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Changing Aquarium Water
By Joan Good
Routine water changes are an important part of aquarium maintenance.
Even with impeccable care and feeding and a wonderful filter, fish produce
wastes that build up in the water and can eventually kill them. Routinely
changing some of the water will clean out the toxins and protect your fish.
- In a new tank, ammonia is your biggest concern. Fish wastes contain
ammonia which can quickly build up and hurt or kill the fish, sometimes
in a matter of a day or two. If your tank is less than 6 months old,
be sure to check the ammonia levels often and change enough water to bring
the ammonia down to a less dangerous level.
- In tanks more than a few months old, a biological filter will develop.
Basically, the tank will flourish with bacteria that eat ammonia and turn
it into nitrites and nitrates, which are less toxic to fish and can be
used by plants in the tank. You can jump start this process in a
new tank by adding special bio filter starters or adding water from an
- Even with a good mechanical and biological filter, water will still need changing, just less often than a new tank.
- A gravel vacuum is a great way to clean the tank while changing the water. It uses the pull of the draining water to suck debris from the gravel.
- With a new tank, use your test kits to gauge how much and how often to
change the water. A small tank with a heavy load may need half of
the water changed every 3 days, where a large tank with just a few fish
may only need a small fraction of water changed every week or other week.
Testing the pH and ammonia levels before and after water changes will give
you a good idea if you have changed enough water.
- It may seem like a good idea to clean your filter while you are busy doing 'fish stuff' but try to ignore this urge. The filter media is a prime
area for bacteria growth, so a portion of the biological filtration
may be happening in the filter. The bio filter also 'lives' in the
gravel. If you clean both the gravel and the filter at the same time,
you may lose a large portion of your bio filter and risk an ammonia spike
in the tank. Wait a few days between water changes and filter cleaning
to allow the bio filter to bounce back.
- When you change the water, you will obviously have to replace the lost
water with new water. Tap water contains chlorine which can damage
the bio filter. If you can, place tap water in a bucket the day before
you do your water changes. This will allow time for the chlorine
to naturally dissipate. You can also buy preparations that will instantly
'age' and dechlorinate the water so you can use it straight from
- Another concern with tap water is dissolved oxygen. To check if your water has a lot of dissolved oxygen, fill a big container (like a flower vase) with water straight from the tap. Place your hand in the water and hold it there. Does your hand get covered with tiny air bubbles? If your water is bubbly, let it age overnight in a bucket, or those little bubbles can stick to the gills of the fish and hurt them. Your faucet aerator can also be the culprit of this problem. Try taking the end of the faucet off and see if the bubbles are still a problem. If you don't want to take your faucet apart, test the water from the hose.
- Try to keep the replacement water around the same temperature as the tap water to lessen the stress on the fish. For most fish, you can add
water that is a bit warmer that the tank water without upsetting them too
much but avoid adding cold water to the tank.
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