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Why Does My Fish Tank Smell? Five Stinky Reasons and How to Fix Them

Why does my fish tank smell? That’s a good question.  If you have a fish tank, there’s a good chance you have encountered a strange smell in or around it.

No matter how much you care for it, bad smells can happen. It happens to all of us. That being said, there are many reasons your fish tank might smell, and none of them are good.

A smelly tank can be more than just unpleasant and embarrassing; it can be dangerous for your fish. If there is a bad smell in the tank, it means something isn’t right. The longer you wait to fix it, the worse it will become, and the more likely your fish is to become ill or die.

Common reasons for a tank to smell include dead animals and plants, a filter that isn’t working correctly, an overpopulated tank, or a filter that is overwhelmed and can’t keep up with the bioload.

You don’t have to be an expert in the aquarium industry to fix your smelly tank. You just need to have some patience and the right methods to correct the problem. 

Five Reasons Your Fish Tank Might Smell and How to Fix It

Here’s what I found while researching reasons your fish thank might smell. It might be an obvious reason, or you may have to take the time to examine your tank closely to find out the exact cause.

If the smell is really severe and you attempt to fix one problem and don’t see any improvement, there may be another cause. 

It’s not uncommon for a tank to smell bad for more than one reason. If you are asking yourself, “Why does my fish tank smell?” It could be one of these reasons.

Dirty Filter

It’s the filter’s job to remove nasty, smelly things from your fish tank.  As the water flows through the filter, it collects anything that doesn’t belong in the water so clean water flows back into the tank. Even though this is what your filter is meant to do, it can become stinky and bad itself. 

If you notice a smell that comes from the surface of your tank, check to see if it’s the filter. You can remove the cartridge and sniff it as well.  Filters that smell bad are likely full and no longer functioning as they should.

How to Fix It

Many filters have cartridges that can be removed and rinsed thoroughly before being replaced. You should be able to get rid of the smell by rinsing them. If that doesn’t work, you may just need to replace them. 

If your filters are not reusable, you should just replace them once you notice they are starting to smell bad. It’s a good idea to remove the entire filtration system and clean it thoroughly before adding the new filter cartridge and restarting it.

Dead Fish

Dead fish can cause a tank to smell bad if they are left in for too long. While many fish float when they are dead, some don’t make it to the surface. Some fish get stuck to the filter or under rocks in the bottom of the tank. 

dead fish in fish tank

If you have a lot of plants or decorations in your tank, a dead fish could be stuck or hidden under or behind them as well. As the fish decomposes, it will cause a bad smell in the tank. Never leave a dead fish in your tank, whether there is a bad smell or not.

How to Fix It

You should remove any dead fish in your tank as soon as possible. Use a net or small cup to scoop them out. If you suspect there is a dead fish in the tank, but you can’t find it, take a small net and scoop through the tank. 

This will stir up the water and may help bring any dead fish to the surface so you can easily see them and remove them. You can also try turning up the flow of the filter so it can churn the water too.


Overfeeding in fish tank

A lot of people overfeed their fish and don’t realize it. When you overfeed fish, they get more food than they can eat. The uneaten food can sink to the bottom of the tank, settle on plants and gravel, or get sucked into the filter. It can breakdown and decompose, causing a bad smell in the tank. 

Overfeeding can also cause your fish to produce for poop and even become sick. It’s also important to make sure you are feeding your fish the right type of food. If the fish aren’t eating it, it may be more likely to pollute the tank.

The wrong food can also cause digestion problems in fish, which can also lead to more pollution in the tank.

How to Fix It 

Watch the fish eat when you feed them. Learn how much food the fish eat in one feeding and only add that amount each time. If you do happen to add too much food to the tank, remove any food that goes uneaten after the fish are finished.

This should prevent the tank from smelling badly in the future. If you feel there may be food in the tank or filter, try to remove it to help get rid of the smell faster.

Dead Plants

dead plants in aquarium

Plants add a lot of nutrient to an aquarium and make your fish happier. They can also cause bad smells. Plants are always growing and regenerating, but some parts of them also die in the process.

The dead parts usually fall to the bottom of the tank where they decompose or get stuck in the filter. 

As the dead plants break down, they release gasses into the tank. When the fish move the water around or as it passes through the filter, these gases and bad smell are released, and you may notice them.

How to Fix It 

Keep an eye on your plants and try to remove any dead stems or leaves as they fall off the plant. If you see leaves in the bottom of the tank or stuck to the filter, use a net to scoop them out. Also, make sure you do not have too many plants in your tank. 

An overcrowded tank can cause a variety of problems, including bad smells. It’s a good idea to have a mix of different types of plants to help add oxygen to the tank without taking over.

Fish Poop

fish poop in tank

Fish poop like every other living thing and if there’s a lot of it, it will cause a bad smell in the tank. Too many fish in your tank can lead to too much poop. Overfeeding can also cause the fish to produce more waste than normal.

Your filter can help get rid of some of the fish poop, but if there are too many fish, the filter may not be able to keep up with all their poop. This can cause the filter to smell or the entire tank to stink.

How to Fix It 

Check to make sure your tank is not overloaded with fish and that the filter is working properly. If the tank looks dirty and smells bad, it may be overpopulated. If you are not sure how many fish can safely live in your tank, talk to someone at your local pet store, or do some research online. 

There are a lot of things that determine the right amount of fish for a tank. Some fish like goldfish produce a lot or waste and ammonia than other fish, which can lead to a bad smell. In most cases, the size of the fish and the size of the tank determine the number of fish that can live it in.

If you think overpopulation or too must waste may be the problem, remove some of the fish and allow the tank to cycle for a few days before checking for improvement. You can move the fish to another tank or sell them. You can also do a water change. 

This will allow you to remove some of the dirty, stinky water and replace it with clean water. This will also make it easier for the filter to clean the tank. If you are using water from your tap, make sure you add dechlorinating tablets to the tank to ensure it doesn’t harm or kill the fish.


How to get rid of fish tank smell

There are a lot of things that can cause your fish tank to smell bad. If you are asking yourself, “Why does my fish tank smell?” you should consider some of the reasons pointed out above. 

Monitoring your tank will make it easier to find the problem and also help you take precautions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Nobody likes a smelly tank, but it’s just part of being an aquarium owner. Most of the time, it’s an easy fix, and the smell goes away quickly.

The 3 Best Aquarium Air Pump Choices to Help Oxygenate Your Tank

Best Aquarium Air Pump

​Whether you want an air pump in your aquarium for ornamental bubble reasons, or to improve the oxygen circulation of your tank, you always want to make sure that you get the best aquarium air pump possible. But where do you begin to look? Air pumps can get complicated, especially if you are new to the hobby.

Luckily, in this article, we arrange a list of some of our favorite aquarium air pumps on the market right now. That way, no matter which one you get, you know it will is the best aquarium air pump for you.

We also provide some necessary information about air pumps, so you know what to look for when shopping.

So, before we take a look at the specific products, let us go over some common questions, newcomers usually ask about their aquarium air pumps.

How We Reviewed the Aquarium Air Pumps On This List

We review the air pumps on this list by looking at three distinct product factors: functionality, durability, and overall price. For each of these areas, we ask a series of questions that help us determine the strengths and weaknesses associated with each product. 

We look for a final product that will perform adequately on the tank the company made it for, last a long time and not break the bank of any aquarium enthusiast. Our final choice for the best aquarium air pump reflects this decision. 

Overall Price Range for Aquarium Air Pumps

The price of an aquarium air pump depends mainly on the size of the tank you want to circulate air through. A small, ten-gallon air pump usually stays pretty cheap, while the larger models can get more expensive. 

On this list, the cheapest model costs around seven dollars, while the more expensive one is closer to fifty-six dollars. 

Top 3 Best Aquarium Air Pump Reviews

1. Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump for Aquariums (Non-UL)

Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump for Aquariums

Key Features

The Tetra Whisper Air Pump features a unique dome shape design that dampens the sound wave created by the electromagnetic vibrations. As such, it is one of the quieter options on this list. The device also features an app that can help you determine water quality and supply reminders.

Pros and Cons

As its name suggests, the biggest pro associated with the Tetra Whisper Air Pump is the quiet nature of the product. However, the power and reliability of the product also help make it the best aquarium air pump on our list.

Another big pro associated with the Tetra Whisper is the low price. In addition to being the most affordable product on this list, it also runs the most consistently. The app that the company includes with the product also helps a lot when determining how much water you need to change. 

However, the product is not perfect. Many people claim that while most of the models work great, the ten-gallon version of the Tetra Whisper Air Pump is significantly underpowered. As such, if you own a smaller tank, then you may want a different product. 

Where to Buy

You can purchase this aquarium air pump at major online retailers like Amazon. 

Warranty Log

Unfortunately, the Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump does not come with a warranty. 

2. Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump

Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump

Key Features

If you want an aquarium air pump correctly for the aesthetic purpose of making bubbles, then the Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump is a good option for you. 

The air pump comes with air stone and line connectors so you can lead the oxygen and bubbles directly to certain areas. The product is also pretty powerful, featuring four watts of power and an adjustable flow rate. 

Pros and Cons

As we mentioned, the product provides a lot of bubbles, which is its greatest strength in our opinion. We also like all of the accessories the company includes which give you a lot of customization in terms of where you get the place it. The device is heavy and stable, so you can expect it not to move once placed. 

Unfortunately, the product does come with some issues. For one thing, it reasonably hard to assemble, and some people had some severe problems getting bubbles out of the air stones. 

Also, the Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump is not as quiet as the Tetra Whisper, unless you run it at the lowest possible pressure setting. As such, if you cannot stand the humming sound, then you should look elsewhere. 

However, you can quickly solve this issue by buying a slightly larger size option than your tank requires and then running it at the lowest possible pressure setting. But this feature remains a con since you would need to pay more for the air pump. 

Where to Buy

You can purchase this aquarium air pump at major online retailers like Amazon.

Warranty Log

The Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump comes with a twelve-month warranty.

3. Pawfly 40 GPH Aquarium Air Pump

Pawfly 40 GPH Aquarium Air Pump

Key Features

If you want an aquarium air pump individually powering certain types of filters, then the Pawfly MA-60 Quiet Aquarium Air Pump is an excellent choice for you. The device also includes accessories like air stone, check valve, and over five feet of air tubing. 

The device comes with two watts of power, which makes it a little less potent than the Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump. However, it also makes it quieter without compromising any of the effectiveness when dealing with filter power. 

Pros and Cons

As we mentioned, one big pro with the Pawfly MA-60 Quiet Aquarium Air Pump is it works when powering a filter while remaining incredibly quiet. It also gives off a relaxing sound of bubbles which many people may enjoy. 

Setting up the product is also much more streamlined when you compare it with something like the Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump, so if you struggle with complicated direction, then you will like the Pawfly MA-60 Quiet Aquarium Air Pump.

However, the product is not perfect. For one thing, the air tube that comes with the air pump does not work well and will likely need to replace after a short period. Luckily, you can easily buy a replacement one at your local hardware store, but it still presents an inconvenience. 

Also, since the product is not that powerful, it does not produce many bubbles. As such, you might not like it for aesthetic purposes. 

Where to Buy

You can purchase this aquarium air pump at major online retailers like Amazon.

Warranty Log

Unfortunately, the Pawfly MA-60 Quiet Aquarium Air Pump does not come with a warranty.

Aquarium Air Pumps Comparison Table

Aquarium Air Pumps

In this section, we compare the main specs between the aquarium air pumps we just reviewed. We provide this comparison table so you can get a quick recap on all the features the brand offers and which ones might be preferable for you. 

1) Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump for Aquariums (Non-UL)2) Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump with Accessories, Adjustable Oxygen Pump for 10-100 Gallon Fish Tank3) Pawfly MA-60 Quiet Aquarium Air Pump for 10 Gallon with Accessories Air Stone Check Valve and Tube
Different sizes available — Four Material — Plastic  Size — Four inches by three inches by six inches Special features? — My Aquarium app Warranty? — NoDifferent sizes available — Two Material — Plastic Size — Five inches by three inches by three inches Special features? — Includes accessories like the airline and air stone Warranty? — YesDifferent sizes available — One Material — Synthetic rubber Size — Three inches by two inches by two inches Special features? — Includes air stone, air tube, and check valve Warranty? — No

Aquarium Air Pump Frequently Asked Questions

Before we find out what the best aquarium air pump is, we think it is prudent to answer some frequently asked questions about the product. That way, any new fish tank owners get a good idea of what the part they should use for an aquarium.

1. What Is an Aquarium Air Pump?

As the name suggests, an air pump moves the air in an aquarium, usually with a total amount of pressure. Most air pumps utilize an electromagnet within a synthetic diaphragm.

While the machine does move air throughout the tank well it also makes some noise which can range in severity. 

2. When Do You Need an Aquarium Air Pump? 

There are two main reasons people get aquarium air pumps: aesthetic reasons and practical reasons. People get an air pump for aesthetic reasons because they provide bubbles for ornaments and air stones.

Thus, objects like a sinking ship or scuba diver look more realistic because bubbles rise from them. 

However, aquarium air pumps also come with a functional purpose. Air pumps create a current in the tank so that the water does not become stagnant. 

When it is inactive, the water becomes dirty quicker and remains unaerated in sections — also, some filters (which provide oxygen) us air pumps as a power source. 

3. Are Air Pumps Actually Necessary for Aquariums?

The only time an air pump is necessary is if you own a filter that powers itself with a pump. However, there is a common misconception that you need an air pump because it puts oxygen directly into the water. 

In actuality, air pumps do two crucial, but relatively minor, functions: they increase the surface area of the tank and increase the water circulation.

The water circulation aspect is the most important since it moves oxygenated water into areas where it otherwise would not go. 

However, it is also important to remember that some types of marine animals require a constant supply of fresh, circulating oxygen in their water.

As such, if you have crabs, mudskippers, frogs, shrimp, or newts in your aquarium, then you will need an air pump.

The Verdict

In our opinion, the Tetra Whisper Air Pump represents the best blend of functionality, durability, and affordability. As such, it is our selection for the best aquarium air pump. 

One big problem with some of the products on this list is the amount of noise they make and with the Tetra Whisper Air Pump that is not an issue. We also love the affordable nature of the product and the fact that it offers such specific tank measurements. 

However, if you own a tank that is more substantial than one hundred gallons, then you should look elsewhere for a more high powered brand. How hope this article helped you find the best aquarium air pump for your needs. 

While the Tetra Whisper Air Pump is our favorite on the list, we think every product here offers a pretty useful function. As such, we do not believe you can go wrong with any of them. Good luck with installing the device!

How To Set Up A Fish Tank: Your Ultimate Guide

How To Set Up A Fish Tank

Pets are good for our health and having fish in your home or office can help lower stress levels and add a sense of peacefulness to any space. It is easy to find a fish tank to fit in any home or office space since tanks come in so many different sizes and shapes. You can even order a fully customized aquarium. 

While the sizes and shapes of fish tanks vary, what doesn’t is the way you set them up. You need to adequately prepare the fish tank so fish can become acclimated and live a long and healthy life. 

Unfortunately for too many fish, their owners do not set up their tanks properly. Knowing how to set up a fish tank can save you time and money. Setting up a fish tank is not something that you should on a whim. You should think about it and plan before you start your shopping. These eight steps will guide you through the process.

Step One: Take Time to Plan

Take Time to Plan

Fish, like all pets, require food, water, and cleaning. Adding one to your home isn’t something you should take lightly. Before buying a tank and filling it full of fish, you should do some research. 

You should consider where you are putting the tank and how much space is available. Since tanks need filters and those need motors, you will need to put the tank near an electrical outlet. You will also need to consider whether you should put the tank near a window, as direct sunlight can wreak havoc on the water and its pH levels. 

You should also consider what type of fish you want to put in the tank. Are there certain species that you want to have?

Are you going to breed them? Do the fish you want need similar water conditions? Are you selecting saltwater or freshwater fish? 

Once you determine the type of fish and the size of the tank, you should also research the accessories and equipment you need. Are you planning on adding live plants?

What type of filter will your tank need? Where are you going to put all of the accessories? You should make a plan and build a list before visiting your local pet shop. 

Don’t forget about your budget, both for money and time. If you are brand new to fish tanks, then it might be wise to start small.

You will be surprised how much time you need to clean the tank and how much money outfitting a fish tank costs. You might even want to consider buying a used aquarium versus purchasing a new one. 

Fish tanks can be incredibly heavy. So, before buying one, consider the strength of the table, counter, or shelf that will be holding the aquarium. Tanks are heavy on their own and the weight of the tank multiples when you fill them with water.

Step Two: Buying and Preparing the Tank

Buying and Preparing the Tank

After you’ve bought the tank, you will need to get it ready for the fish. You cannot just fill it with water and plop the fish into the tank. 

Whether the tank is brand new or used, you will need to clean it. New tanks can get dusty, and you never know what stores may have kept in them before selling them.

You should not use soap, bleach, or detergents in your tank. Use vinegar and paper towels to clean your fish tank. Clean the inside and outside. 

After cleaning your tank, it is a good idea to see if it leaks. Put about an inch of water in the tank and leave it on your kitchen counter.

This way, if it leaks, you will not damage other surfaces. If the tank leaks, you will notice water on the table or around the bottom edge. Then, buy some sealant and make your tank watertight. 

When your tank is clean and watertight, put it in its spot. Notice if any direct sunlight lands on the tank and if the place is strong enough to hold it. Check if your aquarium is level, too. You certainly do not want the tank to fall or water to spill out.

Step Three: Buy and Clean the Substrate

Buy and Clean the Substrate

Fish need substrate and some fish need more than others. You should figure out what you need based on the size of the tank and the type of fish. 

One pound of substrate in one gallon of water will be one inch thick. Multiple the pounds by the gallons of water you have and you should be able to determine how much substrate you need. 

Even if you buy the substrate prewashed, you should wash it before adding it to your tank. The substrate can be dirty and dusty so your tank will be cloudy if you do not clean the product before putting it in the water. 

You can clean the substrate in a few different ways. If your substrate is large enough, you can put it in a strainer and run it under tap water. Another way is to use a bucket filled with cold water then with your hand, swirl a small amount of substrate in the bucket. 

Once your substrate is clean, put it in the tank and level it out.

Step Four: Fill Your Tank With Water

fill your fish tank with water

There are different steps if you have a saltwater tank or a freshwater tank. 

With a freshwater tank, you should run your water through reverse osmosis and a dechlorinator before putting it in the tank. Doing this will ensure that your water is safe for freshwater fish. 

If you have a saltwater tank, then you will need to prepare the water with the correct ratio of salt mix to water. ensure

If you pour the water into your tank, it will disrupt the substrate. The best way to prevent this is to place a bowl in the bottom of the tank. Then, pour the water directly into it. When it is full, tip it gently, so the water flows without disrupting the substrate. 

After you have a layer of water over all of the substrate, you can stop using the bowl and fill the tank with a hose or bucket.

Step Five: Add the Filter and Other Necessary Equipment

Add the Filter and Other Necessary Equipment

You will need to add a filter to keep the water clean. Filters can be put on the inside of the tank, the outside of the tank, and under the substrate. You should be able to find a YouTube video about installing the filter you chose. Do not turn on the motor until you have it properly installed. 

If you are planning on having tropical fish or saltwater fish, you will need to install a heater, too. After installing the filter, you won’t have any problems installing the heater. Set the heater with the dial at the top. 

Put the thermometer as far as you can from the heater for warmth throughout the tank.

Install the rest of the necessary equipment, especially if you have a saltwater tank.

Step Six: Decorate the Tank

Once you have installed the necessary equipment, the next step is to make the tank look nice. Place your plants, driftwood, and other items.

Some aquarium owners set up their tanks with themes so they can show off their favorite sports teams, colleges, movies, or collections. 

Like all of the other items, you have placed in the tank, clean each item first. Many could be dusty after spending time on pet shop shelves. 

Before placing live plants in the tank, research the best way to plant them. You might need to submerge some in the substrate, and some do better when placed on driftwood. Some are better background plants, and others you can put in the foreground.

Step Seven: Run the Tank through the Nitrogen Cycle

Run the Tank through the Nitrogen Cycle

Do not leave the tank sitting without the filter running. It is vital that you run the water through the filter before putting fish in it.

This first tank cycle is called a nitrogen cycle because the screen will collect bacteria that is beneficial for fish. It also changes nitrites into nitrates. Both are bad for fish, but nitrates less so. 

During the nitrogen cycle in a freshwater tank, you should add ammonia to it. Read the instructions prior to dropping it into the tank, as there can be several steps for different brands.

As you run the tank through the nitrogen cycle, check the levels to see how much ammonia and nitrites are in the water. Once these levels reach zero ppm, your tank is ready for fish. 

In a saltwater tank, bacteria builds up on a live rock that you add to the tank. Stones with nooks and crannies are better for this process as more bacteria hides in those spaces.

As soon as you bring the rock home, put it in the tank to get the bacteria to start building up in the tank. It might take up to eight weeks before the tank is ready for fish.

Step Eight: Acclimate Your Fish and Put Them in the Tank

Acclimate Your Fish and Put Them in the Tank

After all that time getting the tank ready, it’s finally time to add the fish. Like the nitrogen cycle, acclimating fish takes time. You should not add too many fish at first so that they have room to move. 

Some fish have problems with changing water, so they do not like being moved from one tank to another. There is a good chance that the aquarium the fish were in at the store has different makeup than the one at your home or office. 

To protect your fish from stress, keep your fish in the bag and place it in the tank, allowing it to float. Then, cut the top and open the bag, so air develops to keep the bag afloat.

Then, put a half cup of tank water in the bag. Repeat this until the container is full. Then, with a net, take the fish out of the bag and put it in the aquarium. 

The fish should not have problems in the tank if you follow the acclimation steps correctly. However, watch the fish you added to be sure they survive the process. 

If you already have fish in the tank, you might not want to add any new fish because they can introduce disease to the current residents.

Some aquarium owners will have a second tank with the same water where they can keep new fish in quarantine until they have become acclimated and proven to be disease-free.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a fish tank can be a real test of patience. While you might want to go to the pet shop, buy everything, and get the fish in the tank, this is not the ideal way to set up an aquarium for the long run. 

Instead of getting it done in a few hours, you could spend up to two months getting the tank ready before you even add the fish. Taking time to do it right will help your fish live a long and healthy life. 

While all of the steps are vital, it is crucial that you consider a few of them as the most valuable. Research before you buy.

Once you’ve purchased a tank, put it exactly where you want it and be sure it is out of direct sunlight.  Properly install your equipment and learn how the plants and accessories can affect the tank. 

Run the tank through a full nitrogen cycle before adding fish. Acclimate your fish before submerging them fully into the water.

How to Lower the Ph in Aquarium (Easy Guide)

Fish in the aquarium

Even though fish live underwater, they need plenty of oxygen to live long, healthy lives in your personal aquarium. Without that oxygen, fish will suffer just as a human would if they were living in an oxygen-starved environment.

If your fish appear to have low energy, seem sick or lethargic or simply do not appear to be thriving, you may need to check the pH in your aquarium.

It could be too high which creates an oxygen-poor environment for your scaly friends. In that case, you will need to learn how to lower pH in aquarium so that you can revive your pets before it is too late.

What Is PH?

The term pH is used to measure the relatively acidity or alkalinity of any substance, including water. You likely remember the term from a high-school or college chemistry class.

It probably never came up in the context of how to lower pH in aquarium but rather in terms of measuring how acidic something was and then changing the liquid in question to a more alkaline, or basic, measure.

We can generally classify pH in three ways:

  • Basic, or alkaline, which means that the substance in question would be receptive to hydrogen ions (more on this in a minute)
  • Acidic, which would mean the substance in question is more likely to “give away” hydrogen ions 
  • Neutral, which means the substance in question is right in the middle and is unlikely to react by either giving away or taking hydrogen ions

The amount of hydrogen in water is directly related to the amount of oxygen in water. This affects how well your fish can breathe.

More free hydrogen ions lead to more highly oxygenated water, which is why although most fish like pH measurements that are relatively neutral; they tend to do a bit better in mildly acidic environments over alkaline ones.

What Numbers Define PH?

What Numbers Define PH

Now that we have conducted a mini-refresher course on basic chemistry, let’s go ahead and start applying these concepts to how to lower pH in aquarium. A low pH measurement indicates that a substance is acidic.

This means it has a lot more hydrogen than something that matters a lot to your fish:  pure water. Battery acid, for example, has a pH of less than 1.

Orange juice, which is not a good home for your fish, has a pH of about 3. Milk has a pH of about 6 and pure water, which is considered pH neutral, has a pH measure of about 7. Sea water has a pH of about 8.

On the other end of the spectrum, soapy water, which is not good for fish, has a pH of about 12, and liquid drain cleaners are highly alkaline with a pH of 14, the highest measure possible.

Incidentally, your fish will thrive in an aquatic environment where the water has a pH measurement between 5.5 and 7.5 in nearly all cases.

The Right Way to Measure PH

There are many ways to measure pH. Measuring the pH in your aquarium is the first step in learning how to lower pH in aquarium because you will not know if you have a pH problem until you can properly evaluate the pH of your fish’s water.

You can purchase pH testing kits to help with these measurements, or there are many instruments that will give you a digital readout of the pH if you are not comfortable using the testing paper and a color gradient to determine the aquarium’s pH levels.

You have likely seen lifeguards at the swimming pool measuring pH levels to make sure that the water is not too acidic or alkaline for humans to swim in. You are basically going to be doing the same thing for your fish.

Why Is Correct PH Important?

A lot of aquarium hobbyists refer to the pH measurements of their aquariums as “normal.” However, the term “normal” is not appropriate when describing pH because a pH measurement that is good for one species may be terrible for another.

For example, certain types of bacteria called acidophiles actually love highly acidic environments that would kill other creatures. They thrive in pools of sulfuric acid.

If you happened to be cultivating acidophiles, then a “normal” pH for your aquarium might be somewhere between 1 and 5. 

On the other hand, certain types of trout have adapted over time to live in extremely alkaline environments. Their “normal” pH measure might be nearly 10, which would be far too high for most aquarium fish.

The Correct PH Matters for Every Aquatic Organism

Correct PH Matters for Every Aquatic Organism

While “normal” pH is hard to define, getting the pH correct is vitally important to keeping your fish alive and healthy. In most cases, aquarium-dwelling fish do best in waters with pH measurements between 5.5 and 7.5.

A saltwater fish will likely prefer a slightly higher pH because saltwater is more alkaline than pure water, registering around 7.5 or 8.

When dealing with aquarium pH levels, it is important to remember you can go too low as well as too high. There is a delicate balance in play that revolves heavily around what type of fish you have in your aquarium.

Acidity and alkalinity will both affect fish in the extreme, but every fish has a different extreme. For example, small mouth bass begin to grow more slowly and compete less effectively for food when pH falls below 6. Brook trout compete for food just fine and tend to be quite large at pH levels as low as 5.

When fish cannot compete for food or are lethargic and slow in the wild, they experience immediate, negative effects and in many cases, are eaten by something feeling less lethargic.

While a fish may not necessarily be in danger of consumption in your home aquarium, high pH levels or extremely low ones can prevent your fish from getting enough to eat and thriving in the environment in which you have placed them. 

How to Lower PH in Aquarium Safely:

How to Lower PH in Aquarium Safely

You must know how to lower pH in aquarium safely, or you may end up with a tank full of water with the wrong pH and, sadly, a bunch of dead fish.

Going back to the swimming pool example:  you probably have seen a lifeguard measure the pH in a pool, then add one or more scoops of powdered chemicals to the water to adjust that measurement. The results likely worked quickly.

Sometimes, lifeguards will even do something called “shocking” a pool to adjust the measurements even more quickly. In these cases, they may warn swimmers to stay out of the water if they have sensitive skin.

You may notice even after you have been cleared to get back into the pool that your eyes burn more if you open them underwater than they did before.

This is because the chemicals are still in the water lowering the pH and, in conjunction, irritating your eyes. Imagine, then, if you had to breathe through that type of pain instead of simply wiping your eyes, putting some drops in them, and not opening them underwater in the pool again.

A fish’s gills are sensitive just like your eyes are. However, unlike you and your eyes, a fish cannot remove their gills from the water that is hurting them without suffocating and suffering a horrible death.

The only solution for a poor pH environment for your fish is to learn how to lower PH in aquarium safely.

Using Natural Methods to Lower PH

Using Natural Methods to Lower PH

In the natural world, fish live in water with pH that is, in most cases, suited to their species’ needs. This is why some fish live in the ocean while others live in swamps.

If you need to adjust your aquarium’s pH levels by lowering them naturally, consider trying:

  • Peat moss
  • Driftwood 
  • Cappata leaves

Peat moss is a popular option for those learning how to safely lower pH in aquarium because it is very natural and commonly grows in areas where many aquarium fish naturally live.

However, peat moss may give your aquarium water a brownish tinge. You can alleviate this effect by soaking it for a few days in a bucket before adding it to your aquarium.

You can also buy peat pellets or peat chunks to place in your aquarium. You must leave the peat moss in the aquarium for it to lower the pH, so there will likely be some discoloration in the water over time.

Driftwood comes with the same benefits as peat moss when it comes to lowering pH naturally, but it also may discolor the water in your tank. Furthermore, driftwood is not all the same, so you will need to do some research to make sure it will not:

  • Disrupt your tank
  • Release problematic chemicals into the water 
  • Create a dirty environment for your fish

Avoid these issues by boiling driftwood in saltwater to sterilize it and remove dirt and debris, and make sure any driftwood you purchase for your aquarium is clearly labeled as safe for and intended to be used in fish environments.

Some driftwood is sold specifically for reptile environments and has very different characteristics that can harm fish.

Catappa leaves, which are also known as “Indian Almond leaves,” lower pH and may have antibacterial qualities that could help keep your fish healthy.

As such, they may offer the best option for how to lower pH in aquarium naturally. These leaves may even cure fin rot and protect fish babies (fry) from various infections.

Like peat moss and driftwood, catappa leaves will discolor the water in your tank. Some aquarium owners soak the leaves until they decompose, then add the stained water to the tank when they change the rest of the water in order to combat this effect. Unfortunately, there is  no escaping the discoloration entirely.

Using a Reverse Osmosis Filter

Using a Reverse Osmosis Filter

If you do not think you can stand the look of discolored water in your fish tank, then a reverse osmosis filter may be the solution for you when it comes to how to lower pH in aquarium to keep your fish happy and healthy.

Reverse osmosis, abbreviated RO, is a filter system that removes contaminants from the water while still allowing smaller ions to pass through the filtering system.

The result is a lower pH, since most larger contaminants are those that contribute to higher pH levels.

There are a few negatives to using an RO system, however:

  • Cost (RO systems are expensive.) 
  • Bulky and will not work for most small aquariums 
  • Filter change (You will periodically have to replace the filter.)

On the positive side, if you use an RO filter, you can be confident it is removing:

  • Pesticides 
  • Arsenic 
  • Heavy metals

All of those contaminants are terrible for your fish and contribute to shorter, unhealthy lives for your aquatic friends.  


The pH in your aquarium is of the utmost importance to your fish. Professional aquarium caretakers and owners emphasize that more than just understanding how to lower pH in aquarium safely, you must understand when to start trying to adjust pH.

While we can tell you, correctly, that most fish like pH measures between 5.5 and 7.5, another aquarium expert may tell you the magic window lies between 6 and 8.

Still another will tell you that none of this matters at all as long as your fish are healthy, lively and living relatively long lives.


Chasing the “perfect pH” by constantly trying to better learn how to lower pH in aquarium can create a terrible situation for you and your fish in which you are constantly interfering with their environment and they are constantly trying to deal with changes in their miniature ecosystem.

Do not inflict your desire to micromanage your fish tank on your pets. Instead, monitor their health, and respond to their behavior only when necessary.

The result will be an aquarium with happy, healthy fish living in an environment with a pH that is “perfectly normal” for them.

What Causes High pH in Aquarium?

fish and coral on aquarium

If you have an aquarium, you have to take care of the chemical balance of your water. Your fish will affect the makeup of the water, so it is wise to check it and adjust it as needed.

If you have an unbalanced tank, your fish might not flourish. To avoid problems like high pH in your aquarium, learning why it increases is helpful.

When aquarium water is unbalanced, and the pH levels are off, the water will be either acid or alkaline. Levels are measured on a scale of 1 to 14 with these ranges:

  • Acid: 1-6.9
  • Neutral: 7
  • Alkaline: 7.1-14

What Causes High pH in an Aquarium?

Causes High pH in an Aquarium

So, what causes high pH in an aquarium? There are several reasons. The rocks and gravel in your tank can increase the pH level because the calcium in them dissolves into the tank.

Another reason why levels increase is due to plants in your tank. When plants absorb carbon dioxide and nitrates, pH levels increase. 

A high alkaline environment can be dangerous for aquarium fish. If there is too much alkalinity in the water, fish can develop alkalosis, and their swimming becomes excited and chaotic.

Their fins will be wide open, and you might notice mucus in them. Some types of fish might show alkalosis by swimming slowly and with labored breath. 

Your tank might also show signs of high pH. Aquariums with high pH have algae growth and slime on the plants and decorations. Most fish prefer neutral pH, deviations from it can be toxic for them. 

It is essential to understand what causes pH to increase and how to remedy it if you want to keep your fish healthy. In most cases, aquarium water pH lowers over time.

By adding small amounts of tap water, you can quickly increase the pH, but if it gets too high, you have to learn how to lower it.

What Raises pH in An Aquarium?

Raises pH in An Aquarium

Adding Tap Water to An Aquarium

One of the quickest ways to increase the pH level in a fish tank is to add tap water. The pH levels can also increase when people add new fish in their bags as the water is often from the tap.

City water systems often have high alkalinity which can change the way that water tastes. It can also build up scale in plumbing systems and coffee makers. 

Humans will not have problems drinking water with high alkalinity, but fish do. That is why tap water does not work well for them. 

Not Changing the Filter

Because fish leave waste in the aquarium, it is essential to change the filter regularly. Their excrement and other material from food and chemicals in the water can increase the pH levels. When the filter no longer functions appropriately, those waste products stay in the water, and your fish suffer. 

Pick a day each month to change the filter in your tank. If you find that the filter gets dirty before the date arrives, then change it more frequently. If you want your fish to live, then you have to take care of the tank. 

Some fish owners will also clean the tank each time that they change the filter. Most filters will not catch all of the waste products, so cleaning the tank is the only way to get rid of everything that could increase the alkalinity.

An aquarium vacuum makes it easy to get rid of leftover food and waste. 

When you change the tank filter, the water will have more carbon dioxide which lowers the pH levels. Another way to lower pH is to add vinegar, which is actually an excellent substance to use to clean the interior glass of your aquarium. 

Different Types of Tank Features

There are some tank features that lower the pH in the tank. There are also features that will increase the pH levels, too. Shells and crushed coral increase pH levels.

There are some fish that actually like high pH levels, like African cichlids. But most fish prefer neutral numbers. 

Limestone is another rock that increases pH levels. Unfortunately, many people add stones that increase pH levels without knowing what they are doing. 

Some types of chemicals will also increase pH levels. If you buy your aquarium somewhere other than a dedicated pet store, you might be using unnecessary chemicals that do more harm than good. Read the chemicals before you put them in your tank. 

No Driftwood

If you have too much pH in your aquarium, notice what is missing. Adding driftwood to your tank will begin the process of lowering the pH levels.

Along with driftwood, peat moss will quickly neutralize your aquarium. You can put driftwood at the bottom of your tank and peat moss in your substrate or filter. 

Not Enough Carbon Dioxide

CO2 lowers pH levels, too. If you have high levels of pH regularly, you might want to get a pH pump to add the necessary standards to your tank. Cleaning the filter or replacing the filter lowers pH levels by improving circulation.

What is the Best pH for an Aquarium?

Best pH for an Aquarium

In a freshwater aquarium, the best pH level is low to neutral, between 5.5 and 7.5. Saltwater fish prefer a high pH, around 8.0 or higher.

Freshwater fish do not like salty water, and saltwater fish do not like unsalted water. Unfortunately, no matter what type of fish you have, maintaining the perfect pH is not always easy to do. 

If your tap water is hard, it will raise the pH levels in your tank every time you fill it. If you have freshwater fish and hard water, put your tap water through a water filter to quickly lower the pH levels.

You should test your aquarium’s water regularly, especially after you have added tap water. 

Once you’ve tested the water, you should fix any pH problems that you find. If you wait too long to adjust the alkalinity levels, your fish might die.

When pH increases, ammonia and other harmful chemicals increase. Fish cannot adapt to pH levels that are too high.

Monitor pH Levels

Monitor pH Levels

When you buy a new tank, you should closely monitor the pH levels. You should pay close attention to your fish and their behavior as you break-in the new aquarium. Young fish often struggle when pH levels are off, and new tanks can have unexpected issues. 

It is commonplace for certain types of fish to have tight pH ranges. And, some fish will not reproduce if the pH levels are off by just a little bit. When you build a new tank and add new fish, be sure that they all need the same pH. 

There are several ways to test pH levels. You can use a pH test kit. You put water into a test tube and squirt the required number of drops of pH solution into the test tube.

The water will turn color, and you compare it to the levels on a test kit card. It usually takes a few seconds for the test tube water to change color, but these tests are accurate. 

Unless you haven’t clean the fish tank or filter recently, the pH in your fish tank should be close to the pH of your tap water.

You can test your tap water with the same test kit you used to check the water in your tank. Most fish parents will test the water twice per month. 

If you notice that the pH numbers are too high or too low, you should keep a record of the numbers. Include filter changes and tank cleanings in the log, too. This will give you the information you need to evaluate how your water changes. 

It is a good idea to check your water in two situations. The first is before you add a new fish. Test the water in the fish’s bag and tank so you can determine if you have to make any changes to the water in either place. You should also check the water if a fish dies in your aquarium to see if pH levels caused it.

Why You Can’t Mix Different Types of Fish

You wouldn’t want to put goldfish in the same tank as neon tetras. Goldfish like neutral water with a pH range of 7.0 to 7.5.

But, neon tetras prefer acidic water with a lower pH of 5.8 to 6.2. If these two types of fish share an aquarium, one will not thrive. Most pet shops keep similar fish species in the same tanks because of their preferred pH numbers. 

As an aquarium owner, you should also be aware of what your fish will do when you have to take them out of the tank.

Many fish experience trauma when moved from the water at the pet shop to the water in their new home’s fish tank. Fish can experience shock and may not survive the move.