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.
: 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.