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Aquarium Water Conditioners; Review, Information
By Carl Strohmeyer
AQUARIUM (& Pond) WATER CONDITIONERS; their ingredients (where available), what chemical functions they perform and uses based on my opinions of each based on using these products in a professional capacity (35 years of aquarium maintenance and research).
Here are a few aquatic conditioners discussed:
- Stress Coat
- Ammo Lock
- Start Right
- API Tapwater Conditioner
- Weco DeChlor
- Novaqua Plus
- Amquel Plus
- Tetra Aqua Safe
- Easy Balance with Nitriban
OverviewThe basic premise of an aquarium (or pond) water conditioner is to remove chlorine from tap water.
The most common active ingredient is sodium thiosulfate, however other similar sulfate based reducers or combinations there of are also used, especially in more advanced water conditions. This is why many have a subtle “rotten egg” sulfur smell.
Being a reducer and chlorine oxidizer, the chemical reaction is essentially instant (see the experiment a few paragraphs down in the article). This allows for addition of water “de-chlorinated” by these products immediately to the aquarium or a water conditioner can be added in small increments while filling an aquarium via a hose or Lees Vacuum/Python type aquarium cleaning device/equipment.
Aquarium Cleaning, Reasons, Methods, Devices, Equipment
It is worth noting that although the use of many water conditioners whether Prime, Start Right, Novaqua, or similar is usually after water changes to remove chemicals such as Chlorine; many (not all though) also either naturally stimulate fish slime coats (by adding electrolytes) or add ingredients for slime coat “bandages” and are useful for even very small water changes (such as 10%) even if the amount of chlorine added usually will not cause a problem in a healthy established aquarium.
The reason I say this is that is even small water changes can add some stress to fish and the addition of even full doses to small water changes can aid in adding electrolytes AND short term Redox reduction as well.
Much more about: Importance of Aquarium Redox
If your water company uses chloramines (which is common in the Southwestern USA), be aware of this and perform only 20% or smaller water changes in an established aquarium as the bio filter will generally remove the ammonia safely.
However for larger water changes or newer less established bio filters, I recommend using products such as Prime or Amquel Plus to remove the chlorine AND neutralize the ammonia/nitrites leaving these molecules still bio available for the nitrifying bacteria.
Recommended Product: SeaChem Prime Water Conditioner
Please note that the older Amquel or Ammo-Lock also neutralizes the ammonia, however these formulas do NOT leave it readily bio available for the nitrifying bacteria. Amquel or Ammo-Lock are OK for established aquariums; I just do not recommend using them for new less established aquariums or for aquariums that have been treated with medications.
Another important point about aquarium water conditioners is that many basic water conditioners such as API Tap Water Conditioner, Start Right, and even slime coat additive conditioners such as Novaqua and Stress Coat will remove chlorine and break the chlorine/ammonia bond in chloramines removing the chlorine, however leaving the ammonia ions behind.
How Much Water Conditioner to Use?
Often many manufacturers will suggest a dose equal to the entire tank water volume while another might suggest a dose amount equal only to the amount of water changed.
Which is correct?
The simple answer is both are correct.
Generally with an established aquarium, just using the amount of water conditioner as per the the volume of water changed is all that is needed.
However, since most water conditioners are Redox Reducers, if your fish are stressed, sick, or the tank is new, it might be best to use a dose equal to the entire aquarium water volume.
Finally; Since most all aquarium/pond water conditioners are redox reducers designed to neutralize chlorine, a redox oxidizer; the use of any of these water conditioners after introduction of a strong oxidizer such as Potassium Permanganate will immediately neutralize this product.
Here is a little experiment I use to check the effectiveness of water conditioners;
Add Potassium Permanganate at double strength solution (according to manufacturers instructions) to a container of water, then add your water conditioner at recommended dose; the purple color of the Potassium Permanganate should immediately disappear indicating the effectiveness of your water conditioner and demonstrating how quickly it can remove chlorine (chlorine is an oxidizer like Potassium Permanganate, while the water conditioner is a reducer often containing Sodium Thiosulfate).
For more about Chemical Treatments, including Potassium Permanganate:
Aquarium Medications, Chemical Treatments
Some chemical dyes such as Malachite Green or Methylene Blue can also be neutralized by Prime, Amquel Plus or related water conditioners, however these are not the strong oxidizers that Potassium Permanganate is.
In experiments, it takes more than four times the dose of Prime to even moderately change the color of Malachite Green in a test solution, unlike the small amount needed to neutralize Potassium Permanganate.
This same experiment found that Prime and other water conditioners "neutralizing activities" do not last long once introduced into water.
So adding Prime, Amquel Plus, etc. then waiting for 15 minutes before adding Malachite Green, etc. yields no changes in the malachite green in solution.
Please note that this article is an incomplete list of several popular water conditioners and by incomplete I do not mean inaccurate information, I just mean there are many conditioners I did not review here (both good, bad or in-between).
STRESS COAT;Stress Coat contains a special non-toxic polymer that is attracted to the skin of the fish forming a synthetic slime coat envelope. Stress Coat also contains sodium thiosulfate, electrolytes such as sodium and sulfides which help reduce loss of electrolytes through the skin, gills, and damaged tissue. The Aloe Vera in STRESS COAT reduces inflammation of damaged fish tissue.
One major negative of Stress Coat is that it uses amine based polymers (see summary below) that have potential toxicity issues when used with Resins such as Purigen.
The effectiveness of Stress Coat with Aloe Vera has been proven by independent studies conducted at the University of Georgia, School of Veterinary Medicine.
Researchers found that Stress Coat helped heal wounds and speed tissue re-growth. Dr John Gratzek summarizes the results: "Personally, I am satisfied with the results since my initial thoughts were skeptical to say the least. These definite statements can be made without equivocation:
Stress Coat in no way harms aquarium fish, alters pH, or affects the biological filter. No ammonia or nitrite was detected in the test aquariums. The results indicated that the Stress Coat formula reduced the wound size compared to untreated fish tissue." Aloe Vera is high in mucopolysaccharides, an essential component of many tissues and believed to help in the healing process.
An effective water conditioner for the removal of chlorine, breaking of the chlorine/ ammonia bond (in water containing chloramines) and adding an aloe slime coat.
This is my favorite slime coat treatment for direct application to a fish that is wounded from transport or other reasons.
I HOWEVER have found it less effective for overall slime coat generation after a water change.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
AMMO-LOCK;Ammo-lock contains sodium thiosulfate pentahydrate. Ammo-lock works in both fresh and saltwater, to detoxify ammonia and remove chlorine and chloramines. Locks up ammonia in a non-toxic form (ammonium) until it can be broken down by the tank's natural biological filter and/or used by plants.
For the removal of chorine and chloramines.
This product is useful for the detoxification of ammonia, generally in established aquariums. I usually only use this product when the aquarium is well established and ammonia (NH3) is high for reasons such as a dead fish that was not removed quickly (please note, most ammonia test kits will still show ammonia present in the form of NH4 after using this product) or in areas where chloramines are used.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
This is not my first choice for ammonia removal, especially in tanks that are still cycling (Prime is much better here)
START RIGHT;Start Right contains allantoin (5-Ureidohydantion; Glyoxldiureide 2, 5 - Dioxo - 4 imidzolidinyle – urea) which is used in humans for the treatment of: skin ulcers, wound, scalds, burns and sunburns, carbuncles, acne and skin eruptions, fissures and abrasions, impetigo, eczema, psoriasis. This is a naturally occurring chemical even found in earthworms.
Start Right is a multi-beneficial water conditioner that removes chlorine and chloramine, neutralizes heavy metals, aids in cell regeneration and in the additional production of the fish’s natural slime coat, adds beneficial. It also contains chlorides of sodium and potassium, and polyvinylpyrrolidone which helps reduce loss of electrolytes through the skin, gills, and damaged tissue.
It is a complete water conditioner that stimulates the natural secretion of slime to protect fish from the harmful effects of handling, shipping, fish fighting and other forms of stress.
Start Right removes chlorine and chloramine instantly, neutralizes heavy metals, adds beneficial electrolytes and guards against secondary infection.
For the removal of chlorine, breaking of the chlorine/ ammonia bond (in water containing chloramines), adding of electrolytes for stress, and the natural generation a slime coat.
This is probably my favorite basic overall water conditioner for established aquariums (I use this along with SeaChem Prime).
Start Right will not remove ammonia or interfere with plant growth by removing nitrogenous compounds needed by plants. This product is also very economical.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
Where to purchase: *Jungle Start Right
SEACHEM PRIME;Prime contains complexed hydrosulfite salts which removes chlorine, chloramine and ammonia. Prime also converts ammonia into a safe, non-toxic form (ammonium) that is readily removed by the tank’s nitrifying bacteria.
Prime may be used during tank cycling to alleviate ammonia/nitrite toxicity.
How Prime Converts toxic ammonia (NH3) to non toxic ammonium (NH4):
The process that takes place between Prime and toxic ammonia is not a straight conversion from NH3 to NH4.
Prime contains a binding agent that works to temporarily convert toxic ammonia (NH3) into a non toxic imidium salt using complexed hydrosulfite salts to chemically convert the ions in ammonia into a non toxic imidium salt.
It is noteworthy that this is a temporary conversion and Prime will only bind the ammonia in this form for up to 48 hours before the ions are free to re-associate into toxic NH3.
Prime also detoxifies nitrite and nitrate, allowing nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria to more efficiently remove them. It will also detoxify any heavy metals found in the tap water at typical concentration levels.
The ingredients of Prime also promote the production and regeneration of the natural slime coat and are non-acidic and will not impact pH.
For removal of chlorine, chloramines, and the de-toxifying of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. This product adds electrolytes that aid in natural slime coat generation and proper osmotic function which generally all this needed for fish stress.
This is my favorite conditioner to use in newer aquariums, aquariums with high ammonia, for water changes in tanks under medication treatment, or for use in areas where chloramines are in tap water. One reason I like this product is that is does what it claims!
Prime is also a great product to use if high ammonia or nitrites are encountered during cycling of a new aquarium while fish are present, as this product will NOT interfere with the important Autotrophic nitrifying aerobic bacteria (as my own studies as well as lab studies have shown).
Please note that fishless cycling is best, please read this article:
Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle; Methods for Cycling
Please note that when using Prime (and Amquel Plus) for neutralizing toxic ammonia (NH3) that these products work basically "instantly" by converting toxic ammonia ions into non toxic bio available ammonium (NH4) ions.
There is no residual effect, so new toxic NH3 will begin to accumulate after addition of Prime (or Amquel Plus) and the water change, however generally if you are carefully feeding and keeping the bio load as low as possible this should be adequate if water is changed and Prime is added every other day (until the high ammonia "Crisis" is over).
SeaChem Prime works for ammonia detoxifying by containing a binder which renders ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate non-toxic.
As noted at the beginning of this article, most dechlorinators operate through a chemical process known as reduction. In this process, toxic dissolved chlorine gas (Cl2) is converted into non-toxic chloride ions (Cl-). The reduction process also breaks the bonds between chlorine and nitrogen atoms in the chloramine molecule (NH2Cl), freeing the chlorine atoms and replacing them with hydrogen (H) to create ammonia (NH3).
Where to get SeaChem Prime: SeaChem Prime; Complete Water Conditioner
Typically, other water conditioners (dechlorinators) stop there, leaving an aquarium full of toxic ammonia! Seachem Prime goes one more step by including an ammonia binder to detoxify the ammonia produced in the reduction process.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
For further information about this product, please read this FAQ article:
API TAPWATER CONDITIONERThis is a very basic aquarium and pond water conditioner that is sometimes all an aquarium or pond owner needs to use.
This product contains Sodium Thiosulfate and nothing more which is a basic yet effective chlorine remover and Redox Reducer which make this product a popular and cost effective aquatic conditioner.
“Tap Water Conditioner” does not remove chloramines, however it breaks the chlorine/ammonia bond releasing the ammonia ions, so this product should not be used with larger water changes over 20% in all but the healthiest most established of nitrifying filters in ones pond or aquarium, however if chlorine is all your water company uses, “no worries”.
This product also does not aid with the addition electrolytes like other somewhat less basic conditioners such as “Start Right” nor does it aid with either natural slime coat or add a synthetic slime coat like many other water conditioners.
WECO DECHLORA similar product to API Tapwater Conditioner.
DeChlor also contains Sodium Thiosulfate and nothing more. This too is a basic yet effective chlorine remover and Redox Reducer.
The big advantage for this product is the price, as it is an effective chlorine remover and chloramine ammonia/chlorine bond "breaker", YET is costs less than any other product on the market.
Weco, who makes this product is not the large company most others are such as API, rather a small company out of Long Beach CA. that uses the same simple labels they have for 5 plus decades of popular local aquarium hobbyist use.
For basic economical removal of chlorine in aquariums and ponds (this product is available in 32 oz pond use sizes)
NOVAQUA;The formula of NovAqua is proprietary, so not all ingredients are available.
It is assumed that Novaqua contains sodium thiosulfate (a common Redox Reducer) and Edetates.
Novaqua also contains phosphates for buffering to stabilize water after water changes (often when water is added from the tap it immediately picks up O2 and CO2 and is unstable in pH, this aspect of Novaqua helps here).
The phosphate buffer system of Novaqua produces a 5 mg/L of phosphates in the aquarium as compared to the 30 mg/L shown in labs tests to grow algae.
NovAqua also contains electrolytes; cations (Positively charged atoms or molecules) and anions (negatively charged atoms or molecules) that are required by freshwater fishes. Freshwater fishes remove these ions from water via the gills. The need by fish for these ions is increased during times of stress.
The original conditioner that adds a slime coat, adds electrolytes buffers water, and removes chlorines.
NovAqua is useful for use water changes where buffering is needed due to pH changes after water changes. The level of phosphates used for buffering are not usually a problem for most aquariums, however if you already have high phosphates or algae problems I would avoid this product. I also do not recommend the use of Novaqua in planted aquariums where added CO2 is utilized as this may affect your CO2 readings.
Otherwise this is an excellent product when one desires a conditioner that adds a slime coat and buffers a well.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
AMQUEL;The active ingredient in Amquel is hydroxymethanesulfonic acid, sodium and salt. Amquel converts ammonia to a non-toxic form (ammonium) until it can be broken down by the tank's natural biological filter and/or used by plants.
Amquel works by virtue of the hydroxymethane- end of the molecule reacts with ammonia to form a non-toxic, stable water-soluble substance which is acted upon by the bacteria in biological filtration.
This reaction effectively removes the toxic ammonia from solution. Even in water of low pH (under 7.0) the above reaction proceeds to completion.
This is because even at pHs below 7.0 there is always some "free" ammonia (NH3) and the AmQuel will scavenge it from the water. This is why AmQuel works faster at higher pHs and in saline waters.
One of the first products for chloramine and ammonia removal. It is very effective in binding the ammonia (NH3) where that it stays non toxic even when nitrifying bacteria are not fully active.
Although safe for saltwater, I have seen this product lower pH, for this reason it is not my first choice in this type of conditioner (Prime is my favorite as stated earlier).
AQUASAFE;The active ingredients in Aqua safe are Sodium hydroxymethane, sulfinate, polyvinvy. proxllidones, organic hydrocolloids, and organic chelating compounds.
This product removes Chlorine, breaks the bond of chlorine and ammonia in chloramines (however it does NOT neutralize the ammonia), it also has several key ingredients for natural slime coat stimulation and electrolyte balance.
This is a good product where chloramines or ammonia are not a problem (I would prefer Prime for a new tank, recently medicated tank, or in areas where tap water contains chloramines).
For established tanks this is excellent and I prefer the natural slime coat protection it provides for a healthy established aquarium.
AMQUEL PLUS;Since this is a relatively new product, the ingredients are proprietary to Kordon and not yet disclosed.
AmQuel+ (also known as AmQuel Plus) is a recent chemical invention that has the ability to make the "Nitrogen Cycle" (involving ammonium/ammonia/nitrites/nitrates) totally nontoxic in aquarium and pond keeping, without interfering with its process in any way, and without interfering with the beneficial bacteria that are involved with the cycle (as with SeaChem Prime).
Further, AmQuel+ detoxifies/removes all of the toxic nitrogen compounds that can appear in aquarium and pond water over time.
As with Prime, I highly recommend this product for aquariums that are still not fully cycled in that it does NOT interfere with nitrifying bacteria (cycling), which is very important and a major selling point for this product!
A new product without a lot of practical experience (including by me, although others I trust have been using this more and more with good results that hold up manufacturer claims). The claims by Kordon sound very promising, and this may turn out to be an excellent product for new aquariums in particular, although use in established aquariums seems unnecessary.
Ingredients are safe for both fresh and saltwater.
NOVAQUA Plus;Novaqua + is a newer product and again has proprietary ingredients that the company will not totally divulge. NovAqua+ claims to provide, in a single product, everything necessary to handle all of the needs when treating tap water for aquatic life, except for handling nitrogen compound removal such as ammonia, nitrites, nitrates which requires Prime or Amquel Plus (which either product is compatible with Novaqua Plus).
NovAqua+ is the newest generation of NovAqua, it is the latest stage of technological development by Kordon in water conditioners for aquariums and ponds
As with regular Novaqua, NovAqua Plus provides multiple protective colloid coatings on the fish's body to replace or reinforce the natural slime coating that is essential to counteract injury, infection, and adverse environmental exposure.
These organic polymers effectively shield wounds on fish, prevent the loss of internal fluids and electrolytes, and protect fish from external toxins and pathogens.
NovAqua Plus similarly buffers water like regular Novaqua
NovAqua Plus contains Echinacea and vitamins that are soluble in water and absorbed by fishes and invertebrates; the vitamins used in NovAqua+ are capable of boosting disease-resisting immune functions, healing open wounds and sores, slowing the spread of infection, and promoting cellular
Again a new product without a lot of practical experience (including by me). If this product lives up to claims such as aiding in osmotic function as well as chlorine removal and heavy metal removal, this may be a very useful product as well. Due to claims of iodine removal, I would not recommend use in marine reef tanks (as many soft corals need iodine)
Ingredients are safe for freshwater.
TETRA EASY BALANCE;Tetra Easy Balance makes these claims:
Increases Carbonate Hardness; The appropriate amount of carbonate hardness is added to the aquarium water compensating for KH losses, which occur as a result of nitrification.
Stabilizes the pH value on a sufficiently high level, preventing a drop to biologically harmful levels (pH crash) and produces a certain amount of CO2 preventing excessive pH values.
Phosphate Removing Effect – In a standard aquarium (30gal) the phosphate concentration is reduced to zero during most of the 6-month period.
Nitrate Reduction with Nitraban™ – Serves as a nutrient for denitrifying bacteria that consume the oxygen releasing nitrogen from the aqua. however this assumes that your aquarium has a healthy anaerobic nitrate reducing filter, which most freshwater aquariums generally do not.
Tetra Easy Balance is a popular water conditioner in some aquatic circles, mostly in Europe.
I have also researched the ingredients which leaves me with even more questions (especially since results seem to be mixed at best).
One of the major problems with Tetra Easy Balance is its sodium based base.
This makes this product work like a sodium based water softener driving out essential mineral cations necessary for osmoregulation, this often results in a too low GH unbalanced KH/GH and poor Redox Balance.
Reference: Fish Osmoregulation; Water Softener use.
Here are few major ingredients:
*Sodium Hydroxide (up to) 2.5% (a base)
*Tartaric Acid (up to) 2.5% (an acid)
*Formaldehyde (up to) 2.5% (a Redox Reducer).
Based on these ingredients, some of the claims can hold up but others cannot.
As well, I found GoldLenny’s comment here interesting:
“There is a forum thread that I read a while back about a guppy tank where the guppies did not breed or have babies even once during the time of the Easy Balance dosing on the tank.
IMO, anything that stops guppies from breeding has to be a serious chemical compound that can't be good for our fish. If Tetra was to re-market the product as a fish birth control and give full disclosure of the negatives of the product, then I may not have as many complaints about the product.”.
Also this comment:
GoldLenny (Quote: “since Tetra will pretty much sell anything in a bottle... look at their Easy Balance with Nitraban product which is pure JUNK!!!”)
The bottom line is this is NOT a product I could EVER recommend!!
The problem with Guppies PROVES my concern as to this products effect on ESSENTIAL mineral cations and Redox Balance, which guppies are more sensitive to than some other fish.
SUMMARY/CONCLUSION;This is an incomplete list that I will add to as time goes on and I will also update as new products and information becomes available (especially in relation to Kordon’s new Amquel + and NovAqua +)
Also it should be noted that most water conditioners of all types (basic, artificial slime coat replacer, and chloramine/ ammonia remover) have similar properties and ingredients and some of the outrageous claims I have read on the internet such as "Start Right is not safe for marine aquariums while Novaqua is" are without any scientific merit; if anything the phosphates in Novaqua can cause more problems than any ingredient in Start Right!
It also should be noted that ALL these types of chlorine/chloramine removing conditioners are Redox Reducers and thereby are helpful in maintaining a healthy aquatic environment by aiding in the removal oxidizing free radicals from the water (albeit temporary).
This why it is perfectly fine to add a full tank dose even if only 25% of the water is changed.
Reference: Aquarium Redox: Balance
Due to this reducing property of these products, you may also notice a slight to even moderate increase in cloudiness after use of these products due to the removal of oxidizers in the water, do not be alarmed this is perfectly normal and a healthy tank will clear in a few hours or less.
Please also note that some of the ingredients can expire with time especially when left in an unsealed container (sodium thiosulfate is a reducer and will be affected by air borne oxidizers). The time this will take will vary, although personally I would not use an open bottle after one year based on the degradation of sodium thiosulfate.
An interesting test I perform that shows the effectiveness of these products is to add potassium permanganate (which is an oxidizer like chlorine) to test water, then add your water conditioner at the recommended dose and watch the purple potassium permanganate color disappear instantly.
Note about amines used in many of these products:
“Amines are a class of organic compounds of nitrogen that may be considered as derived from ammonia (NH3) by replacing one or more of the hydrogen atoms by organic radicals, such as CH3 or C6H5, as in methylamine and aniline.
The former is a gas at ordinary temperature and pressure, but other amines are liquids or solids. All amines are basic in nature and usually combine readily with hydrochloric or other strong acids to form salts.”
Finally, I have a good article about tap water that compliments this article and I recommend reading: "What I should know about Tap Water"
Other Recommended Reference/Product Sites
The article below is a MUST READ for anyone interested in moving from basic aquarium keeping to more advanced aquarium keeping, including better improved Redox Balance:
Freshwater Aquarium Care
Aquarium Light Information
This is THE article for in-depth, researched, and regularly updated information on the subject of aquarium lighting; a MUST READ!
POND CARE INFORMATION; for a "Clear Pond"
UV Replacement Lamps
For TRUE High Output, Hot Cathode, Low Pressure UVC Germicidal Bulbs, not the low output medium pressure bulbs commonly sold at Amazon or eBay
AcroPower Amino Acids for SPS Corals
AcroPower supplies essential amino acids that corals need to build their skeletal architecture
API Furan 2 (Nitrofurazone)
One of the more effective treatments to use in fish medicated baths, from the leader in aquarium medication use information
Algone Nitrate Reducer
Algone is an excellent product to utilize to lower nitrates, as enzymes in Algone break down proteins, carbohydrates and metabolic waste into insoluble complex structures
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Fish as Pets with articles & commentary of Interest to the Aquarium Hobby