A New Breed of Bead - A New Age for the Bead Bio-Filter

7 minutes read

Like the automobile, the very first bead biofilter was a breakthrough in technology. It offered pioneer pond keepers an alternative to archaic methods of filtering water. But like the Model T the very first model bead filter had its share of problems. As time goes by these problems are addressed by manufacturers and improvements are made. The hour-glass design of the bubble bead was found to bottle-neck the water flow and was ditched by many distributors in favor of a single round tank that resembles a pool filter.

Some people confuse pool filters with bead filters because they look so much alike on the outside. The two, however, are NOT interchangeable. Open up the units and you’ll see two completely different plumbing systems and media used. A bead filter flows UP through the beads while a pool filter flows DOWN through the sand. It can be downright dangerous to use a pool filter on a pond. The sand will clog almost instantly and does not get aerated. This promotes growth of anaerobic bacteria that causes disease in fish, harbors parasites and produces smelly gasses. Even if beads are used the plumbing does not allow proper cleaning.

A bead filter is a closed, sealed tank that uses heavy water flow to trap dirt and debris and high water pressure to flush it out of the system. A large volume of water must go slowly through the beads when it’s filtering to perform optimally. On the other hand, high water pressure is needed to expel dirt during backwash. If water is traveling through the beads too quickly it will not filter properly. If the unit lacks water pressure during cleaning the backwash does not do its job.

When Pond Doc developed his line of ProBead™ bio-filters about five years ago he took the best features of all the bead filters in production at the time and combined them into a pond filter that would stand up to the rigorous handling it would receive at the garden center. He felt sure that if it held up to the abuse he would give it at the store then surely it would hold up for customers as well. He was right.

Even the best bead filter five years ago had its particular problems. The very first ProBead™ models did not have the Rinse or Bead Anti-Loss Drain Features. These early models, however, haven’t stopped working and are filtering along quite well for their owners — just like a 5-year-old car should continue to run well.

This year the Doc hit the age-old problems existing with bead filters in general head on and incorporated new features into his new breed of ProBead™ biological bead filters to combat the problems.

Dual Anti-Clogging Beads Feature

Weaknesses of any bead filter are (#1) the desire for increased biological filtration and (#2) a tendency to clog under some circumstances. Bead filters have always offered adequate biological filtration sufficient for most applications but one can never have too much bio-filtration! The latest modification to the ProBead™ is the Dual Anti-Clogging Beads Feature that utilizes two types of bead media. The original small beads continue to trap even the most minute pieces of debris while a new special hollow bead has been added. This hollow bead is proven to lessen the possibility of clogging while increasing the amount of biological filtration.

2” High Flow 6-Way Valve

The bead filter needs to filter a lot of water in an hour’s time so 2” plumbing throughout is desired. During normal filtering large amounts of water flowing through the filter should flow through more slowly. This makes it filter at its best performance. Most bead filters (but not the ProBead™) reduce down to 1 1/2” piping inside the unit. The normal valve (standard on some smaller ProBead™ models) has 1 1/2” ports that restrict the amount of water flowing through the beads. A 2” High Flow 6-Way Valve comes standard on some models of ProBeads and is offered as an option on others to take advantage of the filter’s 2” internal plumbing.

Water Garden Model Option

A common misconception is that water gardens require less filtering than koi ponds. In reality, it is the opposite. Plants add by far more debris to the water than fish. We can use two of our store ponds to illustrate this point.

The Oriental pond was built by Nemar Cobb of Alpha Aquatics as a true koi pond. It provides a home for a heavier than normal fish load. Neil Boyce of Blades and Blossoms built as his showcase a five-foot deep water lily pond. It’s heavily planted with water lilies, marginal plants, lotuses and cattails. It has a very light load of fancy goldfish. I would classify it as a combination pond. The Oriental pond is so clear and clean that one can read a dime off the bottom. The water lily pond has build-up on the sides and bottom and one can see floating debris in the water. Both ponds have very similar filtration equipment. Though they are both beautiful in their own right, the koi pond is the cleanest of the two.

Water gardens will always have floating debris, etc. in the water. It’s the nature of the pond. We still need to filter them so they remain healthy by keeping the muck at bay and not allowing the water to become anaerobic and smell like rotten eggs. The problem with filtering a water garden with the convenience of a bead filter has been that it clogs more quickly and causes frustration. The Doc has found a way to re-engineer the plumbing and use the correct type of beads so that owners of water gardens can benefit from the low-maintenance ease of a bead filter. Many ProBeads are now available with a Water Garden Model Upgrade.

Blower Option

The newest “craze” in bead filtration is the addition of a blower. We dragged our feet as much as we could with providing the blower option because we weren’t convinced that it was worth the extra dollars. Our conclusion after testing is that it all depends on the bead filter and the type of pond it’s filtering. A blower’s job is to use air to jostle the beads. It’s supposed to do better than relying on the pressure of the pump alone. It helps, but does add cost to the filter.

It also adds another step to the cleaning process. The pump is turned off, the valve on the filter is turned to Backwash, the blower is turned on and runs for a few minutes. Then the blower is turned off, the pump turned back on and a normal backwash is performed on the filter.

A blower is actually needed on a few of the larger models of bead filters. The reason for this is that there are so many beads in these particular filters that pumping action alone cannot possibly perform a proper backwash. The new ProBead™ 360 & 450 models come standard with the blower for that reason.

A blower is helpful to have if a pond is heavily planted or has a heavy string algae load. We may even suggest it for folks who continually have problems with clogging. We do not normally recommend the addition of a blower on any of the ProBead™ Ultra High Flow models because the design of the filter is so superior that a blower becomes just an added expense.


Bead filters require a gentle flow for filtering and a high pressure flow for backwashing so the perfect pump to use with a bead filter so that it performs to it’s absolute best is a 2 speed pump. It would run and filter most all the time on low, taking advantage of energy efficiency. The high setting is used during Backwash or while one is showing off white rapids to guests. The hp needed in a pump is determined by the particular size of the pond, model bead filter used, waterfall height and personal flow preference.

Low head, high volume pumps (like the Sequence) do not produce enough water pressure to properly clean the beads. Folks who have this type of pump running a bead filter could benefit from adding a blower to help stir the beads during cleaning. We prefer, however, to install the correct pump in the first place.

The decision of what pump to place on a pond can be a daunting one. Many variables are taken into consideration so that the pump purchased will make the most out of the system. That’s reason number 528 to consult with the Doc before purchasing equipment.

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