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Q11059 - HOWTO: How to Install a UV Sterilizer by Robert Farnsworth, Reef Squad
Ultraviolet (UV) sterilization is an effective and underutilized method of filtration for aquarium systems.

Algae, parasites and bacteria can wreak havoc within the aquarium environment. Using a UV sterilizer helps reduce the risks posed by these common aquarium nuisances.

Choosing a UV sterilizer may seem daunting. Our goal with this article is to explain how UV sterilizers work, how to select an appropriate unit for your aquarium and how to set one up once you’ve made your purchase.

UV sterilization is in fact a very simple process for removing unwanted water borne bacteria, parasitic, fungal, viral, algae and other unfriendly pathogens out of aquarium water by exposing it to high intensity UV light.

Coralife Turbo-Twist UV Sterilizer
Freshwater aquariums and ponds are easier for UV rays to penetrate and sterilize compared to their saltwater counterparts. This is an important tidbit to remember when shopping for a UV sterilizer; manufacturer recommendations are often geared toward freshwater aquarium and pond applications. If you have trouble applying the manufacturer’s recommendations for water volume to your aquarium system feel free to contact us. We’re here to help.

JBJ UV Sterilizer Flow rate is also important in UV sterilization. Slower flow means longer contact time under UV light. The longer the exposure, the greater the rate of sterilization. Algae and bacteria, for example, can be killed with minimal sterilization. Higher levels of UV light are required to eliminate parasites.

Multiple flow rate recommendations are often provided for a single UV sterilizer. These recommendations are based on an aquarist’s desire for clarity (algae/bacteria) or complete sterilization (parasites/viruses).

Although this chart only pertains to Aqua UV brand sterilizers, it is an excellent reference for flow rate and tank size recommendations.

Marine aquarium hobbyists debate the need for UV sterilizers since they can have a negative effect on the beneficial bacteria in an aquarium system. These differences of opinion usually only involve marine and reef tanks with live rock. Proponents reinforce the benefits of UV sterilization, such as disease and algae prevention.

You’ll have a few options for plumbing your UV sterilizer once you’ve chosen a model appropriate for your tank size and desired rate of sterilization.

Most sterilizers are designed for external use and require a separate water pump to provide sufficient flow. You may use a dedicated pump to pump water from your aquarium or sump through the sterilizer and back into your aquarium/sump. You can also plumb the unit inline with your return or chiller pump. Just make sure you’re using the correct sized pump.

Some UV sterilizers are submersible. You may even find some smaller models with built-in pumps. It is typically best to have the UV sterilizer setup as your last method of filtration after the mechanical and biological filters.

The following steps outline how to install an external UV sterilizer on a home aquarium.

These steps still apply if you are installing a submersible UV sterilizer. Just remember the unit you will be using will actually be underwater. If you opt for a smaller unit with a built-in pump, just place the UV sterilizer inside your aquarium or sump and plug it in. If you’re installing your UV sterilizer outside for a pond or water fountain, the same basic principles apply. Just make sure the unit you’ve chosen is rated for outdoor use.

Lifegard Aquatics UV Sterilizers
Without further ado, here is how to install an ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer:
  1. First and foremost, read through the entire product manual. Note any precautions or safety guidelines. Use an appropriately sized pump to provide the necessary flow rate. Make sure you’ve got your essential plumbing parts, namely tubing and elbows. If you get stuck on a single step or need helping choose a UV sterilizer and plumbing parts, remember: we are here to help you!
  2. Next, find an appropriate place to mount your sterilizer. Some units hang from your aquarium. Others are easily mounted below your tank on or inside the stand.
  3. Cut your vinyl tubing or PVC to accommodate the distance to and from your UV sterilizer. Some units are labeled with an inlet/outlet. Take note before cutting your tubing.
  4. Connect the tubing/PVC to your pump then attach to the UV sterilizer. Most sterilizers come with tubing connections. Just be certain you have all the necessary parts before installing the unit. The pump needs to be plumbed inline before the sterilizer and push water through the unit then back into your aquarium. When the water returns back to your tank or sump, you can use a simple U-tube to make an easy fail-safe connection back to the aquarium or sump. Use hose clamps when using vinyl tubing and, if using PVC, wait 24 hours for any glue to set and dry before running water. Teflon tape should always be used for any threaded parts.
  5. Now install the fragile lamp and quartz sleeve. Do not touch the quartz sleeve or lamp with your fingers. The natural oils in your skin can negatively affect the glass components. Use cotton gloves or a paper towel to avoid direct contact with the glass. Tighten the fittings as necessary to get a water-tight seal. Attach the power supply to your bulb as directed but do not plug in the unit.
  6. Once your plumbing is in place and the pump is connected, proceed to water test for any leaks. Simply plug in the pump and let it run for a few minutes so you can watch for leaks. If no leaks are found and the ground is dry, you may now plug in the bulb.
Congratulations! You have successfully installed a UV sterilizer.

Replace your UV lamp every 6-12 months. If you wait longer, your bulbs will no longer emit the UV rays required to properly sterilize aquarium water.

Keep your quartz sleeve free of debris or build up. A dirty quartz sleeve can block the UV rays and render your sterilizer useless. Just remove the quartz sleeve and wipe it clean every time you change out your bulbs. Always remember to clean and maintain your pump to ensure proper flow rate through your sterilizer at all times.

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Approved Comments...
Nicely explained, well done Approved: 8/23/2013
Great article. A simple question: does the UV sterilizer has to be completely submersed or only 50% is fine? Approved: 6/5/2013
Article did well explaining uv sterilization, however a graphic or two showing a typical installation method would be nice. Maybe a graphic showing an installation in the cabinet under the tank with hose route examples. Upon researching I find lots of pictures of uv sterilizers but difficulty picturing them in actual use. Approved: 2/13/2012
No mention of GFCI. I highly recommend stainless steel clamps on all non-pvc hoses. Almost all PVC glues set and dry in less than 10 minutes. If you only have one pump, leaving your sump off for 24 hours waiting for glue to dry will have serious consquences. No need to do that IMHO. You can use Christys Hot Glue which dries in seconds if you have concerns. A final comment, be careful with your corals. If you hook up a real high wattage UV unit, your light penetration may increase due to water clarity resulting in a very sudden change in lighting. If you have a lot of expensive coral you might increase the exposure time in increments. Sorry for such a long comment! Hope this is helpful to someone. :c) Approved: 1/21/2011
Pretty simplistic, but an OK article. Might have been interesting to discuss UV exposure, how it is measured, flow rate vs exposure time, watts vs flow rate exposure levels and sterilization effects, etc. Approved: 6/3/2010
It explains all about the UV sterlizer and how they work and how to install. Approved: 5/7/2010
Good article; however, the "U-tube" fail safe mention is confusing to me. A plumbing sketch would have been great, the ol "picture worth 1000 words". I want to install UV system and have been looking for directions - this article is step in right direction. Thank you much Approved: 5/7/2010
hey rob!! i can finally put a face with your name now ! good article! couple main topics to point out. no matter what brand or type of unit you have,good or bad you have to have proper gph or the unit is useless. The design of the unit should only allow a gap of .3 cm or less between the bulb or quartz sleeve and the wall of the unit for effective contact and temperature. This is where canister aquarium and pressurized pond filters (such as the Aquael, Nursery Pro, even the newer Via Aqua) fail miserably as there is too large a gap and in general a poor flow Approved: 5/7/2010
The information covered everything basic to a UV Filter. Approved: 5/6/2010
Article Details
Created on 5/5/2010.
Last Modified on 9/27/2013.
Last Modified by Dot Yuson.
Article has been viewed 41000 times.
Rated 7 out of 10 based on 80 votes.
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