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I just use a scraper to take care of it...rarely gets more than a few spots especially since I increased the number of live plants in the tank. If the pH is rising I'd look to the type of sand/rocks you are using in the tank as they are the likely culprit. I keep the ph of my tank at 6.5 so if i was to see it spike up to 8 I'd be freaking out due to the drastic increase. The pH of the tap water here is around 7.4...thus the reason I don't use it in my main tank where the pH is a major concern. Using peat in the filter will lower pH gradually as will the addition of some form of co2 injection.
 

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you could. There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounded activated carbon these days. Some say it takes out a lot of stuff that is actually needed in an aquarium. Personally I use it without problems and it keeps the water very clear so I don't see what the big deal is. I prefer to let the sponge portions of my filters to take care of the biological filtration rather than adding additional ceramic rings, etc. And while carbon may take out some things that you would want in the tank it also takes out a lot of things you would'nt so I'm not a big believer in running entirely without carbon.
 
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