TEST! TEST! TEST!
One of the most neglected aspects of aquarium care is water testing. Sooo many problems can be avoided by just keeping an eye on the water chemistry of your fresh or saltwater aquarium. AND, sooo much time and money can be saved as well.
If I had a nickel for every time someone tells me their freshwater aquarium, “has done well for years and I’ve never had to do a water change.” Eventually, and inevitably, these people learn the hard way about water testing. Typically their systems crash unexpectedly, mysteriously! SPEND TIME AND ATTENTION ON WHAT YOU CAN NOT SEE IN YOUR AQUARIUM, & LESS ON WHAT YOU CAN!
I look at my water testing as something to look forward to because I know I’ll discover one of two things; 1) The system is healthy, or 2) The system is showing signs of becoming unhealthy to the inhabitants. I NEVER test and find that the aquarium is unhealthy because of the simple fact that I test frequently (i.e. once a week, or for smaller aquariums, <55 gallon, twice a week – smaller volume aquariums can have changes in chemistry much faster than larger aquariums).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your aquarium has reached the point of perfection and will stay there. Aquariums are not perfect and will never be perfect. Mother nature throws curve ball after curve ball and you need to stay one step ahead or risk losing, in some cases, a huge investment.
My recommendations are to avoid any form of test strip, absolutely no quality control there, and historically unreliable when I’ve used them. Invest in a good liquid based “drop” test kit(s). My favorites are API (Aquarium Pharmaceutical Inc), or Red Sea. These are color comparison kits which react with the specified molecules (i.e. NO3, NO2, NH3, etc.) and give you an approximate amount or titrate to an end point also giving you and approximation. Sounds difficult but really is quite simple. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY, otherwise you may skew your results.
FRESHWATER: The Big 3! Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate (Nitrates especially), pH, and GH
SALTWATER: The Big 3! Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate (Nitrates especially, much more problematic in saltwater systems!), pH (High Range), KH (alkalinity), and Calcium.
Don’t neglect your water temperatures, this is considered a very important water parameter! Fluctuations in water temps in a 24 hour period can wreak havoc on your animal health. One of the main reasons ICH will suddenly pop up in an aquarium!
In my 16 years of aquarium science immersion, I swear by testing!!