Weird pH crashes and spikes? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-15-2018, 02:26 AM Thread Starter
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Exclamation Weird pH crashes and spikes?

I have a 10 gallon planted tank currently in the process of a fishless cycle. Yesterday I was doing my usual water tests and everything appears to have flatlined. My pH was as low as my API kit could measure; no ammonia, no nitrite or nitrate.

After doing about a 25% water change last night and dosing ammonia to around 1.0, my pH spiked up to around 8.2 but has gradually fallen back down to 6.0 on the test kit as of around 1 pm today, while my ammonia is mostly the same.

My tap water has a base pH of 7.2, before and after dechlorinating with Prime.

My tank had started to cycle recently (I'm using Seachem Stability and Seachem Pristine) and I was finally starting to see the conversion of ammonia into nitrite into nitrate, but I'm afraid this pH business has ruined my beneficial bacteria growth or at least made it fall dormant.

I use a modified Aqueon quietflow filter with sponges, 2 bags of ceramic rings & a packet of Purigen wrapped in sheer panty house. No activated carbon. I've read that Purigen can crash your pH after "regenerating" it in bleach, but mine is still relatively new and I haven't needed to do that yet. It was cycling with the purigen in it just fine before. I also use a bubble bar at the back of the tank, and I'm kind of a newb so I have no idea if oxygenating the water continuously affects pH or not. There is a piece of driftwood in the tank as well, but its aged and doesn't leech tanins. I also dose with Excel and ferts a few times a week, although admittedly I've been struggling with the exact dosage for a 10 gallon aquarium. I don't know if overdosing Excel would cause the pH to crash or not.

The only change I've made recently was replacing my terrible Aqueon light with a Finnex 24/7 planted+ cc series light. I've read that during peak photosynthesis plants can affect the pH reading. Is this true? Are my plants actually dropping the pH or is it a superficial reading, and if so will it return to normal in the evening? Is this dangerous to livestock? Can Excel affect the pH? If it's not the plants, what am I doing wrong? Please help!

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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-15-2018, 02:39 AM
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Originally Posted by cyka View Post
I have a 10 gallon planted tank currently in the process of a fishless cycle. Yesterday I was doing my usual water tests and everything appears to have flatlined. My pH was as low as my API kit could measure; no ammonia, no nitrite or nitrate.

After doing about a 25% water change last night and dosing ammonia to around 1.0, my pH spiked up to around 8.2 but has gradually fallen back down to 6.0 on the test kit as of around 1 pm today, while my ammonia is mostly the same.

My tap water has a base pH of 7.2, before and after dechlorinating with Prime.

My tank had started to cycle recently (I'm using Seachem Stability and Seachem Pristine) and I was finally starting to see the conversion of ammonia into nitrite into nitrate, but I'm afraid this pH business has ruined my beneficial bacteria growth or at least made it fall dormant.

I use a modified Aqueon quietflow filter with sponges, 2 bags of ceramic rings & a packet of Purigen wrapped in sheer panty house. No activated carbon. I've read that Purigen can crash your pH after "regenerating" it in bleach, but mine is still relatively new and I haven't needed to do that yet. It was cycling with the purigen in it just fine before. I also use a bubble bar at the back of the tank, and I'm kind of a newb so I have no idea if oxygenating the water continuously affects pH or not. There is a piece of driftwood in the tank as well, but its aged and doesn't leech tanins. I also dose with Excel and ferts a few times a week, although admittedly I've been struggling with the exact dosage for a 10 gallon aquarium. I don't know if overdosing Excel would cause the pH to crash or not.

The only change I've made recently was replacing my terrible Aqueon light with a Finnex 24/7 planted+ cc series light. I've read that during peak photosynthesis plants can affect the pH reading. Is this true? Are my plants actually dropping the pH or is it a superficial reading, and if so will it return to normal in the evening? Is this dangerous to livestock? Can Excel affect the pH? If it's not the plants, what am I doing wrong? Please help!

What is your substrate, GH, KH, nitrite and nitrate level? Re-test nitrate and nitrite, beat the #2 nitrate bottle on a hard surface for 10 seconds, then shake for 30 real hard. Then shake the vial hard for a full minute. It's impossible to have 0's across the board.
If you have very low KH, you can add some baking soda. This will help stabilize the water and prevent swings. Ammonia, being a strong base, will raise pH. As it's converted, nitrites and nitrates can drive down pH from my understanding.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-15-2018, 03:18 AM Thread Starter
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My substrate is a thin layer of organic soil capped with Caribsea sand. KH and GH are both low, around 3 or 4. Ammonia is sitting around 2.0 ppm, with nitrite and nitrate still reading 0 ppm somehow.
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-15-2018, 03:26 AM
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My substrate is a thin layer of organic soil capped with Caribsea sand. KH and GH are both low, around 3 or 4. Ammonia is sitting around 2.0 ppm, with nitrite and nitrate still reading 0 ppm somehow. :-)
Ok, so I'm assuming still very early in the cycle. It can take a while, be patient. Took me something like THREE MONTHS to cycle a 10 gallon... partly because I was an idiot and kept cleaning the filter... we'll just skim past that part though! Ha.
3-4 dKH is plenty for stable parameters, so something else is at play here. Soil could be your culprit, can't say for sure as I've never done a soil tank. I know certain soils can leach and affect parameters. How thick is your cap?
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-15-2018, 12:24 PM
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I'd ignore the ph, it varies even in a healthy established planted tank and monitoring it will drive you crazy. You'll even get a different reading depending on whether you measure just before lights off or just before lights on (the CO2 plants produce overnight effects it).
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-16-2018, 08:59 AM
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It's impossible to have 0's across the board.
Just out of curiosity, why is it impossible to have 0s across Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate?

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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-16-2018, 04:08 PM
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Just out of curiosity, why is it impossible to have 0s across Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate?
In a cycled tank, your livestock and organic waste will be converted from ammonia -> nitrite -> and finally nitrate. You already know this part, I'm sure. Since it was stated that the tank is being currently cycled using ammonia, you must have one of the three present. In a brand new setup, you'll only have ammonia for a while. Eventually, you'll start to see nitrite appear, and finally, you'll have nitrates appear. Nitrosomonas bacteria converts the ammonia to nitrite, nitrobacter bacteria converts nitrite to nitrate. For a tank to be cycled, these bacteria must exist, and must be completing conversions. Therefore, in a completed cycle, NO3 must always be present to some degree.
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-16-2018, 04:18 PM
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Ah okay, you were referring to this set up not water chemistry in general. Although you're right and I do know the nitrite cycle, I thought I'd missed something for a second. Currently a little confused by recent readings in my own tank but that's not for this thread.

Thanks for getting back to me!

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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-16-2018, 07:16 PM
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I had the same problem with pH crashes. Almost exactly. Same numbers and everything.

In my case, my tap water has GH of 2 and almost immeasurable KH. My pH was being artificially boosted by added phosphates, which in turn were getting used up by the plants, and with no KH my pH crashed every time my phosphates got used up.

I'd recommend getting a GH/KH test kit, (IMO everyone keeping fish should have a GH/KH test kit) and a phosphate kit to see if that has something to do with it.

At the very least, knowing your KH is going to be critical in answering this.

Last edited by The Algae Farm; 09-16-2018 at 07:16 PM. Reason: ,?
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 09-16-2018, 09:33 PM
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Don't worry about it, you aren't doing anything wrong! As others have noted, cycling a tank takes time, and soil adds a lot of variability. Your tap water sounds perfectly fine, and I see no reason to continue testing it. I advise against trying to adjust its pH or hardness. Keep it simple.

My best advice is to be patient. Do regular water changes, replace ammonia as necessary to cycle the tank, and try not to worry. As the microbiome gets established and the readily soluble nutrients leech out of the soil, the water parameters will stabilize. Don't worry too much about exact dosing of ferts - regular water changes take care of that. Don't worry about your bubbler. It improves water movement and gas exchange in your tank, which are good things. Don't worry about livestock - you're doing a fishless cycle!

Everything flows.
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