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Nitrate Testing Headaches


Guest Fab

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My daughter's goldfish, Dennis, is doing fine in his established 10 gallon tank, but I'm having headaches testing for nitrates.

First off, I'm using the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals testing kit. The test is alright, but frankly I'm having a devil of a time deciding between the colors. It's like the card is yellow for 0 ppm, orange-yellow for 5 ppm, orange for 10 ppm, then red for 20, red for 40, red for 80, and red for 160. Well, maybe that's exaggerating, but let's call it orangish-red, reddish-orange, red, dark red, and darker red. I'm not color blind, and I'm a bit of an artist, so I have an eye for color, yet this test stumps me.

I used to do a 25% water change every week, and he's living in the 10 gallon tank all by himself. I highly doubt he'd have very high levels of nitrates but each week I test and he comes up somewhere between 40 ppm and 100 ppm (again, based on my inability to read the stupid card). Due to the (possibly) high readings on the nitrate test, I've upped it to a 50% change each week and still he's showing up in the 40-100 ppm range! I'm guessing his nitrates are okay as, again he's by himself and I change half his water and vac his gravel every weekend.

So I have three questions:

1) Is it likely that his nitrates are in the 40-60 ppm range given the above scenario? I would think even without a test that such a large water change every week should take care of the situation.

2) Does anyone make an electronic tester of some sort? I'd pay good money if I could press a button, put a probe in the water, wait 30 seconds, and pull it out and have a digital readout down to a decimal place or two. Is this sort of test even possible to do by that method? I'm not a chemist, so I don't know if this is even possible.

3) Could my test kit be screwed up somehow? I'm following the instructions, but if my chemicals are bad or something that would skew my answers. Is this something that happens? And if not, is there another dropper-style kit I could get that has a much easier nitrate test kit? I'm not asking for something with a rainbow of colors, but when the color options are all just a smidge off from each other I have no clue what I'm looking at.

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Hi there fab and believe me - I know what you mean :D

My reading never really gets over 20 but it never goes under and the reason is my tap water has a reading of 20.

So, try testing your tap water and see what your results come in at.

When you look at your reading, are you holding your vial beside the white card? The best way to view the results is by putting your vial on the white card and run it down the colour chart. The white background of your card gives it a more accurate reading (unless this is what you are doing?)

But first, test your tap water and see what happens, you may have a high level of nitrates in your source water :)

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Well I tested my tap. There are nitrates in there. I thought I tested that a while back and didn't see any, but then again I may have only tested the tap for pH. Anyway, there are some nitrates in the tap, between 5 ppm and 10 ppm, nearer to the 10.

As for reading the card, do you hold the tube UP AGAINST the white card or NEAR the white card? When I put it smack up against it makes the color darker and would make my readings even worse. I find it hard to believe one goldfish can generate that many nitrates in a week (especially with my large water changes). I understand goldfish are dirty fish, but it still seems extreme to me.

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the card is yellow for 0 ppm, orange-yellow for 5 ppm, orange for 10 ppm, then red for 20, red for 40, red for 80, and red for 160.

408750[/snapback]

:tomuch: I use that test too. It can drive you crazy. I just try to keep it as light red (or orange) as possible. If the red is too dark, I am worried the nitrates are getting too high and I will schedule an extra water changed that week.

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As for reading the card, do you hold the tube UP AGAINST the white card or NEAR the white card?  When I put it smack up against it makes the color darker and would make my readings even worse.  I find it hard to believe one goldfish can generate that many nitrates in a week (especially with my large water changes).  I understand goldfish are dirty fish, but it still seems extreme to me.

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You're meant to hold it on the card and slide it down until you get the correct reading :crp

I used to have high nitrates but i also used to have an enormous amount of gravel and there was no way i could get all the gunk out of it each week so in a fit of cleaning, i removed half the gravel, gave it a really good vacuum, and i mean really good, did a 60% waterchange - then tested an hour later. They came down from 80 to 40. Then a couple of days later, did the same again and now they remain a constant 20. How much gravel do you have in your tank?

And my last question - what kind of filtration are you running?

The reason I ask this is some filtration that doesn't have an intake stem you can position about 1-2cm from the bottom can tend to miss all the waste they produce that falls to the bottom so I have a couple of filters running that have long intake stems and each morning when i look in, low and behold, poop all over the stem. This tends to take the pressure off and helps keep the levels reduced somewhat :)

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I have that test too and I know what you mean, I usually just guess at what it actually is but there is something I do to help me guess a little better. I hold the tube away from the card, just a little so the light goes through it and shows up on the card, if that color has any orange to it then I know its lower then 80 and if its just red then its 80 or higher. But then again if I cant tell what color it is doing it the way your supposed to then I know I need to do a bigger water change then normal

By the way I have nitrates in my tap too, around 20 and I can never get it that low in my tank so even after a water change its still around 40

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I'm running a Bio-Wheel 100 gph filter right now. It's got a long intake stem with two intakes, one in the middle and one at the bottom. It's actually below the level of the gravel and I make sure to scoop a little divot for it so that the intake openings are clear.

As for gravel, I have an inch and a half of largish pea-sized gravel in the tank. I too notice every time I vac the tank that there's a bunch of debris sucked up into the hose. I do a vacuum once a week, but maybe it's time to take the gravel up and clean it outside the tank.

Do you recommend pulling it all up and cleaning it all at once? Is there enough bacteria in the filter to reseed the gravel once I put it back? Or is it better to pull up half of it now and do the other half some other time?

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Well, some of my tanks have been running for 18mths and I've never removed the gravel for cleaning. A good gravel vac is all that is need in my opinon.

If you do decide to remove the gravel to clean it, it is best done in segments, a bit each week.

btw. I have the same problem with nitrAte tests. If it's over 40 it's almost impossible to distinguish the correct reading.

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Ahh... An inexpensive digital nitrate tester... That has to be on every aquarium owners wish list... But there isn't one... Yet.

There are nitrate test kits that the results are easier to read than the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals test kit. Nutrafin/Hagen one. Tunze makes another good one, but it's kinda pricey, about $50.

Although one of our members has been questioning the results from the Nutrafin/Hagen test kit, I have been using the Nutrafin/Hagen test kits for more than three years and find them very accurate and easier to read.

Here is a photo showing the test results of 10PPM nitrate of both the AP and Nutrafin test kits.

test-r5.jpg

Rick

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Another thing you might want to consider.....

If you look at the test and it is red, very red. You do not know whether it is 80ppm, 160ppm 300ppm or 600ppm. Lets say, for arguments sake, that for some reason, nitrates have climbed to 300ppm. Your test looks red. You do a 50% water change. You have only brought the amount down to 150ppm. That still looks extremely red - way too red for the fish. Do another 50% water change immediately. You STILL will have 75ppm of nitrate - a very red color on the card.

It seems like you changed a tremendous amount of water - you changed 10 gallons of a 10 gallon tank, right? But you have only diluted the nitrate to 25% of what it was - and at 75ppm, it is still way to high for your fish! Do another 50% change and you are only down to a little over 35ppm. That is STILL red on the card. Do ANOTHER change and you are finally down into the area where you want the water to stay.

When the nitrates get away from you - over feeding by a caretaker when you are gone, etc - it can take suprisingly large water changes to get it under control again. Once you do, however, you can keep it under control.

Starting out with water at the 20ppm mark is a pain in the you-know-what though. <_<

Cutting back on the amount of food should help a bit to keep the weekly buildup of nitrates more under control.....

:)

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