Water Conditioners Do More than Keep Tanks Clear
|Reef-keeping customers will likely need additives for their corals as well as their fish.
Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.
Providing both product and education benefits retailers and customers alike.
By David Lass
Gone are the days when all hobbyists had to do to make tap water safe for aquarium fish was to let it sit overnight so the chlorine could dissipate. Unfortunately, the water that may be safe for people could be very dangerous for their fish, and most storeowners always advise customers to condition tap water for their fish.
“Most hobbyists understand removal of chlorine and chloramines,” said Gary Knabe, who owns, along with his sister Karen Lukacse, Elmer’s Aquarium and Pet in Monroeville, Pa. “We’ve always used NovAqua, and Tetra’s AquaSafe, and we stress the importance of using a biological starter for the Nitrogen Cycle, such as Tetra’s SafeStart.”
Many retailers report customers who don’t buy water conditioners, or who think that clear water means all is well, frustrate them. Dave Schaeffer from Technical Services at Mars Fishcare pointed out that, “I would like to make sure that stores stress (this) with hobbyists and that clear water is not the only indicator of healthy/safe water. Most fish wastes (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, etc) are colorless in water.”
In response to customers who can’t understand how their clear tank can have any problems, Tyler Dawson, owner with his wife Madeleine of The Pet Advantage in South Burlington, Va., tells his customers, “Vodka is crystal clear as well, but you know fish won’t live in that—right?”
It is up to the retail stores, supported by information from manufacturers, to make sure hobbyists understand why a retailer is telling them to buy water conditioners for their tap water.
“Our main staple is Seachem’s Prime,” said Jeff Voet, owner of Tropical Fish World in Raleigh, N.C. “It is the easiest to sell to customers and for them to use.”
What are the reasons customers should use (and retailers should stock) water conditioners and additives?
“Even in these trying economic times try to focus on buying on value. Look for quality products designed for your application and you see better results and save money in the long term. “
—Tim Hovanec, president of Dr. Tim’s Aquatic, Moorpark, Calif.
“It is most important to have a robust balance of bacteria, including preserved cells in the vegetative state; in that way you are seeding the aquarium with the broadest spectrum of possible bacteria.”
—Mark Krupka, VP/technical director of Ecological Laboratories/Microbe-Lift, Lynbrook, N.Y.
“We here at Tetra have spent a lot of time researching and developing beneficial biopolymers, vitamins and minerals. The end result is healthy fish with good coloration and higher activity levels.”
—Tim Plafcan, senior product manager United Pet Group, Cincinnati.
Several manufacturers offer various products for treating tap water and getting the good bacteria going, and with so many products the choice of what to carry can be difficult.
“Hagen’s Cycle is our best seller,” said Jeff King, owner of Pets Plus in Taylor Mill, Ky. “We also like Tetra’s complete line of water conditioners/tank starters. There is a limit to how many different lines a store can carry, and we have found it best to have only a few manufacturers, but to carry each complete product line.”
Retailers seem to have one product line that is their favorite.
“Most of our customers are using municipal water that is treated with chloramines and/or chlorine,” Dawson said. “We generally recommend a complete water conditioner that actually removes these additives like SeaChem’s Prime. We steer away from those conditioners that ‘neutralize’ chloramines, as that results in free ammonia in the tank.”
Other manufacturers concur that not enough hobbyists condition their tap water before using it for their aquarium.
“Multiple sources of industry data show about 50 percent of consumers do not use water care,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager for United Pet Group, headquartered in Cincinnati. “This is a huge concern and all industry levels (manufacturing, distribution and retail) need to work together to help educate hobbyists about the benefits of the proper water care regimen.”
Chlorine and Chloramines are Very Different
In addition to other chemicals found in treated tap water, the biggest problem today is that chloramines are being used as a disinfectant, rather than just chlorine. Just removing the chlorine, and breaking the chemical bond of chloramines and removing that chlorine still leaves the aquarium water with a big problem for the fish—ammonia.
“Chlorine and chloramines removers also must remove the ammonia from the chloramines,” said Mark Krupka, vice president/technical director of Ecological Laboratories/Microbe-Lift in Lynbrook, N.Y. “You also have to be careful that you don’t remove all of the ammonia; you need to leave about 0.6 ppm to feed the beneficial bacteria and to start the nitrogen cycle.”
Different water conditioners are designed for, and do, different things.
Water Clarifiers and Sludge Digesters
Cloudy tanks are often a problem, and just treating the water can solve the problem.
“For water clarifiers, we recommend Acurel-F,” Dawson said. “If water is ‘green cloudy,’ then we recommend using Acurel and an algaecide like Ecological Labs’ Algaway 5.4 together.”
Suggesting that customers use a water clarifier/substrate cleaner/sludge digester can also be the answer.
“The challenge is to keep aquarium water clear given that most hobbyists do not do water changes,” Krupka said. “Good products will provide bacteria to digest organic solids, and clump them together so they are easily removed by the aquarium filter.”
|Retailers can offer numerous brands and different types of additives, from water clarifiers to beneficial bacteria.
Photos by Ben Weiner/BowTie Inc.
It is also a good idea to address any maintenance problems in the tank.
“We try to look at whatever the source of the problem is,” said Jeff Nethers, owner of Winchester Aquarium in Winchester, Va. “We have had the best results with Hagen Nutrafin Waste Control Biological Aquarium Cleaner. Regular use of Waste Control makes for much less maintenance, especially for messy tanks with goldfish or turtles.”
Whenever using any flocculants or sludge digesters, most stores suggest also adding whatever starter bacteria they recommend for a new tank, as there can be excess ammonia and nitrite, and the bacteria that process these can always use a jump-start.
Sludge processing and digesting bacteria are a very important aspect of tank maintenance, and several manufacturers are offering many different products.
“Our product is a combination of five different strains of bacteria that promote a healthy environment by digesting fish wastes, excess food, decaying plant material and more that can accumulate between water changes,” said Dave Schaeffer, technical services for Mars Fishcare, based in Chalfont, Pa.
Another problem can be high nitrates, which can be addressed by water changes and live plants.
“We have found Tetra’s EasyBalance to work very well for controlling nitrates,” Knabe said. “We also train our sales staff to physically hold the product in their hand when they recommend it to a customer, and to hand it to them.”
In addition to treating the existing tank water with bacterial additives to aid sludge digestion and flocculation, industry experts recommend hobbyists keep as large an aquarium as possible.
“It’s lower maintenance to keep one cow on 20 acres than to keep 20 cows on one acre,” said Terry Williams, vice president of marketing for Kordon in Hayward, Calif. “The same thing applies to fish tanks. Don’t overpopulate the tank. you’ll have the same results as an overcrowded college dorm room—lots of mess, lots of uneaten food, backbiting competition, a high drop-out rate, and the place will stink.”
Good advice to end on.<HOME>
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