NH3 or not NH3

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Noobie

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New poster here. Hi all.

My 10 gal tank is about a month old now. Learning the aquarist ways as i go here, but when i read that ammonia would be a chemical i'd have to watch for, i bought Jungle brands' Ammonia test strips. From day one, and almost invariably since, they indicate a level of 3-6. This clearly wasn't the case, as i didn't have a tank full of floaters. My tank inhabitants were clearly stressed, as their colors were faded, but my information was conflicting. Even after several water changes, and adding Jungle's "Ammonia Clear" tablets, the strips still indicated a 3+ reading. I took a sample to the pet store, and they confirmed my suspicions when their test indicated a level between .25 and .5

Probably won't buy any more pet supplies from Wal Mart. Lesson learned.
 

sgould

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Noobie

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Sounds about right. Thanks
 

Gargoyle

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Luniyn

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NH3 is actually the "free" ammonia, and in order to test for it you need a specialized test kit like . The majority of your ammonia is actually NH4+ and it isn't toxic to your fish (well at normal levels that is). What most kits are testing for is actually a total combined ammonia level (NH3+NH4). This is fine but misleading in some ways. If you have a total ammonia of 2ppm in your tank but a low pH (like 6.5), you won't notice your fish acting sickly because very little of that is actually toxic to them. However, the same total ammonia in a higher pH, say 7.5, would have a lot more toxic ammonia in it and you will notice problems or even deaths. This is why most of us suggest getting a master test kit that has pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate tests in it. Its the combination of all of them that will give you the best idea of how to keep your fish healthy.
 

Gargoyle

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So would adding C02 to lower PH have any effect on the toxic ammonia levels ???
 

Luniyn

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Gargoyle said:
So would adding C02 to lower PH have any effect on the toxic ammonia levels ???
The lower of the pH is what would effect your level of toxic ammonia. However, if you don't have a means to absorb all of that CO2 (i.e. a heavily planted tank) then you can starve your fish for oxygen which will be just as deadly. Using CO2 as a method for bringing down your pH is not recommended, use only enough to feed your live plants and if you get the side effect of a lower pH then so be it.
 

Gargoyle

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Alright so you are saying that if you lower your PH you can lower the "toxic" ammonia in the water ??
 

Luniyn

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There will always be a combination of both NH3 (the toxic "free" ammonia) and NH4+ in your tank (unless you use something like Prime or Amquel+). The proportion of one to the other is what varies and it is dependent on your total ammonia level, pH of your water, and temperature of your water. Leaving the pH the same and lowering the temp of the water will actually lower the amount of NH3 in your water. It's not as much as lowering the pH but it still works. Do I recommend doing either in your tank just to have lower amounts of NH3? No. I don't suggest playing with the the pH unless you either really have to, or are a seasoned veteran at the fish tank game. It is not easy to control and sudden spikes or drops can kill your fish very quickly. Stable is always better when it comes to fish, and they can get used to many different levels of pH even if it is out of their "normal" range. But yes technically by lowering your pH you are lowering the amount of toxic ammonia in your tank. Understand that when you lower the NH3 you are raising the NH4+ by an equal amount. You are not removing any ammonia by changing your pH, you are only changing the proportion... if you had 2.0ppm of total ammonia before you changed your pH, you are going to have 2.0ppm of total ammonia after as well.

The reason this is important is not because I'm suggesting lowering your pH, but understanding that if you have a high pH in your tank, you must either be VERY diligent in doing water changes with fish in the tank to keep that total ammonia level down or use a detoxifying chemical like Prime or Amquel+.
 
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