What's in my Water?!
Do you know exactly what you are checking your aquarium water for? Owners of freshwater tanks you should be looking for pH, Nitrate, Nitrite, Hardness, and Alkalinity. These substances can be lethal if they are at unsafe concentration levels. Test the water every week, or when you notice changes in your fish. Some tests measure all five substances, and some water tests measure each substance individually. Quick Dip Aquarium Multi-Test Kit, pictured to the left, uses strips to measure various chemical levels at the same time. Testing the water is essential, but unless you understand the root of the problem, you will have a hard time establishing a stable biological system in your water.
Ammonia is highly poisonous, but only is present at pH levels below 7. Ammonia levels can not exceed 0.05 mg/l. Nitrite is also poisonous and should not be at all perceptible in aquarium water. Phosphate creates algae problems at levels above 0.05 mg/l. Nitrate levels between 50 mg and 100 mg are acceptable for fish.
If any of these value exceed safe levels, a eighty percent partial water change must be performed. Add fluids containing zeolite, or better yet, insert a cartridge into your filter that forces the water to run through zeolite.
Water hardness and pH are dependant on one another. If one level is off, the other will probably be off too. Most fish thrive in pH levels of about 6.5, but this varies for different types of fish. As does water hardness for fish. The tropical river-dwelling fish flourish in soft water of about 4 dGH.
Know the levels that your tank needs and balance the levels using rainwater, and reverse osmosis. If the pH must be lowered, insert fertilizer-free white peat granules into the water.
It seems that an advanced knowledge in chemistry would be beneficial for maintaining the perfect aquarium! But, simple water test and an efficient filter usually can do the trick.