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Using Salts in Your Cichlid Tank

Blake B

Posted on August 03 2018

Cichlids are freshwater fish, so some newcomers to the world of African cichlids may be surprised to learn that many cichlid owners do utilize salts in the water of their cichlids. While common sense might seem to tell you that adding salt to a freshwater fish tank should spell disaster, actually we’re talking about something quite different, when we discuss using salt for cichlid tanks.

Although salt + water = saltwater like the ocean in most people’s minds, actually there are small trace amounts of salt in any body of water, and these are not the same as the salts which are so abundant in the ocean. Salts are an entire category of mineral compounds, and some of them are naturally occurring in freshwater bodies, and mimicking those can have a variety of uses for your cichlids.

Why Use Salts for Cichlids?

The primary reasons that salts are used in cichlid tanks are for their effects on water hardness, and PH or acidity.

Water PH

While most of us are familiar with PH from high school chemistry, it can be helpful to have a quick refresher.

PH is a measure of the level of acidity/basicity of any given aqueous solution, such as fishtank water. The mid-point of the PH scale is 7.0, with numbers going progressively lower representing more acidity, and numbers progressively higher representing more base solutions.

PH is very important to the health of various animals and plants, ranging from crops (soil PH) to, you guessed it, cichlids and other fish. The PH level of your tank will be a primary determining factor in their overall health, as well as likelihood to breed.

Water Hardness

Water hardness has to do with the amount of minerals that is dissolved in water. This is why particularly hard water will leave behind a residue when it dries, such as in your shower and sinks.

Water hardness acts upon water PH much like humidity acts upon temperature, as a stabilizing element. Just as temperature fluctuates more in drier climates, the harder your water is, the harder it is for PH to fluctuate. This is due to the neutralizing effects of salts on PH.

Water hardness is measured with a scaled called GH (general hardness), and ranges from very soft at zero, to very hard at 10.

Since PH is so important to cichlid health, using salts clearly has an advantage, and the lakes cichlids come from do contain relatively hard water, as compared to what comes out of your faucet.

While it’s not absolutely necessary to use salts for your cichlid tank, it is usually optimal. Assuming you want to optimize for their health and flourishing, read on.

Do I Need to Add Salts?

You’ll need to first find out the softness/hardness and PH of the water you’re putting into your tank, in order to know if salts are necessary. To find out your water hardness and PH, contact your local water utility. If your tap water is anywhere from soft to moderate, you’re probably better off adding salts to increase hardness. The ideal PH for cichlids is between 5-9.

Adding Salts

The typical salts that are used in cichlid tanks and freshwater aquariums in general are Magnesium Hydroxide, Calcium Sulfate, and Calcium Carbonate, and can be purchased on the internet or at your local pet store.

It’s important to understand that fluctuations in PH which can be caused by adding salts can be very stressful to cichlids, so you really should make certain that you add the salts in the way that is optimal for their health.

You’ll need to add the salts to water before adding it to the tank, as adding it more directly will create high concentrations in certain areas of the water as they dissolve. For the method of administering salts, it’s best to follow the directions provided with the salts.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that the salts don’t evaporate like water, so once you add them, they are permanently present, unless you remove (pour out) some of the water.

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