Why oh why are these tests giving me different results? Photos included. - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 04:36 AM Thread Starter
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Question Why oh why are these tests giving me different results? Photos included.

Hello forum members! I'd really appreciate your feedback and this issue I've been torturing myself with all Sunday afternoon. Please correct me, edify me, or validate my insecurity.

(BTW I'll be sharing my DIY CO2 injection mechanism with you lucky people later. I took lots of photos of that, too. Wow. Need urgent help with that. Happy to trade services. I can tell you how many angels can dace on the head of a pin, esteemed colleague!)

Okay here's the deal--I've kept fish, mostly in small tanks, mostly tetras and guppies, off and on since I was a kid. Three/four years ago I bought a 46 gallon bowfront. Eheim canister and the best cheesy silk and plastic plants money can buy. I made it look as natural as I could--no bubbles or scuba divers--but you know exactly what I mean.

To be totally honest, I never tested the water chemically before. Water changes weekly, gravel vac, crappy incandescent light, change the carbon, whatever--I seldom lost a fish.

Well, in this planted 46 gallon, I have a LOT to learn. That is why I'm here. And for what it is worth, I've been lurking for a long time--I don't want you to think that I'm just a stranger here with her hands out saying "Fix it fix it OMG what is going on in my tank?" If you tell me something, I will honestly pay attention.

Sorry for the intro; I don't want to bore anyone but felt like I needed to explain my request for help.

SO, around 11 AM this morning I do a 30%-40% water change in my 46 gal. In my understanding, the new addition of live plants complicates the cycle of the tank, and my Rummynose Tetras have been looking very peaked the last 48 hours--always a bad sign! 2 died when nothing that I could detect (heat, disease, etc) was happening.

I also bought 6 ottos last week--only 3 are left! What's up?///

So, I go to buy a basic API PH test kit with test tube; an API pH Test & adjuster kit w/pH up & pH down; and a Red Sea 'Fresh Lab' which measures pH, ammonia, and nitrate.

SO HERE YOU GO--rather than blab on even more in detail, here are the pics. The first photo is same aquarium water, same beaker, same PH test (I have a background in research methods; I really tried to study this as solidly as possible). Yes my desk leans a bit. But the first pH is around 7.0; the second test is yellow around 6.0. ? Same aquarium water, same time! And I riinsed the tubes and the stoppers in exactly the same way every time and dried the water out of them.

I tested PH through a Red Sea Fresh Lab Kit. Again, the same water. See photos below.

So I guess that one of the tests--the first--was wrong and I should just pitch it. But how do I know? The only thing I remember from Chemistry is the Periodic Table (mostly). Isn't there a consumer advocate or Ralph Nader for this thing?

Or am I just doing something totally wrong, and that is why one of the pH tests gives a dissimilar reading?

Thank you for your help; I have been testing tapped water and distilled water and even puddle water like a crazy person.

And also--if my PH is really low, as it seems to be, and has seemed to be fore some time--is that really dangerous for my fish and plants? I understock on small tetra species and I do have driftwood in my tank. If its going tokill my pets...well, I couldn't handle the cheesy plastic plants again, but I could settle for rocks.

Thank you all for reading. I wish you well.
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 04:49 AM Thread Starter
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sorry sorry forgot photos!!!!
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 04:56 AM Thread Starter
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sorry, forgot photos

very new posting here
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 04:56 AM
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If you tried to post pictures, it didn't work. Perhaps you need more posts before it will let you, I dunno.

Reasons your otos might have died: disease, poor treatment prior to being moved into your tank (they often aren't fed sufficiently by wholesalers/stores), water quality issues, etc.

Did your ammonia test show anything when you did it?

When you added plants did you tear down your tank completely and restart? If so, did you make sure that your filter was still cycled? How heavily planted is the tank?

I'm trying to figure out what your problem actually is and what question(s) you have for the forum. Is it that you have two pH tests giving you two values? Are you trying to figure out what's killing your fish?

Regarding the tests, were each of them the type that requires you to put 3 drops of bromothymol blue into a tube with water? If so, it's hard to say what went wrong, unless it was stored improperly it has a very long shelf life (decades.) If one was a strip-type test, I'd disregard that, as they are notoriously inaccurate.

A lower pH won't kill your fish as long as it is stable. What it will do is mess up the ability of the bacteria that run the nitrogen cycle in your tank to convert ammonia into nitrite into nitrate. In general, a stable pH is much more important than a particular pH value. Also, pH up and down are not generally advised, because they can change the pH for a short period of time, but the original cause of the high or low value tends to make them useless or worse over the long run.

Sorry this has you frustrated, best of luck!
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 05:04 AM
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Wacky, I'd suspect your first bottle of bromothymol blue is contaminated. It also could be something in the test tube itself I suppose, but that doesn't seem likely. You could try drops from test 2 or 3 in test tube 1 if you wanted to eliminate that as a possibility.

There's no telling what your pH actually is if it's yellow on that test. Do you know anything about your water quality/parameters other than the pH, KH/alkalinity in particular? Are you injecting CO2 into the tank at this time? If so, turn it off and see if your pH comes back up into the readable part of the test. If your KH is very low, then CO2 injection can cause large swings in the tank's pH over the course of the day that could have killed your fish.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 03:44 PM Thread Starter
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Diff test results and might I be torturing my fish? Learning biochem asap

Hi Mr. Patterson. Thank you for your helpful response.
I will try keep my posts more specific and topically relevant to my problems.

Also, if my photos are not visible, please let me know again so that I can learn how post correctly.

My question was (is?): Why are my 3 pH test kits reporting different values? (2 API tests, but they are different 'batches'; 1 Red Sea test). To reiterate (and as the pics show, if they are visible): Test 1 shows pH of 7; Test 2 shows pH of 6 (could even be lower, who knows--it's pale yellow); Test 3 shows pH of 6.2 (lowest reading possible).

Yes, all the tests involved dropping bromothymol blue into a glass tube.

I re-tested everything again this morning when I was calm and serene. Following your advice, I even switched up the tubes. Test 1 gave me different results than Tests 2 & 3 every time. (BTW, I tested tapwater and Brita filter water too--same thing).

Now I concur that Test 1 must be faulty or corrupted somehow, so I threw it in the trash. It is batch lot # 28B0808 if anyone has had similar experiences (though the fault was probably mine somehow).

I cannot believe I stressed so much all day when the (probable) answer was pretty evident. I must have done a zillion tests and taken a hundred photos. I am a happy graduate student but I have el zilcho common sense.

...WHICH BRINGS ME TO YOUR OTHER QUESTIONS! (I have a bad feeling about this)

Did your ammonia test show anything when you did it?

I tested from 2 different kits. I am attaching photos below! Both were pretty yellow, like 0 to 0.25 max but...no green I could really detect.
According to the Table in the kit, since my pH max 6.6 (lowest chart offers) and my water temp is approx 82*--85*, my % of toxic ammonia should be at most 0.2--0.3.

When you added plants did you tear down your tank completely and restart? If so, did you make sure that your filter was still cycled? How heavily planted is the tank?

For 2 weeks prior to adding the plants, I added a lot of activated carbon into the canister filter media in order to "make sure the water was super clean!" Then I took it out the day I added the plants. I did not break down the tank; I just took out the plastic plants and put in live ones with fert tabs below their roots.
In my Eheim, I left all that media at the bottom basket that looks like pasta noodles. I lightly rinsed the course blue pad that goes over it, but I didn't clean the heck out of it or anything. In the top basket, I left all the media that is little spherical pebble-like (both this and the noodle media are dark and stained, so I assume that this means they're full of bacteria--please tell me if I'm wrong).
I put a fresh white filter pad on the top cause the old one was gross.

OH WAIT--I DID SOMETHING NEW--I added a small bag called "Phos-Zorb" into the top basket. It covered maybe 1/3 of the ball media.
I also added a thin pad called "Deep Blue Ammonia Reducer Media Pad."
Oh, and another thin filter pad called "Aqua-pure Phosphate."

Did I totally screw myself with this new filter media?

My tank is not heavily planted; 5 small amazon swords; a cryptocoryne lucens as Axelrodi kindly informed me; a tuft of micro-sword around a rock; a moss ball, a tiny mystery something nobody has IDed yet (not that I think anyone should), and a few plants Axelrodi does not believe are aquatic, much to my dismay. A pic of my tank is underneath. Lame now but one day it will be beautiful like the tanks I see on this forum!

Do you know anything about your water quality/parameters other than the pH, KH/alkalinity in particular? Are you injecting CO2 into the tank at this time? If so, turn it off

I do not have a KH test but I will get one today and report back to this forum ASAP. I know that the pH of the tapwater is about 7.0 and that Manhattan water is supposed to be very acidic, but I can't vouch for that. I know that I never get the hard white mineral deposits on my tank that I used to get when I lived in Nevada, and that soap lathers here.

OH--I also did a Nitrite test. It looked pretty light blue to me, pale. It was harder for me to read this one bc instructions say to look down into the tube. Maybe 0 or 0.05? See photo.

I am sorry that this is so long; if you, Mr. Patterson, can slog through it and give me any advice I would be grateful. My fish are my responsibility and I feel guilty when they die and I want healthy plants for them to live in, too.

OH AND I TURNED OFF MY CO2 monstrosity! Dear Lord, did I overbuild! I am not exactly Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Oh, I have this stuff called "Seachem Alkaline Buffer." Should I use it or leave it the heck alone? Most seem inclined not to use quick-fix chemical solutions, so I won't touch it unless I'm advised otherwise.

Thank you very much!
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 04:38 PM
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The important thing to add with any water change is Seachem Prime, or an equivalent product, to neutralize any chlorine and chloramine in the tap water. All tap water contains one of the two chemicals. If you don't do that you can lose some fish.

The lot number on that pH test kit ends with "0808", which tells me it is a 3 year old test kit. Test kits are not good for that long, so it was probably defective. It looks like the lot number on the second API test kit is 1007, which makes it 4 years old, so it isn't likely to be a good test kit either. I suggest you just stop measuring pH - it isn't necessary to know the pH anyway.

You are overdoing the water treatments! Just use tap water, with a dose of Prime, and nothing else that would modify the water parameters. If you had more light you would want to add fertilizers, but you don't, so you are very unlikely to need fertilizers. Just remember, you bought those fist from a LFS, I assume, and that LFS keeps them in the same tap water that you have. You can be sure the LFS isn't adjusting the water parameters at all, so the fish are acclimated to whatever your tap water is when you buy them.

Don't use any water parameter altering media in your filter either. The filter is there to clean the water and provide a home for nitrifyiing bacteria, and nothing else, except for unusual situations. Don't use phosphate removing filter media, or nitrate removing media, or any other media except filter floss, and possibly bio media.

Once you do all of that it becomes a lot easier to maintain the aquarium, and a lot easier to fix anything that goes wrong.

Hoppy
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-08-2011, 05:15 PM
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Also, you probably didn't hurt anything when you added this, that, and the other to the filter; it seems to be doing its job just fine (it's job being converting ammonia into nitrate, as Hoppy said.) You spent some money that you didn't need to, but not much else. The plants would like the extra nitrates and phosphates in the water anyway.

I wouldn't be surprised if your local water authority listed the properties of the tap water online, things like hardness, KH, various mineral/element compositions, that sort of thing. Worth checking into before you spend money on a KH test. Unless your KH is crazy low (like 1 or 2,) it's not something I would try to change anyway.

I missed the bit where you wrote that you were using DIY CO2. Does that mean yeast and sugar, or is it pressurized with some sort of DIY diffuser? For a tank this big, yeast and sugar is going to bankrupt you before it does any real good, and it's almost certainly not a cause of problems in the tank. It's difficult to create problems with DIY CO2 (yeast and sugar) in a 5 gallon tank, let alone a 46 gallon.

You presumably kept fish in this water for some time, and the addition of live plants should not change the ability of the fish to survive in what ought to be the slightly better conditions created by the presence of the plants.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-09-2011, 03:08 AM
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It's very easy, and an all too common mistake to overthink water chemistry when getting into this hobby. Often we do more harm then good when we start trying to drastically alter the parameters of our local water. Only in extreme cases is the water unuseable, in which case most people just make their own from RO water.

Hoppy is right when he says that pH doesn't matter. Probably 99% of the tap water out there is fine for all but the most fragile of aquarium fish (and those from unusual environments). You can't get a reliable pH reading from your water anyway if you have elevated CO2 levels.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-09-2011, 11:43 PM Thread Starter
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Just a quick note to thank you Mr. Patterson, Hoppy, and Sharkfood for your very helpful responses. I intend to write more, but I had to work late and I just got home so I have to do chores. I did not want you to think I was ignoring what you took the time to tell me. More later.
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