Reliable PH lowering
My tank mostly consists of Amazon fish that enjoy soft, acidic water. However my tap water is fairly hard and PH is 7.4. I don't have any rocks or buffering substrate in the tank. Some of my fish (namely Cardinal tetras) are perfectly healthy, but are not showing their colors as vibrantly as they could. All fish are active, eating and no recent deaths/disease. Parameters are 0PPM-ammonia, 0PPM-nitrite, 5PPM-nitrate. Temp is 78, again PH is 7.4 (matches tap water PH). 20% weekly WCs. I could be wrong, but I'm wondering if this is due to PH being out of their preferred range?
I don't want to be using chemicals, I don't like adding anything unnecessary to the water nor do I want to shock the fish with PH swings.
I don't really want to get into using RO/DI water (at least not yet).
Seems most people use peat moss, almond leaves or driftwood. What's everyone's experience with these methods? I'm leaning towards peat moss added to filter, but is it a set it and forget it kind of thing or does it have the potential to destabilize PH and cause swings as well?
If it is the same tank you are talking about in your profile (55g). Then I would not do anything to it at all. The fish if they are happy can tolerate that pH quite easily.
Messing with the pH values, can cause more problems than it is worth sometimes. If you choose to use Peat Moss, please bare in mind it will stain out your water with tannins for some years.
Adding a piece of driftwood will not change the pH value anytime soon, it takes time and if the wood has been pre-treated, which a lot for sale are. Then it may not even reduce the pH at all.
I have had an enormous piece of natural untreated driftwood in a 240g tank before and it never reduced the pH at all. Stained the water with tannins for about 2 years but the fish loved it. I took down and sold the 240g almost 3 years ago and the driftwood is in my unfinished basement and is still leeching tannins to this day, I washed it not so long ago!
Consistent pH from tap to tank suggests high KH, in which case peat will not do much to lower the pH. High KH usually, but not necessarily means high GH. Cardinal Tetra won't last long term in hard, basic water.
It would help to have the specific numbers, so we can assess the most reliable methods if you decide to reduce hardness and resulting pH. And the two are connected, usually; read more here:
You can find out the GH (general hardness) and KH (bicarbonate hardness or Alkalinity) from your water supply people, they may have a website. With these numbers, we can consider options.
I agree with what's been said so far in this thread, with the sole exception of cardinals. This fish will not last in hard water. It can be quite colourful, but will have a shortened lifespan and more likely be prone to health issues because of the internal effects of minerals in the water. Another aspect though is lighting; this fish has what Baensch called a light phobia. And they also do not like strong water movement. All of these factors may play a part in their appearance.
I have maintained cardinals for 20 years, and while it may not be the most difficult (I've had even more difficult fish), it is one of the most difficult fish to keep in top condition. But it is possible.:-D
I have recently switched to a smaller powerhead (actually drop-in UV sterilizer with pump), I was running an Aquaclear 50 powerhead so there was probably too much water movement for the little guys. I don't have live plants so I could also cut down on the number of hours the lights run.
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