Many aquarium owners dread learning about water chemistry. But just by knowing the basics, you can greatly improve your track record in rearing healthy fish. Since the quality of water in your tank has a direct impact on the health of your fish, it's important for aquarium owners to understand the basic internal chemistry of their fish's water in order to correctly and safely adjust it. Aquarium owners who do learn the basics of water chemistry find it much easier to maintain a healthy and safe environment for the fish in their tank.
Understanding the pH Scale
Many aquarists have heard of pH, but most do not understand the importance of controlling it. pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity in the water. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 being "neutral" (the point at which water is neither acidic nor alkaline). As the scale goes down, the water becomes more acidic; as the pH goes up, the water gets more alkaline.
One very important thing to know about the pH scale is that it is logarithmic. For example, a pH level of 5 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6, and a pH of 4 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 6.
So if your fish are supposed to live in a pH climate of 7 but the water in your tank is reading 8, your water is 10 times more alkaline than what it should be. If the pH is 9, then your fish are living in water 100 times more alkaline than recommended for optimal health. So it is easy to see why even a small change in required pH can be stressful - and potentially fatal - to your fish.
Expecting a fish that requires a pH of 8 to share the same water with a fish that requires a pH of 6 is also not a good idea because one or both will always be under a great deal of stress. These examples emphasize the importance in matching your fish closely to the expected pH level of your water and then closely monitoring the pH.
How to Maintain the Right pH Level for Your Tank
There are several different ways to influence your water's pH. There are chemical additives you can add directly to the water which will either raise or lower the pH. Natural agents can also be used to alter water pH as well. Adding
peat in the tank or filter will acidify the water. Mineral salts like
calcium (found in limestone or in some shells) will increase the alkalinity and pH.
Any time you attempt to change pH levels in your tank, remember that fish are very sensitive to pH changes and if it's done too rapidly, it can cause extreme stress or even death. Fish should not be exposed to a change in pH greater than 0.3 in a 24-hour period.
Remember that in order to correctly adjust the pH levels in your tank, you first have to optimize the amount of dissolved solids in the water, as described in
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