First water tests and ammonia dosing

Last night, while I was filling the aquarium with water, I also set aside a glass of the same, not dechlorinated, tap water. I did this because tap water readings are not reliable if tested as soon as the water is drawn from the tap. On the other hand, tap water parameters can be very useful as ammonia and nitrite is sometimes present in poor water supplies, it is also useful to know the pH and hardness, to better understand the buffering capabilities of the water. The results were as follows:

  • KH: 9 ° (161.1 ppm)
  • GH: 18 ° (322.2 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 0 ppm
  • pH: 8.0

From those results, I can see that my tap water is quite hard but generally quite good quality. There are two pH tests included in the API kit: the “mid range” test gives a reading only up to 7.6 and the result was 7.6, while the high range test starts at 7.4 and the result was 8.0. From this, I can see that the value is higher than the mid range test will show, so I disregard that and use 8.0 as the correct result.

Next, I tested the aquarium water. I expected this to be almost identical, but with slightly higher ammonia. Test results were as follows:

  • KH: 9° (161.1 ppm)
  • GH: 18° (322.2 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0.25 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 0 ppm
  • pH: 8.2

My guess was correct: because my tap water contains only chloramine (NH2Cl), no chlorine, the dechlorinator will leave ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+) behind, after rendering the chlorine harmless. Ammonia is toxic to fish, so if doing large water changes, it is important to use a dechlorinator which will “deal” with it, leaving predominantly the less harmful ammonium. The pH reading for the aquarium water was higher than tap water, but I will still consider it to be no different because the kits are not particularly reliable.

Temperature is at a steady and favourable 28.5 °C, so I dosed the aquarium with 2 ml of 9.5% ammonia at 8:30, which has given me a 4 ppm reading.

Test kits

Test kits are one of the most valuable pieces of equipment for anyone new to fishkeeping or setting up a new aquarium from scratch. The most important test kits are for ammonia and nitrite because both of those are toxic to fish. The next two in line are pH and nitrate: pH can affect fish and toxicity of ammonia, while nitrate can also be harmful in higher quantities to some species. GH and KH are also nice to know as they can indicate potential problems for fish breeding, development and growth. KH is also an indicator of how stable the pH is likely to remain in the aquarium as KH acts as a buffer. There are a few other things which can be tested for, but most of those are not of much interest in freshwater aquaria.

Test strips are not particularly accurate, so most people will recommend the use of “liquid” test kits (which includes reagents in liquid and solid form, which are added to a sample of aquarium water. The other thing to watch out for is that some test kits will only work in marine water or only in freshwater.

Test kits

Although I have heard of some API tests being unreliable or difficult to read, I decided to try them anyway, mainly because of the price, but also to see how well they work for me. According to API (also known as Mars Fishcare Inc.), the freshwater master kit lasts for approximately 250 pH tests, 160 high range pH tests, 130 ammonia tests, 180 nitrite tests and 90 nitrate tests. I also acquired a GH and KH kit, but do not have an estimated number of tests for these ones.

I have written a follow-up to this post in August 2012.