What are Water Parameters?
Water parameters describe the general conditions and compounds of your water. When your betta is sick, for instance, one of the first things you should look at (after his symptoms) are the water parameters. It’s necessary to observe the parameters regularly. To do this you will be required to purchase some test kits that, through a simple procedure, will tell you the compound concentrations of your water. Many fish stores will test your water for you for free when you bring them a sample. Some of these tests will be checked daily, some every couple of days and others weekly.
Explanations of Each Water Parameter
There are many water conditions and substances found in aquariums but we are only going to talk about those that commonly affect the health of our bettas.
Temperature: Using an aquarium thermometer, check that the water temperature is in a safe range and stable daily.
Ammonia (NH3, NH4): Ammonia is caused by fish waste in the form of feces and urine as well as decomposing food and plant matter. It is extremely toxic to fish, especially bettas. Prolonged exposure to even small amounts of ammonia (<.25 ppm) over time can cause irreparable damage to a bettas gills causing gill burning, weakening of the immune system, fin damage and death. Ammonia poisoning is worsened by alkaline water (pH above 7.0). To avoid ammonia poisoning fully cycle your tank before adding bettas. In an uncycled tank, 100% water changes must be performed before any ammonia becomes present. It also helps to take out any uneaten food or decaying plant matter before it converts to ammonia. For more about how pH effects the toxicity of ammonia visit pH and Ammonia.
Nitrite (NO2): Autotrophic bacteria consume ammonia and give off Nitrite as a waste product. Nitrite, though slightly less toxic then ammonia, is still very dangerous to aquarium fish. It is an intermediate compound that is formed after ammonia becomes present in the water and before other bacteria are able to consume it. It becomes present when aquariums are going through the Nitrogen Cycle. To avoid (NO2) poisoning, fully cycle your tank before adding bettas. If you choose not to cycle your tank it’s best to not use a filter. Filter media house nitrifying bacteria, which introduce nitrite to your tank.
Nitrate (NO3-N, NO3-): Nitrates are the byproduct of the bacteria that consumes nitrite. It is less toxic to bettas and most other aquarium fish. To keep nitrates under control it is necessary to do partial water changes once a week. Usually, changing 20% of the water is sufficient. It’s still important to test for nitrates weekly to make sure the concentrations are staying in the healthy range (about 20-30 ppm on the high end, less then 20 is better).
pH: You tank water contains acids and bases (alkalinity) which effect your fish. These acids and bases are measured using a number scale. If your water has an equal amount of acids to bases it is neutral and the number given to a neutral pH is 7.0. If you water is more acidic the number is less then 7.0. If it’s more alkaline, it is greater then 7.0. Most aquarium fish thrive in a neutral pH, though there are some exceptions. It’s extremely important to test your water’s pH to make sure it is stable and in a safe range. A rapid decrease in pH can cause sudden death to your fish and a rise in pH causes toxins like ammonia and nitrite to become even more dangerous. A general rule of thumb is not to allow your pH to fluctuate more then 0.2 in 24 hours. For more about how pH effects the toxicity of ammonia visit pH and Ammonia.
Gh: (General Hardness): General Hardness is the term used when describing “hard water” or “soft water.” The hardness measures the amount of calcium and magnesium dissolved in you water. Bettas can easily tolerate a range of gh, but other fish may be more demanding.
Kh: (Carbonate Hardness): KH is also known as buffering capacity. The kh measures the amount of carbonate (CO3–) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) dissolved in your water. The kh becomes especially important when it is low. With proper kh your water is able to “buffer”, which keeps your pH stable. When your buffering capacity is low, you water can no longer keep your pH stable and you may experience a rapid drop in pH. This rapid drop can cause quick death among your fish. It’s a good idea to make sure you have adequate buffering capacity when you set up your tank. If you do not, you will likely have to add “buffers” to your water at every water change to keep your pH stable.