THE HARD FACTS ABOUT WATER HARDNESS
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Water hardness is a very complicated aspect of water chemistry. People who have pH problems usually have hard water and it can cause a lot of headaches. Let's start by looking at what water hardness is. There are 2 types of hardness: GENERAL HARDNESS and CARBONATE HARDNESS.
The first GENERAL HARDNESS refers to the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water. The next is CARBONATE HARDNESS. This refers to the remaining minerals in the water. Now how does this affect you? A lot of people have high pH and fight to keep it down. First a fish in an unstable tank with the pH fluctuating is worse than a high pH all the time. I am not saying that a pH of 8 is good for your tetras, but if it bounces up and down it will put them under stress all the time. You are probably asking how hardness affects pH. Hardness buffers the pH up and allows it to be stable. Never put in a product to bring the pH down and have it back the next day. Every pH level has a correct hardness level so if you drop the pH lower and the hardness is still high, the pH is pushed up. Different factors can affect water hardness. The most common is tap water. Always check the hardness of tap water, and then your tank. If they are the same your tank is following the tap water hardness. If the tank is higher than the tap water, then you have something in the tank raising the hardness level. Things that can raise the hardness level are rocks with calcium in them and sea shells. The way to fix this is to remove them and do a water change. This will lower the hardness in the tank. If your tap water is high, this poses a different set of problems. You have to remove the hardness in the water. Products like Aquarium Pharmaceuticals WATER SOFTENING PILLOW will remove the hardness and is rechargeable for numerous uses. A water purifier such as an R.O. unit (Available at all Big Al's Supercentres) or deozinizer will also help reduce or remove almost all hardness in the water. You can adjust a product like this to suit your needs.
On the other hand, you can have a situation where the hardness can drop and take the pH with it. A perfect example is when the fish start to die in your tank; the aquarium has been set up for a long time; and the PH starts to drop off. It is usually caused by excess food rotting on the bottom of the tank. The hardness falls and the PH crashes. Regular gravel cleaning (Big Al's Gravel Cleaner) and regular maintenance will prevent this. Long running tanks can also have an odd problem: Very hard water caused by topping up the tank instead of doing regular water changes. When tank water evaporates, H2O is the only thing that escapes. All of the nitrates and minerals stay. Let's assume a 35 gallon tank evaporates 3 gallons per week. If you just top it up after a month you are putting a total of 12 gallons of water in, but you are not removing any hardness, therefore the hardness of your water can build up. The fish in the tank over time get used to it, but if you try to put a new fish in such an environment, it most probably will not be able to adjust. Regular checking of your water quality will make your tank run smoothly. Multi test kits are not expensive and will save your fish. If you understand your tank's eco-system you will have more success and enjoy the hobby more. I hope this will give you a better understanding of water hardness and may explain or avoid some problems you may experience.