Originally Posted by Pep
How does one tell if they need nitrogen detox or not? Is nitrite considered a subset of nitrogen? I guess I am trying to figure out if I should be using Prime as I have been or moving to NovAqua.
In the aquarium, nitrogen occurs as ammonia/ammonium, nitrite and nitrate. Nitrogen gas we can exclude for this discussion, as it is only a product of anaerobic bacteria activity and not normally an issue.
As you know, in a healthy aquarium ammonia comes from fish and biological processes, and it is consumed in two ways, by nitrosomonas bacteria and by plants in a planted tank. Nitrite only occurs naturally as the second stage of the nitrification process from nitrosomonas bacteria, and another bacteria called nitrospira (and perhaps some others) use the nitrite and nitrate is produced. Nitrate is removed by the regular water change.
In a planted aquarium, the plants use most of the ammonia (as ammonium, or by changing it to ammonium themselves). Some plants also use nitrate, but most prefer nitrogen as ammonium; I explain why in Part 2 (and touch on it again in Part 3) of the "Basic Approach..." stickies at the head of the Aquarium Plant section. As the plants are quicker at grabbing the ammonia/ammonium, nitrite and thus nitrate is very low or non-existent in planted aquaria.
As I have planted aquaria, there is never any need for ammonia/nitrite/nitrate detoxifiers because the plants consume most of the ammonia and the bacteria the rest. This is one of many benefits of planted aquaria; nature handles everything--provided we don't interfere and mess it all up. I do have chlorine in my tap water, so my water conditioner must handle chlorine and really nothing else.
In an aquarium without plants, one has to be more vigilant over water quality because nitrates can quickly build up, especially if the fish are overcrowded, there is decaying organics, infrequent water changes, etc.
Then there is the tap water; if it contains ammonia, or nitrite, or nitrate (some tap water does contain one of these) a water conditioner that detoxifies one or all of these forms of nitrogen may be advisable, certainly in a non-planted tank where there is only the bacteria to handle these and it takes bacteria time to multiply if the level increases substantially. In planted tanks the biological equilibrium is capable (or should be if the tank is balanced properly) of handling minor increases from tap water during a partial water change. However, if the level of ammonia or whatever in the tap water is significant, a detoxifying conditioner won't hurt. But personally I would have to have very high levels before I would add such a conditioner to a planted aquarium, since this is bound to have an impact on the balance. The concept behind the natural aquarium is that nature is the major active worker in the tank, and the aquarist only intervenes when essential such as providing fish food, plant food, light and heat, and a water change.