What is Zeolite?
Zeolite is a very porous mineral that is mined in different parts of the world. Millions of years ago it was formed by the devitrification of volcanic ash.
The fact that they were formed slowly and in unique conditions, transfers that special value to this mineral.
We can find different types of natural zeolite, around 50 different types between natural and 100 different types between synthetic and all of them, even though they are different, are very similar to each other and retain the same physical and chemical properties. The differences that we can find are fundamentally in the size of the pore and in the ion exchange capacity.
The most common type of zeolite is clinoptilolite, which has high ion exchange properties, high porosity, and is found in relatively pure form in various countries. The highest purity in the world is found in Turkey and is between 92% and 96%.
There is another use that is also quite common, called chabasite, with a higher ion exchange power and a larger pore, but it is less common and most deposits in Europe are only 60% pure.
What is zeolite for?
Its very special characteristics make this mineral used in many sectors:
- Agriculture in high yield crops, ecological agricultural products, fertilizers, substrate for bonsai and cacti.
- Animals in feed additive, mycotoxin sequestrant, absorbent litter for animals, manure treatment, litter for cats.
- Water filtration, such as aquariums, fish farms, treatment plants or swimming pools.
- Construction for the manufacture of light cements, ceramic products or exterior coatings.
- Health as a dietary supplement, absorbs toxins and heavy metals, treatment of diarrhea, absorbs foot sweat, medicinal potentials in cancer treatment.
- Industry as absorbents, dehumidifier, treatment, filtration and elimination of odors and humidity in the air. Pollution control and remediation of contaminated soils.
It is worth mentioning that all types of zeolite do not serve the same functions, each one is ideal for one or several types of things, but not for all.
Zeolite in the Aquarium
Zeolites (“a stone that boils”) are minerals that have a microporous structure. It is a large ion exchanger used to remove certain chemicals from water.
In the aquarium hobby, these small white rocks (sodium aluminosilicate, zeolite A) are used to remove ammonia from the water.
They are normally added to an aquarium in an emergency to quickly remove ammonia. A quantity of zeolite is placed in a bag so that they can be removed later or simply scattered in the tank as the rock is harmless if left permanently (as long as salt is never added to the tank). This will provide a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria from biological filtration.
Some types of zeolites can become saturated over time and therefore must either be changed or some allow them to be desaturated with salt baths, in order to be used again.
- 1 gram of zeolite will remove 1.5 mg of ammonia.
- The product can be desaturated by using ordinary table salt. Take a liter of 5% salt water solution and soak the zeolite in it for 24 hours. Then rinse it off.
Calculating the amount of zeolite to use
Using accurate test equipment, take an ammonia reading of your water in ppm (parts per million) and divide it by 1.5. Then multiply by the number of liters in your tank. This final volume is the number of grams of Zeolite needed.
- 1 teaspoon of Zeolite is ~6 grams.
Important notes about zeolite in the aquarium
Zeolite is not recommended for use in a new, unrecycled tank (unless it is a life-threatening emergency), as removal of ammonia will greatly reduce the feeding of fresh nitrifying bacteria. development and thus will greatly increase the time needed to cycle the tank.
It’s best to use a product that alters ammonia into a harmless state that still feeds bacteria:
- The typical commercial ammonia removal product, Seachem’s Prime or Kordon’s Amquel+.
- Never add products of the «revitalizing» type to the tank that contains zeolite. These products are salt based and thus will release the absorbed toxic ammonia back into the water.