You’ve seen all those chemicals at the Pet Store, and you’ve wondered if you’ll need one bottle of each of them. And then you wondered if you still want to get into this aquarium hobby after all. Well, here’s the good news, most of that stuff is unnecessary, even worthless. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll occasionally need some of these products, but there is only one of these chemicals that you’ll always use, so let’s start there.
The tap water that you are using to fill your tank, it contains chlorine. It’s harmless to people, deadly to fish, so you’ll need to remove it. Now, don’t panic, you won’t need one of those kits that Grissom uses on CSI. Indeed, a single bottle of dechlorinating liquid is cheap and lasts for months. Just make sure that you read the label because some of the products are concentrated differently, so some of them require fewer drops per gallon of water.
The chlorine in your tap water actually dissipates fairly quickly, completely breaking down in about 24 hours. So in a pinch, you could just fill your bucket and let it stand for a day before using the water, but with the cost of dechlorinating products so low, it hardly seems worthwhile. Just remember, if you chose to use the “let stand” method, make sure you place your water in a location where it will not be contaminated.
You should also invest in a bottle of test strips. These strips, after being dipped into water, will show you a variety of information about your water. Your Ph level, water hardness, ammonia level, nitrates, and nitrites can all be tested using the most common dip strips. That’s a lot of information; in fact, it is more than you’ll actually need.
The truth is that most commonly sold aquarium fish will do just fine in any normal Ph range or water hardness level. Don’t worry if your fish type comes from Peru where it lives in soft acidic water because the fish you bought was probably born and raised in a fish farm in Florida. Then it was packaged up in a big bag of water and sent to your pet store where it was dumped into the local tap water. Most fish are NOT that picky, but they do need clean water, and that’s where the test strips come in handy.
When your fish eats, it produces waste. This waste then breaks down into ammonia, which in turn changes to nitrites, and then into nitrates. Like chlorine, these chemicals can damage and even kill your fish. So you need to remove them if they rise to a high level. The test strips will tell you if your levels are too high, and if they are, your answer is fairly simple-it’s time for a water change.
Once your tank has been established for a few months, you will not have to test it as often because your tank will develop beneficial bacteria that help break down these chemicals more quickly. For the first few months though, you should probably check your tank once per week or so, making sure you have time to do a water change if it should prove necessary.
And that’s basically it. Oh, there are chemicals that will lower your Ph, or raise it, medications for sick or injured fish, chemicals to destroy algae, expensive aquarium salts, and all manner of other niche products that you really do not need. These products are available to keep the fish store in business. Most people and their fish NEVER need these products, so unless you have a sick fish, just stick to the basics. You’ll save some money and avoid driving yourself crazy.