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The original "Everything Aquatic". Based on the vast library of fish/aquarium keeping guru Carl Strohmeyer.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Problems with Aquarium Water - and How to Solve Them


All aquarium keepers experience fish health problems from time to time, however well maintained the tank.
Looking at some of the most common fish health problems and the remedies involved can take some of the guesswork out of fish-keeping.

Ways to avoid health problems…

When adding new fish, aquatics experts advise quarantine for a week in a separate chamber.

Maintenance is key - perform regular water changes of 15-20% and employ an adequate filter to cope with waste levels.

Use a good test kit - regular testing will make sure that you can monitor the elements in the tank before problems start. A master test kit contains tests for a multitude of problems and is great value. Swell UK have a wide range of test kits and aquarium treatments to keep your aquarium in great shape.

Even a slight water problem can cause stress to fish, which makes them more susceptible to infections and diseases. Getting the water quality just right can mean healthier fish for longer.

Common problems


Fish waste is high in ammonia which can have a devastating effect on your fish. It is very common in new aquariums as New Tank Syndrome when the filtration system is not mature enough to cope with the level of waste.

  • Fish may gasp at the surface
  • White, cloudy water
  • Gills can turn red or purple
  • Dead or dying fish

Treat with a good ammonia remover at the first sign of symptoms. Follow up with regular water testing to monitor levels before a problem occurs.


Murky green water is often a sign of an abundance of algae. Cells of this natural, hardy plant can quickly spread and reduce visibility, light and oxygen levels in your aquarium.

Algae uses three things to thrive; water, light and nutrients. Of course the water must stay, but reducing the amount of light in the tank can help. Move the aquarium out of direct light and reduce the amount of artificial light to no more than 10 hours per day.

Good maintenance also helps - clean the tank walls and décor regularly to avoid a build-up.

Further Reading/References:
Freshwater Aquarium Basics; Green Water
Aquarium Algae Control

Calcium deficiency

If you have corals, the level of calcium must be monitored to ensure that they have sufficient levels to thrive. Using the relevant test kit will ensure that you can top up as needed so that corals can take what they need from the water. Most reef aquariums aim for a level of 380-420ppm calcium. Corals and invertebrates can quickly deplete levels from the water, so testing is a must for healthy growth.

  • Slow growth
  • Some corals will appear to shrink back
  • Discolouration of both corals and invertebrates

Use a good calcium supplement along with regular testing to keep levels well maintained. A calcium rich substrate is also a good idea.

Further Information, including importance of calcium for freshwater aquariums: Aquarium Chemistry; Calcium, GH, KH, pH, more


Chlorine is used to make tap water safe for us to drink, however it is not so good for fish. It can cause burns and damage to the fish's delicate gills and mucus membrane which can be fatal.

  • Gills can develop a white tinge
  • Fish can appear distressed with quick, jerky movements

The best treatment is to add a dechlorinator to tap water during water changes. This not only removes the element but conditions the water too, often incorporating aloe to aid healing. Many dechlorinators are also ideal to use when moving or transporting fish, to lower stress levels. Test for chlorine levels with the relevant test following water changes to ensure a level of 0.

Further Information:
Tap water for my Aquarium or Pond? From Chlorine and Chloramines to Phosphates, Sodium, & TDS

PH level

The pH level is imperative to ensure good water conditions. In all tanks, the pH level is important (although KH/Alkalinity is more important). Marine tanks especially need regular testing to ensure that the pH level is correct. The level indicates how acidic or alkaline the water is. In saltwater aquariums, it's generally more acidic which is beneficial to both reef and marine life.
A pH level of 7 is neutral but if the pH of the water is higher than around 7, it's more alkaline than necessary. Add a suitable buffer to restore the balance and support a healthy tank.

As always good maintenance is key to avoiding a multitude of problems, but regular testing can ensure you are well prepared to meet any issues that may arise. Keeping a good kit of remedies and test kits to hand can help you to tackle problems as they arise!

Further Information: Aquarium Chemistry; pH
Aquarium Chemistry; KH

Further References:

Aquarium Answers; Algae Control

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