Posted: July 19, 2013, 10:30 a.m. EDT
When it comes to tank chemistry, retailers find a wide range of products work well to condition the water and maintain the nitrogen cycle.
By David A. Lass
Water chemistry is vital for successful fishkeeping, and many retailers feature a variety of products formulated to keep water in the proper ranges.
"Most fish will adapt to a wide range of water conditions,” said Will Champlin, whose family owns Critter Hut stores in Narragansett and North Kingstown, R.I. He added that stability of water conditions is incredibly important.
Maintain the nitrogen cycle leads to crystal clear waters. Courtesy of Dobermaraner/Shutterstock
Many products are sold under the rubric of water conditioners, and they all basically remove chlorine and chloramines from public tap water, with some also treating heavy metals.
"All of the good ones are pretty much the same,” said Zac Bowers, general manager and head of fish and reptiles at Winchester Aquarium and Pet Center in Winchester, Va. "I like Aqueon’s Water Conditioner because it has a higher concentration than most others.”
Tim Plafcan, senior product manager at United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va., reported that Tetra Aquasafe is its best seller for conditioning and dechlorination.
"It is critical for a good conditioner to also remove harmful heavy metals like copper,” Plafcan said.
Other stores reported that price point is an important consideration when stocking water conditioners.
What are the most important aspects of water chemistry?
"Fresh or saltwater should not contain ammonia or nitrite; pH in both is very important. For many freshwater fish, rapid changes can be lethal; over the long term, most of them adapt when gradually acclimated, although the wrong pH range is usually a detriment to successful reproduction.”—Tom Sarac, Rolf C. Hagen Inc., Montreal, Quebec, Canada
"[Incorrect] pH is the No. 1 killer of fish—way more than ammonia or nitrite. It can wipe out a complete tank very quickly.”—Mickey Marabello, The Fish Bowl, West Warwick, R.I.
"Most important is the presence of, and system for removing, toxic ammonia and nitrite, which are harmful in small amounts and lethal if exposure is prolonged.”—Andy Ternay, Fritz Specialty Division, Fritz Industries, Dallas
"pH is probably the most critical factor, and stability takes precedence over absolute values.”—Chris Brightwell, Brightwell Aquatics, Catawissa, Pa.
"The most important aspect is the nitrogen cycle. Fish have a tolerance to variables in pH or hardness, but issues in the nitrogen cycle can be fatal.”—Patrick Artl, TLC Products, Westlake, Ohio
"Stability of pH is the most important aspect—and the less you do to try and adjust it the better.”—Dan Bowers, Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory, Millis, Mass.
"Removing harmful chemical waste products, ammonia and nitrite, with an established bio-filter [is most important]. Nitrite takes longer to break down and is more toxic by suffocating fish.”—Tim Plafcan, United Pet Group, Blacksburg, Va.
"Know the composition of the water you are going to be using. I don’t like to adjust water parameters if I don’t have to.”—Zac Bowers, Winchester Aquarium & Pet Center, Winchester, Va.
"Stability is what it comes down to—it is amazing what will to survive there is.”—Stephan Robson, Krystal Clear Aquatics, Auburn, Mass.
"We like the Seachem line of products, as they have lower- and higher-tier pricing,” Champlin said.
"Prime is the basic one we sell, and Aquavitro is the higher-priced one.”
In addition to removing chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals, Prime detoxifies nitrite and nitrate, "helping keep fish safe while the tank is cycling or where there is a possible systems overload,” said Trevor MacLean, director of sales and support for Madison, Ga.-based Seachem Laboratories.
The Nitrogen Cycle
There are a wide variety of methods and products designed to start the all-important nitrogen cycle in an aquarium, and each store has its preference.
"Quick Start from Mars Fishcare is what we use and sell,” said Mickey Marabello of The Fish Bowl in West Warwick, R.I. "You can add all the fish at the start, and the fish are fine. It also has a two-year shelf life.”
At Winchester Aquarium & Pet, a popular starter product is Special Blend from MicrobeLift.
"We find that routine dosing of Special Blend will extend the length of time between water changes,” Bowers reported.
Another product retailers reported as popular is Start Smart from TLC.
"We’ve had great results with Start Smart in both freshwater and salt tanks,” Champlin said.
For some self-proclaimed traditionalists, "We just squeeze out a filter and give the customer the water,” said Dan Bowers of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass. "It works, and it gives us a chance to explain the nitrogen cycle to newbies. Parents love us giving their kids a little biology lesson.”
Using a live bacteria—or water or sand from an existing tank—to start the nitrogen cycle saves time, and fish.
While old pros might be able to determine whether all is right with their fish just by visual appraisal, the best way to ensure balanced water chemistry is to actually test it.
"Test at least on a weekly basis, and attack any problems, like pH or ammonia, on a very proactive basis,” said Chris Brightwell of Brightwell Aquatics in Catawissa, Pa. "Stores usually test their customers’ water for free and encourage them to buy their own test kits.”
"We do free water testing, especially if they are having a problem. We never know if their test kits at home are accurate,” Bowers said.
Other stores reported a different approach.
"We sell test kits, not strips, and we test water for free,” Marabello said. "Beginners don’t know what the numbers mean, and we’d rather have them come in and talk with us than get the wrong answers on the Internet.”
While many stores encourage what Champlin of Critter Huts calls "face time with us at the store to keep things going right,” others prefer that customers buy test kits for their home use.
"We do free tests for ‘the big four’—pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrates,” said Stephan Robson, Aquatic Technician at Krystal Clear Aquatics in Auburn, Mass. "But I like it when we can get our customers to take care of things themselves—it means they are paying more attention to their fish.” <HOME>
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