You cannot judge the quality of aquarium water by looking at it. Clear water is not always clean or healthy. Therefore, every aquarist and fish hobbyist needs water test kits and strips to monitor the changes in water pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels. The accumulation of these toxins can kill your fish overnight. A good water test kit should be accurate, reliable, and easy to use.
The best aquarium water test kits and strips should consist of dry reagents. Although you can use test kits with liquid components, they have a shorter shelf life than the dry ones. Use test kits such as API Freshwater Master Kit, API GH&KH Test Kit, and Aqua Care Pro Freshwater Test Strips. They can test various water parameters, including pH, chlorine, and nitrite levels.
The test kits and strips will give you results in under one minute. Dip a test strip on the aquarium for about two seconds, remove it, and compare the color change to the comparison chart provided alongside the kit. Once you get the results, you can improve the water quality with an aquarium water conditioner or other method.
Types of aquarium water test kits
Aquarium water test kits and strips can be classified according to the compound they are designed to detect and the reagents used.
For instance, an oxygen test kit will not measure the level of nitrates or ammonia in your fish tank. You need a specific test kit to do the job. Regarding reagents, aquarium test kits can be classified into test strips, liquid tests, and electronic water tests.
Here are some types of aquarium water test kits:
Master test kit
The Master test kit is designed for use in freshwater aquariums only. It is called “master” because it measures a wide range of water parameters, including High Range pH, pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite.
It comes with test tubes, a test tube rack, and a color card to cross-check the test results. Because of its complexity, using a master test kit can be particularly challenging.
Ammonia test kit
Ammonia is the single most stressful compound to tropical fish. It originates from decomposing organic matter and fish food leftovers in your aquarium. Fish also release ammonia through respiration and excretion.
The accumulation of ammonia in their environment makes it difficult for your fish to eliminate ammonia from their system. Your fish will show signs such as appetite loss, lethargy, and difficulty breathing.
Use an ammonia test kit to monitor your aquarium water quality to avoid internal organ damage and death to your fish. Remember that ammonia is highly toxic. The safe levels of the compound in any aquarium should measure 0 parts per million.
Nitrate test kit
Nitrates come from the nitrogen cycle in your aquarium. It can also result from over-feeding your fish, overstocking the aquarium, decaying plant materials, and dirty filters.
If the nitrate levels in your fish tank persist at 100 parts per million, your fish become susceptible to diseases, and breeding slows down. If your fish fry is nearly the same size several weeks after birth, you need a nitrate test kit to reveal the source of the problem.
When performing a nitrate test, shake the test tube for 30 to 60 seconds for accurate color change and leave it for about five minutes for full-color development.
Compare the resulting color to the color chart provided on the nitrate test kit to reveal the number of nitrates in your aquarium.
Nitrite test kit
Is your fish constantly reaching for the water surface to gasp for air? When fish consume nitrites, it binds to their hemoglobin to form methemoglobin, which can have deadly consequences for your aquarium livestock.
A nitrite test kit will reveal the level of nitrites in your fish tank quickly and accurately. Like most toxins, nitrites will cause lethargy, stress, and breathing problems in your fish.
Measuring and keeping the aquarium nitrite levels at zero parts per million is essential. Use a nitrite test kit every two or three days and perform water changes to keep your fish healthy and happy.
I will give you the best aquarium water test kits in the next chapter. Let’s see other essential types of water test kits you should have for your fish.
pH test kit
There are hundreds if not thousands of fish species you can keep in a community tank. They thrive at entirely different pH levels. Some are active and happy in low pH or acidic water, whereas other fish prefer high pH or alkaline conditions.
Although your aquarium will have the correct pH initially, natural processes will constantly and steadily alter the pH. For instance, CO2 released by aquarium plants, animals, and soluble rocks can raise the overall water pH.
Alkaline-loving fish will not thrive in acidic water and vice versa. Therefore, you need a pH test kit to monitor the water quality. A pH test is probably the most straightforward test you can do. Know what your fish likes, and use a pH test kit to monitor and keep it at that.
The types of aquarium water test kits are endless. You can also find hardness and alkalinity, phosphate, and oxygen test kits in your local pet supply store or online.
It is worth noting that the test kits also vary in usage. For example, you can measure ammonia using a test strip, liquid reagents, or an electronic test. The same applies to all the other water tests I mentioned earlier.
Liquid tests can be time consuming than test strips and not as accurate as electronic tests.
Let’s jump into some of the best aquarium water test kits.
Best Aquarium Water Test Kits
Here are the best aquarium water test kits for beginner and professional aquarists:
1. API Freshwater Master Kit
It is one of the most recommended aquarium water test kits you can find on Amazon or at a local pet store near you. It can test up to five water parameters: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and low and high pH.
Although it is not very easy to use, it is one of the most consistent and accurate test kits. It involves a lot of chemistry procedures like adding reagents, shaking test tubes, and waiting for color development.
Unfortunately, API Freshwater Master Kit will work for freshwater aquariums only.
2. API GH & KH Test Kit
GH stands for general hardness and KH for carbonate hardness. The API GH & KH Test Kit is essential for duplicating the natural mineral content of your fish’s habitat.
Freshwater fish need between 4-8 GH and KH to thrive in your aquarium. For Brackish fish, use the test kit instructions to keep the general hardness of the water between 12 and 20.
The test kit also comes with two test tubes and a slightly easy-to-follow manual for adjusting your tank’s general and carbonate hardness. If the carbonate concentrations are high in your fish tank, the drops should turn blue, and high GH will appear orange.
3. Aqua Care Pro Freshwater Test Strips
The Aqua Care Pro is a freshwater test strip. Avoid using it for brackish or saltwater fish. It has 18 test strips and will do six tests, including GH and KH, nitrate, nitrite, etc.
Although it’s costly, Aqua Care Pro Freshwater Test Strips are easy to use, offer quick results, and have a long shelf life. That means you can use the 18 strips for one or two months, depending on your testing frequency.
Dip one test strip in your aquarium water, pull it out, and use the color chart to compare the color change. However, the strip will give you an approximate value for the water parameters. In other words, the accuracy of Aqua Care Pro Freshwater Test Strips is debatable.
4. Tetra EasyStrips 6-in-1 Aquarium Test Kit
This aquarium test kit has a 4.6-star rating on Amazon. It offers seven tests, which you can use in fresh or saltwater aquariums. Use the Tetra EasyStrips 6-in-1 Aquarium Test Kit to measure ammonia, alkalinity, chlorine, nitrate, nitrite, pH, and water hardness.
Being a test strip, the Tetra EasyStrips offers significant convenience and ease of use. You will get your aquarium test results within 60 seconds.
The test kit does not involve mixing several reagents or liquids and hoping you did it well. Just dip it in the aquarium, let it dry for a few seconds, and compare the color change in the chart.
Note, however, that accurate interpretation can be a bit challenging. Therefore, I would recommend the Tetra EasyStrips 6-in-1 Aquarium Test Kit for beginner aquarists.
5. API 5-in-1 Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips
The API 5-in-1 Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips will keep your fish alive and happy for many days. It will help you to prevent invisible water problems in your fish tank.
It’s accuracy is about three out of five, but the strips are easy to read and use. Dip the strip in the aquarium water and use the color-coded chart to establish if the water is safe or not.
Once you’ve bought the test strips, clean your fish tank and change the water. Most importantly, use a notebook to track the water quality.
Embrace a regular testing schedule to detect any changes early.
6. SaySummer 7-Way Aquarium Test Strips
Dip one SaySummer 7-Way Aquarium Test Strip in water for two seconds and remove it for one minute before comparing the results to the color chart. But if you want verifiable numbers, it is better to rely on liquid or electronic water tests.
The kit is affordable and carries 100 strips for measuring aquarium water pH, carbonate, alkalinity, chlorine, nitrate, nitrite, and water hardness. The SaySummer test strips come with straightforward directions; you will not make a mistake.
7. Versatile Water Test Kit By BOSIKE
You can use the Versatile Water Test Kit By BOSIKE in freshwater or saltwater aquariums. Although it is easy to use and easy to read, its accuracy might not be what you are looking for.
Nevertheless, it is affordable and can measure a wide range of water parameters for your fish.
For best results, use the Versatile Water Test Kit By BOSIKE to check your water for ammonia, carbonates, pH, and chlorine at least twice a week.
Important features when choosing aquarium water test kits
Choosing the correct aquarium test kit can be a daunting task. However, the characteristics of your water should give you a clue of what you need. Do not wait until your water is dirty or until you notice the fish hyperventilating before buying a test kit.
Here are some essential features to look out for when choosing an aquarium water test kit:
- Affordability: Aquarium water test kits and strips have varied costs. Some are cheap, and others are incredibly costly.
Your fish should not die because you are on a budget. Go through the best aquarium water test kits I gave you above and find an affordable product for your fish.
- Accuracy: The worst thing that can happen to you is buying an inaccurate aquarium water test kit or strip. You must have heard the McKinsey maxim that “what you can measure, you can manage.”
Without knowing the amount of dissolved chemical compounds in your fish tank, your aquarium livestock and plants will not reach their maximum potential. The accuracy of test kits is key to improving your fish’s health, happiness, and lifespan.
- Reliability: This means that the test kit should function as designed. For instance, an ammonia test kit should not be contaminated with the reagents for nitrate tests.
If the kit is meant to measure ammonia levels in your tank, it should not pick up on any other impurities or chemicals.
- Ease of use: Some aquarium water test kits and strips are more difficult to use than others. You will need sophisticated test kits if you want to get into the tiny details of your water quality, such as measuring calcium, magnesium, copper, and iron.
However, you should focus primarily on three tests; ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. You don’t want to waste loads of time deciphering the results. An easy-to-use kit is essential for determining aquarium water changes.
- Consistency: It is crucial to repeat a water test at least two or three times to ascertain the consistency of an aquarium water test kit or strips.
If the first and second tests are the same, do not do the third. It means the test kit you are using is accurate. But if there are significant deviations in the tests, the health of your fish could be at stake.
The results of the aquarium water test kits and strips should be repeatable without errors.
- aquarium.test-kit.org. Aquarium test kit
Naigaga, S., Boyd, C. E., Gaillard, P., Abdelrahman, H. A., & Molnar, J. J. (2017). Assessing the Reliability of Water‐Test Kits for Use in Pond Aquaculture. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 48(4), 555-562.