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Author Topic: pH problem?  (Read 2585 times)
SisM
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« on: February 24, 2016, 08:19:21 PM »

Okay, so for the past month-ish I have been battling poor water in my small tank.  I finally seem to have it under control except for my pH.

3-ish gallon
Sand substrate
Lightly planted
1 single male betta
Nitrate 0
Nitrite 0
Ammonia 0
pH 6

The recent changes, other than frequent water changes to work on the previous water quality problem:
Took out the one decorative house (read something that said it can affect pH if it is poorly sealed)
Changed the filter media so now it has sponge, ammonia reducing media, carbon, and media from our larger tank
Took out some Java moss which appeared to not be doing well (the other plants are doing fine ... I have a small amount of dwarf grass and .... something random.  I'll have to take a pic)
Moved a coniferous plant that was next to the tank and dropping needles as was unsure if needles were dropping into the water.

pH is still at 6.  I tried to use the API drops to up the pH but it doesn't last when I use it.  So out of curiosity I tested my pre-treated water.  It had a pH of 7.  I use the API stress coat for a water conditioner.  So again out of curiosity I tested my larger community tank.  Everything is 0 in it (as usual), BUT it also has a pH of 6!

What the heck is going on?  What am I doing wrong?!

Thanks for any suggestions or advice <3
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rasaqua
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2016, 11:58:27 PM »

The first thing I recommend is to first treat an amount of water straight from the tap accordingly, then do a pH test on that water and let us know those results.  happy
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gunnered72
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Theres more water than air in here :P


« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2016, 04:30:39 AM »

Its impossible to have zero NitrAtes in an aquarium...Are you testing properly (i.e. shaking the reagent bottles for 2 mins vigorously) This only applies to API Master Test Kits...(All other test kits are crap, especially strips)

High NitrAtes can cause PH to fall...as can Bogwood and Co2 (Liquid, Injected or naturally occuring)....(Make sure your filter flow breaks the water surface to create more gas exchange and increase oxygen)...

Dont use chemicals to alter your PH.....The sudden swinging PH levels you are seeing (because the effect is not lasting) is really dangerous to fish...

Its common for the PH in an aquarium to be naturally lower than that from your tap water....The PH in my big aquarium is 6.8 where as the PH of my tap water is 7.4.......It can be just a natural process thats unavoidable.....

AND! to be honest a PH of 6 (in your tank is not a problem) unless you are keeping African Rift Lake Cichlids or Central American Cichlids or Livebearers....Most tank bred fish will easily adjust to lots of different PH levels once they are not extremely low or extremely high and  more importantly STEADY (As i said sudden swinging PH is really bad)

If you have your heart set on it there are more natural ways to raise your PH.....(Small amount of crushed coral or a small piece of ocean rock should do the trick)

I would be very surprised if your dechlorinator (API Stress Coat) was causing the PH to fall....

The other thing too that just occured to me is this....When you are testing the PH of your tap water you need to let it sit overnight in a small container to get a true PH reading (After it sits overnight give it a little stir and then test it) Remember if you are using The API Master Test Kit you need to shake the hell out of the Reagent bottles before adding the reagents to your water samples in your test tubes....


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SisM
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2016, 08:08:40 AM »

I haven't been shaking the bottles first.  Duh!  Stupid me.  Can you tell I haven't really done fish in a while (other than Bettas, and I typically never tested their tanks).  I am using the API test kit.  I'll pull out water and let it sit and then test again.  I'll also pull water straight, treat, let sit, and test just to see.

The fish in the tanks all seem fine.  Had a couple of whisker shrimp die last week, but I had just brought them home the day before so who knows.  The other whiskers are all okay.

Thank you so much for your knowledge!  I'll update tomorrow after re-testing!
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TwoTankAmin
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2016, 12:18:46 PM »

No it is not impossible to have 0 nitrates in an aquarium, In fact in certain planted tanks we actually have do dose nitrate because the plants need it and there is not enough.

As for pH, there are factors at work that make how you test tap levels relevant. The most common issue with pH from the tap is that it may not contain co2 in equilibrium with naturally levels which occur in open system water. Higher concentrations of co2 will drop the pH and lower levels will allow the pH to appear higher than it really will be at equilibrium.

Therefore to get an accurate reading of one's tap level one must do a couple of things.

1. Be sure the vials have been properly rinsed. this means first with some tap and then with some tank water. Rinse them again in tap when done.
2. be sure not to collect the water to be tested from the surface, there can be oils etc floating there and these should not be allowed in the test vial. therefore invert the tube, lower it to mid level water and then turn it back up to collect the sample.
3. For a pH test you should collect mid-level water in a bigger container. In order to prevent false reading due to co2 levels, you must either let this water sit out over night before testing or else add and airstone to the container an bubble the water. I like to let this run for an hour. the purpose is to allow for gas exchange and for the co2 level to settle out where is will be in a a running tank.

This will give you a proper reading of your pH.

Next, most of the hobby kits for pH tend to stop at 6.0 on the lower end. Whenever any test kit reads at the lower or upper limits of its range, it is possible that the actual level is higher or lower than this. So it is necessary to do diluted or concentrated testing to know for sure. In the former case one add and equal amount of do/di (or distilled) water to the sample. Collect two ounces from the tank and then add 2 ounces of the dilution water to produce a 50% mixture etc. Then you multiply the test results by the dilution factor= For 50% that is 2x, for 25% use 4x. A concentrated test is performed by doubling the numbers of drops in the same tube volume of water, the you use the reverse process and divide the result by the concentration factor. Double the drops and dive by two, use 4 times the drops and divide by 4. This methodology works for all the nitrifying components.

Moving on to changing the pH in a tank. About the worst way to do this is by using the Pg adjusting chemicals. You need to learn about buffers and Kh etc. to have any idea what you are doing. Lowering pH takes a lot of knowledge and experience to do right, raising is easier. The basic method involves raising the KH. things like crushed coral, marble chips or carbonates such as calcium carbonate all work. Sodium bicarbonate would work as well but most fw fish do not do well with sodium mostly only the rift lake cichlids can deal with it.

As for plants, they need many of the mineral etc. that contribute to GH to thrive. So if your water is as acid as it appears, this would explain why the plants are not doing well. You may want to consider equilibrium by SeaChem to supply what they need. This will also raise the GH some.

There is really only one effective and stable way to lower ph and that involves using ro water. I have run tanks at 4.2 pH for certain fish, so I know about this from experience. Neither wood, botanicals such as catappa leaf, alder cones or driftwood can lower pH or hardness in a stable way. They cannot be added in a controlled fashion and they do not have a constant effect over time. The result is you will gets changes in pH every time you do much of a water change and the bigger the change the bigger swings you can see. Plus you need to replace these things at regular intervals. The only way to prevent this sort of swing is to pre-treat the new water to match the desired tank parameters.

Yes, a build up of nitrate can lower pH. But for this to happen takes a fair amount. A properly maintained and stocked tank should not reach this point unless one's tap water starts out with a decent level of nitrite in it. In the USA the EPA sets the maximum allowable level at 44.4 ppm as tested on an API kit. (This will read 10 ppm when a test kits measure only the nitrogen ions rather than all the ions as most hobby kits do). Live plants and regular water changes are normally the best solution for nitrate control.

As for co2 lowering pH, this does not happen in tanks at equilibrium pH unless you are adding co2 gas to the tank. Even when one adds co2 for plants and this drops the pH some, it will not bother the fish unless the drop is way to much.

Then, get rid of the ammonia reducing media, it is not helping and bacteria is the only viable long term solution. You will not develop the needed level of bacteria for a bioload if you are not allowing that to happen. the amount of bacteria in a tank always sizes to the ammonia load over tme- both up and down. The result is if you miss the time to replace that media and it is not working, you will get some sort of ammonia spike as a result. The most natural methods of parameter control are always superior to chemical methods.

I will conclude with the following comment. I will never, under any circumstances, add anything to a tank that contains aloe vera. Stress coat is such a product. I am happy to show the lab grade published research I have read on this topic, but the upshot is, I would suggest you consider switching to Seachem Prime. (I should mention my tap is from a private well and contains no chlorine/chloramine so I only use dechlor when doing a weekend fish event where I must use the tap water there. I use Amquel for this but it is more costly than Prime.)

Here is the real issue with all of this and the reason why you so often read it is better to keep fish in your tap water than to alter your tap paramters to meet the needs of fish that would not do well in it. That requires a way more in depth understanding of chemistry and fish biology than most want to master. So your first step here is to get a reliable test of your tap pH, GH and KH and then do the same for your tanks water. This will give us the staring point for how best to proceed. All three measures are required and they are needed for both water samples.

Sorry to be so long winded, but you asked a bunch of interrelated questions which makes things more complex an so too the answers as well.
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“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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SisM
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« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2016, 05:52:09 PM »

Okay I had retested this morning and then read the latest response from TwoTankAdmin so now I want to go back and look at things a bit more indepth.  I read quickly through, so I'll answer some stuff, but I am going to read through again with a pencil and paper and do some math.  So forgive me, this response will not be complete.  More of a stream of consciousness.

I always had used Seachem Prime in the past (along with a local company who had a quick start formula which was awesome for super small tanks with big water changes, but they went out of business), but truthfully I have been a lazy betta owner.  They're hardy little monsters, I went years without testing water, and embarrassingly rarely did I do water changes on my small tanks.  Horrible.

I did the Stress Coat because the store was out of Prime, so I will be looking for a new bottle ASAP.  Thank you.  I didn't know that Aloe was bad (though I should have looked it up ... I should know better than to just trust what someone says when it's outside of what I'm used to doing).

As of the way I tested last night/this morning (pulled water maybe from 1/4 down the tank, let set overnight): the pH in my Betta tank was  still at 6, the pH of the tap water with Stress Coat was almost 7.6, and the pH of my planted community tank was 6.5.  I have a way to test higher pH but not lower.

The community planted tank does have CO2.  Though we were having issues with the plants, we recently replaced the light and started to add more nitrates (yup, I agree, a well planted tank can definitely lack nitrates!) and now the plants in there are doing great.  The fish also have been doing well for the past few months (the tank has been up and running for about 8-10 months I think, we went through a few tough months but it's been good for a while).

The Betta tank doesn't have a special light just the LED it came with, no CO2, and though the moss didn't do well, the other plants in there have thrived, even when the community tank's plants were having issues.  Perhaps it was because the nitrates were so insanely high in there for so long.  The numbers this morning were close to 0, the only weird one is the 6pH.  BUT the Betta is doing just fine in the tank.  His fins look great, he is active, etc.  BUT I always like to have something else in with my Bettas (snail, shrimp, etc).  Should I be worried about the pH level and/or how do I deal with it if adding another living thing to the tank?

Also, there used to be 2 frogs in that tank with the Betta.  They disappeared (this isn't a very aggressive Betta, he has been fine with his tankmates thusfar).  I have not found them on the floor or anything, so I can only assume that they died due to the poor water quality and rotted away in there (god that's gruesome).  Can THAT be affecting the pH?  Should I change out the substrate or something?
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TwoTankAmin
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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2016, 12:17:06 PM »

Unlike our sw brothers and sisters whose tanks tend to have very similar water parameters, fw fish live in individual habitats which differ across the globe. From the extremes of blackwater acid pH. virtually no hardness water to the high pH and almost liquid rock of some of the rift lakes in Africa and pretty much everything in between come the fish we keep. That is why it is important to know the needs of any fish or invert we want to put into our tanks. All of the inhabitants have to thrive naturally in the parameters in our tanks.

So, yes you need to pay attention to the low pH unless you are going to do something to raise it. Typically, acid water is low in GH and KH. This can include calcium:
Quote
General Hardness (GH)
General hardness (GH) refers to the dissolved concentration of magnesium and calcium ions. When fish are said to prefer ``soft'' or ``hard'' water, it is GH (not KH) that is being referred to.
from http://fins.actwin.com/aquariafaq.html

Inverts need calcium for their shells. So if your tank has a low GH the odds are inverts wont do all that well. The betta will be fine however. I would note at this point that with splendens there are basically two type- wild caught and tank raised. The latter can thrive in a much wider range of parameters than the former. So as you can see, on needs to know a bit about any fish they are considering to be sure they understand this sort of thing.

My first thought here is part of the problem in the betta tank may be related to the plants. Smaller tanks are the hardest to keep stable. Then there is this. For most fish GH (hardness) is more important than pH. You have given no numbers for GH and it would help to have these. I have a hunch here what the problem might be and thus how to correct it, but I would love to have Gh and KH information for your tap and then for the tanks. What I am thinking is the problem may be to the plants in the betta tank using up things faster than realized and that can allow for parameter changes.

KH is what keeps pH stable and that is a function of carbonates and bicarbonates in the water. Some plants can use these like CO2.

Quote
Buffering Capacity (KH, Alkalinity)
Buffering capacity refers to water's ability to keep the pH stable as acids or bases are added. pH and buffering capacity are intertwined with one another; although one might think that adding equal volumes of an acid and neutral water would result in a pH halfway in between, this rarely happens in practice. If the water has sufficient buffering capacity, the buffering capacity can absorb and neutralize the added acid without significantly changing the pH. Conceptually, a buffer acts somewhat like a large sponge. As more acid is added, the ``sponge'' absorbs the acid without changing the pH much. The ``sponge's'' capacity is limited however; once the buffering capacity is used up, the pH changes more rapidly as acids are added.

Buffering has both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side, the nitrogen cycle produces nitric acid (nitrate). Without buffering, your tank's pH would drop over time (a bad thing). With sufficient buffering, the pH stays stable (a good thing). On the negative side, hard tap water often almost always has a large buffering capacity. If the pH of the water is too high for your fish, the buffering capacity makes it difficult to lower the pH to a more appropriate value. Naive attempts to change the pH of water usually fail because buffering effects are ignored.

In freshwater aquariums, most of water's buffering capacity is due to carbonates and bicarbonates. Thus, the terms ``carbonate hardness'' (KH), ``alkalinity'' and ``buffering capacity'' are used interchangeably. Although technically not the same things, they are equivalent in practice in the context of fishkeeping. Note: the term ``alkalinity'' should not be confused with the term ``alkaline''. Alkalinity refers to buffering, while alkaline refers to a solution that is a base (i.e., pH > 7).
From the same source as the above quote.

Basically, all these things are intertwined and it is almost impossible to change any one of them without it affecting the others. If you do noy have the kits for GH and KH, most stores will test for you. What you would nee are two freshly collected samples from your tap and both tanks. You need to out them into clean container to avoid cantamination and take them to the store. The typical tes kits work by adding a drop at a time to the sample. The first drop changes the color and then as you add a drop at a time counting each one, when the sample changes to another color the total number of drops you added will be the number of degrees of hardness (GH) or alakalinity (KH). if all it takes to get to the second color is the very first drop, then the result is 1 dg.

Knowing these numbers for your tap and individual tanks will provide a much more complete picture about what is going on. Planted tanks can need water changes as much or even more than unplanted. We tend to forget that these have two purposes, the first is to remove things we do not want to build up, but the second, equally important reason, is to replenish things that are needed but which get used up. Sometime too few water changes are the only problem.

At any rate, I will wait for you to get the test results for GH and KH so we can better see where we to go from here. While you re doing this take a look here: http://www.seachem.com/Products/product_pages/Equilibrium.html I am not suggesting you need to use this product yet, but the description may be helpful. RO and RO/DI units remove things from water before we even use it. But the fish/inverts/plants don't care if needed things are depleted naturally or removed mechanically if they are missing. So this product can be helpful in either situation.

Also, can you give us an idea of what ferts you are adding and how often. Its been a while since I ran a co2 added tank, but I think I still remember most of it. I took it down after 11 years in order to reduce my tank work load. I should also mention that I have 0 experience using LEDs for tanks. I am an old florescent and power compact user. But that would be something else I wonder about on the betta tank. I am not sure how well some of the LEDs do in supplying the proper light frequencies for plants etc.


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SisM
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« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2016, 06:59:28 PM »

I have no ferts going into the Betta tank.  His is just the sand substrate, the couple of plants that are doing well (but the names I don't know because of box store plant selling sans names).  The "LED" in the betta tank is just a lousy one that came with the kit.  The community tank is the one that we focused more on for the plant stuff.

In the community tank we added in API root tabs 2 weeks ago, and started doing weekly doses of API "Leaf Zone" 4 weeks ago (along with the new fancy plant LED).

I think tomorrow we are going to be running some errands (CO2 is almost out so we need to drive to "civilization" to get it refilled anyway), so I will see if we can find kits for the gh and kh as I would prefer to have those kits on hand to do myself.  I like to learn as much as I can AND be able to read and do as much on my own.  I'm a stubborn babe Wink

Again, thank you so much for your input.  I look forward to getting these other kits and being able to let you know the readings.  This forum has been a great resource thusfar.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 03:45:19 PM by russ » Logged
TwoTankAmin
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« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2016, 11:34:18 PM »

Happy to help. It took me a lot of effort to make some sense of this stuff as I never took a chemistry course in high school or college.

Water is great stuff, you can drink it, fish live in it but when it comes to chemistry it's a real beach. Normal things behave differently in aqueous solution. Electrons get traded like bitcoin, things don't act like they do when dry. Any any time you change one thing about six others happen while your not looking.

And the more you learn, the more it costs you. I used to use only the inexpensive API test kits. Now I have a Digital Temp and TDS Meter, a continuous 3-way monitor which measures Temp. in F or C, Conductivity/TDS and pH. I have calibration solutions. Oh yes, I have an RO/DI unit as well. I was better off, and had more money, before I got" too smart for my own good." Smiley

Let me send you to the same place where I started. It's a pretty decent, easy to understand explanation of most of the basics. Start here http://fins.actwin.com/aquariafaq.html Then click on Your First Aquarium which brings you to the Index page. The two sections you want to read are Practical Freshwater Chemistry and Which Test Kits are Important.

The one product I have used in all my planted tanks since almost day one is Tropica's Micro/Trace Mix fertilizer. It has undergone several rebrandings and rebanings over the years. I mix my macros from individual ingredients, but nobody does the other stuff better than Tropica imo. Not easy to find in the states but you can get it here https://www.bigalspets.com/plant-growth-premium-fertiliser-300-ml.html

Their site is also an amazing treasure trove of information. Tropica is the worlds premier producer of aquarium plants. If you have ever seen the frilly tipped java fern," Microsorum pteropus 'Windeløv' is a patented variety of Microsorum pteropus, named after Tropica's founder Holger Windeløv." He created it.

The site has a great database of plants, it has great articles on every phase of planted tanks, it has vids too. I always send new to plant folks there. Here is the url. When you get there the place to go nuts with 1st is the Guide, but have fun and poke around all over. http://tropica.com/en/
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“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
"The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it." Neil DeGrasse Tyson
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