"Dirty water" - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 05-13-2020, 07:07 PM Thread Starter
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"Dirty water"

What exactly constitutes "dirty water" in a tank?
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 05-13-2020, 09:14 PM
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Ooh, I like this one. It's always mentioned but very rarely ever quantified.

For me, dirty water is water that has high dissolved organics (dying plant matter commonly called mulm, mucus secretions from livestock, rotting food). Usual way to measure that is via Nitrates. Different animals have different tolerances but when it's called out that an animal needs clean water that's usually around 10ppm nitrates or under. Emphasis on under. Keep in mind that testing nitrates doesn't give you the full picture.

Now when it comes to planted tanks, there's a difference between nitrates from DO and nitrates from ferts. There are tanks in this forum that are beautiful with Nitrates over 50ppm but that's from ferts not lack of maintenance.

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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 05-14-2020, 12:26 AM
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I am more inclined to call it "declining water quality."
Its usually due to lack of maintenance : of substrate , water, and mechanical filter.


To combat accumulating organic waste at substrate level, need to vacuum substrate periodically. Or, at least, keep this waste from accumulating at substrate level via powerful filtration that take these solids out of system, traps it by mechanical filtration, where this medium can be rinsed/cleaned by aquarist.

Weekly water changes are the best way to ensure removal of dissolved organic waste from the aquarium. Measurable nitrate levels are how we usually quantify this number-- however inadequate. All my fish tanks get a minimum weekly water change. My discus, as adults, get 2 x 50-75% water changes weekly. My 1 month Ram fry get a 75% water change every 48 hours. Water change frequency and volume depends on the fish species, age, bio-load, etc...

Filters need routine maintenance of mechanical media. For most, this is your sponge material. It should be cleaned regularly and often and changed out for new material when the filter starts to lose flow. Aquarists get into trouble when they do not clean their mechanical adequately. This is usually because they are using their mechanical media as their biological media as well.
Lastly, in terms of maintenance of your mechanical media in filter, dont fall for that old adage of not throwing out your mechanical until it disintegrates. Its the worst kind of advice. If your waiting to change out your mechanical until it disintegrates you are long past the point of your mechanical media doing its job. It is now contributing to the filter becoming a "nitrate factory".
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 05-14-2020, 07:22 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you both for your very detailed answers.
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