How Do I Do Water Tests?
Water testing is absolutely essential to know the health of your aquarium and to flag up any warnings before serious problems happen. Despite the importance of regular water testing, many fish keepers neglect to test their water, and often this results in difficulties later on.
The main three substances to test for are Ammonia, Nitrites, and Nitrates, these are the three pollutants that are produced from fish waste, and should be either processed by your filter or removed by water changes, chemical filter medias, or by plants.
There are also other things you can test for, such as pH and hardness, which help to give an idea of general stability, and phosphates, which are a prime cause of algae problems.
In a new aquarium you should be testing at least every few days since this is the time when you are most likely to get problems. In a well established and stable aquarium water testing can be reduced down to as little as once a month, or a few days after any big event (such as a new filter)
There are many different test kits available and each has its own pros and cons. The two most popular are 'strip tests' and 'liquid tests'. Strip tests are simply a strip of card with several pads on it, each for a different water quality parameter - briefly dip the strip under the water and the wet pads will change colour depending on the levels it reads, these can be compared to a chart to get a reading.
Strip tests are by far the easiest type of test kit to use, but are also one of the least accurate. For new fish keepers however, these are a good introduction to testing and will still give you a rough idea of your water chemistry.
If you want more accurate results, use a liquid test kit, which will give you mare tests for your money as well as better readings. A liquid test usually involves adding a set number of drops of a chemical to a test tube of aquarium water, sometimes more than one chemical or 'reagent' is used. The test tube liquid will change colour and can be compared to a chart to get a reading.