Aquariums + Water Softeners = ??? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 04:01 AM Thread Starter
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Question Aquariums + Water Softeners = ???

Hello - this is my first post (yay!)

A few months ago we moved into our 'forever house' and nothing has been the same since.

I have maintained at least a single aquarium running (up to 5) over the past 15ish years, across 4 different water supplies.
  1. Parents House - Well water, unknown parameters
  2. College - Tap water, unknown parameters
  3. Starter Home - City water, 100 TDS
  4. Adult Home - Well water, 736.2 TDS
Yup... I picked a tough one.
The house has a pre-existing water system that goes like this.

Code:
Well Tank >  30m Pre-filter > Dual-Softeners > 
Radon Bubble Mitigation > 5m Post-filter > 
UV Sterilizer > EXIT to all house plumbing 
or continue to Booster pump > RO Filter > DI Filter (old) for drinking/fridge
Since I set up my new 55-gallon fw livebearer tank 6 months ago, I have tried to use the RO water for water changes. But DAMN is it hard to wait for the RO system to generate enough water when I try to do changes. This has caused me to slack on water change frequency (is there a rehabilitation for that?) or I will just top off the tanks using 2-3 gallons of RO water.

However, for the past few weeks, I started wondering if my fish & plants would survive in straight tap water (super high TDS, through the crazy system, ending in UV) if I use it for regular water changes in their aquarium. They are mostly Guppies and Mollies, with a few other fish mixed in, but I am hoping to start breeding plecos in the near future. Also would be convenient to use the water in my Cherry Shrimp tank, but since it is a 2.5gal, it is not difficult using the RO water (+ Shrimp Salt!) for them.

The TDS meters I own say the water is rough 600ppm out of the sink. For reasons I have not resolved, the RO water hovers around 8-10ppm when generating clean water AT THAT MOMENT, or it flows water that is 140-250ppm when coming out of the reserve tank if it sits for more than a day-ish. It may have something to do with a phenomenon called "TDS Creep" and hasn't been resolved yet, which only compounds the issues I'm having.

The tank is fully cycled, no measurable ammonia or nitrites. Nitrates are too high right now because water changes have started suffering. The report says the sink water has .31mg/L of Nitrates, but that seems insubstantial.

Any water specialists in the house? I need to make water changes easier, or find out first hand if nitrate reactors really work.

Here are the API test results for straight WELL water (pre-system):
  • pH = 7.8
  • Ammonia = 0.25ppm
  • Nitrite = 0ppm
  • Nitrate = 0ppm
  • dKH = 8 or 140ppm
  • dGH = 31 or 563ppm
  • TDS = 609 (on 500 TDS scale)
Here are the API test results for straight TAP water (post-system):
  • pH = 7.6-7.8
  • Ammonia = 0ppm
  • Nitrite = 0ppm
  • Nitrate = 0ppm
  • dKH = 8 or 140ppm
  • dGH = 0-1 or 0-18ppm (turned green on first drop)

Here is the Professional water test - Directly from the Well


And is the Professional water test - from our sink (through the system)


Can I safely use this tap water and will have success keeping Guppies, Neocaridina shrimp, and Bristlenose plecos in either straight well water or tap-softened water?

Thank you in advance for any & all advice

Last edited by Fish4Lyfe; 08-23-2019 at 04:07 AM. Reason: fix pix
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post #2 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-19-2019, 08:22 PM
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Have you tried testing rain water? If you have a way of collecting it ( not through drains or off rooftops) it should have a TDs slot lower? I'm still quite new to the hobby myself so just thinking out aloud lol

Good luck
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post #3 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-19-2019, 09:20 PM
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Aquariums + Water Softeners = ???

I think most livebearers should do ok with at least a mix of your tap water and RO as long as you dont do it too suddenly. Having the water too soft if you are using straight RO all the time can cause pH to drop if you dont stay right on top of your water changes. I used to live somewhere with very soft water and ended up having to add baking soda just to get some pH stability. Not so sure about breeding plecos though, that may require soft water. You might want to get a Kh and GH kit to give you a better idea of your water quality other than just the total TDS. Also I believe there are some types of filter media that will remove hardness but of course you have to keep replacing it as it gets filled up. Sticking with fish who like hard water is probably the easiest solution.


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post #4 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-20-2019, 05:28 PM
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Your links are broken for the results though that may be due to being new to the site?

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post #5 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-20-2019, 05:51 PM
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I battled my whole-home water softener for over a year before I came to the conclusion that it was killing a lot of my plants. Livestock was never really affected, but it was killing plants other than marimo moss, anubias, and some buce.
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post #6 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-20-2019, 07:35 PM
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Quote:
The TDS meters I own say the water is rough 600ppm out of the sink. For reasons I have not resolved, the RO water hovers around 8-10ppm when generating clean water AT THAT MOMENT, or it flows water that is 140-250ppm when coming out of the reserve tank if it sits for more than a day-ish. It may have something to do with a phenomenon called "TDS Creep" and hasn't been resolved yet, which only compounds the issues I'm having.
8-10ppm is about right for a RO membrane filter. So the filter looks fine. however for the RO storage tank to have 140 to 250ppm means tap water is somehow getting into the tank. Most RO systems have a control valve to compares the pressure in the storage tank with the tap water pressure. When the RO storage tank is full the valve will turn off flow of tap water to the RO filter. I am guessing this control valve has failed and has an internal leak. On some you can rebuild them with new seals. In others you have to replace the valve. You have to contact your RO filter manufacture for the parts.

The common solution to have a large storage container (plastic garbage can for example that you can fill with RO for use in your tank later. Another approach could be to replace the small pressurized RO storage container (they are typically 1 to 2 gallons in size) with a larger one. However a 40 to 50 gallon pressurized container can be quite expensive. The other option would be to get a high flow RO filter. Most RO systems onlyproduce about 20 gallons of RO a day. A high flow system can produce enough RO in hours to fill your tank.

For you well water I would suggest you get it tested to see what is in it. Using straight well water could kill your fish or even harm you if it it has high levels of toxic elements.
https://www.amazon.com/Triton-Labs-I.../dp/B0106D3QAQ

You soften water probably uses that uses salt. This removes minerals but puts a substantial amount of carbonate in the output water. Carbonates can react with the sulfate salts in you micro fertilizer possibly reducing there effictiveness.

Overall I think you probably will get the best results by mixing ro with softened or RO with we'll water. But the best way to go may depend on what is in your well water and for that you need to get the water tested.
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post #7 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-21-2019, 01:52 AM Thread Starter
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Sorry folks, I realized the photos were not showing once I checked from another device. I believe that is fixed now
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broly25 View Post
Have you tried testing rain water? If you have a way of collecting it ( not through drains or off rooftops) it should have a TDs slot lower? I'm still quite new to the hobby myself so just thinking out aloud lol
Hi Broly, I have not tried rainwater but that is a really good idea. My roofs do have gutters, maybe I can rig something up as a backup plan to my tap water. Welcome to the hobby & thanks for starting the discussion!

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarissaT View Post
I think most livebearers should do ok with at least a mix of your tap water and RO as long as you dont do it too suddenly. Having the water too soft if you are using straight RO all the time can cause pH to drop if you dont stay right on top of your water changes. I used to live somewhere with very soft water and ended up having to add baking soda just to get some pH stability. Not so sure about breeding plecos though, that may require soft water. You might want to get a Kh and GH kit to give you a better idea of your water quality other than just the total TDS. Also I believe there are some types of filter media that will remove hardness but of course you have to keep replacing it as it gets filled up. Sticking with fish who like hard water is probably the easiest solution.
Carissa, I was hoping someone would tell me that a mix or slow transition might be possible. See if you think so after seeing how high the TDS PPM is.... Soft water is a funny thing, people usually refer to it as low TDS, but in my case, there is super high TDS soft water.

Did pick up a KH and GH test kit from API to find out what was going on in the tank. Last time I measured it (3 months ago) it came up with a KH of 0-40, and a GH of 75-150. The reports to give a good overview of the water quality. The report was prior to me tweaking the water softener to recharge less frequently and use less salt to do so.


Quote:
Originally Posted by deeda View Post
Your links are broken for the results though that may be due to being new to the site?
Just new user error, thanks for calling it out. Saw the pics myself for a few days but they should be back now

Quote:
Originally Posted by AcidGambit View Post
I battled my whole-home water softener for over a year before I came to the conclusion that it was killing a lot of my plants. Livestock was never really affected, but it was killing plants other than marimo moss, anubias, and some buce.
What did you do to continue in the hobby with a softener? How hard was your start water & what kind of TDS did you get out of the system? I'm convinced there is something wrong with my system. The amount of TDS coming out of my softener is roughly just as high as the well water going in, though I see that the hardness minerals (calcium/magnesium) were removed by the system -- so it is working. I guess.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
8-10ppm is about right for a RO membrane filter. So the filter looks fine. however for the RO storage tank to have 140 to 250ppm means tap water is somehow getting into the tank. Most RO systems have a control valve to compares the pressure in the storage tank with the tap water pressure. When the RO storage tank is full the valve will turn off flow of tap water to the RO filter. I am guessing this control valve has failed and has an internal leak. On some you can rebuild them with new seals. In others you have to replace the valve. You have to contact your RO filter manufacture for the parts.
Howdy Surf, thanks for the long and thoughtful reply. I'll do my best to fully respond. Yes, the RO is working correctly. I called the tank manufacturer and discussed the high PPM issue I was observing. They had never heard of anything like I was reporting, had me send pics of the ASOV and how I had it hooked up to the RO system, no luck there. Ended up with a new tank and issue persists. The one i have is called a 4gal tank, but really holds about 3.2g of water. Pressure, I believe, is the culprit. I have a booster pump that came with the house/system and in doing research it may be undersized for the new RO system I installed (Stealth RO 150GPD). Installed a 1-way valve on the clean water line but haven't seen any real improvement. By control valve are you referring to the ASOV?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
The common solution to have a large storage container (plastic garbage can for example that you can fill with RO for use in your tank later. Another approach could be to replace the small pressurized RO storage container (they are typically 1 to 2 gallons in size) with a larger one. However a 40 to 50 gallon pressurized container can be quite expensive. The other option would be to get a high flow RO filter. Most RO systems onlyproduce about 20 gallons of RO a day. A high flow system can produce enough RO in hours to fill your tank.
Unforutnately, don't think my wife would allow me to set up a dedicated reservoir to fill up the tank...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
For you well water I would suggest you get it tested to see what is in it. Using straight well water could kill your fish or even harm you if it it has high levels of toxic elements.
https://www.amazon.com/Triton-Labs-I.../dp/B0106D3QAQ
See updated first post with water test results

Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf View Post
You soften water probably uses that uses salt. This removes minerals but puts a substantial amount of carbonate in the output water. Carbonates can react with the sulfate salts in you micro fertilizer possibly reducing there effictiveness.

Overall I think you probably will get the best results by mixing ro with softened or RO with we'll water. But the best way to go may depend on what is in your well water and for that you need to get the water tested.
Yup, uses sodium chloride pellets to ionize the tanks, which capture the calmag out of the water.
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post #8 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-22-2019, 05:51 AM
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Quote:
Howdy Surf, thanks for the long and thoughtful reply. I'll do my best to fully respond. Yes, the RO is working correctly. I called the tank manufacturer and discussed the high PPM issue I was observing. They had never heard of anything like I was reporting, had me send pics of the ASOV and how I had it hooked up to the RO system, no luck there. Ended up with a new tank and issue persists. The one i have is called a 4gal tank, but really holds about 3.2g of water. Pressure, I believe, is the culprit. I have a booster pump that came with the house/system and in doing research it may be undersized for the new RO system I installed (Stealth RO 150GPD). Installed a 1-way valve on the clean water line but haven't seen any real improvement. By control valve are you referring to the ASOV?
Yes I was referring to the ASOV. They typically have membrane that separates the tap and RO water. This membrane can develop a hole that could allow RO and tap water to mix. If the 1 way valve doesn't work I would replace or rebuilt the ASOV.


Quote:
See updated first post with water test results
Yes I now see the test results. I would only drink the RO water. Tap water and well water have a small amount of Arsenic. While it is only at 50% of the EPA limit I wouldn't risk your health. So you need to fix your RO system first.

I don't think using your tap water is a good idea. The lab results don't list KH but based on the sodium level it is probably very high. You should test your water to determine KH That leaves a mix of RO and well water.

Quote:
Unforutnately, don't think my wife would allow me to set up a dedicated reservoir to fill up the tank...
Perhaps storing the water outside would be acceptable to her? There is a high flow RO filter available that will do 100gallons a day. That would need about 4 hours to make enough RO for the entire tank.
https://www.amazon.com/Aquatic-Life-...19810186&psc=1

The mix of well to RO water you end up using will depend on which fish you decide to keep and the optimal GH for them.

Unfortuanately there is one final issue. Your well water report shows no copper for zinc. Cu and Zn are typically found in tap water. As a result many fertilizers on the market typically only have 0.001ppm of Cu and Zn. That is not enough in my experience with 100% RO water and an inert substrate. For My tank I am using 0.02ppm Zn and 0.01ppm Cu. You will probably have to make a Cu Zn fertilizer using copper sulfate and zinc sulfate. To supplement the whichever fertilizer you use. The links below are to a fertilizer calculator that you can use to determine the amount of water Cu, Zn to add. And a link to site were you can buy 4oz bottles of cu sulfate and Zn sulfate at a reasonable cost. Note when mixing a micro fertilizer the water should have a ph of about 4. You can use vinegar to adjust the PH of the RO water.
https://rotalabutterfly.com/nutrient-calculator.php


https://www.loudwolf.com/store/index...DHQxNbBVkZ5oH2
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Last edited by Surf; 07-22-2019 at 06:02 AM. Reason: link correction
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post #9 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-22-2019, 04:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fish4Lyfe View Post
What did you do to continue in the hobby with a softener? How hard was your start water & what kind of TDS did you get out of the system? I'm convinced there is something wrong with my system. The amount of TDS coming out of my softener is roughly just as high as the well water going in, though I see that the hardness minerals (calcium/magnesium) were removed by the system -- so it is working. I guess.

My water coming in has the following parameters:

dKH: 89.5ppm (5 drops)
dGH: 179ppm (10 drops)

That's about 270 TDS, which is also what I measure after the water softener. As I understand it, water softeners do not really reduce TDS, so your system is probably fine. They only replace certain minerals with other minerals that do not cause "hardness issues." My problem is that the water softener is plumbed to all of the plumbing in the house, so there's no way to bypass it.

To get around that, I setup a water mixing/changing station, which you can see here. I went a little crazy with it, and had to scale up some components (especially the pump) because it is located in my basement. But the basic idea is to have storage for RO water because RO water is generated slowly. Storing the RO water also allows you to fully mix in minerals and "age" the water before using it for water changes.

A lot of people use Rubbermaid BRUTE trash cans for their setup, which is cheaper and may go over better with your wife as far as taking up space. I believe they are available in sizes ranging from 10 gallons to 44 gallons. And with the can right next to your tank, you can get away with a cheap $20 pump to refill your tank. With that setup, you can store the can anywhere when you're not prepping for a water change. I had the spare space in my basement, so that's why I went with my setup. I'm happy to answer any other questions you may have.
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post #10 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-22-2019, 05:26 PM
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I think if it were me I would transition to well water pre-softener to avoid the salt. Does anyone see any issues with this?


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post #11 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-23-2019, 04:08 PM Thread Starter
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Sorry for the delay in my responses, seems the moderators had to approve each of my posts since I'm new, taking a few days to see them go live.

Ran a full set of API tests on my tap (post-system) and here are the results:
  • pH = 7.6-7.8
  • Ammonia = 0ppm
  • Nitrite = 0ppm
  • Nitrate = 0ppm
  • dKH = 8 or 140ppm
  • dGH = 0-1 or 0-18ppm (turned green on first drop)

@Surf - my RO unit is a 150 GPD system, after troubleshooting it further yesterday, believe my booster pump's (CDP 6800) life has ended and needs to be upgraded to a higher model (CDP 8800). Right now I'm into keeping fancy guppies, neocaridina shrimp, and plecos. Thanks for the nutrient suggestion, will circle back once these bigger issues are resolved.

@AcidGambit - what a most excellent setup you have! I do have a spigot to bypass the whole house system, but I loose advantage of the bubble up (radon mitigation) and UV sterilizer bulb, in addition to the softener. I'll draw some water from there and rerun the API tests to see what I'm working with as an option.

Hi @Carissa - I'm hopeful this idea may work as well! Let me get back to you with test results of that water. Should I be concerned with the bacteria, sulfur, radon, arsenic, color, or other things my whole house system removes?
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post #12 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-23-2019, 08:43 PM
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Aquariums + Water Softeners = ???

I looked through the list and I dont really see anything there that stands out to me to be particularly harmful to fish at the levels its at. Im thinking the extra sodium is going to give you more trouble (with plants anyway) than whats in your well water. Certain types of fish would probably thrive in your well water!


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post #13 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-23-2019, 08:55 PM
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The problem with the tap is that it goes through a treatment stage where Ca and Mg are removed and sodium is added to the water . That is why your GH is so low and sodium so high. I would rather use the well water directly . The fish you listed will not have a problem but for breeding softwater fish you will need that RO unit.
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post #14 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-23-2019, 11:58 PM
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@Fish4Lyfe much depends on your ambitions.

I ran my planted tank on similar well water to yours for quite a while. Softened, no GH, high KH (based on high pH level), high TDS.

You can be reasonably successful with the well water. Some plants don't care about those parameters, but others will be a failure no matter what you do. So you will have some trial and error to figure out what likes the soup you are serving.

When I went to RO water, everything single thing became easier. Opened the door to many new species of plants, and every plant did better.

So do you need RO? No. But if you already have an RO system, IMO you should use it.

I would look into getting a holding tank for your RO. I have a solenoid that diverts the RO water being generated to the storage tanks at night. I make 70 gallons in about three days just running it from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am. With the RO water, you can control every single parameter, and your planted tank life will be much better for it.

If you have space for a storage tank, don't fool around just do it. You won't be sorry.


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post #15 of 26 (permalink) Old 07-24-2019, 12:36 AM
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@Fish4Lyfe much depends on your ambitions.



I ran my planted tank on similar well water to yours for quite a while. Softened, no GH, high KH (based on high pH level), high TDS.



You can be reasonably successful with the well water. Some plants don't care about those parameters, but others will be a failure no matter what you do. So you will have some trial and error to figure out what likes the soup you are serving.



When I went to RO water, everything single thing became easier. Opened the door to many new species of plants, and every plant did better.



So do you need RO? No. But if you already have an RO system, IMO you should use it.



I would look into getting a holding tank for your RO. I have a solenoid that diverts the RO water being generated to the storage tanks at night. I make 70 gallons in about three days just running it from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am. With the RO water, you can control every single parameter, and your planted tank life will be much better for it.



If you have space for a storage tank, don't fool around just do it. You won't be sorry.


Ive been thinking about using one of those whole house water filters. Theyre supposed to soften the water, dont use salt or chemicals. Looks almost like an RO system for the entire house, using carbon and membranes. They claim to last a very long time with no maintenance. Do you or anyone else have experience with these?


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