Fish keepers and tropical fish breeders often worry about their aquarium’s pH because requirements vary among species. This can lead to them frantically dumping in expensive bottled solutions, baking soda, or vinegar. Unfortunately, that usually results in spikes and crashes that will kill your pet fish. The number one rule of pH adjustment is if the fish can adapt to your natural parameters, leave it alone.
If it is deemed necessary, there are gentle, natural ways to adjust pH, alkalinity and acidity in aquariums. Once they’re in place, one only has to remember to do smaller, more frequent water changes so as not to cause a large fluctuation.
Results will vary depending on your water supply’s buffering capacity, but we’ve found the following natural methods of adjusting aquarium pH to be effective and safe. However, each aquarium’s chemistry is different so we suggest that you experiment with adjustments on an empty aquarium until the desired parameters are relatively consistent. Be sure to test at the same time of day to avoid inconsistencies due to natural pH fluctuations.
Many Tetras and Catfish prefer a lower aquarium pH. It’s more difficult to lower pH because you can’t remove the minerals (dH) or adjust the buffering capacity within the aquarium without the aid of pre-filtration (reverse osmosis or distilled). The only option is to systematically overwhelm the process. Adding the following items will increase acidity to a point where only part is bound by buffering (KH), leaving the rest free to lower pH.
- Cactus Wood
- Leaf Litter – You can add brown leaves such as Catappa (Indian Almond Leaves), oak or banana leaves, or use an extract bag for less mess.
- Peat Moss – Peat moss with no chemical additives or purchase peat pellets made for aquariums. If we use peat we prefer the latter because we can count the pellets, making it easier to produce consistent results. A filter bag will contain the mess.
- CO2 – If you are a plant enthusiast who adds CO2 to your aquarium the pH will be lower.
- Remove any items from your aquarium that are on the ‘Increase pH’ list.
Naturally Increasing pH (Alkalinity) in Aquariums
Many Livebearers and Cichlids prefer higher alkalinity. Our pH is right around neutral and our buffering capacity is nil. We’ve found that a focus on increasing the buffering capacity / KH is very effective in providing a stable pH increase. To that end, we use the following items in our aquariums.
- Texas Holey Rock
- Tufa Rock
- Crushed Oyster Shell – In a filter media bag or box filter. The great thing about oyster shell is you can tell when it’s depleted by volume. Use feed grade to avoid impurities.
- Sea Shells
- Coral or sand with Aragonite – This can be effective but it will deplete.
- Calcium Montmorillonite Clay – We add a dash with every water change. It balances alkalinity, adds minerals to the water column, promotes healing, aids plant growth, and keeps the algae away. Pet-grade can be depleted or contaminated, so we use pure, edible grade only.
- Provide water movement – Filtration and air stones aid in CO2 exchange and helps dissolve your natural pH-boosters.
- Water changes – Vacuum substrate.
- Air circulation – Too much CO2 in the air can lower pH. Provide adequate air circulation in your home (a slightly opened window is good for you and the fish) and avoid smoking.
- Remove any items from your aquarium that are on the ‘Decrease pH’ list.
Do you have any tricks to naturally decrease or increase pH in aquariums? Please share them in the comments below.
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