No, I was using Mardel 5-in-1 test strips that test for Nitrate, Nitrite, Total Hardness, Total Alkalinity, and pH, and yes, I am an intelligent person who can follow directions. They're the only test strips I've used so far, until yesterday when I purchased the API test strips. Not only did I get the zero reading on my test strip, but when I went to the LFS, they got the same reading on a different brand.
So, yesterday, I decided to dump some $$ and get ready to adjust (slowly) the pH. I'm skeptical of using baking soda; I like to use things designed for the specific purpose, even if it costs a little more. I decided to purchase a box of API 5 in 1 test strips, a pH monitor strip that hangs in the tank (Mardel brand) so I can constantly monitor the situation, a new airstone, and API Proper pH 7.0. So far I haven't used anything other than the pH monitor and two test strips because I'm getting conflicting readings, and I'm VERY reluctant to try to adjust the pH until I'm sure which reading is accurate.
The Mardel pH monitor that hangs in the tank is showing a nice reading of somewhere between 6.6 and 7.0, however when I use the API test strip, here's what I get: GH=60, KH=0, pH=6.0 (questionable, since the color of the pad stays the same as what it starts out as, which corresponds to 6.0), Nitrite=0, Nitrate=20. These are the numbers I just got a few minutes ago; yesterday afternoon, the nitrate number was lower (I think I waited longer to read it this morning), but everything else was consistent.
So, to sum it up, I've gotten very low readings for pH with the Mardel strips (they didn't register anything higher than the initial 5.5 color they start at) and I get low readings with the API strips (which also don't register any difference from dry to wet, with the lowest reading on their chart being 6.0). With the Mardel hanging monitor, it shows somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.6 to 7.0, which should be almost OK for our community fish, but it seems odd that this method would give a such a different result than the strips. However, the two brands of test strips (and the one used at the LFS) show zero for alkalinity.
Should I adjust (gradually) the pH in an attempt to get the alkalinity up a bit? I don't want to mess with the pH unless it's really the right thing to do. I've heard such horror stories about changing the pH that I'm totally spooked. The most knowledgeable person I've found at the LFS was also reluctant to have me change the pH by much just yet. She said if I do, I should initially just do a quarter of a scoop of the API Proper pH 7.0 for our 20-gallon tank (the directions call for two scoops) and see how much change occurs, then wait about three days to do a 20% water change. She also warned me that there's a good chance we'll lose some of the fish in the process. I really don't want that to happen. Any suggestions or advice will be greatly appreciated.
I'm rather new to this whole fish-keeping hobby -- we got the tank set up for our daughter's 6th birthday last summer, and since I'm the one who's become the "Keeper of the Fish" I get to be the one trying to learn the how-tos as quickly as possible before killing all the little critters we've grown attached to.
Thanks again to all who offer suggestions and advice.
Sodium bicarbonate is the standard chemical measured in a KH test and the active part of the commercial buffers. It's use, or a natural alternative such as coral or cuttle fish bone (calcium carbonate, is proven and safe in aquaria.
To FrogSplash, thanks, I just wanted to be sure you didn't assume I was some sort of idiot who decided to keep a few fish for kicks.
To diademhill, thanks for the link to the data sheet, and "EEK!" I think I'll return the Proper pH powder. As for using sodium bicarbonate or cuttlefish bone, how much should I add if I just want to take things very gradually? When you use cuttlefish bone, is there a product you can buy specifically for use in aquariums, or do you get the type used for pet birds and such? I remember buying them in the old days of parrot-keeping. If I use sodium bicarbonate, is good ol' Arm & Hammer good enough?
Thanks again to all who contribute, for continuing to educate me in the fine art of fish keeping.
p.s. Forgot to mention that our fancy blue guppy suddenly died a few days ago (I think it's been about four days now), back when the Gourami first started looking REALLY bad. I'm guessing maybe the pH was just too low for him. I only hope our two platys continue to do well.
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