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Aquarium Water Test Kits

Supplement to the August 2008 FAMA article Cycling Your Tank.

By David A. Lass

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One thing I need to mention in connection with cycling a new fish tank is how you measure the values for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. The “common knowledge” in the hobby is that the “dip-and-read” test strips are not very accurate, and that test kits using a liquid or dry reagent are superior. I’m not at all sure I agree.

During the course of this test on the three tanks I started out using test strips, but when I got some screwy readings I bought some liquid test kits and eventually some kits with dry reagents. To tell the truth, I am not at all convinced that the liquid or dry reagent test kits are all that better than the simple dip-and-read test strips. I got a few screwy readings with all three ways of testing, and I realized that in the high humidity of my fish room some of the powder was sticking to the inside of the packet. Liquid kits gave the most consistent readings, other than the test strips.

When it comes to how to test what I call “The Big Four” — pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate — reality rears its ugly head. The liquid and dry reagent test kits are fairly expensive and take a lot of time to do correctly. Testing for “The Big Four” is especially important for beginners. However, the reality is that someone who just spent X dollars for their first tank, a 10-gallon setup, is not going to spend 25 percent more for the test kits. They also are not going to take the time required for liquid or dry reagent kits.

In my humble opinion, the dip strips are just fine, provided they don’t get wet. They may not be as pinpoint accurate as the other kits (and I’m not really convinced of that), but they are good enough — and certainly better than not doing any water testing at all.

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