PH and KH question - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 07:45 AM Thread Starter
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Question PH and KH question

Hello guys, new to the aquarium scene and setting up my first tank. It's a 29 gallon with soil and flourite substrate and I'm going to add fish soon. Only problem is my tap has a ph way over 8 and the fish I want like 6.5 to 7. I've done all the research I can and I did not want to use peat moss or leaves to lower my PH as I want clear water. My soil and driftwood has also failed to lower my PH effectively, and I did not want to pay for a CO2 setup. So I had no choice but to use muriatic acid or hydrochloric acidto lower my PH. I know there's API PH down but that's sulfuric acid and will have the same effect. I have successfully lowered my PH to a level that I like, but my KH is now 0. I know that KH is important to have a stable PH once fish are introduced, but it seems like its mere presence means my PH will be high. I tried adding baking soda, but PH just went up again, additional acid after that just reduced KH back down to zero. So my question is do I just have to accept that the KH will be low if I want slightly acidic water? Is there a cheap and viable solution for this kind of problem? Also is low KH that bad for the aquarium? How bad will the PH crash be?
Thanks guys
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 11:02 AM
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Hi @Winston,

Your pH and KH are closely linked together. If you had any carbonates in the water, when you added muriatic acid, much of those carbonates became co2 and water.

You are right: its mere presence means that the pH will be higher. The chart half way down this page Carbon Dioxide - Carbonic Acid Equilibrium basically shows that.

You need some KH; you don't need LOTS. So low KH is ok, but 0 KH is an issue.

I would hold off adding fish until we sort out your water problem, otherwise things get increasingly complex and deaths occur.

My suggestion would be as follows:
1) Test your tap water for KH (just so you know it).
2) Post those results/just go ahead and use it because your tap water will be fine. The pH of 8 that you are reading is sometimes because of what some cities are adding to the water (mine comes out very soft with a higher pH as well).
3) Trust me, you do not want to be adding acid ever single water for every single time: you just won't do the water change (and they are great).

Over a few days of water change (allowing the tap water to turn over what is in your tank), you should test your tank for what KH you have etc. At that point, you will have to look into cycling ... but you mention dirt, so you are likely cycling right now as well ... just check for ammonia to be sure.

Once you have your fish acclimate them slow and voila!

Cheers,
Josh

PS KH is a MUCH more important reading than pH ... pH is an EXCELLENT proxy for what is going on in your tank, just like TDS, but KH is way more informative.
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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 11:30 AM Thread Starter
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@Tuister hello thanks for your detailed reply. Yea the tank KH isn’t literally zero right now but it’s pretty damn close, test strip indicates very low. My tap KH is low as well it’s around 1 degree or 20 ppm. South Florida water kinda sucks for aquariums. I’ve already had the planted tank run fishless for around 2 weeks now, I think the cycling is basically done at this point. I doubt the soil will lower the ph any more than it has, I soaked it numerous times during mineralization. realize that it may be more tedious to add acid for every water change, but honestly I’m willing to put in that extra work to ensure my fish are comfortable. 6.8 and 8 is a huge difference, that’s over 100 times more acidic than my tap. And to be honest I only add like 1.5 milliliter to a 5 gallon bucket of water and leave it for a few days before the water change, not too much work. It’s just unfortunate that it seems to be the only way to fix this. Anyways I appreciate your advice! Let me know if there’s anything that I’m missing!
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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 01:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Winston View Post
@Tuister hello thanks for your detailed reply. Yea the tank KH isn’t literally zero right now but it’s pretty damn close, test strip indicates very low.
I think at this point, we should ask ourselves what is the point of KH. Carbonates are buffers. Buffers "stabilize" pH ... in other words, if you add muriatic acid (H+ and Cl-) to someone's well water with a high KH, the pH may drop by .1 of a point, because the carbonates bind to those free H+ and lock them up via:

In the same way that if you go outside, find some limestone, and squirt muriatic acid on it, it will bubble (forming that CO2 and H2O). However, if you do that to a chunk of river rock (granite), it won't due to the lack of carbonates in the rock.

Is it ok to be low, sure - and if you want to breed softwater fish, then I would say you need to be meticulous in finding natural ways to reduce that pH. However, just to keep, I am not so sure.

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Originally Posted by Winston View Post
@Tuister
My tap KH is low as well it’s around 1 degree or 20 ppm. South Florida water kinda sucks for aquariums.
Many people would die to have soft water coming out of their tap and save on RO systems. Remineralization is easier than demineralization.

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Originally Posted by Winston View Post
@Tuister
I’ve already had the planted tank run fishless for around 2 weeks now, I think the cycling is basically done at this point. I doubt the soil will lower the ph any more than it has, I soaked it numerous times during mineralization.
Err on the side of caution as its a whole lot easier to wait for the cycle to complete rather than continue it with the stress of having fish in the tank.

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Originally Posted by Winston View Post
@Tuister
realize that it may be more tedious to add acid for every water change, but honestly I’m willing to put in that extra work to ensure my fish are comfortable. 6.8 and 8 is a huge difference, that’s over 100 times more acidic than my tap. And to be honest I only add like 1.5 milliliter to a 5 gallon bucket of water and leave it for a few days before the water change, not too much work. It’s just unfortunate that it seems to be the only way to fix this. Anyways I appreciate your advice! Let me know if there’s anything that I’m missing!
I totally feel you, but people manipulate their pH every day with CO2 injection (and natural waters change their pH throughout the day) - increasing and decreasing the "acidity".

It boils down to what you want: the "appropriate" pH, or a bit more buffer when things go/go wrong (fish death, decay from wood, decay from plants, decay from mulm, nitrogen cycle) everything forms acids in our aquariums.

I debated with the following few lines, but I have been through the muriatic thing, and putting on those gloves, worrying if I spill on myself, spill on the floor, etc was just not worth it. If I was out of town, was I going to ask a family member to open that bottle and put in exactly 1.5 mL ... what if they are off ... ok so forget the water change while I am gone ... then my minimal KH is eaten away and our artificial system continues to go and my pH crashes anyways ... it crashes and stalls bacterial activity (low 5's) ... then I have ammonia spike ... then I need to more water changes with the acid ... or I don't ... then my fish stress ... then I go get meds ... then I ... and so on. This rabbit hole can be avoided by omitting the acid.

The ideal way to reduce that KH and get those natural waters you are looking for is with peat or almond leaf - but you want clear water. So we are at a crossroads - artificially chase the pH OR leave the water as is.

You can do either, but I have a bottle of muriatic acid that I will never use again, except for testing rocks in the wild to see if they are inert or not.

Regards,
Josh

EDIT: I will add that reef tanks do add Kalk to their aquariums to increase the pH -- that is pure OH- kind of like your "pure" H+ ... so there is merit in the idea.
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 02:04 PM Thread Starter
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@Tuister hmm I see that long term adding acid seems like it could bring up more problems, maybe I'll reconsider down the line as I get more experienced with this whole thing. I probably won't bother with this at all if the tap was just a bit lower haha, but we make do with what we got. However I have found a way to make adding the acid a bit easier. I filled up a used and rinsed contact lens solution bottle with the stuff. They're made with inert plastic and you need to squeeze the liquid out through the tip and the cover completely seals the bottle. The stream is very small so I can easily control how much I dispense with no fumes and risk of spillage. I also think that instead of adding 1 mL to the 5 gallon, I should dilute the entire bottle so that I add 5 mL of solution total to minimize error and be able to fix smaller doses of water. Still can't beat using fish compatible with the tap or acclimating them, but this system might work out for me, fingers crossed. I probably will aim for a ph of 7.2-7.5 to be honest, this way I won't have to add as much acid and still have some KH left to buffer for biological acids.
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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 06:11 PM
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If your tap KH is that low, I wouldn't expect your pH to be this high. What species are you trying to keep? I run several planted shrimp tanks with quite delicate species at 0 dKH with no issues. Have also kept chili rasboras in those conditions where they spawned regularly. There are softwater fish and shrimp out there that thrive at 0 dKH with no "pH crash" issues. There are also fish that do best in water that's downright "liquid rocks". Unless you are using remineralized RO water, my advice for anyone going through what you are is to pick species that will be happy at the tap water values you have.

Nothing good happens fast in an ecosystem.
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-02-2020, 08:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Winston View Post
South Florida water kinda sucks for aquariums.
I just want to point out that south Florida is home to many tropical fish producers where they raise them in outdoor ponds. Odds are very good that fish from your LFS were raised and bred in outdoor ponds not too far from where you live.

https://www.ftffa.com/content/fish_farming_in_fl.php
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-03-2020, 01:55 AM Thread Starter
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@Blue Ridge Reef the KH is low but the GH is high, I'm not sure what could be contributing to the PH so much. Anyways I want some neon tetras and some shrimp so far, will probably add more fish later but I figured having water near neutral wouldn't hurt. Just trying to figure out the best way to go about this.

Bump: @Mark Fisher yea from what you provided I see that those farms are in Tampa? I live 4 hours away from there so the water parameters there are probably much different. I live on the Atlantic side of the state whereas Tampa water comes from Tampa Bay which leads into the Gulf, so that probably changes things too. I don't know for sure but that's my guess.
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 06-03-2020, 11:14 AM
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If your wanting soft water fish you really should be worrying about waters GH more than anything else.
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