Every fish keeper should have an aquarium testing kit, but perhaps you don’t have it to hand for some reason, or maybe it simply doesn’t work and kit testing is not possible.
Whether you cannot find a kit in the pet store, or you are out of testing strips, sometimes you need to keep an eye on your fish tank water without an aquarium testing kit.
To test your fish tank water without a kit, use your eyes and observe your water quality – and your fish’s behavior – closely.
Alternatively, you can bring a water sample to your local pet store. Some stores will test your water quality for free, whereas others may charge a fee.
Perform a Visual Test
Poor aquarium water quality is almost always visible, and this is a good indicator that intervention is needed.
If your water looks cloudy, dirty, or green, and the problem does not clear up within a few days, your water parameters may be unfavorable.
Perform a partial water change and vacuum or scrub away any visible debris.
You should also try to get the nitrogen cycle going in your water tank. Live plants can help with this, as can introducing bottled nitrosomonas and nitrobacter.
Often, a tank going from cloudy to clear is a tell-tale sign that your tank has begun cycling, but if your tank stays cloudy for more than 5 days, something may be wrong and there may be issues that need to be sorted out.
The green color in your tank could be indicative of algae growth, but too much green could mean overgrowth or other problems. Rotting fish food or floating waste is always a problem – remove it as soon as you see it!
Please note: visual testing and behavioral testing (see below) only work as temporary solutions. Invest in an aquarium test kit or make testing arrangements with your local pet store as soon as possible.
Test Your Fish’s Behavior
You can always test your fish tank water by observing your fish’s behavior. This method is effective, but it is not ideal. Why?
Well, by the time you notice something is wrong, your fish will already be distressed, and its health may be compromised.
Something may be wrong with your water if your fish:
- Lose their appetite
- Seem stressed out or depressed
- Have red or damaged gills
- Gasp at the surface of the tank
- Have trouble breathing
- Spend all their time hiding or at the bottom of the tank
- Dart around the tank frantically
The behaviors above could be signs of poor water conditions – or even ammonia poisoning. Intervene with a partial water change right away.
If your fish remain unhappy, consult a veterinarian. Your vet will likely test your fish tank water as part of their diagnosis.
Aquarium testing kits are cheaper than vet visits (and better for your fish), so we cannot recommend purchasing a kit strongly enough.
Ask for Help
At the end of the day, you cannot safely test your fish tank water without a kit – unless you have the education and equipment you need lying around at home. (Our apologies to any marine biologists who may be reading).
If you cannot find or afford an aquarium test kit, ask for help. Affordable options are available online, and your local pet store may be able to test the water for you.
As we mentioned earlier, veterinarians may even be able to help you test your fish tank water in an emergency.
Remember, not all fish tank problems come from poor water quality, but a lot of them do!
How to Maintain Your Water When You Don’t Have a Test Kit
Please invest in a test kit as soon as possible. You can get one for as little as $20, and you cannot be a responsible fishkeeper without one!
If you do not have an aquarium test kit, and you cannot find help, you must take extra steps to maintain your fish tank water.
This means performing partial water changes often and keeping your tank visibly spotless. Some hobbyists recommend a 25% change every other day with ongoing water treatments.
Extra maintenance may also mean taking steps to make sure the nitrogen cycle gets going in your tank long before you introduce fish. Otherwise, you will be putting your fish at risk.
Without an active nitrogen cycle, fish poop and other debris have nowhere to go. As a result, it must be removed – or else it becomes ammonia and can make your fish very sick.
Worst case scenario, you could forget to vacuum your substrate and end up with dead fish you have to mourn and replace.
We promise you, it is cheaper and easier to purchase an aquarium testing kit!
Can I Test My Fish Tank Water Without a Kit?
No, but you can ask a local pet store or veterinarian to test it for you.
You can also keep an eye on your fish tank water, but this is not the same as testing your water regularly and it can ultimately put your fish at risk.
Visual and behavioral inspections, combined with increased maintenance and cleanliness can help you keep happy, healthy fish without a kit, but these tricks won’t work forever.
Even if they did, you would always be one misstep away from owning very sick fish.
The last thing you want is a fish tank destroyed by ammonia poisoning or other water quality problems.
If you own fish or plan on owning fish in the future, save yourself extra work – and potential heartache – by finding an aquarium test kit before you bring your fishy friends home.
Then, use your kit to make sure your ammonia and nitrite levels stay below 1ppm, your nitrate levels stay below 20 ppm, and your pH levels are appropriate for your fish.
If you have any measurable ammonia or nitrite levels, perform a partial water change immediately. Perform a partial water change if you suspect ammonia poisoning, even if you have no way to test your water.
When you have any doubts about your water quality, clean your tank and perform a partial water change.
If your fish continue to exhibit illness or behavioral changes, call a veterinarian for guidance.