API test kit. There's gotta be something better. - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 12:35 PM Thread Starter
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API test kit. There's gotta be something better.

The API Mast Test Kit seems to be the standard product that most people use for testing water parameters. Am I the only person who thinks it's really not that great of a product?

The biggest problem has to do with the inability to accurately match up the colors of the water in the test tube with the color squares on the test card. The color of the water in the test tube is never truly comparable to any of the colors on the test card, because the color of the water is translucent while the colors on the card are solid. Even if you hold the test tube against the white portion of the card, the color quality (or "saturation") is still not comparable.

Let's take pH, for example. The gradations of the solid color squares representing 6.4, 6.6, 6.8, and 7 on the test card are so slight that I find it impossible to match any one of them positively with the color of a translucent water sample. If the card was translucent like the water, or if the water was solid like the card, maybe it would be possible to positively match the shades; but since they are two inherently different kinds of coloration, the match is never exact, and it becomes a guessing game. My pH might be 6.6 or 6.8 or 7, I honestly can't tell; I can only tell that it's "somewhere in that range."

Nitrates are another problem. In my opinion, the API test kit really only shows you the extreme ends of the scale. If you're up around 100ppm or higher, you'll know it because the water will be really dark brick red; and if you're down around 5 to 20ppm, you'll know it because the water will be pale orange; but anything in the mid range, say from 25 to 80ppm, is just plain old red. It's a guessing game! And it gets worse. On my card, 10ppm looks darker than 20ppm. And 40ppm and 80ppm are indistinguishable; if anything, 40 is darker than 80! (I would be tempted to think that I got a defective card, except that this is my second kit, and the previous one had the same problems; and both kits were purchased years apart in different stores.)

Can anyone recommend a better water testing product?

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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 01:39 PM
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Preach Smeagol preach! Totally agree with all of that. I tried the Hagen nitrate test and It's a tad bit easier to read. People have recommended Salifert nitrate tests as the best of what we have available, but I haven't tried them yet.ith all the complaints about API tests they know their tests suck. Until their sales go down they won't revamp anything.


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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 02:05 PM
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I know what you are saying, but I don't find reading the cards that much of a problem. And really, what are you keeping that would make the difference between pH of 6.6 and 6.8 all that crucial? Yeah, the results can be a little ambiguous sometimes, but that's okay as long as you can tell that you re within an acceptable range. If for some reason you really need to pinpoint your results, then electronic meters are probably your best alternative.

Having said that, I once had an API phosphate test, and I swear the salt- and freshwater cards were reversed. Every time I tested my freshwater tank, I never got a color that matched anything on the freshwater card, but did match something on the saltwater card, and vice-versa.

My other pet peeve with them is that in a saltwater tank, if your calcium parameters are correct, you should be using twice as much of one reagant in the test kit. Common sense would suggest that you include two bottles of that reagent in the kit, no? Instead, they leave you with a half-full bottle of one and an empty bottle of the other.
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 02:55 PM
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I agree with your complaints, especially the nitrate test. 20? 40? Who knows? I used the Hagen tests in the 90s and was happy with them, but my LFS doesn't carry them. Like others said, if you really need the precision between 6.6 and 6.8 pH, then maybe electronics are your friend. Otherwise, I think API hit that ever-so-important aspect of good enough for the price.
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 03:39 PM
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There are higher quality test kits. Look for scientific or lab quality tests.
Some have a sealed sample of the possible results, and you put your test tube in a special holder alongside the manufactured products. This will eliminate your complaint about the solid color on the card vs the translucent color in the test tube.

There are ways to make the API and any other test method yield results in between the ranges specified. I agree with you that some of the results are so similar it is impossible to tell the true answer. The NO3 in particular. However, since it is the upper values that are in question, if I get anything like 40 ppm or higher (I cannot tell the difference in any of those hot pink, fuchsia, red tones), I do a 50% water change, then test again. If needed, keep repeating the 50% water changes once a day until the NO3 test shows a result in the readable range, which, for me is under 40 ppm, and I try to keep it not higher than 20 ppm- I can interpolate well enough among these colors to record if it is 5 ppm or 10 ppm.

One way to make the test kits give you a closer number:
If you dilute your test sample 50/50 with RO or Distilled water then you will double the value you get when you compare it to the card.
So, if a diluted sample seems to say that the NO3 is 20ppm, then you know it is really 40 ppm.
If the KH seems to be 5 German degrees of hardness in the diluted sample, then you know it is really 10 dKH.
I use a syringe (no needle) that has markings down to .1 ml, so getting a 50/50 ratio is very easy, and accurate enough for the quality of the test kit.
Do not take this too far, though. The tests are not really that accurate. 50/50 dilution is probably as far as I would go. Though I did try a sample of 1ml aquarium water + 4 ml Distilled for something or other.

The other concern is the test tube picking up some color from nearby objects.
For example, the GH test starts off orange-yellow, and the end point is supposed to look somewhat green.
But I see these best when I am near a window. If there is a tree outside the window, then the test tube will pick up some of that green, and make the test harder to read. Did it really turn green with that drop? Try one more...

I agree with the others: It is not so much that we need tests accurate to fractions of a value, but we need to make sure that the values are not changing in the aquarium, or, if they are, how they are changing. The API tests and similar ("Pet Store" quality) seem accurate enough for most of the testing I do.
I found the Red Sea Iron test to be useless. The color in the test tube was nowhere on the card at all. The test tube was turning green, (No, not from a tree outside the window) but the card had reds and blues.
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 04:40 PM
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I'm going to try that dilution method thanks. I think most people's issues are with the nitrate test. It is with me. I've found the best way to read the chart is outside in sunlight. And always ask someone else what they think. If you're hoping for readings closer to say 30ppm your bias maaaaay just make you see that shade of color on the test.


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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 05:16 PM
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The nitrate cards used to be a lot better, showing a marked difference between 20 and 40. They must have switched printer vendors and the new guy isnt doing to good of job. If you go to APIs web site, you can download a color chart and it still clearly shows the difference between 20 and 40.

As far as comparing the test tube with the chart, a point source light such as the sun just doesnt work for me. The test tube focuses the light creating bright and dark colors. What works best for me is to use a diffuse non point source light such as the flourescent light over the tank. I just turn my back on the tank and do the comparison. Because light is hitting the test tube from many directions, it doesnt focus everything onto one spot and the colors are much more even.
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 05:41 PM
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Lamotte test kits will always be on point, but you'll pay for that better quality as well. These were always my standard for my reef aquariums and I am going to be using them for my planted tank as well
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 05:45 PM
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API test kit. There's gotta be something better.

Salifert test kits are fantastic-- but expect to pay $20-$30 per kit. It's worth it in the long run though if you test your water frequently.
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 06:14 PM
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How accurate are the cheaper electronic pH meters? If they are accurate enough, that's one way to eliminate at least one liquid test. Are there other electronic meters available? I know there's a TDS meter which I have and use, I saw a water hardness meter but I don't know if they work well...anything else or an all in one unit?


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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 08:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by melanotaenia View Post
Lamotte test kits will always be on point, but you'll pay for that better quality as well. These were always my standard for my reef aquariums and I am going to be using them for my planted tank as well
+1. LaMotte test kits are the way to go if you want accuracy and precision.

They are a little pricey.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nubster View Post
How accurate are the cheaper electronic pH meters? If they are accurate enough, that's one way to eliminate at least one liquid test. Are there other electronic meters available? I know there's a TDS meter which I have and use, I saw a water hardness meter but I don't know if they work well...anything else or an all in one unit?
The pH meters are OK; provided you calibrate them on a regular basis. Probes that are capable of two/three point slope calibration will be better than single point calibration slopes, but they will be pricier.

There are other electronic meters available (CO2, nitrates, etc) but given their price (usually a few hundred dollars each), most people would be content with liquid test kits.

Anthony


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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-08-2013, 01:46 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the feedback. Glad to know I'm not the only one who is a little dissatisfied. In the end, I guess I have to admit that the API kit is "good enough" most of the time. Still, I might try some of the other test kits that folks have suggested above.... once I save up some cash! ;-)

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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-09-2013, 05:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nubster View Post
How accurate are the cheaper electronic pH meters? If they are accurate enough, that's one way to eliminate at least one liquid test. Are there other electronic meters available? I know there's a TDS meter which I have and use, I saw a water hardness meter but I don't know if they work well...anything else or an all in one unit?
My pH meter seems to be much more accurate than any color match type test. Over the long term I think it's worth the extra up front cost if you monitor several tanks frequently.

I also use Salifert tests which I like, and have been happier with Seachem than with API in the past. Actually, I have never liked API even compared to other "cheap" brands.
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