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Ceramic Rings vs Lava Rocks – What Are the Differences?

One of the most important components of an aquarium system is filtration. I say that it’s the guts of your aquarium.

I believe it makes the difference between success and failure.

Aquariums are artificial homes. I understand the importance of maintaining conditions in which my fish can survive and flourish.

As such, I pay much attention to the filter media I use in my aquarium system.

Aquarium filter media refers to the material in the filtering system that separates the unwanted particles from the substance you’re filtering.

Your aquarium filter media can be mechanical, biological, or chemical.

You can use different filter media to build custom conditions in your aquarium. Among the most popular biological filter mediums are ceramic rings and lava rocks.

Below is a comprehensive ceramic ring vs. lava rocks comparison.

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What Are Ceramic Rings and How Do They Work?

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Ceramic rings can sometimes be referred to as bio rings. They are essentially unglazed pieces of fired ceramic.

They look like small white beads, but you can also get them in other colors.

The outer parts of ceramic rings have numerous tiny holes or pores. They also feature a central hole going through them.

This design ensures that water not only flows over the rings but also through them.

Ceramic rings serve as an environment for beneficial bacteria to grow in your aquarium filtration system. The rings don’t filter your water.

The nitrifying bacteria that grow on them do. Nitrifying bacteria removes nitrites and ammonia (toxic compounds) from your aquarium.

These harmful chemicals build up in your aquarium naturally. Your fish will die eventually if you fail to get rid of the chemicals. [amazon link=”B000HHSG5M” title=”Ceramic rings” link_icon=”amazon” /] offer a surface for the bacteria to live.

The tiny pores (you can barely see them without the help of a microscope) on the rings increase their surface area significantly.

Using ceramic rings is rather simple. I usually add them to my aquarium filter. Note that many filter kits out there include ceramic rings in the package.

Some ceramic rings come with a filter media bag. The bag doesn’t improve the efficiency of your filtration system.

What it does, however, is make it easier to remove the rings at once. This is convenient when you’re cleaning your system.


  • Affordability – Ceramic filtration rings are quite affordable. You can get a sizeable bag at a limited cost. Their longevity also means they’re cost-effective.
  • Easy to Clean – While ceramic rings can become clogged, they are fairly easy to clean. When you conduct your water change, just add the rings to a bucket of tank water. Shake to remove excess gunk, and you’re good to go.
  • Long-Lasting – Ceramic is a very durable material. Ceramic rings don’t degrade and will serve you equally well for years.
  • Light and Easy to Handle – Ceramic rings are small and light. You can deposit and remove them from your filtration system easily with a mesh filter bag.


  • You can only use ceramic rings for biological filtration.
  • The pores on ceramic rings can get clogged easily.

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What are Lava Rocks and How Do They Work?

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Lava rock is an igneous rock, which forms as molten lava from an eruption cools and hardens. Lava rock also referred to as volcanic rock, is very porous.

With chunks of this rock in your filtration media, you avail a lot of surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow and colonize.

These bacteria that grow on the rocks eliminate nitrates in your aquarium and help improve water quality. Water sips into the lava rocks through the pores on the surface. The bacteria utilize oxygen in your water and create an aerobic environment.

In this environment, the bacteria consume nitrates to produce nitrogen and oxygen. This process removes the excess nitrates in your water column.

This is the reason why it serves as a great aquarium filter media. [amazon link=”B07D3SFJHH” title=”Lava rock” link_icon=”amazon” /] serves as both a biological and mechanical aquarium filter media.

Its highly coarse and porous nature makes it ideal for mechanical filtration. It is also inert and safe for all types of aquariums (salt and fresh water).

Using them is easy. Just clean, prepare and place them into your filter and you’re good to go.

Preparing lava rocks is straightforward. Place the rocks in a bucket and run several cycles of hot water through them. Many lava rocks release a reddish hue into the water. Just run the cycle until the water is clear.

Also, lava rock acts well as a substrate replacement or addition within your aquarium. I regularly use it as a base for rocks.

It’s an economical method for increasing the depth of your substrate.


  • They are Cheap – Lava rocks are one of the cheapest options when it comes to aquarium filtration media. It is cheaper by volume than other bio-media such as bio balls. You can use them for years, making them cost-effective.
  • Effective Filtration – The highly porous and coarse nature of lava rock means it’s highly effective as a bio-filtration medium. Lava rocks can also act as mechanical filtration media.
  • Inert – Lava rock does not affect the PH levels of the water; therefore is safe for all aquarium applications. This also means it’s great for aquascaping.


  • Easily Clogged – Lava rocks can get easily clogged over time. The pores can be difficult to cleanout. This reduces the overall surface area, thus reducing the efficiency over time.
  • Weight – Lava rocks may be porous, but they get heavy, especially when wet and clogged up.

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Ceramic Rings vs. Lava Rock – What Are the Differences?

There are some notable differences between ceramic rigs and lava rocks, besides the fact that the former is artificial while the latter is natural.

The design of ceramic rings makes it easier to clean out the gunk that collects over time. They are also not so easily clogged.

On the other hand, the highly porous nature of lava rock means that it clogs easily from gunk. It is also more difficult to rinse out this gunk.

Another notable difference is that ceramic rings act as a biological filter media, while lava rocks can be both biological and mechanical. Both filter media are inexpensive, with lava rock being slightly cheaper.

Lava rock provides more surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow when compared to ceramic rings. It is thus more effective for water filtration.

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Good aquarium filtration starts with good media. There is a wide assortment of filter media out there for you to choose from.

Ceramic rings and lava rocks are both great options as aquarium filter media for biological filtration. They are both very cheap and cost-effective.

They are both applicable for fresh and saltwater aquariums and will serve your system well for a long time. Both these options have their advantages and disadvantages.

You should base your choice on specific needs, preference, and the pain points can manage.

Aaron Boyd
Aaron Boyd

Hello, I’m Aaron Boyd, the proud owner and author behind Aqua Movement. I hope my article was able to answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

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