What sort of water testing kit…...
…...would cover everything FW tanks need. I could use the advice, also what is the best brand?
API Master test kit is highly recommended and will cover Ammonia, Nitrite, NitRate, low pH, high pH.
You would need to purchase separate test for Water Hardness and Carbonate Hardness (GH and KH).
Once a week I take my water to 2 fish stores for testing. One the way home from picking up my kid, I pass by 2 different fish stores. I take two water samples with me in two separate containers. I let the stores test the water. What can I say, I like a second opinion. Test kits (good ones) are costly. I have an Aquarium Pharmaceuticals 5-in-1 Aquarium Test Kit (not too costly), but I rarely use it unless I feel the need for a quick reading.
I have a chart that came with a tank I bought that I keep my test results on. It's a great idea to keep track of such things.
Fish stores are not always the best place to have water tested as they generally do not give accurate results.
The API Master test kit is available on average for $29.99 or less. It will help immensely though.
There is a section in the Aquarium log (CURRENTLY NOT WORKING and awaiting maintenance) on the links above that you can add your water parameters to if you so require.
But that's just me. Not everyone has a "Mr. Fish" to test his levels. For the most part, Tazman is correct.
Basically just adding my concurrence. But to your initial question, the Sera tests are probably the most reliable, but also more expensive. API are reliable and less cost, and I like many here use them.
As for testing, you should always do this at home. Just before the weekly partial water change is a good time, as the tank has been running for a week and you will get a better reading of things. The time of day matters for pH tests as pH fluctuates during the day/night so always testing pH at the same time of day is important to see if it is fluctuating generally. Daylight (but not direct sunlight) should be used to compare colours of water to the charts.
Ammonia and nitrite are useful during the initial stages of an aquarium, or if something seems wrong (like fish start dying or getting sick, or water clouds) it is good to test these. But once the tank is established, there should be no need for regular/frequent tests for ammonia or nitrite.
The pH and nitrate should be tested periodically, or subject to developments. Both can be signs of trouble. Also, pH may naturally lower as the biology progresses and this may affect fish depending upon the species.
Testing GH and KH is not necessary unless you are specifically targeting these, by which I mean if you are deliberately softening or hardening the water in a given tank. The tap water GH and KH and pH should always be known before setting up any aquarium, the GH and KH data can come from the water supply folks without you spending money on a test kit that will never be used again. You should also test the tap water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate at the start. Generally speaking, GH and KH should not alter in the aquarium unless again you are targeting them somehow.
You can purchase a API Master Test Kit on Amazon for about $18. A much better deal than the $30+ that most LFS will sell them for.
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