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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I received a request to write something like this, so: (I hope someone will check this for accuracy.)

Calibrating Test Kits

Calibrating a test kit means using that kit to measure some water samples with known concentrations of the substance being tested for, and using those test results to verify that the test kit is accurate, or to train yourself to recognize the colors that correspond to the concentrations you want to test for. Hobby test kits are not laboratory quality tests. That means we don’t need extreme accuracy in the standard test solutions we use for calibration. If we have a good quality gram scale, with +/-.01 gram accuracy, and good laboratory glass graduated cylinders to measure water volume, there are other articles that tell how to make very accurate standard solutions. The methods described here are for use with ordinary kitchen measuring equipment, measuring spoons and cups. And, the Fertilator calculator on APC was used to easily calculate how to mix these.

Nitrate Test Kits

First, buy a gallon of distilled water from your local grocery store. Use that to make the test standard solutions.

1. Add 1/4 teaspoon - a level measure, not a heaping measure - of KNO3 to 4 cups of distilled water (one quart). This gives you 4 cups of 800 ppm nitrate water.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of that 800 ppm water with 1 3/4 cups of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 100 ppm nitrate standard water.
3. Mix one cup of that 100 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 50 ppm nitrate standard water.
4. Mix one cup of that 50 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 25 ppm nitrate standard water.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of that 25 ppm water with 3/4 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 10 ppm nitrate standard water.
6. Mix 1/4 cup of 25 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 5 ppm nitrate standard water.
7. Use your test kit to measure the nitrate concentration in each of the 5,10,25, and 50 ppm nitrate standards. If you wish, add the 100 ppm standard to that set.
8. Compare the colors of those to the color card for your kit, and either verify the accuracy of the kit, or use those colors to train yourself to recognize the colors.

Your nitrate test kit is now calibrated. You can store the standard solutions in tightly sealed bottles for an indefinite period of time for future calibrations. Ideally, you calibrate the kit each time you use it.

Phosphate Test Kits

First, buy a gallon of distilled water from your local grocery store. Use that to make the test standard solutions.

1. Add 1/4 teaspoon - a level measure, not a heaping measure - of KH2PO4 to 4 cups of distilled water (one quart). This gives you 4 cups of 1000 ppm phosphate water.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of that 1000 ppm water with 2 1/4 cups of distilled water. This gives you 2 1/2 cups of 100 ppm phosphate standard water.
3. Mix one cup of that 100 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 50 ppm phosphate standard water.
4. Mix one cup of that 50 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 25 ppm phosphate standard water.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of that 25 ppm water with 3/4 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 10 ppm phosphate standard water.
6. Mix 1/4 cup of 25 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 5 ppm phosphate standard water.
7. Mix 1/4 cup of 5 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 1 ppm phosphate standard water.
8. Use your test kit to measure the phosphate concentration in each of the 1,5,10, and 25 ppm phosphate standards. If you wish, add the 50 ppm standard to that set.
9. Compare the colors of those to the color card for your kit, and either verify the accuracy of the kit, or use those colors to train yourself to recognize the colors.

Your phosphate test kit is now calibrated. You can store the standard solutions in tightly sealed bottles for an indefinite period of time for future calibrations. Ideally, you calibrate the kit each time you use it.

Other Test Kits

To follow, maybe:confused1:
 

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Sticky, sticky, sticky - 5 stars from me! Excellent work, Hoppy. Now that you've made this so simple, I'm going to have to find something else to do with my digital scale! :thumbsup:
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Yesterday I made some 4 dKH water, using 14 dKH water made from an ampule of lab standard water. When I used my KH test kit to measure the KH of that water, it said 3 dKH. So, that raised a lot of doubts in my mind about the KH test kits. Calibrating that kit is a much harder job. But, it finally occurred to me that I should be able to take advantage of a property of sodium bicarbonate to do that. The property is the solubility of NaHCO3 in water, which varies with temperature. I converted the graph of that solubility to read in solubility of carbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate, getting this graph:


The technique will be to start with distilled water, add a lot of baking soda to that, let it sit quietly on the kitchen counter (where else?) for an hour or so, with only very gentle stirring, to saturate the water with baking soda. It won't matter that my baking soda will contain some water in the crystal structure, since that water just joins the distilled water. Then I use a syringe to get a sample of that water, 1 ml, as closely as I can get, and quickly add it to enough distilled water to end up with 20 dKH water, by calculation. Then dilute that to get my standard solutions. Will this work? I know the saturated solution will be losing CO2 to the atmosphere, but if I do this rapidly I should still have saturated solution being added to the distilled water. Am I missing something?

If this will work, it is another way to make 4 dKH drop checker water.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Calibrating KH test kit

KH Test Kit
This method, compliments of Cardinal's Keeper (http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/diy/178491-another-diy-4-dkh-solution.html)
(Note: You will need a whole gallon of distilled water to do this.)
1. Start with 6 cups of distilled water in a clean measuring container
2. Add 1/8 teaspoon Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda, freshly opened) to the 6 cups of water and mix
3. Pour out 3 cups of this mix and discard
4. Add back 3 cups of distilled water and mix
5. Pour out 3 cups of this mix and discard
6. Add back 3 cups of distilled water and mix
7. Pour out 1 cup of this mix and discard
8. Add back 1 cup of distilled water and mix
7. Water comes out to a 4 dKH solution
8. To make a 2 dKH solution, mix one cup of the 4 dKH solution with one cup of distilled water.
9. To make a 1 dKH solution, mix one cup of the 2 dKH solution with one cup of distilled water.
 

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Thanks Hoppy,
I appreciate the work you put into this. I don't have an accurate scale to use other described methods, so this is making my day ;)
It actually is similar to what I do to add a known amount of Calcium and Magnesium to my water. Eventually I may have done the math myself some day, but now I'll just use your method ;)
 

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Hoppy,

I really appreciate this post. I don't understand the part about doing the calibration every time I use my kit. If I am using an API kit with little bottles of drops, what makes the kit results drift so much from week to week? Just asking for information you understand. I don't have the knowledge necessary to critique your statement.

Also, could I save the test tubes where I did the test, and use those to compare my colors against, instead of using the card that came with the test kit?

Thanks,
Rod
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Oops, I'm very late seeing this. Sorry!

It isn't that the test kit results vary from day to day, it is that they are made with organic chemicals, with organic dyes, and those are not stable chemicals. Eventually they deteriorate. So, if your test kit sat on the dealer's shelf for a year before you bought it, or if the dealer allowed his store to get very hot for a few days, like over the weekend, the kits may never be accurate after you buy them. Then, if you are like me, you buy the kit, stash it under the aquarium and when you finally use it, you don't remember how long you have had it, so it may deteriorate on your shelf too. Now, add to that, that these are very cheap kits, so it is highly unlikely that there is good quality control on their manufacture.

Even if none of the above apply to you, just remember that professionals who do testing of any kind always calibrate their test equipment before use, or, at a minimum every few months. And, that calibration is done with an accuracy far better than the test equipment is designed to meet. No one who is paid to test things ever uses anything for measurements unless it is calibrated first and often. Even professional mechanics get their vernier calipers calibrated on a routine schedule.
 

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Ho hum............calibrated test kits for nutrients which are among the easiest things to add.....but not CO2 calibrations, light? Well, folks need a PAR meter, and reference bulb and distance, but light calibration is fairly easy as well.

Still, why do folks spend a lot of time, energy, $, effort etc on ferts, and not on light or CO2? Wanna be all precise and Scientific with ferts, then wing it with CO2/light?

My point is that light and CO2 are much larger factors in management. The same types of calibration rules apply to their measure that do to Test kits for NO3. Once CO2/light are correctly addressed for a management goal you have, then nutrients are really easy and have much less impact.

Still, folks should calibrate whenever they can if they want to feel the results are actually correct. If you prefer to guess, then why bother testing at all?
Do not even bother, do a decent water change and move on.

Better than guessing and not doing anything.

Regards,
Tom Barr
 
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