Feeling overwhelmed with setting up a CO2 system.

  • #1
Hello all,

I'd really like to set up a CO2 injection system for my 55 gallon tank.

Quick overview:

55 gallons
Lighting: 2x 54W T5HO, 5 hours daily
pH: 7.8
ammonia, nitrite, nitrate: 0, 0, 10-20
KH: 5.5
GH: 11-13
Phosphate: 2ppm

I dose dry ferts to keep the parameters around those levels (still waiting on the iron test to come in the mail). At the moment, I am double dosing API CO2 Boost to combat algae; 1/8 tsp micros twice weekly, 1/4 tsp nitrates twice weekly (or so, I've skipped the last two doses because the level has remained at 10-20ppm even with a water change); sulfate 1/8 tsp twice weekly; and I'm not dosing phosphate as the first 1/8 tsp three weeks ago shot the level up to over 2ppm, and it has stayed around 2ppm since.

I currently only have six platies, a BN pleco, two ghost shrimp and a handful of assassin snails in the tank, but this will be my eventual stocking list:

2 angels
1 GBR? (Still undecided)
6 praecox rainbows
6 platies
1 BN pleco
1 bamboo shrimp
Assassin snails

I would like to have an injection system rather than dose liquid CO2 forever. I understand a system is more efficient, both cost-wise and for the plants. I found these threads helpful in understanding the basic concepts:

Using the first link, I estimated that the cost of buying the parts separately could reasonably be below $300 (however this is not including reactors and diffusers, which I'm not sure are necessary or not, or the colored solution that tells you the concentration of CO2). As a college student I'd prefer to keep the costs low, though I don't want a bottom-of-the-barrel system, either. Is this a reasonable estimate?

I started looking on Amazon and Dr Fosters and Smith, but the variety of options is overwhelming! Obviously there is a range in quality, but there are also options where certain components are combined (like a regulator and solenoid). I'm finding it difficult to figure out what to piece together to be most cost-effective, but still effective for my plants.

There are stickies on DIY CO2, but not a lot of info on FishLore about CO2 systems. If you could give me some tips about how to go about finding the components I need (and which ones I don't, especially) that would be great.

Thanks for any info you can provide!

Edit: What are your thoughts on this system? It seems to have all the components I need, but the price seems like it might be too good to be true. Missing things, poor quality maybe?
  • #2
well I can only speak on what I have. I have 3 co2 tanks, I bought two form one from aqua cave. I would get the biggest tank you can so you don't have to refill it so often. not to scare you even a 5lb should last a couple months. I have a 5,10,20lb the 20lb runs two tanks I actually just got it.

I have two diff regulators, ill post both below. I just got the milwaukee a week ago, I was having trouble getting the bubble count right but seems to have stabilized. it was a lot more trouble than my aquatic ive regulator. I would recommend the aquatic live so far but haven't had much time with the milwaukee. the aquatic live is more expensive though.

as far as getting the co2 into your tank. the two ways I use are, if you have a canister filter you can use a in line co2 reactor. I have one its good and bad. I have it outside of the tank and it could spring a leak but mine hasnt. you can place it in the tank if you want. you have to take it apart and clean it every so often. mines been on over 6 months and might need to be cleaned soon. this way will break up the bubbles and spread them through out the tank the best. the other way is basically just a air stone. I place mine where there is a lot of current so it blows around tank.

a ph monitor is a nice addition but I don't have one on any of my tanks. I use 2bps and haven't had any problems.

here is what I have and where I bought it.
Nate McFin
  • #3
I would skip the foster and smith set ups and either build one myself, buy used from a online classified like planted tank or aquaticplantcentral.com or save up some cash and buy from someone like Orlando at Green Leaf Aquariums (Orlando is a great guy to deal with and will guide you though the whole process) I bought used from plantedtank and got a $250 dollar set up for a $100. It works flawlessly. Good deals on good equipment are out there as long as you are willing to wait and research hjow to find them.

The foster and smith set ups are just not the quality I would want to use. Good quality equipment will help prevent "end of tank" dump and protect your fish. A PH set up is not needed but a drop checker is definitely needed. ( A drop checker indicates co2 levels)
I use a "grigg" style reactor that I built. It is inline and cost about $15 to build.

Building a co2 system is a little overwhelming but once you have one your going to love it. Hang in there and ask questions like your doing. You will get it.
  • Thread Starter
  • #4
Thanks for your input, guys

1. That's one thing I get at least, about the CO2 tanks. We're planning to get a 10 lb, as a 20 lb tank wouldn't fit in the cabinet. I've read that paintball canisters can be used as long as the thread size is the same; my boyfriend used to play paintball and has a few 20 oz canisters. I've read that (I'm going to start a lot of sentences this way, haha) many people have a small tank to use when filling the main one, so that the tank isn't disconnected from CO2 for a long time (and ours would be, as we'll likely be driving over an hour each way to get them filled). So I think I'm all set for CO2 tanks.
2. I do have a canister filter. I read that you should have the CO2 in contact with the water for as long as possible, so some people have the CO2 go through their canister filter and come out the spray bar. The only downside is that my spraybar is right near the surface, so the CO2 would leave the tank right after that.
3. Thanks for all the links! I looked through all of them, and assuming that's all you need (which I think you need a drop checker too...is that the solution that changes color (yellow, blue, green) depending on the CO2 concentration) the price isn't terrible (though I'll definitely be going with a cheaper regulator/solenoid ). Also there's CO2 resistant tubing...and I read something about needle valves too?

That's something I read in a few of the reviews; more than one person thought the bubble counter was poor quality and had parts leaking. I've looked at Orlando's stuff (I get my ferts from him) but unfortunately his CO2 systems are a little more than I'm able to pay. I'd love to get a used set-up, and I've heard a lot about plantedtank (and read quite a few threads), but I'm guessing there's a minimum post count to be able to use the classified forum? (Not that it should be too much of a factor, since I joined this forum at the end of February and already have a few posts... )

Thanks again for you guys' help
  • #5
I also drive a hour to fill my tanks. I use florish excel if I can't fill them right away, it won't mess anything up if you don't have co2 for a day or two.

if your spray bar is pointed at the surface you will be surprised how many bubbles bounce along the surface and still spread throughout the tank. I have one of my spray bars pointed at the ground if you don't have sand you could point it down. when your using one of these reactors I believe a lot of co2 will be dissolved directly into the water column. also sometimes a canister filter won't be powerful enough to power one of these, needs good flow.

I do 2bps, I have no drop checker or ph monitor. if your bubble count is consistent and your fish arnt gasping for breath your fine. I haven't had any problems. been running co2 for over a year.

I have some co2 resistant tubing, it deff nicer. I also use some regular tubing without any problems. so id only get the nicer one if you can afford it. you will also need a check valve.
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
I've read that regular tubing is a semi-permeable membrane and can leak CO2, causing it to run out faster. Depending on how much more it is, I may go with that stuff.

The drop checker is only about $5 or so, so I'll probably still get one for peace of mind.

I forgot about using Excel while the tank is disconnected, that's a good idea.

Hmm it seems like my canister flow is pretty strong (we had to point the spraybar at the wall because otherwise the flow was too strong) but it's my first canister so I can't compare it to anything. Can you explain what the reactor does? Do I have to have one?
  • #7
I have two. the bubbles come into the top of the reactor. there are blades that spin and chop up the bubbles, the blades are powered by you canister filter. when the bubbles are small enough they are forced to the bottom of the reactor. there is a small inlet at the bottom, then out the spray bar. if you want id be more than happy to make a vid of my setups if it will help.

I did take one of mine off, because my enhime canister wouldnt power it as much as I would like.
Nate McFin
  • #8
The grigg style reactor I posted, takes water in the top and bubbles in the middle. The bubbles want to float so they head toward the top where the water is coming in. The water emulsifies the bubbles and as they get smaller they go out the bottom of the reactor and into the tank via the spray bar. No mechanical parts or anything involved. Just physics. I really love the simplicity of the reactor and have found it works very good.
The size of the tank I chose was the biggest I could get that would fit in the caboinety. In my case it was a 20 pound. It lasts about 7 months.
Here is a good video Orlando made for setting up the system. It helped to watch it when setting it up. It is easy to blow the gauges out in your regulator so check it out!
Just watch the swap and shop and you will find a good deal. =)
  • Thread Starter
  • #9
Thanks for the video, Nate! Seeing it being set up helps a lot. Though he said "adjust the flow of bubbles by adjusting the needle valve"..then didn't show the needle valve! Oh well, I'm sure there are other videos on youtube.

I notice he didn't have a reactor. Are they mandatory? Is the purpose just to make the bubbles smaller, so as to increase absorption (through increased surface area)? Though with how inexpensive they seem to be, maybe I should just suck it up and get one.

Why does he use a solution in the bubble counter instead of just water? Is that also a drop checker (IE changes colors to show CO2 concentration)?
Nate McFin
  • #10
I just use water in the bubble counter in fact I made mine with a 20 oz. coke bottle. I will try to take a pic of the co2 set up tomorrow for ya. The needlevalve is actually part oof the "post body kit" The post body kit is:
1. The solenoid- so you can connect the co2 to a timer.
2.The needlevale so you can adjust bps rates.

I would say some sort of reactor is needed. It helps spread the co2 through the whole tank and make it more available for the plants. Otherwise you will really struggle to get a good dispersement of your co2 especially to the "dead spots" in the tank. You are right, as cheap as they are make one it is very helpful to have one!
  • #11
Why does he use a solution in the bubble counter instead of just water? Is that also a drop checker (IE changes colors to show CO2 concentration)?

HI Kinezumi/Nate,
If it's the solution I'm thinking of, it is a thicker solution than just water. It allows for more accurate counting of the bubbles as they move more slowly. It is most likely Glycerine (or mineral oil).
  • #12
the reactor I listed was only $15 for the biggest one. IMO $15 dose not justify making your own, I tried and I had a hard time. I just use water in my bubble counters, if that solution is cheap I might give it a try.
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
Ryan - that's what I figured, that it was something more viscous than water. But wouldn't that mean that flow rate (measured as bubbles per second) would be different if you used water versus the provided solution?

Is anyone familiar with these? I'm not sure it's worth $50 to get a fancier device to measure flow rate (plus it comes with tubing, which isn't very expensive anyway).

Also, can anyone tell me what the difference is between these reactors? The prices between the 100, 500, and 1000 models are very different...are they just larger? Or is it the fact that the method for each is different? Why does the really expensive one have what looks like bioballs? There isn't much info on the page.

I'm still confused on diffusers versus reactors. I understand that the purpose of reactors is to make the bubbles smaller so that the CO2 is more efficiently absorbed into the water. Like the one bankruptjojo posted () the center is ceramic, which is very porous, so tiny bubbles of CO2 come out. So do you use only one or the other? I don't understand how you could hook up both (where does the reactor go in the order of components?) or why you would need to. Don't they both serve the same purpose?

Thanks for everyone's help so far!

Edit: More questions!
1. Has anyone used this? There's also one on Dr Fosters and Smith which is cheaper but looks a little more shoddy (and, I'll admit, not as aesthetically pleasing). Worth it for $15? I like the idea of being able to glance at something and quickly see a color and know if the concentration is good or not. (I know it doesn't react instantly to changes in CO2, of course.)
2. bankruptjojo: Is there any reason you got another bubble counter (the Fluval one) and didn't use the one that came with the regulator/solenoid? Or does the Fluval one go with the $150 regulator/solenoid link you posted?

I think I've decided on these so far:
Regulator/solenoid/bubble counter: Seems like the best deal (money versus quality).
Drop checker: ("indicator" is the same as a drop checker, right?)
CO2 tubing:
CO2 tank: Haven't found one yet; can find a 10lb tank on Amazon for about $70 but shipping is $20 so I'm going to see if I can find one locally first.

Is that everything, except a reactor (if I need one in addition to a diffuser)? I'm guessing the needle valve is part of the regulator, right? I don't need to buy a separate one?
  • #14
I can't speak for the equipment aspect, as I don't run injected CO2.

Regarding the bubble-counter, I don't know if it changes the flow rate so to speak.

Irrespective of the viscosity of the fluid, 2bps is still 2bps. If you have 2bps entering the fluid, then 2bps will still burst at the top. You may have more bubbles in the fluid at a given time prepared to water, but the time it takes to get to the top should stay the same for each bubble.

I saw a video a few years ago that explained it really well to me, but da ya think I can find it now!!

I hope that makes sense.
  • #15
the aquaticlife regulators don't come with bubble counters like the milwukee does, so I had to use those on two of my tanks. they work well, so dose the milwukee's bubble counter. I really like that about it.

I have not used those reactors and am not sure how they work. iv been thinking about trying some of them if I get money to burn. they all work on the same principle.

I will make you a video tomorrow showing you mine.
Nate McFin
  • #16
The co2 indicator you pointed out includes an indicator solution but it does not say if it used a 4dkh (hardness solution) this is generally the accepted solution level. If you do a quick search for Co2 and 4dkh on ebay you will find many options. Each one will be just as good as the next.
Sorry I didnt touch on the bubble counter solution, yes it is mineral oil. No it isn't essential...water can be used.

My take on co2 diffuser vs. reactor is that a diffuser breaks co2 bubbles down and spread the around the tank. The tank water can look a bit like 7 up with little bubbles floating around. A reactor 9for lack of a better word) encourages the co2 to actually absorb further into the water. In my tank I don't have the small bubbles swirling around. something I did have in my 20 gln. tank when I made a diffuser that used impellers in a Hagen minI filter to chop the bubbles up. I did not care for the look (or the noise you can here the bubbles hit the impeller with a hagen) That was why I went with the grigg style reactor on my 40g. Easy to make and very effective.
You do want a solenoid too IMO. Putting it on a timer is essential. I usually start my co2 about an hour before the lights come on and stop it an hour before lights out.
  • Thread Starter
  • #17
Thanks for your responses!

1. In looking up reactors on Amazon, I've found that a lot of things that look like diffusers are being called reactors.
These look like what I imagine reactors to look like:

But this one looks just like a diffuser! It even says it has a ceramic diaphragm. Also the second link above looks like a diffuser a bit too; it has the same glass cup-shape.

2. If I went with one of the Gulfstream reactors, how do I know if I need medium versus large?

3. What is the purpose of the bioballs in the reactor in the first link?

4. Do I put the reactor before the canister filter, or after (right before the water goes in the tank)? The tubing for that thing us huge, do they make adapters or something? It must be around an inch or something.

The model I'm looking at is a regulator and solenoid and bubble counter all in one, so I'm set for the solenoid. And I conveniently have a big bottle of mineral oil (curing cutting boards) so I'm set there as well. And the lights are already on a timer.
  • #18
your second link is just a diffuser.

as far as what size you need it depends on how big your canister is. what kind of canister do you use. I have the biggest one on my 40 gallon and it works great. its on a jbj canister filter rated for a 100 gallons.

the bio balls just help chop the co2 up more.

after the canister or the bubbles might get stuck in the filter. I got my reactor on a 5/8" hose, they have lil plastic adapters. not really the best adapters but mine is outside my tank with no leaks so far.

just make sure you have a extra timer outlet for the regulator.
  • Thread Starter
  • #19
It's an Aquatop cf-400uv. I don't remember the flow rate...for some reason I don't think it's 400gph.
  • #20
that should work I would get the bigger reactor. I will make you a vid later tonight when I can.
  • #21
here you go hope this helps. sorry kinda worn out been golfing all day

  • #22
great explanation, been confuse on the whole process as well.
  • #23
thanks means a lot coming form you!

kinda went a lil long, sometimes I ramble on about nothing
Nate McFin
  • #24
Nice video! Looks like a nice set up you have there.
  • Thread Starter
  • #25
Holy cow you have a lot of stuff! That must have been expensive to acquire. Thanks, that helped a lot. Question though...for the first reactor you showed, how were you able to hook up the canister to it? Did the tubes and elbow joints and stuff come with the reactor, because they assume you're hooking it up to a canister?

Also, the plant looks like a val of some sort. I can't tell the difference between Italian and jungle and such, but maybe someone else can.

Your tanks look great! Super planty, like I hope mine will look. I love your betta tank, I want to make a 20 long into a three-way betta tank someday.
  • #26
yea I just got the 20lb tank for my birthday. yes the elbow's come with the reactor. honestly there not the best but I used a lil silicone and iv had no leaks. I also checked and the hoses on your canister are 5/8in the same as mine. but I would add some of those metal clamps I have just to be safe. unless you put it in the tank. you don't have to use a canister filter, you can use any kind of water pump.

plant I was talking about, I think, iv orders so many I can't be sure lol. but I believe it was form live aquaria. there is only a couple it could be on there.

I'm actually buying a 150 gallon. putting most of the fish from my 33g and 40 gallon into it. moving all the bettas into my 33g long so it will be divided for 5. hopeful in january.

thanks for the kind words.
  • Thread Starter
  • #27
So would all of these things be everything I need, in addition to a CO2 tank?

Regulator/solenoid/bubble counter:
CO2 tubing:
Drop checker:
CO2 tank
  • #28
dont forget a check valve. but yes that's it.

one thing about the reactor. if you clean your filter and end up getting to many bubbles in your reactor you will have to spin it around so the bubbles leave out the bottom. not really a big deal just be careful. this also means you can't permanently mount it somewhere.
  • Thread Starter
  • #29
Oh, the regulator/solenoid doesn't come with a check valve? Okay, I'll look for one of those too.

Okay, I'll keep that in mind, thanks

Edit: Like this one?

Edit edit: That actually seems kind of expensive. If it says it's for an air pump, does that mean it wouldn't work for this application? This is what I've been looking at:

PS. Do I have to have a check valve? Can anyone post a link for one they have? I don't want to pay $13 for one, it seems a little too expensive. I'd look for non-aquarium check valves, but I'd be afraid the pressure would be different and no CO2 would pass through or something.

Edit: Found some for much cheaper. In hindsight, why does it matter if it's air or CO2, coming from a tank or an air pump? I'd assume the pressures would be pretty similar.
  • #30
they have special co2 check valves that are more expensive but I just use air pump check valves. I'm not sure the brand but they were only like $3.
  • Thread Starter
  • #31
Well, it's all bought! I got all the items I linked previously. In order to get free shipping on Amazon I needed to buy $10 more stuff so I got a bottle of Garlic Guard. Everyone seems to like the stuff haha.

Hopefully it all gets here soon-ish! The shipping estimate for the darn check valves was 14-28 BUSINESS days!! That's like a month and a half! If I get ALL the other parts and I'm waiting on just the check valves I may buy them somewhere else. They were only $3.

Thanks for everyone's help! Couldn't have done it without you guys.
  • #32
Nice! I hope it all works out for you.

  • Thread Starter
  • #33
Me too! I'm hoping everything will arrive by the end of next week so I can set it up over the weekend before school starts, but I'm not holding my breath. It may happen the weekend after.
  • #34
It looks intimidating to me too. I wouldn't want to kill the fish.

I saw a kit at petco that's similar to the Fluval Pressurized 88g-CO2 Kit - 3.1 Ounces. It was rated for 40 gallon tanks with 1 co2 cartridge lasting 30 days. It was 50 bucks.

I think for a beginner, the co2 tank system would be a more enjoyable way to this that the table systems. Dosing might be better than the tablet things too.

According to a few people at other sites, 5 pounds of CO2 last 5 months on a 75 gallon aquarium at 40 ppm.

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