If you’re still a beginner in the hobby of raising and keeping cichlid fish, the seemingly complicated specifications of water chemistry may have you worried.
Believe it or not, obtaining and maintaining the correct water chemistry for your cichlids may be less complicated than you think. There are three important properties that need to be measured and adjusted in order to give your cichlids the most ideal water chemistry possible. Those three are pH, GH, and KH.
Having the correct pH balance in your cichlid’s water is probably the most important part of good water chemistry. Your water’s pH balance describes whether it is more acidic, more alkaline, or just plain neutral. If your water tests for a pH balance of seven, this means it is perfectly neutral – an ideal balance for most fish. Any number greater than seven means it has an alkaline balance, and any number less than seven means it is acidic.
Even the slightest changes in the pH balance of your water can upset your delicate cichlids so try to keep a stable level. If you need to make adjustments, be sure that you don’t raise or lower the level by more than a third of a point per day. Keep in mind that each number on the pH scale signifies a difference of ten times more or less acidity or alkalinity than the numbers adjacent to it. A reading of six – just one point less than a neutral seven – means your water is ten times more acidic.
General Hardness (GH)
The hardness of your water is measured by the amount of calcium and magnesium it contains. Many African cichlids are happiest in an aquarium with a GH level that hovers somewhere between 160 and 320 parts per million. Because calcium and magnesium do not keep for very long in water, your aquarium’s GH level will steadily drop if not manually adjusted. There are various scales used to measure water hardness so make sure to determine which of them your testing kit is using before judging the results.
Carbonate Hardness (KH)
The carbonate hardness level of your water describes the level of carbonates and bicarbonates it contains. It measures your water’s ability to keep a stable pH level, which, as we know, is crucial to the survival of your cichlids. With a sufficiently high KH level, your water will maintain its pH balance even through various changes. The right amount of carbonates and bicarbonates acts like a vacuum cleaner, absorbing any harmful additives before they affect the acidity of your precious water. A good KH range is usually somewhere between 180 to 240 parts per million.
It’s important to test your aquarium’s water for these three properties to ensure that your fish are as healthy as they can be. Having the correct levels in all three of these categories will contribute to happier, prettier cichlids that will live longer, more natural lives.
One of the most accurate water testing kits is the API liquid test kit, which comes with a number of different tests for various minerals. As a rule, liquid drop test kits are generally of better quality than the cheaper but less accurate test strips.
How to Adjust and Maintain pH and KH
Because cichlids are so vulnerable to even the slightest changes in their water chemistry, if you need to adjust any of these levels, it’s important to do so slowly. Adding one teaspoon of baking soda for every five gallons of water in your tank can help to slowly begin raising its pH and KH balance if needed, but make sure that you add it slowly(too fast can harm the fish). This should be dissolved ahead of time in a glass of aquarium water.
Each time you do a water change, you will need to add 1 teaspoon of baking soda for every 5 gallons that you take out. For example, if you take out 30 gallons of water, you will need to put 6 teaspoons of baking soda in. This should also be dissolved before adding it to the aquarium.
Lowering your pH balance is much trickier as you first need to obliterate the carbonates and bicarbonates in the water, after which you can then lower the pH. Driftwood and sodium biphosphate both contain acids that will get the job done nicely, but be sure to keep a close eye on your water. After you are finished the process, restore your water’s KH balance with crushed coral, limestone, or oyster shell.