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Lowering pH

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Lowering pH

Post by cephalotus on Fri Jan 03, 2014 7:40 pm

I was wondering if anyone has any tips or recommendations for lowering the pH in my tanks, or if I should even consider messing with it at all. The water out of the tap in Saskatoon is ~8.2 and pretty much all of the species I keep or would like to keep come from naturally acidic waters. I know it is more important/safer to acclimate them slowly and keep pH stable than it is to fiddle around with it. But I am hoping that some of my fish might breed, and I would like to encourage them in any way I can without actually setting up a breeding tank.

I already have lots of driftwood in my tanks, as well as oak leaves, but the pH is not any lower than the tap water. I am thinking of sticking a pantyhose bag of peat moss in the filter to see if that helps at all. However, I'm cautious about doing this as I obviously don't want to change the pH too suddenly! Does anyone have any idea how drastically a bag/handful of peat moss will lower the pH in a ~20 gal tank? Does anyone use this method successfully for permanently altering the acidity of their tank?
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by Suprd71 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 7:58 pm

Yes, peat in your filter will lower ph. I would cautiously experiment with very small amounts and monitor the drop. Ph levels are on an exponential scale, similar to the measurement of earthquake intensity. Simply, a 7 is 10x higher than a 6, while 8 is 100x higher than 6. So, to lower from your 8+ to say mid to high 6's is a very drastic change and should be done as gradually as possible over several weeks, even months.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by sucker4plecos on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:24 pm

In the Kitchener area the water is usually 8.0-8.2 and I breed many South American and West African fish... the secret - RO water. I used to use rainwater and it helped a lot but I moved and it wasn't convenient any more so I picked up an RO filter unit which is set up in the laundry room with a couple of 45 gallon plastic drums. It is much easier and more simple to play with the RO water than trying to buffer with something else. I still throw some alder cones, almond, oak and/or beech leaves in as well as black water extract for breeding but I normally just mix different ratios of RO and tap water to get what I want... for Apistogrammas I might go with a 4 or 5 to 1 ratio, with many of my livebearers I tend to go 50/50 or maybe higher depending on the species. Lowering the pH is less stressful on the fish than going higher. I feel that some of the buffering agents that you can buy are just a disaster waiting to happen if the tank crashes and the levels go crazy. Most fish will acclimate to the harder water given a little time. My personal opinion is that fish should be kept in the environment and parameters that they evolved in over thousands of years whenever possible.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by mikebike on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:57 am

I find my heavily planted tanks have a natural lower PH

I have used bags of peat moss to lower PH in the tanks. I add them to the filter boxes.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by caoder on Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:41 am

RO is really the best way. it has an initial investment, but it will be easiest and most safe method.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:56 am

I think we pay attention to pH because it is easy to read - but mineral hardness is what matters. For that reason, RO or rain/snow water are the only possibility.
Peat will bounce with every water change, and since you should change water weekly, it isn't much of a solution. You have to remove the minerals from the water.
I can use peat and alder cones because my tapwater is 65 ppm these days. It is also buffered by the city to pH 7.6, but that's short term. In a couple of days, it drops to the mid 6 range.
You have solidly alkaline water, so you have to attack the reason rather than the easily read symptom (pH). Keeping rainforest fish has convinced me that pH is an indicator, but what you need to read is mineral content.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by mikebike on Sat Jan 04, 2014 1:49 pm

I keep several tubs/containers outside year round.
They catch rainwater for me.
I have a barrel with the top cut off and keep a few cubic feet of peat moss in it open to the elements year around.

I can use the low PH water during water changes to help maintain the PH I desire (I let nature indicate the easiest to maintain)

My planted tanks are closser to 7
my African tanks with Argenite sand and crushed coral are closser to 8 PH.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by Starfish on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:16 pm

@mikebike wrote:I keep several tubs/containers outside year round.
They catch rainwater for me.
I have a barrel with the top cut off and keep a few cubic feet of peat moss in it open to the elements year around.


I had an open barrel for rainwater this summer and the mosquitoes loved it. My fish had some nice tasty treats when I had the time to net out the larvae, but I didn't like the idea of breeding more mosquitoes to be feeding on my kids. How did you deal with that?
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by mikebike on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:22 pm

I put some comets in each container
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by cephalotus on Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:28 pm

Some really interesting and thoughtful responses in this thread, thanks everyone! I will have to do some more reading about hardness, and think about how I can best deal with this. I'll also pick up a test kit for GH/KH.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Sun Jan 05, 2014 7:53 am

I'll add something - I'm creeping around the house trying to be quiet because the kids were out late last night, and the keyboard's quiet.

I had harder water when I lived in civilization in town, and in those days, I used to breed rainforest Apistogramma cichlids. I tried everything.

Rain off the roof was good - a pain to cart inside, but an excellent source of clean neutral water, even though I lived within close sight of the downtown highrises. However, it doesn't always rain, and water is heavy to carry around. I found myself doing fewer water changes, and that was not good.
Snow stays around, and is a wonderful source, sort of. I would shovel a big orange lawn bag of snow and drag it into the basement, to get 5 gallons of water. It takes a lot of snow to make a little water. It worked - I bred a lot of difficult species with that water, and I really had an appreciation for bad weather, but it was labour intensive and seasonal.

It also made me question my sanity.

Peat or spaghnum exchange was cool. I took large plastic tubs and put them on the floor, out of the way, in the basement. Each was filled about a third of the way with soaked peat or spaghnum moss from the garden centre. If I poured in my 140 ppm, pH 7.4 tap, within a few hours, I had 40ppm, pH 6.6 water. It was dark brown, but it was gold for Apisto breeding. The peat was good for 2-3 months.
The water was a bit cold for Amazon tanks and had to be heated (I mixed in a little warm to harden it slightly - no way out of that), but it was good.
Spaghnum moss was even better. It gave ugly pale yellow water, but it was clear. It softened faster and lowered the pH to 6 - but it cost ten times what peat did.

In the end, I cleaned my tubs and put in an RO system on the basement sink. I had unmetered water (RO treatment can be very wasteful), so I could experiment. It was by far the easiest and most efficient choice. The initial cost was high, but the results were worth it.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by Sbenson11 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 9:31 am

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I don't keep any fish that are picky about their water PH.

It is what it is, deal with it fish.

Steve
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by alexmtl on Sun Jan 05, 2014 10:49 am

My two sense.

I used to condition with peat, and like GaryE said, it bounces around. As many of you know pH is a result of the ion properties, and the source is from your alkalinity measurement. Check and ensure that you have the alkalinity fixed, then go for your pH adjustment.

Here in Montreal, I use bicarbonate to increase the alkalinity.

I am on the same side of the fence as Steve (the person, not the goldfish) and I do not bother with adjusting water. Eventually the fish will breed and I would rather have a population that is conditioned for local water rather than a fastidious and hard to manage colony. However, for newly introduced fish that require the water, I can see going the extra effort. For me I limit my amount of time (and expense) dedicated to creating water conditions; if it is more than an hour a week, I prefer not to do it.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Sun Jan 05, 2014 1:33 pm

I only bother if I encounter the old "what came first, the fish or the egg" conundrum. The obvious answer is the egg, and that can be a problem if your water is 'wrong'. A lot of rainforest fishes produce eggs that desperately pull in all the needed minerals they can get, as an adaptation to mineral poor environments. When the minerals are plentiful, the eggs draw in more minerals than harder water eggs ever will. They develop hard shells from the overload, and have the fry die in them. The fry can't break out when the time comes.
In some cases as well, sperm will die in high pH, mineral rich water. It's a breeder's problem. Most fish can live in harder water, but not necessarily reproduce in it.
However, hard water fish in soft water are really weakened quickly. Hardening water is really easy - it's softening that calls for work.

I'm curious about species that have adapted to extreme environments, so I'll always have at least one fish here that I doctor water for.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by sucker4plecos on Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:23 pm

Also, with many livebearers and Apistos pH will determine the ratio of males and females that you will get with your fry. Water temps will also factor into the equation. It does make a difference. For those people that have had difficulty maintaining a colony because they couldn't keep enough of one sex or the other, this is something to look into.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Sun Jan 05, 2014 8:25 pm

Hey Steve,
Your saltwater fish take tap water?
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by CAAIndie on Sun Jan 05, 2014 9:29 pm

I will also echo everyone here. I have softened my water in an extreme way. My 26G went from a total dissolved solids of over 400ppm to approximately 80 or less. My pH has also dropped from about an 8 to a 6.5 or so. The hardness dropped from 12 dKH and 12 dGH to  the 1 to 2 degree range. It took me months of slow and steady water changes with an RO and tap water mix. The majority of water changes now are with water of about 8ppm TDS and is pretty much straight RO. I couldn't and wouldn't do it without a reliable RO filter.

This was all in an attempt to successfully breed some Dicrossus filamentosus, which is unfortunately on hold until I can find another female. I do keep other soft water fish though, like rummynose tetra, and a German Blue Ram.

I would say, unless you are breeding, 90% of the time the water hobbyists have in their tap is pretty suitable for keeping most fish. The majority of fish are usually quite adaptable to a wide range of water. I think that hardness, and total dissolved solids are really one of the best ways to gauge your water.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Mon Jan 06, 2014 4:46 am

Once you start playing with water, you have to measure and keep track. A freshwater aquarist who softens water becomes a sort of reverse saltwater keeper. You work to remove salts.
Saltwater keepers have to invest in technology (many use RO to give themselves control over what minerals are in there). If you go for rainforest fish you need a lot less technology but some money has to go for equipment. The returns are great, but it's usually a sign you are getting deeper into the pastime.
It's funny - I read Steve's post and I thought about how hard he must have worked, at least at the start, to master salt water as water, not even looking at the fish and inverts, etc. That's a big leap in fishkeeping - keeping doctored water consistent. We see it as par for the course with salt, but it often seems eccentric when we do more or less the same thing with fresh.
I have tanks with soft, tannin stained water, and tanks I have transformed into liquid rock, all depending on the needs of the fish. I always check the size and aggression levels when I encounter a new species, but then I check the water of their natural habitat. Softwater fish can thrive in harder water, but it never goes the other way.

And, as you reduce water hardness, be gradual for your fish. The ultimate problem for fish is keeping water out. Our land based fingers can wrinkle in water for a period of time, but their bodies can't have that 'luxury'. Huge energy goes into 'osmotic balance' - the balance of water to fish. Mineral rich water does not enter the body as easily as 'thinner', mineral free water, so a fish going from hard to soft water has to kick its system into overdrive. Going the other way is easy. Going from hard to soft suddenly can put a fish into a fatal shock if it happens too quickly.

For fish from really hard water, like mollies, swordtails and African Great Lakes Cichlids, they have adapted by losing their ability to cope with low mineral water. Too soft, and they are goners.

For rainforest fish, as I posted earlier, the problem is for sperm and even fertilized eggs, which are usually highly adapted to their natural environment. You can get very low to zero hatches when such fish are first bred in captivity. Rams used to be impossible without almost distilled water, but in captive farm breeding, they have selected for eggs that tolerate harder water and made it a lot easier. You would never get a rummy nose tretra egg to hatch, or many of the Apistogramma dwarf cichlids in harder water. I have had trouble with my Congochromis sp, which have laid eggs (a rarity in captivity) but still haven't had any able to hatch. I'm working on it.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by cephalotus on Mon Jan 06, 2014 9:02 am

again, there is some really cool discussion in this thread. thanks everyone for giving such thoughtful and detailed responses. s4p, the comment about pH affecting sex ratios is a really neat fact! I remember learning that temperature could affect sex ratios in some animals but never considered that pH would do the same.

a coupla additional questions:
Gary - I'm a bit unclear about how the peat/sphagnum exchange works... how exactly does the peat remove salts from the water? wouldn't adding peat to the filter do the same thing? or is it a matter of having more precise control? also, do tannins add to the TDS of the water?
Everyone who uses rainwater as a source for soft water - Don't you worry about, like, shingle tar and stuff getting into the water?
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by CAAIndie on Mon Jan 06, 2014 11:36 am

I have tested tds with using peat moss. I used a 5 gallon bucket with my hard tap water. I created a package of peat granules and set it in the water and monitored it for a week. I saw drops of about 2 degrees of kh and gh after about two days. I also saw drops in tds of about 20 or 25. I didn't see almost any change after a week. I then removed the peat bag and tested the water another week later. The tds remained at the same rate (the lowered one). If you were using better peat, you might get larger drops in the results. Changes in pH were very minor because of the buffering capacity of the hard water. I did see minor minor drops in the pH over the week.

These changes are nothing compared to what I could do with RO water over multiple changes. I used peat after I had softened the water to have greater control over the lowering of pH and minor tds changes. I would mix it in a separate container, so I could monitor exactly what was going into the tank. I could screen predict fairly closely how the tank as a whole would react. Overall an interesting but lengthy process.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by mikebike on Mon Jan 06, 2014 12:52 pm

I keep hoping to find one of the industrial plastic totes that hold 250 gallos/1,000Lt.

I would put it next to my fishroom outside and plumb it into my tanks for make up water.

I could hook it up to the rainwater gutters to collect rainwater and then just pass it through a whole house sediment filter.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Mon Jan 06, 2014 3:07 pm

I worried about the roof, and bird poop, but the water tested fine for years. I let it rain at first before the tub under the spout, but with time, I got lazy. I never had any problem whatsoever, off a shingle roof. pH 7.0, O ppm water. I bred wild caught Apistogramma and West African Cichlids in it - delicate, unforgiving fish.
The problem with in tank peat is that the exchange is not immediate. So freshwater added would bounce. It seemed better to do the chemistry outside the tank. And I am not a chemist. It worked, but I will have to leave it to someone else to explain how.
I used unfertilized garden peat loose. it took a week to sink (try hot water at first) and once it sank, it filled a third of each 20 gallon tub. We aren't talking a little bag - this uses pounds of soaked peat.
For sphagnum, I would buy large bags at the garden centre, which sold it for orchids. I used a lot less, but. I also added it to tanks to breed tetras, but those tanks would be a third full of moss. Effective, yes. Decorative? Not unless you are a total "make it look like nature" freak.

When it's spent, it gives you wicked flower or vegetable garden additives.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by Trixie on Mon Jan 06, 2014 4:04 pm

I can't really add anything that someone else hasn't said except that in the past I have tried all of the ways  to drop the ph and all except the one is temporary either because its labour intensive or messy. I probably like a few people tried to find the cheap way  to do this and the results were the same yes it did work but was always temporary either because I got lazy and slacked off or it was messy and I  cleaned it up and out, no one really wants  tubs of peat and water sitting in the basement and in no way shape or form do I need to add to the mosquitoes here in Ontario ( for the outside thing to work). I believe that spending the money on the system is the only long term non temporary way to do this. Just my thoughts and experiences hope it helps.

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Re: Lowering pH

Post by GaryE on Mon Jan 06, 2014 5:29 pm

I agree with trixie. I have lovely soft tapwater. If I didn't, the RO would be installed and running.

I have a peat tub in my fishroom now, but largely because I want some dark tea coloured water for some of the rainforest fish - their colours really pop in it and it can be a spawning trigger. It's homemade blackwater extract.
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Re: Lowering pH

Post by cephalotus on Fri Jan 10, 2014 12:33 pm

Got a water hardness test kit. yay titration!

Current water measurements:
GH ~280 mg/L or 15.7 dH (conversion is multiplication by 0.056 according to my test kit. but apparently some people use different conversion factors? anyone know anything about this?)
KH ~170 mg/L or 9.5 dH

I used a Pearson square to calculate the ratio of rainwater to tap water. According to my calculations 5 parts rainwater to 3 parts tapwater would lower GH to ~6 dH. If I wanted to reduce down to GH ~2 dH I would need 7 parts rainwater per 1 part tapwater.

I have started collecting snow in an old Tupperware bin ~30 gallons. Now I just have to figure out a slow incremental regime of water changes that will reduce hardness gradually enough that the fish aren't too stressed out. My water changes are usually about 30% weekly. Hmm, more calculations required...
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