Nitrate is a colorless, odorless gas that can nevertheless lay waste to your carefully cultivated aquarium. Nitrate builds up naturally over time in many aquariums as a bi-product of plants and animals in the tank. However, with a few simple steps you can keep the nitrate in your tank at tolerable levels so that it doesn’t affect the health of your fish. This guide will help you measure nitrate levels and prevent nitrate buildup in your tank with a few simple steps.
What is Nitrate?
Nitrate is a bi-product of ammonia, which is a common waste product found in fish tanks. It comes from fish waste, old food and plants in the water. Since ammonia is highly toxic to fish, the biofilter in your fish tank is designed to break it down into components that fish are more resistant to. While fish are much better able to handle nitrate in their water than ammonia, too much nitrate can still be toxic.
What Contributes to Nitrate Buildup
Waste products in the water contribute to nitrate buildup. Some of the common factors in tanks that have a lot of waste – and consequentially a lot of nitrate – include crowding too many fish into a tank and overfeeding the fish so they produce more waste. Dirty or old filters in the fish tank can also lead to nitrate buildup since they no longer break down ammonia efficiently. Finally, decaying plant matter can lead to an excess of nitrate. If you use live plants in your aquarium, make sure to clean their leaves out regularly and replace dead plants.
Measuring Nitrate Levels
A nitrate test kit can help you determine whether the nitrate levels in your tank are at an acceptable level. Kits are available at most fish or pet stores and use a simple color coding system to help you determine how much nitrate is in the water. The instructions on kits vary, so make sure you read the instructions that come with your kit. Nitrate levels should be less than about 20 ppm in order to ensure healthy fish.
Lowering Nitrate Levels
If a reading shows that your tank has high nitrate levels, there are several steps you can take to lower them. Denitrification can be accomplished using a special nitrate filter which absorbs or neutralizes nitrates while also removing other contaminants from your tank water. You can also lower nitrate levels by giving your tank a complete water change. Make sure to scrub the inside of the tank to remove ammonia build up on the glass.
Preventing Nitrate Buildup
Keep nitrate from becoming a recurring problem by following a few simple maintenance steps. Feed fish sparingly, and consider feeding them a small amount of food several times a day rather than once large feeding. Change about 50 percent of the water in the tank at least once a week to keep nitrate from building up. The more fish you have in your tank the more often you may need to change the water.
Regular maintenance keeps your tank free of nitrate and ensures that your fish are healthy and happy in their home.