PH of 9 from the tap

Fish20G

Hi, everyone. I've been stepping up my water change game and since then, recently had a fish die. I'm taking a time out to check everything, learn some more, and adjust my approach.

I tested my tap water, which I've done before. But this time, the pH is about 9. I think I missed it last time because I didn't use the high pH drops. My mistake. It also has ammonia of 3ppm, but I can combat that I think relatively easily. Water from the refrigerator dispenser has the same pH, but ammonia of 0.5ppm. I've never gotten a straight clear 0ppm from API test kit, so this is as low as it goes for me.

I want to keep doing 25% water changes every week, but I'm concerned that it will cause the pH to creep up, and possibly even create a shock when dumping the water in. I've tried letting it sit overnight, but that didn't help. I can switch to bottled but would prefer not to, as that can fluctuate, too.

I've been reading, but so many of the posts go into GH and KH and I'm not smart enough yet to understand.

I've been thinking about adding pH Down to the tap water... but it's only a 20 gallon tank and when changing 5 gallons (in buckets of either 2.5 or 1 gallon in size) it's hard to only put .25mL of the stuff in the buckets.

Any suggestions? Am I over thinking it?

I called the water company even. This isn't temporary. pH of 9 is normal for us I guess

Thanks!
 

fishydaddy

I used to have this issue a while ago with my well water. It was at 9.3! I kept fish poorly in it for a while when I was first starting out, and they seemed to get used to it, but it wasn't ideal. My best advice is to invest in an RO system. They are relatively cheap ($60 on amazon) and are great for making neutral water. I would just mix some of your tap water into it so it isn't completely barren of minerals when doing water changes, or add a packaged mineral solution back in. I personally don't like using chemicals to change pH as they can be unpredictable or, in my experience, just not work. Lowering pH is much harder than raising it, but you can also start using materials that produce tannic acid which may help lower the pH slightly, but you'll need a lot of acid to do that.
 

RayClem

Due to the way the pH scale is set up, a pH of 9.0 is 10 times more alkaline than a pH of 8.0 and 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 7.0.

As the pH of the water goes higher, any ammonia in the water becomes toxic. Below 7.5, some of the ammonia is in the ammonium ion form which is less toxic. At your pH level, you need to do everything you can to minimize ammonia so your fish will not suffer.

Another issue with high pH is any carbon dioxide is likely to be tied up as carbonate compounds making it less available to plants. You might have difficulty growing live plants.

You can add an acid to your water, but if you chose to go that route, I would suggest getting a good electronic pH meter. The API high pH test is not really designed to measure above 8.8 pH and even that is suspect. It is really designed to measure around 8.0.

Adding 0.25 ml is not that difficult. There are about 20 drops per ml, so 0.25 ml is five drops using an eyedropper. You can also dilute the acid using a known dilution ratio so you can measure larger quantities. If you dilute 10:1, then you would need 2.5 ml.

You might try adding some crushed coral to your tank. Crushed coral is normally recommended for tanks that are too low in pH, but the coral acts as a buffer. If used in combination with an acid, it will help keep the pH stable around 8.0, which is 10x better than 9.0.

As has already been said, organic materials like peat moss release acidic tannins that will help lower pH. Inorganic acids are weak acids that have a lower tendency to swing pH levels.

The problem with using a acid like hydrochloric acid is that it is if you are not careful, you can cause pH swings that are detrimental to the aquarium inhabitants. In the past, I have used sodium bisulfite. That is an acid frequently used to lower the pH of swimming pools. Being an inorganic acid, it is stronger than tannins, but not as strong as hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid.
 

Fish20G

Thanks, everyone. This is helpful.

I forgot to mention the tank tests at about 7.6 or 7.8, using high pH kit. It feels like it has been creeping up since I’ve stepped up to 25% weekly changes from the tap.

So one option is RO. Looking into it.

In the meantime I need to do water changes (now actually) so I was thinking maybe I would try the five drops of pH Down into the 2.5G bucket. Or 2 drops into a 1 gallon bucket. Does that seem safe? Or will that potentially wreak havoc once poured into the tank or down the road?

As for peat moss / etc in the tank, for right now I’m not so much trying to lower the pH in the tank as much as I am trying not to have it creep up over time with water changes. Once I solve that problem, I may look into crushed coral or something just to lower or create some buffering against swings. My plants don’t do particularly well. I believe all of this is part of a conspiracy to prevent me from getting the neons I want. Although I remain concerned the serpaes will pester them!

Thanks and look forward to any other thoughts!
 

JeremyW

If it were me, I'd probably invest in an RO unit. If you just have the one 20 gallon tank, you wouldn't need a very expensive system. That water would totally change the game for you.

I haven't used that particular product, but I have played around with using acids to lower my pH. I have found that the acid will create an immediate drop in pH, followed by a gradual rise back up over about 24 hours. Depending on how much acid I have added, it can rise all the way back to the original pH, or somewhere in between.

So if you want to avoid the pH swings my suggestion would be to prepare your water 24 hours ahead of time. And it may take a bit of experimentation to figure out exactly how much you need to add to get the result you want after 24 hours.
 

FishDin

You may want to consider keeping fish that are better suited for the conditions you can provide such as Tanganyikans

So your tap water is pH9 and your tank water is 7.8ish, so you must already be doing something to reduce the pH even if you don't know what. Have you tested the tap water after it has set out for 24hrs as JeremyW suggested? It may actually be lower than you think.
 

RayClem

You may want to consider keeping fish that are better suited for the conditions you can provide such as Tanganyikans

So your tap water is pH9 and your tank water is 7.8ish, so you must already be doing something to reduce the pH even if you don't know what. Have you tested the tap water after it has set out for 24hrs as JeremyW suggested? It may actually be lower than you think.

Typically, tap water will be lower in pH right out of the tap due to dissolved carbon dioxide (which is acidic). Letting water stand normally allows the CO2 to escape, raising the pH. However, if the tap water contains ammonia, standing might lower the pH.

In the nitrogen cycle ammonia (a high pH compound) is converted to nitrite and then to nitrate. Nitrates dissolved in water form nitric acid which lowers pH. That is probably why the tank is lower in pH than the tap water.
 

Fish20G

Thanks, everyone! Your responses are keeping me going. I've teed up the R/O idea at home, which is leading to a broader whole-house filter / softener discussion... which may be another rabbit hole. I'm not sure softener is the right move. Here are some comments in response to the feedback.

I have found that the acid will create an immediate drop in pH, followed by a gradual rise back up over about 24 hours. Depending on how much acid I have added, it can rise all the way back to the original pH, or somewhere in between.
^ I'm going to experiment with this now!

You may want to consider keeping fish that are better suited for the conditions you can provide such as Tanganyikans

So your tap water is pH9 and your tank water is 7.8ish, so you must already be doing something to reduce the pH even if you don't know what. Have you tested the tap water after it has set out for 24hrs as JeremyW suggested? It may actually be lower than you think.
^ I've thought about that but I don't think I can let the serpae's go. They have a long, storied history here at the house. Even though they are a bit problematic for other reasons. Anyway, I have let the tap water sit and tested ~18 hours later and no measurable change. Probably changed some but I'm off the chart anyway. You're right that I must be doing something. I'm trying to study buffering...perhaps I'm putting pH9 in and the tank is absorbing it. Four fish for now. Gravel base. Four plants (three of which don't do particularly well). Pretty clean overall and frequent filter changes (Marineland Penguin 150).

Typically, tap water will be lower in pH right out of the tap due to dissolved carbon dioxide (which is acidic). Letting water stand normally allows the CO2 to escape, raising the pH. However, if the tap water contains ammonia, standing might lower the pH.

In the nitrogen cycle ammonia (a high pH compound) is converted to nitrite and then to nitrate. Nitrates dissolved in water form nitric acid which lowers pH. That is probably why the tank is lower in pH than the tap water.
^ A small amount (by human standards) of ammonia in the tap...sometimes anyway. I did have a pretty embarrassing nitrate spike. I slacked on water changes (hence my recent drive to build a new awesome routing). Perhaps the high nitrates were mitigating the impact of the recent step up in water changes. Nitrates are 10-20ppm now (at last check) and so I have some concern if I keep going at 25% per week, I'm going to hit a tipping point on pH.

Thanks again...it's always great to read the responses! I think I'm going to treat 5 gallons of water with just a few drops of pH Down, retest it, let it sit awhile, and re-test it again. Then do the water change.
 

Fish20G

Quick update. Added five drops of pH down (which is 9% sulphuric acid) to 2.5 gallons of water. pH didn’t budge. Checked 30 min later and still nothing. Will check again in the morning. Meanwhile the tank seems to have gone from a borderline 7.6-7.8 to a clear 7.8. Although I know it can fluctuate through the day. I may have to just revert to bottled spring water until I figure out an r/o approach. Feels like trying to to adjust pH will be frustrating in the long run.

Now I think I need to evaluate whole house soft water or under sink r/o. Or both. Ugh!
 

Fish20G

One more update. No change to pH this morning. Added 10 more drops of pH Down. Waited about 30 minutes and tested and looks like 6.8 now. I'll probably do a water change with this water. Then measure tank water to see what happens. Although I may have overcorrected and am now worried about adding 6.8 to the tank!

Also ordered for in-store pickup some gh/kh/ph test strips. Still need to study all that, though.
 

RayClem

The problem with your tank is that it has a lot of minerals that are buffering the pH. Thus, when you add sulphuric acid (or any other acid), the acid reacts with a variety of carbonates, bicarbonates, borates, phosphates, etc. in the water. Although the composition of the ions in the water has changed, the pH has remained relatively stable.

Using water softened by a sodium ion exchange unit is not ideal for aquariums as fish and plants do not like the sodium (unless you are setting up a brackish water aquarium). RO water is much better. However, the problem with RO water is that it is too soft. I use an RO water system, but I add Seachem Equilibrium to restore calcium, magnesium and some other minerals. However, Equilibrium contains no carbonates, bicarbonates, phosphates, or borates to raise the KH and pH. Thus, I also need to add a combination of bicarbonate and phosphates to stabilize pH.

No matter which way you decide to go, things are not simple when your primary water supply is not suitable for aquarium use.
 

Fish20G

The problem with your tank is that it has a lot of minerals that are buffering the pH. Thus, when you add sulphuric acid (or any other acid), the acid reacts with a variety of carbonates, bicarbonates, borates, phosphates, etc. in the water. Although the composition of the ions in the water has changed, the pH has remained relatively stable.

Using water softened by a sodium ion exchange unit is not ideal for aquariums as fish and plants do not like the sodium (unless you are setting up a brackish water aquarium). RO water is much better. However, the problem with RO water is that it is too soft. I use an RO water system, but I add Seachem Equilibrium to restore calcium, magnesium and some other minerals. However, Equilibrium contains no carbonates, bicarbonates, phosphates, or borates to raise the KH and pH. Thus, I also need to add a combination of bicarbonate and phosphates to stabilize pH.

No matter which way you decide to go, things are not simple when your primary water supply is not suitable for aquarium use.
Thanks, RayClem. This is helpful. I'm leaning toward RO for the bar sink in the basement, which is where the fish are. All this talk about water quality in the house, though, is creating a lot of talk about getting a water softener. Although premature because I haven't even tested hardness yet (ordered a kit today) I can tell the talk will continue. I probably can't say that we need to improve the water quality for the fish but not the people :)

If I soften the water in the whole house, then put RO system under the sink, will that get me back to a place where the sodium is out and I "only" need to add Equilibrium, bicarbonate and phosphates? Or once it's softened am I just stuck.

I can probably just use my local grocery store spring water (pH of ~7, no ammonia) for my 20 gallon... but ultimately I want to change to a 40 or 50 gallon. The best path to that at home is making the 20 gallon awesome and making the maintenance turnkey. Right now I'm like a mad scientist testing all kinds of stuff every time I get a break!
 

MacZ

I can really only encourage to get an RO unit instead of a water softener and instead of tampering with acids and other chemicals. It's probably always the best alternative to just remove all that is too much from the water instead of adding something to counter it, mixing and matching. That's just my experience. Also I would never advice to do something I wouldn't do myself either.

The way a water softener works, the hardness (as understood by manufacturers of washing machines: GH i.e. calcium) is reduced, but most often the KH is raised in the process. But KH is directly linked to pH, hence: High KH leads to high pH.

If I soften the water in the whole house, then put RO system under the sink, will that get me back to a place where the sodium is out and I "only" need to add Equilibrium, bicarbonate and phosphates? Or once it's softened am I just stuck.
RO units remove everything: The 1st prefilter (active carbon) removes organic compounds, the 2nd (mixed bed sediment) removes solids and the 3rd (reverse osmosis membrane) removes all that's left (inorganic compounds, minerals). You could add a DI
stage to remove all leftofer elemental ions, but that is overkill unless you have extremely high levels of some metal ions. While you can use RO for cooking and making drinks (please do not drink it pure), RO/DI is not good for consumption.

When using RO for a fish tank you can go two ways: Re-Add minerals for GH and KH to a desired level (suitable for a standard planted tank, hardwater fish, invertebrates like shrimp),
OR add nothing but humic acids (colloquially known as tannins) which buffer in a low pH (5.5-6.0) range. While the water will become some shade of brown (from a light tint to coffee strength), this would fit the requirements of a majority of fish.
 

RayClem

If your water is very hard, as I suspect it is based on the pH, a whole house water softener is great for minimizing the problems of hard water. Clothes will get cleaner in the washer, showers will be better, you will eliminate hard water deposits on shower doors, sinks and toilets.

Water that is high in sodium is not that good for drinking, cooking and aquarium use. Thus, having an RO system in addition to the water softener is great for producing the small quantities of water needed for those specific purposes. I have an RO system that supplies water for aquarium use, but I also have a RO water line that goes up to the refrigerator in the kitchen. There the RO water is used for the ice maker and the water dispenser. RO water is great for making tea and coffee as well as for drinking and cooking. Just remember that the RO system also removes minerals and flouride from your drinking water, so make sure you have other ways of getting minerals needed to keep your teeth and bones strong.
 

Fish20G

While you can use RO for cooking and making drinks (please do not drink it pure), RO/DI is not good for consumption.
^Thank you for the broad explanation MacZ, but one question: What is behind the recommendation to not drink RO pure?

If your water is very hard, as I suspect it is based on the pH, a whole house water softener is great for minimizing the problems of hard water. Clothes will get cleaner in the washer, showers will be better, you will eliminate hard water deposits on shower doors, sinks and toilets.

Water that is high in sodium is not that good for drinking, cooking and aquarium use. Thus, having an RO system in addition to the water softener is great for producing the small quantities of water needed for those specific purposes. I have an RO system that supplies water for aquarium use, but I also have a RO water line that goes up to the refrigerator in the kitchen. There the RO water is used for the ice maker and the water dispenser. RO water is great for making tea and coffee as well as for drinking and cooking. Just remember that the RO system also removes minerals and flouride from your drinking water, so make sure you have other ways of getting minerals needed to keep your teeth and bones strong.
^Thanks, RayClem. Also helpful. If I'm reading it right...with no other constraints, you would recommend a whole house water softener (if we have hard water), but then an R/O unit at the tap where the fish water is supplied, and an R/O unit to the water line to the refrigerator and to the kitchen sink. I know I can pull of some of that, but not sure about all of it. For sure I can put R/O at the fish tap and kitchen sink. That is easy.

Based on everyone's comments, does this sound right:
  1. R/O at the fish tap plus the right mineral/etc add back will equal great water for the tank.
  2. Water softener for the whole house, plus #1 above, will still get me great water for the tank.
Thank you again!
 

MacZ

What is behind the recommendation to not drink RO pure?
Because it's chemically very close to distilled water. It draws salt and electrolytes from the human body. Our fish are adapted to live in it, our organism is not.
 

Fish20G

Quick update from API test strips.

GH of 180 (or higher) and KH of 120.
 

RayClem

Quick update from API test strips.

GH of 180 (or higher) and KH of 120.

Are these tests on your aquarium water or tap water?

Since the GH color chart only goes to 180 ppm, you would be much, much higher than that.

If your tank pH is in the 7.6-7.8 range, a KH of 120 ppm is reasonable.
 

Fish20G

Are these tests on your aquarium water or tap water?

Thanks, RayClem. At the time I posted, I had only tested the aquarium water. This morning, I also checked the tap and it's the same. Then I checked the water I've had set out for awhile (that I added pH down to). It's the same as well, which is to be expected since it came from the tap.

Seems as if the GH is just too high, and that KH will ultimately lead me to a pH in the 7.6-7.8 range even if I add some Down to it.

My latest plan is to drop my water changes to 10-12.5% per week, never miss a week, and just use either gallon spring water or gallon distilled water and add to it. I'm going to test the spring water from the grocery store first. I'd like to get the tap water figured out at some point, but I don't see a quick path to it. I guess R/O then add minerals and carbonates, etc. But then does that render water from that sink less-than-drinkable... I'm definitely over-thinking it at this point.
 

RayClem

If the pH of the tap water is 7.6 - 7.8, it is fine for drinking Your original premise was that the pH was 9 which is rather high for drinking water. If your water comes from a municipal source, contact the water company for test results. Many localities post the results on their web site; I know mine does. They should be able to tell you what is in your water. If water is coming from a well, you should send of a sample of the water for testing on an annual basis to make sure it is safe for drinking.


If you have to use bottled water from the store for your aquarium, I think, you will find that installing an RO system is less expensive in the long run. You can purchase an RO system for about $150 that will supply water for several years. The filters and RO membranes do have to be replaced periodically, but with your low usage, they should last many month or even years before they need replacement.
 

Fish20G

Sorry I probably created some confusion. The pH is 9+ (at top of chart) out of the tap and out of the tank. Hardness of 180GH is also tank and tap. I talked to the water company... he says that's normal. I think he said it's from a well that is from a river but it's treated and generally very good quality. Just very hard (180+ GH) and high pH. Never knew about the pH.

When I said not great for drinking, I meant the R/O water if I install an under sink unit in the basement. I can justify the cost... just worry that I'm overcomplicating it. And the add-on complication that there is talk now of a whole-house softener of some sort!!
 

RayClem

If your water is very hard (mine ranges from 350 - 500 ppm GH), you will find that a whole-house water softener has lots of advantages, some of which I noted above.The disadvantage is that the water ends up very high in sodium content. I have high blood pressure and too much sodium will make the problem worse. That is why I opt to drink RO water.
 

Fish20G

Thanks, Rayclem. Agree with all that. Others have cautioned not to drink straight RO water, too. I'm in your boat with blood pressure. I'm thinking I can just have the water softener route only to the 2nd floor where showers and laundry are. Or I've also read about water conditioners that don't use sodium, don't take away the calcium or magnesium, but break it up somehow. Maybe that is an option.

But back to the fish. I'm thinking for now I might use 50% tap and 50% distilled. Here are some test results I just finished...although I cheated and just used test strips!

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Seems like that would keep the pH from creeping up and bring the GH down some. I don't know though.
 

RayClem

I am suspicious of your test results. IYou are getting too many tests topping out at 180 ppm. I would suggest that you mix your Grocery Distilled water 1:1 with each of your other samples, Then retest. In that case, the actual results will be 2X whatever is showing on the color chart.

If your tap water really is at 180 GH/80 KH, then there is no reason you should not use it as is. However, if you find it is much higher in GH, as I suspect, then you might need to do something different.

There are electronic/magnetic units that claim to prevent calcium scale on boilers and piping, but they do not actually remove calcium and magnesium from the water, so they do not do anything to help your aquarium. If you are concerned about excess sodium, you can always use potassium chloride rather than sodium chloride. However, a 40# bag of sodium chloride is about $6 and a 40# bag of potassium chloride is about $32. Since 98+% of your water goes for washing hands, clothes, dishes, showering and flushing toilets, it is cheaper to purchase drinking water rather than using potassium chloride in a water softener.
 

Fish20G

I am suspicious of your test results. IYou are getting too many tests topping out at 180 ppm. I would suggest that you mix your Grocery Distilled water 1:1 with each of your other samples, Then retest. In that case, the actual results will be 2X whatever is showing on the color chart.
^ Great idea. I've been wondering about this but hadn't thought of doing that! I just did one... my tap water and the distilled water. Remember I'm using strips so it is imprecise. but GH came out 60-120...very close to both colors. But right in the middle would be 90 so half of 180. KH was more clearly 40 (half of the 80 from tap). More in the photo here:

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If your tap water really is at 180 GH/80 KH, then there is no reason you should not use it as is. However, if you find it is much higher in GH, as I suspect, then you might need to do something different.
^ That is good to hear on GH/KH, assuming my test strip results are valid. That still leaves me with a problem of the pH being 9...which is what get me started on all this. I was blissfully ignorant of GH/KH when I started! But I would rather have my pH at 7 or lower. It seems to run 7 to 7.5 in the tank, which is OK. But the original concern was that doing 25% water changes weekly may cause it to creep up to pH of 9 over time. Perhaps not with a KH of 80 but I don't really know what I'm talking about with buffering.

I may move forward with using tap, treating it with a small amount of pH down and just really keep an eye on everything. I'm miles away from figuring out which fish to add anyway!

Then in the meantime start to evaluate softener for the house with targeted R/O elsewhere. Many more health, pipe, cleaning considerations there to study but Rayclem you have given me a huge running start!

Huge thanks and really appreciate all the commentary so far!!
 

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