What Is Water Hardness? - For many people, the meaning of water hardness maybe be confusing. Water Hardness simply means what the mineral content in the water is. Aquariums with "Harder Water" has a higher mineral content and "Soft Water" has very little. What is the significance of water hardness in aquariums? Well different species of fish can only survive in certain levels of water hardness. Also, depending on your water hardness, you may not be able to alter your pH levels due to the fact that harder water acts as a buffer making it harder to lower the pH level. Then if you have too soft of water and your pH level is too low or acidic, it is hard to raise the pH with soft water. Confusing yet?
How To Alter Your Water Hardness
What Is pH? - The pH number stands for the amount of acidity or alkalinity in the water. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 being "neutral" or the point in which the water is neither acidic or alkaline. As the scale drops below 7, the water becomes more acidic, as the scale goes above 7, it becomes more alkaline. An important note is that the pH scale is logarithmic. For example, a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 7, and a pH of 5 is 100 times more acidic than 6! So the toxicity of of your aquarium water can grow exponentially as pH rises or lowers.
How To Maintain Proper pH? - Testing your water often for pH levels is recommended. If your water has unsafe pH levels, you can add chemical additives directly to your aquarium water to raise or lower your pH. Remember that you may have to control you water hardness as described in the section above for these chemicals to work efficiently. Many people will prefer more natural processes in lieu of chemical additives to maintain proper pH. You can achieve this by adding peat in the tank or filter to increase the acidity or adding minerals such as calcium to increase the alkalinity and pH.
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate
What Is Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate, And Why Do I Have It? - All three of these properties are byproducts of animal waster, excess food decay, or decaying plants. All aquariums will have traces of these properties but without the proper aquarium care and maintenance the levels of Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate can rise to lethal levels for your aquarium fish.
Lets start from the beginning now. In aquariums, you will have fish waste, uneaten food will fall to the aquarium floor and hide in the crevices, and some tanks might have plant matter that will at some point have leaves that will fall and decay. When these products start to break down, they release toxic ammonia (NH3) into the water. This ammonia will need to be broken down and through the process of biological filtration and beneficial bacteria, the bacteria will break down the ammonia to nitrite. Nitrite is still very toxic to fish, so this will need to be broken down even further. With the same beneficial bacteria, they will now further breakdown the nitrite to the less toxic nitrate. Nitrate is used by plants and algae to grow, but not all traces of nitrate will be absorbed. High levels of Nitrate that accumulate can be lethal as well.
How Do I Maintain or Eliminate Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate? - Having an aquarium that has a great biological filtration system will be essential to controlling these toxic elements. Biological filtration occurs naturally in all aquariums when beneficial bacteria begin to grow in your gravel bed or other high surface area items in your tank. This may not be enough though depending on the amount of livestock you have. Many filtration systems now have a special feature where they have a biological section that provides an optimal environment where these beneficial bacteria can grow into massive colonies. Having a functional biological system like this will do a better job removing ammonia and nitrite.
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate can also be removed through weekly partial water changes. Another simple way to control the amount of Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate is to limit the amount of livestock you have in your tank. It may take months for the biological system in your tank to get established, so it is a good idea to not fill you tank up with to much livestock early on. If you overcrowd your aquarium, waste levels will get to high and in turn produce a lot of ammonia. Having a healthy plant population will also help with the removal of nitrates.