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Old 02-19-2011, 04:30 PM   #1 
Join Date: Feb 2011
The Stingy Tester, master freshwater API kit

I've discovered several ways to be stingy and do less work when testing tanks (and multiple bowls) with API's master kit/dropper test kits.

The first is to get a childrens' medicine dropper/scoop kit for two bucks at Walgreens etc. This has milliliter markings on it.

To get water from the tank in volume with the dropper, squeeze the bulb flat and pull out more than you want then gently spray what you don't need back in or into your wastewater bucket. Never dump used vials into the wastewater.

The ammonia test.
Ammonia drops test is a two part test that involves chemically treating the ammonia in the vial with chemical A then checking how much A+Ammonia was created with chemical B. I've found that both after chem A and chem B the vial will spit a little out due to gas expansion from the reactions.

To spot check for ammonia you don't have to be very precise, on the opposite side of the milliliter markings on the dropper you'll see a 1/4 teaspoon measure. Put that much water in the ammonia test vial then proceed with the instructions using ONLY two drops of each chemical. The response you get will not be accurate but it will give a "precise negative" if no ammonia is present (good filtration)

To do a regular accuracy check you can use the bottom of the 1/2 teaspoon line and do the test with four drops each chemical.

The ammonia test can be thrown off by residual chemicals from the nitrate test, be sure to wrap a line of tape around the ammonia test tube and rinse it AND its cap thoroughly with body temp water when done with each individual test.

The Nitrite Test
The chemical used in testing nitrites is a one-shot chemical that can be used at one drop per mililiter, if you're uncomfortable using just one milliliter of water you can do it in how ever many milliliters/drops you like. Since we're looking to zero the nitrite as well, the one-drop test suffices. If you get a negative reading and you think there should be nitrite in the water one of three things could have happened; Nitrite test chemical CAN go bad with age and heat. Residual pH testing chemical of either sort can block the test and give false negatives. Nitrate ppm over about 320 can make the test sluggish. When you get a negative reading after the five minute wait, give the tube another few seconds of shaking. Thick heavy drop-to-bottom of the test chemical drops can indicate high nitrate as well.

The Nitrate Test
This is a 2 drop per milliliter test and as such you can do it with just one milliliter of water, however the nitrate test requires VIGOROUS shaking and is more accurate the more you use. I advise skimping no less than 3 milliliters and six drops. Remember this test will build up a small pressure in the tube and some chemical will come out both on first AND second shakes. API accounted for this and as long as you don't lose more than half a milliliter you'll still be within 10% of accurate results.

When I say VIGOROUS I mean you must shake the vial and #2 bottle like you're trying to get lunch money out of a bully. There is no "too hard" for shaking the #2 chemical before squeezing out drops during the test and I usually just go ahead and shake both the #1 chem in the test water and #2 chem in the bottle for the full minute it wants mixing. It's good exercise, just don't slam the test tube on your desk.

Nitrate tests can sometimes take longer to mature... in low temperature conditions I'd give the #1 chemical at least a minute of shaking in the vial and I'd not worry about how long the test says to wait before reading... after about six hours in shade at room temp the color will start to fade from the finished test but ten minutes check is as good as five at sixty degrees.

The pH tests:
I don't like API's master kit pH test card accuracy and if you don't want to mildly guess at your water's pH you can get what's called a "wide range" test from API. It's much more colorful and easier to read than either the High or Low range tests and is a 5 drop to 5 milliliter so you can do two milliliters just fine.

Low range pH test: Just do the 5 milliliters and three drops. This test is sensitive to the residuals of other chemicals but only by a small amount. It will still read within about 0.3 pH of accurate. Added aquarium salt and some antibiotics will affect the reading so don't react immediately if the pH is a bit off.

High range pH test is a drop per milliliter test but I would not use less than three milliliters and three drops for it. It can be difficult to read and slower to respond than the low range test.


Few bits to think about: Eyes ears mouth and nose. All the chemicals in these test kits can cause irritation. The ammonia test kit is the most risky because it is not only designed to react to a chemical that exists in our skin but also because it creates two new chemicals from that reaction.

At just about any drug store you can find Vinyl gloves, just use them on the shaking hand then wipe them off between tests. I prefer "Clean Ones" Nitrile gloves you can find in Walmart back by the engine cleaners. Nitrile is what I wear at work while using pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and it is a very chemical-proof glove, the "Clean Ones" are thin tho, so just dispose of them when done. Always dispose of a protective glove that has a hole in it.
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Old 02-19-2011, 04:50 PM   #2 
Join Date: Feb 2011
Gh Kh tests:

These tests are additive tests, you add drops to them until you get a reading. They can be frustrating in low light AND indoor color situations to the inexperienced user but there's a simple trick to getting good reading on them.

Using your uninjured clean thumb over the tube when shaking in each drop you can then move your thumb and look down the inside of the tube through the water volume at something white. The background of the reference card, your car, floor tile, etc. What you're watching for is the fluid in the tube to change color. I've never had either Gh or Kh give me a burn on the finger but you should avoid jamming that thumb into any bodily orifice until thoroughly washed. The Gh and Kh tests work fine on untreated tap water.

IF you must reduce tap water hardness there is a method that is simple to use: API makes a "water softener pillow" which you can put in a funnel and pour un-treated tap water through into your water prep bucket. It won't work without the water flowing through. This item is recharged by using aquarium or kosher salt as a brine. I use mine then toss it back in a Tupperware bowl. Every couple of uses you need to pour out and restock the brine, every use you need to rinse the pillow under tap water to rinse the brine/metals solution off before starting. For larger amounts of prep water you can stick it in a power filter on the side of the bucket or what I do is wedge it into a cascade 300 submersible filter and drop that in. Since it works fine in chlorinated water I reduce the hardness before adding prime and balancing pH using soda and discuss buffer.

Remember that reducing hardness will make the pH swing, if you don't have a large variation between your Gh and Kh or if you know there aren't any appreciable ionized metals in the water you don't need this item. The pouch contains the same material as used in water softeners, it DOES release sodium into the finished water so RO or Distilled is preferable but you can use this little packet to drop the Gh by ten degrees of more than 30,000 gallons of water with just brine-and-rinse maintenance.

RO/DI or softened water is mostly only used either when combined with additives to produce precise water conditions or to produce topping-off water to not alter the chemical state of a tank when replacing water lost from biology and evaporation.

Last edited by Thunderloon; 02-19-2011 at 04:53 PM.
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