alkalinity and ph during tank cycling - question from newbie - Page 2 - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #11 of 26 Old 02-22-2011, 08:24 PM Thread Starter
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Byron, thanks so much! It's great to find all these aquarium enthusiasts here in the forum and with such knowledge of fish and aquatic life. I'm definitely a newbie. I had a tank several years ago before I had children and we are now resurrecting it. My dad always had a couple of tanks going when I was growing up, so I have had some experience and some very basic knowledge, but am constantly learning. Unfortunately, chemistry was never my strong point in school, so the fine nuances of water parameters and how to make adjustments to the various levels is very intimidating to me. Hopefully my fish won't suffer too much from my ignorance.

Thanks for the info!
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post #12 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 12:46 PM Thread Starter
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You're not going to believe this...

Ok. I got the API liquid test kit today. According to it, these are my levels:

pH = 7.4 (um... ??? According to the stupid test strips it was more like 6.4! At first I tested using the regular pH bottle but got such a high reading, I decided to do the high rang pH just to be sure)

ammonia = 0-0.25 (very hard to tell on the color chart, it seemed to be in this range)

nitrite = 5.0 (it was vibrant purple! I guess my dip strips were not wrong on this one)

nitrates = 5.0 (my dip strips had it at 10)

Those test strips are seriously useless when it comes to pH! The other readings were at least close.

I will be doing a partial water change now. Do you recommend aquarium salt? I've heard different things about that. I have some, but other than when I first filled the tank, I haven't added any. The API kit recommends it to help the fish deal with nitrite toxicity. What do you guys think?


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post #13 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 01:02 PM
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If the test strips are old, that can affect their accuracy (which as we have established isn't that great to begin with). Also, if they've been exposed to something in the air that "might" have an effect (no idea...just surmising).

I still can't believe you're nitrites are 5.0. Something is up...maybe you could post a picture on here? It will undoubtedly be a little off, depending on your camera, the lighting, and the quality of viewer's computer monitors, but it would at least be something. It's not that I don't trust you're ability to compare a tube to a's just that I find it really incredulous that fish could be alive and swimming in that environment.

Also, be sure you read the directions closely - for the API kit it's 5 drops for the nitrite test. Once again, this is not to make you sound incapable....I'm speaking as someone who has done this sort of thing before (adding too many drops or too few...oh and once I did a "nitrate" test using the nitrite test bottle and one of the nitrate bottles... sad but true).
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post #14 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 01:58 PM Thread Starter
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The test strips are new. I bought them less than two months ago and the expiration stamp is for 2012. No idea what could have "tainted" them, I am careful to keep my hands dry when handling them and keep the lid tightly on.

I read the directions three times before I did the tests. I am sure I did 5 drops and sure I used the correct bottle. It was my first time using the kit and so I was compulsively careful.

I don't have the test results anymore. I've already rinsed out the test tubes, but I SWEAR it was bright, bright purple. The regular pH and the ammonia colors were a little hard to determine (using the high range pH test cleared that up for me, and the ammonia color was definitely somewhere between the 0 and the 0.25 shades), but the nitrite was clear.

I must have some very hardy fish in this tank or they are fooling me completely and will be belly up tomorrow. I don't get it.

I just did a pwc (about 40-50%). I went ahead an added some aquarium salt (though now I'm nervous because I think one of my ADFs just tried to eat a grain of it). The nitrite reading is now more like 2.0. I just took a picture of it. I'll try to post it here somehow. I even tried to take a picture of my tank so you can see 6 fish and 4 frogs very much alive in it, but the lighting and glare are working against me now. Trust me though that they are all alive and acting normally as far as I can tell (though as Byron pointed out, you don't always know what's going on inside).

Thanks for your help! Off to post a photo.
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post #15 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 02:08 PM Thread Starter
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Ok, here is a picture of my post-pwc nitrites test:
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File Type: jpg IMG_0314.jpg (93.1 KB, 12 views)
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post #16 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 02:19 PM
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Ok, that I feel more reasonably confident that it's not a problem with user error...I googled this because, really, I just don't know what's going on (that's not saying much cause I'm no expert, but I have kept fish successfully for several years in high school, and recently started again). First I might do if I were you is to test your tap water. Let it sit out for 12 hours and then test using the API kit, same way you test your tank water. Let us know what the results are. Maybe you have high nitrites in your tap water. My tap water has 0.25ppm ammonia lately (but not always). You could contact your water supply co. and ask about any recent changes. Although, speaking from experience that did not work for me - my local water supply co. hung up on me when I said, "Hello is this Cobb County Water?"

In any case, I find it invaluable to check my tap water when I do water changes. The parameters can and do change...and it's better to know before; at least you're prepared.

Now, here are the fruits of my brief search:

Prime/Nitrite - Seachem Support Forums
- someone with a similar problem; I was initially looking to see if Seachem Prime can detoxify nitrites as well as ammonia. I'm no chemistry expert...although it's a fun subject. They briefly discuss the importance of having an oxygen-rich environment for your biological filter's health (i.e. to keep ammonia and nitrites low), and some other stuff.

Freshwater Aquarium: extremely HIGH nitrite levels, ammonia level, nitrate levels
- another person with a similar problem. More talk about getting your filter fully cycled.

I don't remember if you mentioned how long your tank has been set up? It may still be in the middle of the cycle, when nitrites rise (after the ammonia spike and before the gradual rise in nitrates). Your nitrate reading (which I don't remember but it wasn't 0) may be an artifact from nitrates present in your tap water...

At least it's a start. I know it doesn't help much when people say "That's impossible!" because clearly it must not be if you're using a brand-new kit (or in your case, 2!) and you're not making any mistakes. Wait for some experts to chime in before you do anything; I know it's painful to sit not knowing what's going on, but keep in mind that the most stressful thing for fish is rapid CHANGE in water parameters. That doesn't mean you don't need to take care of your nitrites ASAP, it just means wait until some experts provide you with a clear plan of what to do. In the meantime, keep testing, and if things get worse, then do a water change. But it seems from those two links that water changes didn't solve those people's problem.

So, some useful info experts might need in order to help:

1. Is your tank still cycling? (maybe you already said this...)
2. What are the parameters of your tap water?
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post #17 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 02:23 PM
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Just saw the pic - thanks. Yeah to me that looks like it's between 2 and 5 ppm...but I've never actually seen a nitrite reading greater than 0.25ppm (my tank has been planted since day 1). Maybe while you've got the test kit out and are feeling like a chemist you can the tthe other numbers as well (from the tap)?

You don't necessarily have to leave the water out for 12 hours. I'd say don't - that would waste time in this case. That recommendation is more for the pH I believe...maybe you can do one test now and also set some water out for tomorrow's test?
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post #18 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 02:33 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks! I will take a look at those links. I am still cycling the tank. I set it up about 5 weeks ago, so I know the nitrite spike is normal, but everyone seems to think these readings are crazy high. I should mention I am using Seachem's Prime and Stability. Maybe these are helping the fish to tolerate the high levels?

I have to go out for a bit this afternoon, but tonight I will test my tap water to see where that's at. I'll put some out now to sit for a few hours before I test tonight.

Thanks so much for your input!
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post #19 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 02:47 PM
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Ahhhh yes. I would put my money on the Prime. Even though it detoxifies the nitrites and ammonia so they don't negatively affect the fish, they still will show up on a test.

The numbers are not crazy high for a tank that is still cycling. I think they're actually quite normal, if I'm not mistaken.

Calling an expert for advice here!!! I don't know if the Prime affects the development of the beneficial bacteria colony in the tank... However, I definitely DO NOT recommend you stop using it - I'm almost sure it's what's keeping your fish alive.

Tank cycling is a waiting just have to wait until the cycle completes itself. Once that happens it will be a matter of balancing water changes, bioload, and feeding regimen to maintain good water quality (ammonia and nitrite = 0, nitrates as low as possible).
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post #20 of 26 Old 02-23-2011, 07:44 PM
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This is making some sense. Your tank is in the middle of the initial cycle, hence the high nitrite. At this stage it is crucial to keep nitrite below .25, and that means daily 50% partial water changes with Prime. Stability is good, it is 100% bacteria and will help seed the bacteria.

Prime detoxifies substances for 24-48 hours max, according to Seachem. So a daily pwc with Prime while nitrite is above .25 will be fine. I don't know how Prime detoxifies nitrite, I did research this once, but have forgotten, but I do know Seachem says it only works for 24-48 hours, I asked them specifically.

On the pH, which test to use. I would test your tap water with both tests--and here, let a cup of water sit overnight. Then compare the results with your water supply folks' pH info to see which is closest. "|Low", "High" and "Normal" pH test kits read differently for the same water, so you want to find the one that is closest and stick with it, otherwise you will have inaccurate data. Also, pH tests of tank water should always be done the same time of day, as there is a diurnal fluctuation which will make it appear higher/lower if taken at different times of the day. And always in daylight if possible, so the colours are true; artificial light will distort colours, depending upon the colour of the light.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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