Testing Water Quality in an Aquarium
I want to talk a little about the importance of owning the various water testing kits that we use to test the quality of our aquarium water. Our website attracts a lot of newcomers to the hobby of keeping Oscar fish, many newbies to the world of the Oscar fish have absolutely no idea just how important it is to keep your Oscars in good quality aquarium water.
Keeping tropical fish healthy in an enclosed environment involves not only regular tank maintenance, but also some knowledge of how to test your water and what to look for when you have the results of those tests in front of you. You have got to remember that just because the water looks nice and clear, that doesn't necessarily mean that the water is in good condition, for all you know your aquarium water may contain some extremely dangerous toxins that are lethal to fish. So before you put water in your tank, you must purchase some good quality water testing kits that will test ammonia, nitrite, nitrates and pH, these are the four elements that you must test for on a regular basis, even after your aquarium is fully established. It doesn't matter whether your aquarium has been set up for one month, or 10 years, you will always need to have some water test kits at hand.
There are various tests that should be carried out on a regular basis. These are the ones that I am going to talk about. I will however mention two water tests that you may see. They are GH, and KH. GH (General hardness) is a measure of calcium and magnesium ions that is dissolved in water. You measure General hardness with the GH test kit. KH, also known as carbonate hardness refers to the concentration of bicarbonate and carbonate that is dissolved in water. You measure carbonate hardness with the KH test kit.
Okay, now we will talk about the four test kits that you should always have at the ready. They ammonia, nitrite, nitrates and pH. Now we will talk briefly at how each one
Ammonia is introduced into the water from fish waste, through the fishes gills and contained in its urine. Ammonia is also produced when uneaten food and organic matter breaks down. High levels of ammonia are lethal and can lead to fatalities. Even trace elements can stress fish out. Exposing fish to ammonia can damage a fishes immune system which increases the chances of disease. It can also damage their protective slime quoting and cause serious problems with their gills. Problems can occur in an established aquarium if you don't take care. If you introduce too many fish, feed too much food, you could find that ammonia is present. If proper care is taken, you should not have a problem with ammonia Ammonia levels should always be zero.
Nitrite is a byproduct of ammonia and is slightly less toxic. However, it is still toxic and can be very harmful to fish. Just like ammonia, if you introduce too many fish or over feed, you could start getting nitrite readings. Once again, level should not exceed zero
Nitrate is the byproduct of ammonia and nitrite and is nowhere near as toxic as ammonia or nitrite. Very high levels of nitrate can stress fish and make them more susceptible to disease. It should also be kept very low if you are breeding. Nitrate can only be removed/lowered by doing water changes rather than being removed by nitrifying bacteria. Nitrate levels should be kept at 40 ppm or below. If you keep your fish in a suitable environment, it is extremely easy to keep the nitrate levels below 20 ppm by doing regular water changes. If you keep your Oscar in a tank that is too small, you may find that nitrate levels rise very quickly.
It is important to know what the pH of your water is. Basically the pH value indicates whether the water is acidic, alkaline or neutral. Without going into detail, a pH level of 7.0 is classed as neutral. If the pH level falls below 7.0, it is classed as acid, if it rises above 7.0, it is classed as alkaline.
Water test kits should be bought with the aquarium, before you add any fish. To set up an aquarium and biological filter properly, you need to test the water on a regular basis. Trying to set up a fish tank without knowing what is going on with the water could very well put your fish at risk so please remember to ask for a water test kit when you are buying your aquarium.
Nearly every aquatic company manufacture their own water test kits. Since keeping Oscars, I have used three companies. They are, Hagan, Tetra and Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. They all work very well but If you were to ask me which I preferred, then it would have to be Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. The main reason why I prefer the test kits manufactured by this company is the longest you have to wait for the results is five minutes, rather than 20 minutes for some of the others. They don't come cheap but you get a lot for your money
Some people prefer to take their water to the local aquatic centre for testing. Many shops will do it for free, or maybe charge you a very small fee. Whereas there is nothing wrong with doing it this way, I prefer to do the testing myself. This means that you can test the water at any time. If you have a problem during the holiday period when the shops are not open, you could put your fishes health at risk whilst waiting for the aquatic centre to open up again. Testing water really is extremely easy, you don't have to be a scientist to do it. It's just a case of adding a few drops of a special chemical to a small amount of tank water and then waiting a few minutes for the results.
Finally don't think that once you aquarium is established and cycled you do not need to test the water anymore. Keeping an eye on your water conditions is very important. Your nitrates will give you a good indication of if you are feeding too much, or if you are overstocked. It is always wise to test your ammonia alongside the pH, you won't get a good invitation of water quality by just testing the ammonia, you need to know your pH as well.
How to Test Your Water
There are many test kits on the market, I'm not going to list all of them. I use a company called Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. They make some excellent products for the aquatic world. I purchased the complete water testing kit. This included ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH. What I'm going to do is tell you how you test the water. I'm going to use ammonia as an example, I won't go through all the tests, once you know how to do ammonia, you will know how to do the rest of them.
An ammonia testing kit will include the solution that you add to the tank water (this could be two, or three bottles depending on the company use), a glass or plastic vile that you mix everything in, a colour card and instructions.
1. Take your vile and swill it out in existing tank water, including the lid.
2. Put the correct amount of tank water in the vile. There is normally a line that indicates how much water to put in the vile.
With Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, the ammonia testing consists of two bottles. They are both indicated as #1 & #2, do not get it back to front.
3. Take bottle one and give it a quick shake and then add eight drops to your vile. Put the lid on and give it a quick shake. Do not plug the end of the vile with your thumb. Remember that we excrete ammonia through our skin, this could mess the test up completely.
4. Now take bottle two, quick shake and add another eight drops and then shake the vile. Now all you do is wait for five minutes and then compare the colour of the water to a colour card that you get with the kit. Zero ammonia will normally be bright yellow. The more ammonia that is present, the greener it gets.
How to Carry out a Nitrate Test
It's a straightforward as that. There is no need to be frightened when it comes to testing tank water.