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Aquatic Marketplace: Testing the Waters

Posted: June 30, 2014, 11:55 a.m. EDT

Best-practice advice and products for testing, achieving and maintain proper tank chemistry.

By David A. Lass

Consistency of water condition is more important than the measurement of the parameters, according to Sean Fitzgerald, owner of The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass.

"It is primarily pH, alkalinity and the nitrogen cycle; regular partial water changes will usually keep them well within proper ranges,” he said.

Testing and Maintaining pH
pH is the acid/alkaline measure for tank water, and usually it is the easiest parameter for a hobbyist to understand.

"One aspect of pH that is not well understood by either hobbyists or retailers is that the pH scale is logarithmic,” said Andy Ternay, technical sales manager for Fritz Specialty Division of Fritz Industries in Dallas.

"That means that a pH of 8 is 10 times more basic than 7, but a pH of 9 would be 100 times more basic than 7. What appears to be a mere two-point shift in pH is really massive and very stressful for fish to endure.”

Adjusting pH is less important than understanding what is causing it to fluctuate and what can be done about it.

"Manipulating pH is a slippery slope,” said Ian Schakowsky, co-owner of Old Town Aquarium in Chicago. 

Rather than adding chemicals to raise or lower pH, most stores recommended using products that buffer pH to around the neutral range.

"Neutral Regulator is our best-selling freshwater pH buffer,” said Trevor MacLean, national director of sales and support for Seachem Laboratories in Madison, Ga. "It does an excellent job of adjusting the pH up or down to maintain a pH of 7.0.”

Other manufacturers offer similar products.

"We have some general buffers and some sold specifically for saltwater and cichlid tanks,” said Scott Berke, sales manager for Ecological Laboratories Inc. in Malverne, N.Y. "The most popular is still the 7.0 pH Buffer/Stabilizer.”

The term "alkalinity” in reference to the higher (> 7.0) range of pH as "alkaline,” when the better term is "basic,” also can cause confusion.

"pH is not nearly as important as alkalinity,” said Jess Maurer, one of the fish room managers for Aquarium Adventure in Columbus, Ohio. "Alkalinity tells you when you need to do a water change. Although every situation is different, in general we use Kent buffers and pH Stable to keep alkalinity stable. ”

"KH Bio-Active Booster is our best product for maintaining KH, and for GH we have several mineral supplements for freshwater and cichlid tanks,” said Berke.

"For a freshwater system, our best-seller to boost alkalinity is Alkaline Buffer, a nonphosphate based buffer that will yield a 1 meq/L> (2.8dKh) rise in alkalinity per recommended dose,” said Seachem’s MacLean.

Water Test Kits
Water testing almost always brings up the question of test strips vs. reagent test kits.

"We use both Tetra test strips and API reagent kits,” said Aquarium Adventure’s Maurer. "Test strips are OK for initial testing, but reagent kits are more accurate. When a tank is cycling, we always use the reagent test for ammonia.”

Other interviewed sources also are fans of API, a division of Mars Fishcare, in Chalfont, Pa.

"We use and sell API test kits,” said The Fish Nook’s Fitzgerald. "When a customer is cycling their tank we want them to bring in their water so we can test for ammonia and nitrite. We want them to buy API test kits for pH and nitrate, which is what we want them to test for on their own.”

"API reagent kits are our preference,” said Greg Driscoll, owner of Underwater World in Taunton, Mass. "They are very accurate and the cost per test is minimal.”

"We do both—the strip tests we use for quick testing in the store,” said Schakowsky. "But we prefer the reagent kits. We also started looking at the electronic testers available and found that their use is more by saltwater reef geeks who love the bells, whistles and cost of those pieces of equipment.”

"I have never been a fan of complete test kits,” said Lou Dell, owner of American Marine Inc. in Ridgefield, Conn., a manufacturer of electronic aquarium water testers/controllers. "Much like good stereo equipment, the best water quality electronics are individual meters with a singular purpose.”

The industry offers many excellent test strips, kits and meters available to hobbyists to test the water parameters of an aquarium. There also are all kinds of additives, buffers, etc., to adjust/maintain primarily pH and alkalinity.

"The more a hobbyist relies on testing the water the fish are living in, especially using electronic stuff to test with, the more there is a chance of not noticing something wrong with the fish,” said Schakowsky. "We all keep fish to watch them—do that, and they will be the best indicators of anything going wrong.”


What are the most important aspects of freshwater tank chemistry?

"The most important basic aspects of freshwater tank chemistry are pH, ammonia and nitrite. The best way to measure pH is by using a reliable pH test kit or a properly calibrated electronic pH meter.”—Francis Yupangco, aquatic development manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. 

"After a tank cycles, pH and nitrates are the most important factors, and regular partial water changes are more important than measuring the values.”—Greg Driscoll, owner of Underwater World in Taunton, Mass.

"The most important aspect of maintaining tank chemistry and fish health is water quality. Special Blend helps maintain excellent water quality by removing organic waste, excess proteins and nitrate, while helping to drive proper nitrification.”—Scott Berke, sales manager for Ecological Laboratories Inc. in Malverne, N.Y.

"The two most important parameters are pH and hardness. They are best measured by the Pinopint pH Monitor and the Pinpoint Conductivity Monitor. The process of evaporation in a freshwater system significantly increases freshwater hardness over time and can put water quality in an unacceptable range.”—Lou Dell, owner of American Marine Inc. in Ridgefield, Conn.

"Dealing with organic waste is central to maintaining a healthy aquarium. This can be accomplished by a combination of good biological filtration, strong chemical filtration and regular water changes.”—Trevor MacLean, national director of sales and support for Seachem Laboratories in Madison, Ga.

"The first thing we talk about is explaining the nitrogen cycle, and we suggest new hobbyists start with one-fourth of the total fish and fill the tank over a three- to six-week period. We try to keep the ammonia from getting too high and the pH from getting too low.”—Ian Schakowsky, co-owner of Old Town Aquarium in Chicago




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