You went to the local fish store. You found couple of fishes you like. You wrote down their common and scientific names. You came back home.
You did some homework. You went to some fish profile web sites (if you haven't yet, you know what to do first!) and found out that your
the pH requirement for your favorite fish is outside of your tap water.
So what are you going to do?
First thing to realize is that most fishes are surprisingly forgiving when it comes to pH levels. Even
though the fish profile sites may say they need acidic water, many people will be able to raise them in water
with pH levels as high as 7.6. Yes, even difficult fishes such as Discus can be raised and bred in these
pH levels. But pH is not the end of the story. There are several things you should be aware when you are
looking at the characteristics of your tap water:
pH - Most fishes can handle very wide range of pHs, often much wider than the numbers suggested by
fish profile pages. In most cases, you don't need to change it.
GH - General Hardness. This is in fact more important than pH. It measures the level of Magnesium
and Calcium in water. In most cases, once again, fishes will be able to adapt to wide range of GH levels.
KH - Carbonate Hardness. This measures the water buffering ability. Lower level means more likely
to experience pH swings. Higher level means more stable pH.
One thing to keep in mind is that your tap water is likely to contain more CO2 than your tap water that
has been sitting in the bucket over night. Higher concentration of CO2 will cause pH to drop. To measure
correct levels of pH, you should collect water from your tap, let it sit over night, then measure it.
In most cases, you will see higher pH reading compare to water directly coming from the tap.
If you have test strips, go and buy a liquid based test kit now! Strip tests are very inaccurate and will
often report misleading readings.
Real life examples
Question: My tap water (after letting it sit overnight) says 7.6. GH is 8 and KH is 8. I want to raise German Blue Ram which
requires pH between 5 and 7 according to my favorite website. What do I do?
Answer: Nothing. When you purchase your Ram, make sure you take time to acclimatise them slowly. i.e. Take a
bucket, empty your bag of Rams into it. Then over few hours, slowly add your tank water into the bucket.
When you roughly doubled the volume of water, you are ready to catch your Rams and add them to your tank.
(Using quarantine tank is highly advised!)
Question: My tap water (after overnight) says 6.2. GH is 1 and KH is 2. I like African drift lake ciclids but
I have been told they need really hard water with high pH. What do I do?
Answer: In this case, you will likely to need to adjust your water chemistry. There are several ways to raise the hardness
of your water. Common approach is to get a bag of crushed corals and add them into your filter. Also use
them as your substrates. You can add rocks that increases water hardness. Limestones and Texas holey
rocks will do this for you. Lastly, you can add baking soda and epson salt. Amount will depend on
how soft your water is.
Question: My tap water is 8.0, GH is 20 and KH is 25. I want to breed Discus. I think this water is too hard.
What do I do?
Answer: Your water is really good for African drift lake cichilds! Some people will kill for that water! One of
the sensible things you can do in this hobby is to choose species that will thrive in your native water
condition. Chaning water chemistry is always tricky and keeping them stable once changed is even trickier.
Look into Lake Malawi or Tanganyikan species. If you don't like them then you will have to
lower your water hardness. One of the most common approach is to use peat moss. You can get a big bag of sphagnum
moss from your Home Depot or Lowes store. These peat will soften your water. If it softens enough, pH will
also drop. The other approach is to add RO (Reverse Osmosis) water but this is an expensive solution that
only few serious hobbyists should look into.
It is often best to not mess with your water chemistry. Most species will be able to adapt to your water
unless they are extreme at extreme levels. If your KH is too low, you are risking a big pH swing which is not a good thing
so in that case, it might be wise to add some crushed corals in your filter. One of the key things to
realize is that most species can tolerate some pH swing. If you can keep your general hardness level
consistent, you are going to be ok.
You can further discuss or leave suggestions in this forum.