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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Aquarium Test Kits
by Brad Newton

This is something all of us need to ensure the well being of our aquariums and fish. Unfortunately, it's also something that requires a bit of homework to know what to get and what to avoid.

First, let me start by saying no one should attempt to own an aquarium without also owning several test kits. The basic test kits that all freshwater hobbyists should have are as follows:

  1. Ammonia - This kit will test the amount of Ammonia present in your tank water, this is the first phase of the Nitrogen cycle and is the product of fish waste, decaying food, and other decaying matter. Once a tank is cycled Ammonia shouldn't be present, and can be toxic at even low levels.
  2. Nitrite - This kit tests the amount of Nitrite in your tank water, this is the second step in the Nitrogen cycle and is the result of the Nitrosomonas bacteria converting Ammonia to Nitrite. Again, once a tank is cycled, Nitrite shouldn't be present, and at very low levels can be toxic to your fish.
  3. PH - This kit tests the acidity or alkalinity of your tank water. A reading of 7.0 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic, over 7 is alkaline.
  4. General Hardness (GH) - This kit tests the total hardness of your water, and is most commonly referred to in degrees hardness.
  5. Carbonate Hardness (KH) - This kit tests the dissolved Carbonates in your water, also measured in degrees hardness.

**Optional kits, not required, but good to have, would be:

  1. Nitrate - this kit measures the amount of Nitrate in your water. This is the third step in the Nitrogen cycle and is the result of the Nitrobacter bacteria converting Nitrite to Nitrate. Nitrate will always be present in an established tank, and it's good to know your Nitrate levels. Water changes and plants keep Nitrates in check.
  2. Oxygen - this test measures the amount of dissolved oxygen in your tank. This is a good test to perform periodically to ensure your fish are getting a good supply of Oxygen.

What kind of kits to purchase?

Some companies make "master kits" that include most of what you'll need. Tetra makes good, reliable kits, but they don't last very long before you'll need to re-fill them.

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I prefer Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, their "master kit" includes most necessary kits, and they have large bottles that will perform many tests before the need to re-fill. Test strips are easy & popular, but they aren't as "exact" as the liquid testers, and they are fairly expensive for the amount of tests performed. The tablet testers are also OK, but again, liquid is the preferred method, In my opinion. Seachem & Lamotte have many good test products, and are the most accurate for the hobbyist, but can be quite expensive, so I'd start with the less expensive kits and work your way up if you so desire. Also, I've found swimming pool test kits to be very good for measuring PH, easier to read, and very inexpensive.

How often should you perform water testing?

When starting a tank from day one, be sure to test your Ammonia daily. Once your Ammonia starts to rise, start testing for Nitrite daily. You'll gradually notice your Ammonia level will peak and start to decline, this is when your Nitrite levels will increase, continue testing Nitrite daily until the Nitrite goes to zero, this can take up to 4 weeks. Test Ph, GH, and KH at least twice during the cycle, and make adjustments if required. This is a topic for another article.

Once the tank is cycled, test the Ammonia/Nitrite/PH and KH weekly, and the GH monthly. Also, take immediate tests with ALL your kits if your fish exhibit any signs of stress, such as rapid breathing, clamped fins, loss of appetite, etc.

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One final note, a thermometer isn't part of a test kit per se, but I'd like to touch on it. Make sure you have a reliable, and easy to read thermometer. I don't care for the ones that stick on the outside of the tank, they aren't very accurate, hard to get a good reading, and can reflect the outside temp as well. Again, I've found that the thermometers for swimming pools/spas to be much easier to read, more accurate, and very inexpensive. Hope that helps your understanding, and the importance of test kits.
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