How (and How Often) to Test Aquarium Water for Healthy Fish and Plants
Regular water testing is vital for keeping tabs on the health of your aquarium fish and plants, but most beginners in the fishkeeping hobby are not aware of the importance of this practice. If an aquarium looks dirty, it may be necessary to clean it and change the water. Aquarium water can contain invisible waste chemicals, such as fish poop, and other compounds that could be harmful at dangerous levels. Test kits are the only way to accurately measure if your water is clean and safe enough for fish and plants to live in.
How to Test Water in a Fish Tank
For fishkeepers, the most commonly available water tests are (1) test strips or (2) test kits. These test kits come with small containers such as test tubes and test tubes. A chemical reagent is mixed with a sample of aquarium water and changes color based on the water parameter being measured. After a set amount of time, the reagent is compared to a color chart to tell you the final results. These are the most important parameters that we recommend you look at:
1. Ammonia –Ammonia can be made from the waste of your fish and invertebrates. It is toxic to animals and should not be consumed in high-pH water. You can measure it using the Ammonia Strips.
Aquarium Co-Op Ammonia Test Strips
1. Nitrous: Beneficial bacteria consumes the ammonia in mature aquariums and creates nitrite. Nitrite, which is toxic to animals, can cause fish gills to become charred. Measure it with Multi-Test Strips. 2. Nitrate: In a mature aquarium, another type of beneficial bacteria consumes nitrite and produces nitrate, which is less toxic to fish. We recommend that nitrate levels are kept below 50 ppm as a rule. If you have aquarium plants, they consume nitrate as food, so we like to maintain at least 20 ppm nitrate to keep them healthy. You can measure it using Multi-Test Strips. To learn more about nitrate, read our article. 3. Chlorine When drinking water is sourced from a municipal supply, it will most likely have been disinfected using chlorine or chloramine in order to eliminate pathogens. These chemicals can cause death in animals so it is necessary to use a dechlorinator to ensure safe drinking water. To make sure your chlorine is at 0 ppm, measure it with Multi-Test Strips.
Aquarium Co-Op Multi-Test Strips
1. pH: pH tells you how acidic or basic the water is. While most freshwater fish can survive at pH levels of 6.5 to 8.2, some species prefer pH levels that are lower or higher. Measure it with Multi-Test Strips or the API High Range pH Test Kit.
API Low Range pH Test
1. GH General Hardness (GH) is a measure of how hard or soft water is. It is measured in either dGH (degrees GH) and ppm. We recommend that freshwater aquariums have between 4-8 dGH (or 70 to 140 ppm) of mineral content. It can be measured with Multi-Test Strips and the API GH & GH Test Kit Combo. 2. KH is Carbonate hardness (KH). This measures the water’s buffering ability. The KH of water is more stable than the potential for rapid pH changes, which can prove dangerous for fish. It is measured in dKH or ppm (degrees of KH), and for freshwater aquariums, we recommend that it be kept at least 3 dKH or 50 ppm to avoid pH swings. Use Multi-Test Strips to measure it or the API GH & GH Test Kit Combo.
API H & KH Testing Kit Combo
1. Phosphate: Phosphate is a macronutrient that plants need in order to grow well, but excess phosphate can cause algae growth and even harm fish health at high enough levels. Each aquarium has a unique fish and plant inventory level. However, hobbyists recommend 0.5-2 ppm of phosphate for low-light tanks, and 3 ppm or higher for high-light aquariums which use CO2 injection. You can test it using the API Phosphate Test Kit.
API Phosphate Test Kit
1. Copper: The copper-containing medications used to treat fish diseases may contain copper. Use the API Copper Test Kit to measure the presence of copper in your tap water or to dose the correct amount of copper-based medication for sick fish.
API Copper Test Kit
1. CO2 This quick test is for measuring the dissolved CO2 content in your aquarium. It can be used either to set up a DIY system or to pressurize it. The prepared test tube should be filled halfway with water. After shaking for a few seconds you can compare the results to the color chart. This will show you if there is too much, too little or the right amount.
Dennerle CO2 Quick Test
When and how often should aquarium water be tested?
Water should be tested every day. However, in the past, testing kits were expensive and time-consuming. If fish keepers saw something odd in their tanks, they might ignore the problem and avoid testing the water because of these obstacles. Therefore, we developed the Aquarium Co-Op test strips to be faster and cheaper to use so that you can test more frequently for peace of mind. Here are the most frequent situations where we recommend testing your water.
1. New Aquarium It takes time to cycle an aquarium to ensure that the biological filter is mature enough to remove toxic waste from fish. To ensure that your aquarium’s ammonia and nitrite levels don’t rise too much, you should test it daily. Get the Ammonia Testing Strips and Multi-Test Strips. You can reduce the frequency of testing to once per week if results are consistent and reliable. You can read the full article about aquarium cycles.
1. Tank maintenance You may not need the Multi-Test Strips for your aquarium after it has been cycled. This is because nitrate can cause toxic reactions at high levels. We aim to maintain nitrate levels below 50 ppm. If the nitrate levels are higher than 50ppm, we will know that it is time for a water changing. In fact, one of the reasons why we keep live plants in our aquariums is because they help consume nitrate and thus can minimize the number of water changes we need to do. You can use our water chart flow diagram to determine how often water changes should be made based on your nitrate reading.
1. Sick Fish If your animals are displaying signs of illness or some are missing from the tank, it’s time to check every parameter possible to help you diagnose the issue. Check the water temperature, pH, Multi-Test Strips, as well as Ammonia Test Strips. Use the API High Range Acid pH Test Kit if you suspect an abnormal rise in pH. Copper is more dangerous to invertebrates, such as snails and shrimp. The API Copper Test Kit can help you check the water quality. It is crucial to not only assess whether your current measurements are within a healthy range of values, but also to see if any deviations from past results are evident.
Unstable or rapid water changes can lead to health issues for fish.
1. Healthy Plants Nitrate is an essential component in maintaining a balanced aquarium’s lighting and nutrients. Multi-Test Strips are used to measure the nitrate levels. It should be between 25-50ppm. If nitrate is below this amount, then it may be time to dose some Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer to replenish the nutrients in the water. A low level of phosphate or an overabundance can lead to algae and leaves with large holes. To find out what is happening, use the API Phosphate Test Kit. Finally, if you are adding CO2 gas to the water to increase plant growth, get a read on how much dissolved CO2 is in the aquarium with the Dennerle CO2 Quick Test.
1. Outdoor Pond Large outdoor ponds that have large volumes of water should be tested at least three to five times per year with the Multi-Test Strips or Ammonia Test Strips. The water quality should be checked at the beginning of each season to determine how it has fared in the winter. In the middle of the summer, check the water quality because the fish have been eating different kinds of food and the pond evaporates faster in the warmer weather.
Before you start preparing for winter, ensure that all water parameters have been checked at the end of the pond season. Finally, it may be good to do an extra test in the middle of winter to see how the fish are doing.
Water test kits can be used for both aquariums and outdoor ponds.
The more mature and problem-free a fish tank is, the less frequently we tend to test it, but don’t forget that your aquarium is a living ecosystem and things are constantly changing. You should test your aquarium again after you return from vacation. If your fish tank is altered by changing fish foods, buying or rehoming fish, adding or pruning plants, or any other deviations from the norm, you should check it again. In order to keep track of water parameter values over time, many hobbyists mark them down in a journal or computer spreadsheet. For a fish room with multiple tanks, our CEO Cory will mark the results down on blue painter’s tape and stick it directly on the aquarium glass.
To learn more about water chemistry, we’ve gathered a series of articles to help you increase your knowledge and enjoyment of the fishkeeping hobby. Take a look at them and get out there enjoying nature everyday!