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The filter socks are available in felt or mesh materials and are commonly sold for the reef hobby in 100 and 200 micron sizes. The smaller the micron size is, the finer particulate it will remove.
There's several benefits to using filter socks. They help remove small particles of detritus from the system, help polish the water, and can help keep your sump clean. They are easy to swap out, and can be reused.
Some of the cons to using filters are the cost (each sock can cost $4-10), they can trap small life such as Copepods, they may clog quickly, and when not changed frequently they can contribute to increased nitrates.
I use filter socks to help remove solid waste from my tank. Its a good way of removing most of the detritus before it settles in my sump and clogs up my pumps. They also do a great job of getting my water to look clear and polished. I have stock piled around six to eight filter socks, and use these to swap out about once a week. I put a clean sock in, and take the dirty sock to the tub or outside to the garden hose for a rinse. After the rinse, I toss them into a bucket. After I have a few socks in the bucket, I'll throw them in the wash.
Aha! I did say, "throw them in the wash." There is a bit of controversy in this practice. First, putting something from your aquarium into your washing machine can be dangerous. There could be residual soap or other cleaners left in your machine from a previous wash. Second, using bleach can cause problems as bleach could leach into your tank: not a good thing. (See disclaimer below!)
There are some alternatives: Buy new socks. Pressure wash socks with pure water. Wash by hand in a bucket. Wash in the washing machine with no bleach. Wash with RO/DI water.
Pick the method that works best for you and that you feel most comfortable with. I use the washing machine and a little bit of bleach. Rinsed well, the bleach will not cause trouble with your system. I go by the thinking of "if you can't smell the bleach / chlorine, you're OK." I let them air dry, and then they're ready to use.
*Note: Using bleach around your tank (or anywhere) can be dangerous. Do so at your own risk. Also, it is incredibly important to be certain the you are using regular, unscented bleach!Filter socks are certainly a handy way of providing mechanical filtration for your aquarium. They can be reused many times, and can be cleaned easily in your home washing machine. While washing them in your home washing machine may be controversial, it is convenient and effective. Use your socks!
Until next time...