UV Sterilizer Problems & Reviews; Submersible Pond, UVC Clarifier
Potential UV Sterilizer Problems, Equipment to Avoid such as Submersible UV Sterilizers/ClarifiersUpdated 6/7/14
This website in general is meant to show the research as well as, subjective reasons to utilize TRUE UVC Sterilization for ponds, aquariums, air purification, & surface/equipment disinfection.
This article in particular addresses the pitfalls of some equipment that can make for a “bad experience” in UV Sterilizer (or Clarifier) ownership. This is also how incorrect anecdotal statements about ineffective UV Sterilization equipment starts too.
I will preface this article/post to state that although many of my posts on this website and elsewhere about UV Sterilization are based on good objective research from both myself and many others, this specific article/post is based on use, feedback, known scientific facts about true UV Sterilization, and observations.
I will be as objective as possible but, this post includes some subjective commentary based on my 35 years of experience in aquarium/pond maintenance and system design.
- Equipment, UV Sterilizers
- Tetra UV Sterilizers
- Garden Treasures UV
- Submersible UVs; JBJ Submariner, AquaTop & Green Killing Machine
- In-Line Pond UVs; Pondmaster, Others
- Cal Pumps UV
- Other Potential Problems
EQUIPMENT, UV STERILIZERS:I will start with some equipment that I do not recommend and why:
*Jebo UV Sterilizers: These Sterilizers have a couple of problems.
First is the ballasts/transformers do not last and in fact, from my experience and others in the professional aquarium/pond maintenance business observations, they often fail in less than a year (see the ballast section).
As well, even when the transformers continue to work, Jebo often uses non industry standard UV Bulbs for their units.
An example would be the 11 watt Jebo and 36 watt which utilize a bulb that is not of standard length making it more difficult to find a replacement and when this replacement can be found, it is often more expensive due to this problem.
Worse, if you purchase a Jebo replacement UV bulb, you will be getting an inferior medium pressure UV bulb that is only 7-14% UVC emission (commonly used for nail curing), not true low pressure true UVC bulb!!!
Reference: Actual UV-C Emission from a UV Bulb; Aquarium or Pond
An example of a standard 36 Watt G11 UV bulb:
Standard G11 36 Watt UV Bulb
*Tetra UV: Honestly, I am not a fan of this company on so many levels of their aquatic products (& this goes back many years in the business and includes talking with others in the industry at trade shows that know Tetra and its products well).
However, their UV Sterilizers generally work well and last well too. The problem with the Tetra UVs is that as with Jebo, Tetra also is constantly utilizing non industry standard UVC Bulbs, which Tetra then charges nearly triple the normal price for replacement bulbs (but at least Tetra uses quality low pressure True UVC lamps/bulbs).
So, these Tetra bulbs, the G7 9 Watt UV Bulb and the G11 18 Watt Bulb are non standard and VERY expensive if purchased from Tetra or their distributors.
Luckily, one manufacturer is only a step behind Tetra with quality high UVC output low pressure replacement bulbs, see these links:
*9 Watt G7 Tetra UV Replacement Bulb from American Aquarium
*18 Watt G11 Tetra UV Replacement Bulb from American Aquarium
The other problem with Tetra (as with their fish foods and some other products), they have done an excellent job marketing their products so as to convince people that a Tetra UV Sterilizer is of top notch quality which although these are good UVs (as per my vast use of these in my aquarium and pond maintenance companies), they are far from the best.
HOWEVER, a Tetra UV is often twice the price of other compact UV units such as the Terminator UV. While the Terminator is of equal quality for less than half the price.
More importantly, the Tetra is NOT even in the same league of UV efficiency as the TMC Vecton & Pond Advantage UVs, Aqua UV, or Emperor UV (in part due to much lower dwell time)!
*SunSun Terminator Compact UV Sterilizers from American Aquarium
*TMC High Dwell Time Professional UVs from American Aquarium
Please note, I have been using SunSun/Via Aqua Terminator Compact UVs since 1996 (along with many others which include the Tetra, Jebo, Turbo Twist) and had few problems; generally just a rare broken/defective part.
To this date, not one has had a defective ballast unlike many of the other compact UV Sterilizers such as the Turbo Twist.
If you are determined to spend more; Why not get more for your money and purchase a true high performance, high dwell time, high output UV Sterilizer.
For the same price as a Tetra, you could get a top notch professional sterilizer such as the TMC Pond Advantage/Vecton Aquarium/Pond UV Sterilizer
*Garden Treasures: A popular discount home improvement store brand that often fails within a year and has a poor design which is often very ineffective.
*JBJ Submariner UV Sterilizer/Clarifier, Green Killing Machine, More
Although an excellent idea in theory, the Green Killing UV is a good example of what is often wrong with the aquarium/pet industry as many (including myself) thought this was a good idea in theory.
In practical use it failed (I tested several before I would sell to the general public).
However most other retailers, including some of the biggest names in internet Aquarium/Pet supplies purchased and sold these lemons without any testing which is sadly so typical of late in an industry driven by highly inaccurate Amazon and other non professional community based reviews which do NOT utilize in science based controlled testing by professionals.
Many retailers though, such as PetStore.Com have since discontinued this UV Sterilizer.
The problem was not that these UVs did not work, because they did for free floating algae as aUC clarifier only, BUT NOT level 1 or 2 UV Sterilization, which is what many unknowingly purchase these for.
As well these UVs only functioned for a short time (about 6-9 months), then the seals failed and they shorted out (this too is a major problem with the Submariner, which sadly still sells in considerable volume).
On an unprofessional note as per the Green Killing UV, a company representative spammed a YouTube video I made about UV Sterilizer installation.
This comment was about their product and when I noted (in a reply comment) that I disagreed with this product based on use, they phoned me with the nastiest (including personal attacks), and most naïve comments I could ever fathom. Keep in mind that I did not seek them out, they sought me out.
In my view, this is not a company I could ever recommend giving business to.
Sadly irresponsible companies such as Petco, PetsMart, and Amazon continue to sell this UV clarifier (NOT a Sterilizer).
Another problem with poor quality sterilizers with built in water pumps is flow rate.
This can be seen in the smaller Killing Machine/Submariners (5 watt and to a lesser extent the 9 watt).
This flow rate is too high for proper UV sterilization, which is best under 25 gallons per hour per watt (clearing green algae only requires 45 gph per watt, which is why these work for green water, but not so well for bacterial pathogen control or Redox Balance).
Sadly many persons purchase the Green Killing Machine or Submariner expecting UVC Level 1 Sterilization, and these units simply do NOT perform this.
So at best, these are JUST water clarification tools for as long as they last.
What really blows my mind is the "good" reviews posted on forums, etc that do not reflect anything about their durability or the fact these cannot perform level 1 sterilization.
So, unsuspecting buyers read these very unscientific reviews then make a purchase. I know this happens from emails and my aquarium maintenance colleagues that report these failures or complain they are not seeing any Redox or sterilization results.
The unfortunate result here (again based on emails, etc.) is these people that buy these sterilizers, then become convinced that UV Sterilization is a gimmick further fanning the MYTH that UV Sterilizers are useless for anything other than water clarification!!!
Reference this article about the similar Submariner Submersible UV and the TERRIBLE and factually inaccurate information given in an unprofessional review:
Submariner Internal UV Sterilizer Review, such as Kokos Goldfish; Reviews Part 1
Better would be to use together a proven yet economical Terminator UV Sterilizer (or TMC Vecton for a premium High Dwell Time UV) with a Internal Filter/power head combination or purchase a UV/Filter Kit that includes both.
*TMC Vecton High Level UVC Sterilizers
*Terminator UV Filter, Pump Kits; Superior Compact Sterilizers
If you prefer the simplicity of a self contained internal/submersible UV Sterilizer, the SunSun Submersible UV Pump/Filter would be a better choice over the Green Killing Machine or Submariner.
HOWEVER, even these Internal/Submersible UV Sterilizers cannot match the Sterilization capabilities of a stand alone UV Sterilizer such as the Terminator or especially a high performance model such as the TMC Advantage or Vecton.
SunSun Submersible UV Pump/Filter
Also, beware of the cheaper models by SunSun, often marketed under the AquaTop and Oceanic labels, generally selling for less than $50.
These are NO better than the Submariner or Killing Machine as per true UV Sterilization or longevity!!
PLEASE also read this review/article:
Internal, Submersible UV Sterilizer Filter, Pump; Review
*Submersible Inline Pond UV; Pondmaster, and Others
These UV Sterilizers are designed to go inline, originally in pond and more recently aquarium versions have been added.
This style UV Sterilizer/Clarifier goes inline (between the pump and water outlet) under your aquarium or pond water.
These UV Sterilizers have found appeal because of their lower price due to simplicity and to the generally easy installation.
However. these positive selling attributes are also their downfall as for reliable UV Sterilizer abilities.
The aquarium versions are very low tech with poor dwell time. This simple construction often result in leaks that destroy the electrical components in as little as 6 months. The result being Level One Sterilization is NOT achieved and a UV Sterilizer is worthless for any type of Sterilization.
As for the PondMaster Submersible; when functioning this Pond UV Sterilizer generally does a good job for green water control.
Unfortunately, this UV also has seals that fail resulting in electrical shorts due to moisture. Our pond service and related professional contacts also reported premature ballast failures (often within months) resulting in "blown" bulbs when a new replacement UV-C Bulb/light is replaced.
Sometimes when the replacement bulb blows the filament, a thorough cleaning of electrical of any possible moisture can get this UV Sterilizer up and running again. The down side is this can be a matter of trial and error when replacing UV-C Bulbs that cost over $42.
While the Pondmaster 40 watt and 20 watt might perform a reasonable job; when compared to the vastly higher dwell time TMC Pond Advantage UVs; the 40 watt Pond Master is outperformed by the 30 Watt Pond Advantage Pro and the 20 Watt Pond Master is outperformed by the 15 Watt Pond Advantage.
So, my point is, with the cost of a new replacement lamp, AND new ballast, it makes much more sense to spend nearly the same amount of money and step UP to the TMC Pond Advantage UV Sterilizer!!
Please Reference these Information and Product Resources:
*UV Sterilization Facts & Information
*Dwell Time Test Between UV Sterilizers
*Pondmaster UV Replacement Bulbs
*30 Watt Pond Advantage Pro
*15 Watt Pond Advantage
*Select UV Sterilizer Ballasts
Another issue is some manufacturers of the in-line UV Sterilizer (primarily marketed for ponds) utilize UV Bulbs/Lamps of 5 or 10 watts which is only adequate for the smallest of ponds (under 100-200 gallons) not at all for most of the ponds often sold for.
For pond or aquarium use, stay away from these submersible line in UV Sterilizers, consider a heavy duty high dwell time UV Sterilizer such as the proven long life TMC Aquarium Vecton & Pond Advantage UV Sterilizer, Aqua Ultraviolet, or Emperor UVs.
*Cal Pumps UV
Cal Pumps (2007 and newer) has gone the proprietary route similar to Tetra with new G24 base UV Bulbs.
Luckily other sources for the Cal Pump 18 Watt G24 Bulb now exist.
As well, there are now outside sources for the 36 Watt Cal Pump Spiral UV Bulb.
*Spiral 36 Watt G24 UV Replacement Bulb from American Aquarium
*U Shape 18 Watt G24 UV Replacement Bulb from American Aquarium
However, regardless of replacement bulb availability this Cal Pump spiral UV bulb/lamp has minor restrike issues and worse has terrible UV-C exposure time based on its overly compact spiral design.
As per our maintenance companies results as well as our own "in-house" statistics, the Cal Pump also has a higher than normal ballast failure rate, with new hot cathode UV bulbs failing in relatively new units (the old lamp may still work, but due to loss of ability of the ballast to provide needed surge voltage, the new hot cathode UV-C Bulbs will not fire).
*Please reference this article to help troubleshoot your electrical components:
UV Sterilizer Bulb Troubleshooting
The Cal Pump 36 Watt Pond UV Sterilizer with the spiral bulb which has VERY LOW dwell time and higher than normal ballast failure, is a UV device that really has me scratching my head as to why people even purchase this when there are better compact UV sterilizers available. Such as the "SunSun Terminator 36 Watt" Compact UVs or better yet the standard UV TMC "Pond Advantage Premium UV Sterilizer".
At 25 watts, the TMC Pond Advantage has a vastly better flow, dwell time, and exposure design which would well outperform the higher wattage Cal Pump spiral 36 watt UV (along with much higher durability too)!!
OTHER POTENTIAL PROBLEMS:
I will just give a quick overview in this section, since I have expanded information in other articles dealing with much of this. *Too high a flow rate for wattage of UVC: Although an over simplification, more goes into UVC versus flow rate than pure wattage such as the design of the unit should only allow a gap of .3 cm between the UVC light bulb, quartz sleeve,and the UV unit wall.
As a simple generalization (depending upon dwell time), 20-35 gph (gallons per hour) per watt should be used for most sterilization applications and 40-65 gph per watt for pond green water/algae control.
*UVC Transmittance: This is the measured value of the difference between a known UVC light source and what is measured by a calibrated detector through a 1 cm thick sample of the water to be irradiated/treated.
Water turbidity (dissolved waste particulates, DOC, etc.) in the water column have a profound affect on this.
I will likely write a specific article/post on the controversial subject of pre-filtration which can have a generally positive affect on UVC Transmittance.
*Failure to Change the UV Bulb on a Regular Schedule: This is a common problem which often leads to an ineffective UV Sterilizer. Your UV Bulb should be changed every six months for optimum performance in aquariums and 6-12 months for ponds (6 months in warm climate ponds).
As well, the UV Sterilizer bulbs should be checked during regular aquarium maintenance just to make sure they are "on" in the first place and that the bulb or unit has not failed.
I have had UV Sterilizers and/or the bulbs fail prematurely and not notice (due to not including this check in weekly maintenance) until more obvious aquarium conditions presented themselves.
In one example, the aquarium plants looked more thin/dirty, water clarity was less then perfect, and the DOC and Detritus increased considerably in the aquarium. Upon checking, UV bulb which was well over due for a change had failed
*Weak or Poor Quality Ballasts;
Generally electronic ballasts do not last as long as those that use separate starters (such as many TMC UV Sterilizers), but electronic ballasts still have positive attributes.
Not all electronic ballasts are created equal.
As already noted many brands such as the Jebo have poor quality ballasts that often last less than a year (from my Aquarium Maintenance Company's experience).
I have also observed poor ballasts with certain models of the Hagen Laguna Pond UV Sterilizers such as the 25 Watt model in particular, as well as other Laguna models that often quickly lose their initial UV lamp "firing" ability due to loss of ESSENTIAL voltage surge needed to fire a TRUE Hot Cathode bulb. Replacing your UV bulb with an easy start cold cathode UV bulb is NOT the answer to this problem!
See also this article:
Hot Cathode vs. Cold Cathode UV Bulb; Are Long Life, Easy Start UV Bulbs worth purchasing
- Often symptoms are either these weak/defective/old electronic ballasts are they cannot fire a high output UV Bulb or they "blow" a high output UV bulb due to spikes or constant surges in energy, showing significant black discoloration at the base of the bulb.
See this article for some ballast diagnostic tips:
UV Lamp/Bulb Ballast Troubleshooting
As well, this video has tips to select the correct UV Bulb and why some are better than others, please give the video below a full viewing:
UV Bulb Review and Troubleshooting Video
Sadly, this problem often does not show itself with old used bulbs or new inferior low output cold cathode UV lamps sold for these units.
See: Long Life Cold Cathode UV bulbs, are these worth purchasing?
The bottom line is, from my experience as well as others in the professional maintenance business, is the very poor quality ballast used by Laguna & Jebo.
- The Sunterra UV Sterilizer (which is a "knock off" of the Garden Treasures) is another UV Sterilizer to avoid. Our friends in the maintenance business and elsewhere reporting ballast failures in as early as a few weeks.
If you have one of these poor quality Sunterra UVs and its ballast fails, you are much better off simply replacing it with a new UV of better quality such as the TMC Pond Advantage or Vecton line.
- Even the QUESTIONABLY popular Coralife Turbo-Twist tend to wear out their ballast circuitry in short order resulting in new "high output UV Lamps" not being able to fire.
As per our sister aquarium/pond maintenance which operate dozens of Turbo Twist UVs in the 9 watt and 18 watt size (primarily the 9 watt), the Turbo Twist has a 100% failure rate within a few years that results in new UVC Bulbs failing to light or blowing existing UVC Bulbs.
In fact based on our data (accumulated from 100s of UV Bulb uses), the Coralife 18 Watt Turbo Twist has among the highest ballast failures on any 18 Watt UV Sterilizer other than the Sunterra 18 Watt UV Sterilizer, so if you have either one of these UV Sterilizers burning out UV Bulbs prematurely, very high odds that the problem is with your UV Sterilizer ballast, not the UV-C Bulb (unless you revert to an inefficient cold cathode bulb)!
See Turbo Twist Review for more about the Turbo Twist.
The Bottom line is the Turbo Twist is a UV Sterilizer to avoid, despite the anecdotal advice to purchase these in many misinformed forums or Yahoo Answers!!!
Also any electronic ballast is "doomed" to fail at some point (usually even the best of electronic ballasts last only 5-8 years), and a multi-meter can test for this. For example you should check your voltage and resistance using this equipment.
- It is noteworthy that a new UV Replacement Lamp/Bulb will not start on a weak or failed ballast, especially high intensity UV Bulbs when often a used or low quality/low intensity bulb will still fire, this due to the inability to provide the proper high surge voltage to fire an high efficiency UV bulb!!
Also, when a UV Sterilizer ballast fails or partly fails, it can be too weak to light the UV Sterilizer and can also fail to control the current and become too strong and allow a surge of electricity that blows the UV Bulb/Lamp making this lamp useless for further use. This is especially common with many Pond UVs that have poorly protected ballasts such as the certain Laguna models and Pondmaster submersible.
Electronic UV Sterilizer Ballasts; Lamp Problems
IN SUMMARY, and while this may seem like a sales push, I ONLY use for my clients what works best (which in the long term creates less hassles for me); IF you have ANY OF THE ABOVE UV STERILIZERS; especially the extremely problematic Jebo, Turbo Twist, Pondmaster Submersible, & Sunterra; I would strongly recommend replacing you Ultraviolet Sterilizer with one that is known Internationally for their quality and high efficiency; the TMC Vecton or Advantage Premium, High Dwell Time UV Sterilizers!
See: TMC Vecton & Advantage UV Sterilizers
Finally, the low output cold cathode UV bulbs supplied by some of these before mentioned UV Sterilizers may work when a high output hot cathode bulb does not work.
HOWEVER these are of much lower UV efficiency and therefore provide NO level 1 UV Sterilization.
Continuing to use one of these low efficiency UV Bulbs when a hot cathode UV bulb no longer works simply defeats the purpose of having a UV Sterilizer in the first place!!!
Much more information about these last three points (& more) can be found in this article: UV Sterilization; Fact & Information
*Aquarium & Pond UV Sterilizer Diagrams
*UV Replacement Bulb Guide, resources
For an informative and friendly Aquarium Forum with a family atmosphere, consider this forum:
*Everything Aquatic Aquarium Forum
By Steven Wright