Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
The most common tests come in 2 varieties.
Test kits with test tube and reagents (liquid or powder) are said to be more reliable.
Dry tests on a stick are said to be less accurate.
I have used both, and generally see similar results unless there are problems such as old reagents, or the sticks got exposed to the air too long.
API Master Test kit has most of the tests for aquariums, though I would also buy the GH & KH combination. The API tests are liquid reagents and test tubes. There are others, but I have not had good results with them.
Jungle, Tetra and others make the dip stick tests. You can find single tests for ammonia, a double test for chloramine and chlorine (good if you have chloramine) and 5-way or 6-way that do not include ammonia, but do have the others.
What you will need:
Ammonia- NH3 & NH4- during cycling, and when something goes wrong.
Nitrite- NO2- during cycling and when something goes wrong.
Nitrate- NO3- After tank is cycled, good way to monitor general conditions and fertilizer
General Hardness- GH- This is the test that combines calcium and magnesium. Go by this test to see what fish like. Keep fish that are compatible with your GH, or alter your water if you want to keep other sorts of fish.
Carbonate Hardness- KH- Carbonates and bicarbonates are probably the most prevalent buffer of pH in our aquariums. When KH is high the pH tends to be high, and difficult to adjust. The KH buffers it right back to where it was. If the KH is low the pH is controlled by other things, but is usually (not always!) low. It is easy to change the pH when the KH is low.
pH is tested with 2 liquid tests which cut off at 7.6 (I think). If your water tends to be higher pH then you will use the high range test. If your water tends to be lower pH then you will use the other (mid range) pH test. On the strips there is only one pH test and it does the full range.
Shop around. Check on line and local stores.
I have found the strips in bottles of 100 at Drs Foster and Smith or at Big Als (2 on line pet supply)
The strips are fast and easy to use.
The test kits with test tubes take more time.