Swirl Filter for Aquaponics – The Concept & Functionality

DIY Swirl Filter for Aquaponics

Filtration systems are mandatory in aquaponics. While the system has grown to be self-sustainable, it is worth noting that there are more types of solids out there and filtration requires different standards. There are more types of systems out there and each of them comes with its own particularities. From all the options out there, some of them stand out in the crowd and this is when the swirl filter for aquaponics kicks in. Since this is one of the most common options out there, it is also simply referred to as an aquaponics solids filter.

The filter has a simple purpose in your system – filtering solids. It removes fish waste that might be too much for the system – the type of waste that the system cannot filter naturally. The filter is part of the system and should not miss under certain circumstances. It will keep the water clean and clear, meaning it will help your fish survive, but it will also help your plants thrive by preventing solids from sticking to their roots. Operating principles are quite easy to understand, as the name is self-explanatory – the swirl spins water around and solids are removed as a direct consequence of this movement.

Becoming familiar with the functionality of swirl filters

All swirl filters work on the same functionality principles. On the same note, all of them will require a relatively large barrel in order to spin water around. To ease the process and improve efficiency, swirl filters come with all bent pipes. They are shaped to allow the water to go through, yet the spiral naturally spins it too towards the bottom. The water will slow down then. Most solid particles are heavier than water too, meaning they will slowly settle at the bottom of the barrel. All the leftover solids will be easily drained from the bottom then.

The general idea behind a swirl filter for aquaponics is fairly simple to understand. Most of the solid waste is efficiently collected towards the base of your filter. Then, it starts moving as the water moves from the fish tank. The pipe has a unique design that will naturally spin it, causing a centrifugal force. As a result, all the solid waste will be brought together before getting disposed of, rather than settling on the grow bed.

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Benefits of using a swirl filter for aquaponics

A filter is mandatory for your aquaponics system and with so many options out there, choosing the right one could be a little difficult. The swirl filter for aquaponics is among the most popular options on the market and for some obvious reasons. Keep in mind that no matter what plants or fish you have, the water must be clean and clear. There should be no suspended particles around the system – no fish waste, food leftovers or debris. All these elements must be removed before the water goes back to the tank. The operation must be smooth, efficient and consistent – for this reason, a solid waste removal system is mandatory.

This filtration solution is useful from more directions. But generally speaking, most users will rely on it because all kinds of debris sticking to plants and roots will kill the system. They will clog the roots, meaning plants will no longer be able to absorb the nutrients they require. As plants die, there will be no organisms to filter water for your fish, meaning they will also die. The system will be gone before you even realize it. Apart from nutrients, plants will also absorb oxygen. No matter what type of system you use – be it a grow bed or other alternative, you want the water to be perfectly clean.

Most people fail to realize it, but an aquaponics system is similar to a basic aquarium. At the end of the day, you have a tank and some fish floating around. If you have had an aquarium before, you probably know already that it does require filtration. A filter is mandatory to keep the water clean and safe for fish. The same rule applies in aquaponics.

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General misconception

There is a general misconception out there. Most people know that an aquaponics system is self-sustainable. Most of them assume no maintenance is required. This is wrong though. Indeed, plants will filter the water for your fish, but they are unable to do the whole job. There are certain particles they cannot filter, and solids will need their own dedicated swirl filter for aquaponics.

There are obviously a few exceptions as well. A swirl filter is not necessary for a classic DIY system. The cleaning is most commonly performed by all the worms in the grow bed. The organic manner will be oxidized, and the fish waste is handled by the grow bed. There will be no burden there, and the capacity can be easily handled.

But then, most experts agree that you would rather be safe than sorry. Solid waste will still hang around. It will still circulate throughout the system. Based on the fish you have, there could be more or less waste around. Using a swirl filter is never a bad idea. Even if waste and solids are not that problematic at this stage, you can simply invest in a smaller filter. Hazy or cloudy water is one of the first signs that you need to make an investment. Ideally, you should not wait until the water looks dirty – it might be a bit too late. Therefore, prevention is a great idea.

Planning to extend?

As if all these were not enough, a swirl filter for aquaponics also represents a good way forward. Basically, even if it is not a future plan, chances are you will extend your aquaponics system at some point. Most people do. Your fish will grow. You will consider other fish too. You will think about other plants. Also You will need a filter sooner or later. You might as well get it early and ensure the water is perfect for the environment to thrive. Besides, as you get solid waste, you can even use it as a natural fertilizer for your actual garden.

Mineralized water has lots of nutrients, and the system will help with it. If it is pushed back into your system, it represents an inexpensive way to supply your grow bed with nutrients without spending too much money.

Simply put, there are loads of benefits there. Of course, there are a few alternatives too. For example, using more than just one grows bed makes a good alternative to buying a swirl filter for aquaponics. But then, this idea will inevitably require much more space, which could be an issue for some. If space is limited, a filter will save you some.

Now that you understand what makes the swirl filter stand out in the crowd, what other options do you have?

Alternatives to a swirl filter for aquaponics

The clarifier separates solids and allows them to settle down on the bottom. The system relies on a plate going through the middle of a tank. Tanks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – the goal is to have the retention time over 20 minutes.

Then, you can also try a radial flow separator. This is an incredibly common option out there – even more popular than the swirl filter. However, it is more complicated to run, so it is not that useful for complete newbies.

Radial Flow Separator
Radial Flow Separator

Raft filters are worth some attention too – easy to use and install, but also easy to clean when solids build up.

Do not ignore bird netting either. More suitable for large systems, the system relies on a mix of bird netting and a clarifier. Solids will be trapped in the netting, but they will also work as minerals. The system is efficient, but it has a drawback – cleaning the netting is a nightmare. More advanced units come with their own cleaning stations, which rely on high-pressure cleaners to remove everything stuck in the netting.

Screen filters work on similar principles – not very common in aquaponics, though. They are mostly used on koi ponds.

Last but not least, if you have a tiny system, you can always rely on filter sock filtration. The sock system is inefficient in a large system, though.


As a short final conclusion, a swirl filter for aquaponics can work wonders in the long run. It makes an efficient solution to keep the system clean and clear, but it also helps with further expansion should you plan it. If you have a tiny DIY system, chances are you will not require a complicated filtration system. Your solids will be successfully handled by the worms in the grow bed. On the other hand, if you can see solids building up every now and then, investing in a swirl filter is mandatory. Such filters come in more sizes and shapes. They are just as helpful if you are planning to expand the system and go commercial. Make sure the unit can handle your system, and both your fish and plants will thrive.

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