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FAQs on pH, Alkalinity, Acidity 4

Related Articles: pH, alkalinity 1, In praise of hard water; How hard, alkaline water can be a blessing in disguise by Neale Monks, Treating Tap Water, A practical approach to freshwater aquarium water chemistry by Neale Monks, The Soft Water Aquarium: Risks and Benefits by Neale Monks, Freshwater Maintenance, Treating Tap water for Aquarium Use

Related FAQs: pH, Alkalinity, Acidity 1, pH, Alkalinity, Acidity 2, pH, Alkalinity 3, pH,  & FAQs on: FW pH/Alkalinity Science, pH/Alkalinity Measure, pH/Alkalinity Adjustment, pH/Alkalinity Products, pH/Alkalinity Anomalies/Fixing, & Water Hardness, Freshwater Aquarium Water Quality, Treating Tap Water for Aquarium Use, Freshwater Algae Control, Algae Control, Foods, Feeding, Aquatic Nutrition, Disease

Big fishes, wastes, alkalinity... pH drops!

High ph and low kh     12/23/19
My tap water is ph 9.6, the official listed value on the water department website is 9-9.5. It's buffered to this level by soda ash.
<? Am wondering why the pH is raised so high by your municipal dept. And using sodium carbonate for the purpose. Do you know?>
The kh is low, 4 degrees on a liquid kh test and .2 on a conductivity meter.
<... am surprised that the agency wouldn't use/avail themselves of calcium compounds... to save their plumbing?>
Is there any way to raise the kh without raising the ph?
<Yes; you can/could simple sodium bicarbonate (Arm & Hammer and such baking soda will do) along/WITH an acid buffer (DO THIS outside the aquarium; i.e. pre-mix and store such made up water in advance of introduction/use in biological systems). Alternatively... oh, I see you ask below>
The water is intended for Tanganyikan cichlids.
Is 100% RO water with buffer and salt the only option to make this water usable?
<THIS is one way; and perhaps the preferred for your use... Have you read Neale Monk's piece on making/using "Rift Lake Salts" on WWM?:
Do please do so.>
Or is there some mix of tap and ro water plus buffer that will work?
<Would depend on other ionic make up in your source water. Definitely worth investigating, trying out various Calcium and Carbonate, Bicarbonate buffers IF you're using a bunch of water. IF only a few tens of gallons a month, I'd mix the RO and Neale's salt-blend>
Thanks for any information.
<Glad to share. Bob Fenner>
Re: High ph and low kh     12/23/19

The water department website says the ph is raised to prevent leeching from old (lead) pipes.
<Ah yes; then they should be working on switching them out>
I will try the buffer method, the tank is 65 gallons and I would like to change 25 gallons per week.
Seems like a lot of ro water but I dont know, maybe that is a reasonable amount to have to use weekly.
<Some folks advocate for smaller amounts more frequently. I change out 20-25% of my freshwater in my systems weekly. BobF>
Re: High ph and low kh      12/24/19

I've heard that high kh water will crash and then rebound back up if you try to lower its ph, but dont remove its kh.
<Mmm; well; depends on what (chemical species) are elevating pH... once buffering at a given (pH) level is diminished/reduced, pH may drop (precipitously)>
If I use ph down along with the ph and kh increasing buffer will the ph hold?
<Likely so... you could ask the chemical composition from your municipal supplier, or have it checked out by an independent lab... or do a "assay" yourself (which is what I'd do), and mix up all, let stand for a few days (in a chemically inert container).>
I want to lower the ph from 9.6 to 8.5, not just keep it from going past 9.6.
<I understand the first, and barring the addition of something w/ a higher pH, it should not go higher. BobF>

re: New rainbow fish won't eat; How do I measure alkalinity?       10/1/19
Hi Neale thanks for your reply
How do I measure alkalinity? Because I was buffering ph and kh? Yet the product mentions alkalinity a lot
<For freshwater systems, alkalinity and carbonate hardness are essentially interchangeable. Alkalinity is technically the ability of water to resist acidification, but in freshwater tanks, most of this capacity is down to carbonate hardness. Hence, no need to fuss over the difference. Low KH will likely be low alkalinity, and vice versa. Cheers, Neale.>
re: New rainbow fish won't eat; How do I measure alkalinity?       10/1/19
Hi again Neale Thanks for your reply.
I have just been working out keeping the other container with snails clean and doing some water changes on the main tank to remove the meds. Also added seachem Purigen. I was reading those 2 products and it seems the former has a lot more potassium than the later one. So yeah I will get the alkalinity one. The kh in my tank is 2-3 what am I aiming for? It seems pretty close to the tap water.
<Most New Guinean Rainbowfish are happy around 5-10 degrees KH, alongside moderate general hardness (5-15 degrees dH). So long as the pH is steady around 7.5, and the KH is at least 5, the water is probably fine, and won't need any further diddling around with. Cheers, Neale.>

Water Changes and Ph/ Moping JD      4/17/18
Thank you for your site and taking the time to help home aquarists.
I have two questions:
Do 75% water changes greatly affect Ph?
<Mmm; depends on the make up of the water being changed and what it is being changed with; and possibly the other chemically reactive components of the system>
I have 16, 1 year old+ cycled tanks and was doing 75% water changes every 10 to 14 days to keep the nitrates low. The problem is I intermittently end up with 1 or 2 fish dying after a large water change.
<Please see here Re: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/fwh2ochgs.htm
Note that I am a HUGE fan of pre-mixing and storing water for change outs, in dedicated inert containers; AND limiting change percentage to 25-30% or so due to vagaries and variances in source waters nowayears. IF you're determined to do such large percentage change outs, DO treat and store the new water a week in advance. I would have you read on WWM re Nitrate control. There are other means other than dilution (chemical, physical, biological) to reduce NO3>
I read somewhere that 25% water changes are best for avoiding Ph fluctuation.
<Yes; one reason for their limitation>
With so many tanks I am changing water 1x/week at 25%. (My bigger fish – Oscar, Purple Rose Queen, and Jack Dempsey in their own 75s get biweekly water changes due to the large size of their waste). In your experience are large water changes acceptable?
<In some localities... where the water is suitable, AND with adequate water treatment; chemically, and/or via storage...>
I clean the sand/gravel each water change and drain the water into the yard. I have a 150’ hose attached to a shower head to fill the tanks. The hose is run a few minutes before filling. I add Safe prior to filling.
<Better by FAR to treat this water elsewhere BEFORE adding it all to your live systems>
Filters are cleaned once per month.
<S/b fine>
I have a female Jack Dempsey. I got her full grown from a lfs about 2 years ago. She was in the $20 predator tank. Recently, I put her in my 150 American tank. She would spar with the squeaker catfish and a large green cichlid I do not know the name of. The convicts were her downfall as the JD and convicts like the bottom of the aquarium. The JDs side fins were torn and she stopped coming out of hiding at feeding time so I put her back in her own tank – 75 gallon. She is now digging in the sand but won’t eat – think maybe she and the green cichlid made a connection.
She has been wormed and her water param.s are 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 10 nitrate. She gets biweekly water changes of 20 to 30%. I have been putting her light on and interacting with her more. I am thinking about getting a Salvini or large barb dithers to put with her.
<Good choices, idea>
Wondering if you have any suggestions?
<None other than stated>
I think she is just lonely. I have been adding Voogle vitamins just in case. I feed her omnivore and carnivore fish pellets from American Aquarium Products.
Thank you in advance,
Linn Chetty
<Thank you for sharing. Bob Fenner>
Water Changes and Ph/ Moping JD    /Neale       4/18/18

Thank you for your site and taking the time to help home aquarists.
I have two questions:
Do 75% water changes greatly affect Ph? I have 16, 1 year old+ cycled tanks and was doing 75% water changes every 10 to 14 days to keep the nitrates low. The problem is I intermittently end up with 1 or 2 fish dying after a large water change. I read somewhere that 25% water changes are best for avoiding Ph fluctuation. With so many tanks I am changing water 1x/week at 25%. (My bigger fish – Oscar, Purple Rose Queen, and Jack Dempsey in their own 75s get biweekly water changes due to the large size of their waste). In your experience are large water changes acceptable? I clean the sand/gravel each water change and drain the water into the yard. I have a 150’ hose attached to a shower head to fill the tanks. The hose is run a few minutes before filling. I add Safe prior to filling. Filters are cleaned once per month.
<Yes, big water changes can affect the pH in certain circumstances. Suppose you have a tank containing stuff that either lowers or raises the pH. If there are a lot of wood, plants and fish, then acidification will happen. The pH will tend to go down after a water change. If there are a lot of limestone rocks, coral sand, or seashells, then these will dissolve, gradually raising the pH. Now, suppose your tap water has a pH of 7.5, and relatively little buffering potential (e.g., a low carbonate hardness). Before the water change, your tank with lots of acidification might be at pH 6.5, but you do a big water change, and all of a sudden the pH rises up to pH 7.2 or 7.5. That's a big change, and some fish (and plants) can react to that. Similarly, in a tank that had a high pH before the water change, maybe 8.2, you do a water change, and it slams down to pH 7.5. Again, hard water fish won't be happy at all. Of course if your tap water has a high buffering capacity, and there's not much inside the tank raising or lowering pH, then big water changes might have relatively little effect. It all depends.>
I have a female Jack Dempsey. I got her full grown from a lfs about 2 years ago. She was in the $20 predator tank. Recently, I put her in my 150 American tank. She would spar with the squeaker catfish and a large green cichlid I do not know the name of.
<Green Terror perhaps?>
The convicts were her downfall as the JD and convicts like the bottom of the aquarium. The JDs side fins were torn and she stopped coming out of hiding at feeding time so I put her back in her own tank – 75 gallon. She is now digging in the sand but won’t eat – think maybe she and the green cichlid made a connection. She has been wormed and her water param.s are 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 10 nitrate. She gets biweekly water changes of 20 to 30%. I have been putting her light on and interacting with her more.
<She'd likely prefer less light.>
I am thinking about getting a Salvini or large barb dithers to put with her.
<Oh, the Salvini cichlids can be quite nasty, so be careful here; I'd be more along the lines of a large robust barb or characin, if you really wanted a tankmate here.>
Wondering if you have any suggestions? I think she is just lonely.
<No, she's not. Couldn't care less about companions.>
I have been adding Voogle vitamins just in case. I feed her omnivore and carnivore fish pellets from American Aquarium Products.
Thank you in advance,
<Hope this helps, Neale.>
Re: Water Changes and Ph/ Moping JD    /Neale      4/18/18

Thank you for the feedback Neale and Bob!
The Ph shift possibility makes sense. Many fish keepers swear by large - even 100% water changes. I will just stick to the 25 - 30% range and see if fish continue to die occasionally.
<Oh for sure the bigger the water change, the better. Think about a river -- the fish isn't in the same water at any point in its life! But if a big water change exposes the fish to wide pH changes, that's bad. If the new water has the same temperature, hardness and pH as the old water, change as much as you want! But if not, then be more conservative, and stick with the traditional 20-25% at a time.>
As for the JD, it may be her time to go. I have read that other JDs come to life when they get to chase feeder fish.
<Uh, not a good idea.>
I do not do feeder fish or food that may contain parasites.
<Damn straight.>
I have a Green Terror but it is taking forever for him/her to grower larger.
<Do review tank size, nitrate level, and perhaps parentage. While these fish should get to a fair size, stunting is not uncommon, and inbreeding has suppressed the size and colouration of many cichlids.>
Luckily I can move some fish around. In a 125g, I am going to put a 6" Pleco, the JD's green cichlid companion, add the JD, and later add some same sex red jewels when they get a bit bigger. Also going to add loads of caves and fake plants and see how things go. The JD keeps swimming around and looking out of the tank. I am keeping the light off now. As a child, my hamster tried to get out when he was about to die, could be that what she is up to or she could miss the safe feeling having more fish affords.
<Not the way these fish work. While for sure cichlids do response to dither fish in the wild, and in captivity, the lack of them isn't going to stress or harm them. Plus, if the dither fish will simply be eaten, or at least damaged, what's the point? Floating plants would work just as well, with fewer risks.>
I read that in the wild a JD watches the live bearers present in its environment to know when danger is approaching.
<Yes, this is correct.>
Anyway, sure appreciate the help and support!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Question for Neale on phosphate based buffers     2/22/18
Hi Neale!
I have some questions about phosphate based buffers.
<Sure thing.>
I'm setting up a 50 gallon freshwater (low tech, no CO2, lightly planted with low light varieties) aquarium as the bioload of my 20 gallon is on the high side. I have 6 Columbian tetras, 4 Orange laser Corydoras, and 6 zebra Danios and a handful of Nerite snails.
<Sounds nice.>
The parameters are zero ammonia and nitrite, with nitrates running around 5-10 ppm. PH is steady around 6.6 and dGH is 6-7°. I run a Fluval 206 canister filter filled with matrix and API Nitrasorb. I switch out 25% of the water every 5 days. I added the Nitrasorb a few months ago as my nitrates were consistently over 40 ppm even with water changes. Everyone is healthy and active with great colors.
<I would imagine; sounds a great tank, though do watch the Nerites for evidence of 'pitting' in their shell -- this can happen in acidic water.>
I use RO water remineralized with Equilibrium. I use SeaChem's phosphate based buffer Neutral Regulator. My tap water has almost no dGH and is very acidic and unstable. Tests yellow using API test kit.
My fish have done great with the water I've been making up for them. Their tank runs around 6.6 because of all the driftwood.
<Yes. The general hardness will have minimal impact on buffering against pH decline, so to some degree you'll be relying on water changes to offset background acidification.>
Other friends in the hobby have been pressuring me to switch to a carbonate based buffering system on my new tank as it will also be planted.
<Indeed. Carbonate is a good buffer, and some plants, such as Vallisneria and Egeria, rely upon it to some degree as their source of carbon for photosynthesis. On the other hand, it isn't necessarily useful for soft water fish, and those plant species that can't use carbonate ions won't benefit from it.>
My plants in my 20 gallon do struggle with growth and algae issues but I don't think all the blame lies with Neutral Regulator as I have a beautiful planted 5 gallon (low bioload, one Betta) that is almost algae free.
<Can happen, and sometimes it's really difficult to say why algae is the problem in one tank but not another. Ambient lighting, temperature, the type of plants used (and allelopathy between them and the algae) are important factors, as well as the obvious ones like algae-eating fish, nitrate level, etc.>
Their argument, besides algae, is that phosphate blocks absorption of iron and other trace minerals.
<Possibly, but not something I have a deep understanding of. In any case, whatever effect it might have, placing a fertiliser pellet, say, a few cm down in the substrate close to your most iron-hungry plants should surely compensate for that?>
My plants in my 20 gallon are struggling except for my java fern and a small water sprite. I started using iron rich root tabs but to early to tell if they are working.
<Java Ferns get little if anything from their roots, so root tabs are irrelevant to them. Floating water plants such as Water Sprite similarly absorb most if not all of their nutrients through their leaves and fluffy roots rather than from the substrate, so again, root tablets don't make much sense. Put another way, while root tabs will dissolve and release iron and magnesium into the water column, they'll do so far more slowly, and perhaps less effectively, than adding drops to the water. Those iron and magnesium ions in or close to the substrate won't be ignored by those algae that grow on the substrate, such as blue-green algae.>
Should I stick with the Neutral Regulator that is so dependable as far as stable pH and ease of use?
<It is reliable and provides good conditions in terms of stabilising the pH, but it will inevitably raise phosphate levels, which you can measure with a suitable test kit. Within reason, phosphate is a useful fertiliser, but too high and it can trigger algal blooms. Some experimentation might be in order: try a half-dose of the buffer first, see what effect that has on pH vs. algae growth, and vs. plant growth, and act accordingly. Would I use it? No, not if the pH was basically stable without it.>
My fish are my top priority. Are phosphate based buffers really so terrible for a planted tank?
<See above. Pros and cons.>
Thanks again!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Daily ph fluctuation. 1/17/15      1/6/18
Hello Bob,
<Hey Bill>
Continuing our conversation re: Daily ph fluctuation. 1/17/2015.... About 6 months ago (June 2017), i put in the tank a few shards of "Pennsylvania Blue Stone", total about 1 square foot. Over the months, the ph slowly rose and i correspondingly backed off on the baking soda (for the last month or so, no baking soda at all was added in the daily water changes).
Ph is now "rock" solid at 7.8, which is bit higher than I want (a few fish are flashing too much, regularly; and i do have some soft water species in there, e.g., Farlowella sp.). Question: Over a period of months, can i "adjust" the ph down by removing some of the bluestone?
<Likely so; yes>
Say i leave in 4 sq in, will the ph drop, but not 'all the way'?
Or is it that that smaller piece will just dissolve at a faster rate and maintain the 7.8 ph?
<A matter of surface area, current, solubility of the area exposed... but less material, area, current (and a few other factors; time, temperature...), less effect>
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

need help on ph      9/21/17
Hi guys need your help........Had a doubt in mind and as always hoping to get a solution of it. My question is in regards to pH and kH I have been reading about it and find it to be very complex to understand. Of what I
understood I realized was that I need a pH of 6 to 8 for my red blood parrot fishes. On enquiring I came to know that the pH of tap water here is
7 to 7.5.
<This is a good range for this hybrid cichlid>

But I also felt that pH of tank could be going down as my tank is properly socked so more dissolved organic compound which would be lowering pH which I am afraid would be affecting the nitrogen cycle
<Mmm; yes to captive systems being more reductive, decreasing in pH over time... as biological processes nick away at alkaline reserve. But, not usually a problem; given regular maintenance; in particular partial water
changes. If you simply siphon out (best by gravel vacuuming) about a quarter (25%) of the system water each week, and replace, the new/replacement water will have sufficient alkalinity to keep the system (and pH) stable>
Hence after reading much to increase my pH I added 1 tsp of baking soda for 5 gallons of water understanding that it will buffer the water which in turn will increase my pH Till now my fishes are fine. Am I right in doing
this and can I continue the same ?
<Likely is a good routine; not harmful here. I would get/use an alkalinity test kit (KH or GH) to check all; only add the baking soda to new water>
Also this all is based on my assumptions and I have not used any test kits
Kindly advise
Regards, Raj
<Have you read Neale's pieces on the subject on WWM? Do so. Bob Fenner>

Water Chemistry Question    7/15/17
Just the prelims; this is Renee from Idaho (human remains place), uses RO water, Equilibrium, and baking soda to keep my kH where it needs to be to keep my pH stable which is working beautifully). As the weather heats up, I am losing more and more water to evaporation. According to the instructions on my bottle of Equilibrium, I am NOT to add Equilibrium to water I am replacing due to evaporation - so I don't.
But what about baking soda? It's a chemical compound composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions (I'm doing my homework :)), but do those ions compose a mineral or not AND as such, will it evaporate with the water or not?
<The Sodium stays, the bicarbonate can be (is) used up by reductive events>
Things are going along so well, everyone (fishy) is doing terrific and I don't want to screw things up.
<I would get/use a combination carbonate and bicarbonate product... and utilize this via the new/water change water (pre-mixed). Am partial to the SeaChem line here. Bob Fenner>
*Renee *
Re: Water Chemistry Question    7/15/17

Do you have a suggestion (or are you allowed to suggest) which Seachem product?
<Oh, sure: http://www.seachem.com/marine-buffer.php
Re: Water Chemistry Question    7/16/17
Ok, thanks.
<Renee... this is a saltwater system? If not do experiment with the amount of product used (in the change out water). Bob Fenner>
Re: Water Chemistry Question    7/16/17

No, it's freshwater with only scaleless species.
<Ah, we're back to sodium bicarbonate then. Added to the change water. B>
Re: Water Chemistry Question    7/16/17

But what about the water I replace from evaporation? The directions from Seachem say not to add Equiibrium, should I still add baking soda?
<Place/mix all additives in the new/change-out water. B>

Getting Frustrated... educated       4/1/17
I have written to WWM Crew many times and you are always so helpful and spot-on in your advice - thank you! I've been researching this particular problem for a month now and I'm getting no where, so I'm reaching out again. I use RO/DI water for my 6 tanks (All but one tank are single species tanks). I use Equilibrium, Alkaline Buffer,
Acid Buffer, and Stability to maintain appropriate water parameters for my various fish/axolotls.
<? Is your water "so far off" that you have to resort to this?>

Its been working perfectly and everyone seems to be doing very well. But when I bought my RO unit, the
salesman said I needed to remove all carbon from my filtration because activated carbon would remove my the Equilibrium and buffers from the water,
<?... No>
he also said because I use RO water, I don't need carbon.
<Not so either. You can just search re RO use re these matters>
Ok, he has more experience than I do, so I did what he said and everything seems to be fine - for a while. But now I'm noticing that my tanks are starting to smell, the water is not as clear, and I practically need a blow torch to clean off the algae on the sides of the tanks during weekly cleanings. I've sent 3 (to date) e-mails to Seachem asking if activated carbon would remove these products from the water,
<How would it...?>
but after weeks of asking, I have not gotten a response ('m sure its just some oversight over technical difficulty - they're usually excellent at answering questions).
<Yes; agreed>
I want my carbon back, but I don't want to send my tanks and animals into a water parameter "spin."
<Not to worry; put the carbon back on/in>
So I'm asking, in your experience, do you think carbon filtration would remove these products from my aquarium water?
<Not appreciably... activated carbons are mainly useful for absorbing organics. Bob Fenner>
*Renee *
Re: Getting Frustrated       4/1/17

But to answer your question, "<? Is your water "so far off" that you have to resort to this?>", I used to just use Equilibrium in the RO water, but testing revealed that as I got closer to water change/cleaning day, my pH was dropping. My local aquarium store said it was the pH was dropping as the nitrates were getting higher. It was frustrating to me as I always do my weekly water changes so the store suggested I test for kH. They did the testing for me and said it was between 0 and 1. So they suggested the Seachem Alkaline Buffer to bring the kH up, and the Acid Buffer to maintain a slightly acidic pH.
<? You shouldn't be adding both...>
Does that ring true?
<No; you need a very rudimentary understanding of pH, alkalinity/acidity>

I'd appreciate your opinion.
<Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/fwhardness.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>
Re: Getting Frustrated

Thank you! With a capital THANK YOU!!!
Re: Getting Frustrated       4/1/17

Wow! That's a lot of information to go through and it will take me a while. I did read through a couple of the articles, but I haven't found one that relates specifically to my problem. I am not using RO/DI water to manipulate pH for a specific fish or set up, I use it because I live in a very rural part of Idaho and I am on well water.
Water right out of my tap tests from a medium green to a significantly darker green suggesting a level around .50 ppm to 2 ppm of ammonia (the color varies at different times of the year).
<Ah yes; and a need to "re-add" some mineral/s...>
Since I have neighbors who dump excess fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide in the irrigation ditches and bury large dead livestock on their properties, the potential sources of this ammonia are endless (we do NOT drink the water here - we don't even cook with it). Additionally, my neighbor's house failed to sell last summer because their only
potential buyer backed out when the water tests required at closing of the sale showed an extremely high level of cryptosporidium in their well as well as other unidentifiable pathogens. When that report was submitted to Southwest District Health Department (as required by law) they investigated and sent samples for further testing. The tests
came back positive for human remains.
It was then disclosed that the neighbors on the east side of my property have built over a paupers' graveyard dating back to 1859, and we are all on the same aquifer. If I had known then what I know now, I never would have purchased this property. But now I'm stuck. Without the RO/DI filter for the water, I wouldn't even try to keep fish.
<Eeyikes! Yes to reverse osmosis, AND carbon; and likely ozone use for all potable water. Bob Fenner>
Re: Getting Frustrated      4/2/17

Yeah! I keep my shower VERY SHORT until I can find a way to get us out of here! But, back to the Alkaline and Acid Buffers - you indicated I shouldn't be using them together, but is there a better way to stabilize my pH so it doesn't drop toward cleaning day?
<Yes; to provide sufficient alkaline reserve. It is indeed unfortunate, but the too-confusing terms for an "alkaline state" (a pH of higher than 7.0) and "alkalinity" (a situation with an aqueous solution containing molecules that resist downward changes in pH) sound/ARE so similar appearing.
Reciprocally the terms "acid state and acidity for pHs below 7.0 and resistance to raising pH.) WHAT you want is some alkalinity (mainly carbonates) that will sustain your pH (and hardness) in a typical captive setting (which is reductive... trends toward lower pH)... NOT adding any acidic component/s purposely>
After their weekly cleaning, with Equilibrium and Stability alone, the pH test is a fairly dark sage green color which looks to me to be around 6.6 - 6.8. I'm fine with that. But as the week wears on, it starts to drop. By day 4 its a very pale green looking like its around 6.4, but by day 6, it will be a very, very pale yellow - like its at 6 or below.
<This is indeed too much. The pH scale is base 10 logarithmic... Are you and I starting too far ahead in this discussion?>
Ammonia test has no trace of green at all, pure yellow, so I read that as 0, and the nitrite test is the same, a comforting pale blue, which I also take for 0. Now, I really hate the nitrate test because the oranges are so similar, but the orange that comes up on the last day before water changes is definitely darker than 5, but there is no red in it so I'm thinking its more than 5, but less than 40 - and this is and the pH drop is consistent with all 6 tanks. The
water change (30% to 40%) always brings the pH back up to 6.6 - 6.8, and always drops the nitrate to a dark yellow (maybe 0 - 10?).
<Ughh. Please practice adding a level teaspoon or so of simple baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) per five gallons of water you're changing out each week... You should see that the pH is NOT shifting (as much) downward. This practice is very safe and effective>
But from what I've read, that's normal. Even though I don't have a lot of animals per tank, they're all pretty big (my 7 dojo loaches in my 125 range from 9" to 11"). But the tanks are well cycled and all have appropriate canister filters on them. But I think that the pH bounce every week is dangerous.
<Yes; it can be overly stressful>
Even though its only changing by .8, it does it every week and I'm worried the constant fluctuation will harm the
fish. That's the only reason for the buffers, to stabilize that pH.
I'm not using the acid buffer to try to chase a pH, I just don't want the pH to change from what they're used to. Seachem has been great!
<A very fine company>
They sent me the attached spreadsheet to help me calculate the minimum amount of alkaline buffer to bring the kH up by 1 mEq/l, and how much acid buffer to use to keep the pH from bouncing around.
<Mmm; I would (again) just add the alkalinity buffer>
Please disregard the multiple tabs, I keep a spreadsheet and a log for each of my tanks so I can keep track of what I'm doing for each tank. Each tank has a tab for the calculation based on the full capacity of the tank and for the calculations for replacement water. The last tab in the spreadsheet is the data Seachem uses for its formulas on the other tabs. So is using the Alkaline and Acid buffers dangerous for the fish?
<It is not... the materials (chemicals) used by them are neither "strong", nor "fast" proton donors/electron acceptors.... NOT likely to cause issues>
I didn't want to try to use crushed coral because I couldn't figure out how to bring the kH level of the replacement RO/DI water up to the level of the tank kH level and if I just put it in at the lower kH level and waited for the coral to bring it up to the current tank level I was afraid I'd have bouncing pH again. What do you think? Is there another way I can stabilize the pH?
<Yes... Please go back a few msg.s ago and re-read Neale's piece on making your own "hardness prep."... You can EITHER use the SeaChem line, OR simple  carbonate/bicarbonate as I allude to above, OR Neale's "African Salt" admixture to get where you want to go. DO please keep investigating till  you understand what you're up to here. Yes; I taught H.S. level chemistry and physics (and bio. courses); and have tried to explain these measures,
their implications and control for decades. Understand that what we discuss here is FOR the general public as well. Bob Fenner>
Re: Getting Frustrated      /Neale      4/2/17

Yeah! I keep my shower VERY SHORT until I can find a way to get us out of here! But, back to the Alkaline and Acid Buffers - you indicated I shouldn't be using them together, but is there a better way to stabilize my pH so it doesn't drop toward cleaning day? After their weekly cleaning, with Equilibrium and Stability alone, the pH test is a fairly dark sage green color which looks to me to be around 6.6 - 6.8. I'm fine with that.
But as the week wears on, it starts to drop. By day 4 its a very pale green looking like its around 6.4, but by day 6, it will be a very, very pale yellow - like its at 6 or below. Ammonia test has no trace of green at all, pure yellow, so I read that as 0, and the nitrite test is the same, a comforting pale blue, which I also take for 0. Now, I really hate the
nitrate test because the oranges are so similar, but the orange that comes up on the last day before water changes is definitely darker than 5, but there is no red in it so I'm thinking its more than 5, but less than 40 - and this is and the pH drop is consistent with all 6 tanks. The water change (30% to 40%) always brings the pH back up to 6.6 - 6.8, and always drops the nitrate to a dark yellow (maybe 0 - 10?). But from what I've read, that's normal. Even though I don't have a lot of animals per tank, they're all pretty big (my 7 dojo loaches in my 125 range from 9" to 11").
But the tanks are well cycled and all have appropriate canister filters on them. But I think that the pH bounce every week is dangerous. Even though its only changing by .8, it does it every week and I'm worried the constant fluctuation will harm the fish. That's the only reason for the buffers, to stabilize that pH. I'm not using the acid buffer to try to chase a pH, I just don't want the pH to change from what they're used to. Seachem has been great! They sent me the attached spreadsheet to help me calculate the minimum amount of alkaline buffer to bring the kH up by 1 mEq/l, and how much acid buffer to use to keep the pH from bouncing around. Please disregard the multiple tabs, I keep a spreadsheet and a log for each of my tanks so I can keep track of what I'm doing for each tank. Each tank has a tab for the calculation based on the full capacity of the tank and for the calculations for replacement water. The last tab in the spreadsheet is the data Seachem uses for its formulas on the other tabs. So is using the Alkaline and Acid buffers dangerous for the fish? I didn't want to try to use crushed coral because I couldn't figure out how to bring the kH level of the replacement RO/DI water up to the level of the tank kH level and if I just put it in at the lower kH level and waited for the coral to bring it up to the current tank level I was afraid I'd have bouncing pH again. What do you think? Is there another way I can stabilize the pH?
<<I'm with Bob when it comes to wanting to phase the common usage of the word "alkaline" out of the English language. At school I'm trying to get my students to consistently use "base" or "basic" as the opposites of "acid"
or "acidic". As Bob says, alkalinity is specifically the ability of a sample of water to neutralise acidity, something dissolved carbonate salts do very well. When keeping standard community fish, there's absolutely no need to maintain an acidic pH, as all the common species will do perfectly well in slightly basic water around pH 7.5. So if you have very soft water (which in practise means water without the minerals needed to neutralise acidity) you may as well add some carbonate hardness. Even medium hard, slightly basic water (10-15 degrees dH, pH 7.5) will be fine for all the usual community fish: Angels, gouramis, catfish, loaches, robust tetras like Penguins and X-Ray tetras, as well as most of the commonly kept barbs and Rasboras. Livebearers will actually do better in such water than soft, as will Rainbowfish. For sure a few fish prefer or need softer water (Neons, Cardinals and Ram Cichlids spring to mind) but I don't think any of these make particularly good community fish and would recommend against
them anyway. Assuming your water is very soft (less than 5 degrees dH) and acidic (pH 6.5 or thereabouts) I'd suggest mixing your tap water 50-50 with water made up with the Rift Valley Salt Mix that Bob has mentioned already. Make one bucket of this for every one bucket of tap water, and mix them in the tank.
The result should be something tending towards around 10-15 degrees dH, which should be commendably stable, and a pH around 7.5. If it's a little too hard and basic, then cut back the Rift Valley water, down to maybe 3/4ths or even 1/2 a bucket per whole bucket of tap water. Let me remind all readers here: do NOT use water from the tap if you have a domestic water softener. Despite the name, they only remove alkalinity, the carbonate hardness, and not the general hardness. They also increase the salt content. So what you get isn't particularly good for fish tanks. Hope this helps, Neale.>>
Re: Getting Frustrated      4/2/17

Very bad news. I came home tonight and one of my rope fish had died.
<Oh dear.>
I tested the water and got the same results - ammonia was yellow, nitrite was light blue, nitrate was orange (their water change was supposed to happen tomorrow, but in light of the death of the fish, I'm doing it tonight), and pH was a very pale yellow - almost clear. I've got to get a handle on this.
<Yes, yes you do.>
I'm going to stop using the buffers immediately and go with the baking soda, but how do I manage that?
<You do understand baking soda *is* a buffer? It raises carbonate hardness, increasing alkalinity (the ability of water to neutralise acids) and therefore buffers. Since it's a weak base, it tends to raise the pH no higher than 8.2 at maximum dosage, but if you use smaller amounts, a pH of around 7.5 is more normal.>
I'm inclined to add only Equilibrium and Stability for the next 4 water changes to get the buffers washed out of the tanks and THEN start the baking soda because I don't know if/what reaction could occur if I start the baking soda with the buffers still in the tanks and I'm desperate to stop this pH bouncing around.
<Indeed. Also understand that biological filtration is optimal at between pH 7.5-8.5, and below pH 6 largely stops entirely, so unstable pHs will cause filter bacteria to become stressed, even die off.>
I know using only Equilibrium will stabilize the pH at 6.6 to 6.8 for 4 days. Maybe I should do the Equilibrium only water changes every 3 - 4 days until the buffers are washed out and I feel safe starting the baking soda (in the meantime I'll practice with the baking soda in buckets). Does that sound right or should I add the teaspoon of baking soda to their replacement water now?
<I feel that you're trying a bunch of stuff without actually understanding what you're doing. So let me direct you (again) to some reading:
Use EITHER a commercial aquarium buffer OR the Rift Valley Salt Mix (at about half dose). Either of these should be used EXACTLY as described on the packaging or in the article, not in random spoonfuls that seem good to you. TRY on a single bucket of water first (either aquarium water or fresh tap water) and USE your pH and carbonate hardness test kits to see what's produced before AND after dissolving the chemicals. Thereafter add buffered water to replace existing aquarium water in stages, ideally across a week or so for the entire tank, and no more than 25% per day, so that the fish have time to adapt to the new conditions. While ammonia/nitrite are not zero, DO NOT feed the fish. I'd suggest you DO daily water changes to dilute these, though again. Make sense? Neale.>
Re: Getting Frustrated     4/3/17

Yes, I understand that baking soda is a buffer, but I have more confidence in a substance (baking soda) than the store bought buffers that seem to function off of a "tug-of-war" principle.
<Indeed. But all buffers work this way. I believe that the aquarium buffers that fix the pH at 6.5 or 6.0 are usually based around phosphoric acid.
While these CAN work extremely well, they rely on the tank being under-stocked and the water being fairly soft but not particularly acidic.
They are often used on Discus tanks, where the fishkeeper will under-stock the tank anyway, and likely do regular (often daily) water changes because of the sensitivity of Discus to nitrate. All well and good, but for the
casual fishkeeper these buffers are best left to tanks containing small, delicate fish (such as Neons or Cardinals) that pollute little and therefore don't push the background acidification that happens in all tanks too much. For everyone else, a slightly alkaline system using carbonate buffers (the buffers that fix the pH around 7.5 or 8.0) is better, depending on the fish being kept. For mixed communities, pH 7.5 is fine; for livebearers and many cichlids, pH 8 is better. As stated before, the Rift Valley Salt Mix is a cheap-and-cheerful way to achieve the same thing,
but it does require a few minutes' experimentation before you roll it out.
Use the recipe and then tweak the salt, bicarbonate, and Epsom salt up or down depending on what you get on your test kits. Failing that, just go with the mix as-is, but dilute 50/50 with soft tap water. Should get something about right for most community fish as well as most coldwater fish including Goldfish and loaches.>
And you are also right, I'm trying things I have no understanding of, going completely on faith in your experience, because my tanks are unstable and my fish are dying. I swear to you than once I get them stable, I will pour over every bit of information you given me and everything else I can find on WWM, and I'll probably bombard you with questions.
But I can't do that now because I'm so worried about the fish I can barely think straight.
<It can sometimes feel like this! When fish sicken, they seem to die quickly, often for no obvious reason. But trust me, this hobby is actually very easy. My aquarium takes up about three hours' work across a year. A
few water changes, pulling out the odd dead fish or sickly plant. That's about it. I mix rainwater with hard tap water 50/50 to get something that's got enough hardness to buffer against pH changes, and hard enough for my
Limia, but not too hard for my Amazonian species (an Anostomus and a Panaque). Don't even have to worry about algae given most of my fish are avid algae-eaters. On top of that, fish are actually very hearty animals,
and kept even moderately well, simply don't get sick until one day you find them dead in the tank after a long and normal life. Perhaps remarkably, they live longer than you'd think, certainly much longer than mammals of similar size. So please, have faith.>
Also, I live in Idaho (I'm not FROM here, I just moved here because land was affordable - now I know why, but its going to take time to get out of here), Idaho exists in a "black hole" in the universe so knowledge, information, and supplies outside of things that existed 20 years ago, are often not available here. I'm 35 miles from the nearest town (Boise) and UPS and Fed Ex won't come out here. The closest aquarium store is in Boise, but they're small and don't carry much in the way of new things.
Even though I've been getting my Alkaline Buffer from them, I have to buy every bottle they have when they have it because I never know if it will be available next time I come into town. At this point, I have about half of
a 300 gram bottle left of the Alkaline Buffer.
<Which is probably sodium bicarbonate. Have a look on the packaging. If it is, it'll do much the same thing as the Rift Valley Salt mix.>
I'm going into town tomorrow (Monday) and I'll ask them about the Rift Valley Salt Mix, but I'm pretty sure I'll get the same "blank" look that I get from every merchant in my area whenever I ask for something they haven't carried since it came in on stage coach.
<Understood. Now, let's simplify things for them. If they reach out and grab something called "aquarium salt" or anything like that, reject it!
Salt isn't what you need. Salt has its uses in fishkeeping, but it has zero buffering capacity. But if they get something called African cichlid salt mix, or Malawi salt, or Tanganyikan salt, something like that, then you're
onto something! Malawian and Tanganyikan cichlids like high hardness and alkalinity, and low pH levels are lethal to them. So products sold for their benefit should buffer against pH changes very nicely indeed.>
The people that run this store are great people, so maybe they'll surprise me, but I tend to think I'm much safer going with the baking soda as it is on every grocery store shelf.
<Indeed. And that's the idea of the Rift Valley Salt mix. Sea salt and bicarbonate are both at your grocery store; Epsom salt is widely sold in drugstores. The measurements are approximate, but so long as you use a test kit to check what you're making, slight errors either way aren't going to be a big deal, doubly so if you're diluting 50/50 with soft/acid tap water.
Good luck, Neale.>
Re: Getting Frustrated     4/3/17

Will the salts be safe for scale-less fish?
<Used as instructed, yes. The "scale-less fish are allergic to salt" nonsense ignores the fact many saltwater fish lack scales, eels and sharks to name but two. Quite why scale-less fish are meant to be more sensitive to salt ignores the fact scales aren't significant to osmoregulation, i.e., the way fish keep the salt/water balance right inside their bodies.>
I keep dojo loaches, rope fish, and axolotls among my other critters, but I keep species specific tanks.
<Indeed! Not much overlap in requirements among these three taxa.>
The dojo loaches are in my 125, the rope fish in my 75, the axolotls are split (boy/girl) between a 75 gallon tank and a 55 gallon tank, and then I have my tetra/Rasbora/bamboo shrimp in my other 55 gallon tank. Can I mix
the same water for all or do I have to do something different for the loaches, axolotls, and rope fish?
<I would not go out of your way make changes to the water chemistry of any tanks that are working well for you. But broadly, yes, the Rift Valley Salt Mix (or commercial equivalent) used at half-dose to produce water around 10 degrees dH, pH 7.5 should be fine for all of them. Please do use their test kits though. Cheers, Neale.>

Thank you, Betta recovery      12/4/16
No questions or cries for help today, just a thank you. Thanks to your site, and your responses to my emails, I know so much more about Betta care today than when I rescued that first Betta from a bridal shower centerpiece about 5 months ago. You, and Bob Fenner’s book, are the best resources I’ve found for learning how to keep a Betta. While the first two Bettas didn’t survive - one because he was too damaged when I got him, the other because I forgot I was using a domestic water softener - I think that I am now all set to enjoy our new Betta for a long time. Our Betta, Ting Krit, and I thank you. Here’s the happy little guy in his heated, filtered, treated RO water, stable pH, 0 ammonia and nitrite, low nitrate tank:
<Looks a nice fish in a nice tank! Glad you're enjoying your new pet, and it's lovely hearing how things turn out, so thanks for sharing. Cheers, Neale.>

No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank      12/18/16
After much - and much appreciated - help from you, I put my new Betta, Ting Krit into his 5-gallon heated, biologically filtered (well cycled) aquarium. He went in 12/1. That day, pH was 6.9, temperature stable at about 77, ammonia reading 0; nitrite 0; and nitrate between 10ppm and 20 ppm. GH tested about 125.3 ppm (which I think is OK), but my KH tested only 17.9 to 35.8 ppm with API drop test. The water is RO, treated with SeaChem Replenish and a couple of Catappa leaves in the aquarium when Ting Krit went in. Readings have stayed stable except a slowly rising pH. (I have not tested GH and KH again.) The pH had been very stable for about 10 days before I added Ting Krit. On 12/3, I added a Brazilian pennywort plant to give him some shade. Since then, it has been a slow rise. Never more than 0.1 in 24 hours. I have changed 25-30% of the water twice now (weekly changes), using a slightly (0.2) lower pH water for the change. I have gradually added more and more Catappa leaves because, before Ting Krit, the leaves had a noticeable effect on the pH, gradually dropping it. With the water changes and Catappa leaves, the pH change has been about 0.2 per week. So, it was up to 7.3 when I did his water change on Thursday after 2 weeks. The water change dropped it to 7.2. Yesterday it was 7.3. Today, it was up to 7.4. I realize that stable pH is the most important thing - and these changes are slow. But, if it just keeps rising, I’m concerned I will have a problem eventually. I just added 2 more Catappa leaves (I’d never added more than 1 before), and hope I will be able to stabilize the pH with that gentle method. (I will check pH a couple of more times today to make sure I didn’t overshoot.) What truly mystifies me is why the pH has now started rising after being stable in the 6.8 to 7.0 range for an extended period before adding Ting Krit and the pennywort. And, I want to stop the steady rise before it becomes a problem. Thank you in advance for your help. A picture of Ting Krit - who is very active and apparently happy.
<Do try this: leave the next water change for 24 hours after you draw water from the tap. If you can, aerate the water for an hour or two before use. Why? Because tap water can contain a lot of dissolved CO2, and as the CO2 evaporates (or gets used by plants) the acidity lessens (dissolved CO2 = carbonic acid). This allows pH to rise. Alternatively, you could use a proprietary buffer (I'd go for something neutral) and see if that 'fixes' the pH between water changes. But if all else fails, if this chap is happy -- and it sounds like he is -- I'd simply adopt a "little, but often" approach to water changes, changing 10% every day or two, and simply allowing these frequent water changes to inhibit any severe pH changes. Hope this helps, Neale.>


Re: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank      12/18/16
I pour the RO water into a gallon bowl and let it stand for a week or two before I do use it for water change. That gives me time to add API pH Up (always necessary on the RO water) to get it at least in the 6.8 to 7.0 range.
<Understood. So, if your pH still isn't stable, you need more buffering. I'd probably be adding sodium bicarbonate, just the tiniest amount at first, maybe one-tenth teaspoon per US gallon. See how well that works for a week; if necessary, increase by one-tenth teaspoon amounts per gallon over successive weeks.>
So, no tap wager with dissolved CO2. (Had that problem before. Had to stop using any tap water because of home water softener.) When you say proprietary buffer, what are you suggesting? Last exchange I had with Bob before I added Ting Krit - when I was worried about the KH being low and maybe creating risk of pH swings - he suggested a tiny bit of baking soda if I saw drastic changes in my daily log of pH levels - or the frequent small changes you suggest.
<I would concur with either bit of advice here.>
Sounds like changing out some water every could of days might be the best solution, but we leave for a 2 week trip in a month and I worry about the fish-sitter being faithful to the changes.
<Your main problem is overfeeding. Fish can go without food for two weeks, no problems. But to be kind, the safest approach is to put tiny amounts in paper envelopes or sealable plastic tubs (the kind daily medication can be put into work great) then hide all the rest of the food. Leave enough meals for 3-4 meals across your 2 week absence. You'll be pleasantly surprised that your tank will be clean, your fish alive, and your fish-sitter without a sad face when you get home!>
Guess I’ll just have to convince her that this is real easy - and leave plenty of prepared water. Elaine
<Feed minimally, and she can skip water changes for two weeks. Unless she's a fishkeeper herself, she's likely to make a mess. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank      6/20/16
Thank you very much. I feel better about our Betta's survival chances during our trip after your advice about feeding. Ting Krit is a complete pig, like most healthy, happy Bettas, I guess (although so far he will only eat pellets; turns his nose up at the brine shrimp treat I tried to give him). I will make sure he is not overfed in our absence.
The tank is well cycled for almost 4 months and completely stable on everything except that niggling pH rise so it should hold for our 2-week trip in the absence of overfeeding based on the information you provided. I will start slowly adding the sodium bicarbonate this week and see if I can stabilize the tank’s pH before we leave. I checked GH and KH this morning - GH had risen slightly and KH had fallen slightly.
<If KH drops, that means there's acidification using it up. That the GH has increased would support that, implying new salts are being created.>
Looks like time for some additional buffers.
<Seems so.>
As always, WetWebMedia Crew has helped me with the information I needed. Thanks, Neale, to you and the rest of the crew for all the assistance you provide to us fish lovers without as much knowledge as you. Elaine
<Glad to help, and good luck! Neale.>

Re: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank - EEK, big rise after sodium bicarbonate treatment     12/24/16
After our last exchange about the slowly rising pH in my aquarium (with very low KH reading), I decided to follow your suggestion and add the sodium bicarbonate - in the form of baking soda - to the aquarium to increase the KH. I didn’t want to just dump it into the aquarium without knowing what would happen, so I dissolved enough for my 5.5-gallon tank in a 1-gallon “water change” container first.
I put in 1/2 teaspoon - the 1/10 teaspoon per gallon you had suggested since my tank actually holds about 5 gallons.
<No. Don't do it this way. Add only enough for the water being changed. Not the whole tank. So if you're changing 1 gallon, add enough for 1 gallon, i.e., 1/10th a teaspoon.>
The pH immediately went to 8.5.
<It would do. That's a lot of sodium bicarbonate.>
I didn’t want to dump that in the aquarium which was at about 7.4 at the time, so I used API pH down to get it down to 7.4.
<Why not just pour out half the water from the bucket, add fresh, and see what happens to the pH? Sodium bicarbonate is very cheap, and with these tiny amounts, you can experiment.>
Today, I did a water change and added the gallon treated with the baking soda. By today, the pH in the aquarium was up to 7.5. (My aquarium has been steadily rising .2 per week for 3 weeks, never more than .1 in 24 hours.) The gallon I added was reading a steady 7.4 for 2 days so I thought this would work. I kept a close eye on my Betta and he seemed his normal active, healthy self (always wanting to be fed and building a nice bubble nest). Tonight after I fed him, I did my normal check on pH. It read 8.4. I retested to make sure it wasn’t a bad reading and got 8.3. I double checked my meter by using the API drop test for pH and it was consistent with the meter reading - at least above the 7.6 that is the top of the API chart. Uh oh. Big pH increase in the 7 hours between 2 pm and 9 pm. I was frantic.
<I would be, too.>
I know that fluctuations, not absolute reading is the biggest problem, so I didn’t want to do anything to cause another drastic change. I did another water change with another gallon which had been sitting for several days at 7.4. (This last change had 1/10 teaspoon of baking soda in it.) I figured that was the most gentle way to treat this. I took another pH reading and it was down to 8. I checked GH and KH to see what they were doing. Sunday the KH had barely been reading - probably under 17.9 ppm. It is now reading right between drops on the API drop test, 89.5 to 107.4. The GH on Sunday had read 143.2. It is only slightly higher now - it only took one more drop with the API drop test which won’t give me precise readings between drops. So more than the 143.2 on Sunday, but no more than 161.1. So, I don’t think I’m stressing the Betta with big changes in GH. The only problem is that really big pH jump when I added the fresh water with baking soda. I don’t want to keep making changes which may do no good and just stress the fish. I’m figuring at this point I just monitor the pH closely and continue to make frequent water changes to lower it slowly. Any other ideas? (I don’t think you need this data, but my ammonia readings are consistently 0, nitrite 0, and nitrate about 10 ppm.)
<See above. The aim was/is to make a bucket of slightly hardened water, do the water change with that, and gradually, over the weekly water changes, raise the carbonate hardness. Again, to stress: my goal is/was to add a little sodium bicarbonate to the bucket of water, test that it make sure it's sensible for your fish, and then add that to the tank. At no time would I recommend adding chemicals sufficient to change ALL the water in the tank at once. That would be stressful. Let me repeat a third time: add a tiny (1/10th tsp) quantity of sodium bicarbonate to 1 gallon water; test the KH and pH; if these are sensible, then use this water; if not sensible, remove some water, add some fresh tap water, and test again. Don't add anything to the tank you think is "too hard" or "too alkaline". Make sense? Cheers, Neale.>
Re: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank - EEK, big rise after sodium bicarbonate treatment     12/24/16

I understand and will follow your instructions, except the bit about using 1/10 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate per gallon in the water I use for changes so that the entire aquarium is at that proportion eventually. The aquarium water WAS 1/10 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate per gallon - total tank - when I added the 1 gallon yesterday with enough dissolved (1/2 teaspoon) to bring entire aquarium to 1/10 teaspoon per gallon.
<This is where you going wrong. This is a 5-gallon tank, right? And let's assume we're sticking with 0.1 tsp per US gallon. So total would be 5 x 0.1 = 0.5 = half a teaspoon. But DO NOT add this much!!! Let's assume your tank starts off with no sodium carbonate. You take 1 gallon out. You draw 1 gallon of tap water into a bucket. You add 1/10 tsp sodium bicarbonate to this. Dissolve. Add to aquarium. Wait a week. Do another water change. Remove 1 gal; draw 1 gal new tap water; add 1/10th tsp sodium bicarbonate. Repeat for the rest of time. Make sense? Never, EVER add enough buffer salts for the whole aquarium during one water change. The aim is to make slow, incremental changes.>
I checked KH in the aquarium when it went way up, and in a gallon of water to which I added 1/10 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate - same KH - and both with pH over 8. It is obviously too much - made pH way too high.
<Can be; hence the need to experiment. Try filling a bucket with 2 gallons water, add 1/10th tsp (i.e., 1/20th per US gallon total). Dissolve. Measure hardness and pH. See what you get. If it's better, make a note of how much you used, and use that amount instead. Because sodium bicarbonate is so cheap, this approach isn't really going to waste that much money. Pennies a year.>
So I don’t think that water with that much sodium bicarbonate will work for the water changes if I expect to have any impact on the pH or the concentrate of sodium bicarbonate. I think I need less sodium bicarbonate, even though I know that lowers KH and makes pH less stable. But 1/10 teaspoon is clearly just too much in this water unless I want to maintain this pH of more than 8.
<See above.>
I’m now adding water with NO sodium bicarbonate to bring down the pH - and to dilute the amount of sodium bicarbonate in the aquarium (mixing it first with some water removed from tank to keep the pH difference of the water I add from being too big and stressing my Betta again - it doesn’t take too much of the tank water because of the high KH, high sodium bicarbonate concentration, in the aquarium).
<Do small water changes each day and your fish won't be stressed.>
When I get this down to a lower pH, I will start using water which has a small amount of sodium bicarbonate to maintain KH as best I can. My RO water starts out under 6.0.
<Which is very low. My concern is actually hardness and pH stability. Bettas are fine at a stable pH 6.0. But an unstable pH that low can quickly cause problems, and besides, very low pH levels affect biological filtration as well, so aren't ideal.>
I can add slight amount of sodium bicarbonate to get it up to about 7.0 - but it will be significantly less than 1/10 teaspoon per gallon I can tell from my experience now.
<Yes; this exactly!>
I will follow your suggestion and change out 10% to 25% per day of the water, no more. I did 10% this morning and will probably do another 10% tonight. The pH is back up to 8.2 after this morning’s water change fully circulated through the aquarium. I don’t think there is any possibility of changing pH more than 0.2 per day - probably it will be less, so it shouldn’t give him a shock again if I keep mixing the new water with the tank water before I add it. Does this sound correct or am I misunderstanding you in some way?
<Seems about right to me.>
Thank you for your help. Elaine
<Most welcome. Neale.>
Re: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank - EEK, big rise after sodium bicarbonate treatment     12/24/16

It’s clear. I misunderstood you and made a big goof. I have caused a huge pH fluctuation for my fish - probably great deal of stress - and if I had understood correctly this would not have happened. Now, the question is, how to remedy the mistake.
<Do nothing quickly.>
Since he survived the huge pH jump and acts healthy - swimming, active, no gulping at the surface, etc. - I don’t think another huge pH change down would be good. Seems slow correction is better.
<Correct. Even changes to the better should be done slowly. No more than, say, 10-25% volume of the tank per day.>
This morning his tank read 8.3 on pH. I did a 1/2 gallon water change with just RO water treated with Replenish, mixing it with some of the water I removed from the tank so the pH difference would be less.
<Yes, it would be.>
I took a pH reading right after that and it read 8.1.
<As KH drops, pH should drop too; but at the same time pH instability will increase. I would be doing small water changes, each time the new water being made up with 1/10th tsp sodium bicarbonate per 1 gallon. So ultimately the tank water has that ratio of sodium bicarbonate to water.>
I’ll check later to make sure what’s happening. My plan is to continue daily, or twice daily, small changes to gradually reduce the pH by no more than .2 per day. Does that sound like the best course to correct my major mistake? Elaine
<Pretty much. See above. I don't think you can change "0.2 pH per day" because the scale is logarithmic, not linear, and there isn't an easy relationship between pH and dissolved sodium bicarbonate. Cheers, Neale.>

Fwd: No rush question - pH slowly rising in Betta tank - EEK, big rise after sodium bicarbonate treatment - ADD       12/25/16
I know that big pH change last night was NOT a good idea for our Betta. But the darn little guy has created another nice bubble nest today since I did this morning’s water change and seems completely unaware that he should be stressed! No gulping at the surface as our first Betta did if the pH went up. No sign of gill irritation. Still just as active and hungry as ever. Maybe I got lucky. He’s a young (about 4-month-old) plakat, a Thai import. Elaine
<This all sounds very positive. I'd just leave things be this weekend, and carry out normal weekly water changes hereafter, with a tiny amount of sodium bicarbonate added to provide buffering; as discussed previously, enough sodium bicarbonate for that bucket of water, not the whole tank. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Comet with Fish Lice, Anchor Worms, or Tetrahymena? Now:  FW, ph, Alk.   3/27/16
I just measured my Nitrite and pH levels with my Tetratest Laborett. This kit is 4-5 years old so should it still be effective? I did not see any expiration date.
<Should be okay, but yes, the chemicals do "wear out" with time. They break down with exposure to light, oxidise, whatever...>
My values:
*Nitrite level <0.3 mg/l (yellow color),
pH 5.0 (light yellow color)*
<Sheesh! That's your problem right there.
Do not, Do Not, DO NOT try and change the pH in one fell swoop. Instead, go read this:
Scroll down to the Rift Valley salt mix bit. Make up a bucket of water using this recipe, you can skip the marine salt mix if you want, or substitute non-iodised cooking salt if you have some. Regardless, the carbonate hardness from the baking soda will raise carbonate hardness and in turn pH. General hardness comes from the Epsom salt. Do a series of water changes using buckets of water of this sort, but don't change more than, say, 25% per 24 hours. Rapid pH changes are dangerous to fish, even if you're changing them to the better. In the future, once you find the pH levels off around 7.5, you can try half-dosing the Rift Valley salt mix, but Goldfish in particular thoroughly enjoy "liquid rock" hard water, and'll be just fine with the full whack. Does this all seem doable?>
So it looks like I desperately need to increase my pH to around 7-7.5. How can I do this? The test kit instructions for pH said that I need to do a 1/3 water change if the value lies below 6 or above 8.5. There is a
possibility that like you said the pH has become acidic due to the rusting brass/copper and that it is dangerous if below a pH of 7.
<Hope this helps, Neale.>
Re: Comet with Fish Lice, Anchor Worms, or Tetrahymena? Not this: Adjusting pH          4/5/16
Hi Neale,
My 55 gallon tank that I talked about previously still has a pH of 5.0 after doing a 33% water change about a week ago. I have on hand crushed oyster shells (which I normally use to supplement calcium for my Ramshorn
and Malaysian Trumpet Snails in a few of my other tanks) that I read online can help increase the pH a little but that it is better to instead use something like Seachem's Alkaline Buffer ($6.30 on Amazon.com). How do
these two methods compare to the Rift Valley Mix and if I use them instead, how should the dosing increments be, e.g. every 24 hrs, every 48 hrs, etc.?
<The short answer, Jason, is that they don't compare. Adding shells (or any other calcareous media) to an aquarium works has a slow effect on pH and hardness. Adding soluble minerals (like Rift Valley mix) brings immediate
changes to the bucket of water, and by extension, to the aquarium it's added to. Let's look at the details. If you use a calcareous substrate, the big advantage is that it's easy to do. Add some crushed seashells or coral sand, then hope for the best. Over the next few days measure the pH (and ideally the carbonate hardness as well) and you should see them both go up. They normally level off around pH 8, and "very hard" on the carbonate hardness scale, but this will depend on your starting point and how much of such media you used. Obviously the big downside here is that this is al very hand-wavy in terms of predicting what's going to happen. If you're keeping genuinely hard water fish (livebearers, brackish, Rift Valley cichlids) then using just calcareous media is fine, and the uppermost limit the water chemistry will change to will be just fine. But if you're keeping a mixed community it's easy to overdo the amount of calcareous media used and end up with water that's too hard and alkaline for them. Another problem is that over months/years the buffering capacity of calcareous media diminishes as the particles get covered with detritus and algae. This is the source of those pH crashes you hear about in old tanks. So if you use the calcareous media approach, regular maintenance and partial replacement will be required. What about adding Rift Valley salt mix? You make it up in the bucket, do the tests, and you know what you've got. There is little scope for change between water changes. So week-in, week-out you should be maintaining nice steady conditions. The downside is that the
minerals in the water provide some, but limited, buffering capacity against acidification. If you skip several weeks' worth of water changes, that buffering capacity can become exhausted and the pH will start to go down.
That's different to the calcareous media situation where the more acidic the water, the faster the seashells dissolve, returning the pH back to 7.5 or 8 or whatever. Obviously the ideal is to combine both: buffer each bucket of water, but incorporate some crushed coral or shells in the substrate (or in an easily cleaned/replaced media bag inside a canister filter) to buffer against dramatic changes. Make sense? Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Alk; pH        4/6/16

What about solutions (or maybe its a solid?) you add to the water like Seachem's Alkaline Buffer ($6.30 on Amazon.com)? What do you think of using something like this?
<These are simply prepackaged versions of the Rift Valley Salt Mix. If you visit their webpage, there's this in the FAQs:
"Q: Is your Alkaline Buffer a sodium bicarbonate?
A: Yes, it is a sodium bicarbonate based buffer"
So there you go. Much, much cheaper to "roll your own" using the Rift Valley mix, adjusting the ratios of the three components until you get the precise pH, GH and KH readings you want (change the sodium bicarbonate for
pH and KH, the Epsom salt for GH). But some folks put a premium on convenience, and that's what the Seachem Alkaline Buffer is all about.
Cheers, Neale.>
Re Softening FW       4/7/16

On the contrary, what would you use to soften water? I've got a few tanks with 8.0 and 9.0 pH's, so I think it would be a good idea to bring down their pH's to around 7 to 7.5.
<Read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/fwsoftness.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

A matter of pH. Effects of this and hardness on fishes      8/21/13
Dear crew,
Something that I have always wondered is what exactly does the prolonged exposure to an incorrect pH or hardness do to fish? I have always read to keep fish in a pH similar to their wild habitat (such as rift lake cichlids in hard alkaline water and discus in soft acidic water), yet I have consistently seen or heard of people "breaking the rules", with discus and Mbuna alike in our Indiana (roughly 7.8-8.2 pH, fairly hard) tap water. I have even seen a local "cichlid guru" try to tell people that clown and yoyo loaches are suitable tankmates for their Mbuna communities, which seems unsuitable from a water chemistry standpoint, to say nothing of aggression issues. At the root of the matter, the question is what is the harm?
<Multiple, but the simplest to explain is how changes in pH affect the ease with which oxygen is absorbed at the gills and transported in the blood. A given fish species will be optimised for a certain pH range, and outside that pH range proper uptake and transport of oxygen becomes difficult.>
Does being kept in the "wrong" pH of water do lasting, albeit slow damage, as I have always suspected?
<Yes, but the degree to which it causes harm, and the speed, will depend on many factors.>
Or am I just looking too far into it? I am an employee at an lfs and always recommend to customers to keep their fish in pH similar to their wild habitats, but I am hoping there is scientific backing for that, and not just wishful thinking.
<It's good advice. But at the same time, it's risky having inexperienced aquarists mess about with pH because pH changes done too quickly are more stressful for fish than being kept at stable but (slightly) wrong pH levels. In other words, either choose species with wide pH tolerances (such as Corydoras, pH 6-8) or else choose species happy at your local tap water pH.>
Grateful as always,
<Welcome, Neale.>
Re: A matter of pH.      8/22/13

Ah, so the damage is not primarily to the kidneys, as I had previously hypothesized.
<Au contraire, there may well be damage to the kidneys, just as you think; it's just that the most immediate problem to a fish dumped in "the wrong pH" would be oxygen transport issues. But subsequent to that there may well be stress to other organs and internal processes. I remember old aquarium books describing abnormalities to the kidneys of Neons and other small tetras when kept in hard water, and the author relating these to pH and hardness issues.>
Good to know that my concern was not misplaced.
<For sure.>
With fish that have been captive reared for generations, such as neon tetras, "fancy" discus, and freshwater angels is the potential damage lessened due to their being out of their natural water for so many generations at this point?
<In some cases yes. Certainly farmed Angels and to a lesser degree Discus are much less demanding than they once were. To some degree Angels have always been the hardier of the two fish given they occupy a wider range of habitats in the wild. But even farmed Discus today will live and even breed in moderately hard and alkaline water. I'm less convinced Neons are any better. More likely they're much cheaper because they're farmed, so people don't mind replacing them every 12 months, which seems (to me) about the average lifespan for a farmed Neon. I haven't seen any evidence that Neons are any easier to keep, and indeed, problems with disease may well mean they're less easy to keep than they once were.>
I have been told that the vast majority of discus and angels at least are probably hybrids, and that that lessens their need for natural water conditions.
<Certainly a likely scenario, yes. At least some purebred Angels (like Altum Angels) remain rather touchy fish best kept by expert fishkeepers, whereas the Common Angelfish sold in most pet stores is very likely a hybrid based on Pterophyllum scalare but not genetically identical to it, and it certainly seems a robust, durable fish. On the flip side, it doesn't get very big (10 cm/4 inches seems the max, compared to 15 cm/6 inches for at least some wild Angels) and it is a much worse parent, seemingly incapable of looking after its eggs! With all this said, artificial breeding can stretch the genes too far, and some hybrids and varieties are so inbred that they're weaker than their parent species; that's demonstrably the case with fancy Guppies for example, which under lab conditions show (much) higher mortality in seawater than wild-caught or even "mongrel" feeder Guppies.>
Thank you again,
<Always fun to chat about fish biology! Cheers, Neale.>
Re: A matter of pH.    8/22/13

A pleasure for sure. Thank you again, this has been immeasurably helpful and has answered a question that has been plaguing me for years. As I said, I had always suspected damage was occurring, but it is hard to convince fellow fish keepers when their fish appear fine.
<The tricky bit. Perhaps focus on the obvious: in the right conditions fish look better, have brighter colours, live longer, and require less medicine than if not kept appropriately. I always recommend folks buy fish that like their water chemistry; that way, your life gets a lot easier. Water changes are cheap and easy, the fish are happy, everyone wins!>
Grateful as always,
<Best of luck with your work, Neale.>

PH water chemistry question     5/3/13
Hello I'm hoping you can help me resolve a problem.  I have a 10 gallon planted tank with a Betta.  This is a low light set up with 2 -10Watt CFLs.
I dose fertilizers including Excel 3 times per week.  Tank has been set up for 1 1/2 months. In setting up my tank I decided to mix distilled water 75% and tap 25% to lower my GH.   My tap is GH16 and I didn't want to be limited by this. My formula ended giving me GH5 and PH7.6. Over a three week period I tested the GH and it was pretty constant at GH5-6. I didn't bother testing the PH as I assumed it was in line also. When I was acclimating my fish I tested all my water param.s to compare to the water my fish came in. To my surprise my PH tested at 8.2. How can this be?
The good thing is my Betta's water tested at 8.0, but I'm concerned about the large swing. I did more testing and the result is that during the night the PH would be high and during the day the PH would be normal. I'm concerned because high PH fray Betta fins and I know they need a stable PH.
<Slight pH changes, say from 7.6 to 8.2 over a 24-hour cycle, are not a problem; indeed, they happen in the wild all the time. e.g., in garden ponds.>
I've inquired else where and was told this is normal, but I'm concerned. 
Can I add something to the water to stabilize the PH?
<No real need.>
I've read about different products, but they indicate they will increase the hardness.  Doesn't this defeat the point? 
<Depends what "the point" is. First, check the carbonate hardness, measured in degrees KH, as this is the stuff that mostly inhibits pH drops. It's not the same as general hardness (GH, measured in degrees dH). If your carbonate hardness is very low, then pH will drop; conversely, if carbonate hardness is very high, it will probably keep the pH around 8, plus or minus a little. My guess would be that you have carbonate hardness around 10-15 degrees KH out of the tap, and so you should still have 2-4 degrees KH in the aquarium assuming your 3:1 ratio of pure water to tap water. You may want to use a neutral pH buffer, but to be honest, I wouldn't bother. If the fish is basically happy, I'd not be worried; indeed, I'd not even faff with the 3:1 ratio, and would simply mix DI water with tap water at a 50/50 ratio, which is plenty good enough for farmed Bettas, and being cheaper because you're using less DI water, you can afford to do more water changes.>
I'm new at fish keeping and water chemistry.  Thank you!  Donetta
<Welcome, Neale.>
Re: PH water chemistry question     5/4/13
Hello Neale, I so appreciate you answering this question!  It's been really bothering me and it takes a load off.  I am going to change my RO formula to 50/50, I agree that works better for me.  One more question if you don't mind.  My Betta had been happy, however last week I noticed that some of his fins started to split and his tail developed pin holes and was getting shorter and shorter.  I read that the issue is almost always poor care/water quality, however I couldn't imagine that because I usually do 2X weekly water changes because of the live plant start up.
<Non-zero ammonia and nitrite levels during the cycling process (or of course afterwards) are common reasons why fish become stressed. In turn, stress weakens their immune system, and that allows opportunistic bacteria to invade the fin and skin tissue, starting the process of Finrot. With this said, because Bettas have unnaturally long fins, they are especially prone to physical damage as well, such as clumsy netting, bounces during the trip from store to your house, abrasions caused by sharp rocks and ornaments, even excessive suction from filters (you should use an air-powered filter on a Betta tank rather than an electric filter). Rapid pH changes don't normally cause Finrot directly, though repeated water chemistry changes can stress fish beyond their ability to adapt, and that could allow something like Finrot to get started. But more normally rapid pH changes produce more obvious signs of stress: nervousness, jumpiness, gasping at the surface, and other such signs of a fish that wants to get out. Provided your tap water isn't mind-blowingly hard (above, say, 20 degrees dH, pH 8) then there's no real need to mess about with water chemistry for domesticated fish such as Bettas. Indeed, you could argue that a stable, if high, pH around 7.6 would be better than trying to maintain, clumsily, a more "natural" pH around the 6 to 6.5 mark that actually ends up changing every day.>
So I thought maybe it could be PH swings, now I know differently.  However, I realized that poor water quality came from my water sprite plant that rotted.  However, I was stumped by this because only the base (mother plant) died and the floating part had and created tons and tons of baby plantlets and I've had to cut it back every week.  Anyway, so much to learn. 
<Water Sprite is easy to grow, but yes, it's a good idea to crop it back regularly. I'd warmly encourage you to try it again, but do get true Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides) rather than a lookalike species like Water Wisteria and bear in mind that all floating plants need some space between their leaves and the tank lights, at least an inch, preferably more. I happen to find Amazon Frogbit works much better in tanks with limited space under the hood; it's an easy to grow plant in other regards too.>
So, I pulled up the plant and cleaned everything out really good.   Last Saturday I moved my Betta to the 1.5 QT tank and have been doing 90% water changes with 1.5 tsp of salt.
<I wouldn't bother with the salt, to be honest; at least, not once the fins are better.>
His fins stopped receding and the pins holes have mended even though I can tell the healing in not complete.  There's still a tiny split and the fins have not grow back yet.  My question is can I move him back to his regular home since now I know the problem?
<Sure, provided water chemistry is stable and water quality is good.>
Another thing I should mention is he clamps his back tail at times.  Is this part of the fin rot?
Also, under his chin it looks a little more smooth than usual seems like it should be more scaly.   He hates it in that little tank and definitely he is not as active in there.  If I move him back is twice a week water changes enough at 15% each?
<Or some multiple thereof, yes. For a single Betta in a 10-gallon tank, a 25% water change every week or two should be ample. Remember not to overfeed though!>
Also, if I move him I will have to decrease the salt?  I believe it will kill my plants.
<May do so; depends on the plants.>
I'm scared to do this, unless possibly only 1 tsp for the whole tank.
<One teaspoon per 10 gallons is trivial, and will have zero effect on either plants or fish. I know some Betta people are wedded to this addition of salt to their systems, but there's no real evidence it helps, and at this level, it can't possibly stress or kill pathogens like Finrot bacteria (which do, after all, live in brackish and marine aquaria!!!).>
Also, I have two crazy Oto cats in his big tank that helped with the algae, but I'm thinking it's best to take them out.
<Ah! The plot thinnens! Otocinclus are NOT as harmless as they seem. Some specimens are known to nibble at the flanks of slow-moving fish. I would not keep them with a Betta; if you must have tankmates with a Betta, choose something totally harmless, like Corydoras or Whiptails.>
They are so hyper! I know there are tons of threads on this issue, but I'm hoping to get an answer for my set up.  Your site is truly amazing.  Thanks for being so willing to help.
<Most welcome, Neale.>
Re: PH water chemistry question     5/4/13

I forgot the picture!
<Ah yes, a Betta that's been through the wars a little. Otherwise looks sound though, so should recover. See previous message for suggestions on this. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: PH water chemistry question     5/6/13
Thanks again for your reply!  I really appreciated the tip on water sprite
<Glad to help. Cheers, Neale.>
PH water chemistry question     5/9/13

Hi Neale (if you're working tonight), I moved my Betta back in the 10 gal planted tank on Saturday.  Well I'm having problems already.  His fins healed up good, when I put him back in the bottom fin was healed completely, the tail fin was about 90% healed, the top had a tiny split.  I figured he was good to go since it was healing up with the daily water changes and salt in the 1.5 gal.  Well the split is a little more now and the back tail has two tiny holes.  The back tail is starting not to look good. 
<Oh dear. Do make sure the filter current isn't too strong… a common flaw in Betta aquaria. Do use air-powered sponge or box filters; do not use anything with an electric plug. Fancy varieties of Betta splendens do poorly swimming against water currents, and the stress and strain from doing so can cause fins to become frayed.>
My tank filter flow was too strong with the HOB.  I put a baffle on it, but the space was too big.  He swam through it like a cave and played in the waterfall!  Yesterday I put filter media in the intake tube and out flow.  Now it's basically no flow.  Now I'm concerned about the plants in terms of distribution of the Ferts.  I have a heavy dosing regime and I wonder if that affects him too.
<Unlikely, but do try something out. Halve the dosage of all your plant supplements. Shouldn't cause your plants to die, or even to slow their growth enough to cause problems. See what happens over a few weeks. If the Betta heals better, and the plants are still good, then maybe there was a link. I can't see why there should be, but putting your idea to the test is worthwhile. At the end of the day plants grow back better from stress than fish, so it's a sacrifice worth making.>
NPK, iron, excel daily.  I had a look of my tank and saw the debris at the bottom and cleaned more a couple days ago.  I hate to take him back out the tank he hated it in the QT and got very depressed.  I can clean/ change the water every other day say 15-30%maybe that would help.  It's hard with live plants.  If I had a regular set up I would clean it spotless.  It's tough with this layered gravel, roots etc.  I do have meds but don't want to go there just to put him back and start all over.  Please help I'm concerned and frantic.  Sorry for the drama, but it's true.  Also considered a sponge filter, but the loud air pumps drive me nuts.  Thanks for who ever is able to respond.
<Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>

Water softness and pH   1/30/11
Hey Crew!
Thank you so much for the invaluable service you provide. Your expertise is greatly appreciated and much needed, especially by me today.
<Thanks for the kind words.>
I'm not sure what to do... here's my set-up and my issue:
29 gal low light planted with Temp 80F:
4 Apistogramma Borelli Opal
<You're keeping this borderline subtropical chap much too warm; aim for, at most, 25 C/77 F, and ideally a shade cooler.>
4 Panda Cory
<Need much cooler conditions, 22-25 C/72-75 F. Combining Corydoras with Apistogramma spp. doesn't always work -- watch for signs of damage on the catfish; there are reliable reports of these poor catfish having their eyes bitten off!>
13 Cardinal Tetra
2 Amano Shrimp
6 Nerite Snails
<Keeping Nerites and Snails too warm shortens their lifespan, too.>
20 gal low light planted with Temp 85F
5 Microgeophagus ramiriez
3 black neon
3 Nerite snails
<Again with the overly warm Nerites...>
10 gal quarantine tank
No CO2, just regular liquid ferts. My question is regarding water. I live in AZ and as you know our tap water is liquid rock.
<Indeed. Arizona is in a desert, and the price you pay for all that sunshine is expensive water. If you insist on keeping soft water fish, expect to make use of either rainwater or RO water to compensate for the
hardness. Here in England I have very similar liquid rock out of my tap, but a 50/50 mix with rainwater works fine. Because Arizona doesn't get much rain, in all probability you'll have to use RO.>
I currently make my own RO water with a SpectraPure 90gpd so obtaining RO water is not a problem.
The problem is I was mixing 2 gal tap to 5 gal RO and getting a dGH with liquid API of 6drops and KH of 3 drops but my pH was stable but at 7.8. I tried decreasing tap to 1 gal per 5 gal RO, dGH 2 drops, KH 4 but pH remains at 7.8 but fluctuates more morning to night.
<Indeed, that's to be expected. Lowering the carbonate hardness doesn't lower the pH -- what it does is reduce the STABILITY of the pH. In any event, it doesn't matter. If you have a low general hardness and a low carbonate hardness, all you want is a stable pH, with pH 7.5 being just fine for your Apistogramma. A combination of RO water and tap water with, if necessary, some pH buffer, should do the trick. Mikrogeophagus ramirezi is a whole other problem because it needs extremely soft water, and realistically you're going to need 100% RO water buffered with commercially available "Discus" salt mix to create something around 1-3 degrees dH, less than 1 degree KH, and a pH of 6 or less.>
My female Borelli is starting to show signs of bacterial infection, (red around gills and base of pectoral fins) I'm assuming from unstable pH.
<Could be, though to understand that as pH changes, especially as it drops, there's a knock on effect on biological filtration.>
My goal is to possibly have the Borelli or the Rams breed, raise fry but I need to lower and stabilize my pH. Do you think I should just use straight RO and buffer it up to the range I'm after?
<You can certainly use 100% RO water with Discus salts added, yes, but only for the Mikrogeophagus ramirezi should that be truly necessary.
Apistogramma borellii isn't nearly so fussy, and around neutral, somewhat soft to slightly hard water is fine.>
I was really trying to stay away from adding chemicals to tanks/water but if that is the only way to stabilize my water then I will do it. The pH swings range from 7.2 to 7.8 which seems wildly unstable and too high to successfully raise fry from these fish.
Or do you think I should just revert back to 2/5 ration on tap/RO which is more stable but maintains a high pH. The fish have been fine at this mix but I guess I was becoming fixated on lowering pH in the hope that I would get a spawn.
<Do not, Do Not, DO NOT fixate on pH. It is largely irrelevant. Fish "feel" the total dissolved solids, which is what we test for indirectly using general and carbonate hardness test kits. Whilst pH can be a factor so far as sex ratio of the fry go among some cichlids, though I'm not sure with Apistogramma, it's a secondary issue. What matters much more is that the pH is stable. So provided the water hardness is somewhere appropriate to the species in question -- extremely soft for M. ramirezi and moderately soft
for Apistogramma spp. -- you shouldn't have any serious problems. Do remember that Mikrogeophagus ramirezi is a super-soft, super-acidic, super-hot water specialist, and it's requirements ARE NOT those of
I doubt this will happen now with my unstable water conditions. Also because the Borelli and Rams are very young and not mature enough for reproduction yet. But will be soon!
I will very much look forward to your reply and suggestions to improve and stabilize my situation so I can feel that my fish are happy again. I sure don't want to stress the little buggars out!
<Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>

High range ph or normal ph?  3/8/10
Hey Melinda!
I noticed in my freshwater test kit there is a high range ph test solution and a ph test solution.. What one should I use?
<Hi Jordan. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I've had some things happen which caused an unexpected interruption in my availability.
I'm back! In any case, you'll want to use the regular pH solution. High range pH tests are usually reserved for tanks with a pH above 8, and you shouldn't be anywhere near there. If you start getting really, really high readings on your regular test, then it might be necessary, but so will lowering pH back down to a neutral level!

My test results... re what? Send to bb   3/8/10
Hi Melinda!
<Hi Jordan.>
I have some test results from my tank that's just clearing up from a big Bacterial bloom and I have an overkill filter for my tank I have a 20 gallon tank with a Marineland penguin 200 filter and I have a striped Raphael catfish 1 Hoplo catfish and 5 Cory catfish and 1 Bristlenose Pleco that I never see :( here are the test results pH 6.4-6.6
<Still a bit low, really... did you read where I referred you re: keeping water neutral with the salt mix?>
Ammonia 0.25ppm
Nitrite 0ppm
Nitrate 0ppm
Are these good?
<Nope... well, I mean, there's Ammonia, which should eventually zero out, and then you'll see Nitrite. However, please keep in mind what I discussed with you before... that until you see Nitrate, the tank's not cycled. So,
on one hand, these results aren't horrible, and they mean that you're doing frequent water changes to help your fish through this. On the other, you're not yet showing Nitrite, so you've got a couple of more weeks, at least, before the cycle is complete.>
I was also wondering if I could add anymore fish to fill the top of the tank? No livebearers please :)
<I think I've answered this at least twice, and maybe three times, if you count the crayfish question... This tank is going to be overstocked very, very quickly as these fish grow. The Pleco, which I didn't even know about, makes this even more true, plus, you've added a few Corys since we last spoke. Catfish produce a lot of waste, and even if the tank is over filtered, that's not making up for the fact that the waste of 8 catfish is being dissolved into only 20 gallons of water. Please read on WWM re: the ultimate sizes of your fish by using our Google search bar on the homepage. I would not add any more fish here. To do so is only going to turn fishkeeping from a hobby into a chore for you.>
I feed my catfish bloodworms and shrimp pellets with the ocational (sorry) brine shrimp feast yum! Oh!
My dad has one question. In his tank (not mine) his male guppy is trying to mate with his female platy... How will that work?!
<It won't "work," per se, but that doesn't mean the guppy won't keep trying! To get into the size of this tank, stocking, etc., is really a whole different can of worms, but suffice it to say that the same rules will apply to this tank which apply to all others housing similar fishes: in short, tell your dad to do some reading on WWM! The search bar is great, and entering terms such as "guppy behavior" or "livebearer systems" will surely get him to a wealth of information about the species he's keeping, and how to be the most successful keeping them.>
If you have any questions for me just email me back :)
Thank you Melinda!
<You're welcome, Jordan. Have a good night!>

pH confusion, FW, GF tank   2/9/10
<Hi, Angela. Melinda with you here today.>
I'm very confused with the pH in my 20 gallon goldfish tank. I tested the water from the tap and the pH reads between 7.6 and 7.8. I have tested a few times from the tank and it shows 6.0 (or "yellow") on the API test. I
use NovAqua+ and Amquel+ to treat the water. Could that be affecting the pH? I'm thoroughly confused as to why it's so low. Thanks for your help!
<Do you test KH at all? Please read here:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWsubwebindex/fwh2oquality.htm. This article was so useful to me, and completely cleared up my confusion about water chemistry. I use this mix with every water change on every tank. I just love the stability and neutral pH that it gives me (I'm sure my fish do, too!), and this salt mix is so cheap and easy to make that it's no problem to use it regularly. KH and pH totally confused me until I read this article (okay, I read it a few times, but I'm a literature person, not a science person!). Basically, the hardness of your water is going to determine how elevated and steady your pH is. If your water is really, really soft (my carbonate hardness routinely tested at 0!) then you're going to see the problems you're seeing with pH. Raise KH, and you'll find pH is steady and will more closely match what's coming out of your tap (mine stays at 7.2). The waste that your fish excrete causes the water to become more acidic over time, as well, so if you're not doing plenty of water changes (20 gallons is pushing it, really, even for just one goldfish), then this can be a problem, as well. I think between these two issues, you'll find the remedy to your problem. I have never heard of either of the products you mention affecting pH, but have read that they can cause false positives on Ammonia tests, so I stick with Prime. In any case, please write back if you have any questions.>
Re: Ph confusion  2/9/10
Thank you very much for your response! I have 2 goldfish in the 20 gallon so I make sure that I do small water changes about every 4 days. So it's ok to use marine salt with goldfish?
Also, if the pH comes out normal out of the tap and I add the salt mix, will it just keep it neutral, not raise or lower it?
<Right. Like I said, mine stays at about 7.2 all of the time with the mix I use (the community recipe). Go slowly, adding per the directions in the article, and when you get to where you want to be, KH and pH-wise, add just
enough with each water change to keep the amount pretty much the same in the tank. If you do a five gallon water-change, then you'd add 1/4 of the mix for the entire tank. Just keep up with how much you've got in there so that when you get where you want to be, you know how to keep it that way.>
Thank you again, this has been so confusing to me. I try to do everything right but I had no idea how delicate water chemistry can be!!
<You're welcome. I think that this mix really takes a lot of the guessing out of chemistry -- it sort of "fixes" everything without much work at all!>

Alkalinity 2/209 Can you tell me the best way to lower alkalinity. My LFS is experiencing the same difficulty, he says it is our tap water. I'm running a RO unit that according to the LFS contributes to the problem. <What? No... reverse osmosis devices remove almost all molecular contribution to alkalinity... given they are working!> Any advice would be greatly appreciated as always. Thank you very much, Pat <Mmm, dilution with water of lower alkalinity (GH, dKH)... Bob Fenner>

New tank; cloudy water, pH issues, some fish ideas 1/24/09 Hi, I'm new to this site and i really do love it. It is so addicting to explore it. However, i do have a question that i hope was not answered before. <Thanks for the kind words.> 1) I just set up a new tank and it is being cycled. How long will it take for the tank to start fogging up? I bought a 45 gallon square tank with a reasonable price. I also added filter media from another established tank to help speed up the process. It has been set up for about 3 days now. <Can take some days. Cloudiness is caused by three things. Most commonly, it's silt, meaning you haven't washed the sand/gravel properly. The water looks milky or like cloudy lemonade. This is a really common problem, and happens all the time. Water changes and cleaning/replacing the mechanical media (filter floss or fine sponges) will help. There are products called "filter aids" that are flocculants and cause silt particles to clump, making them easier for the filter to remove. By all means use one of these if you want. They probably shouldn't be used all the time, but in situations like this, appear to be safe to both fish and filter bacteria. The second most common reason for cloudiness is a diatom bloom. This gives the water a brown-gold colour. Again, this is usually a one-off problem, though it may come and go through the first few weeks or months. Usually settles down by itself. Adding fast-growing plants, particularly floating plants, will help because these tend to suppress the growth of algae quite dramatically. Finally, there are bacterial blooms. These can be various colours, but typically milky-grey. These are rare and usually indicate some fundamental problem with the tank, e.g., overstocking or under-filtering. The solution is to fix the aquarium!> 2) What do you recommend i put in there? My tap water is soft and very acidic. I believe it is 6.2-6.5. <That's pretty good water for fish from softwater habitats. So things like tetras and dwarf cichlids will do especially well. On the other hand, fish from hardwater habitats like Livebearers and many Rainbowfish will be miserable. Do have a read of this: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsoftness.htm In particular understand that soft water tends to be prone to pH changes, so it is important to either use a buffer (such as a "pH fixing" product) or else keep tabs on pH and perform very regular water changes so that any drops in pH are minimal between those water changes. If you have soft water, I'd perhaps be looking at (among other fish) things like Cardinals, Glowlight tetras, Emperor tetras, Lemon tetras, Silver Hatchetfish, X-ray tetras, Golden Pencilfish (Nannostomus beckfordi), Corydoras aeneus, Corydoras panda, Corydoras sterbai, Kuhli loaches, Whiptail catfish, Apistogramma cacatuoides, Glassfish, Peacock gobies (Tateurndina ocellicauda) and Bristlenose Plecs (Ancistrus spp.). All these fish are reasonably hardy, will coexist with one another, and can be maintained at 25 C/77 F safely. I've deliberately left off a few fish that either need cooler water (Neons and Danios for example); warmer water (Rams, Mikrogeophagus ramirezi); tend to be aggressive and/or predatory (like Three-spot Gouramis and Angels); or are otherwise difficult to keep because of disease issues (Dwarf Gouramis, Neons, and Mikrogeophagus ramirezi).> I have kept fishes before and i decided to give it another try. Thanks. <Good luck, Neale.>

Re: pH problems 1/26/09 Good Evening Neale, <Mmm, Neale is unfortunately "out" till Weds.. I will try to help you here> Thank you very much for your excellent advice and your wonderful website, I have been reading about pH and KH and how it buffers and keeps the pH stable. The problem is with a every water change KH starts to go down, haven't figured out why as yet as the KH of the tap water is 120 ppm and after four water changes it slips below 80ppm. <This change is "natural"... Fish tanks/systems are typically "reductive" (as in Reduction-Oxidation or RedOx)... they tend to "go acidic"... By being more crowded, overfed, "unbalanced" relative to natural environs... (too little plant life/photosynthesis mostly)... they do "eat away" at alkaline reserve... One of the reasons for testing for KH, GH... and doing regular water changes, perhaps adding buffer/alkalinity to restore, keep it within range> But today we need advice on something different the Nitrites in the tank are going up continuously. They are between 0.3-0.8 mg/l (now) <Yikes! Dangerously toxic> after a week of every day water change and the second problem is our tap water has 1.5 mg/l of Ammonia in it, <Way too much!> (hence we try to avoid radical water changes as it is converted to Nitrites too). If a 25% water change is done the ammonia contents go up to 0.25 mg/l and they disappear within half an hour. We have water softener system and filters in the house but that water is very low in KH and GH and has very unstable pH. <I do encourage you to use "outside water" here... perhaps from a spigot/tap on the outside of the house... as you do likely want much of what the water softener is removing... and are likely not wanting the extra sodium ion content the unit inside is adding> Some thing has damaged our Nitrite eating bacteria and after a week fishes are showing signs of stress becoming slightly lethargic. <Yes... any detectable nitrite is toxic, debilitating> We have now 1Tbs of aquarium salt per 20 gallons and 1Tbs of Epsom Salt per 20 gallons of water and Seachem's Neutral Regulator to adjust the pH as it keeps the KH in place. We don't have Bio Spira available here in Canada only Cycle by Hagen. <Mmm, you shouldn't have to add anything... after the system is established. Please read here re: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwestcycling.htm and the linked files above> My question is how can we optimise the conditions under the circumstances as we need to do 25% water changes every day due to fact that Nitrites level reaches 1.6mg/l within a day and with each water change we add Ammonia which is further converted into Nitrites. I wish I was doing my PhD in Chemistry rather in Physics. <Mmm, best to pre-mix and store all to-be-used new water for a week ahead of actually putting it into your system... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/water4maruse.htm Though this piece is mainly about making synthetic seawater, the principles apply to fresh> Your advice will be greatly appreciated, your website is a goldmine of information. It is only because of it that many people are able to keep their fishes alive and healthy. Best Regards, Midhat. <And do read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwmaintindex.htm the third tray down... Re Nitrite... You MUST assure that there is none, 0 present in a system with livestock present. Bob Fenner>

pH problems, FW, Goldfish   1/14/09 Hi Neale, <Hello Midhat,> Thank you very much for your advice regarding the snail. Have a question regarding pH, have been getting variable reading of the pH. We have one 1.5 inches long red Oranda and 1 inch red cap Oranda in 20 gallon tank with a filter, live plant (Red Ludwigia) and a decoration rock. <Well, the Ludwigia won't last long. Putting aside the fact Goldfish eat plants, Ludwigia repens is a very difficult plant to grow. It needs a lot of light and a decent, iron-substrate. Plants aren't easy to maintain, and once they start dying, they pollute the water. I'd recommend you add no other plants to this tank other than cheap pondweed (Elodea or Egeria) that you allow the Goldfish to eat. When these plants start looking shabby, throw them onto your compost heap and buy some new ones!> Today in the morning checked the water it had a pH of somewhere b/w 8.5 - 9.0 according to the test strip, did a quick partial water change of 10% (didn't want to bring it down very quickly), another reading was taken it was 7.5, at once took a sample to LFS and got the water checked, turned out to be 8.4. At the pet store they gave me 'Neutral Regulator ' by Seachem to adjust the pH to 7.0 (whether high or low just brings pH to neutral value). <Would actually suspect the test kit is either [a] inaccurate or [b] difficult to read. Dip strips can be notoriously inconsistent. Some brands are better than others. Another factor can be the time of the day, though that depends on how strongly the plants perform photosynthesis. I assume you don't have strong lights, so this particular problem isn't likely.> My question is should I use it? <Will do no harm, provided you use precisely as instructed on the packaging.> As on your website it has been mentioned several times that no tempering with the pH should be done. <Broadly this is true. It's much better for people to get fish that "like" the local water chemistry, so that you don't need to mess about with pH or hardness. If you live in a hard water area (e.g., your kettle becomes furred up with lime or you need a lot of detergent in the washing machine) then it is very unlikely that pH will vary much between water changes. Hard water is really very good stuff for keeping tropical fish happy!> I also got a live pH monitor by Mardel and is showing the pH value of 7.4 continuously and bought new test strips (API) they are giving the value somewhere b/w 7.5 - 8.0. Tap water has the pH of 7.5. I am really puzzled by this, as never had any problems with the pH before. <Honestly, my gut feeling is that you aren't using the test strips right, or else they just aren't very reliable. The liquid test kits tend to be more consistent, even if they are marginally more difficult to use. In any case, try using the test strips every day for the next three or four days, performing the tests at precisely the same time, to factor out any daily variation. If the test results are essentially the same from one day to the next, that's really all that matters.> My fishes are not showing any signs of stress just some yawning on behalf of red Oranda. <If the fish aren't stressed, I'd not worry too much. If pH changes suddenly, fish quickly react, often gasping at surface or darting around the tank nervously.> Your advice will be greatly appreciated as don't know what to do, nothing is making sense. Thank you very much. Best Regards, Midhat <Good luck, Neale.>

pH/Ammonia Issue, barb sys., env. dis.      1/6/09 I have a 26 gallon bow front tank with 7 different types of barbs (Rosey, long finned Rosey, ruby, Odessa) and 1 rainbow shark. I have a whisper filter and an undergravel filter. The temp is set at 78 degrees. This tank used to be for goldfish but has only had the barbs for about three months. When I first started up I slowly added the fish and everything checked out. After awhile the water was somewhat cloudy and the fish were swimming near the bottom and not really eating which I think resulted in over feeding since I kept feeding them. <Do understand that "overfeeding" in itself isn't the issue. When you put food in the tank, it pollutes the water. It doesn't matter much whether it goes through the digestive system of a fish or not. The point is that if the tank is too small, the filter flow too weak, or the biological filter media insufficiently mature, the food ends up as ammonia. That ammonia stresses the fish, and commonly this reveals itself as fish that are lethargic, nervous, poorly coloured, or sick. Prolonged exposure invariably leads to disease and ultimately death.> I took my water to a local pet shop and they tested it and said everything was ok (I never asked for the actual numbers). After talking with a friend he suggested I buy a PH kit and test that since he thought the water might be too acidic. It turned out to be very acidic and he told me to add 3/4 teaspoon baking soda every four hours. I did that and got the PH up. <the pH of the water is generally not a factor in keeping freshwater fish except insofar as the pH is stable from week to week. All the fish you list will be fine between pH 6 and pH 8. Adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will raise the carbonate hardness of the water and that in turn raises and stabilises the pH. But it is critically important not to change the water chemistry rapidly. I'd actually investigate a couple other issues before adding baking soda. Firstly, are you using water from a domestic water softener? A very common mistake is to do this! Secondly, how often do you change the water? Your tank is extremely heavily stocked for its size, assuming you have sensible numbers (5-6 specimens) of each species of barb. My guess is that you're in a soft water area, which is fine by itself, but because the tank is overstocked, the pH is unstable. Do see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebindex/fwsoftness.htm> However the water stayed somewhat cloudy and the fish started dying. This time I went and bought my own water test kits. The nitrate and nitrate were 0 but the ammonia was high. I did a partial water change and got the ammonia down. However then the PH went back down so I added more baking soda and the cycle continued. All the while I was losing fish. <Again, my assumption is not that the pH or hardness are "wrong" as such, though they may be relatively low, let's say pH 6 to 7, 5-10 degrees dH, right out the tap. The sheer biological loading on the tank means that the water volume just can't buffer against acidification.> After reading different things on the internet I am very confused as everyone I talked to or everything I read keeps giving me different information. At present the ammonia is 0.25 and the PH is 6.6. I have been doing 25% water changes every other day and adding BioZyme every day. <Water changes a good remedy for situations like this, but clearly not something you want to do in the long term.> So far the fish are ok, although I am expecting to lose one of my Odessa barbs anytime since its stomach is bloated and its scales are sticking out which seems to be dropsy. Everything I read indicates there is nothing I can do to save my fish and it will die. <Indeed.> Please advise me on what to do with my tank. I need advice on the ammonia and the Ph in keeping them stable and getting my water to clear. Anything at this point will help. Kelly <Rosy Barbs (Puntius conchonius) don't belong in tropical tanks anyway (they're subtropical fish) and get too big (15 cm/6 inches) for this aquarium. The Odessa Barb (Puntius padamya) are a bit smaller (8-10 cm/3-4 inches) and a group of six or so would be borderline acceptable in this tank. Ruby Barbs (Puntius nigrofasciatus) are smaller still (5 cm/2 inches) and a group of 6 would be ideal additions to this tank, though they are very feisty and best kept only with other barbs and not with anything long-finned, slow, or nervous. In other words, start by bringing us some actual numbers about the water from the tap: pH and general hardness. Then think about which barbs you want to keep. Stock the tank slowly, taking care not to overfeed, and to be honest, feeding once every other day would be ample while the tank is unstable. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue   1/6/09 You indicated that you wanted the PH and hardness of the tap water. When I tested the PH of the tap water it came out to be 7.6. I waited about an hour and tested it again without adding anything and it was still 7.6. I do not believe I have soft water as I do not have a water softener. <From the pH, it does sound as if you probably have moderately hard, basic water. When writing pH, note the lower case "p", upper case "H".> Also, I get water from the city sewer system. <Eh? How/why do you put sewage into your aquarium? Mains water -- i.e., drinking water -- is just fine and dandy for most aquarium fish. Except in very specific situations, you usually don't need to add or alter anything beyond adding a good dechlorinator/water conditioner.> Is there a way to test the hardness of the water so I can give you those numbers? <I'd heartily recommend getting a carbonate hardness (or KH) test kit. Some test kits come as paper strips, sometimes with multiple different tests per strip, so that each strip does pH, carbonate hardness, general hardness, nitrite, and nitrate. Such test kits are usually inexpensive and easy to use.> If so, please suggest specific tests. I guess I was not very clear when I said I have 7 different types of barbs, I meant 7 total fish. I have 2 Odessa Barbs (one on its way to death), 2 rosy barbs, 1 ruby barb, 2 tico barbs, and 1 rainbow shark. <Remember when you were reading aquarium books and they mentioned how barbs become aggressive sometimes, and nip other fish? This is how. They are schooling fish. That means their whole psychology works around groups. Six is the minimum number PER SPECIES. Keep less than that and they'll either be terrified or psychotic. Barbs are wonderful fish, but you have to get the fundamentals right. Stocking an aquarium isn't like putting a bunch of different cut flowers in a vase. You can't just choose shapes and colours you like. You have to understand the needs of each animal (yes, fish are animals) and work around them. Generally fishkeeping is a very easy hobby if you do things correctly (i.e., exactly as a good book or expert fishkeeper like me tells you!). But try to go it alone, and things often get messy...> I was told with my 26 gallon I could have about 20 barbs at some point if I can get things stable. <Not a chance. For a start, "barbs" covers a variety of species from one-inch dwarfs to giant barbs bigger than a dog. So obviously "twenty barbs" has to be mediated by the size of the barb species concerned. Since you need six of each species, at least, twenty barbs would be, at most, three different species (seven of one, seven of another, and six of a third). While you could keep twenty dwarf species like Puntius gelius or Puntius vittatus, bigger species like Puntius conchonius (the Rosy Barb) are right out.> However I have never been able to add more because the water has been unstable. You also asked how often I change the water and I normally change 25% of the water once every 7-10 days and change the carbon filter once a month. However with the ammonia spikes I have been doing it every other day or so because it has been getting so high. <The tank is almost certainly overstocked relative to the maturity of the filter. If I were you, I'd return all the barbs except the Ruby Barbs, since they're the only species that make sense in this tank. Let the tank settle down. After 2-3 weeks of careful management I'd fully expect the filter to mature safely and the pH to stabilise. You can then add some more Ruby Barbs to bring the school up to a sensible size. I'd make sure to keep six of them, three males to three females. While females aren't so strongly coloured, they help the males settle in and dilute the aggression. They also encourage the males to acquire their breeding colours as they mature, in which condition the males are extremely handsome. Ruby Barbs are pretty aggressive fish though, so don't expect to keep anything dainty or long-finned like Guppies or Angelfish -- just isn't gonna happen! The Rainbow Shark Minnow should be returned too, though you could try keeping it if you felt like a challenge. Shark Minnows are aggressive and very territorial once mature, and my assumption would be it will become a bit of a terror in a tank this small! But that's your choice. All the other fish should go, period.> So, I guess I still need advice on how to stabilize the ammonia and PH and once I get all that situated I will need to know which barbs can go together since I was told all barbs can go together. <No they can't.> I will be happy to provide all the information I can so you can provide me with the most accurate solutions as all the advice I have been given so far has not helped me. Kelly <Do also check your filter is appropriate to your needs. Don't waste your time with "ammonia remover" or carbon media; what you need is biological and mechanical media, a good mix of sponge and/or ceramic noodles. Choose a filter with a turnover of NOT LESS than four times the volume of the tank per hour (in your case, at least 4 x 26 = 104 gallons per hour). The more filtration, the better. If budget is an issue, it's hard to beat an undergravel filter. Otherwise any decent internal or external canister filter should do the trick nicely. Read the instructions carefully, but don't get distracted by sales pitches that involve replacing sachets of carbon and what not every month! Carbon is pretty useless in a tank like yours, and mostly a way for manufacturers to make money. Read up on what each filter medium type does, and choose accordingly. Take it from me: biological media is what makes or breaks your aquarium! Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue First off I want to thank you for taking the time to help me. <Happy to help.> This whole process has been so frustrating as the people at the pet stores seem to know little to nothing about fish. I spoke with the store where I purchased the fish and they will not take them back (even for free). I explained it was their bad advice but they still would not take them. I also called several other stores but none of them have the types of barbs I have and won't take them. They have a few have tiger barbs but not the other varieties so they won't take them. So far it does not look like I am going to be able to get rid of the fish and just keep the one ruby like you suggested. Any thoughts on this? <I wish I had some magic solution to this. But there isn't one. Without "getting on your case" too much, the lesson here is that it always pays to research the fish first, and then buy them, rather than buy them first, and then find out about them afterwards. Since you're stuck with these fish for the time being at least, you can always hope for the best. But at the end of the day, the biology of each fish species will be working against you, so there's no guarantees I can give you that all will work out. Things might, but I just can't say for sure.> In terms of filtration...I have a Whisper power filter for up to 30 gallons. According to the packaging it has mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration components and a turnover rate of 150 gallons per hour. I also have a Perfect-A-Flo undergravel filter that is powered by an air pump and air stones. <All sounds fine. The undergravel filter will be doing most of the work in terms of biological filtration.> I also left work and purchased a water test kit and went home and tested the water. I tested both the current aquarium water and the tap water without any chemicals added to it. (I stated before I got the water out of the sewage system...haha, I meant the city tap. That would be gross). The results are as follows: Aquarium Water: Tap Water: Nitrate - 0 Nitrate - 0 Nitrite - 0.5 Nitrite - 0 Total Hardness (GH) - 300 ppm GH - 300 ppm Chlorine - 0 Chlorine - 0 Total Alkalinity (KH) - 40 ppm KH - 180 ppm pH- 6.2 pH - 8.4 <Ah, very interesting. Firstly, nitrite is going up, which implies one of three things: [a] the filter isn't mature (or isn't being maintained properly); [b] the fish are being overfed; or [c] there are too many (or too big) fish for the tank/filter provided. Secondly, the carbonate hardness (that's the KH measurement) goes down. Carbonate hardness is the stuff that prevents acidification. In brief, all tanks tend to become acidic over time for a variety of reasons. Decaying organic matter produces acids, bogwood leaches acids, nitrate dissociates into nitric acid, and so on. In a hard water tank there is usually enough carbonate hardness that this process is so inhibited that any acidification (i.e., pH drop) is minimal between water changes. Hence, while aquarists often bemoan hard water because it's so different to the soft water of the Amazon, in reality it is something of a blessing! Now, since your carbonate hardness is being dramatically "used up" (i.e., goes from 180 ppm [10 degrees KH] to 40 ppm [2.2 degrees KH]) between water changes, this means one of two things: [a] you aren't doing enough water changes to keep topping up the carbonate hardness; or [b] there's an AWFUL lot of acidification going on in your aquarium. By default, do 25-50% water changes weekly, and make sure that there isn't any organic matter in the tank likely to lower pH (bogwood, dead plants, uneaten food, etc.). If the aquarium is honestly going from pH 8.4 to 6.2 between water changes, that is more than enough by itself to kill your fish. In all honesty I can't imagine what's happening to cause such dramatic pH changes, as water with carbonate hardness of 180 ppm is essentially liquid chalk! You certainly shouldn't need to be using buffering chemicals or potions. But one possible result is loss of biological filtration: the filter media bacteria are sensitive to pH, and prefer a pH above 7.0; as the pH drops below 7.0, they work less and less happily, stopping entirely around pH 6.0.> I also used a separate test kit to get the current ammonia levels of the aquarium and the result was 0.25. <These low levels of ammonia and nitrite are pretty typical of tanks through their cycling phase; by gut feeling is that this tank is either not fully cycled or else dramatically overstocked. Some of your fish have the potential to get pretty big: how big are they now? I've been assuming they're all babies under 5 cm/2 inches.> I don't know what this all means except that my tank water is not of good quality for the fish which I already knew. <Your tap water is actually pretty good. It's on the hard side, but as mentioned, that's not a bad thing. Barbs don't care about hardness really, and this water would be perfect for livebearers as well as most catfish and cichlids.> Seeing as I can not return the fish I am not sure what you will suggest next, but I am willing to try anything. Is there any possible way to stabilize the water with the current fish in the tank? <Here's what I'd do. Put the fish in a bucket, filled with water from the tank. Drape a towel over it to stop them jumping. Switch off the heater and filters. Remove the electric filter, and at the least place its biological media (sponge/ceramic noodles) in a shallow basin of aquarium water so it stays wet but well oxygenated. (Dry media is dead media!) Empty the tank of water down to an inch above the gravel, all the while giving the gravel a really good clean to wash away any detritus. Once you're happy the tank is spotlessly clean, add fresh water from the tap, with dechlorinator of course. Put the heaters and filters back, and switch them on. Check everything looks good, in particular the temperature is where it should be, around 24-25 C/75-77 F for barbs. Now, slowly replace the water in the bucket with water from the tank. The idea is to slowly introduce the barbs to the "new" water conditions one small change at a time. I'd recommend changing one litre (about the size of an ice cream carton) every ten minutes. So after an hour or two, your barbs should be completely converted to the new conditions. Using a net, move the barbs to the new tank. Don't put any old water from the bucket into the tank! Over the next week, do a pH change each day. Don't feed your fish more than one small pinch of food per day! (A small pinch is just that, and all the food should be gone within 30 seconds. Each barb only needs a single flake to do just fine.) You might decide not to feed them at all this week. In any case, check the pH daily, and with luck, the pH will not drop dramatically. After seven days, change 25-50%; the smaller amount is fine if you find pH is steady and nitrite/ammonia are at zero.> By the way when I do water changes I add NovAqua plus and AmQuel plus, both Kordon products. One other note, I get an accumulation of crusty white stuff around the edges of the outside of the tank hood. I am assuming this is cause by something from the tank, some sort of deposit buildup, perhaps you know what it is? <The white stuff is likely just lime. Harmless. Can be brushed off. A little lemon juice or vinegar can be used to safely work away at stubborn patches, but try not to get too much of these into the water! Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue Yes, all the fish are smaller, I think the Ticto Barbs are the biggest and may be slightly over the 2 inches but not by much. I am going to try your suggestion of draining out the water. One thing you mentioned in your suggestion was "Over the next week, do a pH change each day". Did you mean do a pH check every day? <Oops. Yes, "check" or "test" was precisely what I meant.> Hopefully this will work and I just have too much acidification going on, perhaps from overfeeding in the past and it not getting properly cleaned thus causing this problem. I have been very careful about feedings lately so I now at least with the past two weeks I have not been overfeeding. I also know it can not be due to lack of water changes because I have been doing them every other to every two days for the past several weeks and once a week before that. I am going to make sure I take out all the plants and decorations when cleaning this time. If the pH happens to crash I will email you right away. I guess all I need confirmed is that you meant a pH check not change. Thanks again! <Happy to help, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue 1/7/08 It seems your suggestion has worked at least for the time being. We will see in the long run. <Indeed!> So far the water parameters in the aquarium are what I reported for my tap water (Nitrate - 0, Nitrate - 0, Total Hardness (GH) - 300 ppm, Chlorine - 0, Total Alkalinity (KH) - 180 ppm, pH - 8.4). <All sounds fine. The pH is on the high side, but nothing dangerous.> I will check the pH daily as advised and let you know of any major changes. I do have one question though, the current level of my pH is 8.4 according to the all-in-one test (it has a range of 6.2-8.4). I also have an API test but that only goes up to 7.6 (range of 6.0-7.6). If my water stays that high at 8.4 is there anything I am going to need to do lower it? <One battle at a time. Adjusting pH isn't something to worry about unless you're an experienced fishkeeper. You see, what kills fish is variations in pH within short periods of time. Broadly speaking, most fish will adapt to a wide pH range, provided that pH is stable. While it would be worth lowering the pH a bit, to around 7.5-8.0 eventually, I'd rather you focused on keeping a steady pH and good water quality for now. If, after a month, you find the nitrite stays at zero and the pH stays stable from week to week, then get back in touch and we'll talk about some of the options. But right here, right now, one thing at a time! Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue (RMF, never come across this, any ideas?) 01/09/09 Well, the tank was stable for a day and a half! <Good stuff!> Today when I tested there was an ammonia spike. It went from 0 to 1.0. (I could tell right away something was wrong because the water was slightly cloudy). I checked the pH and it is 7.6. I originally told you it was 8.4 but when I checked it yesterday it was 7.8. <Much more typical.> I didn't know if it dropped or I read the strip wrong <<Strip type tests are notoriously imprecise and inaccurate. RMF>> so I checked the tap water again and the tap water is closer to 7.8. (The strips I got can be tricky to read and when I first read it, it was at night and when I read it during the day with natural sunlight, it was a bit easier to read). At any rate the pH has dropped a little from 7.8 to 7.6. The KH also went from 180 ppm to 40 ppm. <Something is -- very rapidly -- consuming carbonate hardness. For the life of me, I can't think what would do this in the space of 24 hours short of pouring in a bunch of acids! My suspicion is that the water you have is "unstable" prior to use, and that the test kits are giving misleading results. Try this: put a bucket of water out overnight, and test the hardness and pH immediately after you fill the bucket and then 12-24 hours later. If you can, add an airstone to keep the water turning over, otherwise just stir every once in a while. I wonder if your water is actually rather soft after the minerals or whatever in the freshly drawn tap water have broken down. If that's the case, you'll need to treat or store your water prior to use.> Nitrate, Nitrite, are at 0. Last night I did give the fish a very tiny pinch of TetraColor fish flakes. There was about 6 flakes total that I put in the tank. I am not feeding today. So, I guess I am at a loss. I have no idea what could be happening in my tank, but maybe you can shed some light this situation. <I'm confused too, and asking Bob for advice.> <<I concur... something is anomalous here... Does this tank have a very large amount of live plant material? Driftwood? RMF>> Is there something I should do to get the KH/pH stable? <Certainly, a stable pH is what you want.> <<Yes... I would use a commercial buffering product myself, or advise it here... If this were a store setting, we'd likely add a source of carbonate in the recirculating water flow path... Perhaps dump in some baking soda on a regular (maybe daily) basis. RMF>> Is there something I should do for the ammonia spike or will that take care of itself if I get the KH/pH under control? <Ammonia should settle down once water chemistry settles down. I'm guessing that variations in water chemistry are stressing the filter bacteria, making it difficult for them to work properly. Cheers, Neale.> <<I would make sure and have zero ammonia BEFORE fooling with pH or alkalinity here... Too high in all these areas is synergistically very toxic. RMF>>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue (RMF, never come across this, any ideas?) 01/09/09 I will definitely test the tap water over the weekend. <Cool.> When I emailed you last night I said there was a drop in pH, but now I am not so sure. The strips I have to test KH and GH (as well as nitrite and nitrate) are hard to read the pH readings. The KH and GH are easy to read, but not the pH. <Ah, would suggest buying a liquid test kit for pH.> They are all a shade of pink. When I test the tap water and compare it to my current water they look the same, right around 7.6 and 7.8. When I use another pH only test kit and test the tap water and the tank water they also read the same about 7.6 (however that test only goes to 7.6). But at least the shades are the same. <OK.> So now, I do not think the pH is really dropping, but there was a definite drop in KH and a definite ammonia spike. The pH was stable this morning around 7.6-7.8 and the KH was still around 40. The ammonia is around .50 to 1.0 when I test. I have not added anything to the water and I did not feed yesterday and probably won't feed today. I will email over the weekend and let you know the results of the tap water experiment. I do have an extra air stone to add so I will do that. <Starting to suspect a tap water issue: will see what Bob says.> <<Are you adding anything to this water period, before testing it... a conditioner perhaps? A few of the common dechloraminating products will give a false positive for ammonia. Otherwise there should be NO detectable ammonia in mains/tapwater. Test just the raw source water. RMF>> Since I do not think the pH is dropping anymore is there a chance my tank is recycling? <Quite possible the ammonia comes in the tap water. Or alternatively, your dechlorinator doesn't treat chloramine (check!) and if this is the case, produces free ammonia when it breaks the chloramine down.> I know this would cause an ammonia spike, but would it cause a decline in the KH as well? <Ammonia and carbonate can react, yes.> This is the only thing I can think of, but my knowledge is not as good as yours, but I thought I would throw that out there. <I'm in the dark, too!> I will continue to check the water daily to see if there is a major drop in pH and if there is a spike in nitrite or nitrates (they are currently at 0). If it is recycling there after the ammonia spike there will be a spike in nitrite then nitrate, correct? <In theory. But if the ammonia comes in the tap water, then the nitrite produced by the filter will likely be used up quickly, without being detectable.> Thanks again for all your help. If you have any other thoughts or ideas, let me know. I will try anything at this point. <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH/Ammonia Issue (RMF, never come across this, any ideas?) 01/10/09 Alright so here is the result of the tests I did on the tap water. First off, I did get a new test kit that is easier to read. <<Ah, good. RMF>> This test showed different results from the original tap water results I had given you. Namely the first time I told you the KH was 180 ppm but this test shows that it starts off at 120 ppm. Anyway here are all the stats of the tap water immediately out of the tap without any chemicals added: Ammonia=0 Nitrate=0 Nitrite=0 GH=150 ppm Chlorine=0 KH=120 pH=7.6 (keep in mind the test kit only goes to 7.6, the other strip test was between the 7.6 and 7.8 but closer to 7.6) After about 18 hours of the tap water being in the bucket with an air stone the results were the following: Ammonia=0 Nitrate=0 Nitrite=0 GH=150 ppm Chlorine=0 KH=80 ppm pH=7.6 So basically the KH dropped off from 120 to 80 in less than 24 hours. <<Mmm, these test results are "fine", much more easily accounted for... the "loss" of KH here may well be due to precipitation of material/s added by your water supplier (flocculent and temporary hardness) to improve (low) water supply on their end, protect pipes et al. in their plants and distally... Not uncommon more and more... RMF>> Now, I keep my fish tank in the basement of our house, which is finished off and very nice. But I dump the old aquarium water out in the wash basin where the wash machine flows into. There are two sides to the basin and I make sure when filling the bucket with tap water that is to go into the aquarium I use the side the wash machine does not dump into. My husband made a point of saying that the pipes down there are very old and he suggested using water from the bathroom where the pipes are more new. I was leaving the water run in the sink a bit when using the old faucet, but he said it might make a difference. <<It may...>> So I tested the water straight from the tap from a newer faucet and all the numbers were the same except the KH came out to be 80 ppm, right out of the tap. I guess I am thinking that this water might be more stable, if this even makes sense. I put this water in a bucket and do the same 12-24 hour test to see if it changes. Right now the current KH of the aquarium has dropped is closer to 80 ppm. But there is still a lot of ammonia in the water. <<Am thinking this is spurious... do you have a DPD test kit, or someone about who does... maybe someone with a pool or spa nearby... Something is up here.>> But I am surprised to see the pH staying steady. Is it possible that the ammonia level spiked because the KH dropped from 120 to 80 in the course of 24 hours? <<No>> By the way I use Amquel plus to dechlorinate my water and it says that it takes care of both the chlorine and chloramine. <<This fine Kordon product can/does yield a false positive for ammonia with many types of test kits... Nessler's rgt. Again, you aren't adding this ahead/before testing for ammonia I take it. RMF>> Let me know what your thoughts are on all this. <Apart from the carbonate hardness issue, your tap water is otherwise very good. Zero ammonia is obviously what you want when doing water changes, and the moderate level of general hardness (GH) suits a goodly range of tropicals including barbs, tetras, catfish and South American cichlids. It's a bit low for livebearers and species from hardwater habitats like Mbuna, but otherwise this water is good. Because the carbonate hardness varies -- for now obvious reason to me -- I think I'd concur with Bob's comment that adding some type of buffer to each batch of water would be beneficial. If you're keeping mixed community tropicals, then any standard buffering potion that fixes the pH at 6.5, 7.0, or 7.5 would be ideal. There's not much to choose between any one pH value in terms of community fish, so going for 7.5 would probably be the easiest option in terms of usage, cost and usefulness. If you fish are skewed towards hardwater species like livebearers (Guppies, Platies, Swordtails, Mollies, etc.) I'd actually not use a buffer but instead use a Malawi (African cichlid) salt mix. This will both steady pH and raise carbonate hardness. You can buy Malawi salt mix from an aquarium shop, or else make your own for pennies per water change. Per 5 gallons/20 litres, stir in: 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) 1 teaspoon marine salt mix (sodium chloride + trace elements) Once done, test the water chemistry of the bucket of water to confirm everything is as it should be. If all your fish are hardwater species, then use this "hardened" water entirely; if you have a mix of hardwater and regular species, a 50/50 mix of hardened water with tap water should do the trick. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Freshwater pH question -10/29/08 Hello Crew, <Hi,> I've emailed you guys in the past with questions about my tanks, and you guys have always been great -- so thanks in advance for your help. My question concerns water pH. I've just moved to a new apartment and I'll be setting up a new tank, a 46g bowfront (I'm very excited about this!). I'm planning on doing a planted tank with angelfish, as I've always loved angels but until now have not had a big enough tank to keep them. <In a tank this size, a school of six or more will be lovely!> I'm a bit confused by the water in my new location, though, as it seems to be slightly on the soft side but with a pretty high pH. With my home test kits I get a KH of 6 degrees, and a pH of 7.8 (I don't have a general hardness test kit yet). <Easily accepted by standard commercially-bred Angelfish. Do please check you're using water out the tap, not from a water softener. For what it's worth, standard Angels are happy between pH 6-8, 5-20 degrees dH and at hardness level up to around 10 degrees KH.> I've looked up the municipal water quality report for my area, and the values they give are pH of 7.9, total hardness of 109 mg/L, and alkalinity of 96 mg/L (seems to be reasonably in line with what I'm finding with my home test kits). So, my questions are: 1) why is the pH so high even though the water doesn't seem to be too hard, <pH isn't solely dependent on the carbonate/bicarbonate salts measured via KH test kits. In any case, pH doesn't matter. Hardness matters. So long as the pH is stable from week to week, your water supply is fine. Just add dechlorinator and enjoy!> and 2) should I set about trying to adjust the pH in order to keep angels? <If we're talking about standard hybrid Angels from the pet store, then you're going to be fine. They've been bred in a wide range of conditions, and are essentially extremely adaptable animals. Wild-caught Angels are a whole different kettle of fish though, as are carefully bred species such as Altum Angels and Dwarf Angels.> The water quality report mentions that the pH of the water supply is raised in order to prevent pipe corrosion, but doesn't say through what means. <Shouldn't worry too much; good quality water conditioner should fix things.> As far as what to do about it, I'm considering doing something not too drastic like adding a bit of peat in a media bag to the filter. Do you think this might help? I don't want to undertake anything too drastic with this tank (such as finding another source of distilled or softer water for mixing in), but I'm concerned that a pH of 7.8 is too high for angels, and also possibly for plants. <It all depends on what you're keeping. Yes, wild Angels come from water that is fairly soft, though not usually those really soft blackwater habitats we associate with Discus. The tank-bred Angels are adaptable and really more fussed about water quality. Likewise most plants adapt well to hard water, and indeed some prefer it (Vallisneria for example, and some Amazon Swords). Just as with the fish, pH isn't something to lose sleep over except in very specific situations. Regardless, it is ALWAYS better to chose fish and plants that will thrive in the water chemistry you have, than to obsess over methods to alter the hardness to suit the fish you see in books.> thanks again, Nicole <Cheers, Neale.>

pH problems   10/9/08
Hello. I have a problem with the pH in my tank. I've had it for over two years now. It's a 70 gallon tank, with three fancy goldfish. I do 15% water changes every week, and I always use a chlorine/chloramine removing product (stress-coat). My Ammonia is 0, nitrates are 10ppm, and the pH is now a very low 6.0.
<Much too low for Goldfish... stressing them for sure, and eventually making them more prone to disease.>
It wasn't always like this, it used to be 7.0 (my tap water has a pH of 7).
<At the very least do more water changes: the more pH 7 water you add, and the more frequently, the smaller the pH drop between water changes will be. Do read these articles to learn about water chemistry:
With Goldfish, you should be doing 25-50% water changes, weekly.>
I have no idea what to do. Could the problem be my filter?
<Not as such, unless there is peat or something else acidifying the water in there.>
I have an emperor 400, but I never replaced the pads inside. Can that be causing the problem?
<Well, any chemical media (e.g., carbon) need to be replaced at least monthly to do their jobs. One reason I consider carbon a waste of time. Likewise ammonia remover (zeolite). Both these products are incredibly cheap to make but the "modules" the company sells are wildly inflated, so in both cases these things are in your filter not to help with water quality but to extract cash from your pocket and direct it into the coffers of the filter manufacturer. I always recommend people get basic canister or box filters into which you can stuff whatever media you want. In the case of Goldfish, all you need is some mechanical media (such as filter wool) to extract solid waste, and then lots of biological media (such as ceramic noodles) to process the ammonia. Nothing else is essential, but you still have the option of removing some of either media to make space for any specific media you need, such as crushed coral or peat or whatever. For all these reasons, hang-on-the-back filters are, in my opinion, a waste of money.>
Also, I have bought a big bag of crushed coral to try to buffer the water. Should I use it, and if yes, how?
<Yes you should use it. Put some (say, a cup) of crushed coral into a media bag (something that looks a bit like a sock but made from mesh fabric). Rinse the bag under a running tap to wash away all the dust. Place the bag into the filter. As the water flows through the crushed coral it will pick up carbonate and bicarbonate ions, and this will neutralise the acidity gently but effectively. Use a pH test kit daily for the first week just to make sure the pH isn't changing too rapidly. If it is, remove some (say, 50%) of the crushed coral and put the bag back in the filter. Keep testing, and adding or removing crushed coral until you get a nice steady pH around 7.5 between water changes.>
My filter doesn't really have much room for a lot of it.
<That's why I wouldn't have recommended the hang-on-the-back filter. Unfortunately there's not a lot you can do here. The best solution would be to buy a cheap box filter (cost around £5 here in England) and an air pump (if you don't already have one). Put the crushed coral in the box filter (no need for the media bag in this case) and then connect to the air pump. As the air bubbles through the box filter, water will flow past the crushed coral, buffering the pH.>
Please help me. Thank you.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH problems -- 10/10/08
Thanks Neale that was very helpful. Now let me just bother you with one more question. Do you think I can just place the crushed coral in a fine mesh bag and just lay it on top of my substrate and putting an airstone next to
it instead of using a box filter?
<Nope, won't work. Filtration -- whether chemical, biological or mechanical -- relies on moving water being moved past the media. This is why floating a sponge in a tank doesn't turn it into filter -- the water has to be pumped through the sponge. Moreover, once the chemical media gets covered with algae, bacteria and silt, it becomes isolated from the water, and so stops working. You need to be able to clean the media every few weeks under a hot tap to wash away this stuff. Putting the crushed coral in a filter -- whatever type of filter -- is the only way this system works reliably. Notions based on adding coral sand in the gravel or putting tufa rock in the tank won't work for the same reasons. Without a flow of water and regular cleaning, any chemical buffering offered initially will fade away in a few weeks.>
Or do you think this could just trap a lot of waste and become a hazard to the aquarium?
Your help is much appreciated.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: lowering ph in planted tank   7/27/08 Neale, Well, I got a RO/DI unit (for a smoking good deal, so not sweating the cost, and have a use for the runoff H2O), the output of which is currently 0 TDS, 7.0 ph, and alkalinity is somewhere between 0-10 ppm. Just RO is about 16 TDS, alkalinity is same, ph is same. <All sounds promising.> My tap water is 420 TDS, 8.0+ ph (kit doesn't go above that), 130ppm alkalinity, and 210-220 calcium. <Standard issue "liquid rock"!> I mixed 50/50 tap and RO+DI, and I got 60-70ppm alkalinity, but the ph was still 8.0+ <It would be; acidity is created by the presence of acidic chemicals, not by reducing hardness. There's a complex thing behind pH involving the relative proportions of things that raise pH (alkaline chemicals, such as bicarbonate salts) and things that lower pH (acidic chemicals, typically organics such as tannins). What softening water does is reduce the abundance of the alkaline chemicals, so that smaller amounts of the acid chemicals will lower the pH.> I want to get roughly neutral ph with 70ppm alkalinity (to be safe...as you say 55ppm or so is a minimum target). <Sounds fine.> Seems like my main option here would be RO+DI and a neutral buffer to get my alkalinity up. Am I heading down the right track? <Yes, pretty much. I'd be using your 50/50 soft/hard water for starters, and to be absolutely honest not messing with pH just yet. I'd want to see how the background acidification of the tank affected pH between water changes (testing, say, ever 2-3 days). Once I was confident that pH was stable, I'd then look to using either carefully controlled amount of peat granulate in the filter to increase acidity or else using a pH 7 or pH 6.5 buffer salt as required. I like the Sera Peat Granulate; it's concentrated, so you can start off with tablespoon or three in a media bag, pop it into the canister filter, and then see what happens with pH across the next few days, checking pH daily. The water will turn brown of course, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your needs. Commercial pH buffers will "fix" the pH and keep water chemistry within a very safe range provided they are used correctly. They are more expensive than peat, but perhaps easier to use. But remember: pH itself doesn't matter much, pH stability does. If your aquarium is medium-hard to slightly soft in terms of hardness, it's already "optimal" in terms of fishkeeping. So medium-hard water at pH 7.5 would be fine for a wide variety of fish without any further fuss.> I am also trying to figure out how to mix some tap water in to get the calcium and some alkalinity help. Any suggestions on ratios? <Experiment, and see what you get. A 50/50 mix is ideal (as well as cheap to run in the long term) so I'd start there and monitor/adjust pH afterwards. Don't get dazzled by the idea there's some "optimal" pH because there isn't; instead understand the goal, creating water similar to the wild, by reducing carbonate hardness and adding organic acids such as tannins.> Thanks, as always, for the help. Paul <Hope this helps, Neale.>

ph, FW... modifying     4/16/08 Good day, I have a pH question that I have searched for an answer on but have not found or I may have overlooked. I know there is a ph range for fish that are listed, I know that different water has different buffering ability and that aragonite, peat, coral, etc can alter pH either up or down. What I am trying to find out is that most literature gives the desired pH range for different fish/species, or says adaptable but to avoid extremes....what would an extreme be, especially in the alkaline range? Is 8.2 an extreme for a 7.5 fish even if it is a consistent 8.2? I really don't want to attempt to combat this with ph altering chemicals, nor do I want to be restricted to African cichlids that will destroy my plants :-( K <K, very simply, most standard community fish will do well between pH 6 and pH 8. The main exceptions are the livebearers, which absolutely must be kept at a basic pH above pH 7. Now, having said this, pH isn't what you should focus on. Fish don't really care about pH all that much; what matters to them is pH stability. In other words, it's the carbonate hardness, measured in degrees KH. For standard community fish you want a carbonate hardness around 3 to 7 degrees KH, and for livebearers you want at least 5 degrees KH. Why don't I mention general hardness (measured in degrees dH)? Well, while this is also important in terms of accommodating "soft" and "hard" water fish, it doesn't directly steady pH. Rather, general hardness affects the osmoregulation of the fish. So what you're after for standard community tropicals is water with a general hardness between 5-20 degrees dH, 3-7 degrees KH, and between pH 6 and 8. This range is fine for species that are said to be adaptable, like Corydoras and barbs. You might not be able to breed them, but they'll live just fine. Livebearers are exceptional, and must have hard (10+ degrees dH), carbonate-rich (5+ degrees KH) water with a pH around 7.5-8. Do have a review of this article: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwh2oquality.htm Cheers, Neale.>

Re: pH  4/16/08 Thank you. That was exactly what I was looking for. There is so much emphasis (and products) revolving around actual ph that never mentions the hardness or buffering, so it leaves a lot of uncertainty for non-chemist hobbyists like myself :-) . <Indeed so. Because pH is easy to measure and understand, people tend to focus on it. But at best, what pH does is give you a first glance look at water chemistry. It doesn't tell the whole story.> So if my dh and my KH are spot on (11 and 6 respectively), a steady pH of 8.2 is ok for fish that are known to do well do in ph 7.5-8.0? <You should be fine; this sounds a lot like "London Tap Water" and provided you avoid fish that explicitly demand soft and acidic water to do well (like Ram Cichlids and Rasboras) you should find many species do well. Livebearers are the obvious choices, but Rainbowfish, Barbs, Halfbeaks, Gouramis, Plecs, and Corydoras can all be relied upon as well. Most hardy tetras are okay, but to be honest Neons and Cardinals are of variable use in very hard water and are perhaps best avoided. X-ray Tetras on the other hand thrive in such conditions. So research your choices carefully. Cheers, Neale.>

High Nitrates after use of Melafix -- 03/20/08 Hello, <Hi there> First, let me say thank you for your wonderful site, which I return to every chance I get. You have been kind enough in the past to help me; and I am hoping for your assistance again. <Will try...> I have a 36 gallon freshwater tank, lightly stocked with 10 fish. When my tank was new (15 months ago) it always had an alkaline PH of about 7.2. <... Mmm, not "that" alkaline... In fact, some good reasons to have a slightly elevated pH... NealeM has a nice article re: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwhardness.htm and the linked files above> As my tank matured, I was told that it would probably become more acidic, which it did. It has been around 6.6 for the past few months now. However, 2 weeks ago, my Boesemani rainbowfish got injured in a castle ornament (which I have since removed) incurring significant scale damage. I added Melafix <...> to the tank because I had heard great things about it speeding up healing. Well, it worked. He was completely healed within a week. <Might've taken seven days (or less) w/o...> I was performing modest 10% water changes every other day for the length of the 7-day treatment in an attempt to keep the water pristine. During the course of the treatment I only tested for ammonia and nitrite to ensure that my bio filter was not being affected. Ammonia and Nitrite always tested at zero and continue to do so to date. After treatment ended, I put carbon in the filter (Eheim canister) and performed a 25% water change. I tested my water parameters a few hours later and was very surprised to find high nitrate levels of at least 40ppm, but could possibly have been higher. It is very hard to differentiate on my test kit at any level higher than 20ppm since the shades of red are almost identical. <Mmm, often diluting samples by half (by adding "clean" water of the same approximate volume...) can/will bring readings back "on scale"> My nitrates never exceeded 20ppm before this, as I religiously perform 25% water changes every two weeks with a complete gravel vacuuming. I theorized that the Melafix must have been responsible since it is a plant derivative and probably contributed to the dissolved organics in the water. Could this be the reason? Also, as I feared, my PH level has dropped to the lowest range on my test kit (6.0-6.3). <All are possible interactions, yes> I have been doing daily 15% water changes since this occurred and the nitrates seem to be dropping (hard to tell once in the "red" range on the test kit) and my PH did go up temporarily last evening to 6.4, but had dropped again by this morning. I don't wish to stress my fish, who all appear fine at the moment, so I hesitate to do large water changes for fear of the PH rising too quickly. <You are wise here> Should I proceed with the daily 15% water changes, or do you feel that this is insufficient to correct this issue in a more timely manner. <I would continue as you are> Is there anything I could have missed (besides the obvious of not using Melafix in my display tank anymore). I thank you in advance for your assistance. Michele <Mmm, I think you're doing fine. I am NOT a fan of the "fix" products by API, but there are folks here (WWM) who are a bit more charitable. Am a bigger promoter of the use of real medicines. Bob Fenner>

Follow-up on High Nitrates/low PH after Melafix use Hello again, <Michele> I wrote to WWM earlier in the week regarding experiencing high nitrates and subsequent low PH in my tank after using Melafix to treat a injured fish. <I recall> For your reference, I have included my original correspondence which Bob Fenner answered and was kind enough to assist me with. I have been doing daily modest water changes to bring down the nitrate levels, which has vastly improved (currently reading in the 20ppm range) but of course I'm still working on getting it even lower. However, in tandem with the high nitrates, my PH level dropped from 6.6 to the lowest range on my test kit (6.0-6.3). Water changes have resulted in the PH rising to 6.4, but this effect has been temporary, usually dropping back down within 24 hours. <I would bolster the alkalinity here with at least a few teaspoons of baking soda... or a commercial prep.... Covered on WWM> I realize that larger water changes would yield quicker nitrate reduction, but I don't want to stress the fish in case the PH does increase too rapidly so I'm proceeding cautiously. <You are wise here> But despite the nitrates being reduced, the PH is not climbing back up as of yet and stabilizing as I had hoped. I was somewhat puzzled about this, so I went to your site and researched some possibilities as to why. In doing so, I realized that I did not know what the KH or GH of my source water was, so I purchased a KH/GH test kit to find out. <Ahh!> I live in New York, and we have very soft water, which has almost no KH/GH, which I confirmed with the test (only 1 drop yielded a slight tinge of color). I know now that this is not ideal, and that PH drops can occur without enough buffering; <Yes> however I am very leery of adding any chemicals to the tank for fear of rapid and/or wide PH fluctuations which can be much worse than a stable but low PH. <Best to make all such changes gradually, through/by way of the change out water... modify it and add it to the system> My father has been using the same source water for 30 years, and has successfully kept tropical fish without the use of any chemicals to alter PH or hardness. His philosophy is to keep fish that will adapt to your conditions and thinks I am overly concerned about this. <A valid concern; particularly if only keeping livestock that "enjoys" softer/acidic water...> I tend to agree with his philosophy but my real concern is the low PH hindering the nitrifying bacteria. <Also a valid concern> I have read that at lower PH levels, the bio filter does not work as efficiently. <This is so> Is this true, or does PH have to much more acidic for this to occur? <Slightly alkaline is better... the forward reactions/nitrification are reductive in nature... drive pH down... so having some biomineral in place...> If I continue with the daily water changes and get the nitrates down to about 5-10ppm and keep them there with a more frequent maintenance regimen (perhaps a weekly water change instead of bi-weekly), will the PH increase to where it was a few weeks ago, or without sufficient KH will it remain low no matter how many water changes I do? <If there is no addition of alkaline material (esp. carbonate, bicarbonate) from somewhere, the GH, KH will not change... If reductive processes continue, the pH will drop...> Forgive me if this has been explained somewhere on your site. <An, no worries> Be assured that I have been reading, but I find this issue of hardness somewhat confusing and wanted to check with someone from the crew before deciding on a course of action. Also, please note that prior to adding the Melafix a few weeks ago, I did not have excess nitrates nor any problems with a sudden PH drop so I am hoping that just keeping the nitrate level extremely low will get my tank back to where it was a few weeks ago. I had also read Neale's suggestions to some people about using crushed coral in the filter to raise KH, but I don't want my PH to rise by very much. <Depending on how much, how soluble, this addition is very safe... will not raise pH much, very quickly at all> Since my source water is on the acidic side (6.6-6.8), my goal is to get the tank PH as close as possible to my source water. Is it possible to use the coral and only increase the KH and PH slightly rather than to the basic side of the PH scale? <Yes... could be placed in a filter, bag... in a container with your make-up water... allowed to "soak" for a few days...> I'm somewhat confused because I have been hearing/reading conflicting information about their use. How do you suggest I achieve my goal of increasing my PH to about 6.6 - 6.8 and stabilizing it? <Mmm, the water changes you're doing... with the addition of a bit of sodium bicarbonate (very safe) or a modicum of commercial aquarium pH buffering product> Once again, your advice is greatly appreciated and invaluable. Michele <Let's keep chatting this over till you feel comfortable with your understanding of the underlying principle/s here... This aspect of water quality (pH, alkalinity/acidity... "hardness") is too wordy in English unfortunately... But once you grasp it... Cheers, BobF>
Re: Follow-up on Discovery of Low KH after High Nitrates/low PH w/Melafix use  3/26/08
Hello Mr. Fenner, <Just Bob please Michele> Thank you so much for all of your assistance in explaining how KH factors into maintaining PH. I have been doing some more reading and if I am understanding correctly, the baking soda method needs to be replenished with each water change (outside of the system in the new water) . <Yes, this is best> Since I'm not great at chemistry, and thus would be experimenting with the amount to use to reach my goal, I fear that this leaves a lot of room for human error. <Actually, not much error possible. This practice, with Baking Soda is quite safe> So I think I feel more comfortable with a slow soluble carbonate substance such as crushed coral or even crushed oyster shells and will experiment with a small amount in the filter as a first corrective step to increase KH. The only crushed coral I have been able to find however has aragonite mixed in as well. If I understand correctly, this makes it more soluble, so is this still acceptable for my purposes or would this make the tank too alkaline? <No, not likely> If not recommended for my purposes, I have also been able to locate crushed oyster shells packaged as a "bird feed". <Ahh! This material... usually some type of Dolomite ("Tapa Shell)... a compound of calcium and magnesium carbonates CAN be very soluble... and a mess to handle/deal with... too "cloudy" in preparation/use> In the meanwhile I will continue with my water changes to further decrease the nitrates and proceed from there. Thanks for the offer/opportunity to continue chatting until I get a better grasp of the subject matter. I'm honored that you would take additional time from your busy schedule to assist me. Michele <Am out in Malaysia currently... where am dreading the Net slow-down. Cheers! BobF>
Re: Follow-up on Discovery of Low KH after High Nitrates/low PH w/Melafix use  3/30/08
Good evening Bob, <Mich> I hope your trip to Malaysia is going well. <Yes... but the Net is slow... and intermittent> I did purchase the crushed coral and added a very small amount to the filter on Tuesday. I figured I could always add more if needed. Since my nitrates are now in 10ppm range, I've stopped the daily water changes and will continue as necessary to keep them low. The PH was holding steady at 6.4 for a couple of days without dropping. Today it has increased to 6.6, so it seems that the coral is working. My KH test kit still is reading very low (1 degree), but I'll give it some more time since I seem to be making some progress. And speaking of progress, I actually managed to talk my father into adding some coral to his filter as well. <Ahh!> I referred him to your site and our discussions; and I guess he realized that no matter how long you've been in this hobby, there's always something to learn. <Is so for me... and I am indeed an old timer in the trade, science and hobby> Thanks again for your help. I have been enjoying chatting with you. I will keep you posted on the progress of my tank, but I'm confident that the coral will serve the purpose. Michele <Bob Fenner>

Fish suddenly sick, FW, pH shock    3/3/08 Hi Crew, This is unfortunately an emergency. I have been keeping my fish (6 zebra Danios, 3 Cory cats) in a separate tank for about a week and a half while their normal tank cycles with added ammonia. The tank they're in now is a half-full 20 gallon tank with a heater (temp has been constant at 74F) and bubbler instead of a filter because the filters are in the normal tank, hopefully building up bacteria. I have some "Ammo-Chips" in the temporary tank to soak up the ammonia since there isn't any established bacteria. I've also been changing the water in the temporary tank often with tap water conditioned with Amquel. I did this yesterday (actually, I added about 20% additional water since there is extra space in the tank) and I swished the net around to grab some of the floating "gunk" and cleaned a lot of that out. All seemed to be well this morning, but I came back tonight after being gone the whole day and my smallest Cory was dead and the rest of the fish were looking very sick. Some were hanging near the top; others at the bottom. They don't seem to be breathing hard, just very listless. Ammonia and nitrite are zero. I don't have a nitrate test kit, but I change the water regularly and I doubt it could make them sick this fast. It would seem like it had something to do with the water being added or the "gunk" being taken out, although I did what I always do (add Amquel and get the water to about the same temperature as the tank water). I now have the fish out of that tank in a Tupperware container with the bubble wand. I added some Prime and some Stress Coat even though there isn't an ammonia or nitrite problem. (I didn't know what else to do!) The water has been pretty cloudy in the tank, but I think it's because there isn't a filter, only a bubbler for oxygen. If it were a lack of oxygen they would have been showing signs of distress earlier. And if it was poisoning due to the decomposing "stuff" in the water, wouldn't I see some ammonia or nitrites? I have antibacterial food on hand and I'm going to feed that to them, if they'll eat. I have no idea what happened, unless the water wasn't dechloraminated well enough, but I feel like I always add more Amquel than necessary just to be safe. I don't have any clues! They all look like they're barely hanging on.. I appreciate any help you can offer. Thank you so much, Allison Hey Crew, I just realized the problem: pH shock. I tested the tank - pH 6.0 - and the tap water - pH 7.8 or more. Basically, the tank and the tap are at opposite ends of my testing kit's scale, I guess because of aeration in the tank bringing the pH down. I guess all I can do now is just hope for them to survive. Please let me know if there's anything else to do. I'm going to put them back in the tank (since now they're in the Tupperware container). Thanks, Allison <Hello Alison. Glad you figured out what the problem was. Yes, pH can make a big difference to how well (or otherwise) fish settle in. Maintaining a steady pH between water changes is essential. If the pH in your aquarium is dropping from 7.8 to 6 within a week, then you have a serious instability problem. Have a read of these two articles: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwh2oquality.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsoftness.htm Essentially the problem is likely that your water has no carbonate hardness (use the "KH" test kit for this) and so pH drops rapidly. One common mistake people make is to use water from a domestic water softener: do not do this! However hard your tap water might be, it's fine for most fish. In some ways hard water is a positive asset. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwhardness.htm In the meantime, your fish should recover from the pH shock. Obviously don't feed them, and don't fuss over them either, as that'll stress them. Leave them somewhere dark and well oxygenated to they can recover at their own pace. If they don't survive, at least learn from the experience and read up on water chemistry. Note that everyone thinks they understand pH, whereas the pH value itself actually doesn't matter all that much -- what matters is pH stability. And for that, you need carbonate hardness. Cheers, Neale.>

pH drop, FW, no reading on Alkalinity  2/25/08 I am having problems with my ph and don't know why. About two months ago I got a new 45 gallon aquarium. I've had an aquarium for many years and never have had a problem like this. I used much of the same water from my other tank. I got a new HOT Magnum 250 canister filter. I used all the same decorations. The only thing I added new was a banana plant. I took it out and threw it away after I first had problems. The gravel I used is the same that I have in a smaller aquarium. For about a month after I got it set up my fish were doing great. I got some Blue Rams and they did good for about a week then died. <!?> I got some more and the same thing happened. The same thing happened with my small new Green Severums after a few days (they didn't look good when they came in so I didn't think much when they died). I just thought there was something different with the fish because everything else was fine. Then suddenly overnight my fish became less active, mostly Angels. <... something very wrong here> I checked the ph and it was about 6.2 and usually it is about 7.4 and our tap water is around 8.0. Slowly I lost some bigger Angels that I had had for about 8 months and then the smaller ones died that I've had for about 3 months. Now I'm only down to one smaller Angel. I was okay when the Rams and Severums died because they were new, but when the Angels that I've had for awhile died I knew something was wrong. I do a water change to raise the ph up. It goes up for a few days then drops back down. The weird thing is everything else is doing good. My Neon Tetras, Koi Swordtails, Boesemanni Rainbows, Green Tiger Barbs, small Plecos, and Cory Cats are doing just fine. Why are just my Rams, Severums, and Angels dying? Why is my ph dropping and what do I do to keep it up? Thanks for your help. Cole <You have quite a mix of fishes... Perhaps the Cichlids are/were of "low quality"... many imported ones are quite touchy. I suspect your water has low alkalinity, and that you haven't read... Start here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwph,alk.htm and the linked files above, part. Neale's piece "In praise of hard, alkaline..." Bob Fenner>

Help!! Ph Crash??    01/13/2008 Hello WWM crew, <Hello,> This might be repetitive, but as always, got to congratulate and admire the services you people do. If this question once again gets to Neale, I would like to thank him very much for all the past help he has given me. Anyhow, I have a very weird situation on my hands and hope that you could help. <Weird away...> I currently have a 170 and 55 gallon freshwater tank that I do a 50% water change weekly with aged tap water (both tanks has been up for approximately one year). As of last week, my PH value is at 7.6 for both my tanks (common stable). As of today, I checked my water parameters and found that the PH for my 170 gallon tank is at 6.4!!! <OK, that's a big swing and definitely not good. Not fatal, but not good. Does suggest a lack of carbonate hardness, which is at least relatively easy to rectify.> I have two test kit that I verify with (API liquid test kit and Mardel quick dips). This have never happened to me before. The only thing that I have done differently since the last water change was change my brand of dechlorinator, from Prime to Amquel+ and NovAqua+ due to the great reviews that they have gotten. <If one dechlorinator removes ammonia from the tap water but the other doesn't, then the ammonia can result in a higher-than-expected pH reading. But a quick check suggests that both Amquel and Prime remove ammonia. Not sure NovAqua does.> The tank does have a large piece of driftwood that has been in it for about one year now. <Bogwood will lower the pH by producing acids that neutralise carbonate hardness. That said, a moderate amount of aged bogwood shouldn't have a huge effect except in very soft water aquaria.> I can't figure out what could be shifting the Ph so much. Could the new dechlorinator be affecting my readings? <Can't see why.> This also seems invalid due to the 55 gallon tank reading normal as always. The 170 is currently equipped with three 405 Fluval canisters, and a Vortech MP40 powerhead, which apparently by itself pushes 3000gph. I think I do have ample circulation. Total hardness for the tank reads approximately 120ppm and total alkalinity at 0ppm. <Ah, here's at least one issue. Alkalinity is essential to any aquarium. Total hardness itself is of secondary importance, and is mostly about how fish osmoregulate. Carbonate hardness (measured in degrees KH) is far more important, as it tells you how well an aquarium prevents pH changes. As things stand now, if you have zero alkalinity, which would suggest zero carbonate hardness as well, your aquarium has next to no ability to resist pH changes. This is because the other minerals in the water (the ones making total hardness) don't combine with acids. All they do is float about in the water.> Very awkward. Tank is currently stocked with one L25 Scarlet Pleco at 10" and one 6" Flowerhorn cichlid. Ammonia at 0, Nitrite at 0, and Nitrate at 30ppm. I have not seen any adverse affect on the fishes as of yet. I plan on setting another batch of tap water overnight tomorrow with dechlorinator and perform a change on Sunday. Its early Saturday morning right now. Any ideas? <Raising the carbonate hardness is essential for Flowerhorn cichlids, given their Central American ancestry. I'd suggest making up a batch of Malawi Salts, and adding these at a 25% to 100% dosage until you get the right set of pH and carbonate hardness (i.e., KH, not total hardness) values for your needs. You can buy these salts from stores, or you can make your own. Here's one handy-dandy recipe for Rift Valley salt mix: Per 5 gallons/20 litres * 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) * 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) * 1 teaspoon marine salt mix (sodium chloride + trace elements) Mix well, dissolve into the bucket of water, and then add to the aquarium. Don't do huge changes at once, but do water changes of 25% per day until the tank is where you want it in terms of pH and carbonate hardness. I'd recommend at least 7 degrees KH, and ideally 10+ degrees KH, for most Central American cichlids. You should find this prevents pH changes completely.> Also, is it possible for water quality to remain cloudy due to insufficient surface area for the bio load to attach to and stabilize and remain free-floating? I really doubt that I am overfeeding since I feed usually once a day and make sure all food is consumed. Right after a major water change, water would be crystal clear for a day or two and would get cloudy again. It has been like this ever since I started. No problem of this on my 55er. <Curious. But no two tanks are the same.> Lastly, any opinions on Prime vs. Amquel+/NovAqua+? <None. Never used either.> My only concern is the concentration levels. Prime seems to be so much more concentrated, at 5 mL per 50 gallons of water. While, Kordon's product suggested dosage level is at 5 mL per 10 gallons. Any thoughts on either product? <Nope. All dechlorinators do the job, so I tend to buy whatever is on sale! This sort of thing may matter more for fancy-pants marines, but freshwater fish generally don't care so long as the chlorine is removed.> Ok, that's all for now. All help is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much and be safe. Andy <Or as we say in England: "Be good, or if you can't be good, be careful." cheers, Neale.>

Re: Help!! Ph Crash??    01/13/2008 Neale, <Andy,> Thanks so much for the help, again :) I will do as per your instructions. Anyhow, any idea what could have caused the PH to shift so massively? <All aquaria have a downward pH trend. What varies is the speed with which the pH drops.> My water at the tap (which I use for water changes) has a PH of 7.6, total alkalinity of 120ppm, and total hardness of 250ppm. What happened to my alkalinity and carbonate harness? <If the pH drops, that means the carbonate hardness got used up! So you have two options: do more water changes, so the pH doesn't drop far between water changes, or else raise the carbonate hardness so the pH drops more slowly. Simple, really.> I do, do 50% water changes weekly. <Clearly not enough given all the things going on in your aquarium. Every aquarium is different, so all you can do is use test kits to monitor changes, and then alter the maintenance regime to slow those changes down.> Well, thanks for the help and hope all is well. Andy <Hope this helps, Neale.>

pH Crash, fish symptomology    12/31/07 WWM Crew, Happy New Year. Can you please tell me what are the signs and symptoms of fish reacting to a pH crash? <... often a loss of orientation, rapid to deep breathing, setting on the bottom, death...> And what causes a pH crash? <Uhh, a loss of "buffering capacity" and action/substance to shift it (pH) in one direction or t'other...> How to save your fish when the pH crashes. Thanks in advance for your help - Jean <... please see WWM re freshwater, marine... pH... Your answers are there. Bob Fenner>

Question on pH, FW   12/18/07 Hello, My water at my house is odd, it has a pH of about an 8.0? <Ours is higher...> and a carbonated hardness of around 2. I wanted to get a pH of 7.0 and a higher carbonated hardness to stabilize the pH, so I set up a fake aquarium <?> and tried to obtain this. I had heard that sodium bicarbonate, baking soda strengthens the carbonated hardness but increases the pH, so I thought of the pH spectrum and came across lemon juice. I first used lemon juice to lower my tap water pH of 8.0 to a pH of 6.5. I then proceeded to add some baking soda to stabilize the pH by increases the carbonated hardness and at the same time higher the pH to a closer 7.0 and it worked. would using lemon juice and baking soda be a safe thing to do at the start of the setup of an aquarium to establish a stable pH. It not like I used a whole lot of either of them as well, about 2 table spoons? of lemon juice and a teaspoon of baking soda in? a 10 gallon aquarium made the ph and carbonated hardness perfect. Thank you, Jason <Unfortunately the citrus has more to it than acid... I would start with more "just water" here. Please read re: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwmaintindex.htm the second tray down. Bob Fenner>

pH and KH lowering, FW   11/26/07 hello! I have been struggling with PH and KH problems for 2 years now. I used to keep African cichlids so lowering Ph and KH was never a problem-until I decided to get tropical fish instead. <Oh?> In my 29 gallon tank, the PH rests at about 8.5 and the KH at 17. Something that shocked me was that the GH tested at 2. (could high PH and soft water exist?) <Ah, you're getting your wires crossed here. A general hardness test kit measures calcium oxide. Some test kits translate the results into the equivalent hardness in calcium carbonate for historical reasons (I believe this is primarily in the US, but could be wrong). Regardless, the chemicals involved are measuring calcium oxide. So, a general hardness reading of 2 degrees dH means there is a low concentration of calcium oxide. Nothing more, nothing less. A carbonate hardness test kit measures carbonate and bicarbonate salts, and gives the result in a scale based on concentration of calcium carbonate. So, a carbonate hardness of 17 degrees KH means there is a very high concentration of carbonate and bicarbonate salts. Yes, you can have these two things happening at the same time. Imagine a glass of water into which you'd added some salt and some sugar. One test kit might measure salt, the other sugar. Simply because one was high wouldn't mean the other would have to be low, because they're independent variables. While it is *often* true that water with a high carbonate hardness often has a high general hardness as well, there's no natural law that says it has to be so. It's merely something that tends to happen for various geological reasons.> I also decided to test my tap water. The PH was a perfect 7, KH at 17 and GH at 2. I suspect my high KH to be altering the PH. <Carbonate hardness does tend to raise pH, yes. But so too will ammonia, so check that.> I used to have rocks in my 29, but I took them out about a week ago. They were boiled prior to, but I highly doubt this has anything to do with the problem. <Boiling calcareous rocks (such as tufa rock) will have precisely zero effect on whether or not they raise the carbonate hardness.> I have searched online a bit, and one recommendation was to mix water with Hydrochloric Acid... sounds incredibly risky and dangerous, but could be worth it. <No, no, no. There's no point forcing the pH downwards if the carbonate hardness is high. Try to understand this critical fact: pH doesn't matter, hardness does. Fish (mostly) don't feel pH (though they certainly don't like rapid pH changes). What directly affects them is hardness, because this controls [a] osmoregulation and [b] the pH stability. Hard water, whether we're talking about high general or carbonate hardness, is not intrinsically a bad thing, either.> I understand that once the KH is at a stable level, the PH will lower and not bounce back. <No, quite the reverse. The lower the carbonate hardness, the less stable pH becomes. That's why marine aquarists worry about carbonate hardness so much. It's the "alkalinity reserve" that fixes pH. All tanks have a net tendency towards acidification; tanks with a high carbonate hardness tend to resist this extremely well between water changes, making the fish happy. Tanks with low carbonate hardness experience rapid pH drops, and this makes fish very unhappy. The art of soft water aquaria is finding ways to stabilise pH without relying on carbonate hardness. This is not easy to do! For all practical purposes, community freshwater tanks should be maintained at around 10 degrees dH and upwards of 5 degrees KH where possible.> Is there any product/chemical/other method you could recommend? <None. First get a better understanding of your water chemistry and the environment in your tank. For example, are the rocks calcareous? Is the substrate? Then decide if there's really any point changing the hardness, given hard water tanks are more stable environments. Livebearers (poeciliids and Goodeids!), Central American cichlids, Rift Valley cichlids, rainbowfish, Goldfish, Pufferfish, gobies and brackish water fish will all prefer hard water conditions. The majority of barbs and catfish couldn't care less, and do fine in hard water, including things like Corydoras, Plecs, and most hardy Asian Puntius spp. Choosing fish from this list gives you masses of scope for fun, colourful, weird, and challenging species. Since you won't be messing with water chemistry, your life is much easier, and you can do big water changes to optimise environmental conditions in the tank. A win/win situation.> PS: RO/DI water is not really an option... <Collecting rainwater works well if you want to keep a soft water tank. Cheap and easy, and very 'green'.> Thanks in advance -Jon <Cheers, Neale.>

High ph on FW aquarium 11/23/07 Hi, I only use RO water for my 55g which is very soft, but when I check my aquarium water the reading is 7.0 to 7.2, what's wrong? My tank is planted and I am trying to raise angelfish and so far only two are doing excellent. Other fishes in the tank, tetras and one clown loach. Thank you, Edna <Hello Edna. Why on Earth are you using just RO water in a freshwater aquarium? No fish will thrive in pure RO water; you have to "cut" it with some hard water so that it has at least some mineral content. Standard practise for community fish is to mix RO water with hard tap water to get something with around 5-10 degrees dH. Generic Angelfish from the pet store (Pterophyllum hybrids) certainly don't need particularly soft water, and even in the wild Angelfish don't come from the same very soft waters that Discus do. They're more common in the main Amazon river system rather than, say, the Rio Negro. Very soft water also experiences wild fluctuations in pH unless you're taking specific measures to prevent this, and fluctuating pH is much more harmful to a fish that a pH that doesn't "seem" good compared with what they have in the wild. In other words, Angelfish are happier at a steady pH 8.0 than at an acidic pH that keeps bouncing around. So, please have a read of the article on Soft Water Aquaria here, http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsoftness.htm . If you can tell me something about the general hardness (dH) and carbonate hardness (KH) then we can try and find out why your pH is fluctuating. One last thing: a neutral pH at 7.0 to 7.2 is absolutely perfect for just about every common community fish except livebearers. So I'm not sure why you want to lower it, and in any case, you should never fixate on the pH; what matters is the general and carbonate hardness. Get those right, and the pH will do the right thing all by itself. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: high ph on FW aquarium 11/25/2007 Thank you Neale for replying to my e-mail and for the information about the water. <Happy to help.> I have a 5 in 1 test kit: Nitrate "0", Nitrite "0", Total Hardness (GH) 25, Total Alkalinity (KH) 300 and PH 8.4. <This is the tap water, right? Very similar to what I have here in Southeast England. For most purposes, perfectly serviceable if you go with hard water fish (e.g., livebearers and rainbows) and plants (Vallisneria, Egeria, etc.). Even soft water fish like tetras, Corydoras etc will adapt just fine. But if you have RO water anyway and want to soften the water a bit, then mix 50:50 with RO water and you'll have something just about perfect. 10-12 degrees dH and 150 mg/l alkalinity is an excellent target for a wide mix of community tropicals. Plants will adapt to this very well, especially if other factors -- lighting, nutrient-rich substrate -- are taken care of properly.> My "concern" is that live plants: Amazon swords, mongo grass, Anubias and others that I don't know the names and I keep in my tank, thrive better "in the soft side of water" (I read this somewhere). <Some Amazon Sword species actually prefer hard water so you need to check which species you have. Most are adaptable and care much more about substrate quality and lighting. Mongo Grass is a species of Ophiopogon, and will die underwater anyway (it's a terrestrial plant) so I wouldn't bother with it at all unless you like watching plants rot. Anubias spp. are all very adaptable and will happily grow in quite brackish water, so they don't care in the least. Relatively few plants actually prefer very soft water, and once you get below 5 degrees dH, most will simply sit there looking unhappy. Something between 5-15 degrees dH is just about perfect for a wide range of aquarium plants. Do buy/borrow one of the many excellent aquarium plant books out there. Water chemistry is simply not an issue for the vast majority of them. Most plants in aquaria fail either because [a] they aren't aquatic plants to begin with, or [b] not enough light. Everything else is icing on the cake.> So much info out there and sometime it get too high tech and overwhelming for me. <I sympathise. One of the big problems with the Internet is that the sheer volume of information published there isn't matched by the same level of fact-checking or editing. Anyone can publish anything. So while books and magazines might seem old-fashioned, they are at least offering a high standard of information.> Over all my aquarium looks very good and I love sitting for hours in front of my tank enjoying my "little master piece". <Absolutely! I don't have a TV set in my house, but I have to confess to spending too much time gazing at my fish tanks just as if they were TV sets! It's very addictive.> Thank you again, Edna. <Cheers, Neale.>

Low pH 11/8/07 Hi, I am having a problem raising my pH. It stays at a 6.0. The alkalinity is at 40 and the hardness is at 300. I tried the pH increase but it didn't help and am trying the proper pH 7.0, but read that it is bad for plants. I have several bamboo, a short round leaf plant that I don't know what it is and an onion bulb shaped plant. The tank has an assortment of community fish. What can I do to fix my pH and will the treatment kill the plants? Thanks so much! Julie <Julie, adding chemicals like "pH Up" to raise pH is generally pointless. Those chemicals are really buffers. That is, they are designed to stabilise the pH at a certain point once you've already brought it up (or down) to that pH level. So if you have a Lake Malawi aquarium with lots of nice hard water, adding a "pH Up" product will make sure the pH stays at the 8.0 value Malawi cichlids like so well. But if your aquarium is way off base, these buffering potions will be overwhelmed. In this case, you need to sit back and look at what's going on. You aquarium has a low carbonate hardness. This means that the pH easily falls towards the acid end of the pH scale. The way to remedy this is to add carbonate hardness. There are multiple ways to do this, but the simplest is to make a mixture of equal parts bicarbonate of soda, Epsom salt and marine salt mix. Add a teaspoon to each bucket of water, and stir well. Test the carbonate hardness and pH of the water. It should be much higher. If it's too high, repeat using less of the mixture; if it's too low, repeat using more. What you want is something around 100-200 mg calcium carbonate (6-12 degrees dH, 5-10 degrees KH). This water should have a pH around 7. It will be perfect for a wide range of community tropicals, with the exception perhaps of livebearers, which like water that is more hard and has a higher pH. Tetras, barbs, Gouramis etc will all thrive under such conditions, and the biological filter and plants will also do their best. One thing: make these remedial actions slowly, changing no more than 25% of the water per day. While aiming for neutral pH, moderate hard water is ideal for the community tank, rapid changes in water chemistry can be lethal to fish. As for your plants, the "onion" is probably Crinum sp., perhaps Crinum thaianum, a lovely aquarium plant. Bamboo doesn't normally survive in aquaria, especially when kept submerged. It might survive allowed to grow out above the tank, but that's not really practical. Do be aware that many aquarium shops sell non-aquatic plants to unsuspecting fishkeepers. It's a sad state of affairs really. You need to know what plants you want, and THEN go shopping, and not go shopping and come back with a bunch of mystery plants. Good luck, Neale>

Beginner needs help, FW... set-up... pH    11/08/07 I have been reading for days on your site. I appreciate all the information, but have been unable to understand what is going on with my tank. <Fire away!> I have a small 10 gallon freshwater tank. <Ah, too small for beginners in my honest opinion. Small tanks are unstable and problems spiral out of control very quickly. Advice to other beginners: start off with a 20 gallon tank if you want an "easy ride".> I was using distilled water and had plastic plants with tetras and a guppy. <Why? Distilled water is completely unsuitable for aquarium fish or indeed any living creature. Tap water is much the best for beginners, though dechlorinated of course before use.> We kept the tank for about 6 months with no problems. Our guppy just died one day. <Surprised it took that long...> We decided we wanted to have some ghost shrimp, an algae eater some live plants. The ghost shrimp died right away. <Not a surprise at all].> We now understand they are not that hardy. We were told our water was soft when they tested it at the pet store. they thought we could use tap water in our area with some aquarium salt and prime. <Sheesh. Pet store advice strikes back. Please, over the next few days remove a portion (20%) of the water in your tank and replace with dechlorinated tap water. Do not add salt. If your local tap water is soft and acidic, then don't keep fish that need hard and alkaline water (such as guppies). Stick with genuine soft water fish, such as tetras.> Our ph seems to stay around 7.4 no matter what we do. <That's a fine pH for most fish. And a stable pH is a GOOD thing.> We added some sea shells as told to. <Why?> We drain and add every week and a half to two weeks. We have been doing about the 20%. <Change 50% per week. This is the cheapest and easiest way to keep a happy collection of fish. Few problems can't be solved by dilution.> Our tank looks beautiful, water looks clear, we ended up with 2 snails on the plants. <Water clarity is irrelevant in keeping fish. You can have clear water that kills fish overnight, because ammonia (for example) is invisible. By contrast the water most fish live in looks like milky coffee and yet they (obviously) thrive.> the water was running a little warm (80-82 degrees) but we changed our incandescent bulbs out for the fluorescent. <Good. Very few fish like water this warm, and some will have dramatically shorter lives when kept thus. Aim for 25C/77F; no higher.> There are some very strange tiny hair like, things for lack of a better word, on the glass of the tank. They are tiny, barely can see them attached with one piece with like three hair like things off them. <If static and whitish, that's mould or bacteria. If static and green, it's algae. If mobile and whitish, then nematodes. Not problematic in themselves, but potential clues to other issues.> Also we have sand in our tank instead of gravel. <Sand is fine, just keep it clean.> Do you have any advice for us? <Read an aquarium book or this web site. Relying on local fish store advice can be tricky. Shops want to sell you stuff, and largely don't care if your fish live 6 weeks or 6 years, so long as you come back and buy more fish and other products. Educating yourself is the key to solving your own problems, and using your pet store as a resource for essential purchases.> What do you think these little things are? Also, one of my tetras looks a little stressed. His stripe does not look right like he has faded. <Fish do lose colour when stress. Water quality, water chemistry, diet, bullying can all be factors. Need more data.> I am worried I have done something wrong. I did notice you said in many articles not to overfeed. Our fish eat all the food at the top of the water when we feed. We are very careful about that. <Very good.> Is my ph really messed up for another reason? <A pH above 7.0 can be caused by two main things. One is good: calcium carbonate in the water. This raises the carbonate hardness (measured with a KH test kit). Guppies and other livebearers love carbonate hardness, and carbonate hardness also buffers the pH in the tank, keeping it steady. The bad source of a pH above 7.0 is ammonia. So test for ammonia (or have the pet store do it for you). Ammonia is a severe poison.> Does the sand really mess up our tank? <No. But not all sand is equally good. Some sand is calcareous (e.g., coral sand) and will raise carbonate hardness and pH; other sand is non-calcareous (e.g., silica sand) and has no effect on water chemistry.> It seems like with plants we are reading a lot about gravel. <Depends on the plants. Non-rooted plants like Java fern and Anubias couldn't care less, and actually get unhappy (die) if stuck in the sand or gravel at all. Most plants prefer sand to gravel, because the slightly anaerobic conditions in the sand shift mineral ions into their reduced (as opposed to oxidised) states, making them easier to absorb. By itself, plain gravel or plain sand aren't really suitable for growing plants anyway, no more than land plants would grow if you stuck them in a flower pot filled with gravel or sand. To get good plant growth, you need to augment the substrate with something else, like aquarium soil or laterite, that contains minerals like iron.> Thanks for all your help. L <Hope this helps, Neale>

pH Level While Using Red Sea Floralbase 11/07/07 Hi, I have recently set up a new 72gal FW tank. I have had water in it, Rena xp3 filter, heater, and Corallife 65watt x2 for lights. I presently have 15 goldfish in it to help with the cycling. <<A poor idea. Too much stress and likelihood of parasitic infestation... RMF>> My ph level has been at 6.0 from the start. I am using red sea Floralbase, that's all, as I have a planted tank. I am wondering how to raise the PH level to at least 7.0 for the types of fish I want (I have a 10gal that has been established for 2 years now & I would like to take those fish and move them over to the new one, that PH has been 7.0 - the fish in the 10gal is neon tetra, black skirt tetra, 2 Danios and 1 Chinese algae eater). Is there some sort of PH up that I can use safely? I do have several kinds of plants. My ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are all within the proper range & are great. Thanks Kim <Hello Kim. Two things here. Firstly, what sort of fish do you want to keep? An acidic pH of 6.0 is actually very good for a wide range of species. Most South American fish will thrive here, as will most of the fish from Southeast Asia. Secondly, you need to clear up the difference between pH and hardness in your head. Fish don't "feel" pH directly and don't really care about it all that much; what matters is how much mineral content the water has, because this is what has an impact on osmoregulation (how they balance salt and water in their bodies). So, what you want to check first is the hardness of your water now, and the preferred hardness of the fish you want to keep. I'm guessing your water is quite soft (i.e., a low hardness around 5 degrees dH). That's fine for tetras, angelfish, Gouramis etc. But if you want to keep livebearers or Rainbowfish, they need a higher level of hardness, at least 10 degrees dH and ideally well above that for livebearers especially. Once you take care of hardness, then the pH will adjust itself pretty well automatically. Hard water tends to have a high pH, and that high pH is pretty stable. There are various ways to raise the hardness. The simplest is to incorporate some calcareous material into the filter. Crushed coral is one such medium. As the water washes past, the coral dissolves, raising the hardness. Periodically you clean the coral to wash away slime that coats it, and maybe once a year replace it with a bunch of new coral. There are other methods too; any aquarium book should discuss them, but if you want some more ideas, let me know. Cheers, Neale.>

High ph and low alkalinity, Discus sys.    10/22/07 Hello, <Hi there> I am a long time aquarium keeper who has been quite lucky over the years and just let my tank be whatever way it balanced itself to be and have kept a general variety of fish without any problems or turmoil. That is until I decided that I want to keep discus. In talking to my LFS about doing this it was recommended that I change some things within my tank before purchasing discus otherwise I would just be wasting my money and their lives. <Let's see> All things recommended have been accomplished over the past year (not without much appreciated help from you guys I might add) except one. The main and most troubling change is "buffering-in" a lower pH. I have done everything you have recommended; I changed to RO water to solve the liquid rock tap water problem; I lowered my KH to 3dK; I incorporated several pieces of driftwood; I began religiously changing out 20% of the water in the tank every week; etc, but guess what? pH is still 7.4-7.6. <This may not be an issue... Are the Discus you keep tank-bred and raised (i.e. not wild-caught?)... If so, this pH range is likely fine> I did try phosphate buffers which did a great job of keeping my pH where I want it between 6.5 and 6.8, but caused an algae bloom, and dropped the KH to zero, so no more phosphates for me thanks. I have tried several other things to bring down the pH as well, including allowing the detritus to build up in the gravel <Mmm, not recommended> which just brought about a blue-green algae problem and I have tried non phosphate acid buffer which only chips away at the KH before disappearing and allowing the pH to rise back up. <Yes> So this is where I am and I hope that you can help. I use RO water and add back the minerals using Kent's RO right. I add 1.5 tsp to 15 gal, which results in a TDS reading of 170ppm on an electronic probe, and an undetectable reading on a calcium/magnesium GH titration test kit ( I don't know why GH is so low with this product, nor do I even know if I should be concerned with it since the TDS reading is high enough). I add KH by adding bicarb to attain a KH reading of 4dK. Then I use this water for my changes. <Mmm, depending on the make-up (GH, KH) of your source water, I'd likely give up the Kent's product and just add/blend some of this in with the RO> I have heard much on alkalinity and carbonates to buffer against a drop in pH, but what about buffering against a rise in pH? <Is a/the same concept... a buffer "holds" or resists change in both directions... depending on the "trend" in captive systems (most all are decidedly reductive, as in reduction/oxidation... OILRIG, "oxidation is losing, reduction is gaining...." electrons... Acids are proton donors, electron acceptors... basic (not a pun) chemistry... Tanks tend to "go acidic" with time... resultant from feeding, decomposition processes, crowding...> What "stable" chemicals, and acidity buffering tests etc can be employed in the fight against a rising pH? <First, the discovery of alkaline/alkalinity sources... Likely substrate here... perhaps more pre-eminently, the checking of your test gear as well....> I already have my KH as low as anyone would recommend. Thank you SL <Again, really... I would NOT be concerned with the mid 7's pH you state... IS fine, esp. if the Symphysodon have been captive-produced... I would suggest another 20% change of water (twice per week) to lower metabolites... Much more of a likely issue than pH effects. Do please read this excellent piece by NealeM here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwhardness.htm and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

High Freshwater Alkalinity -- 10/01/07 I work at a LFS, and lately, we've been having a significant problem with our 900gallon freshwater system and super high alkalinity. We have done massive water changes with both tap and R/O water in attempts to lower it, but to no avail. We have even tried using club soda to bring it down! The pH is staying at a consistent 6.9-7.0. We have drained each of the 36 tanks, and nothing seems to be lowering the alkalinity. Please, if you have any suggestions as to what may be the problem, I'm all ears! The tap water has almost no alkalinity at all, so something, somewhere, in the system is keeping it high. Thanks in advance for any help you can give! -Erica <Hello Erica. Assuming there's nothing in an aquarium dissolving into the water, the water chemistry in a freshwater tank should be approximately similar to that of the tap water. Regular water changes (say, 50% weekly) should dilute the background acidification that happens as organic material (such as plant leaves and bogwood) decays. So, there's really only two things that can be happening here. Either there's something in the tank that's rapidly changing the water chemistry, or your test kit isn't working. I can't see what else could explain this. Obvious sources of alkalinity in freshwater tanks include the substrate (coral sand for example), limestone rockwork, calcareous filter media, and so on. Now, we're talking about alkalinity, but specifically what are the test results? Marine aquarists use a number of methods of measuring alkalinity, such as milliequivalents per litre, but in freshwater tanks the only measurement widely used is degrees of carbonate hardness (KH). Is that what you mean? Let me have the number and measuring scale, and we can discuss further. Finally, always bear in mind that rapidly changing water chemistry -- even from "bad" to "good" -- is potentially dangerous to your fish. Virtually all freshwater fish can adapt to slow changes, and will prosper under conditions well outside those they enjoy in the wild, provided they are given time to adapt. If all else fails, take the "nuclear option" -- strip the tank down, remove all the substrate, replace all the filter media, and re-cycle the aquarium. Assuming you do this properly, the new tank should share the same water chemistry as your local water supply. Cheers, Neale>

Can't win Alkaline/Acid battle freshwater... -- 09/29/07 We have lost 2 fish in the last week and believe it's high pH and/or high Alkalinity. <Unlikely. Most standard tropicals will adapt to fairly high pH levels, especially if adapted over time. Better still, you can easily pick species -- such as livebearers -- that thrive under such conditions.> Our store guy said our tank's pH "is as high as a saltwater tank (7.8)" It is 8.5 now. <That is somewhat high. But even 8.0 is well within the tolerances of things like Corydoras and domesticated angelfish.> So he's caused us some concern as we cannot get the alkaline or acidity measurements to go down. <You should really fixate on the pH. It's a red herring. Find out what the general hardness (dH) and carbonate hardness (KH) are, because these are the critical water chemistry values. Then do an ammonia test -- ammonia will raise pH dramatically. Ball park figures? For standard tropicals, anything up to 20 degrees dH and 10 degrees KH are fine. Above 25 degrees dH, 15 degrees KH you want to concentrate on species that like hardwater: livebearers, Central Americans, Rift Valley cichlids, brackish water fish, etc.> Both are very high on the test strips we use. (I thought this was impossible?) <Give me NUMBERS, not your opinion!> About our tank, it's a 10 gallon, freshwater. We have no plants, coral, nothing. <What's the water right out the tap? In a reasonably stocked aquarium where you perform water changes on a weekly basis taking out 50% of the water at a time, the water chemistry in the aquarium should be as close as Dammit to the water out the tap.> Has a filter/aeration system and fluorescent lighting. <OK, but if the filter is underpowered, you'll have ammonia too. That'll raise the pH very quickly.> Everything I found on WWM seemed to say 8 to 8.5 is normal. <Define "normal". As I say, a properly maintained aquarium should have water chemistry essentially identical to your local water supply.> What should we do? <First, sit back and take stock. Water doesn't suddenly change water chemistry for no reason. If you have hard, alkaline water out the tap, then nothing you can easily do will change that. Buy hardwater fishes, and they'll thrive, and you won't have to worry about anything. If the water is neutral and not too hard out the tap, then your very high pH is coming from somewhere. Ammonia is the common explanation -- either poor filtration, or from chloramine used to treat the water by your local water board. Chloramine breaks into ammonia and chlorine when treated with traditional dechlorinators, so check your dechlorinator removes chloramine AS WELL AS chlorine. Not all do.> Tank is my ten year-old son's and he is becoming discouraged enough to give up aquarium which I think has been good for bldg responsibility. <Teach your son that things go wrong whatever you're doing. The way over these hurdles is to study the problem, try out ideas, ask for help, and then move forward.> So I'm mostly confused at this point. Thanks for your great website by the way. Eric Jensen <Get back to me with water chemistry measurements -- dH, KH, and ammonia -- and we can perhaps solve this for you. Cheers, Neale>

Filters and pH questions 9/26/07 Our tap water here in Oregon is very very soft (dH 2-3), but they use sodium hydroxide to raise the pH to 7.7 so as not to rust pipes. <What a horrible set of water conditions... very soft, but slightly alkaline. Nothing much really likes these conditions.> It quickly drops to 7.2 or so in the tank. <Well that's lucky.> Is this OK for cardinal tetras, Apistogramma, Loricariids? Soft water Amazon fish seem to be doing well. <I'd be tempted to add a certain amount of a pH-down product to reduce the pH to exactly 7, while increasing its buffering capacity. On its own, very soft water tends to fluctuate in pH quite a lot. This is not good. Standard pH-down products (usually sold as bottles, and you add a bit to each bucket of water just like dechlorinator) stabilizes the pH at some value. In hard water they're a bit of a waste of time and money, but in very soft water such buffering solutions (as they're called) can be very helpful.> Also, I have a Rena Filstar filter. Has the standard 2 layers of foam, a bag of carbon (bio chem Zorb) and a layer of micro fleece pads. Was thinking of replacing either one of the layers of foam or the carbon with either some ceramic biomedia or keta peat nuggets. <Bin the carbon. Total waste of space. In very soft water, the filter bacteria tend to be less happy than in hard water (they like hard, alkaline water best of all, and stop working completely below pH 6). So concentrate on adding as much biological media as possible to get the best water quality. Choose whatever according to your budget and preferences. The main thing is that the filter should have not less than 4x the volume of the tank in turnover per hour. In other words, for a 100 litre tank, the filter must have a turnover of 400 litres per hour.> That's a lot of foam sponge, and maybe the carbon is not so necessary. The peat would lower that NaOH induced pH. <Don't use peat. Peat is wonderful stuff in aquaria if you know precisely and absolutely what you're doing. But peat can rapidly change the pH and its results are completely unpredictable. In very soft water with practically zero buffering capacity, you could easily drop the pH from 7.2 to 6.0 overnight if you added too much, and this would kill your fish. Instead, use the buffering solution mentioned above, following the instructions on the bottle, and performing pH tests every day or two at first until you get a sense of how pH varies in the tank. What you're after is 7.0 day in, day out.> What do you think? <Messing with pH is something a lot of aquarists get into trouble over. There's a very good argument for not thinking about pH at all, and focusing instead on general and carbonate hardness. Both of these have a much bigger impact on the fish. With your very soft water, the KH value is likely to be very low, and as a result water chemistry stability practically non-existent. So your job is to stabilise water chemistry. Adding buffering solutions to the water will do this. This becomes more important the more fish you add, because the loading of the tank is positively correlated to water chemistry stability as well. In other words, heavily stocked tanks experience a drop in pH more quickly than the same tank would if lightly stocked (a process called acidification). So, move slowly, research the water chemistry topics here at WWM, and measure pH regularly to check that acidification isn't getting serious. Cheers, Neale>

High ph, hard water-Oscar -- 09/14/07 Dearest Crew, I have extremely hard water and have 5 freshwater tanks. I don't completely trust dipsticks but I think this one is probably reasonably accurate. It says total hardness (GH) is 300 ppm and total alkalinity (KH) is barely under 300 ppm. We have well water with no chlorine or anything. I took it all with a grain of salt until I tried softening & lowering the ph with buckets of test water. I didn't want to put anything in the tanks until I knew what the end results of my bucket tests were. I've been reading extensively the past 4 wks on WWW about ph (something I never understood until I found your crew). The more I read the more concerned I became. I try so hard to feed the right food for each fish, give them plenty of room, keep ammonia, nitrites and nitrates all always '0' by quick 3-4% daily water changes. I want to take care of them right because they're my little charges and they only have me to do it. My 'newest' fish is my now 4" red Oscar. I've him about 2 months. Lord, I love that wiggly little beggar fish. I care very much for my Severum, Goldfish & Blood Parrots but I'm completely enthralled with this little Oscar. I was lulled all these years by the idea that "stable PH is better than unstable proper PH" but now I'm wondering if I shouldn't have been so complacent. After finally understanding PH & alkalinity I'm worried about my Oscar because I adore him so and my Severum who needs a considerably lower ph. The ph of my 4 day old aerated water is 8 to 8.2, the ph in the tanks runs about the same according to my Aquarium Pharmaceuticals liquid test tube kit. I use pea gravel and inert smooth aquarium gravel in the tanks I'm concerned about, old driftwood, no limestone or dissolving rocks of any kind. I used a 10 gal tub of the aged hard water and put a big handful of peat moss tied in nylon with a bubbler. It's been 2 days now and still at 8.2. I left the peat moss in there and added the recommended amount of "Beckett PH Lower" to it. It says it has 15% citrus acid. The pH immediately dropped to 7 but after just 8 hrs it had already risen back up to 8. That's the reason I tend to believe the test even though it was a dipstick test. This water is well buffered, I just wish it was buffered at 6-7 ph. It's not about to give up and let go of the high ph for any length of time. I can't subject fish to these swings, obviously. Do you think an 8 to 8.2 ph is far too high for my Oscar? (I know it is for the Severum). Your Oscar facts said "Freshwater: pH range: 6.0 - 8.0; dH range: 5.0 - 19.0 was acceptable for Oscars. Yet all the FAQ's always say they need 6-7 ph and medium water. If all other factors in his care are optimal, am I worrying too much or worrying for good reason? HITH disease scares me badly and I want to avoid it at all costs. I don't want to shorten their lives in any way. I read several of (mainly) Chuck's references to mixing 80% distilled water with 20% tap water along with leaving peat moss in the tank. That sounds like something I could easily do with no trouble at all if distilled is safe to use. If it were only my 45 gal Severum tank I could also just as easily get water from my brother's house, no big deal. But my Oscar now has a 90 gal tank and I've decided on a 125 gal long tank the 1st of the year. That's a lot of water to be dragging home for water changes. If you think the situation is dire enough I'll do research on an RO unit if I need to. I also worry that if something happens to me or I end up in the hospital and my husband had to do water changes he'd never be able to understand complicated water changes. He could easily do them by aging our plain tap water though (with me shouting orders from my hospital bed-ha!) Could you please let me know if my ph is unacceptable for my Oscar? If it is, I'll do whatever I can to change it the right way. If it's not that big of a concern I can quit worrying so much about it. It seems far too many people start mixing, changing & switching with the "If it ain't broke, fix it till it is!" mindset and I don't want to do that. I apologize for the length of this email. What you're doing for the aquarium hobby is above and beyond the call of duty. I'm so thankful for your website. Sincerely, Mitzi <Mitzi, the first thing to understand is pH is not important. Fish don't feel pH. What they react to is something called total dissolved solids, or TDS. It just so happens that high TDS tends to go along with alkaline pH and low TDS with acid pH. But because pH is "easy" to understand, and TDS is "difficult" to understand, aquarists often focus on pH instead of TDS. The analogy is IQ. People often think a high IQ means someone is smarter than someone with a lower IQ, but the reality is that all IQ measures is someone's ability to succeed at IQ tests. There are lots of very skilled, capable people like surgeons and artists and engineers who don't have particularly high IQ levels, and lots of people with high IQs that do incredibly dumb things and don't have particularly impressive careers. If you want to change the water chemistry in an aquarium, what you need to focus on is the TDS, not the pH. Adding magic potions that raise and lower pH is really wasting time and money. Yes, you can add pH-down products to an aquarium where the water has a high TDS level. And the pH may well become acidic for a while. But what you're actually doing is changing one set of mineral salts to another (through an acid-base reaction). You aren't removing those mineral salts, so you aren't softening the water in any meaningful way. If it really was that simple, people wouldn't be spending $100s on reverse-osmosis water softeners! If you genuinely want to put a soft water fish into a soft water aquarium, you have two options: use RO water or use rainwater. I do the latter, because its cheap and easy, but RO has the advantages of convenience and perhaps greater safety if you live in potentially polluted areas. Like Chuck suggests, I mix rainwater with hard tap water to get the water chemistry I want. But adding pH-down chemicals to the water IS NOT an option, so don't bother. Now, there is some misunderstanding about the water requirements for Astronotus ocellatus. Wild fish are found in a variety of habitats with both soft and moderately hard water. They have also become established outside their natural range (e.g., Florida) where they are living perfectly well in hard, alkaline water. According to Fishbase, which is based on wild, not aquarium, fish, Astronotus ocellatus has a hardness range of 5-19 degrees dH, which places your hard water well within its tolerances. I can also mention at this point that Oscars are routinely kept and bred in very hard, very alkaline water here in Southern England. Wild Astronotus ocellatus may be a little more fussy, but the aquarium strains aren't at all fussed. Looking at your other fish: Severums are found in a range of waters including brackish water, so they don't care. Blood parrots are some kind of hybrid of Central American cichlids, so they actually need hard/alkaline water and tend to be sickly went kept otherwise. Goldfish prefer hard/alkaline water as well. As I've said many, MANY times most fish will adapt fine to a range of water chemistry values -- what matters is stability. In fact, very few soft water fish fail to adapt to hard water; the problems are usually adapting hard water fish (like livebearers and Mbuna) to soft water conditions -- they usually get plagued with fungus or simply die. Changing water chemistry is something to do ONLY if you want to breed a particular species, AND even then ONLY once you are satisfied you understand what TDS, KH and GH are all about and how they interact with the conditions in the tank. If you don't understand them, then don't try and change them. For routine maintenance in display aquaria, stick with the water you have and concentrate on water QUALITY. So, in short, put the bottle of pH-down potion away, and just enjoy your fish. Cheers, Neale>
Re: High ph, hard water-Oscar -- 09/14/07 Neale (and WWM), Thank you thank you for the super fast informative answer! You've really put my mind at ease with such a complete answer. I've no doubt your response will help many people. What a relief, truly. They've all done so well, grown so fast and been consistently active for several years, it was hard to wrap my mind around the possibility that the hard/alkaline water was hurting them. But that's subjective because my own fish are all I have to compare to on a day to day basis. I feel very much relieved after your answer. Messing with their pH is something I certainly didn't want to have to do. I've got dogs, cats, pet sheep, a pet rat, a dove and my other fish but this little $6 Oscar from PetSmart has given me more laughs and relaxation than anything else money could buy. Such intelligence and personality they have! I think doctors should prescribe an Oscar instead of Prozac and they'd have better results :-) Thank you again for your words. Mitzi <Mitzi, glad to be of help. Yes, people do get worked into a lather over water chemistry, but the bottom line is that with freshwater fish at least it is relatively unimportant. Oscars are wonderful fish, and seem truly to have a genuine affection for human companions. There are many stories about people teaching them tricks and games. And yes, the therapeutic value of fish tanks is quite well known. They seem to slow people's heart rates and generally reduce stress. And simply working with animals and plants is just plain good for the soul. So enjoy your animals, and good luck. Neale>

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