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Author Topic: Water softener - good or bad for fish?  (Read 5022 times)
tom-in-ky
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« on: November 20, 2008, 09:05:00 AM »

Hi Everyone,

I am new to this site - looks like a wealth of information here, and I look forward to participating.  I am in the process of putting together a 29 gal community tank that will be a community setting of non-aggressive species.  We have a whole-house water softener in our house, and I was wondering if this will have any bearing on filling and changing the water in the tank.  Is this a benefit, detriment, or neither?  Any special considerations here?

thanks for any advice!
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Karen
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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2008, 09:09:57 AM »

Welcome aboard.  I am so thrilled to see you asking questions first and then making plans.  Soooo much better than asking, "hey why are all my fish dead (again)?"

As for your water softener, you will need to avoid a few species of fish as a result, but most are fine with one.

What fish are you planning to try?

Do you know about tank cycling?  It can save you an awful lot of trouble to cycle your tank before you add fish.
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Put me back out to sea to play with the fishies...I don't belong on land!  SmileyCentral.com" border="0
tom-in-ky
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« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2008, 09:26:12 AM »

Hi Karen,

thanks for the prompt reply!  I am going to concentrate on hardy, mostly docile species like tetras, possibly some gouramies, possibly some rosy barbs.  I am going to use the fish profiles on this site as much as possible to come up with a good mix of fish that will be colorful and interesting, but will get along without beating each other up or being too finicky on conditions.

I am all ears for suggestions!   Wink
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Stella G
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« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2008, 10:06:59 AM »

Hi Tom & Welcome to Badman's!

Can you bypass the water softener when you fill your tank & do water changes?  I think that would really be the best solution.  The "soft" water created by water softeners isn't the same as naturally "soft" water.  Artificially soft water actually has more total dissolved solids due to the replacement of calcium & magnesium with sodium & potassium.  (It's more science-y than that, but that's as far as I go. LOL)  This is great for your laundry, but not so great for your fish.  Bypass it if you can.

Do take a look at the fish profiles on the site and then post a list of your potential stocking.  We can tell you if you've gone overboard or not.  Here's one hint I will give you before you start your search:  You mentioned "some gouramies".  Narrow that down to one male dwarf gourami and you have a starting place.   Wink
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"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"
"Now, go away or I shall taunt you a second time."
tom-in-ky
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« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2008, 10:49:45 AM »

Hi Stella,

Yes, the water softener does have a bypass mode.  I guess I will need to run the water for a little while to make sure most of the softened water is flushed out.  However, I believe any hot water that is mixed in will be coming from the hot water heater, which will still be softened.

In regards to the dwarf gourami, will that include the pearls?  I really like the looks of those.

I will likely start with a few zebra danios, just to get the cycle started.  Are any or the products that contain bacteria helpful at all for this?  The local fish store had some stuff that they claimed would get a tank ready much faster - I can't remember the name, but it was a refrigerated product, if that helps any.
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Stella G
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« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2008, 11:05:51 AM »

Quote
I believe any hot water that is mixed in will be coming from the hot water heater, which will still be softened.
I don't believe it will do any real harm, it's just not doing them any favors.  I suspect a mix of softened & unsoftened would be better than full softened water.  Maybe RTR will pop in here with some sage wisdom.  He's forgotten more about science and water chemistry than I'll ever know.

Quote
In regards to the dwarf gourami, will that include the pearls?  I really like the looks of those.
The Pearl Gouramis are beautiful fish, but I wouldn't keep one in a 29 gallon tank.  They grow to be a fairly good sized fish, at around 4 to 5 inches, and gouramis as a group can be quite territorial.  Though pearls are one of the more peaceful, they're still anabantids.  As an example, I keep a gold gourami in a 40 gallon tank and she thinks the entire tank is her territory.  Granted, she's extra grumpy, but I still would never risk putting her in a smaller tank with other fish.

Quote
Are any or the products that contain bacteria helpful at all for this?  The local fish store had some stuff that they claimed would get a tank ready much faster - I can't remember the name, but it was a refrigerated product, if that helps any.
There used to be a product called BioSpira.  It was the ONLY bacteria product that actually worked.  It is now marketed under a new name, which I can't remember at the moment, but the fact that the product at your LFS is refrigerated is a good sign.  Is it Dr. Tim's something......?

Have you considered a fishless cycle?  Granted, it's not as much fun to look at a box of water with added ammonia, but it's much better for the fish.  Danios are hardy, and likely to survive a cycle, but they are affected by it.  Their gills burn just like any other fish.  If you have the time and the patience, fishless is the way to go.
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"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"
"Now, go away or I shall taunt you a second time."
Muffuletta
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« Reply #6 on: November 20, 2008, 11:13:34 AM »

http://www.drtimsaquatics.com/index.html
Dr. Tim's one and only is what you were thinking about Stella.  I lost track of whether this is the original formula for Bio-Spira or all that whole thing. 
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tntfox
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« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2008, 11:21:36 AM »

Not to hijack, but ... I'm in the same boat as you, Tom.  We have a whole house softener and it becomes increasingly difficult to make sure the cold water side is not softened.  Short of turning the softener supply off and flushing the pipes out, I do my water changes on Saturdays, usually late in the afternoon.  I do a lot of laundry on Saturday and by the time I get to my water change, my cold water is generally hard, with softened water coming from the water heater only.  My GH and KH are on the manageable side -- don't have my figures here at work -- and I don't have a lime buildup in the tank, so I figure I must be doing something right!
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Remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others. -- The Wizard of Oz
tom-in-ky
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« Reply #8 on: November 20, 2008, 11:26:09 AM »

Thanks tntfox.  Does your softener have a bypass?  I know that if I leave my bypass on for more than a day or so (happens when we are watering the lawn or washing car outside and forget), eventually we will notice that the water is hard when we take a shower.
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wontonflip
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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2008, 12:09:31 AM »

I have a softener too.  Mine has a master bypass for hot and cold -- we have Rainsoft;  what is yours?  If you're concerned about not bypassing the hot, why not make the water the previous night using cold water that's been flushed, then stick a small heater in the water to make it warm (and keep it warm) by the next day?  For my saltwater tank, I make water in huge rubbermaid tubs, all ready for me to use.  The night before I plan on using it, I'll put in a tank heater.  By the time I'm ready to do my water changes, the water's temp is close enough to the tank's.  I plan to do the same with my fw tank I'm setting up for water changes.
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tom-in-ky
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« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2008, 08:34:01 AM »

Wonton,

We have a Culligan. It was installed before we bought the house by the previous owners.  I bought a water hardness testing kit, so I will keep an eye on it via this method for the first couple of changes while the tank is cycling.  Your idea of preheating the water in tubs is innovative - how do you get the water from the tubs into the tank?  Do you have some type of pump or siphon, or do you just dip buckets?  I am setting up a semi-permanent Python system to minimize mess and maximize convenience.

Thanks,

Tom
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wontonflip
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« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2008, 09:52:34 AM »

I have a simple solution for getting the water to the tank Smiley  I simply take a smaller container and walk it over to my tank  LOL  I actually have the tub of water in the utility closet next to the tank because we hooked up the ro/di filter into the house's pipes, so it makes it easy to walk over with my smaller bucket.  I have a sump, and the way I set up the piping, I can easily pour old water out into another bucket, and siphon the new water into the sump at the same time.  That's for my sw tank, though, but it'll be a similar procedure for my fw -- which will be just a 10 gallon.  I  don't predict needing a huge rubbermaid tank for that.  Maybe just a small 5 gallon bucket to store water, but you can still do the same thing -- just get a weaker heater.
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RTR...Grumpy Ole Fogie
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« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2008, 10:34:01 AM »

Definitions, definitions, definitions...

We are trapped in misconceptions in this hobby.  Household water softeners do "soften" water  for laundry, bathing, and clean-up.  That is, they remove much or all of the calcium and magnesium ions in the water.  Ca++ and Mg++ are the enemies of soaps and detergents, they make it "hard" to produce a lather with those cleaning agents, and can come out of solution, depositing films on surface (dingy, streaky dishes and windows, soiled-looking fabrics - scummy as it were, plus bathtub rings).  The water softener avoids those things.

But we operate with different terminology, unfortunately it uses the same words with different meanings.  Of course this maximizes confusion.  When we talk about soft water, we are referring to water conditions in the native, natural or wild places from which our wet pets originally came.  That water - if "soft" - is very low in Ca++ and Mg++, comparable to the stuff coming out of the water softener for those ions.  But, that native water was also low to very  in everything else - sodium or potassium (Na+, K+) and most other dissolved mineral ions.  Water softener output is very definitely not like that.  The water softener  output is almost certain to be higher in total ionic content than the input water was.  That is, for tank biology, the water is worse than it was originally for soft-water fish, and to add insult to injury we cannot easily measure the sodium or potassium which was added to replace calcium and magnesium.  So, bottom line, the water is worse - has higher mineral ion content, higher osmolarity (vitally important to fish and other aquatics), and higher TDS (total dissolved solids, which we can measure but rarely do).  Things which we cannot or do not measure have a way of biting us and causing us problems - and we cannot see the cause.

So water softener water is "soft" for cleaning with common agents used in our society.  It is anything but soft water in the natural or wild or biological sense.

One footnote:  Water softeners should not affect the pH of the water,  The pH is a function of the KH (alkalinity, natural buffering, carbonate/bicarbonate hardness), and in the wild, of dissolved organic acids.  We do not generally have significant organic acids in in our tap water, so for use it just carbonate/bicarbonate.  We measure calcium and magnesium ionic content as GH, but that has no effect on the pH.  Folks get confused, because "hard water", high in GH, tends to high in KH as well, and high GH & KH water will have high pH as well.  But the effect is from the material we measure as KH, not, repeat not, from the calcium and magnesium.

Aside: I age all of my water for fishtank use.  I use Rubbermaid food-safe trash cans on caster bases, spare fish tanks, anything suitable for storing such water.  I refill the containers by Python, and all have pumps and tubing plus heaters for tempering and circulation/aeration and to move the water to their target tanks.  It really is not difficult.  Yes it occupies space and requires equipment, but it makes life and upkeep so much simpler.  I do know myself.  If something routine and frequent is easy, it will be done almost without thought.  If it is a major physical chore and is in the way, it just may not happen.  I do my upkeep very quickly, easily, and simply..  Some of the setups look complex, but they really are not.  How complex can a container, a pump with tubing and a heater really be?  I don't set a new tank without setting or already having water for partials readily at hand at all times.  It works for me, it is not a frill, it is a basic requirement of my tank-keeping.  If I cannot maintain the tank quickly and easily, I do not start the tank.  That lesson was slow to be learned, but eventually it sank in.  Wink

HTH
« Last Edit: November 28, 2008, 10:39:55 AM by RTR...Grumpy Ole Fogie » Logged

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wontonflip
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« Reply #13 on: November 28, 2008, 11:09:39 AM »

Hence why I bypass my softener -- for the exact reason RTR said in that last post.  So definitely, even if you just bypass your cold and not your hot, if your main issue is the temp, the heater works great.  I always have water ready for water changes or for tank emergencies.  I definitely had good end results this way because the water has "aged", as RTR puts it Wink
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