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The cotton fibers filter out the fine particulate matters that can cloud the water column, along with the larger pieces of course. Instead of cotton, I use hypo-allergenic 100% polyester fibers, specifically Create-A-Craft's LoftPlus: Premium Polyester Fiberfil from Walmart. At $2 per 20 oz. bag at Walmart, it is a much better alternative than cotton balls, microfiltration pads, etc. This 20 oz. bag lasts me for almost an entire year, servicing both the Filstars and Eheims.

 

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You can absolutely use it with the Marineland HOB filters. Before switching over to canister filters, I had several Penguins myself, though I removed the Bio-Wheel to reduce surface agitation. It is many many many many many many many many many times less expensive using these polyester fibers sandwiched between old filter cartridge frames than buying those uber expensive replacement Rite-Size cartridges. The money I used to spend on those replacement cartridges were outrageous. Those 'benjamines' were better saved to invest in a canister filter.
 

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The filter cartridge for the Penguin has two sides: a black plastic frame on one and a blue fibrous mat on the other, with activated carbon in between. What I used to do is cut away the blue fibrous sides on TWO cartridges, remove the activated carbon, and save the black frames. Then, I stuff the Polyfil in between. In order to fit the two black frames into the groove provided by the HOB filter, you'll have to cut away the half-moon notch along the sides of the black frames. Easy DIY project. The only materials required are 2 used filter cartridges, a pair of scissor, and a bag of Polyfil.

You can apply the same principle with other HOB filters. For example, with my Aquaclear Mini, I stuff the Polyfil on the bottom followed by the sponge. The sponge is only there to keep the fibers in place. All mechanical filtration is performed by the Polyfil fibers. If you want biological filtration, then use less Polyfil to make room for your biological filtration media.
 

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Another simple way to do this, but isnt quite as hidden is the old cotton filters. They are still available and were often seen when i was a kid. They were a filter that sat in the corner of the tank, carbon on the bottom, the rest was cotton. A simple air stone was in the centre, as the air forced its way through the carbon and up passed the cotton, the current of water was drawn into the top and sides of the filter and trapped all the bad stuff. We laugh at these filters now, but i guess looking back they were quite sufficient.
 

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cS: Thanks for the info. I do have a couple filters that I took the blue stuff off of. I just KNEW I'd need them someday! I've also cut a slit in the top end of the blue stuff and rinsed the old carbon out and used them that way. But, I like the idea of the cotton batting trapping the tiniest particles.

All: I think we sometimes get carried away with "technology". Unfortunately, I remember those filters, too!
 

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Polyester/cotton fluff from the sewing section of a store is not manufactured the same way as your regular, white cottony filter floss. Some kinds are safe for aquatic life and some aren't, and it won't say on the label. I've known people who've killed their whole tank of fish using cotton and/or polyester batting/filler from the craft store or from department stores.

If people tell you brands they've used of non-petstore type cotton or polyester filling that have worked for them with no problems, I would use only those brands and compare manufacturing origin since manufacturing methods may vary regionally.

Finding out the brands which are not aquatic-safe on your own can be expensive when it comes to replacing fish. I know a couple of people that did find out the hard way, so I just wanted to add a warning, not to detract from what others are saying here.
 

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Jake raises a very good point, which is why I emphasized above that one should choose brands that have "HYPO-ALLERGENIC" stated on the label. They have the least chance of containing potentially lethal chemicals. Create-A-Craft's LoftPlus: Premium Polyester Fiberfil, pictured above, is indeed hypo-allergenic, machine-washable --> holds its integrity when wet, and 100% polyester fibers. I have it used it successfully in all my tanks, even those with "sensitive" fauna. Thank you for the caution Jake.
 
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