the right UV sterilizer for your tank the main thing you need to consider is your tank size – larger tank volumes will require a more powerful unit.

Additional Tips and Considerations

You should be aware that certain flow rates are optimal for targeting certain types of microorganisms – this information is important to know when selecting a UV sterilizer for your tank. If you simply want to control algae and problem bacteria you will need a minimum wattage of 4 for the UV bulb and a flow rate of at least 60 gph. UV sterilizers are generally ineffective against parasites at wattages less than 15 and the minimum flow rate to target these microorganisms is 75 gph. If you know what type of microorganisms you want to target in your reef tank you will be able to select a UV sterilizer of the appropriate size to provide the right wattage and flow rate. Many UV sterilizers offer adjustable flow rates, however, so you have a variety of options to choose from.

An example of a great UV sterilizer for small tanks is the Coralife BioCube Mini UV Sterilizer – this device has a 5w bulb and it can either be used with the BioCube pump or other small aquariums by using the included adapter. For larger tanks, the Green Killing Machine Internal UV Sterilizer with Power Head is a great option. This device includes a water pump and it is completely submersible – it is also uniquely designed to make water flow through it in a zig-zag pattern which maximizes its exposure to the UV bulb. If money is no option, the Lifegard Aquatics QL UV Water Sterilizer is a great option. This sterilizer is extremely effective and it comes in two versions – a 15-watt version that treats up to 240gph and a 25-watt version that treats up to 760gph.

In order to cultivate a healthy and thriving reef tank environment you need to do your best to keep your tank water clean and the water quality as high as possible. In addition to performing weekly water changes and replacing your filter media on a regular basis you may also want to consider installing a UV sterilizer to help control nuisances like algae, bacteria and parasites. A UV sterilizer can not only help to remove harmful microorganisms but it may also reduce the need for frequent water changes which will make your life easier.

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