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Sudden change in PH and KH values in my tanks????? Advise Please!


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Chemistry done on April 4th 

20G 

Temp 79.1, Ammonia 0; Nitrite 0;  Nitrate 5.0;  GH 14 and KH 5 (current load 6 fish 2 snails, 3 shrimp)

5G

Temp 77.5, Ammonia 0; Nitrite 0.25;  Nitrate 8.0;  GH 8 and KH 4 (1 Pea puffer)

I was testing my tanks this morning and ALL of them PH and KH have dropped I have had PH in ALL of them consistent 7.4 for MONTHS.. I even did them on April 4th and my PH was 7.4 (in 20G and 5G) and KH 20G = 5 and 5 Gallon = 4. The PH in my tap water is also 7.4 and I use tap water (with prime) to do water changes. Temp is 79 in both tanks

I did a water change/clean on the 5 G on Sunday (30%) and 20G I cleaned/changed 20% before I added 5 new fish from QT. 

Even my QT tank PH has dropped to the mid 6's where it used to be like all the others @ 7.4 

What happened? What did I do wrong? Do I fix it? or leave it. 

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Hmm interesting... A few questions might help figure out the issue.

What's the new ph and kh values for the 20g and 5g?

What sort of substrate is in the tanks? Is there any wood in the tanks? Did you clean the substrate when you did your water changes?

Did you happen to test your tap water when you did the most recent water change?

Edited by ererer
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@ererer 

1) New PH values in all the tanks is pictured below. The worst tank is the 5G There is NO KH! even with the API test kit!! 

2) Substrate in 20G larger pebble gravel (was surface vacuumed a bit because to rid old food) and new stem plants added as well. 5G is sand substrate, and it was surface cleaned of old blood worms and brine shrimp the pea puffer didn't eat. 10G no substrate (bare bottom) its a hospital/QT tank. 40 gallon is a new tank, has no fish, all new plants with small gravel. 

3) There is stone, drift wood in all my tanks including the QT tank. 

Tap water was tested and came back as 7.4 ppm. I tested it before starting all my tanks. As well as re tested it today

 

All Tank Chemistry April 6 2021 1005 am.jpg

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39 minutes ago, Sandra the fish rookie said:

@ererer 

1) New PH values in all the tanks is pictured below. The worst tank is the 5G There is NO KH! even with the API test kit!! 

2) Substrate in 20G larger pebble gravel (was surface vacuumed a bit because to rid old food) and new stem plants added as well. 5G is sand substrate, and it was surface cleaned of old blood worms and brine shrimp the pea puffer didn't eat. 10G no substrate (bare bottom) its a hospital/QT tank. 40 gallon is a new tank, has no fish, all new plants with small gravel. 

3) There is stone, drift wood in all my tanks including the QT tank. 

Tap water was tested and came back as 7.4 ppm. I tested it before starting all my tanks. As well as re tested it today

 

All Tank Chemistry April 6 2021 1005 am.jpg

Have all previous tests also been done with the aquarium coop test strips?

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47 minutes ago, Sandra the fish rookie said:

@ererer 

1) New PH values in all the tanks is pictured below. The worst tank is the 5G There is NO KH! even with the API test kit!! 

2) Substrate in 20G larger pebble gravel (was surface vacuumed a bit because to rid old food) and new stem plants added as well. 5G is sand substrate, and it was surface cleaned of old blood worms and brine shrimp the pea puffer didn't eat. 10G no substrate (bare bottom) its a hospital/QT tank. 40 gallon is a new tank, has no fish, all new plants with small gravel. 

3) There is stone, drift wood in all my tanks including the QT tank. 

Tap water was tested and came back as 7.4 ppm. I tested it before starting all my tanks. As well as re tested it today

It's possible that some combination of cleaning the substrate/disturbing it by planting plants, and the driftwood released acidic compounds into the water that lowered both ph and kh. Also, high indoor co2 levels can increase the amount of dissolved co2 in your aquariums, which would also lower kh and ph. This can be caused by having multiple people as well as pets in the house without a lot of outside airflow. Also, I'm not sure if you happened to test your tap water at the same time you were doing water changes, or just before and after, but sometimes tap water can fluctuate depending on source and environmental conditions, like rain or snow melt. I would recommend doing a few smaller water changes over the next few days to slowly bring the kh and ph back up. Also, if you have been keeping your windows closed, it may be good to open them up for some air circulation in the house. It's best to avoid ph and kh swings, so I wouldn't try to correct it all at once, as long as your fish look okay and not stressed.

Edited by ererer
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@ererer Hold up a second! I had my Air conditioning unit maintained March 30th, and the fan would only go on when the system ran. I changed it to run consistently. I was also doing regular allergy cycles which runs the system to clean the air, and have not done one in 2 weeks where I was doing them 2 a week.. could that have done it?

Right now the pollen in NC is a nightmare.. leaving the windows open might make my asthma flare up. I have all the ceiling fans in the main areas running as I always have. so that has not change. Just the Allergy cycle that I used to do regularly I forgot to do.. 

I am going to be due to water change the 20G this weekend.. should I do it earlier? and not gravel vac? As nasty as it is in there right now? All the fish seem to be fine right now, no distress that I can notice.. 

I had a lot of Brow Diatom Algae that I manually wiped off in both the 5 and 20 G..maybe that had something to do with it.. I over cleaned it I suppose. 

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3 minutes ago, Sandra the fish rookie said:

@ererer Hold up a second! I had my Air conditioning unit maintained March 30th, and the fan would only go on when the system ran. I changed it to run consistently. I was also doing regular allergy cycles which runs the system to clean the air, and have not done one in 2 weeks where I was doing them 2 a week.. could that have done it?

Right now the pollen in NC is a nightmare.. leaving the windows open might make my asthma flare up. I have all the ceiling fans in the main areas running as I always have. so that has not change. Just the Allergy cycle that I used to do regularly I forgot to do.. 

I am going to be due to water change the 20G this weekend.. should I do it earlier? and not gravel vac? As nasty as it is in there right now? All the fish seem to be fine right now, no distress that I can notice.. 

I had a lot of Brow Diatom Algae that I manually wiped off in both the 5 and 20 G..maybe that had something to do with it.. I over cleaned it I suppose. 

I don't know enough to make a guess as to whether your change in AC had anything to do with it. You don't need to open the windows if it would aggravate your allergies. It's just one of several possible options.

I wouldn't avoid cleaning a tank, keeping a tank cleaned and properly maintained will help to keep parameters stable. Parameters tend to swing when there is a longer period between maintenance, allowing more gunk to be stirred up once it does happen.

1 minute ago, Sandra the fish rookie said:

@ererer What type of abnormal fish behavior would I expect to see? Just so I know what to watch for? My pea puffer is quiet.. but he is new, so not sure if that is it? Should I do a water change on him now? if so how much? Its a 5 G tank.. 

In such a small tank, doing a 1 gallon change now probably would be fine, to help add back in some kh. It has the lowest kh and ph results of all of your tanks, and it's the smallest, which means water parameters may be less stable. I think it's up to you if you want to wait on changing the water in your other tanks, though if the fish seem fine it's probably not needed.

If you notice kh and ph swings in the future, it may mean that you need to do larger water changes or do more frequent water changes, or add a bag of crushed coral as a buffer to your filter.

 

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18 minutes ago, Sandra the fish rookie said:

What type of abnormal fish behavior would I expect to see? Just so I know what to watch for?

It can depend on the fish, and with new fish to an aquarium it can be hard to tell if signs of stress are due to them still getting comfortable in their new space or whether it's from environmental factors like ph.

Some common signs of stress that Irene listed in one of her videos include:

Illness, lack of appetite, weight loss, faded color, hiding, lethargy, rapid breeding, unusual behavior.

Edited by ererer
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Thank you @ererer I thought doing weekly water changes was fine, and keeping at 20-25% but with real plants, it gets nasty in there sometimes. I only fed my fish once a day in HOPES they would eat stuff that is already in there.. LOL

I have heard of people who don't do water changes but every 2 weeks.. maybe I am just taking too much water.. I was doing weekly but much less water.. maybe what I am doing is too large?? 

 

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Thanks @Colu. I am struggling to figure out what I did wrong besides what @ererer mentioned as possible scenario's and I lost all my nitrates too..ugh.. did I crash my 5 gallon tank.. 😞 . With all the left over brine shrimp I did my chemistry on the 4th, and the 5 gallon had Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0.25 nitrate 8.0 ... I think I did a way to large water change in it..

Now what do I do ???? 

 

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I usually do 20% weekly changes, and sometimes skip a week with no issues, so I don't think that larger or more frequent changes are needed for all tanks, or even most tanks. My suggestion for water changes was to add kh back in to your tank, since your tap water has more kh than your tank water currently does, as well as to reduce whatever compounds might be in the tank that are acidifying your water.

Unless you are seeing detectable levels of ammonia or nitrite, I wouldn't think that your water change caused a mini-cycle/tank crash, assuming that your tank was already fully cycled. However, I don't see ammonia on the test strip, so you should test that separately. I don't think it's likely that you did too large of a water change either, 30% isn't that much. How long has the 5g tank been cycled for, and what were your nitrate levels before?

I believe that I've read before that the nitrogen cycle in freshwater aquariums does lower ph, so I don't know if that could have possibly played a role.

I still think that increasing kh to a normal level of 4 dkh/~80 ppm or so is what you need, and the best way to do that is through water changes.

 

Edited by ererer
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2 minutes ago, anewbie said:

I would be more concern about the change in kh than ph and if kh is changing than ph would likely follow. Also i would test your tap as a baseline. Last but least I would try the API liquid test for kh. Those liquid are a pia but they tend to be more reliable. 

I agree with this. If you have another means to confirm the results of the test strips, that would be useful.

@Sandra the fish rookie, Also I don't think you said whether or not all previous tests were done with the Coop test strips, or with the API test strips, or the API liquid test kit or something else. If you used different test methods before, it's more than likely that different methods will give you different results.

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@ererer April 4th was the API test kit, this morning when I saw the strip results, I re did all of the tanks with the API manual test kit both my tap water, and tank water was tested with both to ensure accuracy. 

I am pretty paranoid. If I see something on the strip that I am concerned about I use the API kit. I actually only test my water before and after a change so once a week and use the API test kit each time. I use the strips to just do some spot checks.. 

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@ererer I have not ever been able to get nitrates to EVER get higher than 10-20 ppm and it doesn't stay there.. I have ridiculous plant growth in my tanks. The 5 G has been up and running since Feb 27th and cycled quite quickly. all my anubias in that tank have 2 new leaves on all 3 plants. 

This is the reason I struggle with nitrates I have a lot of plants, and green thumb and they grow like crazy.. my 20 G has been up and running since Dec 2020 and I use media from that tank to seed all the others.. (sponge filters). 

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In my experience, smaller tanks tend to have larger water chemistry shifts. It makes sense if you think about it. A small change in pH isn't a huge deal. If I am reading your test strips right (this is hard since camera and lighting) looks like your pH is sitting at closer to 6.8 in your other tanks and maybe 6.5 in the 5 gallon. This is why water chemists use titrations (API master kit) test strips tend to be unreliable. 

 

Like the others have said you have an acid in your tank. The kH is serving to buffer this thus why your levels are so low. you would be surprised how much organic matter effects pH and kH values. Although being a weak acid it will attempt to drop your pH over time to about 6.0. I still wouldn't be hugely concerned fish can tolerate these shifts quite well.

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@Biotope Biologist

When you say organic matter do you mean wood/plants? Could it be the frozen blood worms or brine shrimp????

I use the API test kit 100% of the time.. but for some reason I wanted to just drink coffee, and check some tank chemistry. I completely freaked out.. my PH has NEVER changed or dropped before EVER.. I have a feeling that the 5G and 20G addition of some new stem plants may have thrown stuff out of wack a bit. I had some extra plants, and thought to add some color .. well.. that worked out great didn't it. I also added wood to the 5 gallon so I could add Java Fern for the Pea Puffer to hide and buzz around in.. it was a seasoned piece from another tank.. and was in there before I got him.. and I took it out.. then put it back in there for him. 

I just did a 1G water change, and we will see what happens. I don't intend to add ANYTHING else to that tank.. maybe a snail to eat if I can get my hands on some

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I'm talking about wood and plants yes. Although mainly the wood. As it breaks down it slowly releases tannic acid. It's a weak acid so it won't crash your system, but especially being in a small tank it has more of an effect on your pH and kH.

 

But again I wouldn't be to terribly alarmed. If you feel so inclined to add more buffer you can buy carbonate salts, but I would suspect weekly water changes will be adequate.

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I don't have a good explanation why, but we have also experienced KH crashes in our smaller (5 and 16 gallon) tanks about 2-3 months after set up.   I had pH lowering substrate in there, wood and plants.  

For short term, to raise your pH, you can add a little bit of baking soda as you're doing your small water changes (but don't do too much at once - that will shock your fish).  There's info online about how much to use, and then I would do half that amount and just do a couple doses over the week just to be safe. 

A longer term solution that has worked for me is I added crushed coral and wondershell to my tanks after the crashes to help keep the KH high - which helps stabilize the pH.  That has helped a lot, though now my pH is consistently near 8 or even higher in some tanks.  

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@SWilson I have a wondershell in the 20G (which is why I am so suprised) but no idea what size I would need for the 5G.

The KH is low, the the GH is still hard. the water here in Wilmington NC is super hard.. and that has not changed much in the tanks.. but the KH and PH did. 

It just so weird.. because it was soooo sudden.. everything was great and then BOOM.. so the only thing I can think is the addition of new plants to both those tanks. The QT tank too.. I think its because I added some wood to it.. 

@Biotope Biologist should I tank that wood out of the QT tank? its the only new thing in there.. the rocks and fake plants have always been there.. 

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organic matter could be (uneaten) food too. Just happened to be watching the 40 gallon breeder ideas video where Corey cautioned that you can end up with that with messy eating fish and that can lead to a pH crash.  

I understand the stress, hopefully your fish are still all okay and will pull through.  It sounds like the advice to just stick to the water changes to bring it back up is right.  

Maybe instead of the wondershell, you can just add some crushed coral if you don't already have that - if you don't want to pour in mroe substrate or it's too late to mix it in, you can put some of it in a bio media bag and just set it in your hang on back if you use that kind of filter or possibly even put the bag into the tank.  

Hopefully, like my experience, your tanks will settle in and stay stable after this inor crash (no joke, I have started to wonder if the KH/pH crash is just part of the path to a "seasoned" tank -- probably just trying to make myself feel better lol).  You're doing such a good job being vigilant and catching this early on! 

Edited by SWilson
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oh also, I think the smallest wondershells (1/2 ouce) are advertized for 5-10 gallon: https://www.aquariumcoop.com/products/wonder-shell

They're pretty hard, but maybe you could even break one of those in half to use. 

And while I'm rambling on unrelated items...you could "breed" pest snails in your 20 gallon (or even quarantine tank while you're not using it for actual quarantine) for your puffer.  Just get a few from your lfs (or get yourself some new plants lol) and add food.  That's what I do for my puffers.  Ramshorns have been particularly prolific for us.   

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