Sudden Problems With Low pH And High Nitrates

  1. Shadefyre Initiate Member

    Hey folks,
    I have a 10 Gallon freshwater tank that has been stable for a month and a half with occupants (after being cycled for probably too long before that), which were a Dwarf Gourami and two Platies. However, about two weeks ago one of the two platies suddenly of toxic shock. Testing my water after that showed that for some reason my levels were very unstable. I've been doing water changes of about 35% every three days since then, and surface gravel vacuuming as well, but my levels have remained consistently bad. I've also been swapping my tank over in this period from fake plants to semi-planted, in hopes that I might be able to stabilize my nitrites, and in total I've added two Java Ferns and one Anubias.

    Despite this my levels have been continuing to hover in the dangerous zone. Specifically, in addition to the nitrite spike I've noticed my pH dropping and alkalinity hovering around zero. Last night I did a 50% water change in hopes of stabilizing them. With the water changes, I've been using Seachem Prime to dechlorinate, Nutrafin Cycle for bacteria, and Nutrafin Plant Gro sometimes for the ferns. When I tested my water today, the numbers were:
    Ammonia: 0.5 (this had been sitting at 0 prior to the water change)
    Nitrates: 20
    Nitrites: 5.0 (which improved from the 10.0 it was sitting at before)
    Hardness: 75
    Chlorine: 0
    Alkalinity: 0
    pH: 6.2 (which dropped into acidic from its previous 6.8 level)

    At this point nothing I've tried has stabilized the tank. While my remaining pair seem to be doing alright for now (regular appetite, not gasping at the surface, dg has even been trying to drag bits of plant to the surface to bubble) but obviously I want to get them back into safe waters ASAP. I've been considering trying to use a nitrite emergency dose of Prime to deal with that, but obviously that won't help with the pH, which I believe is a problem stemming from my tap water. I've also been looking at getting some crushed coral to raise my overall buffer, but again I'd rather get some good advice before trying anything else that'll mess it up further.

    Thanks for your time guys, and I hope I didn't forget anything important above.
     
  2. Aquaphobia Fishlore Legend Member

    What are you using to test the parameters? Strips or liquid? Have you checked the expiry? Just want to eliminate this as a possible cause of false results. Can you have someone else test it just to double check your own results? Pet stores will sometimes do this for free.

    How did you cycle the tank before adding fish?

    What kind of substrate do you have?

    What kind/size/gph rating filter do you have on it and what kind of media? Did you do any maintenance on it recently?

    I don't think that adding crushed coral to your tank is going to cause any serious problems, it often acts as a good buffer when you're running into pH problems but I'll ask CindiL.

    Welcome!
     

  3. CindiL Fishlore Legend Member

    Hi, welcome to fishlore :;hi1

    Thanks for the information. The reason your nitrites have spiked is because your ph has dropped too low and the nitrospira (the nitrite converting bacteria) seem to be more adversely effected when this happens, at least in my experience.

    Today, I would do the following:
    1. Do one large or a couple of 50% in a row and get your nitrites back down to as close to 0 as possible.
    2. Mix in 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with a little tank water and add it to your tank.
    3. Test ph and alkalinity about an hour later. Re-dose until your ph and alkalinity are back somewhere in the low to mid 7's for ph and register higher on the alkalinity scale.
    4. Definitely purchase some crushed coral/aragonite today if possible. The baking soda should hold a little while, a couple days but I'd keep my eye on it and add more until you have the crushed coral and your KH is up close to 4 or 5 (100ppm or so).
    5. With water changes from now on, even with crushed coral, I would mix the 1/4-1/2 tsp of baking soda in if after the water change your KH/alkalinity is registering near 0.

    What are the readings of your tap? KH, GH, PH, ammonia and nitrites?

    You will in effect be having to catch up from this large cycle bump. Once you get the alkalinity and ph back up, it will be easier for the bacteria to grow back to its original size. Nitrification almost ceases at a ph that low which is why you're seeing this bump.

    If ammonia + nitrites gets up to 1.0 while in this catch up mode, do a 50% water change and dose prime for the full volume of the tank.

    If there is ammonia in your tap water make sure to dose prime for the full volume of the tank during water change time. While your system catches up you can dose prime every 24 hours for the full volume of the tank to keep your fish safe :)
     
  4. Shadefyre Initiate Member

    Alright, so update report. I did the 50% change with a bit of baking soda, and today my levels are certainly an improvement. Unfortunately it's looking like I won't be able to get hold of crushed coral/aragonite until Monday, so I'll keep on the levels and dose a bit more if they drop again.

    My test results for today (from my LFS five minutes away)
    Ammonia:0
    Nitrate:0
    Nitrite:0
    Hardness: 75
    Chlorine:0
    Alkalinity:Slightly above 180
    pH:8.4

    So clearly I used a little too much baking soda and the pH is a bit high, but otherwise a definite improvement I'd say. I'm think of doing a 25-30% change today to drop the pH and alkalinity a little in hopes they'll stay in that range for the weekend.

    I just have a basic gravel substrate, and my current filter is a Tetra Whisper EX20 (100GPH) HOB with the filter cartridge from a previous canister filter (swapped them out a couple weeks ago) added into the filtration to maintain the old bacteria.
     

  5. CindiL Fishlore Legend Member

    Sounds good.

    Do you have your own test kit as well to keep on top of the nitrites and ph while things catch back up?
     
  6. Shadefyre Initiate Member

    So I did one 30% water change (without any baking soda) on Saturday, but I found when I got it tested today that while everything else is still looking good, pH is still too basic and alkalinity high. I do have some 5 in 1 test strips of my own, so I think I'll do a slightly bigger change (again without soda) and see if I can drop it again. While I haven't managed to find crushed coral locally, but I'm wondering if maybe it might be unnecessary after all, as long as I add a slight dash of soda with some water changes?
     
  7. CindiL Fishlore Legend Member

    You can try and see but generally the shells are good to have as if ph was to start dropping and you weren't aware of it, the shells would start dissolving releasing carbonates and increasing ph. There are usually small jars of it in the betta section or even sea shells or cuttle bone found in the bird section of pet stores will help.

    It is fine to use baking soda with water changes or if you're going to do it with each water change maybe purchase Seachem Alkaline buffer, thats what I use.