Test kits (Alternatives to API)

PygmyPepperJulli

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Hi all,

I have been aware since starting fish keeping a year or two ago that I need a test kit, however, with the API kit that has been constantly recommended at around $100 AUS, I was wondering whether anyone had any cheaper alternative that they know works. I don't trust most of the amazon reviews because I don't know if those people know if the product they are reviewing really is accurate or not, but these products seem to be cheap and have a high rating, so I'll attach them below.


If everyone believes that API is the only way to go, I can probably go into debt for a bit to pay it off, but I would really rather not, so suggestions are welcome :)

EDIT: I actually think the API are on sale at the moment, so if there is no other option suggested within a few days then I should be able to get it $20 off.
 
Not sure about those specific brands but years ago I used strips and the results used to bleed into one another so it was almost impossible to get an accurate reading. I've no idea why the API one is so expensive in Australia but it's definitely worth shelling out for. It lasts ages as well, or you could see if buying their ammonia, nitrite and nitrate kits separately works out cheaper?
 
Hi all,

I have been aware since starting fish keeping a year or two ago that I need a test kit, however, with the API kit that has been constantly recommended at around $100 AUS, I was wondering whether anyone had any cheaper alternative that they know works. I don't trust most of the amazon reviews because I don't know if those people know if the product they are reviewing really is accurate or not, but these products seem to be cheap and have a high rating, so I'll attach them below.


If everyone believes that API is the only way to go, I can probably go into debt for a bit to pay it off, but I would really rather not, so suggestions are welcome :)

EDIT: I actually think the API are on sale at the moment, so if there is no other option suggested within a few days then I should be able to get it $20 off.
I’m also in Aus and I have found that many stores are selling individual test kits for what you are trying to test such as Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrite. Although it might not be cheaper overall you could build over time.
 
One does not all of the tests, especially if you are not cycling a tank. the ones most needed are:
1. Ammonia
2. pH
3. KH/GH

All of the rest are not essential. The ammonia is basically if you have a problem, you test for ammonia to rule it out. Nitrite and nitrate are not needed if you do weekly water changes. pH is informational and you normally do not need to monitor it actively as you have the tank going for longer. But, it is an important enough parameter that one should be able to check it as needed. Ask to see the the expiration dates on the ammonia bottles when you buy from a store. they need to be at least a year in the future and more is beatter.

API make two different pH kits. The API pH Test read pH from 6.0 – 7.6. The API High Range pH Test reads pH from 7.4 – 8.8. The problem is if one read 7.6 on the pH test or 7.4 on the High Range test, one must hen check using the other kit. API does make a Wide Range pH kit for ponds. It reads from 5.0 to 9.0. The box says right at the top

api-wide-range-ph-test-kit.jpg

So if you can find this down under, one kit save money.

The KH/GH kit should be needed initially and then only it you have issues. KH is what holds pH up. The higher one's KH the higher the pH should be and the harder it is to lower it. GH is hardness and is one of the more important parameters for fish.

Also, if you buy fish and/or supplies from a local store, they should be willing to do a test or two for you at no charge. So it you feel tou need to test for nitrite or nitrate, they could do it. Most of us also want to know what the parameters are for out source water. For most it is what come out of their plumbing.
 
Thanks.

A few questions though...

1. If you are no longer cycling a tank, why would there be traces of ammonia in the water? (Out of curiosity).
2. Following the previous question, I find it interesting that ammonia would be the one you recommend, as although it is the most toxic it is also probably the least likely to be there compared to nitrite/nitrate.
3. While I'm here, I'm pretty sure (having never known, this is only an assumption) that my gH is very very little or none. I'm on pure rainwater for my water source, so no minerals, and I was wondering if that is detrimental to my fish. If so, how could I fix it? (I have all soft-water fish, but I believe even they need some form of minerals to stay healthy). That would also explain why I have a very difficult time keeping aquatic plants.

And just checking... buying an ammonia, gh/kh and ph test kit would be what I will need rather than a full API master kit? And which brand would you suggest for the individual tests?
 
I'll be the anti-API guy, as usual. I would get a tds/conductivity meter, which costs around $15 Canadian (a weak dollar) on Amazon. That will give you a working sense of your water. After that, I see no reason for ammonia/nitrate/nitrite testing if you do regular as clockwork water changes. If you are inclined to miss, or overstock madly, spend the money. It can also be useful if your curiosity takes you toward chemistry.

Effectively, you do the test to see if you need to do a water change. Since water changes can't hurt, just do it and skip a stage.

A lot of people deal with polluted tapwater, and need the kits. The same for extreme water shortages, or very high cost metered water.

Rainwater can be unstable, and is apt to be below 7.0, in the acidic range. That gives ammonium if you skip changes, not ammonia. My understanding, which could always be flawed, is that the test kits are designed for standard North American water, which tends to be harder and higher pH. For me with very soft water, I have to be careful and not miss weekly changes. It's isn't forgiving water. But if I stay on it, it's great.

I have used tetra strips to test water out in nature, where the bottles are a bit of a pain to pull out and use. They were very accurate, but a dollar a test. I've used pH kits (I've used them all but my API master kit expired in 1995) and they can be useful to have around if you are a fish breeder. I want to know my water hardness, but the meter gives me enough info to work with (my hobby focus is breeding rainforest fish).
 
Thanks.

A few questions though...

1. If you are no longer cycling a tank, why would there be traces of ammonia in the water? (Out of curiosity).
2. Following the previous question, I find it interesting that ammonia would be the one you recommend, as although it is the most toxic it is also probably the least likely to be there compared to nitrite/nitrate.
3. While I'm here, I'm pretty sure (having never known, this is only an assumption) that my gH is very very little or none. I'm on pure rainwater for my water source, so no minerals, and I was wondering if that is detrimental to my fish. If so, how could I fix it? (I have all soft-water fish, but I believe even they need some form of minerals to stay healthy). That would also explain why I have a very difficult time keeping aquatic plants.

And just checking... buying an ammonia, gh/kh and ph test kit would be what I will need rather than a full API master kit? And which brand would you suggest for the individual tests?
API sell all of those individually, I just ran out of ammonia tests yesterday so ordered that one to go in the master kit.

I have nowhere near as much experience as someone like @GaryE (maybe one day!) so have found the tests to be helpful, especially when first stocking a new tank to help track how the changes in bioload affect the water. As someone who was terrible at chemistry 20+ years ago I like the reassurance of knowing things are OK. The Tetra ones Gary mentioned seem to be about $40.

 
I have never used the test strips so can’t really comment on them. I do use the API Master Test Kit though, and at $60 (without GH & KH) + around $15 shipping from Nature Pets & Aquariums, I don’t consider it prohibitively expensive, especially when a kit lasts 2 years. I’m aware some advocate throwing them out after 6 months, but mine still test correctly after around 2 years.

I test for ammonia if I apply treatment as some treatments, particularly anti-biotic, kill the cycle.

I test for nitrates before and after I return from a 2 or 3 week away and not able to do water changes, just too see how the water quality has changed during that period. The fish were all alive, but just for curiosity’s sake.

I also test for pH when I increase / reduce the plants in the tank, just to see what effects that might have on pH. Unnecessary perhaps, but that’s part of the learning process.

My water supply from the reservoir is low in GH too, around 2 dGH. I use cichlid lake salt to increase the GH for lake Malawi cichlid tank, but do nothing for the tropical tanks.
 
I find that other than API, NT Labs is good for test kits.

For me, not having test kits is completely baffling (not directed to you Pygmy), you've explained your difficult circumstances. I'm taking generally. Like somehow water changes negate the need for a test kit. That might work for certain people, but I'd be worried if someone new to the hobby, or even not so new, read that, and thought it a sensible approach.

For the record, if I could only have one test, it would be Nitrite, whatever my 2nd choice is, would be way behind in importance. I'm not saying others are not important (I think it's best to have the full normal set, but obviously some tests are more important than others, but it can depend on your set up and fish).

Nitrite testing is really important for things like having a power cut, a friend overfeeding while you are away, even us overfeeding (I'm not afraid to say even with years of experience I've made some errors here), and also what about if you are raising fry and new to that, and trying to balance good feeding for very young fish and water quality? You might say water changes solves all problems, it doesn't. Water changes doesn't solve if your filter media has crashed somehow. Relying on water changes can just be a quick fix to an underlying problem, wither with the mechanics of your tank/equipment, or your practice as a fish keeper (feeding, stocking, filter maintenance etc). I'm not saying investing in a nitrite test kit will instantly fix overfeeding, a broken filter, or overstocking. Water changes actually make the difference here, but testing helps diagnose issues, water changes does not.

Test readings really help you learn on the job and make adjustments to your practice. You are partially blind without test kits. For example, In a nitrite emergency, or even just a non-fatal spike, the vast majority of fish (the massive majority) can easily handle a small amount of salt (that wouldn't bother plants if you have them), in the water, that can partially detoxify nitrite. This is just one example of the value of test kits. If you didn't have the kit, you wouldn't know.
 
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There are several reasons one needs the ammonia kit. The precursor to nitrite and nitrate is ammonia. So, if youhave ammonia it wiill be followed by the other two. You can not counteract ammonia when it is a problem. We deal with Total Ammonia which is the sum of both forms of ammonia. One can use the choride in salt to handle nitrite and nitrate needs to build up to higher numbers than either ammonia or nitrite before it becomes a serious issue.

There are a number of things the can occur in a tank which result in an ammonia spike. If a fish dies and we do not notice it, there vcan be ammonia, If we forget to add dechlor after a water change, there can be ammonia as well as chlorine/chloramine. If we add too many new fish we may get an ammonia spike. If we are having problems in a tank the very first thing we want to do is to eliminate ammonia as the cause. How do we do that if we have no ammonia test? And then there is the chance that one may set up a new tank they need to cycle.

I cam pretty much cycle using only the ammonia kit and my TDS meter. But I know what to expect and thus I can detect things using the TDS tester which I could not do without understanding a bunch of the science involved.

Next, I considered suggesting a TDS meter. But one needs to be well grounded in the chemistry of tanks to understand the readings. TDS meters basically measure everything in the water. However, it does not tell us what things there are. A TDS meter is actually a conductivity meter which uses a set formula to convert the microsiemens of conductivity into the ppm of TDS.

Here are some of the things that could contribute to TDS readings. Disoloved organics, ions such as ammonium, nityrite or nitrate. ythe components being tested by both a KH and GH kit. And if one's pH starts to drop, the KH kit will tell us when we need to act by raising tthis number.

Here is why you do not need a nitrite test kit until you know you do. You cannot get nitrite if you do not have ammonia first. If you know how much ammonia you have, you can determine the maximum nitrite you might get. But it is not common to get the maximum possible.

I suggested the kits I did because you have two situation ongoing. The first is you have already cycled your tanks. So unless you are planning to cycle a new tank, you do not need a nitrite kit. If you decide to set up a new tank, then you have the option to get the nitrite kit. This is the second reason I suggested what I did.

Here is what I know without a doubt. The two thing you absolutely do not need at this time are a nitrite kit or a TDS meter. You are not yet familiar with all of the things that you need to know to have these things as your only testing supplies. And there is no reason to spend your limited resources on them.

If you were setting out to cycle your first tank, I would have suggested a different mix of kits. If you were not having to work withing a limited budget, I would have suggested you get more tests even though you may or may not ever need to use them. I have all the tests and a couple of TDS meters and then one continuous monitor for one tank which give real time readings for conductivity/TDS, Temperature and pH. It took me a few years inthe hobby before I got into digital testing equipment.

I am going to suggest to you that you go to a site which will help you understand most of the basics about water chemistry that you should become familiar with to make your life easier.
Go here https://fins.actwin.com/aquariafaq.html
Click on Your First Aquarium and then skip down to the section on Practical Water Chemistry. Start reading there and keep reading through Altering Your Water's Chemistry.
The above should help you a bunch and it is pretty easy too understand. A bit of it is outdated but for the moast part it is pretty good. it is where I got my first taste of tank water chemistry and what that involved. Also, you might also want to read the second article here on Rescuing a Fish-in Cycle gone wild. https://www.fishforums.net/threads/rescuing-a-fish-in-cycle-gone-wild-part-il.433778/
The parts you should read are SOME IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT AMMONIA and SOME FACTS ABOUT NITRITE.

Btw, the least accurate of the test kits we might use is the nitrate kit. I have had my last three of these expire unused. Because I tend to run biofarms for filters rather than cycling tanks, I need the ammonia kit and a TDS meter. I sometimes need to test the kH when I see specfic TDs results on the meter. I rarely need the nitrite kit but I do use the pH kits. The reason I have the continuous monitor is that I cannot use test kits for the tank it is on as it has "tea stained" water and that makes reading test result colors almost impossible.
 
Here is why you do not need a nitrite test kit until you know you do. You cannot get nitrite if you do not have ammonia first. If you know how much ammonia you have, you can determine the maximum nitrite you might get. But it is not common to get the maximum possible.

I suggested the kits I did because you have two situation ongoing. The first is you have already cycled your tanks. So unless you are planning to cycle a new tank, you do not need a nitrite kit. If you decide to set up a new tank, then you have the option to get the nitrite kit. This is the second reason I suggested what I did.

Here is what I know without a doubt. The two thing you absolutely do not need at this time are a nitrite kit or a TDS meter. You are not yet familiar with all of the things that you need to know to have these things as your only testing supplies. And there is no reason to spend your limited resources on them.
I know you have done a lot of research on the cycling process, but I advise any new or novice fish keeper to very cautious around some of these statements above. In about a combined 12 or 13 years of starting up and maintaining probably close to 100 different set up's (yes, probably less than you TwoTankAmin, I realise, (small set up's, but that doesn't matter), I have hardly ever (actually virtually never, it's so rare, I am tempted to say never, but I think it has happened once or twice)...... had an ammonia reading when I've had a nitrite problem. Unless I am wrong in how I interpret TwoTankAmin (and I apologise if I am wrong)....... then he is saying we don't need to test for nitrite because we can test for ammonia and then "guess" what the nitrite might be. If I had followed his advice I would have had all these zero ammonia readings, and thought "oh that's lovely, I am 100% on track" and I would have "missed" out (a strange phrase here) on all my nitrite positive readings which I feel have really made/forced me to learn things. I love testing, and sometimes I test just for the sake of it. Sad but true. I admit that, because I think I have something of value to contribute to these debates.

I know it might read that I have nitrite readings all the time, so what the hell am I doing! But, the context here, is that I have taken some chances with learning about set up's and raising fry etc, and because I test so often (multiple times a day if I feel I need to), I can stop any problem at about the level of 0.1 to 0.25ppm nitrite and learn from any mistake (that is may fault) or unforeseen issue that's not my fault.

I hardly ever get a positive nitrite reading (thankfully) these days, and I have 9 set ups right now, including half of them fry set ups where fish are being fed 4 to 5 times a day.

I've used loads of different companies test kits over the years, have had days where I've tested ammonia and nitrite maybe 20 times in a day (these extreme testing levels were mostly when raising new born fry and high amounts of feeding). Even though I've hardly ever had ammonia readings, I still test, because I have the test kits and, well I love testing. I don't do ammonia tests as much as nitrite now a days, because when you are constantly getting nil ammonia, even test lovers like me get bored!

I've learned loads about, filtering, and feeding from nitrite test kits. Apart from when cycling, the ammonia positive readings I've mostly had are false positive 0.25 ppm readings which can be common, especially with the API liquid Ammonia kit. When I say "common" false-positive, it's still rare for me, but it's common in relation to nitrite false positive. In fact, I must have gone over 500 ammonia and 1000 nitrite tests in last 12 years (just did a very rough calculation), and I've never had a dodgy nitrite result that didn't make sense or was not the same result when repeated multiple times. It really is your test of choice, believe me. The API nitrite test kit for me, is a must-have, it really is. Say what you like about API, but I've got 12 years worth of massively using their nitrite liquid test kit (and I have compared to it others).

Like I said in my last post on this, I've had loads of times where I've gone too far with feeding, or rushed a cycle, and I've learned so much for having had nitrite results to guide me. So, I feel a bit compelled to highlight how useful this testing is.

Of course, if you just have 1 stable tank and you are an almost perfect fish keeper who makes no mistakes, and you never imagine you will have a power cut, or a faulty filter, you can just stick to water changes and save the nitrite test kit costings, I respect that.
 
If your tank is established and your fish healthy you don't need a test kit. GH / KH / pH are typically one offs for info and there won't be a massive variation (probably). If you feel compelled to test most strips are good enough. Everyone will tell you they are not accurate. The probably aren't. But nitrite is (IMO) a yes / no test, nitrate is lots / a little / none and pH is acidic / neutral / basic (strips actually work quite well for pH). GH and KH will give you the right ballpark and there are no strips that test for ammonia. Not discounting what @GaryE says about nitrite - but he breeds fish. I have never had a strip (and I have tired a few brands) that could not tell the difference between zero nitrite and nitrite present. Sure it can't tell you accurately how much, but in a hobby tank if you detect nitrite you just do a large water change.

If you do feel compelled to test and are using strips cut them in half lengthwise using clean dry scissors. That way you have twice as many strips as you paid for ;)
 
All right, if I'm reading correctly there seem to be three (or four) parties-

1. API Master
2. Select API kits
3. Test strips
4. None of the above

Of course, if you just have 1 stable tank and you are an almost perfect fish keeper who makes no mistakes, and you never imagine you will have a power cut, or a faulty filter, you can just stick to water changes and save the nitrite test kit costings, I respect that.
Hehehe.... yeah definitely not me.

Personally, I can see the sense in all of these arguments. However, I think that the test strips will be best for me for a number of factors-

1. It meets the budget. I think I will get https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0BNFR...t-supplies&sp_csd=d2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9kZXRhaWw these ones off amazon (most of the reviews are positive... not the best indicator but should be fine) as they are incredibly cheap, and while that means they probably won't be great quality...
2. I think they'll do what I need to do. As seangee said,
f you feel compelled to test most strips are good enough. Everyone will tell you they are not accurate. The probably aren't. But nitrite is (IMO) a yes / no test, nitrate is lots / a little / none and pH is acidic / neutral / basic (strips actually work quite well for pH). GH and KH will give you the right ballpark and there are no strips that test for ammonia. Not discounting what @GaryE says about nitrite - but he breeds fish. I have never had a strip (and I have tired a few brands) that could not tell the difference between zero nitrite and nitrite present. Sure it can't tell you accurately how much, but in a hobby tank if you detect nitrite you just do a large water change.
That's all I really need. If I see nitrite in the water, knowing how MUCH is there is probably less relevant than it IS there, and I can take appropriate measures to get rid of it (i.e. water changes). pH is likely one that I need, and by the sound of it it works for that.

And the idea of cutting them in half does appeal to me. I will sacrifice one uncut and one half to make sure they get the same reading when cut in half to be sure, but that sounds pretty good.

I also am going to take some water to my lfs next time I go to buy when I have the kit and get them to test it and tell me the results. I will then measure the same water with the strips and see if it is remotely similar. If it's not, I'll ask for a refund (I have never asked for a refund in my life, as I see how it might be not the business's fault, but I think this time I might draw a line).

Debate for this plan welcome. And most importantly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

EDIT- @seangee, what brands did you use? They'll probably work better than some random cheap one off amazon.
 
The strips which do multiple tests don't contain one for ammonia but there are strips which test just for ammonia if you want to cover everything.
 
I know for sure I have used API, JBL and tetra. Can't remember others.
 

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