Many fish keepers often spend a lot of time trying to solve apparent problems arising from high and low pH.
While pH can be a real issue it is not one of the things that you should constantly worry about because there are number of methods natural and chemical to maintain optimum pH levels. Yes, changes in pH do lead to poor health but with the right knowledge it should never become a crippling issue.
The pH scale runs from 1-14 and when it falls low as 5 the water is often considered
Soft water – acidic. In many fresh water river systems soft water arises from excessive calcium carbonate concentration often due to the rock formations over which these rivers and underwater systems chart their course.
Hard water on the other hand is very alkaline and is often associated with sea water conditions; water is considered hard when its pH level is in the region 8.5 upwards.
Soft Water (acidic) Causes and Solutions
Problems associated with both soft and hard water arise from heavy water changes especially when you lack proper information about the current water source.
It is important to begin knowing that acidity can rise gradually through very specific means that include:
- Nitrification – Nitrites and Nitrates are a major part of fish excrement. In any aquarium chemical filtration is done using a mechanized filter. While live plants also reduce nitrification, damaged or old filters / filtration components can contribute to nitrification.
- Respiration – living organism including fish release carbon dioxide when respiring which if is in significant amounts can turn to carbonic acid. This problem is likely to be one that affects heavily stocked tanks more than lightly stocked fish tanks.
- Photosynthesis – Aquatic plants are complex organisms and respire much like ordinary land plants. However, in the absence of adequate carbon dioxide they can utilize bicarbonate ions for photosynthesis. Bicarbonate ions are a major component for maintaining water alkalinity and when plants use this acidity can become an issue. Often live plants are fertilized with additives containing carbon dioxide to avert this situation.
- Bogwood and peat – Bogwood that has not been fully cured tends to be acidic.
Pearsons Square: Determining how acidic or alkaline you solution should be
Controlling pH is no easy task and to be 100% certain there is some calculation to be done. This will determine the degree of changes you need to make to get your water hard or soft enough based on the size of the aquarium.
In my opinion just the calculation alone is too much to ask for pet safety and fortunately there are much easier natural and mechanized solutions.
Hard Water (alkalinity) Causes and Solutions
This is a problem often associated with reef or salt water aquariums. High level of pH can be a problem and needs to be confirmed and reversed to maintain healthy fish. Common causes include:
- Use of limewater – While this is one of the means to lower pH it requires calculation and knowledge of chemical composition of the water and should not be added too quickly.
- Improper use of high alkalinity supplements such as B-ionic.
Controlling Water pH
For high pH there are two things you should consider before making attempts to lower the pH.
- The CaCo3/CO2 reactor has the best effect for lowering pH.
- Proper use of Limewater and improved aeration. To achieve effective and long running results you will need to increase the carbon dioxide in the water. This can be achieved by adding an organic acid such as vinegar that breaks into carbon dioxide. While limewater has the worst effect you could use Sodium Bicarbonate or Sodium Carbonate (washing soda).
It is worth noting that addition of limewater could cause upward spikes. When say 5 gallons of limewater is introduced into the aquarium. In such cases an immediate solution could be introduction of vinegar, muriatic or sulphuric acid to quickly bring down the pH.
For aquarists living in hard water areas making soft water is the main challenge and it can be reversed by adding larger volumes of soft water to the hard water. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to collect and clean rain water purely for aquarium use.
You could also:
- Reverse Osmosis (RO): You could buy a RO filter that you can use to purify your hard water. However, the filters will cost you and can be quite wasteful; producing one liter of software for 10 liters of hard water!
- Rain water collection: This appears much easier and does not require too much expertise or expensive equipment. With the gutters installed you can collect as much as you need. The downside being you need extra storage containers for when there is no rainfall.
- Natural additives: Your aquarium pH can also be lowered using natural products such as Indian almond leaf and tannins. Introduction of these into water will often tint water slightly but will gradually lower and maintain a reasonable pH.
Natural additives often tend to alter the water chemical composition gradually and are not good as an instant solution. Also you need to be sure what you buy and use has been properly cured. If not you may need to boil them or soak them for a while before placing inside the aquarium.
- Peat: This is an old method of lowering pH that has lost following with the introduction of RO filters. The reason being, while peat is effective it is very difficult to determine how acidic it will turn the water – how many points downward will it go?
Because of this problem it is advisable to place the peat in a container and acidify the water till you have the right quantity of water and degree of acidity. Just placing peat in a bag inside the filter may provide slow or poor results.
- Domestic water softeners: These can also be useful though you should know they are very temporary solutions. While they will add components that were absent in the water they do not account for ongoing chemical reactions that will decompose these minerals and reverse the solution.
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