In Part 2 of this two-part article you'll gain insight on how medications and aquarium substrate can impact pH levels and the possible remedies you have available. Haven't read Part 1? Click here.
Maintaining stable water chemistry is the key to keeping your freshwater aquarium running smoothly and your tank inhabitants healthy. If the water quality in your tank decreases or your tank experiences a sudden change in water chemistry, your fish could become stressed and may even die. One of the most important aspects of water chemistry is pH and there are a variety of factors which may lead to a change or drop in pH. In addition to naturally occurring conditions such as excess carbon dioxide, tannins from driftwood and the nitrification stage of biological filtration, a drop in pH could also be the result of a mistake on your part as an aquarium hobbyist. Overdosing your tank on medications or adding the wrong kind of substrate can have a negative effect on the pH in your aquarium and, if you do not take quick action to remedy the mistake, your fish could suffer.
Administering Medication Safely
It is wise to use caution when adding any kind of chemical to your aquarium, even medications designed to help your fish overcome disease. Many medications contain substances that can be toxic to fish in high doses, so not only should you be careful when using these treatments for this reason, but these chemicals may also have an effect on the water chemistry in your tank. Read the instructions on the medication carefully to determine whether you need to make any adjustments to your tank before administering the treatment. Many treatments require the removal of activated carbon filter media and some treatments are most effective at a certain tank temperature. In addition to chemical medications, many aquarium hobbyists use salt baths to treat certain aquarium fish diseases. Adding too much salt to aquarium water can change the water chemistry of your tank and, in combination with other medications, it could potentially cause a severe drop in pH. To prevent any serious consequences, test your tank’s pH before beginning a treatment regimen and monitor it closely throughout – if the pH begins to drop, stop the treatment until you have remedied the situation or select a different treatment option to try. I use the American Marine pH Monitor and have experienced great success with it. It is very accurate and very easy to use.
Choosing the Right Aquarium Substrate
When it comes to selecting the substrate for your freshwater tank, you have many options to choose from. Standard gravel and aquarium sand are two of the most popular options, but some aquarium hobbyists are tempted to go a different route for the sake of being unique. Certain aquarium substrates like Oil Dri, Turface and Soilmaster have all been known to cause a drop in aquarium pH. If you plan to use any of these substrates in your aquarium, be aware of this possibility and consider mixing it with another substrate to balance it out. Another substance many aquarium hobbyists use as substrate in their tanks is peat moss -- it is typically used as a fertilizer for planted tanks and is often covered with a layer of some other substrate to prevent it from staining the water. Like driftwood, peat moss contains tannins or tannic acids that naturally lower the pH of aquarium water. To avoid having problems with a drop in pH, be aware of the potential side effects of whatever type of aquarium substrate you choose. Standard aquarium gravel and sand are unlikely to have an effect on aquarium water chemistry, so if you are looking for a risk-free option one of these substrates may be your best choice.
Correcting Drops in Aquarium pH
If your aquarium experiences a sudden drop in pH it is wise to take quick action to remedy the situation before your fish come to any harm. Luckily, there are several simple ways to increase aquarium pH. One of the easiest ways to raise the pH in your tank is to add baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Adding 1ml of baking soda per 10 liters of tank water can raise the pH as high as 8.2, so add the baking soda slowly and monitor the pH as you go so you can stop when it reaches the appropriate level. Another way to increase the pH in your tank is to add equal parts baking soda, Epsom salt and marine salt to the tank at a rate of 1ml per 10 liters of tank water. This mixture will not only raise the pH of your tank but it may also increase the water hardness, so exercise caution when utilizing this method to avoid hardening the water in your tank too much. Though this method is not recommended as a means of temporarily raising pH, the addition of calcitic gravel to your tank can also increase the pH. Not only does calcitic gravel increase aquarium pH, but it also increases the buffering capacity of the water so it is unlikely to drop below 7.5. If the fish in your tank require a neutral or slightly acidic pH, do not use this method to correct a drop in pH because it could raise the pH level too high.
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