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Old 03-29-2011, 11:57 PM   #1 
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Water Chemistry Basics Editing for Reference

Water Chemistry Basics – How to give your Betta a 5-star home.


**DISCLAIMER**: I tried my best to write this in layman's terms as I know there are readers of this guide who are not chemistry/biology majors and/or have never taken chemistry or biology in their life. To all the chemistry/biology majors and fish mega-experts, I'm sorry if this guide is silly!

**DISCLAIMER #2**: This guide is specific to care of Bettas, I mention small tanks of 1-2 Gallons, which should never be used to house any other fish except a Betta! (Except snails or shrimp)

**DISCLAIMER #3**: This guide does not include the presence of heavily planted tanks. I have no experience with aquatic plants, and the only real plant I've ever kept is a cactus; so I feel I shouldn't say anything in this matter. If you have questions about aquatic plants, please ask an experienced person on this forum!


Water chemistry is often overlooked or ignored completely. Most aquarists (myself included until recently) do not have testing kits, or cannot validate the cost of purchasing one. This guide will go through in simple terms why the water chemistry is important to the health of your Betta (and subsequently your health).


For starters, let's begin with some of the basic parameters that are included in your basic testing kit, along with an explanation on how it relates to your fish.

Ammonia (NH3): This compound is formed when your fish excrete waste and when you overfeed your fish. It is also excreted from the gills of your fish when they breathe and swim around. Ammonia poisoning is the leading cause of death in beginner aquarists who are unaware of the Nitrogen Cycle. The symptoms of possible ammonia poisoning are: purple/reddish gills, red streaks across the body, lethargy and bottom sitting. How do I get rid of Ammonia? Normally, you must cycle your tank so that bacteria that eat ammonia can grow and live in your tank. Bacteria like to grow in certain gravels and also in your filter, as well as safe places on your decorations. In smaller tanks, (less than 5 Gallons) it is difficult to keep these bacteria alive, so you must perform water changes. The reason for this is because by the time there is enough ammonia for your bacteria to start living there, it is already too toxic for your fish, therefore it is imperative that you keep up water changes if your betta is in a small tank.


NitRITE (NO2-) and NitRATE (NO3-): For clarification, I will capitalize RITE and RATE as to not confuse these two compounds.

NitRITE is "excreted" by the bacteria that eat ammonia. NitRITE is also toxic to your fish, but it is not as powerful as ammonia. It is also possible for your fish to get nitRITE poisoning, symptoms include: lethargy, rapid breathing and brownish gills. The brownish gills is commonly known as "Brown Blood Disease", in which the nitRITE impairs your fish's blood to carry oxygen properly, and suffocates them. How do I get rid of NitRITE? After the ammonia eating bacteria establish, the next to come along are the bacteria that "eat" nitRITE. Plants also help out a little bit, but generally the bacteria will eat it all up long before the plants can.

NitRATE is "excreted" by the bacteria that eat NiRITE. Once again this is also toxic to your fish, but not as strong as nitRITE or Ammonia. NitRATE poisoning symptoms include: curled positioning of the body, bent spine, uncontrolled swimming, spasms and twitching. How do I get rid of NitRATE? Unfortunately the only way to remove NitRATE is for you to do your water changes! Plants also absorb NitRATE, but I don't know how many plants you would need to achieve this, see disclaimer #3 above!


Total Hardness (GH): There are many other elements that appear in your water that contribute to the chemistry of it. "Hard" water is water that contains a higher concentration of minerals dissolved in the water. If you have hard water in your home, you may notice that your soap doesn't foam up as easily as it does in softer water showers. Calcium deposits in your tank are generally white and crusty in appearance, which comes from having very hard water. Most houses nowadays have water softeners to reduce these effects (and make your soap lather better!). In relation to fish, some fish prefer softer water, some hard, but the majority of fish bred these days do not care so much. Betta's can tolerate a hardness between 5-20 dH or 70-300 GH ppm, but generally they would prefer something mid-range. Hard water has been shown to cause a Crowntail (CT) Betta's rays to curl.
How do I change my Water Hardness? If your home already has a water softener, and you notice that the hardness has changed, you may need to replenish it (there are various kinds of these machines, I won't go into all of them). Some local pet stores (LPS) or fish stores (LFS) sell little pillows that soften your water for you. Don't throw them into the tank, you have to set aside a bucket and let the pillow sit in there as per the instructions on the package.


Total Chlorine: This element is one of the reasons for you to purchase a water conditioner. Chlorine is dumped into the water at your nearest water distribution plant to kill bacteria that would otherwise make you sick. Any amount of chlorine that is 0.5ppm and above on a testing kit can kill your fish very quickly if not remedied. Not putting in water conditioner for your fish is like asking you to drink chlorinated pool water your entire life. How do I get rid of Chlorine? Look for a water conditioner that says it removes chlorine. Some good brands that are recommended are SeaChem Prime, Aqua+Plus, API Stress Coat, and TopFin Water Conditioner.


pH: This is a measure of how acidic or basic your water is. It ranges from 1-14, 1 being acid, 14 being basic. Water is generally 7 (neutral), in the middle. This scale however, is logarithmic, meaning a pH of 6 is TEN TIMES more acidic than a pH of 7. Therefore, even minor changes in pH such as 7 to 7.3 would add a lot of stress to your fish if changed too suddenly. Betta's can tolerate a pH range of 6-8 (6-7.4 in some sources), they prefer more neutral waters, but adapt fairly well within the pH 6-8 range.


Total Alkalinity (KH): This is a measure of how well your water can RESIST a change in pH. This is commonly called a "buffer system" in chemistry terms. This basically means that, if you were to add equal amounts of acid and base into a container (so pH 6 and pH 8), it is not necessarily true that the pH will end up in the middle (pH 7), as one may think. The buffer will help absorb some of the acid or base, causing the pH change to be uneven (perhaps pH of 6.8?) instead of appearing in the middle. This is one good reason why you should NOT purchase distilled water. Distilled water has a KH of zero, which means that almost anything you put into the water afterwards can change the pH suddenly and stress out your fish. Tap water that comes from your water plant has a buffer solution added into it before they send it to your house, and is therefore a much more ideal choice to use for fish keeping. How do I adjust my Alkalinity? I have not seen many products but I have seen some buffer solutions at some LFS that you can add to your water to increase or decrease your alkalinity.


This list covers most of the compounds that your most basic testing kit will cover. Other important compounds to consider are:

Chloramine: This is a combination of Chlorine and Ammonia. Chlorine is not very stable and tends to evaporate over time (which is why you also constantly have to add chlorine to a swimming pool). Recently, water companies have been adding Chloramine because it is more stable and is a more powerful killer of bacteria that will get you sick. Your basic water conditioner that removes chlorine is fine to use, however it only removes the chlorine part of chloramine...leaving only...ammonia. Which, as you know by now, is toxic! How do I get rid of Chloramine? There are water conditioners that DO remove chloramine, such as SeaChem Prime, will remove the chlorine and instantly detoxify the ammonia attached to it.


Phosphates: Presence of this compound plus sunlight causes algae to grow in your tank. Phosphates appear in your tank either through your tap water or from your fish food. How do I get rid of Phosphates? While there are chemicals to get rid of them, keeping up with your water changes is a much friendlier and convenient way of keeping phosphate levels down, as you have to change your water anyway. However, if you think your phosphate levels are high due to it being in your tap water, you may have no other choice other than to get chemicals for them, or live plants to use up the phosphates.

Last edited by Chesh; 02-17-2014 at 09:34 PM. Reason: Preparing for Reference area.
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Old 03-29-2011, 11:58 PM   #2 
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What happens if I use Well Water?
The two main differences between well water and tap water is the fact that well water would contain no chlorine or chloramine, as well as the pH will be different. As a nifty tidbit of information I learned from my classes, water that is stored in wells or groundwater also have higher amounts of dissolved Carbon Dioxide gas in them. This causes the pH of the water to decrease, making it more acidic. What can I do to fix my well water pH? Leave well water for a little while in a bucket to allow the carbon dioxide gas to escape, and returning the pH to normal. You could probably aerate it by stirring it around from time to time or put a bubbler in it.

What if I cannot afford/obtain preferable water sources?
Test you tap water at your LPS/LFS (they do it for free) to see how bad it really is. If it is fixable, then I recommend getting the proper chemicals to fix it up. It doesn't cost $1000 per drop, most of it is priced in the $8-15 range and you can use it for many water changes. No price is worth seeing the suffering of your fish just because you didn't want to spend another dime giving your fish the ideal environment.

If your water is not fixable, then SPRING WATER is a good substitute, just do not get DISTILLED WATER.



General Water Change Schedule

Depending on the size of your tank, concentrations will build up at different rates. Smaller tanks will increase in concentration of any of the toxic compounds much faster than in larger tanks. Below is a list of a fairly general schedule. If your tank size is NOT listed, then go with the nearest tank size rounded DOWN, just to be on the safe side. So if you have a 3 gallon tank, look at the suggested water change for 2 gallons, etc.

Of course, everybody is slightly more busy than the other, so if you are too busy to do a scheduled water change, take the time to maybe do as big a water change that you have time for. It may seem pointless, but any change is better than no change when it comes to taking out toxins in your tank.

These are just GENERAL schedules for people who do not own a testing kit. Once you have a testing kit, you will be able to more accurately determine how often and how much water you should change per week.

1 gallon 100% every other day. This tank is much too small to be able to establish a stable cycle, regardless of whether it has a filter or not. Tanks this size will build up ammonia way too much in too little time for your good bacteria to grow.

2 gallon 50% 2-3 times a week and one 100% once a week. Similar to above, this tank is too small to give good bacteria the time to grow. If you have one, using a gravel vacuum is a plus.

5 gallon Filtered: If cycled, 50% once a week if you just have a betta. If you have other tankmates, Do another 25% sometime else during the week. Unfiltered: 50% three times a week with one 100% every other week.

10 gallon Filtered: 25% once a week if you just have a betta. If you have other tankmates, Do another 50% sometime during the week, just to be safe. Unfiltered: 50% twice a week with a 100% every other week. **It is a good idea for a tank this size to purchase a filter, the reason behind this is doing a 100% change would start to become too much work**

20 gallon Filtered: 50% water changes once a week. Unfiltered: **It is a good idea for a tank this size to purchase a filter, the reason behind this is doing a 100% change would start to become too much work**

I stopped at 20 Gallons because this seems to be the most common large tank size before you start getting into the 55 gallon communities, by which time one should have an intermediate to advanced understanding of how to care for their community tanks. I was too young to remember my parents' 45 community so I wouldn't be able to add any valuable information.

I STRONGLY recommend getting a LIQUID test kit, the one with the bottles and test tubes, over the testing strips. They may appear to be cheaper, but in the long run, the liquid test kit will save you a lot of money. The liquid test kit is also much more accurate than the strips, and you can use them for many water changes as they usually require one or two drops, rather than purchasing a bottle of 30 test strips which will disappear quickly.

Credits and Thanks go to:
- Wikipedia
- Many many websites with clashing information that I had to sort through
- My chemistry professors
- My brain *puts a bandaid on it* :'(
- Everybody in this Forum, I MEAN IT. EVERYBODY. *points*
- JKFish, PewPewPew (P3), LionMom, Sweeda88 and BettaHeart for being inspiring and awesome people :D
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Old 03-31-2011, 09:33 AM   #3 
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Nice info.

Unfortunately I don't trust test kits and what ever chemical remedy our LFS supplies. They didn't work when I tried them in the early 80's and I recently tried them again .... to my disappointment.

Anyway, I have this problem which arises when our water company "flushes" its tanks. Tap water becomes yellowish ..... and deadly. My tap water goes into a big 2m cubic tub where it sits for at least 3 days. Then it goes into my fish water tub and sits for another few days before I use them. I make sure that the water is crystal clear before pumping it into my fish water tub. (pH is about 7.5 - 8 and I used dechlors that neutralizes .... metals (?)

When I used this water, my fish became bloated - like dropsy but without the opened (?) scales. When I finally figured out that it was the water, I have lost half of my stock and most were dieing.

What do I have to test or what test kits do I need? I've been using rain water for the past few months for my remaining fish and was thinking about buying mineral water - which would be expensive. Can I filter the water with active sand, zeolit, and active carbon (sorry don't know English names). Or would I need extra neutralizing agents.
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Old 03-31-2011, 06:25 PM   #4 
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Nice info.

Unfortunately I don't trust test kits and what ever chemical remedy our LFS supplies. They didn't work when I tried them in the early 80's and I recently tried them again .... to my disappointment.

Anyway, I have this problem which arises when our water company "flushes" its tanks. Tap water becomes yellowish ..... and deadly. My tap water goes into a big 2m cubic tub where it sits for at least 3 days. Then it goes into my fish water tub and sits for another few days before I use them. I make sure that the water is crystal clear before pumping it into my fish water tub. (pH is about 7.5 - 8 and I used dechlors that neutralizes .... metals (?)

When I used this water, my fish became bloated - like dropsy but without the opened (?) scales. When I finally figured out that it was the water, I have lost half of my stock and most were dieing.

What do I have to test or what test kits do I need? I've been using rain water for the past few months for my remaining fish and was thinking about buying mineral water - which would be expensive. Can I filter the water with active sand, zeolit, and active carbon (sorry don't know English names). Or would I need extra neutralizing agents.
@indjo: I'm sorry to hear you have had bad experiences with test kits! I was about to wonder if the ones you had gotten were simply old, because they do expire, but it would seem silly to assume that ALL the ones you have tried were expired. As for your water turning yellow, it sounds like to me like there is iron getting into your water, the main cause of this is most commonly old pipes. My only suggestion is to ask your neighbours if they are experiencing the same thing, followed by calling your water company. Also, is it ALWAYS yellowish? Maybe try running the tap for 2-3 minutes to try to see if it clears up a bit. Another recommendation is to have live plants in your tank to soak up the iron because plants enjoy some iron to grow.

As for using rainwater, just remember that the pH is generally much lower (around 6.5-7ish) and the water is very soft. I would advise on making smaller, more frequent water changes because water from human sources is generally much harder and have a higher pH, and the sudden change could shock your fish. Also maybe add water treatment to it just in case, and maybe let it sit around for a bit.

I have heard that AquaSafe removes heavy metals from tap water, so you can maybe try that. I would also ask around some plant experts which plants like to eat up the iron.

If you want to try your luck again with testing kits, please do! I would suggest a liquid test kit, you can try the smaller ones instead of purchasing the master kit if you're wary of them not working again. I know some LFS let you return testing kits if they don't work as they should. I recommend testing your rainwater pH, and maybe bring in a sample of your tap water to your LFS and let them test it for you, and tell them about it being yellow.

I hope this helps! :)

*****
@ Everybody: You're so welcome! I didn't really expect this much of a response, I kind of wrote it while I was procrastinating my lab report . I'm currently saving up money to get a liquid test kit once I run out of strips XD!

Last edited by bahamut285; 03-31-2011 at 06:29 PM.
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Old 04-01-2011, 06:02 AM   #5 
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My tap water is usually crystal clear. It is dirty only after the water company flushes. It's not suppose to be like this. The contractor currently running the system is rather irresponsible. yellow - brown - dark; depending on when we turn the tap on - recently flushed or later on. But the tap to our tub is usually always on. By the time we realize it's dirty, the tub would have been filled. And it's the same with all my neighbors.

I'm certain the coloring is not caused by iron or any other metals. Our well water contains hard metals and other stuff - so I have a pretty good idea what metals do to water. And what ever is in the water can't be absorbed by plants which I always use in my fish tanks/tubs.

Here, liquid testers or what ever are sold individually. I had to spend a lot to get complete water testers. Since I don't know of any specific thing I need to test, I'll save up and get a filter and run my water through them (sand, carbon and zeolith).

Thanks anyway for responding. Btw, I've discussed this problem with a senior member of this forum but only concluded not to use this water for my fish.... I need to be extra careful when filling my fish water drum.
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Old 04-02-2011, 02:59 PM   #6 
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Hmm, I posted a response but apparently it didn't show up...what was I going to say? @_@

If the case is that it only turns mucky when the water company flushes it, then there is something wrong on their end (not just the dummy contractor, haha). You should definitely call up and complain, or write a letter. The water company cannot honestly expect people to live in such conditions, let alone aquatic pets.

In any case, I'm glad that a senior member helped you out, and I wish you and your fish best of luck in health!
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Old 04-04-2011, 10:28 PM   #7 
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Thank you for the kind thoughts.

I only need to be extra careful when filling up my drum (direct tap water - not from the big tub). And I'll give dechlors another shot.
I've begun to start over ..... what ever my condition is, I cannot do without bettas and or aquatic pets..... lol
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Old 05-06-2011, 08:16 PM   #8 
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Was wondering if anyone could help me. I'm busy cycling a 5 gallon, i'm doing a fishless cycle. the tank has 1 plant (i'm waiting on the rest to be delivered) and is filtered with a bio-wheel. the gravel is in as is the sand under the gravel.

So i've been testing the water and my ammonia levels have spiked, how long does it take the bacteria (i've been adding bacteria i bought from the store as i don't have any kind of filter media to add to the tank from an already cycled tank) to cause the nitrite to spike?

I've been dosing the tank with household ammonia, maybe 1-2 drops per day for roughly 6 days now.
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Old 05-06-2011, 09:45 PM   #9 
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@Phoenix91: Tanks usually take a couple of weeks to cycle. I remember it took my 5 Gal around 4.5 weeks to fully cycle properly. Since you say your ammonia has spiked, bacteria should move in soon :)...give them time to find some nice real-estate XD.
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Old 05-07-2011, 06:56 AM   #10 
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@Phoenix91: Tanks usually take a couple of weeks to cycle. I remember it took my 5 Gal around 4.5 weeks to fully cycle properly. Since you say your ammonia has spiked, bacteria should move in soon :)...give them time to find some nice real-estate XD.
Yeah i figured it would take a little time, if i put the plants in will this affect the cycle or should i wait until after it's finished? i can add the drift wood to give the bacteria somewhere to live.
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