FK member Peediepixie gives us a basic overview of the four basic water tests; ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH and why it's important to test your own water.
To keep your fish happy and healthy, you need to keep the water they live in clean and free from harmful chemicals. There are lots of things we can test our tank water for including phosphate and copper etc but for the purpose of this article I will concentrate on the four main water tests we do which are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH.
It is essential to get your own water testing kit as we have seen too many times people have their water tested by a 'reputable' or 'reliable' fish shop and told their water is 'fine' when in fact the water is not fine at all. The only way to know for sure what your exact water test results are is to test them yourself. It only takes a few minutes and is easy to do!
The main types of test kit available are dip strips and liquid test kits. The liquid kits are easy to do and are more accurate than the dip strips.
With most liquid test kits, you take a small sample of your tank water in a test tube and add some drops of the liquid test to the water. You then wait for the colour to develop and compare it to a colour chart to get your water reading.
When carrying out these tests its important to carry out the instructions exactly. You must shake the tube where instructed for the correct length of time. It is also a good idea to allow five minutes or so for the colour to develop in the test tube. When checking the colour of the test against the colour chart, it can be difficult to distinguish the colour in the tube with the colours on the chart. Try taking your tube and chart into a room full of natural light and the colours will be clearer.
There should be 0 parts per million (ppm) of ammonia in your tank. Even a trace amount of ammonia is harmful to fish. Immediate action should be taken. Do a 50% water change straight away to reduce the ammonia levels and continue with daily smaller water changes until the ammonia test reads 0ppm.
Again there should be 0ppm of nitrIte in your tank. If you find a reading of higher than 0ppm in your water then do an immediate 50% water change and continue with smaller daily changes until the water settles and you get 0ppm in your tests.
You should have a reading of 40ppm or less for nitrAte if your tank has cycled properly. We keep nitrate levels down by doing weekly water changes of around 20%-30% If you have a reading of higher than 40ppm there are a few things you can do. Test your tap water nitrate to see if the problem lies there. If your water has a high nitrate reading you can mix tap water with reverse osmosis (RO) water to bring the nitrate down. Live plants will help use up any nitrate in the tank. You can also get nitrate absorbing sponges which you can put in your filter, some people have reported that these are useful.
Generally fish need varying pH's depending on the species, of between 6.5 and 8.5. This may vary slightly as some fish prefer acidic water and some prefer alkaline water. Ideally, you should check the pH of your tank water and try to find fish which are compatible with your pH. There are chemicals available to change pH. However, its best not to vary the pH of your tank as this can shock or even kill your fish. Its best to research the fish you want before you buy to make sure they will be ok in your tank's water.
These tests should be carried out on a weekly basis to make sure your tank is a healthy environment for your fish and water changes carried out accordingly.