Crazy colors with an API test - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2012, 05:00 AM Thread Starter
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Crazy colors with an API test

Currently cycling a lightly planted 5 gallon with mopani wood and river rock. Normally I get a pH reading of 7.6-7.8 from the tap, but in the tank, I've been seeing 8+, and seems to get even harder by the day. I'm wanting to put cherry shrimp (or some variation of them) in there, possibly a pair of male guppies, but what else, I don't know. Would this work, or do I need to think of different stocking?

None of my rocks reacted to vinegar. Getting a really (really) dark stain from the wood though, but isn't that supposed to lower pH? Should I be worried with this high pH, or is it normal?

Right after tank was filled:
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2012, 05:09 AM
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what is your substrate? i ask because it almost looks like crushed coral.
vinegar is a pretty weak acid, it doesn't always cause rock to react. and with that much rock, i wouldn't be surprised if one little thing leaching wouldn't make a big difference.
high pH isn't a big deal, but unstable pH is. if it continues to get lower, it could potentially hurt your livestock. you can keep softwater fish in "liquid rock" (usually), but not if it's unstable.
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-29-2012, 06:24 AM Thread Starter
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it's 3 types of gravel with parts of it dirted. The white and shiney gravel is just crushed quartz, so that should be inert...I believe.

As far as if the dirt has been causing the trouble, it really hasn't messed with the pH in my other dirted stuff. Ironically I have no issues keeping tanks and bowl under 2.5 gallons stable, but this 5 gallon...it's annoying, hahaha
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 05:44 PM
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As a rockhound I can tell you that vinegar is useless for identifying carbonate minerals that will raise your pH and hardness - most carbonates you're likely to want to put in an aquarium don't (visibly) react with vinegar.

If you want to know whether a rock will alter your water chemistry you need to test it with a strong solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl) - I use 30% HCl in a dropper bottle. 30% HCl is readily available in most building supply stores, just ask for "muriatic acid" - it's used to clean masonry/concrete.

To test a rock just put a drop of warm (i.e., not refrigerated - room temp or higher is best) muriatic acid on it, and if it's a carbonate it will fizz instantly.

Note: as acids go muriatic acid is fairly safe; however, it is still a strong acid so use common sense when handling it:
  1. Don't inhale the vapor (i.e., don't sniff an open bottle of it, and don't leave the bottle open longer than necessary).
  2. Wear gloves and safety glasses when there is a risk of splashing (like when pouring from the big bottle into your dropper bottle).
  3. Keep it away from kiddies.
  4. If you want to dilute it, always do as you oughtah and add acid to watah.

If you'd rather not use a strong acid, just put your rocks into a tub of distilled (or R/O) water, leave them for a few weeks, then test the pH and hardness.

Edited to add: of the rocks I can see, I'd be most suspicious of the one directly under the filter intake which looks like it might be dolomite (of course, it could also be any number of perfectly inert things).
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 06:08 PM
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are those limestones? looks like is it, this is why the PH is going higher, test for GH too, it should be also high.

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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 08:59 PM Thread Starter
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Taking out the rocks isn't an option unless I completely redo the tank (dirted, layered, banked substrate? no thanks), but the pH seems to have stabilized at 8.0. I only have the master test kit, so it can only do a pH and a high pH test, so i won't be able to track the other readings. Since I have that "wonderful mopani stuff" I'm going to have to be doing frequent waterchanges just to see in the tank, so hopefully that doesn't mess things up too bad.
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 11:02 PM
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You could remove a handful of the substrate (cap rock) and test that in a cup or two of RO. You could remove each large rock in turn and test that separately.

When you are dealing with pH issues, I would also be testing GH, KH and TDS.
pH is not a stand-alone reaction.
When you are trying to find out what is causing the pH to rise, knowing what is going on with the other things can be really helpful.
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 11:12 PM Thread Starter
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Currently broke so I can't afford to buy more tests, and the LPS only does the standard pH, Ammonia/nitrite/nitrate tests... Will it make that huge of a difference if I don't? I know the gravel and dirt itself are fine, the white stuff I use in a couple of other tanks with normal pH, and the gravel that's capping the dirt came from a tank I broke down. It's the rocks I suppose... of course.

I'm not totally opposed, it's just that there's more than 2" of substrate in some places around the rocks, and the rocks are holding the dirt in place.
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 11:24 PM
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You have a dilemma. On one hand, if you remove the rocks to test them, you're going to mess up your substrate which will be a big pain and set you back on your plans for the tank. On the other hand, if you don't do it and you have a rock messing with the pH, you're going to forever be fighting pH swings with every water change for the life of the tank. Which is worse?

Only you can decide which you want to live with. However, when I'm faced with something like this, I find it better to fix the problem, even if it sets me back, rather than leaving it and having to fight it over and over again. You'll never be able to fix it any easier than you can fix it now. The longer you wait, the more plants you'll have in the tank, the more roots there will be in the substrate, and the bigger the setback you'll have to face.

You can sort out the soil from the gravel cap if they get mixed up by sifting the rocks out of the soil. Yes, it would be a royal pain in the backside, but it can be done. And it can be done easier now than when you have a fully planted tank with a bunch of roots everywhere.

You have to decide what you want to do, but if it was my tank, I'd do what I had to do to fix the problem so I wouldn't have to constantly fight it every time I did a water change. Maintaining a stable pH is important enough to do the extra work.

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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 06-30-2012, 11:40 PM Thread Starter
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As I said, I'm broke and can literally only afford groceries atm.

However, I'm willing to test a few of the rocks, the largest three. Since it appears that the pH test will pick up all of the three other reactions, I could use the dilluted water and a pH test, and it would pick up any of the reactions, correct? So therefore, if there is a change in the pH at all, it is reason to suspect that rock is having one of the specific reactions?

Considering I was getting the change in pH within days, if I used a smaller volume of water to rock, I'll be able to pick out the difference quicker, right?

So what I'm thinking is: use a small amount of water, add a rock, wait a couple days, test pH. If pH changed, chuck rock?
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-01-2012, 12:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Kehy View Post
So what I'm thinking is: use a small amount of water, add a rock, wait a couple days, test pH. If pH changed, chuck rock?
Do the same thing with another bucket, but don't add the rock. This way you have a control from which you can compare. If both have the same pH change, then it's not the rock. If only the one with the rock changes, then it is the rock.

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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-01-2012, 01:09 AM
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Here's what you do: take a credit card sized piece of plastic or wood, push the substrate back in one corner and insert the plastic/wood (so that the substrate is held back behind it). Get a piece of tubing, stick it in the substrate-free corner and siphon the tank as dry as you can get it. The water level should now be below your dirt, so you can remove the rocks without causing a mess.

(To keep the dirt waterlogged/cycling while the rocks are out for testing add enough water to come just below the top of the substrate and cover the tank with plastic wrap.)

If you use distilled water for the test (available for about buck a gallon at pharmacies around here) you don't need a second "control" bucket - the pH of distilled water is 7.

The other nice thing about using distilled water is that it has absolutely zero buffering capacity, so any leaching carbonates will effect the pH right away. (I'd still give it at least 7 days though - some of the more stable carbonates leach slowly).

Edited to add: this would also be a perfect opportunity to pull out the mopani and boil it in several changes of of water to get most of the tannins out. I bring to a boil, then let soak over night, next day change water and bring to a boil, then let soak over night - repeat this until the water no longer turns dark brown after boiling and soaking (it will still turn a little brown, which is fine).
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-01-2012, 01:58 AM Thread Starter
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The stupid mopani has already gone through 6 hours of boiling and a dishwasher and still insists on turning my tank brown. I hear mopani is the worst at leaching though, and I have friend who has brown tanks after years of the same pieces of wood....I'll get used to a brown tank. (It's not too bad, should make fish really sparkle)

To be perfectly fair, this sounds like a ton of work and I don't know if I'm really that motivated. Levels have steadied out to 8.0 for several days. My tap is a 7.6-7.8, so it doesn't seem greatly disturb the pH during water changes. If you desire, I'll do a waterchange of x% and tell you how long it takes to get back to 8.0, if that would interest you.
I'll admit to being uninformed about the importance of why seemingly minor differences are important. So tell me why I should do this. I'm not saying I'm against doing it at all, I'm just saying I need to know why.
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-01-2012, 02:22 AM
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Honestly, if you just want to keep cherry shrimp it probably doesn't matter - rcs are tough as nails, so provided you acclimate them slowly to your water and don't do a big enough water change to create any really wild pH or gH swings, they should be fine.

I have a tank full of mopani that has never had any affect on my water - but it literally took 10 or 11 boil/24-hour-soak/change-water cycles to get it that way. The first 7 or 8 don't seem to help, but things start looking up after that, you just have to be patient. The wood only has so much tannin, eventually it runs out (it will run out of tannins in your aquarium too - but it will take a lot longer).
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 07-01-2012, 03:28 AM Thread Starter
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I was thinking just some rili shrimp and a nice sweet little female betta, if I can find the right girl. She's there...I know she is. Not quite sure how long the shrimp will last, but at least the betta will enjoy her time here
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