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Perhaps measuring, testing and comparing results were not what you had in mind when you first bought your aquarium. After all, math is not nearly as much fun as watching the fish swirl around and thrive. If you are a fish enthusiast though, you know that what most impacts the health of fish and other aquamarine life is water quality.
Only the best aquarium test kit can show real water conditions. It is common that when we think of unhealthy water, we instantly picture cloudy, nebulous water, with some particles floating around. That, however, is not always the case. Sometimes the clearest, most beautiful water has high amounts of ammonia, for example. While we can’t see that, the fish can certainly feel it.
Measuring the levels of components in the water not only prevents disease and stress but also provides for a healthy, natural habitat where marine life can flourish. Keeping all the levels balanced does not have to be an arduous task without the use of the right equipment. The best water testing kits will make your life easier and caring for your aquarium a simple and pleasurable task.
What Is An Aquarium Water Test Kit And Why To Invest In One
Fish are very delicate organisms when it comes to the quality of water they live in. They can fall sick and even stop mating if the conditions are unsteady. A test kit will help you determine if the levels of the components are balanced, within healthy levels and regular. They will check for water parameters like ammonia, calcium, copper, pH, and silicate, to name a few.
The reason you do not want to skimp on research and get the right tool to test your aquarium water is that an imbalanced environment can cause chaos in your tank. That can happen very fast too- fish who are suddenly exposed to high levels of nitrates, for instance, can die in 24 hours.
As mentioned, high levels of ammonia in the water can be stressful for the fish stress, cause diseases, and even death. When it comes to testing, it is crucial to determine the level of water chemistry. This is the expression used to describe the preeminent elements found in water. The most important ones for marine life and the seven main ones that excellent test kits will analyze are:
Ammonia is produced naturally in every aquarium. It comes from fish droppings, food waste, and decomposing plant matter. It is highly toxic to fish and other marine life, and even concentrations of 2 ppm (parts per million) can kill the fish in your tank. The aimed level is 0 ppm, and that is why it is crucial to routinely measure its levels in all kinds of aquariums.
Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate are all waste breakdowns caused by organic processes. The bacteria present in the water breaks the ammonia and creates nitrite. It is odorless and invisible, so testing is the only way to keep the levels down. It should be always under 2 ppm.
Nitrate is the next element in the chain of ammonia products. Even though it is not as toxic as ammonia and nitrite, it still can be dangerous in amounts higher than 10 ppm. But, that number varies based on the type of aquarium and fish you have.
There is not an official pH level that applies to all tanks and fish. Freshwater fish grow better with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5, for example, while saltwater fish prefers 8.0 or more. The pH can also change daily and throughout the day, so it needs constant measuring and assessing.
One good way to keep pH from drastically changing is keeping a good alkalinity balance. This is especially true for saltwater tanks, where alkalinity numbers of 142-215 ppm can help coral calcifications and prevent bleaching.
Water hardness is the measure of the many salts that are dissolved in water (like magnesium and calcium). Tropical fish, in particular, are affected by water hardness and can perish in the wrong concentration of salts. There is no right number here, each species will require different amounts.
Chlorine can be extremely harmful to aquaculture, as it is a powerful oxidant. It can be lethal to most fish even on low numbers of 0.1-0.3 ppm. It is commonly found in tap water – used by many fish keepers to fill up tanks, so it is a good idea to test your tap water if you are planning to do that.
Water Test Kits Vs Water Test Strips – Is There A Difference?
The short answer is yes. They are two types of products you can choose to buy to test the water in your aquarium. The main difference is how you use them, although there is also a difference in time and accuracy.
A test kit will usually come with the following components:
- Test tube
- Testing solution
- Colour cards
Take some water from your tank (around 5ml) and pour it into the tube, then add drops of the chemical liquid solution you are using. After that, simply shake the tube and compare the color with the cards that come with the kit, and you will see the parameters. They are very reliable and give accurate results – that helps when you need to know exactly what you need to change to improve living conditions in your aquarium.
Typically a test kit will take up to ten minutes to display the results, and while that may seem like a long time, the extra accuracy makes this worth it.
Test strips come individually sealed and are extremely practical. Merely open one package and dip the strip directly into the water- there is no need to collect the water and put it in a container. The strip will change color in seconds and show you the numbers for the water chemistry. Even though their numbers are not as accurate as liquid kits’ ones, they are a convenient and quick way to check for variations in the chemical levels of the water. They are a fast and more affordable option too. Some test strips only need ten seconds to show the results of the test, and that is a positive point for them.
Whether you want to use liquid tests or strip ones will vary based on many factors. If you have an emergency, for example, and believe a fish is in danger – you will want the fastest result possible. Even though this is not an exact one, it will still give you an idea of what is wrong and how you can quickly act.
However, if you are after accurately measuring the levels of your water components for a monthly comparison and a deep understanding of how the cycle in your tank is evolving, then you better use a liquid kit test.
How To Choose The Best Aquarium Test Kit
Each aquarium has different needs, so we created this elaborate guide to help you choose the best aquarium water test kit for your needs. There are some points to keep in mind when buying test kits or strips.
1. The Number of Tests you can do with one kit.
The first thing to know is that when you start setting up an aquarium and are going through the first cycle, it is essential to test the water every day for at least 6 weeks. It is important t to closely observe the progression of the tank’s nitrogen cycle. Since you will be doing a test each day, it is more economical to look for the test kits or strips that allow for at least one hundred tests. After your aquarium is set up and cycled, you can test it once a week, or whenever you see any disturbance.
2. Type of water
Another important point is to make sure you are buying the correct kit for your tank. Even the best freshwater aquarium test kits may not work in saltwater aquariums and the opposite applies, so always check for these specifications on the label of your kit.
3. Chemical Elements Tested
The best kits will test the most important parameters in the water, but you should never leave that to chance. Check the label for a minimal of nitrates, pH, water hardness and ammonia and keep your fish well and lively. Ideally, you want a kit that tests for all seven elements listed above.
4. Test Accuracy
It is important to trust the results you get when testing your aquarium water. Daily, you do not need decimal cases; just a ballpark idea of the quantity of each component. Even so, this idea needs to be correct or you risk fish infections and diseases, so always look for a reliable brand that uses proven good materials.
Since these are chemicals, after all, good packaging with security mechanisms makes for safer use. Pick the one that best fits your needs and home environment.
6. Labeling and color chart
Even if you get accurate color changes and results, they are of no use if you do not have a great chart to compare them to. Some kits come with unclear color cards that do not match with the ones you get on the strips or liquids. For an accurate reading, look for the kits with comprehensive tabulations and clear explanations.
All pet owners want to keep their animals safe and happy, and with so many choices out there, it can be hard to make the right decision. With that in mind, we put together a thorough list of the best test kits and strings available on the market right now.
Top 7 Best Aquarium Test Kits 2019
1. Api Freshwater Master Test Kit
The API Master Test Kit is considered to be one of the best options when it comes to fish safety. The brand has been in business for over 50 years and it leads the market of fish care. The label is simple and states clearly that it tests for ammonia, pH levels, nitrites, and nitrates, so you get a lot of coverage with just one kit.
Apart from that, it also checks water hardness – which is particularly important if you are not using tap water for your tank. Different kinds of fish need different amounts of salts, so that is something to always keep in mind when raising various species of fish. Tap water is usually ok, but alternative sources need analyzing.
This test kit is ideal for beginners; it comes with straightforward instructions and can perform over 800 tests. It has a good value for money and will not break the bank, so if you are looking for that balance between quality and price, the API Kit is a safe bet. To use it, simply put some water into a test tube and mix it with the chemical solution. When the water changes color, compare it with the chart to easily see the quality of the water your fish are living in.
The kit is well designed too, coming with four glass tubes that close hermetically and a holding container that makes for practical and stress-free use. The color chart is waterproof and will not deteriorate after a couple of uses, and the seven bottles with the testing solutions are also high quality.
We noticed that the 800 tests you can do with it cover all the different testing components (nitrates, pH, etc). So, even though you can do 800+ tests overall, in reality, each type of tests grants between 50 and 60 uses. That happens because some of them need more drops than others. It still is a worthwhile purchase, though.
As the name suggests, this kit is intended for freshwater aquariums. Although it is very accurate, it can fall a little short for people who require exact, to the decimal results. If you use it once a week, though, your tank should be safe and your fish happy. This makes the API the best freshwater aquarium test kit for several aquarium lovers.
- Quality material
- Easy to use
- Good value price balance
- Results not accurate to the decimals
- Some people have reported leaking
2. Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE21525 Marine Care Test Kit for Aquarium
The Red Sea kit is very exhaustive. With it, you can monitor not only the ammonia, pH, nitrate and nitrite levels in your aquarium but also the alkalinity levels. It comes with 100 tests, so if you are just getting into saltwater aquariums and want to keep it on a budget while shopping around to figure it out the best kit for your needs, this is a clever option.
One of the best things about the Red Sea Kit is that it is neat and organized. Unlike other packs, it prevents spillage, fits perfectly back in the box and the bottles are not low quality. When you are testing your aquarium once a week or more, the last thing you want is a messy, stained box filled with spilling bottles, so this kit comes in handy.
The cards are laminated and the colorimetric system works well. Many have reported this test to be one of the easiest to read for beginners. The Red Sea company is responsive and replaces damaged items for free if they are bruised during delivery or for any other reason.
An important point to notice, though, is that since it is designed for saltwater aquariums, it lacks one essential test: the calcium one. Calcium is key when maintaining healthy saltwater aquariums because, without it, coral calcification and skeletal formation reduce.
While it is reliable and will let you know about major problems in the water balance, it does not give precise results in the decimal points, so it may not be the best fit for those with a methodical approach.
- Comprehensive testing
- Good design
- Results not precise to the decimal points
- Does not come with calcium test
3. ATI ICP_OES Complete Saltwater Test Kit
When you get this kit, you will see that it contains only three plastic tubes and no solutions or strips. You fill the tubes with your tank water and send them to the company, who then thoroughly tests it with the ARCOS II ICP-OES machine and sends the results back to you.
If you need to understand the variables that your aquarium is subject to, this is one of the best aquarium test kits you can purchase.
While it is not the fastest option, it is one of the most comprehensive. If you are after a specific result that is not covered by the homemade kits, this is a trustworthy method. Alongside checking for all the major elements like sodium and calcium, they will also look for more unusual components, like arsenic and zinc, and known pollutants, like lead and aluminum.
The water in rivers and oceans are constantly moving and being replaced by rain, and freshwater- so it cleans itself. Aquarium water does not have that luxury and is always receiving fish droppings, food waste, and decaying matter. For that reason, pollutants can accumulate and cause various fish diseases and death. Sometimes, testing for the most common elements is not enough, and you need a profound analysis of what exactly is happening inside your tank.
The biggest advantage of this test is its free shipping. When you purchase the kit, you are also purchasing the shipping to the test center and back- so you do not need to worry about extra costs. Simply fill in the tubes, put them back in the package, stick the “prepaid” sticker and put in the mailbox. The company promises that you will have the reading back in hand in 2 to 3 weeks, and clients have reported having received theirs even faster.
When the problem is unknown, however, it is better to wait for detailed results rather than making drastic changes that can be fatal to the reef.
They also have a chart and explanations on their website to help you navigate and understand the many specific readings and results.
- Very accurate method
- Covers more elements than any other
- Delivery time
4. JNW Direct 7 in 1 Aquarium Test Strips
These test strips are very versatile, as they can be used both in saltwater and freshwater. They also state they can be used in fish ponds. So if you have varied environments that need testing, this is a valuable tool.
The box comes with 150 test strips and a color chart. For each test, open the individual bags, dip it in the water and after just a few seconds you will see the color changing. Match it with the chart and discover the measurements for chlorine, nitrite, nitrate, water hardness, pH, alkalinity and KH. Even though it may not be the most accurate test kit, it is very complete and great for those constant calculations you need to do on your aquariums.
School and university teachers, especially, like these test strips. A science high school laboratory can house up to forty aquariums and that would be very tricky to test regularly using the liquid kits. The results are easy to read by students and great for everyday testing and reporting.
This test comes with four times the amount of strips compared to others around the same price point. It is the biggest appeal of this product and its quality is similar to other strip tests in the market. Although it is not advisable to rely only on test strips for long periods, they can certainly be used for a routine check and get the job done.
The bottle comes with the ideal parameters printed on, so you can quickly realize if your results are acceptable or not. This, combined with the convenience of the dipping method and the promptness of the results, makes this kit a great competitor for the best aquarium test strips.
- Quick results
- Easy to use
- Results not as accurate as liquid ones
5. Aquarium Test Strips Kit 7 Parameter
Another option for those who prefer to use test strips is the Generical X brand. It also contains 150 strips – a good amount to get started with aquarium keeping. This kit is not the best aquarium test kit out there, but it can be very useful when you can’t spend that much but still need to keep your tank levels up to standards. It is also popular with those who own several fish tanks, as costs can add up when you need to buy kits in large quantities.
The kit is FDA approved and tests for the 7 most important elements: pH, nitrite, nitrate, carbonate, water hardness, chlorine, and alkalinity. It should be noted that it does not include the ammonia test, so don’t forget to also get an ammonia alert to keep you informed.
We noticed that it is possible to have trouble reading the color chart. The results sometimes get mixed and getting the colors to not blend is a challenge. The best way to avoid this is to read the results right away- if left for a few minutes they can become unreadable.
All test strips are subject to humidity damage. They need to be kept dry and away from moisture to function well. Even though this maker assures that the kit lasts up to 24 months and endures humidity, it is still recommended to take the usual care and keep it dry.
- Quick results
- Lower cost
- Less quality regarding results
6. Tetra EasyStrips
The Tetra EasyStrips live up to their name as they are a one-step process to get your marine life water tested. More than that, they are one of the fastest ways to get results, they only take ten seconds, being perfect for emergencies.
Although it is still a dipping test, and thus less accurate than the tube kits, it is reliable enough to give you an idea of how well your aquarium is and if anything needs changing. It tests the 6 main components (nitrite, nitrate, water hardness, pH, chlorine and alkaline) and it uses a technology similar to the one used in scientific laboratories.
Another valid reason to use them is the fact that they are safe. They do not have any toxins and, because there is no liquid solution, you don’t need to worry about spilling them or dropping them. If you have small children or even other pets, that is a positive factor to consider.
We observed that the Tetra EasyStrips can give off results regarding nitrite levels from time to time. This happens because of a discoloration on the strips, which leads to difficulty in reading. As we pointed out, they are excellent for emergencies and to give you a guideline on levels in your tank.
Tetra EasyStrips work both with fresh and saltwater. Their label is clear and they even have an app for you to use and understand the results. This is the best you can do in terms of value per money, and well worth a try.
- Quick results
- Results not as accurate as liquid ones
- Can be hard to read sometimes
7. BSKJ 6 in 1 Aquarium Water Test
If you are an aquatic life enthusiastic, chances are you have not only aquariums but also ponds. Some freshwater species like plecos or koi can get too big to fit in a tank, and that is when you need to invest in making and maintaining a pond.
Testing the water elements on a pond does not require deep pockets, you can still get a sense of the element levels for a fair price.
The BSKJ, like the JNW, is a functional tool that gives quick updates on how well your tank or pond is doing. It covers carbonate, chlorine, water hardness, nitrate, nitrite, and pH.
Always remember to purchase an ammonia test separately, as ammonia can be easily accumulated in the water from fish excrement and rotten food.
The box comes with 100 strips and instructions on the container itself. Just dip the material in the water for 2 to 3 seconds, then hold it horizontally for 30 seconds to reveal the outcome. They are a favorite for those who value convenience while still caring about their pets.
- Quick results
- Results not as accurate as liquid ones
- Does not include ammonia test
The Best Freshwater Aquarium Test Kit: Your Pick?
Although you can not go wrong with any of the products we reviewed here, a definite good buy is the API kit. After analyzing many reviews, we concluded that customers are especially content with the accuracy of the results.
When starting a new hobby, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information around, particularly when living beings are involved. A kit like the API brings not only chemical levels but also peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to assure a great habitat for fish, coral, and even turtles.
If you are fish are looking “slow” or “lazy”, they are either stressed or low on energy- caused by too much or too little of a component. That is exactly when you should use the best aquarium test kit you can find and afford. This one already comes with all the crucial tests in one package, and that is why it is called the Master Kit. It is so simple to use and so efficient that both beginners and advanced fish enthusiasts swear by it.
The Best Saltwater Aquarium Test Kit
Saltwater aquariums are, generally speaking, more expensive to maintain. Freshwater fish are cheaper to obtain and more resistant, while saltwater fish are more fragile- but more colorful and vibrant. Since the saltwater tank is a recreation of the ocean, with its many corals, plants, and animals, it can be a very delicate system. Therefore, testing their water has to be both economical and accurate.
The Red Sea Fish Pharm is a great buy if you have a saltwater tank. Aside from its practicality and smart design, its readings are accurate and provide true information that allows you to take action regarding the elements levels.
Upon analyzing reviews for this product, we concluded that the results that it gives are precise. Although that is its biggest selling point, some people still had trouble with spillages using this kit. So, that is something to keep in mind. It is still the best choice when looking for a day to day testing kit for your reef aquarium.
The Best Aquarium Test Strips
Every aquarium owner should use a combination of test kits and test strips. If your fish are rapidly dying, impossible to wait for up to fifteen minutes to know what levels are unbalanced. Acting without testing is also not a good option, as drastic wring changes can be fatal to marine life. That is one of the reasons to get and use test strips.
Another one is if you need constant checking or if you have multiple aquariums to care for. The best way to avoid expenses getting out of hand is to use reliable test strips.
If you are convinced that you should use them, your best bet is the Tetra EasyStrips. They are quick to use and give a ballpark notion of the cycle in the water. Use them if you have children or you can’t risk contact with toxins for some reason.
After careful investigation, we noticed these strips have a little of a hard time monitoring nitrates; that is something to pay attention to. They are still, however, a good option for test strips and very popular among aquarium keepers.
The Best Way To Use Aquarium Test Kits
Even though each kit is different, there are some rules of thumb to follow that will make the process easier and smoother.
- Open the box carefully – remember you are dealing with toxins and potentially harmful substances. Keep it away from children and pets.
- Store properly – when testing kits, tubes, liquids, and strips are not being used, store them somewhere dry and away from direct sunlight to extend their life.
- When using the kits, keep them clean and be careful with all the components. It is a good idea to use them over a sink or absorbent material just in case.
- Organize the tubes – if you are reusing the tubes (as we do with many of the kits) it is advisable to label each one and keep using the same tube for the same substance to avoid contamination. For example, label a tube “nitrite” and always choose that one when testing the water for nitrate levels.
- Follow instructions closely – if the box says to use 5ml of water and shake the liquid thoroughly, do exactly that. Procedures are very important when it comes to scientific results and shaking the bottle well to mix the liquid with the water is crucial to get accurate readings.
- If you are using test strips, do not leave the strip unattended to check later. Instead, hold the strips delicately and analyze the color changes right away. That way you are more likely to get authentic conclusions.
- Be patient – do one test at a time and write them down, this way you will not risk mixing the results or samples.
- If you get altered numbers, act fast but calmly. If not, relax and enjoy your aquarium until the next testing day.
What To Do If You Get Substandard Results
Now that you have your water results in hand and know exactly what is bothering your fish, it is time to apply this knowledge into bettering the water for your pets. In many cases, that is an easy and straightforward process. Let’s see what you can do in each different scenario if you get suboptimal results.
1. Ammonia excess
To lower ammonia levels you can simply change the water in the tank, either totally or partially. That will automatically improve the water quality and re-start the cycle. For the long term, boosting the filtration system and airing the filter are good ways to ensure ammonia numbers don’t surpass zero.
2. Nitrate excess
Nitrates in excess can lead to fish poisoning and also the growth of undesirable algae. Since nitrates come from ammonia, it is possible to keep it down by maintaining a clean tank, changing the water, not overfeeding the fish and keeping live plants.
3. Nitrite excess
Similarly to nitrate, it is important to always clean the aquarium, and if faced with excess levels, improve the filtering system and dilute it with a 25% water change. You can also introduce a certain type of bacteria that transforms nitrite into something less harmful.
4. Wrong pH
Depending on the kind of fish you have, you may want to raise or lower pH levels. A common way of raising pH is adding one tablespoon of baking soda to the tank. It is best to remove the fish while doing that. A natural way to lower the levels is by adding driftwood to the tank landscape. Always check if this is safe for your pets first.
5. Incorrect water hardness
Adjusting hardness can be tricky since a drastic change can send fish into shock. There are safe ways of doing it though, like adding tap water or crushed shells slowly to increase hardness. If your fish need softer waters though, it is best to add distilled water – which is water that has been stripped from its salts and minerals.
It is not uncommon for city water to have added chlorine in it. This is toxic for fish, and if this applies to you, get a dechlorinator to clean the water before putting it into the aquarium.
Since alkalinity is closely related to pH levels, control it by always manipulating the salts in the water. You can also get a Reverse – Osmosis unit that produces water with almost no dissolved minerals.
As you can see, many of these changes are fairly easy to achieve, and not rocket science at all. The key is to look for the best aquarium test kit based on your needs so that you can have reliable readings to trust and act based in.
As it shows, there are many variables involving the best aquarium water test kit choice. Like many things in life, the subject is both technical and personal. The best thing to do is to try and study the type of fish as much as possible, and the water in your house.
Take the Neon Tetra fish, for instance. It is one of the most commonly bought fish by beginners in the field. It is very small and thrives on soft, freshwater waters (low hardness) with an acidic pH (less than 7).
The clownfish, on the other hand, is an exclusively saltwater fish. It loves a pH of at least 8 and water a little harder. It does not like to be crowded with other fish. These two species need opposite conditions to prosper, so putting them together would not be a good idea. The optimal readings from their respective tanks will also be quite contrasting.
Choosing the best testing kit goes hand in hand with choosing the type of water and fish you want as pets. Some species will get along amazingly and grow together, while others can’t stand the water conditions another species requires. Test quality, though, should be your first concern in any scenario.
You can choose one kit and use it for all your needs, or you can buy different kits that are specialized in certain tests. Whichever is your choice, it is important to keep your fish in a clean, balanced environment where they can develop safely and completely. You can only do this with the aid of the best aquarium test kit.