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Old 01-15-2023, 06:44 AM   #1
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High pH in Betta Tank

I'm new to owning a Betta, inheriting him from my aunt. His tailfin's been badly damaged, and from the research I've done, this seems to be the result of tailbiting. And I have to guess that this is because he's been bored in his 3.5 gallon tank. So I splurged and got him a 10-gallon decked out with decorations that he can swim through and hide around.

The water quality is great - no nitrates or chlorine on the test strips, very soft water quality (I understand Bettas prefer that) - but the pH is remarkably high. It's always showing me what seems to be the max value on the strips, despite what I think has been six treatments now, over the course of the day. I live in the Great Lakes area, and I heard that may have something to do with it?

I've heard from a few sources that this isn't a big deal, but if one fish were picky about pH, it'd probably be a Betta, and like...the whole reason I got this tank was for him to have a better environment. Also, if it's this high, I'm worried that it might give him ammonia poisoning or something. Should I cycle it out with distilled water to bring the values down?

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Old 01-15-2023, 07:24 AM   #2
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What do you understand about the nitrogen cycle?

Did you cycle the tank before adding your betta? If so, how did you do this? Or are you now cycling the tank with your betta in it? Or is this the first time you are hearing about cycling, and you dont know how to cycle a tank.

Do you know your other water parameters. Knowing pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate would be useful. In numbers. Do you know what these are both in your aquarium, and from the tap?

What sort of parameters did you see in your 3.5g tank?

Test strips are not considered to be very accurate, liquid test kits are more accurate, fairly simple to use, and as you get 100s of tests from a liquid test kit much more cost effective long run. API freshwater master test kit is a good one to go for.

https://apifishcare.com/product/fres...aster-test-kit

You mention a treatment. What is this treatment?

Soft water is usually acidic. Is there anything in your tank that will raise the acidity? Some rocks for instance are essentially calcium carbonate and will dissolve in acidic water raising the pH. If your substrate is crushed coral this will do the same.

Zero nitrate is a concern. The nitrogen cycle turns ammonia (fish waste) into nitrate, so a cycled tank should have some nitrate in the water. Zero nitrate could be a sign your tank isnt cycled, in which case there could be toxic ammonia and nitrite you are reporting in your water tests. Or it could be due to inaccurate test strips. Or due to water changes bringing the level of nitrate down to undetectable levels. Or it could be due to a small fish in a relatively large tank simply not producing much waste. Or it could be due to live plants soaking up nutrients. Or a combination of all the above. We need some more information.

How long has the tank been set up?

Do you have live plants in the tank?

What is your normal water change schedule? How much, how often? When did you last do this? Did you do your water test before or after a water change?

Having said that, your fish will tell you if its happy in the water better than any testing. If its a new tank and uncycled however, the water may not remain in good condition for long without some help.
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Old 01-15-2023, 07:49 AM   #3
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What do you understand about the nitrogen cycle?

Did you cycle the tank before adding your betta? If so, how did you do this? Or are you now cycling the tank with your betta in it? Or is this the first time you are hearing about cycling, and you dont know how to cycle a tank.

Do you know your other water parameters. Knowing pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate would be useful. In numbers. Do you know what these are both in your aquarium, and from the tap?

What sort of parameters did you see in your 3.5g tank?

Test strips are not considered to be very accurate, liquid test kits are more accurate, fairly simple to use, and as you get 100s of tests from a liquid test kit much more cost effective long run. API freshwater master test kit is a good one to go for.

https://apifishcare.com/product/fres...aster-test-kit

You mention a treatment. What is this treatment?

Soft water is usually acidic. Is there anything in your tank that will raise the acidity? Some rocks for instance are essentially calcium carbonate and will dissolve in acidic water raising the pH. If your substrate is crushed coral this will do the same.

Zero nitrate is a concern. The nitrogen cycle turns ammonia (fish waste) into nitrate, so a cycled tank should have some nitrate in the water. Zero nitrate could be a sign your tank isnt cycled, in which case there could be toxic ammonia and nitrite you are reporting in your water tests. Or it could be due to inaccurate test strips. Or due to water changes bringing the level of nitrate down to undetectable levels. Or it could be due to a small fish in a relatively large tank simply not producing much waste. Or it could be due to live plants soaking up nutrients. Or a combination of all the above. We need some more information.

How long has the tank been set up?

Do you have live plants in the tank?

What is your normal water change schedule? How much, how often? When did you last do this? Did you do your water test before or after a water change?

Having said that, your fish will tell you if its happy in the water better than any testing. If its a new tank and uncycled however, the water may not remain in good condition for long without some help.
I'll do my best to answer all these questions, but I am certainly still inexperienced.

I understand nothing really about the nitrogen cycle currently.

My Betta is still presently in the old tank. I want everytbing to be right before adding him into the environment. Especially if there's still going to be chemical treatment involved.

I partly know about tank cycling. I know that you should only take a percentage of the water out.

His current tank has much more normalized pH, and I don't know how I did that. But the water is also very hard in there. I live in a camper outside of my parents's house, and my tap isn't filtered. This time, I took it all from the house tap, which does come softened. Maybe I should test the two, but I can't understand why there'd be such a marked difference between pH when it's really all the same water...

I'll keep in mind the water test kits, but based on the consistency of the results I'm getting from both tanks, I don't think that there's any significant issues with inaccuracy from the strips.

The treatment itself is pH Decreaser from Petsmart. TopFin brand. It sounds like the reason that it may not be working is also because my kH is very high - also showing what seems to be max value. (On a side note, I'm a little worried that all this pH decreaser I'm pouring into the tank and seeing no effect might affect my fish when I eventually add him in).

The tank itself is brand new, which would be why there are no nitrate levels. I'm not sure if the nitrate levels are exactly zero, but maybe cycling was the wrong word for what I was thinking of doing with the tank. Basically, I heard that it might be worth replacing some of the water with distilled water to lower the tank's kH. The tank is rather large for a single Betta - being a 10-gallon. I was thinking of introducing more Betta-compatible marine life in the future, but for now I just wanted to focus on creating an environment where he can feel comfortable and stimulated first.

I just set up the tank yesterday. I'm eager to get him into his new digs, but of course I want to take my time and make sure everything is safe and comfortable for him first.

I do not have live plants. I was considering them, but I ended up backing out when I went to buy the new tank because I wasn't confident I could maintain them while not being thoroughly researched first.

I try to cycle water weekly, but I have been bad about this. His current tank is a 3.5 gallon, and I aim to replace 25% of the water each week. His new tank is 10 gallons. I intend to stay in a better habit going forward.

I hope this gives you a better idea of my situation. Maybe I'm just being overly anxious, but I don't want to take unnecessary risks with Zeke if I can help it.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:05 AM   #4
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Ill post a thorough explanation of the nitrogen cycle. But in brief its the processes that go on in your tank that consume waste your fish produces and turn this waste into less harmful substances.

It think you are mixing up the term cycling with water changes. What you are calling cycling is water changes. Water changes are nothing to do with cycling, although they are important to keep water safe when you arent cycled.

There are 2 main methods of cycling a tank. One of which involves cycling the tank before you add fish and this is called a fishless cycle. Another method cycles a tank after you add fish and this is called a fish in cycle. Ill post some more in depth information on both these methods, pros and cons of each. Let us know whether you want to go forward with a fishless or fish in cycle.

Adding chemicals to adjust pH usually cause more issues than they solve. Its far more important that pH is kept steady than kept at what you might perceive as being ideal. If you have high KH these products wont do much anyway as the KH will just absorb all the acid in the pH lowering product. If you really want to lower your pH then mixing your tap water with distilled or RO water when you do water changes is a much better way of lowering pH.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:05 AM   #5
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The nitrogen cycle is the natural processes that go on in your tank that convert ammonia into less harmful substances.

Ammonia gets into your tank through various pathways. Fish waste, decaying uneaten food, and dead, decaying plants are common ammonia sources in an aquarium. Its also possible your tap water is an ammonia source. Chloramine is a common water treatment and when treated with most water conditioners the bond in the chloramine breaks and releases ammonia into the water.

Ammonia can be toxic to fish, depending on how much there is, and what the pH and temperature of your tank water is.

The first stage of the nitrogen cycle is the removal of ammonia. If you have real plants in your tank some of this ammonia will be absorbed as part of their natural growth. Generally though ammonia is consumed by denitrifying bacteria that lives mostly on your filter media. These bacteria consume the ammonia and produce nitrite. Unfortunately nitrite is pretty much as toxic to fish as ammonia.

The second stage of the nitrogen cycle is the removal of nitrite. A different denitrifying bacteria will consume the nitrite and produce nitrate. Nitrate is much less harmful than ammonia and nitrite, and for most aquariums the nitrogen cycle ends there. Excess nitrate is removed through your regular water changes.

A further stage of the nitrogen cycle can also happen, but its difficult to remove all the nitrate from a typical freshwater aquarium. Plants will absorb some nitrate in a similar manner to how it absorbs ammonia to grow. There are also nitrifying bacteria that consumes nitrate and gives off nitrogen gas which will simply offgas from your aquarium. This nitrifying bacteria is difficult to grow in freshwater aquarium.

“Cycling” a tank is the process you go through to grow denitrifying bacteria in your aquarium to consume ammonia and nitrite. You are said to be “cycled” when you have enough bacteria to consume all the ammonia and nitrite that your tank produces and turns all of it into nitrate. If you test the water of a cycled tank you should see 0 ammonia and nitrite and some nitrate.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:07 AM   #6
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To cycle a tank you need to grow denitrifying bacteria to consume ammonia and nitrite that your tank produces. The bacteria needs an ammonia source to grow colonies sufficient in size to consume all the ammonia and resultant nitrite and turn it into nitrate which typically you remove through your regular water changes.

Two commonly used methods to cycle a tank are called a “fish in” cycle and a “fishless” cycle.

A fish in cycle uses fish waste as an ammonia source and regular water changes are undertaken to ensure that water parameters are maintained at relatively non toxic levels. This has been the go to method to cycle a tank for many years, and it commonly is the way new fish keepers cycle a tank when they have bought fish with no knowledge that a tank needs cycling and how to go about it.

Pros.

- You get to keep “some” fish pretty much on day 1 of setting up your tank.

- More consistently gets you through your cycle.

- Only real choice if you already have fish.

- If done simply, eg stock lightly, add fish slowly, you can fishless cycle safely without testing. Although testing your water while cycling is still a good idea.

Cons.

- Lots of water changes, especially if you are doing a fish in cycle with a fully stocked tank.

- Although you should be doing plenty of water changes to maintain relatively safe water, your fish will be living in waste which isn’t ideal.

- Can take a long time (several months) to go from an empty tank to fully stocked if done safely.

A fishless cycle uses an ammonia source to replicate the fish waste that a tank of fish would produce. This ammonia source can be pure ammonia, an aquarium specific ammonium chloride product like Dr Tims Ammonium Chloride, a cocktail shrimp or fish food.

Pros.

- You cycle the tank before adding fish, therefore they shouldn’t be exposed to their own waste.

- No need for regular water changes while your tank cycles.

- Can be quicker to go from an empty tank to fully stocked.

Cons.

- Needs patience, you will be looking at an empty tank for several weeks.

- More technical approach requiring dosing ammonia and will need to be done alongside regular testing.

- Less consistently successful than fish in cycles, especially with new fish keepers who don’t understand the process and expect it to run to a timetable.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:08 AM   #7
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Let us know specifically which direction you want to go with your cycling and i can post a thorough method of doing either.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:23 AM   #8
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I think it would probably be smarter of me to go for the Fish-In method. I am a new tank owner, and it's likely I'm not going to get everything right with Fishless from the sounds of it. On top of that, my ADHD means that I can struggle with consistency at times, and that sounds like it'll work against me with the latter.

But I would be at least curious about what Fishless Cycling looks like. I don't think you mentioned the actual process in your last post.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:38 AM   #9
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No problems. Ill post both methods. My recommendation would be to get your fish into the new tank ASAP as you are reporting issues with it in its current home. Would be really good if you can get those pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate numbers for both tank and tap to make sure we arent putting your fish into anything hazardous. If things are too far out of range you can mix the tap with distilled/RO to bring pH/KH down as you suggest though.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:39 AM   #10
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Fishless Cycle

To cycle a tank you need to grow denitrifying bacteria to consume ammonia and nitrite that your tank produces. The bacteria needs an ammonia source to grow colonies sufficient in size to consume all the ammonia and resultant nitrite and turn it into nitrate which typically you remove through your regular water changes.

A fishless cycle uses an ammonia source to replicate the fish waste that a tank of fish would produce. This ammonia source can be pure ammonia, an aquarium specific ammonium chloride product like Dr Tims Ammonium Chloride, a cocktail shrimp or fish food.

Ill assume we are using an ammonium chloride product.

Set up your tank. Make sure everything is running smoothly. Make sure you have used a water conditioner product with any tap water you have put in your tank. If you have an adjustable heater raise the temperature to 28c/82.5f.

You should have a test kit. Preferably a liquid test kit. It should test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Dose the ammonia chloride to approx 4ppm and start testing daily for ammonia. Once your ammonia drops below 1ppm redose it back to 2ppm. This may take a couple of weeks.

Start to test daily for ammonia and nitrite. Whenever your ammonia drops below 1ppm redose it back to 2ppm. Nitrite causes false positive nitrate readings, so no point in testing for nitrate until your cycle is complete. False positive results will just confuse matters.

You should start to see nitrite and in your daily tests. Over time your nitrite should start to rise and the amount of ammonia should start to drop further. Your ammonia may start to not be detectable in your daily tests. Keep redosing ammonia daily if you see it below 1ppm. Your nitrite may rise off the testing chart. I prefer to keep nitrite within measurable levels so it shouldnít hurt to do a water change to keep readings on the chart. Remember to add water conditioner whenever you put tap water in the tank.

Over time your nitrite should level off and begin to fall in a similar manner to what your ammonia tests did. When you are able to dose ammonia to 2ppm and 24 hours later see 0 ammonia and nitrite you are cycled. At this point you have enough denitrifying bacteria to consume all the ammonia and nitrite of a moderately stocked tank. You may want to continue dosing ammonia for a few days to make sure it continues to consume all the ammonia and nitrite and be sure your cycle has properly established before proceeding.

Your nitrate will likely be very high, so now test for nitrate. Do a big water change to get this down. Preferably below 10ppm. Adjust your temperature to the needs of your fish. Get your fish, acclimate and add to your tank. I would advise stocking lightly to start with and slowly adding fish until fully stocked.

A fishless cycle typically takes 6 to 8 weeks.

A good way to speed up this process would be to put a small amount of filter media from an established filter into your filter, or get a sponge from an established filter and squeeze it into your tank water. Perhaps you have a friend who keeps fish who could let you have some? This will seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow and speed up the process.

Another option is bottled bacteria like Dr Tims One + Only or Tetra Safestart. These products wont instantly cycle a tank as they claim but in a similar manner to adding established filter media they can seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow to establish your cycle. These products are hit and miss as to whether they work at all, but are an option if established filter media isnt obtainable and may speed up the process from several months to several weeks.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:40 AM   #11
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No problems. Ill post both methods. My recommendation would be to get your fish into the new tank ASAP as you are reporting issues with it in its current home. Would be really good if you can get those pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate numbers for both tank and tap to make sure we arent putting your fish into anything hazardous. If things are too far out of range you can mix the tap with distilled/RO to bring pH/KH down as you suggest though.
I think that will be the plan. I'll buy a couple gallons of distilled water in a few hours here and change out the water.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:40 AM   #12
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Fish in Cycle

To cycle a tank you need to grow denitrifying bacteria to consume ammonia and nitrite that your tank produces. The bacteria needs an ammonia source to grow colonies sufficient in size to consume all the ammonia and resultant nitrite and turn it into nitrate which typically you remove through your regular water changes.

A fish in cycle uses fish waste as an ammonia source and regular water changes are undertaken to ensure that water parameters are maintained at relatively non toxic levels.

Set up your tank. Make sure everything is running smoothly. Make sure you have used a water conditioner product with any tap water you have put in your tank. Seachem Prime is a water conditioner that will also detoxify some ammonia for a day or two, so is a good choice for a water conditioner while cycling a tank with fish.

You should have a test kit. Preferably a liquid test kit. It should test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

In ideal circumstances you should be starting a fishless cycle with a low bioload (number of fish). 1 small fish per 10 gallons/40 litres is a good number of fish, but this can be tweaked a little for fish that are social and donít do well on their own. Ideally a hardy type of fish. You may have fully stocked (or overstocked) your tank before you knew about cycling. In these circumstances, if its not possible to return fish, you will have to make the best of it.

If you havenít already done so, add your fish. Acclimate them to the water in your tank before doing so.

Feed lightly to start with. Daily as much as is eaten in 2 minutes, or as much as is eaten in 3 minutes every 2 days. You can increase to full feedings if you are confident your parameters arenít getting too elevated too quickly and water changes donít become a daily thing.

Start to regularly test the water for ammonia and nitrite. At least daily. Depending on your bioload you could start to see ammonia quite quickly. Nitrite will likely take a little longer to appear.

Your target should be to keep ammonia + nitrite combined no higher than 0.5ppm by changing water whenever your water parameters exceed this target. 0.5ppm combined is a level of waste that is sufficient for your cycle to establish but relatively safe for your fish.

If you see 0.5ppm ammonia and 0.0ppm nitrite (0.5ppm combined) then leave things be. If you see 0.5ppm ammonia and 0.25ppm nitrite (0.75ppm combined) then change 1/3 of the water. If you see 0.25ppm ammonia and 0.75ppm nitrite (1.0ppm combined) then change 1/2 the water. If water parameters get worse than these levels it may require multiple daily 50% water changes to maintain safe water conditions. This is more likely to happen with a fully stocked tank.

Remember to add water conditioner whenever you put tap water in the tank.

Over time the frequency of water changes and amount you need to change to maintain your ammonia + nitrite combined target will reduce. You can also start testing for nitrate and should see this rising. If you are finding the ammonia and nitrite in your tests are consistently low, and you arenít already fully stocked, you can add a few more fish. It may take a few weeks to get to this point.

Once you add a few more fish, continue to regularly test the water and continue to change water if you exceed the 0.5ppm combined ammonia + nitrite target. With added bioload the frequency of water changes and amount you need to change may increase again until your cycle has caught up. Again once you are consistently seeing low ammonia and nitrite you can add some more fish. Rinse and repeat with testing, water changes, and adding fish when safe to do so until you are fully stocked.

You can then cut back on water changes to control nitrate only. Typically you want to keep nitrate no higher than 40ppm, but I would recommend changing some water every 2 weeks even if your water test says you donít need to.

A fish in cycle from an empty tank to fully stocked can take several months.

A good way to speed up this process would be to put a small amount of filter media from an established filter into your filter, or get a sponge from an established filter and squeeze it into your tank water. Perhaps you have a friend who keeps fish who could let you have some? This will seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow and speed up the process.

Another option is bottled bacteria like Dr Tims One + Only or Tetra Safestart. These products wont instantly cycle a tank as they claim but in a similar manner to adding established filter media they can seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow to establish your cycle. These products are hit and miss as to whether they work at all, but are an option if established filter media isnt obtainable and may speed up the process from several months to several weeks.
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:48 AM   #13
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Alright, I'll bookmark this and try to follow these guidelines going forward. I think fish-in will be the way I end up going for this. And I'll be sure to get a liquid test kit for more accurate measurements. Thank you for all the help! I think I'm ready to start the process.
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Old 01-15-2023, 09:08 AM   #14
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Just a word of caution.

You say in your OP your water is soft. I presume this refers to general hardness (GH). Then in post #3 you say that your KH is high.

Hardness is normally caused by calcium carbonate. The calcium contributes to GH and carbonate contributes to KH. You dont normally get high KH and low GH.

Does your tap water go through a water softener? Water softeners work by replacing calcium with sodium, and will lower GH while leaving KH. Sodium isnt always great for fish.
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Old 01-15-2023, 10:03 AM   #15
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Just a word of caution.

You say in your OP your water is soft. I presume this refers to general hardness (GH). Then in post #3 you say that your KH is high.

Hardness is normally caused by calcium carbonate. The calcium contributes to GH and carbonate contributes to KH. You dont normally get high KH and low GH.

Does your tap water go through a water softener? Water softeners work by replacing calcium with sodium, and will lower GH while leaving KH. Sodium isnt always great for fish.
Ohhhh...that would be the one difference between my water sources too...you might be onto something.

Do you think I should get a few more gallons of distilled water? Or just dump my tank completwly and start fresh?
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Old 01-15-2023, 10:24 AM   #16
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Some people have problems with using water thats gone through a softener and some people dont, and i can only speculate on why this is. Not something ive looked into in much detail.

Some fish are going to be more tolerant of the sodium than others. Livebearers can live quite happily in saltier water than for example a tetra can. Maybe the people who have issues are trying to keep unsuitable fish.

Some people will have harder water than others. If you are starting out with very hard water, thats a lot of calcium that needs replacing with a lot of sodium. Perhaps the people who have issues are starting with harder water than others and consequently the water coming out of the tap has more sodium in it.

Are you able to drink your tap water? If its really salty to taste its probably too salty to use.

Remember your plan is to dilute your tap water with distilled water, so this should also dilute out any sodium. Water softeners usually have a bypass, so you may have the option to use unsoftened water and use that mixed with your distilled water.

Your other option is use RO water and get something like equilibrium and alkaline buffer to remineralise the water to whatever you require.
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Old 01-15-2023, 03:34 PM   #17
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I've never noticed any kind of salty taste in my tap water, but I may just also not be good at noticing things like that.

I ended up getting distilled water and adding it to my tank, and I've already noticed a marked improvement in the kH and pH levels. It's not quite where I'd want it to be, but it's close enough to a Betta's ideal, and I understand it may not be wise to keep messing around with it.

I suppose that once I can get it up to temp, I'll add my boy in and keep an eye on him to see if there's a marked improvement in his mood or possibly any further degeneration.

Thanks again for all your help.
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Old 01-15-2023, 07:20 PM   #18
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You can have soft water (low GH) with a high pH and KH. This is from the water companies adding pH buffers to the soft water. The pH buffers keep the pH high so the chlorine/ chloramine they add lasts longer, works better, and doesn't corrode the water pipes.

If you contact your water company by telephone or website, you should be able to find out if they use chlorine or chloramine (they get treated slightly differently), as well as the GH (general hardness), KH (carbonate hardness) and pH.

------------------

Can you post a picture of the fish and one of the entire tank?

If you have plastic plants or ornaments in the tank, they can sometimes have sharp bits that can catch, rip and tear the male Betta's fins. Live plants are preferred or silk plants. Silk plants are material and sold in most pet shops but do cost a bit more than plastic plants.

Get yourself a couple of new buckets (preferably white and food safe) and use a permanent marker to write "FISH ONLY" on them. use those buckets for the fish and nothing else.

Get a basic model gravel cleaner from a pet shop or online. Use it to do water changes and suck the gunk out of the gravel. There is a picture of one at the following link.
https://www.about-goldfish.com/aquarium-cleaning.html
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Old 01-15-2023, 08:58 PM   #19
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I can post some more pictures, sure.

https://imgur.com/a/vlgWG5w

He's only been in the tank for a few hours, so it probably stands to reason he doesn't feel comfortable yet. But he's already looking much less sedintary than he was before.

I replaced decorations in the last tank to softer ones in case it was damage from decorations (and to give him a change of pace), but I'm admittedly a little worried with these ones. All of the major protrusions are soft, but the rocky decorations are hard and coarse. But he also has a lot more room to swim now.

I considered live plants, but I wasn't confident I could maintain them properly, and I also might not have a reliable source of sunlight.

As for the buckets and gravel cleaner, I will definitely do that, but I'm going to need to wait a few weeks. I just wiped out my paycheck on this tank. But it shouldn't be too relevant for a while, anyway.
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