A Golden Rule - Dosing and Testing

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Website: http://www.realmofpets.com
CTFS Board: http://ctfishstores.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=20




A Golden Rule

In life there are very few platitudes and in reef keeping even less.
I would like to share one of the Golden Rules of reef keeping.
We all know gaining insight into a pearl of wisdom comes at a price.
You have to listen to the stupid parable first!

Imagine for a moment you landed a great new job but there was one condition of employment. You had to get a routine “Preventative Check Up” by the company physician. You go to the reception and are escorted into an examination room. The door gently opens and a compassionate looking physician enters. The doctor says “Good day, we are about to begin our physical so please remain absolutely silent for the duration of the exam and be patient. The doctor doesn’t have a chart, doesn’t ask you anything about your medical history and silently stares at you for hours with intense interest. Finally, the doctor says “congratulations you are hired but please report back here tomorrow at 10:00 so we can continue the examination. You don’t really understand but hey it is the job you have been waiting for all your life. The following day the silence continues. Finally on the seventh day the doctor begins preparing a dozen syringes of unknown substances and lays them out on the counter. The doctor says “roll up your sleeve and pull down your pants”. Okay now enough is enough, the sight of all those needles, well, you had to say something. “Excuse me Doc but what are all of those syringes for?”

The doctor replies “Well I have been staring at you and thought I would adjust your alkalinity, increase your calcium, give you some iron, strontium, magnesium and a few other things that I wanted to try because I read about them in a post on the internet by a guy with the handle “MasterDoc - newbie 1st year med school.”

What is the moral of this dim witted story.
Why A Golden Rule of course.

“Thou shall NOT dose anything without testing before and after until you know the required dosage.”


Please do not take offense at the elementary level of detail below.
Be assured this is not meant to insult anyone’s intelligence neither newbie nor pro.

Okay you will test first am I happy now?


Nope, not yet.
After you blew the dust off the test kit did you check the expiration date on the reagents?
Do you have the instructions for the test?

Before you begin

Read the instructions a few times until you fully understand them.
Lay out your reagents, test vials, & comparative strip
A watch with a second or timer is also helpful.

Start with a clean test tube

Your test vials and caps should be clean with no residue on the sides.
The best method is to clean them with warm water after use.
Turn them upside down to get the major of the water out and dry the inside with a rolled up piece of paper towel. The residue on the sides can distort your results.

The Quantity of water to be tested in the vial

Obviously use the specified quantity.
The proper level is achieved when the meniscus is parallel to the appropriate line on the vial.
Okay the $50 word meniscus in this context = the lowest point of the water curve in the vial.
*I have purposely avoided technical terminology in this article.

Obtaining a uniformly sized drop:

When the instructions say 5 drops they really mean 5 uniformly sized drops.
This is a common mistake and very easily avoidable.
Take off the top and invert the bottle so it is pointing straight down.

Discharge the first drop on a paper towel because chances are remarkably good you aren’t going to get a full drop otherwise. Keep enough pressure on the reagent bottle so no air is sucked back into the nozzle. Move it over the center of the test vial so it goes directly into the water and not down the sides. Think about it, if you are using 5 drops and you only get a half a drop your results are impacted by a minimum of 10%. In reality the differential is greater due to the concentration of the reagent.

If you are using a powder

First, good luck.
The scoop can’t be wet or damp if it is…. Wrong results
Normally instructions indicate a level scoop so do your best to comply.
Now you have to get all of that powder into the test vial without spilling any.

Timing and mixing

When instructions say 10 seconds they mean 10 seconds not 5 or 15.
Use a watch with a second hand or a timer.
Swirling and shaking are two different things and it does indeed matter.
When swirling leave the base of the vial on a flat surface and rotate.

Comparing your results against the reference standard

You have completed you test but you must compare the test within the time period indicated.
The issue is do you look through the tube or down into the tube. Read the instructions!
Now you have to compare those shades of color on the little pieces of paper.

Many LaMotte test kits contain octet readers (colored reference standards made of transparent plastic that slide). You can easily determine the color variation and get a very precise result. Although they are expensive the refills are comparable to the cost of brand new test kits and you gain the benefit of the reader forever.

Now you are ready to dose right?

Nope, not yet.

Size does NOT matter VOLUME of WATER is what counts

If you have a 90 gallon tank and a 50 gallon sump you have 140 gallons so you are ready to go?
Argh, no you aren’t.
All that rock, sand, coral, fish, internal pumps and heaters displace water.
In a perfect world you would set up you entire tank and gets everything running smooth.
Now rip out everything that isn’t water and put it on the floor.
Measure the remaining water level in the tank and sump.
Take length X width X height (in inches) and divide by 231 that yields the actual gallons of water.
Okay if you are crazy enough to do this I don’t know what to say!
Let’s just take our best guess for now and error on the downside.
If you think you have 100 gallons use 75 gallons as your appropriate water volume.
Luckily there is another method which will be explained latter that will overcome this inherent inaccuracy.

What are the standard parameters you are looking to achieve & what do your inhabitant need

This critical bit of information is a subject for numerous other articles.

Read and Follow the dosing instructions

If a little is good more is better is definitely NOT the way to proceed.
As you may recall we want to do two things:

1. Under estimate your water volume

2. Test after you dose

Using this methodology, you can over a period of time, determine exactly how much of an additive you need to raise your reading from “X” to your desired level “Y”. Get a notebook and write stuff down, it will become an invaluable resource.

Words of Caution


- Your system requirements can and will change predicated upon numerous factor. A tank with a large quantity of SPS will require the addition of more calcium as the corals grow.

- You must understand the interrelationship that various parameters have upon one another. If your alkalinity is very low you will not be able to raise your PH. If you use large quantities of PH boosters with no success and shortly after learn about alkalinity lock out and raise alkalinity too rapidly without testing PH as you go..… you are in for a rude awakening.

- The time of day can play a role in test results: for example your PH will be highest right before you turn your lights off in the evening and lowest right before you turn your light on in the morning.

- The level of numerous parameters such as PH, salinity, and temperature aren’t as critical as maintaining a consistent level. For example a daily swing in PH of 8.1 to 8.3 versus 8.2 to 8.4 is by no means detrimental; however raising your PH rapidly from 7.9 to 8.4 will indeed cause injury.


Why do knowledgeable staff members at stores sell you additives without knowing what your parameters are:

Well some of the additives are ionically balance and can be added without injury.
Additionally you may be providing them with far more information than you think.
Experienced salt water staff at many of the local shops are a tremendous resource.

Please be mindful that despite a true desire to help they may not always have the time to discuss your tank in great depth. If you catalogue your equipment, livestock, and parameters so they can quickly review ‘your’ tank on a single sheet of paper you will be saving them and yourself a significant amount of time. Rest assured the vast majority of shops on this site have knowledgeable staff that are passionate about the hobby and really want to see you succeed.

In conclusion

Maintenance of tank parameters is critical to long term success.
I assure you that the truly gorgeous tank maintained over a period of years didn’t happen by luck or guessing about parameters. They are the result of a knowledge, observation, and discipline in testing and dosing.




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