AquariumIn order to have a healthy freshwater aquarium, it’s important to maintain the correct chemistry and nutrient balance in the water where your fish will be living. Freshwater aquarium chemistry is a fairly methodical science, so with the proper knowledge and equipment, you can have a thriving aquarium.

When setting up your freshwater aquarium, every decision you make from the size of fish tank to the plants and decorations you use should be made with balance in mind. When creating a habitat for your fish, you want to make sure your freshwater aquarium chemistry is as close their natural habitat as possible. There are many reasons why your aquarium needs to be balanced, and achieving proper chemical and nutrient balance is actually a pretty simple process.

Importance of Proper Aquarium Balance

One of the main reasons you need to maintain proper freshwater aquarium chemistry is due to additional chemicals and minerals that are in the water you use to fill the fish tank. The nitrogen cycle is another major process you need to keep your eye on, especially in the first 2-6 weeks of your new aquarium’s life. All of the toxic chemicals must be removed from the water, and the water chemistry must be regulated before you stock the aquarium with fish. Failure to maintain proper freshwater aquarium chemistry results in stress on your fish, and can potentially cause them serious harm.

Achieving Proper Chemical Balance

In order to have your freshwater aquarium chemistry balanced correctly, you will need to test and regulate the Ammonia, Chloramine, Chlorine, Nitrite, Nitrate, and pH levels to adjust your aquarium water. Here are some brief definitions to help you understand each of these variables.

  • Ammonia: This chemical is created as a result of decomposing fish waste and food in the freshwater aquarium. An ammonia reading of 0 ppm is the ultimate goal.
  • Chloramine / Chlorine: These chemicals are used to kill the bad bacteria in most tap water. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, and is stronger than chlorine alone. You must remove all the chloramines and chlorine from your tap water before adding it to your aquarium or it may harm your fish.
  • pH: Acidity or alkalinity of water is measured on the pH scale. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline. Ideally, you want your aquarium to have a pH reading as close to 7 as possible. However, it is just as important to maintain a consistent level.
  • Phosphates: This chemical is introduced from tap water, dead plants, and fish food. Algae outbreaks can occur when phosphate levels are too high. As long as you maintain your other levels and do regular partial water changes, your phosphate levels should stay in line.
  • Nitrates: Nitrites are converted to nitrates during the nitrogen cycle. Nitrates can be harmful at high enough levels. When nitrate levels are too high, you must do a partial water change. Test kit readings of less than 20 ppm are acceptable in freshwater aquariums.
  • Nitrites: Ammonia is converted to nitrite by various bacteria in your aquarium. Nitrites are very toxic to fish, but are eventually converted to nitrates by the bacteria growing in the aquarium. Ideally, you want this to read 0 ppm with your aquarium test kit.

Now that you understand the elements of freshwater aquarium chemistry, you can setup your tank and begin the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle happens in all new aquariums, and typically takes 2-6 weeks for chemical levels to stabilize. The nitrogen cycle refers to the process of Ammonia being converted to Nitrites, and Nitrites being converted to Nitrates.

Testing and Maintaining your Freshwater Aquarium

Once you’ve gone through the nitrogen cycle, you can do the final adjustments to your freshwater aquarium chemistry and begin stocking it with fish. Once the fish begin to eat and produce waste, you must keep a close eye on all the chemical levels in your tank. You can buy test strips from nearly any pet store or online vendor, as well as water additives to help you keep all the levels in line. As long as you test and maintain all the chemical levels on a regular basis, your aquarium should thrive.

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