Add in These 2 Things When Testing Your Tank


I’m all for testing your tank’s water parameters. Certainly when you are setting up your saltwater tank watching your tank’s ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels is vital. The last thing you want to do is add a fish too early when the tank isn’t ready.

Once your tank is through the initial cycle, continuing to test your tank’s water parameters can hold key clues when you are fighting issues such as algae outbreaks or fish death or disease if and only if you do two things:

  1. Test regularly
  2. Keep track of test results

Testing Regularly

The point of testing your tank is to gather data. And if you aren’t testing, then you aren’t gathering data.

The value of the testing increases dramatically when you test on a regular basis. I recommend weekly at a minimum. If you are making changes on your tank such as adding biopellets, starting the use of kalkwasser or stocking your tank with fish while it is new, I recommend testing every 3 days.

As you gather data, you can start watching for trends. If you are adding biopellets, then you’ll be watching for a drop in phosphate or nitrate levels. The use of kalkwasser requires a close eye on calcium, alkalinity and pH levels to dial it in correctly.

The more data you have, the quicker you can spot trends and make adjustments if necessary.

Of course, all this data gathering is only useful if you do the second step:

Logging test results

When I’m called in to consult on a problem tank, one of the first things I do is ask for the log of test results.

Often times, the hobbyists doesn’t have this data because either they don’t test their tank (see “testing regularly” above) or because they don’t keep track of test results.

If you are going to go through the effort of testing your tank, keep track of the results!

A pen and notepad works fine, or if you fear paper like me, a simple spreadsheet on your computer will work. (For those of you looking for a logging app for your smartphone, none of the aquarium logging apps do what I want yet so I’m not using one and can’t recommend one. If that changes I’ll let you know.)

The more you test and log your results, the more valuable the data becomes.

For example, if your SPS corals start bleaching, then sudden changes in tank parameters if the first place I’d be looking.

If you are only testing after the bleaching occurs, you’ll likely miss the event that caused the bleaching to start and you’ll be left scratching your head on why your sticks are dying.

Besides logging test results, also log events in your tank. Events include equipment changes, coral color changes, fish deaths or additions, algae outbreaks, onset of coraline algae, etc.

I promise you that you won’t remember what you are observing in your tank and you certainly aren’t going to remember the exact date when you started dosing your tank or added your new skimmer. Write it down! It costs you nothing and the payoff of having the data can be huge.

I’ll be the first person to admit that sometimes things happen in your tank and you’ll never be able to figure out why they happened. Sometimes fish and corals die for no reason. Hard corals can start turning brown when it seems like you haven’t changed a thing on your tank. If you had test result data, and plenty of it, you’ll have a chance to pinpoint the issue. Without data, you are left guessing and hoping that the negative trend in your tank reverses – if it ever does. Hope is nice, but data is better.

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Comments for this article (27)

  • John says:

    Hi all,

    Try aquaplanner for iPad. Got all you want.

  • Man Mark. Thanks for the reminder. I always test, but like you said “what’s testing parameters if you don’t keep log of it”. I’ll start to log in data now.
    Aron

  • Carlos D says:

    Aquarimate is excellent for tracking and makes a cool graph. Has built in timers too. I use it on iPad and iPhone.

  • Matt says:

    Thanks, Mark. I need to start doing this. I’ve been at it since 1998 and I’ve never kept logs. I created one in Excel one time but never used it. Lol. I’ve had my share of disasters that went undiagnosed.

  • K says:

    I use aquarist.me for logging my parameters. Works pretty well.

  • Kim M says:

    I try my best to always log my results. I may or may not test ALL parameters EVERY time.. However, when I do I use and app for my Android called My Aquarium Logger… It not only logs them but gives me cool graphs when I need it. Right now we have moved to studying our calcium, alkalinity and pH.. Wow THIS is a confusing world!!! (If one gets too high another crashes. Some tips on THESE would be great!)

  • Arthur says:

    Another good idea Mark, thanks again! You make this hobby easier and better! Thanks for all your hard work, keep it up! Oh, go see a Titans game for me! Lol, man I miss home!!

  • Kirk k says:

    Hey mark might be time to create an app of your own ive actually been thinking abou making an app solely for the purpose of logging test results but in the mean time what do u think of the app “aqua planner”?

  • Dale says:

    I use aquaPlanner PRO to log my test results. It also keeps track of livestock and equipment. It saves the results to my iCloud so I can view my info on the iPhone or iPad.

  • Mark says:

    I actually test everyday. I have a log of recorded data that tells me how much to dose alkalinity, calcium and magnesium. My purple SPS was turning brown some time ago and I knew exactly what I needed to do. Alk and Ca were too low and after that I figured out that the lighting was not quite strong enough. Now all levels are stable. I will continue to test daily until I can spend the $300 for a dosing device. I’ll probably continue to test frequently just because I like the chemistry and am responsible for my ecosystem-sanctuary. A wipeout is less likely to occur. No testing and recording data sets you up for a stressful time of guess work as well as the tank’s stress level that can cause all kinds of problems.

  • Sam says:

    Google Spreadsheets on your iPhone.

  • Nick says:

    I have 15 years of test results written down, one day I’ll transfer them to the computer.

  • Matt says:

    Guilty… I always log my results but I sometimes miss a week out or so… I have a few results in digital form now but the kids got hold of my paperwork and that was the end of those! 😛

  • Chad says:

    I simply have an Excel file stored on Skydrive, which is free, like other cloud based service, DropBox, etc.

  • Nick…15 years?! That’s impressive!

  • dave says:

    hello marc love the comments and suggestions. im currently having a BIG problem with hydroid digita worms have you ever dealt with them or know of anybody that has? they are destroying my prized zoa colony that ive been growing for going on four and a half years now. and they are mostly closed or dying because of this they are in my favia that is 8/12 in now im really at wits end these things are EVERYWHERE IM EVEN SEEING THEM ON THE GLASS!!! my tank is going down hill fast and im desperate for help. everybody says they will go away when. please let me know if you have ANY IDEAS!!!

  • Chip Clifton says:

    Mark, great advice!
    What are the essentials that you test/log, and at what frequency (daily/weekly/monthly/annually)? How often do you recommend testing the following:
    Salinity, pH, Temp, Ca, Alk, Mg, P, NO2, NO3, NH4?
    And any others for a reef tank?

  • Keith says:

    Try aquatic log the app is handy and the web base is awesome

  • Keith says:

    Try aquatic log the app is ok but the website that is used is real nice but don’t skimp on the free I paid for the service due to multiple tanks

  • Rick says:

    Mark:
    Thanks for the idea. Been testing for a while (calcium and PH) but never logged the results. What are minimum tests I should be doing at home? I take water samples to my local store and they test nitrate nitrite calcium and ph. Problem is I don’t think they keep their reactants fresh or they are in such a hurry results are questionable. I test calcium at home it says 500, take water to store same day and they tell me 350. I want to buy a full test kit for the reef, what parameters do you recommend I get. 185 gallon reef tank with sps, lps, and softies. Thought you might like to know I like you am now living on the edge with a new fish. A blue throat trigger. We will see what happens. So far he is friendly and has great personality.

  • Tien says:

    I use aquarist.me too. It is free & easy to log all the essentials.

  • Nick says:

    yes 15 years Mark, that’s many binders 🙂 I test between 2-4 times per month. I am having trouble finding were I can add in my results in the website a couple of you are talking about aquarist.me? I must be surface looking as the wife tells me I do.

  • Chip Clifton…all that data is in my recommended test kit list

  • vic says:

    I can look back for years!!

  • tommy g says:

    AWESOME INFO…wasn’t recording on our reef tank once it was up and going. Need to get back to recording more than water testing, as we are fighting algae when all test results are perfect, but now thinking about influence water changes/protein skimmer cleaning/bio pellets change/light mods,etc. etc. could be making. So THANX.

  • Pierre-Yves Bouic says:

    Hi Mark I.ve kept a log book of my first tank in 99, a 55g transferring all stock a 180g in 03 keeping all set up info I also made a set of symbols like the legend on a map to save time & written space of events from the simplest things eg, water changes, & all parameters Mg, Ca,Ph, etc, but also equipment installed, or major events like changing some mud in my mud/fuge, also how much water I put thru my RO/DI unit, dates of bulbs installed. As well I kept dates & receipts of pumps & stuff for warranty. I’m so used to writing it all in graph form, transferring it to a PC app seams tedious, but all the info taught me the trends & let me see where things went wrong so I could learn from my mistakes. Love your video’s

  • Pierre-Yves Bouic…that’s really impressive the extent to which you have things written down. My log book for the 375g has just started and one day it will be as full of details as yours

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