bacteria and pH ?'s

Nybbles

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ok, n00b here with my first tank....

anyway, been reading a bunch online and in books and have a couple questions....

1) pH out of the tap here is a little on the basic side; I have a 6-in-1 test strip thing and it appears my pH is hi-7's, maybe even up to low-8's. It's kinda hard to be too exact because the strips cover a very wide range of the pH spectrum. I know there are chemicals that can raise or lower pH, but the book (link) I'm reading recommends trying to stay away from these additives.

It looks like the fish I'm looking at prefer more neutral to slightly acidic water (i.e. tetra's). What do you guys think? Do I need a better testing kit so I can better tell exactly where it's at? Are there any easy, natural ways to lower the pH? I've seen mention of some more advanced ways but I'm a beginner and hoping to keep it simple. Should I even worry about it? Ideas?

2) Regarding good bacteria and the nitrogen cycle... I have a simple PetSmart (TopFin) 20 gal starter kit. It comes with a standard hang-on-the-back filter kit. I've also read quite a bit about bio-filters and NH3, NO2, NO3, etc.... it's my understanding that good bacteria will live in your filter. My concern is that when it comes time to change the filter, I'll lose a significant portion of my good bacteria. Is this a concern? Or will there be enough good bacteria growing on the gravel?

Any thoughts or advice? Thanks.
 

Isabella

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I have read this book as well and the author is right on - it is better NOT to chemically alter the pH. This is because a stable pH is far safer for fish than a constantly fluctuating one, even if it is lower or higher from what you expect it to be. As for test strips, they are generally regarded as inaccurate, as you can see for yourself. It's hard to get an exact reading with them. I always recommend to every one Aquarium Pharmaceuticals liquid tests - they're always accurate and reliable. They have never failed me, at least. If you get a pH liquid test for freshwater aquaria from Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, you should be able to get an exact reading of your tap and tank water. It would be best for you if you bought the Master Test Kit from A.P. - it contains the tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, normal pH, and high-range pH (this one would be good for you if your tap pH is indeed that high). It is only $13 online: , while at a local fish store it is usually much more expensive. If your pH is extremely high, a natural way to lower it is filtering your water through peat. But do not do anything until you find out exactly what your pH is.

You do not have to lose the beneficial bacteria in the filter at all - you just have to know how to change and/or clean the filter media First of all, if you just want to clean the filter media, you rinse them in tank water - NEVER in tap water, as chlorine (or chloramine) in tap water would kill the bacteria. Just set some tank water aside in a bucket and clean the media there. Secondly, you do not "have to" change every single filter medium every month, as the manufacturer of the filter will tell you. Think about it: changing the whole filter cartridge every month removes all your bacteria every month! The manufacturer will tell you to do it so that it can make more money off you when you go to buy another filter cartridge.

Depending on the type of filter you have, you do not need to change every single filter medium every month. My filter, for example, has a sponge, activated carbon, and bio-cubes (additional medium where a lot of beneficial bacteria live). The sponge - I NEVER change but only rinse it in tank water about every 2 weeks. The bio-cubes, I also never change and don't even need to rinse them as they hardly ever get dirty. As for the activated carbon, I don't use it at all - it is not necessary (unless you want to use it). When you want to use activated carbon, you must change it every month as it may start leeching back the chemicals it has absorbed after a while. Besides, a.c. is effective up to 2 weeks tops - after that time, it doesn't work anymore.

Now, if you want to change any medium, particularly the sponge (which I presume is the medium that holds most bacteria in your filter), you have to be very careful with that. The best way to do this is to remove the old sponge, put the new sponge in, AND cut a large piece of your old sponge and put it next to the new sponge. Leave it there for about 2 weeks or more. This will help seed the new sponge with the beneficial bacteria faster and - hopefully - it will prevent any mini-cycles (which is why I recommend a large piece of the old sponge). You can remove the old piece after 2 - 3 weeks. If you want to be absolutely safe, leave it there for 4 weeks. Plus, when you put the new sponge in, also rinse it well in tank water.

I hope all of this helps you. Ask if you have any more questions. Good luck.
 
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Nybbles

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Thanks for the reply Isabella.

About my filter, it's the one that came with the kit and only does the mechanical filtration w/ carbon. There is no "bio-filter" sponge thingy in it. This is why I'm worried about the filter changes. Eventually, I will need to replace it and couldnt that cause a "mini-cycle" period? Perhaps I should by a better filter kit that includes some sort of "bio-filter sponge"? What do you think? And if I did that, would it make sense to run two filters?

As for the water testing, I'll look into getting that kit. Thanks for the recommendation.
 

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Nybbles, if you want to get a new filter, there is no problem with running two filters on one tank. It's never wrong to "over-filter". Suppose you just keep running the current filter for now, and when you're ready to get a new filter, you simply hang it at the other end of your tank and run it for about a month - so that it gets seeded with the beneficial bacteria. After the new filter is "mature", you can remove the old filter. Besides, do you know the brand of your current filter? Is it Tetra Whisper perhaps?

If you're seriously thinking about getting a new filter, I personally have experience with only Tetra Whisper and Aqua Clear filters so far, and I have to tell you that Aqua Clears are a whole heaven better than Tetra Whispers. Aqua Clear is what I have over my 30 gallon tank, and it is the filter that has bio-cubes, a thick sponge, and activated carbon (if one wants it). As I've said before, I never replace the sponge and the bio-cubes. (Unless the sponge will be terribly worn-out one day.) Many other people who have Aqua Clears also love these filters. So I'd highly recommend it to you (but, of course, you don't have to get it if you don't like it). Whichever the new power filter you get, it's best to get a power filter that pumps 10 times the volume of your tank. You can see how much water a filter pumps on a filter's box (in which it came). You can also find such information online about particular filters.
 
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Nybbles

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I currently have a Top Fin 20 filter... it appears to be identical to the Tetra Whisper series; even uses the same filters.

I think I will head to Pet Smart after work and see if they have anything better (such as the Aqua Clear) and compare the in-store prices to those online.  Luckily the store is just a ferw minutes from the office.  Thanks for your help Isabella!
 
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Nybbles

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Just an FYI, in case somebody runs into this thread in the future, PetSmart stocks a filter cartridge called the Bio3 filter cartridges. ( ) These filters fit the Top Fin and Whisper filters and offer a nice sponge for bacteria to grow on. So when you replace the filter, you only replace the filter floss and the carbon, leaving all the good bacteria on the sponge.

I'll likely get a Bio-Wheel or Aqua Clear (leaning to the AC) in the future, but at $2.99, this was a steal.

Also, got the water test kit; paid more to get it today. The water is indeed alkaline right out of the tap with a pH of 8.0. If anyone has suggestions (or links) on peat filtering or other ways to lower pH, let me know. Otherwise I'll google it later. Thanks!
 

Isabella

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As I've said before, it's better to have a stable pH, even if it is lower or higher from what you expected it to be. If your fish are doing OK, I do not see any reason to try and alter the pH in any way. Do you have any fish in your tank already? If not, maybe just try to get some hardy fish at first and see how they'll do. Besides, make sure that any fish you get is properly and carefully acclimatized to your tank (particularly because the pH at the fish store will probably be much lower than 8.0 and when a fish suddenly goes from 8.0 to, say, even 7.0 - that could be a big shock to it).

Besides, if your filter is the same as Tetra Whisper and if it uses the same or similar filter cartridges, this is a good thread for you to read: . I hope it will answer at least some of your questions. Please read at least the first two pages of this thread.

P.S. Even if the Aqua Clear filter may seem expensive at first, remember that it is really a one-time expense. This is because its media are so good that you won't need to change them probably for years. If you get new sponge, new carbon, and new bio-cubes every single month - as the manufacturer recommends - all of this will add up to a lot of money over a certain period of time. But because you won't have to change the media with the Aqua Clear (except for the activated carbon if you want to use it), you'll actually be saving a lot of money in the long run. All you'll have to do is to rinse the thick sponge regularly, and clean the filter and it's propeller every once in a while. I think that's a very lucrative deal. Plus - you'll have a filter that works GREAT. This is all from my own experience. If you decide to get the Aqua Clear, make sure that it pumps 10 times the volume of your tank.
 

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