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Comparing Aquarium Testing Options

Many other blogs have discussed (and will continue to discuss, I’m sure) the importance of testing various levels in your water and its effects on the overall health of your aquarium. But, how can you actually test it? For anyone who isn’t able to bring a water sample into That Fish Place or their local fish store for testing or who wants monitor their water quality at home, there are lots of options for what tests to use. While what to actually test for is for another blog, there are lots of options when it comes to how the tests are actually done. Here we’ll look at the pro’s and con’s of the three most common aquarium testing methods: Test Strips, Liquid Test Kits, and Electronic Testing Equipment.

Test Strips

Strip Test Kits
Test strips are one of the easiest, most common and oldest testing methods. It uses small paper strips that are either dipped into the water to be tested or a droplet of water is dropped onto the strip. The strip changes color and the result is compared to a chart provided with the strips to determine the value.

PRO: Test strips are generally one-step and fairly easy to use. They also tend to be fairly inexpensive and many types are available, some in combination with other tests.

CON: Test strips are not as accurate as other methods. The color comparison results can sometimes be difficult to interpret, especially to anyone with colorblindness. Test strips also begin to lose their effectiveness almost as soon as they are exposed to air, giving them a short shelf-life once opened.

Liquid Test Kits

Liquid titration test kits are available for almost every test a home aquarist may wish to perform. They contain liquid reagents that are added to a water sample in a test vial. Either a specific number of drops of one or more reagent are added and then the result is compared to a color chart or drops are added until a specific reaction like a color change occurs and the result is taken from the volume or number of drops needed to reach that endpoint. Some test kits also use powders that operate in much the same way.

PRO: Liquid test kits are fairly inexpensive and most are very easy to use. The results are generally accurate if the directions are followed correctly. Many test kits are available for a large range of freshwater and saltwater tests.

CON: The reagents and water samples can be spilled. Failure to follow the directions precisely can affect the results. The color comparison results can sometimes be difficult to interpret, especially to anyone with colorblindness.

Electronic Testing Equipment

Electronic testing equipment is some of the latest and most advanced equipment in the aquarium hobby. For most equipment, a probe is inserted into a water sample or even the main aquarium or refugium and the results are displayed on an electronic meter.

pH Monitor
PRO: The results from this equipment is much more accurate than standard test kits and is displayed on a screen, bypassing color comparisons and reactions. The results can be monitored continuously and takes seconds to calculated on most equipment.

CON: Monitors and testing equipment can be expensive and while the selection is always expanding, not all tests needed are yet available in electronic monitors and kits. The equipment also must be calibrated regularly to retain its accuracy.

Other testing methods and equipment are available, especially for factors like temperature and salinity but this overview covered the standard methods of measuring variables like pH, Hardness, Ammonia, Phosphate and other levels. Depending on your goals, skill level and needs, we can help you choose the type of testing kits or equipment right for you!

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About Eileen Daub

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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).