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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Is there an easier/faster way to test water parameters than by using a test kit? Like is there some bit of electronic that goes in the tank that could also measure these things? Or am I just stuck to chemistry?
 

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Some parameters sure. Like pH, ORP, TDS, resistivity, salinity, temp...

Unfortunately, for the stuff we regularly need, nothing I'm aware of. For GH and KH it's the droppers mostly. Hanna does have colorimeters for phosphate, alkalinity (KH), nitrite, ammonia, chlorine, and copper. I have the KH colorimeter it does the trick.

I was thinking about this too as it's a huge time sink to test all my tanks weekly.

I am considering replacing the standard fare vials with something that could fit a stir pill. Or Investing in one of those mixers I see at the hospital labs. They're used for mixing serum/blood samples. It's just a rubber plate attached to a vibrating mechanism. You just take the sample and push it down onto the plate and the whole unit vibrates to mix the sample.
 

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Is money an issue for you? You can get ion selective electrodes for nitrate, ammonia, and maybe CO2 (there is a home-made version, not sure if it's been commercialized). pH electrodes too of course. If money really isn't an issue, there are discrete analyzers that do the phosphate and nitrate colorimetric tests for you - still the same test chemistry, just automated/computerized. Then there are autotitrators to do the kH/GH tests. Or you can just hire a local chemist part time . . . .

FYI - I'm a chemist and I don't do much testing of my tank at all. I'm on city water that is pretty stable and I don't add RO water. I just keep the plants that work in my system and anything that doesn't is out.

Kevin
 
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I think my biggest issue with the test kit is I struggle with determining color shades for some parameters.

Is money an issue for you? You can get ion selective electrodes for nitrate, ammonia, and maybe CO2 (there is a home-made version, not sure if it's been commercialized). pH electrodes too of course. If money really isn't an issue, there are discrete analyzers that do the phosphate and nitrate colorimetric tests for you - still the same test chemistry, just automated/computerized. Then there are autotitrators to do the kH/GH tests
I only have a 20 gallon long but something has been off, enough that a lot of shrimp died, and a fish recently got dropsy. It takes forever to test the parameters every time I get a worried feeling, so not sure I can put a price on peace of mind. If need be, I can definitely save up.
 

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I think my biggest issue with the test kit is I struggle with determining color shades for some parameters.
Take a look at colorimeters - they measure the color for you and are pre-programmed for many things. This is one example: Multiparameter Benchtop Photometer and pH er and pH meter - HI83300
Then you have to buy reagents to react with the samples.

However, that's still a lot to spend - and if shrimp are dying en-masse then something is really out of bounds. We're not talking slight color changes, you'd be looking for big differences from acceptable values.

For the class I teach (Analytical Chem) we use Vernier SpectroVis Plus with LoggerPro software for our absorbance measurements - fine for most things (we do nitrate and phosphate). But it's more "DIY" as you have to make your own standards, build the calibration curve, and calculate a result.

Kevin
 

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I do not test my tanks very often. Once a quarter if that much. What I do is big water changes every week. My theory being that any values that are off in my tanks the water changes will straighten out in less then a weeks time.

Unfortunately I have found that if a fish is sick such that it has behavior changes, there is near 100% chance it will die and that anything I do via medication will probably help to make it die faster. I know some people are able to successfully treat a sick fish that has behavior changes but I have not had that kind of luck. So if your shrimp/fish got infected with something then in my experience there just wasn't anything to do at that point that could change the outcome. If you are adding things to your water to change the parameter values (ph up or ph down etc) then those added things will totally murder everything in your tank. Just my experience.

This is why I just do big water changes and hope for the best. Its been working well for me. This doesn't mean I don't have losses, sometimes inexplicable losses. But I don't lose whole tanks.
 

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The only Hannah checker I own is the PO4 one, but I'd not like to run aquariums without it. If there's a similar unit for parameters that are relevant to you, that would be the way to go.

Titration kits (count drops until color change) are easy to read, so hardness isn't a problem to test. If a person wanted to measure pH (even though pH isn't centrally relevant, tracking changes over time and differences between tank and tap water is instructive and gives hints as to overall system stability), a digital meter with a calibrate-able corded probe is the only reliably accurate and most useful method.

Keep in mind that if you're using tap water, fish illness and death may be caused by compounds that cannot be detected by any at home test. Personally, I've used only reconstituted RODI water for 30 years for this reason -- that troubleshooting some problems with tap water is virtually impossible. The EPA is only charged with ensuring that our tap water is safe to drink and bathe in, not raise fish and inverts in -- and they don't even do a very thorough job of that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I do not test my tanks very often. Once a quarter if that much. What I do is big water changes every week. My theory being that any values that are off in my tanks the water changes will straighten out in less then a weeks time.

Unfortunately I have found that if a fish is sick such that it has behavior changes, there is near 100% chance it will die and that anything I do via medication will probably help to make it die faster. I know some people are able to successfully treat a sick fish that has behavior changes but I have not had that kind of luck. So if your shrimp/fish got infected with something then in my experience there just wasn't anything to do at that point that could change the outcome. If you are adding things to your water to change the parameter values (ph up or ph down etc) then those added things will totally murder everything in your tank. Just my experience.

This is why I just do big water changes and hope for the best. Its been working well for me. This doesn't mean I don't have losses, sometimes inexplicable losses. But I don't lose whole tanks.
I do a 50% water change weekly so it always confuses me when something seems to go wrong. It's a 20 gallon tank, when I do the water change I add 2 gallons of RO water and fill the rest with dechlorinated tap. RO water because the tap is hard. I don't usually lose fish so I was confused how one got dropsy. I had a lot of dwarf shrimp die off a while ago and I couldn't explain that either. I think I have two left; I added amano shrimp maybe a few weeks ago? and only lost one so far.

Keep in mind that if you're using tap water, fish illness and death may be caused by compounds that cannot be detected by any at home test. Personally, I've used only reconstituted RODI water for 30 years for this reason -- that troubleshooting some problems with tap water is virtually impossible. The EPA is only charged with ensuring that our tap water is safe to drink and bathe in, not raise fish and inverts in -- and they don't even do a very thorough job of that.
I'd love to use just RO water and remineralize it, but I can't have one installed where I live. Every week I buy two 1-gallon jugs to add to the weekly water change.
 

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I do a 50% water change weekly so it always confuses me when something seems to go wrong. It's a 20 gallon tank, when I do the water change I add 2 gallons of RO water and fill the rest with dechlorinated tap. RO water because the tap is hard. I don't usually lose fish so I was confused how one got dropsy. I had a lot of dwarf shrimp die off a while ago and I couldn't explain that either. I think I have two left; I added amano shrimp maybe a few weeks ago? and only lost one so far.


I'd love to use just RO water and remineralizer it, but I can't have one installed where I live. Every week I buy two 1-gallon jugs to add to the weekly water change.
Its probably the worst part of our hobby that even with all the tests we have when something bad happens its almost always unknown what really happened. Other then chemicals (like ph down/up and medications) the things most likely to kill everything in a tank in my experience has either been a dead body(s) or spoiled fish food. I tend to buy new fish food every 1 to 2 months to try and avoid this last one.
 

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Regarding your OP, while the easiest are ISE’s, there is always the time sink in calibration. Can you trust the current reading without calibrating? You can keep a reference solution handy to verify before each test, which will simplify it somewhat. As others mentioned, though, there are few tests that can be performed with such devices.

All of the colorimeters and other reagent tests we use do require a time consuming preparation process. I have several Hanna colorimeters, but usually use the simpler reagent kits that have the color charts, despite better accuracy of the colorimeters, simply because the colorimeters take more time when cleanup is taken into account. I have adapted the reagent kits to provide better accuracy and, for me, this is close enough. Occasionally, I use the colorimeters when I think I need better precision or am corroborating other kits.

If you think traces are involved, you can have them tested by labs (tests will include macros, as well) for about $60 and two weeks. I recommend universities, as opposed to commercial labs, that have good agricultural curriculums and offer irrigation water testing.

If the real complaint is about the difficulty in discerning colors, that is legitimate, but may be less a problem than we think. As @Socratic monologue mentioned, titration kits make this almost a non-issue so, these take care of GH, KH, Ca, Mg and K. This leaves only NO3 and PO4 as the constant color challenge, but if we view them as being read by the same person (you) every time, then you are likely to interpret it somewhat consistently if using the same lighting conditions (I always test under daylight). Then there is the question of: how important are moderate variances in our readings, so long as we are sure we aren’t getting false positives when a zero reading is possible?

If I understand correctly, you are looking for faster tests to determine if your tank is basically safe for fauna. I think there are fast tests, but they are big-picture things that probably make the difference in terms of stress-induced problems as opposed to the little things that make up those bigger things. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to use a TDS meter, which will point out major potential issues (then the individual tests would be needed). Keep any single water change to less than 50ppm (500 scale meter typically sold in the US) or 10%, whichever is less, on the TDS reading. Use a pH meter to rule out ph problems (non-CO2 related changes). I assume that you verify temperature with any adjustments to the water. If you think ammonia might be an issue, Seachem makes what they call Ammonia Alert, which constantly monitors free ammonia.

Dropsy is virtually impossible to assign a root cause and, if only one fish is involved, I wouldn’t bother to look for a cause. The mass shrimp deaths were probably due to a major disruption. Perhaps describing that problem better in the shrimp section would give you a better idea of possible causes.

Its probably the worst part of our hobby that even with all the tests we have when something bad happens its almost always unknown what really happened. Other then chemicals (like ph down/up and medications) the things most likely to kill everything in a tank in my experience has either been a dead body(s) or spoiled fish food. I tend to buy new fish food every 1 to 2 months to try and avoid this last one.
...or put food you won't use for a few months, into the freezer.
 

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I am considering replacing the standard fare vials with something that could fit a stir pill. Or Investing in one of those mixers I see at the hospital labs. They're used for mixing serum/blood samples. It's just a rubber plate attached to a vibrating mechanism. You just take the sample and push it down onto the plate and the whole unit vibrates to mix the sample.
That is called a vortex. Having the right name will help you find what you're looking for. Depending on what you are mixing, you can shear proteins apart or create unwanted bubbles. You can also pipette with a >1mL tip up and down to mix small amounts of liquid. Do those test kits really use large enough volumes of water to need a stir bar? I worked in a biology lab in college.
 
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