Zeolite is offered by many pond builders and online pond supply shops, often touted as a miracle weapon against algae. It has a clarifying effect and is commonly used for ammonium binding. It’s even recommended as a planting substrate and filter medium. It comes in various granule sizes and offers an attractive appearance. Zeolite is sometimes treated as a miracle product. How good is it, and could it be harmful? This post provides the answer.
What is Zeolite?
Is zeolite the new wonder weapon for pollutants in your garden pond, an all-around talent, or something you should avoid? Zeolite is highly regarded and thus recommended by many pond builders and online pond supply shops. It’s even offered as a dietary supplement for humans or as cat litter. What is it, exactly?
The term “zeolite” comes from Greek and consists of the terms “zeo” for boil and “lithos” for stone. The term could thus best be translated as “boiled stone,” indicating that it’s a mineral of volcanic origin. The name comes from the fact that the mineral starts to boil when heated.
There is no single zeolite because it is a collective term for crystalline aluminosilicates, which are silicates that have formed a chemical compound with aluminum. Zeolites occur in various modifications in nature, but they can also be synthetically produced. In general, zeolites consist of:
- Sodium ions
Zeolite is a mineral that resembles feldspar.
Mineral Structure of Zeolites
What makes zeolites so special, and why are they recommended as all-around talents for garden ponds? The reason lies in the mineral structure of zeolites. Due to their mineral, crystalline structure, zeolites enable efficient ion exchange. The framework of zeolites contains gaps. Aluminum and silicon atoms are connected to each other through oxygen atoms. Depending on the structure type, these gaps can exist as pores or channels where various substances can be absorbed. When zeolite is used for pond care, it can bind phosphate or ammonium, countering the growth of algae by reducing nutrient levels in the pond.
As zeolites occur in different modifications in nature and can also be synthetically produced in various forms, there are different applications for zeolite, including:
- Component of detergents as an ion exchanger
- Cooling of draft beer without ice and electricity
- Component of cat litter to absorb odors
- Dietary supplement for detoxification
- Pond care
Furthermore, there are many other possible applications for zeolite.
Large Internal Surface Area in Zeolites
Even though there are different types of zeolites, they all share a common feature – their gapped structure provides them with a large internal surface area. With a low weight, a single gram of zeolite can have an internal surface area of 4,500 to 5,000 square meters, which is more than half a soccer field. The crystalline surface of zeolite is approximately 1,000 times larger than that of sand or gravel. Due to this large internal surface, various bacteria can colonize zeolite, which is beneficial for pond clarification.
Zeolite as a Natural Pollutant Binder in Garden Ponds
Zeolite can be used in garden ponds as a natural pollutant binder due to its large internal surface. When placed in the pond filter, it serves various purposes:
- Selective ion exchange
- Binding of nitrite and ammonium
- Inhibition of phosphate formation
- Improvement of water quality
Thanks to these properties, zeolite inhibits algae growth and is considered a miracle weapon against algae, as phosphate, ammonium, and nitrite provide favorable conditions for algae growth. Many pond owners choose zeolite because it is free of chemicals, and no harm to the pond inhabitants is expected. However, when considering potential harm to pond inhabitants, you should take a closer look.
Zeolite as a Filter Material
Due to its large internal surface, zeolite is popular as a filter material for pond filters because beneficial bacteria can settle in the gaps. If the filter is not too quickly flowed through, zeolite will protect your pond from excessive nitrite levels after an acclimatization period of about three weeks. Using starter cultures for the filter can further enhance the effect of zeolite. When zeolite is present at the filter outlet, the nitrite content is reduced to 0 milligrams per liter. Zeolite can bind various pollutants in the filter, such as nitrite, nitrate, or ammonia, and counteract the decay process in your garden pond. In densely stocked ponds with fish and other animals, zeolite is touted as a safety measure, but you should use a good pre-filter to prevent the substrate from clogging. Zeolite will benefit fish and water quality only when sufficient oxygen enters the pond. Zeolite has a buffering effect and can neutralize the water’s pH value to between 7.0 and 7.5. Effective microorganisms can improve the effect of zeolite.
Countering Algae Formation by Reducing Nutrient Concentration in Garden Ponds
Zeolite can counteract algae formation by binding not only ammonium, nitrate, and nitrite but also phosphate in the garden pond. Phosphate is an important nutrient for pond plants, but a concentration of 0.1 milligrams of phosphate per liter of pond water is sufficient. If the concentration is higher, eutrophication and thus algae formation are promoted. Since zeolite binds phosphate, it reduces the nutrient concentration in your garden pond and counteracts algae growth. It can help prevent water from tipping on hot summer days. Phosphate is reintroduced into the pond water through dead plant material and the excrement of pond inhabitants. Zeolite can also serve as an ion exchanger due to the incorporated sodium ions. The recommended zeolite dosage for phosphate binding varies depending on the manufacturer. Some suggest using up to a kilogram of zeolite per square meter of water surface. However, some manufacturers recommend using up to a ton of zeolite per 1,000 liters of water. As various experiments have shown, commercial zeolite can hardly reduce phosphates in the pond. Therefore, various manufacturers have developed zeolites that exchange phosphate ions for sodium ions. Sodium is harmless to pond inhabitants.
Zeolite as a Substrate for Pond Plants
Due to its structure, zeolite is also recommended as a substrate for pond plants. Pure zeolite or a mixture of zeolite and sand can be used as a substrate. Plants reduce the nitrate content. The substrate provides no replenishment. Zeolite, as a planting substrate for pond plants, has a clarifying effect and can improve water quality. However, you do not always achieve the desired water quality for your fish and other pond inhabitants. Zeolite is available in various granule sizes and can be used for designing streams or shoreline areas due to its attractive appearance.
When Is Zeolite Depleted?
Since zeolite is used for ion exchange, it eventually becomes saturated with the ions of pollutants. Saturation occurs after a few weeks, so zeolite can no longer absorb pollutants. Regular water tests should be conducted. If the values deteriorate, it’s a sign that zeolite
needs to be replaced. As a rule of thumb, it should be replaced every two months. Some experts recommend not necessarily removing it from the pond but simply adding new zeolite to the pond. The saturated zeolite can still be left in the pond to promote bacterial colonization and for an aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Disadvantages of Zeolite
Zeolite has its disadvantages and is not a necessity for your garden pond. There are zeolites that exchange magnesium and calcium ions for sodium ions, which can result in softer water. In a garden pond with fish and other animals, this effect is not always desired. If you want to use zeolite for ammonium binding, be sure to follow the correct dosage. To enhance ion exchange when zeolite is saturated, some pond owners may add salt to the pond. This can be dangerous, as the ability to bind ammonium is nullified by salting. Particularly in ponds with a basic pH value, salting the pond can cause ammonium ions to return to the pond and lead to the formation of ammonia. Even in a low concentration, ammonia is harmful to fish. In a high concentration, it is a death sentence for your fish. To avoid this, when purchasing zeolite, be sure to opt for good quality. This will prevent heavy metals from entering the pond. It is also crucial to follow the dosage recommendations.
Zeolite is a mineral composed of silicon and aluminum with a unique gapped structure. It is used for pollutant binding, especially for phosphate and ammonium binding in garden ponds. There are various granule sizes and types of zeolites, not all of which actually contribute to phosphate binding. Zeolite, due to its gapped structure, can adsorb pollutant ions, but it eventually becomes saturated and can release ammonium ions back into the pond, even promoting the formation of harmful ammonia. If used in a filter, it depends on good oxygen input and careful dosing.