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Old 06-11-2020, 02:07 PM
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Default Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

In another thread there was a lot of discussion regarding calcined clay (turface/safe-t-sorb/oildri) as a drainage layer. There was general concern that the calcined clay would wick too much water.

In order not to abuse the OP of the original thread with something so completely off topic I decided to start a new thread for purposes of an experiment.

The setup is quite simple. Materials are a clean jar, safe-t-sorb, and water.



The jar was filled with 2 inches of dry, unwashed safe-t-sorb.



Water was added till the 2 inches was saturated.



An additional 2 inches of dry unwashed safe-t-sorb was added to the jar.



As you can see from the this last picture some wicking occurred immediately. Approximately 1/4" of travel has occurred. At the time of this posting the experiment has been running a mere 10 minutes and no further travel is noted but I will monitor it over the next few days to see how it looks.


It has already been argued that the experiment may be too simplistic and does not take into account long term potential for decaying matter and plant roots. This is very true but I would note that unless the screening material between drainage layer and substrate in a traditional tank is impermeable, it is also something that a traditional tank would also have to deal with. /shrug.

Anyway I figured this would be something easy to do and report on to settle this one way or another. I plan (as of this moment at least) to make a tank using just safe-t-sorb and some aquasoil for both drainage and substrate separated only with a sheet of fiberglass window screen to stop burrowing into the water filled area. If this is not a viable plan I definitely want to know it in advance.
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Old 06-11-2020, 02:52 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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It has already been argued that the experiment may be too simplistic and does not take into account long term potential for decaying matter and plant roots. This is very true but I would note that unless the screening material between drainage layer and substrate in a traditional tank is impermeable, it is also something that a traditional tank would also have to deal with. /shrug.
Good work with this! I look forward to seeing the results :-)

Maybe I am misunderstanding, but the difference between what you are doing and a more traditional egg crate, then fiberglass, then Turface setup is that in the space under the egg crate, there is typically a (nearly) completely unoccupied air layer between the water surface and where the Turface would begin. Nearly because eventually you will get roots in there, but they are not going to be dense enough to wick water up the 1/2 to 1 inch of air space to where the Turface starts. With your proposed setup, you don't have this (mostly) empty void, you have gravel, roots, and decaying leaf litter, etc. that is a continuous, uninterrupted medium that extends from your water all the way up to where your frogs are sitting. I am not sure this matters functionally, but it is a significant difference. I hope you end up finding a better way to do drainage layers/substrate! I am going to keep an eye on how the experiment and discussion proceed. Thanks for taking the time to do the experiment and keep us posted.

Mark
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Old 06-11-2020, 03:16 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

You are right that is a difference I wasn't aware of. The pictures I have seen always made it look like the eggcrate was right at the top of the water. I didn't know there was supposed to be a gap there. I never looked into the eggcrate method overmuch because I knew wouldn't be using it.

Anyway adaptation to my jar of gravel can be made after a day or 2 to see how it changes things.
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Old 06-11-2020, 03:18 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Excellent. In my tanks and most folks' tanks that use this method, the gap is maintained by the use of a drainage bulkhead located low on the back or side glass.

Mark
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Old 06-11-2020, 03:25 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Now weigh it.

The most unliked feature of turface is...the heavy weight.
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Old 06-11-2020, 04:00 PM
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Excellent. In my tanks and most folks' tanks that use this method, the gap is maintained by the use of a drainage bulkhead located low on the back or side glass.

Mark
Yep! Even with leca drainage layers you build the drainage layer all that there's space within the drainage layer that's above the drainage valve. 20200611_115936_1591891205665.jpg20200611_115936_1591891205665.jpg20200611_115936_1591891205665.jpg
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Old 06-11-2020, 04:47 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Back in 2011 we had to tear the turface out of my brother's unfinished vivarium when I discovered how badly it wicked water. In less than 24 hours it wicked an appreciable amount of water, and completely saturated 100% of the turface in the viv. The turface started out only moist, but became completely saturated within 24 hours.
This was not even a fully turfaced false bottom. The majority of the false bottom had a traditional, eggcrate false bottom. This was simply a one inch strip of turface around the outer edges of the substrate, being used to hide his false bottom.
Unfortunately I did not photo document the turface wicking. I did get good photos of the setup I discovered this in, but by the time I thought of photos, we had already pulled out the Turface and replaced it with a larger grained gravel. The use of gravel quickly and fully eliminated the wicking. The pictures will at least show you how little of a turface wick it took to soak up water, completely saturating it. The turface used is the original turface I brought to the hobby as a means of stretching clay substrate, All Sport Pro. All Sport Pro has a larger, and more uniform, particle size than the MVP that it appears minorhero is. A mixed particle size should wick even faster, as the small particles fill in between larger particles, bridging the gap and aiding in quicker wicking.
https://www.dendroboard.com/forum/me...all-build.html

The phenomenon of wicking is actually so reliable that an entire growing style of passive hydroponics was born of it, and is still being widely used today. Backyard gardeners practice wicking because they've seen it online. They don't even realize that their "self watering bucket system" is actually a full hydroponics system.

There is one part of your experiment that I believe you should think about changing. As it is, you are missing something. When you practice wick hydroponics, you first have to "charge" the wick. You have to soak it in water first. This also needs to be done if you are testing this for in-vivarium style results. Why? In a vivarium the turface will be "charged" by your misting system, and by condensation forming on your glass and running down, moistening and charging the outer edge of the turface. Basically, you have to make it rain or your experiment comes nowhere close to real vivarium conditions.
Right now your turface is trying to charge itself, but it's still dry. That is the slow, incomplete wicking you are seeing. As the process of wicking requires a moistened, or pre-charged wick, as your turface wick slowly moistens, the ability to move water will accelerate. Had you done the experiment with the pre-moistened turface that a misted vivarium would provide, the wicking you are seeing would be working much faster.

Sorry if it seems like I've set out to prove you wrong. I'm just passing on my experience so others don't accidentally do what I did. You know, build a self contained, fully functional, hydroponics system, instead of the intended drainage system. How's that for a swing and a miss? I built something that does the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I was trying to build.
Once again, if admitting my dumb-a** mistakes, can help improve another hobbyist's experience...just call me dumb-a**.
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Old 06-11-2020, 06:49 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Continued experiment!

Responding to feedback I decided its silly to wait a few days before starting other jars. The materials are pretty easy to come by after all.

In one jar I put a handful of peat moss and some torn up dried leaves.



I then filled that jar in stages with unwashed safe-t-sorb, shaking the contents to mix as I went.

In another jar I simply filled it with unwashed safe-t-sorb.



I then filled both jars from the top till I saw water collecting in the bottom about halfway up the filled volume. When filling I made sure to move the water around so it covered the entire surface.





Now I will wait and see how they look in a day or so. If the wicking effect is sufficient to keep the top wet we know that this is not a great method of tank building.

For giggles I also decided to weigh my safe-t-sorb.

I first filled a gallon container with water so I could figure out roughly where the 1 gallon line actually was.



I then filled the same container with safe-t-sorb to the same rough line.



You will notice that the 1 gallon of safe-t-sorb weighs almost 2 lbs less then 1 gallon of water. This is not floating calcined clay. There is simply enough air space between the granules that it doesn't quite equal/exceed the weight of water when put in a similar volume of container. It doesn't say a lot except that safe-t-sorb weighs a very similar amount as just plain old water. So if you are moving your tanks still with water in their base you probably wouldn't notice if it were safe-t-sorb instead. If you drain every drop out then you would definitely notice a tank that had a safe-t-sorb false bottom as compared to one using the eggcrate method. If you do somewhere in-between then your mileage varies by how much water you remove.

How much weight would it add to a typical vivarium? Well doing the maths assuming a viv of 24"x18" with a 2" deep false bottom you end up with roughly 24 lbs of safe-t-sorb to fill er up.

Speaking of safe-t-sorb its not exactly turface though they are both calcined clay products. Specifically it's this stuff.

My local Tractor Supply store will sell me a 40 lb bag for $6.50. This makes it very economical. Once wet I also find its dark colors rather attractive and natural looking. OilDri (sold at lowes and ace hardware) is the same stuff but is a lighter color. Turface again is the same stuff but comes in still other colors. Tractor Supply is a company that is basically only east of the Mississippi (or so I have been told), so the folks out west are stuck looking for alternatives.
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Old 06-11-2020, 07:32 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

24 lbs plus water at @ 8lbs per gallon

getting pretty heavy...
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Old 06-11-2020, 07:34 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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24 lbs plus water at @ 8lbs per gallon

getting pretty heavy...
Sort of... the safe-t-sorb displaces the water. So lets say you have a tank that has 4 gallons of false bottom. If its just water it will weigh about 33 lbs. If its calcined clay and water taking up the same volume it will weigh almost the same 33 lbs.
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Old 06-11-2020, 07:45 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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Speaking of safe-t-sorb its not exactly turface though they are both calcined clay products. Specifically it's this stuff.

My local Tractor Supply store will sell me a 40 lb bag for $6.50. This makes it very economical. Once wet I also find its dark colors rather attractive and natural looking. OilDri (sold at lowes and ace hardware) is the same stuff but is a lighter color. Turface again is the same stuff but comes in still other colors. Tractor Supply is a company that is basically only east of the Mississippi (or so I have been told), so the folks out west are stuck looking for alternatives.
Agreed. OilDri, safe-t-sorb, and Turface can all be looked at as pretty much the same product, and completely interchangeable. The replacement should not affect your experiment.
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Old 06-11-2020, 07:49 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

I was just going to ask how sure we are about the lack of impurities in a product designed to mop up oil :-) Perhaps it's not too different than asking whether we should be worried about toxins riding along with a product for baseball infields, which Turface is. However, maybe Turface has to be more careful since kids will be sliding in it. I always wonder about using products that come from the automotive aisle in my vivaria. I am sure I would be shocked to find out what's in the products that are considered safe for using with animals. I want to say that Turface is on a list of things that CA has regulations about importing, but I think that might be because of the Silica component. Maybe I am mis-remembering.

Also, I am pretty sure there's a Tractor Supply in Loveland or Fort Collins, CO, so they come this far west, anyway.

minorhero, the pictures look like the Safetsorb is grayish to my (admittedly color blind) eyes. Is that the case in person? The Turface I use is pretty orange so the gray might be an upgrade from what I am using. The cost of Turface is about 3-4x as much, too. That could represent an even greater cost savings.

Mark
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Old 06-11-2020, 08:07 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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I was just going to ask how sure we are about the lack of impurities in a product designed to mop up oil :-) Perhaps it's not too different than asking whether we should be worried about toxins riding along with a product for baseball infields, which Turface is. However, maybe Turface has to be more careful since kids will be sliding in it. I always wonder about using products that come from the automotive aisle in my vivaria. I am sure I would be shocked to find out what's in the products that are considered safe for using with animals. I want to say that Turface is on a list of things that CA has regulations about importing, but I think that might be because of the Silica component. Maybe I am mis-remembering.

Also, I am pretty sure there's a Tractor Supply in Loveland or Fort Collins, CO, so they come this far west, anyway.

minorhero, the pictures look like the Safetsorb is grayish to my (admittedly color blind) eyes. Is that the case in person? The Turface I use is pretty orange so the gray might be an upgrade from what I am using. The cost of Turface is about 3-4x as much, too. That could represent an even greater cost savings.

Mark
Its extremely safe. The aquarium hobby has been using it for years including folks that keep axolotl and african clawed frogs. Its 100% calcined clay with nothing else added to it. Website including safety sheets found here: https://epminerals.com/products/safe...nd-safe-t-sorb

Its gray when unwashed. The gray is actually just dust. Once the dust is washed away it looks very different. Here is a picture of it ontop of some sand in one of my aquariums.

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Old 06-11-2020, 08:36 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Good to know that the fish folks have signed off. They would see problems before we would, I think. It does appear to be more attractive than the Turface I use. Thanks for attaching the picture.

Mark
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Old 06-11-2020, 11:10 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

I have to agree, there. It looks much more natural than turface.

There is a tractor supply store in Brighton. I was just there last week picking up shade cloth for the gardens.
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Old 06-12-2020, 07:34 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Update!

Its been approximately 1 day since the experiment was started so its time to share the results.



As you can see the original big jar has had some progress with wicking. Its now approximately 3 inches deep so it wicked an additional 3/4" since it was first setup. This did not occur all at once but has been a slow progress over the course of the last 24 hours. The top remains dry.

As for the other 2 jars, all parts of them are now wet including the top. It is not soaking wet and in fact when I touch it with a single finger I can't feel any damp but when I rub my 2 fingers together after this I can detect dampness (does this make sense?). I tried to come up with a good way to visualize this for purposes of photography and the best I could come up with is a tissue.

Specifically I laid a tissue into the jar and used my fingers to press the tissue against the surface. I left it this way for a bit (lets say 10 seconds) and then removed it, cleaned off the grit that stuck to it and held it up to a window.





The top is thus definitely damp. There is no pooled water though. The jar with leaves and peat moss was as near as I can tell identical to the one with only safe-t-sorb.

So what does this all mean?

Well if you are trying to ensure that your drainage area transfers zero moisture back to your substrate then making a false bottom out of nothing but calcined clay will simply not work.

The calcined clay itself has absorbent properties so once exposed to water it wants to hold onto it. This is clearly why safe-t-sorb and oildri is marketed as an absorbent spill cleanup tool ;P

It also has the ability to wick water from the false bottom. How much of what I am seeing in my jars is the wicking effect vs the absorbent nature of calcined clay??? No idea and more to the point I am not sure how to test for it either.

For our purposes however there seems to be great concern about allowing substrate to get too wet. Certainly we do not want it constantly submerged. But from what I have read we really don't want it bone dry either. To that end I also went ahead and tested my own vivarium using this same tissue method as a comparison.







Essentially the same thing. /shrug My vivarium was admittedly misted 4 hours prior whereas the safe-t-sorb had water added 24 hours ago but from experience with my vivarium at this point I know the effect for the substrate will be about the same 24 hours after misting. My leaf litter is quite dry but the substrate stays moist enough to promote plant growth.

In conclusion if you want to achieve maximum separation from your drainage layer and substrate then filling your drainage layer with calcined clay all the way to the substrate is not ideal. If you don't require a bone dry drainage layer on the other hand then you could fill it with calcined clay. It will definitely drain water and it won't pool on the surface. But it will stay moist.

For my own purposes I have safe-t-sorb in my insitu vivarium separated only by a sheet of fiberglass mesh from my substrate. I am not concerned about it as this experimenter shows me it will drain water fine and the moisture level is similar to what I want my substrate to be at. Going forward when I go to build a larger vivarium I am considering calcined clay as a viable option as a homogeneous substrate/drainage layer. Leaf litter/plants/hardscape will allow for dry spots while the nature of the calcined clay will stay moist enough to promote plant growth while still allowing water to drain.

This is not the definitive result I frankly wanted but its the result I got ;P

Up Next:

To see what difference it makes I am going to redo this experiment with more traditional methods of construction. I realized only after 24 hours that I don't have a control jar ;P
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Old 06-12-2020, 08:45 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Thanks for all this -- threads like this are always invaluable.

When I returned to this hobby after a decade, give or take, the big jump I made was eliminating any kind of organic substrate (ABG, sphagnum etc.) and moving to a fired clay topped in leaf litter.

What I've been using is marketed as 'pond soil' but near as I can tell is basically the same thing as Turface or Oil-Dri. I actually have a large (and much cheaper) bag of Oil-Dri on the way to me as I type this. Turface is difficult to source for me (Toronto, Canada).

The only other thing I've experimented with is washed pea gravel from Home Depot in my auratus tank.

The pea gravel is better for straight drainage as it has next to no absorbency compared to the clay, which holds water in all its tiny voids ... but it's not nearly so good for microfauna like springtails.

That said, it's not like smaller frogs like my leucs let any number of springtails survive more than a week, so I imagine using pea gravel as a base for them or the similar auratus probably doesn't make a lot of difference.

What I've noticed with the fired clay substrate over time, is that decaying organic matter, algae etc. contribute to its capacity to hold water, but even so, if it's resting above a void (false bottom, synthetic filter media etc.) it drains far more than any kind of organic soil mix would.
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Old 06-12-2020, 10:09 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Update:

Control Expierment time!

Since it is generally agreed that calcined clay is a fine substrate and the issue is the concern over its use as a drainage layer. I redid my jars to represent two popular methods.

In one jar I put a piece of pvc holding up a small square of fiberglass mesh.



To this I added safe-t-sorb.



I then watered from the top:



I added water till there was a good amount in the base but left an air gap:



For the second jar I filled the base with pea gravel (not having any LECA). On top of that I put another small piece of fiberglass mesh.



To this I added safe-t-sorb.



Again watered from the top leaving a gap from the top of the waterline before the bottom of the safe-t-sorb.



I will wait 24 hours and look at the moisture level to see how it compares.
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Old 06-12-2020, 10:17 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Nice work. Really looking forward to how all this turns out.

Mark
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Old 06-14-2020, 12:14 AM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Update!

24 hours after setting up my 2 control jars I checked for results. Immediately I could see that the jar setup with the pvc bottom was noticeably dryer then any I have seen thus far.



I am not sure how well that comes across but the top layer of safe-t-sorb has color changed to its 'dry' state. And indeed my tissue test turned up no water. Even digging in past the top most layer produced no water on the tissue.

The jar with pea gravel was a different story. It frankly looked identical to the other jars I have seen thus far.



The tissue test did indeed turn up moisture.





My big jar with just straight safe-t-sorb watered from the bottom was measured and had no noticeable change from the previous day.



So what does this mean?

Well folks with an eggcrate bottom with an air gap can definitely feel smug right about now. This method is definitively better then any method I have tested thus far in draining substrate. I was frankly surprised at this result. I honestly expected them all to perform pretty equally but that was not the case. Since the pvc jar did so well I was then surprised that the pea gravel jar did not do equally as well. Surprised enough in fact to give that one a redo with an adjustment. The current pea gravel jar has an air gap of a bit under a half inch. I decided to increase that air gap to 1+ inch by simply pouring out some of the water.



I will give this one another 24 hours and see how it looks.

Meanwhile since I really do not like the look of the eggcrate ;P I wanted to test out some other alternative methods of false bottom construction. I wondered if the peagravel simply had too many small pieces in it so I used some marble chip I had laying around to create another jar with a 1+ inch air gap. Again watered from the top.



And finally I decided to take apart my big jar that started this whole thing since it seemed clear that no further wicking was going to occur.

For this jar I put dry safe-t-sorb in the bottom and then put a piece of aquarium filter sponge I had laying around down and then put dry safe-t-sorb on top. I started to water from the top when I knocked the darn jar over. It fell upside down on the floor.

I can say now with absolute certainty that knocking the jar upside down on the floor does not improve the experiment results.

Anyway I didn't have enough dry safe-t-sorb laying around at this point to refill the whole jar, only half. So I put pre-wet safe-t-sorb in the bottom, followed by the sponge and then the dry safe-t-sorb.



I then watered from the top stopping the water line a good inch or so below the sponge.



And that brings us the current. I will give it another 24 hours and see what it shows.
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Old 06-14-2020, 12:40 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

This is really interesting stuff. I was surprised by how consistent the results for wicking were. I thought that there would be other configurations (hopefully less ugly!) that would prevent wicking (pretty sure there are still options that we haven't thought of yet) rather than just the egg crate with the void. I guess what we are learning is that the inclination to wick is a lot more powerful than previously thought. That is really important information. I really appreciate the honest and transparent way you are going about this experiment, regardless of what results you expected. This is the best sort of information that can be provided to the hobby. Show the results and let people make their own decisions. The small jars used in the test may not be indicative of real vivarium conditions, but the differences I can think (additional decayed material in the pore spaces over time and presence of roots, any others?) would contribute more wicking, I am guessing, not less.

Thanks again for doing this. These are exactly the kinds of posts we need around here :-)

Mark
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Old 06-14-2020, 12:56 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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This is really interesting stuff. I was surprised by how consistent the results for wicking were. I thought that there would be other configurations (hopefully less ugly!) that would prevent wicking (pretty sure there are still options that we haven't thought of yet) rather than just the egg crate with the void. I guess what we are learning is that the inclination to wick is a lot more powerful than previously thought. That is really important information. I really appreciate the honest and transparent way you are going about this experiment, regardless of what results you expected. This is the best sort of information that can be provided to the hobby. Show the results and let people make their own decisions. The small jars used in the test may not be indicative of real vivarium conditions, but the differences I can think (additional decayed material in the pore spaces over time and presence of roots, any others?) would contribute more wicking, I am guessing, not less.



Thanks again for doing this. These are exactly the kinds of posts we need around here :-)



Mark
I echo this. Thank you @minorhero for doing this experiment.

There's another variation I would like to see: egg crate bottom with the barrier then the safe-t-sorb BUT will a little bit of heat on the bottom, to simulate if the tank was on the second/top rack

My tanks on the top racks seem to get an evaporative effect from the lights on the table below.
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Old 06-14-2020, 08:49 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Update!

It's been another 24 hours so it was time to check on the jars.

Here is what the jars looked like:



I tested with the tissue in each jar and all three were wet.













Responding to feedback I took the marble chip jar downstairs to my viv. I put a book on top of my light (to act as a bit of a buffer since my light was pretty hot.



This got me at a pretty good temperature for testing possible evaporation issues.



I suspect I will need to add more books to keep at this temperature.. probably something thick like an Ian M Banks novel. ;P And that brings me up to current.

I have kind of run out of methods to test at this point. If folks have any ideas for other methods they want compared please let me know.

Anyway what does this all mean?

Well near as I can tell all of the methods tested (with the exception of the eggcrate suspended by pvc) will wick water. It is entirely possible that other methods wick more or less compared to each other but I have no real way of testing for that. I can say that superficially they all appear pretty much the same level of dampness. Since other methods are considered perfectly acceptable for dart frog keeping I honestly don't see any reason not to use a homogeneous calcined clay drainage layer and substrate. It is both simple, aesthetically pleasing, easy to implement, and (if you buy safe-t-sorb) cost effective. One 40lb bag is cheaper then a piece of eggcrate and could make multiple 18x24 vivariums. Oildri is also pretty cheap if more expensive. A 25lb bag at Lowes costs 10 dollars. I think what ultimately matters most for the frogs is what you put on top of the substrate. Since they all will wick water to some extent a place for frogs to dry out is pretty important. Leaf litter clearly does this job pretty well.
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Old 06-16-2020, 11:38 AM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Update:

I got a bit distracted last night so I didn't get a chance to post the experiment update but I did check it at the 24 hour mark.

I brought the jar on top of my light fixture back upstairs where all the other jars were tested and then used a tissue.







As you can see its still wet. If raising the temperature a few degrees did anything I was unable to detect the differences.


Aaaannnnnd that concludes my testing unless someone comes up with something they really want to see tested in the next day or so. After that I will take apart the jars.

I really like figuring stuff out like this because you never really know what you will find out when you start testing. Hopefully others will be able to use these tests to make decisions when setting up tanks. Personally I am glad I have abg in my current tank but in my next one it will be a big ol bag of safe-t-sorb.
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Old 06-16-2020, 12:33 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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Update:



I got a bit distracted last night so I didn't get a chance to post the experiment update but I did check it at the 24 hour mark.



I brought the jar on top of my light fixture back upstairs where all the other jars were tested and then used a tissue.















As you can see its still wet. If raising the temperature a few degrees did anything I was unable to detect the differences.





Aaaannnnnd that concludes my testing unless someone comes up with something they really want to see tested in the next day or so. After that I will take apart the jars.



I really like figuring stuff out like this because you never really know what you will find out when you start testing. Hopefully others will be able to use these tests to make decisions when setting up tanks. Personally I am glad I have abg in my current tank but in my next one it will be a big ol bag of safe-t-sorb.
Hey, just want to make sure I understand.

When there was a bit of warmth from below on the experiment jar with marbles (to replicate LECA), substrate barrier and safe-t-sorb, there was wicking of the moisture from the drainage layer up into the substrate layer. Correct?

Could you do this same experiment with an egg crate bottom, then the barrier and safe-t-sorb?
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Old 06-16-2020, 01:47 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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Hey, just want to make sure I understand.

When there was a bit of warmth from below on the experiment jar with marbles (to replicate LECA), substrate barrier and safe-t-sorb, there was wicking of the moisture from the drainage layer up into the substrate layer. Correct?

Could you do this same experiment with an egg crate bottom, then the barrier and safe-t-sorb?
Yes except its not marbles but marble, well chipped marble anyway. I had a bag of the stuff lying around so used it to represent larger granules in the drainage layer. Specifically it's this jar:



I actually do not own any egg crate right now so I can't use it for a jar. I was planning to pick some up at some point so when I do I could use it in a jar but it won't be today.
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Old 06-16-2020, 07:47 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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Anyway what does this all mean?

Well near as I can tell all of the methods tested (with the exception of the eggcrate suspended by pvc) will wick water. It is entirely possible that other methods wick more or less compared to each other but I have no real way of testing for that. I can say that superficially they all appear pretty much the same level of dampness. Since other methods are considered perfectly acceptable for dart frog keeping I honestly don't see any reason not to use a homogeneous calcined clay drainage layer and substrate. It is both simple, aesthetically pleasing, easy to implement, and (if you buy safe-t-sorb) cost effective. One 40lb bag is cheaper then a piece of eggcrate and could make multiple 18x24 vivariums. Oildri is also pretty cheap if more expensive. A 25lb bag at Lowes costs 10 dollars. I think what ultimately matters most for the frogs is what you put on top of the substrate. Since they all will wick water to some extent a place for frogs to dry out is pretty important. Leaf litter clearly does this job pretty well.
Your experiment showed that there was a method that would allow you to avoid wicking - egg crate suspended by PVC. In my experience, wicking is something to be avoided if possible. It will make it tougher to keep your leaf litter dry in spots (especially with the misting coming from above) and will probably force you to replace your litter more frequently due to more rapid decay. It also forces your frogs to have wet feet more often than if water wasn't constantly saturating the surface that are standing on.

If the sole purpose is to save money, I agree with your conclusions. I think it's possible to keep healthy frogs in a tank with only SafeTsorb as drainage and substrate (with some extra work), but if your goal is to emulate the environment the frogs come from as best you can, I think your experiment points to at least one better option.

Again, I appreciate you doing this experiment. It's really valuable information.

Mark
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Old 06-16-2020, 08:11 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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Your experiment showed that there was a method that would allow you to avoid wicking - egg crate suspended by PVC. In my experience, wicking is something to be avoided if possible. It will make it tougher to keep your leaf litter dry in spots (especially with the misting coming from above) and will probably force you to replace your litter more frequently due to more rapid decay. It also forces your frogs to have wet feet more often than if water wasn't constantly saturating the surface that are standing on.

If the sole purpose is to save money, I agree with your conclusions. I think it's possible to keep healthy frogs in a tank with only SafeTsorb as drainage and substrate (with some extra work), but if your goal is to emulate the environment the frogs come from as best you can, I think your experiment points to at least one better option.

Again, I appreciate you doing this experiment. It's really valuable information.

Mark
Honestly saving a few dollars is just a bonus. The real purpose of this experiment was to check if what I had seen others doing on facebook was a viable option after other folks here told me it simply would not work and which my research into past posts on this forum also said was not an option. I strongly suspected it would work fine since it has been done before and based on my own understanding of the materials involved. What this experiment showed me is that it actually works about the same as any drainage option that is not the eggcrate suspended by pvc method. This last will definitely dry out faster then anything else but that by no means its the only good option or even 'the best' option. There are an aweful lot of folks who do not have suspended eggcrate on pvc who are doing a fine job taking care of their animals.

I personally do not like the look of the suspended eggcrate method so I didn't want to employ it. But with so many folks warning me off from my chosen method it made sense to me that I should run some tests and figure out if it was actually viable, which it is. These tests showed me that my method will work just as well any other (non eggcrate suspended) method so I shouldn't need to do anything that everyone else doesn't do such as use leaf litter/plants/wood and monitor it just like normal.
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Old 06-16-2020, 08:28 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Fair enough. Please do come back to this thread after things have grown (in a a year or so?) and share your longer term experience. I haven't tried this particular method but my earlier tanks using LECA as a drainage layer were wetter than I would have liked them to be. My guess is that the smaller particle size of SafeTsorb would make it even tougher to keep dry, but time will tell. Let us know how it turns out. I certainly don't argue that SafeTsorb is more attractive than egg crate, and probably Turface, as well. I really do hope it works out for you.

Good luck!

Mark

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Honestly saving a few dollars is just a bonus. The real purpose of this experiment was to check if what I had seen others doing on facebook was a viable option after other folks here told me it simply would not work and which my research into past posts on this forum also said was not an option. I strongly suspected it would work fine since it has been done before and based on my own understanding of the materials involved. What this experiment showed me is that it actually works about the same as any drainage option that is not the eggcrate suspended by pvc method. This last will definitely dry out faster then anything else but that by no means its the only good option or even 'the best' option. There are an aweful lot of folks who do not have suspended eggcrate on pvc who are doing a fine job taking care of their animals.

I personally do not like the look of the suspended eggcrate method so I didn't want to employ it. But with so many folks warning me off from my chosen method it made sense to me that I should run some tests and figure out if it was actually viable, which it is. These tests showed me that my method will work just as well any other (non eggcrate suspended) method so I shouldn't need to do anything that everyone else doesn't do such as use leaf litter/plants/wood and monitor it just like normal.
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Old 06-19-2020, 07:14 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

I also don't like eggcrate. I mean I just hate the stuff.

Wicking is absolutely To Be Avoided, unless you're after unceasing bog conditions. A sundew terrarium, a hydrogen sulfide generator, whatever turns your crank.

The air gap between the water layer's surface, and any wicking substrate above it, is key. Partly due to my abhorrence of eggcrate, I prefer Matala to give me the air gap and to carry the weight and maintain the position of the superimposed substrate.

Some guys insist no external drain is needed to maintain the air gap: they get by with a suck-out, and remembering not to forget. I prefer passive design, and less reliance on memory (memory is the faculty that forgets) - I always install a bulkhead drain. Always. I have not yet forgotten the foul stink of a flooded, drowned viv, and the deep unpleasantness of rehabbing it.

Take a look at Matala. You might like it. Might not weigh enough for your tastes, but try overlooking that defect. Ha ha.

cheers

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Old 06-19-2020, 07:40 PM
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I also don't like eggcrate. I mean I just hate the stuff.

Wicking is absolutely To Be Avoided, unless you're after unceasing bog conditions. A sundew terrarium, a hydrogen sulfide generator, whatever turns your crank.

The air gap between the water layer's surface, and any wicking substrate above it, is key. Partly due to my abhorrence of eggcrate, I prefer Matala to give me the air gap and to carry the weight and maintain the position of the superimposed substrate.

Some guys insist no external drain is needed to maintain the air gap: they get by with a suck-out, and remembering not to forget. I prefer passive design, and less reliance on memory (memory is the faculty that forgets) - I always install a bulkhead drain. Always. I have not yet forgotten the foul stink of a flooded, drowned viv, and the deep unpleasantness of rehabbing it.

Take a look at Matala. You might like it. Might not weigh enough for your tastes, but try overlooking that defect. Ha ha.

cheers
I like matala / matala like filter foam. I use filer foam for aquariums of course both as a construction material and actually in the filters. One of the above jars uses filter foam as a dividing layer to replicate this method of vivarium construction. There was no real difference between it and the other methods which was kind of my point that pretty much all methods wick water except the eggcrate /shrug
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Old 06-19-2020, 11:02 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Matala isn't much at all like filter foam. Matala doesn't wick, and is hydrophobic (polypropylene) so doesn't even hold water.

@jgragg, who is the excellent and frankly quite disturbing quote from? It reads like Oliver Sachs, but I can't place it.
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Old 06-20-2020, 01:47 AM
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Matala isn't much at all like filter foam. Matala doesn't wick, and is hydrophobic (polypropylene) so doesn't even hold water.

@jgragg, who is the excellent and frankly quite disturbing quote from? It reads like Oliver Sachs, but I can't place it.
I think you might be mixing up filter floss with filter foam. Filter floss tends to be made up of synthetic fabrics that mimic cotton whereas filter foam is made up of polypropylene and other similar plastics that do not hold water. Filter foam comes in a variety of porosity. Matala is just a brand name of filter foam.

Anyway I actually have an update for this process. All this discussion of the experiment made me realize I hadn't bothered to take down the jars. When I went to look at them I got a bit of a surprise. Here is how all 3 remaining jars look:



You will notice that the two smaller jars still appear wet (and they generally are) whereas the big middle jar clearly is dry.

The middle jar is the one with my filter foam separating the two layers of safe-t-sorb whereas the other smaller jars are the marble chip and pea gravel jars. This was pretty surprising to me. It means that while the filter foam jar was wet 1 day later and clearly had a bit of wicking from the initial setup. It dried out quicker then either of the two smaller other jars despite all 3 having a generally similar level of water in their base.

If there is a second place 'winner' in the dry substrate challenge I would have to hand it to the filter foam jar / matala.


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Old 06-21-2020, 01:36 AM
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Has Safe T Sorb ever been used as a aquarium filter media ?
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Old 06-21-2020, 11:48 AM
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Has Safe T Sorb ever been used as a aquarium filter media ?
As substrate, sure, as filter media? No idea. I doubt it would be a good choice. Folks use lava rock all the time for biological filter media and that is clearly better suited than safe -t-sorb since it is both poreous and easier to clean. This last is significant. Cleaning a bucket of safe-t-sorb is kind of a pain. Plus you can get lava rock by the bag at most any hardware store too so there is not much price incentive there either.
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Old 06-21-2020, 02:09 PM
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[...] Filter foam comes in a variety of porosity. Matala is just a brand name of filter foam.

[...]
Forgive the nitpick: open-cell filter foam is completely porous but still considerably denser than most Matala, which is the same material but almost more like a bundle of thick plastic fibres or wires than an actual 'foam'.

Matala doesn't seem to trap any water at all because it's so open, whereas some filter foams -- while not 'absorbent' per se, are dense enough that I think it takes water some time to pass through them and may actually retain some thanks to the much smaller cavity size.

I use one layer of each under calcined clay; the foam is there to act as an additional barrier and make stripping the tank (if necessary) easier; if I didn't use it the calcined clay would be harder to contain, as it would sift down the sides into the Matala, in spite of using a fine mesh window-screen barrier ... which I *also* use to help contain the clay granules.
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Old 06-21-2020, 03:30 PM
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Default Re: Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

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@jgragg, who is the excellent and frankly quite disturbing quote from? It reads like Oliver Sachs, but I can't place it.
Yeah, it's fairly brutal, in that it doesn't pull its punch. But ones sees the truth in it, no? Therein lies the excellence. It comes from a very interesting, fairly disturbed man, Emil Cioran:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Cioran

When I first saw his surname I thought he might be Irish. But its, and his native, language is Romanian. The quote is excerpted from his The Trouble with Being Born.

Quote:
Forgive the nitpick: open-cell filter foam is completely porous but still considerably denser than most Matala, which is the same material but almost more like a bundle of thick plastic fibres or wires than an actual 'foam'.
Nothing to forgive; far from it. Explicitly conflating the performance characteristics of some sort of foam which wicks a little, with Matala which does not wick an iota, subtracts value from this forum of discourse. So thank you.

@ Minorhero - thanks for presenting the results of your experiment, and continuing the study. I do think it possible that people could be tempted to use Turface etc as a drainage layer; hopefully they see your thread and learn that would be a bad idea, unless they desire boggy conditions. Have you determined the height to which it can wick water? That is a useful metric for comparing materials, and also helps in design and execution.
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Old 06-21-2020, 04:15 PM
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Default Experiment: Calcined Clay as Drainage Layer and Substrate

Just out of curiosity, is this clay stuff the same as 100% clay cat litter? I bought a bag a few years ago to make excavator clay substitutes for some other animals, and I noticed that it looks identical.


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Old 06-21-2020, 08:48 PM
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Just out of curiosity, is this clay stuff the same as 100% clay cat litter? I bought a bag a few years ago to make excavator clay substitutes for some other animals, and I noticed that it looks identical.


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Most likely yes. There are a lot of folks that have used non clumping natural clay kitty litter for aquarium substrate and report its the same stuff (usually slightly different color) in that it is a calcined clay product. The issue is if they added anything. Some folks on aquarium websites have reported that some batches have a smell to them making them think something more was added. That's the risk you run if you want to use it though /shrug.

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@ Minorhero - thanks for presenting the results of your experiment, and continuing the study. I do think it possible that people could be tempted to use Turface etc as a drainage layer; hopefully they see your thread and learn that would be a bad idea, unless they desire boggy conditions. Have you determined the height to which it can wick water? That is a useful metric for comparing materials, and also helps in design and execution.
The totality of the thread directly contradicts this statement but, eh whatever makes you happy.

I am very open to suggestions on how to improve the experiment or better yet if you think it was done in error you could run your own version and post the results here or in your own thread. The more data the better.

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Forgive the nitpick: open-cell filter foam is completely porous but still considerably denser than most Matala, which is the same material but almost more like a bundle of thick plastic fibres or wires than an actual 'foam'.

Matala doesn't seem to trap any water at all because it's so open, whereas some filter foams -- while not 'absorbent' per se, are dense enough that I think it takes water some time to pass through them and may actually retain some thanks to the much smaller cavity size.

I use one layer of each under calcined clay; the foam is there to act as an additional barrier and make stripping the tank (if necessary) easier; if I didn't use it the calcined clay would be harder to contain, as it would sift down the sides into the Matala, in spite of using a fine mesh window-screen barrier ... which I *also* use to help contain the clay granules.
I think it depends entirely on which version of matala you are using. Matala is a name brand. They sell a variety filter media from very coarse to very dense. Here is a picture I took from their website:



That said I have some of the coarser 'strand' type filter media lying around. I can re-setup a jar with that and see if it makes any difference. Not sure if it will be tonight but I will try to get to it in the next day or so.
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Old 06-21-2020, 10:19 PM
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[...]I think it depends entirely on which version of matala you are using. Matala is a name brand. They sell a variety filter media from very coarse to very dense. Here is a picture I took from their website:



That said I have some of the coarser 'strand' type filter media lying around. I can re-setup a jar with that and see if it makes any difference. Not sure if it will be tonight but I will try to get to it in the next day or so.
Yeah, there are 'no-name' brands sold here and there. So even the densest one (gray I believe) *seems* unlikely to wick anything because it's loosely woven or clumped strands compared to an actual honeycomb or cell structure.

When I was building my false bottom I ran the denser open-cell filter foam under a tap to see if it would hold water like a sponge -- it did not, but because the structure was finer it *probably* has just a small amount of water hanging around the structure, trapped in the tiny cells due to surface tension.

I say *seems* and *probably* because I haven't run conscientious and laborious experiments like you have.

Someone get minorhero a grant!
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