API Testing Kits. Grrr! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-14-2016, 01:13 PM Thread Starter
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Angry API Testing Kits. Grrr!

I have spent the past week trying to figure out why my nitrates were so obnoxiously high. After adding a second filter to both tanks ( I have a 10 and 29 gallon) along with pouches of Purigen and 50% water changes for 3 days, my test kept telling me that my nitrates were anywhere from 40-50 ppm.

Last night I bought I new API Nitrate kit from Pet Co as they actually had them for a change. Came home, tested and the new test said the 29 had 10 pmm nitrates.

The expiration date on the old test kit was for September 2017. The new one says it is good until 2021. Whatever!

Anybody use something other than API to test their water? I've used Seachem kits in the past, but I have to order them as none of my local LFS carry them. After this I just might have to suck it up and start ordering unless somebody has another suggestion.

As of this morning, nitrates are down to 5 ppm and that was after dosing ferts. I have no idea what the old kit would have said as I threw it out. I'm sure it would have been completely outrages...
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-14-2016, 02:54 PM
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Hi Smooch,

Welcome to TPT!

The API Nitrate Test kit has one step that has tripped up many of us including myself. The instructions in Step 4 say to:

Quote:
4. Vigorously shake the Nitrate Test Solution Bottle # 2 for at least 30 seconds. This step is extremely important to insure accuracy of test results.
My failure to "shake Bottle #2 vigorously for at least 30 seconds" resulted in me actually calling API where they kindly pointed out my omission. Apparently the solution in bottle #2 settles and precipitates in the bottom of the bottle and if I don't shake bottle #2 the test always reads "0" (zero) nitrates.
irishspy, irishspy, Leeatl and 1 others like this.

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Last edited by Seattle_Aquarist; 05-14-2016 at 04:55 PM. Reason: sp
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-14-2016, 04:22 PM
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I rubber band my bottle #2 to my hand drill and run it for a few mins....lol That shakes it up good.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-14-2016, 06:12 PM
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Smooch,
API is my preferred test kit, initially it was based on cost but I have adapted the instructions a bit and now get very consistent and accurate readings and completely trust them.

Firstly I don't use the test tube 5ml measure because I tried a few and they are not consistent. I scrounged a 5ml syringe from my doctor, they are manufactured to a accuracy standard and are nice and easy to read.

Secondly I store bottle #2 on the air pump - you know that nasty vibratey thing. Like Leeatl I hold it on with an elastic band, but I also shake the bottle as well just to be sure.
The final change is the really significant one, I ignore the stupid printed colour charts.
I got fed up of finding different colours on two different charts or the same colour for three ppm levels.

Initially I found a chart from their web site and stored it as a picture on a tablet, if you then hold the tube with a patch of clear screen lighting the tube from behind is takes the effect of ambient lighting out of the reading.
This was considerably better but I then went a further step and bought a Colorimeter - see I can spell colour when I want to (stupid Brit) from IORodeo Open Source Colorimeter Project ? IO Rodeo

This REALLY solves the problem for good, and works with most of the API test kits. All the thing does is to measure the amount of light that shines through the sample so it replaces the eye for the reading, nothing else. It has the colour absorption curve v ppm for the API tests built in and will repeatedly read retested tank samples to a couple of ppm and I really mean that. A new sample of water retested and giving a reading within 2 or 3 ppm - never mind the "Does this look like 40, 80 or 160ppm Hun?" Given there are still potential errors in the testing process this is a massive improvement and having seen so many consistent results I now completely trust the result.

I expect someone will want to tell me that we don't need this level of accuracy and for Nitrates its true, but we DO need a better accuracy than 'between 40 and 160ppm' and as it will also measure Ammonia and Nitrite with the same level of accuracy you will see problem coming from a country mile off.
Since starting to use this method I now test, then do a quick calculation, and know exactly how big the water change has to be to get to my target of 15ppm. I can also see if there was an increase in the amount of NO3 produced (or not consumed by the plants) over the week and this for me is another very good indicator of how the filtration and the tank is performing.
The kit cost about $85 but its the best fishy investment I have ever made - and I can still use the cheaper test kits. In the words of your famous spokes person, "Woohoo!"
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-15-2016, 07:12 PM
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Smooch,
I just remembered something, When my last API Nitrate ran out (literally the dregs of the bottle) I did a comparison with the new bottle and the same water. The old read 11.9ppm NO3 and the new 7.8ppm so I wasn't bothered and thought it a good result. I assume at the time that it was a fixed error and not a percentage of the ppm level, perhaps somebody that understands the test chemistry could comment on this?
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-15-2016, 08:38 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the thoughts. I know about shaking the bottle. I smack it against the palm of my hand for about a minute and a half. My palm hurts by the time I'm done.

Neither of my tanks are planted enough to soak up 40-80 ppm nitrates, nor are my tanks allowed to get that dirty. Maybe there are people that can 'feed' their tanks that way, I'm not one of them.

Last week I finished swapping out the substrate in the 29 gallon.It was gravel, now it's a mix of the gravel I had, Eco- Complete, Flora Max and Flourite. I'm in the process of doing almost the same with the 10 gallon. The gravel in that tank is being completely swapped out for new gravel and that has Flourite and Eco-Complete mixed in. I'm passing on the Flora Max because there are shrimp in that tank. People over at Carib Sea insist that only the Midnight Black may cause pH issues. I'm not interested in finding out whether that is true or not.

I clean out my filters every 3-4 weeks. Both tanks get a weekly water change of roughly 40%, neither tank is overstocked with fish and I don't overfeed. I have one spot on the back of the 29 gallon that tends to get Green Spot Algae and it's because the tank gets filtered sunlight in the morning. My office is a small room and since I'm not willing to sit in the dark until 11 AM in the name of preventing some Green Spot Algae, I deal with it. I keep the blinds closed until the sun moves away from the front of the house.

For ferts I've recently switched over from the Seachem line to PPS-Pro and love it. I dose for low light tanks as that is what both of mine are and the plants are spitting out new growth instead of being in stasis mode. Swapping out the substrate may also be playing a role in that, but still, if that old test was correct, I would be having other issues aside from being annoyed that I went out and did all these things when I didn't have to. If somebody does a 50% water changes for 3 days and they still have 40-80 ppm level, there is something seriously wrong. The only time I've seen that level in nitrates in my tanks is when I do a fishless cycle with ammonia. I cycled my 10 gallon that way over 5-6 years ago and the did the same with the 29 which has been up and running for going on 2 years.

IMHO, logic trumps API in this case. I've been in this hobby for over 15 years and this isn't the first time I've had issues with API test kits. The last time was many moons ago and it was with a ammonia test kit. This current problem just happens to be the last straw. My fish and plants are happy, so no harm done. I took more offense to what happened than they did.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-16-2016, 03:46 AM
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I in no way would want to defend API and as you will see above I'm critical of several things in their test kits but for all I know other manufacturers may be better or worse What I would say is that the chemistry of the wet Nitrate test is probably commen to a lot of the manufacturers and as such its also worth while understanding what went wrong with the test
Okay lets put No 1 as the test 'went off' That's I think your feeling however there maybe another reason that would catch you out with another brand
I assume that this test didnt always read 10 times high because you sound clued up on what the levels should be based on you maintenance and I agree with you the 5ppm level sounds to be the correct value It this is true then something went wrong gradually Seattle said a un shaken bottle 2 produces a ĺow result but this is the opposite of what you have BUT parhaps (and only you will know this) if you were not shaking it as vigorously to start with the low result would gradually turn into a high one as what is left in the bottle gets progressively more concentrated and the test will start reading high.
If this is true at some point it would not matter how hard you shake it it will always give the wrong result
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-16-2016, 10:06 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beamer View Post
I in no way would want to defend API and as you will see above I'm critical of several things in their test kits but for all I know other manufacturers may be better or worse What I would say is that the chemistry of the wet Nitrate test is probably commen to a lot of the manufacturers and as such its also worth while understanding what went wrong with the test
Okay lets put No 1 as the test 'went off' That's I think your feeling however there maybe another reason that would catch you out with another brand
I assume that this test didnt always read 10 times high because you sound clued up on what the levels should be based on you maintenance and I agree with you the 5ppm level sounds to be the correct value It this is true then something went wrong gradually Seattle said a un shaken bottle 2 produces a ĺow result but this is the opposite of what you have BUT parhaps (and only you will know this) if you were not shaking it as vigorously to start with the low result would gradually turn into a high one as what is left in the bottle gets progressively more concentrated and the test will start reading high.
If this is true at some point it would not matter how hard you shake it it will always give the wrong result
Perhaps you're right. If somebody from API catches wind of this thread and wants to explain things, I'm willing to read what they have to say.

That being said, I treat my fish like any other pet in the house of which we have a few. 3 guinea pigs, a rabbit, dog, cat, 2 tortoises and 2 birds. If a company puts out a product that puts any of my pets in possibly harms way, I don't continue to use or buy said product. I recently spent over $600.00 on my cat as he developed crystals in his urine from a diet he was being fed. This diet is promoted as being healthy, ect... when in fact it is never actually tested and according to my vet, causes problems because she spends far too much time unblocking cats on that diet.

My point is, if I can't trust a company with my tanks, then I have zero reason to continue to do business with them. My tanks are not shoved into a dark corner where they are looked at from time to time. I'm also not one of those people that say things like "They're just fish." Yes, they are fish but that doesn't mean I shouldn't put time, energy and money into them which I'm more than happy to do. At the end of the day, they are still my pets and shouldn't be given any less attention simply because 'they're fish'.
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-16-2016, 04:26 PM
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Is it possible the older test was used without smacking it hard enough to work the precipitate loose? If so it would regularly give higher than normal readings after that. I had a bottle where I was 1/4 through the bottle before I'd realized my mistake, after that, even though I was following directions properly, the bottle would always test high since it had extra of the precipitated reagent in it.
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-17-2016, 11:45 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alcimedes View Post
Is it possible the older test was used without smacking it hard enough to work the precipitate loose? If so it would regularly give higher than normal readings after that. I had a bottle where I was 1/4 through the bottle before I'd realized my mistake, after that, even though I was following directions properly, the bottle would always test high since it had extra of the precipitated reagent in it.
In my personal experience with the API Nitrate test kit, if I don't mix it enough I get a zero reading which is not possible as I have a trace amount of nitrates in my tap water. If I get a zero reading from there and or my tanks it is because I didn't not shake the bottle enough.

Since I do have well water, there can be fluctuations in my water chemistry depending on the time of year, how much rain or snow we've had, ect... but since I don't live in a farming area, the changes are very little if any. It certainly isn't enough to make a test look as though I haven't cleaned my tank in a few months.

Yesterday I read the thread about calibrating these test kits. I suppose it would be worth the time if I wanted to give API the benefit of the doubt, but for me it's easier to buy better test kits.
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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-17-2016, 12:10 PM
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I put away all test kit's some year's ago.
I know how many fish I have,I know how much food I am offering,I know how much water I change weekly,I know my plant's and fishes/shrimp are thriving.
I don't know what else I need to know.
Can see the test kit's usefulness in setting up a new tank without benefit from seed material from an established tank, but other than that,,,
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