Safe and healthy water is the most important thing you can give your finned friends.
Out in the oceans, rivers and lakes, mother nature takes care of water parameters and fish and other aquatic life thrive just fine.
However, duplicating natural conditions in your aquarium is your job, and it’s an extremely important one.
How do you do this? It starts by buying and using the best aquarium water conditioner possible.
In this article, we’re going to discuss water conditioners. You’ll learn the different types that exist, what they do, how they work, why you need one and, of course, how to use them.
You will also find a list of recommendations – with details – for some of the best aquarium water conditioners available.
At a Glance: Our Top Choices for Best Aquarium Water Conditioner
- Seachem Prime
- API STRESS COAT Aquarium Water Conditioner
- Tetra AquaSafe Plus Water Conditioner/Dechlorinator
- Aqueon Tap Water Conditioner
- Hikari Usa AHK72234 Ultimate Water Conditioner
- Kordon NovAqua+ Plus Water Conditioner
- API TAP Water Conditioner Aquarium Water Conditioner
- Natural Rapport Professional Aquarium Water Conditioning Dechlorinator
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Contents - Click to Jump to Section
What is a Water Conditioner and What Does it do?
In the US, your tap water is treated to make it safe for human consumption and general use. This treated water is safe for animals and most plants, but the opposite holds true when it comes to most fish.
In fact, treated tap water is actually quite harmful to your aquarium life. This is because it contains chemicals – chlorine or chloramine – which are toxic to fish.
Tap water also contains dissolved metals, such as copper, lead, and zinc. It also may contain organic impurities as well as parasites. Depending on where you live, the levels can be quite high and pose a potentially fatal risk to your aquatic life.
This is where a water conditioner comes in. A water conditioner is a chemical that is added to water to “un-treat” it.
This means that aquarium water conditioners neutralize the heavy metals and chlorine which are added during standard treatment. They also break down chloramines, thereby making the tap water safe for use in your aquarium.
Check your utility bill to determine the presence of chlorine or chloramine in the water and the levels involved, sometimes this information is listed. Alternatively, you can call your water company, who is obliged by law to give you this information.
Having this information will help you to choose the right water conditioner for your aquarium, which we’ll go into slightly later in this article.
What are Chlorine and Chloramine?
Untreated water contains harmful bacteria and microorganisms that render it unsafe for human consumption. As a result, water treatment plants add chlorine or chloramine to the water to purify it.
Unfortunately for your aquarium, these chemicals indiscriminately annihilate all the bacteria – good and bad.
Chlorine has been put to good use for centuries. A naturally reactive element, chlorine bonds well with other elements or compounds.
Chlorine’s ability to bond with bacteria and viruses and destroy their outer surfaces makes it an effective germ killer. Once added to water, chlorine disinfects and destroys waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, Hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
Water pathogens that result in swimmer’s ear, diarrhea, athlete’s foot, and skin rashes are also kept at bay.
Throughout the United States and in many other countries, it is now widely used. Chlorine disinfectants can be found in homes, hotels and restaurants, food processing plants, swimming pools, hospitals, and other public places.
However, scientists have also discovered that chlorine is extremely unstable in water and dissipates quickly. It can’t be relied upon to maintain water quality in older pipelines or those that extend for several miles. This then led to the creation of Chloramine.
Chloramine is an inorganic compound that was developed to counter the shortfall of chlorine. A combination of chlorine and ammonia, chloramine stays stable longer in water. It provides longer-lasting disinfection for water that travels long distances through pipes.
There are three types of chloramine, namely: monochloramine, dichloramine, and trichloramine. Of these three, monochloramine is the one that is added to water to destroy pathogens while keeping it safe to drink.
All water companies in the US are required to use monochloramine. This is in accordance with EPA regulatory standards, to ensure that tap water is safe for human consumption.
Other than the obvious benefits they offer human beings, these compounds are toxic to your fish. Adding tap water straight into your aquarium will have a devastating effect on your fish, most likely resulting in their death.
So, while this water is now safe for human, animal and plant use, it is toxic to fish, reptiles, and other marine life.
Removing Chlorine and Chloramine
When it comes to reversing the impact of your treated water, chloramines are much harder to remove. This is because – as we’ve already discussed – chloramines last longer in water than chlorine. What does this mean for aquarists?
When it comes to aquariums, there are essentially two main methods to remove chlorine from water. The first method involves aging water before adding it to the aquarium.
When you allow water to sit in a bucket overnight, the chlorine evaporates, making it safe for your fish.
The second method of reversing the effects of water treatment involves adding sodium thiosulfate to tap water. This serves to neutralize the chlorine instantly. The best part of this (as far as aquariums are concerned) is that sodium thiosulfate does not harm your fish.
Getting rid of chloramine, on the other hand, is not as easy.
The aging trick does not work here. You can store water in buckets for days, but the chloramine will still be present. This is precisely where an aquarium water conditioner can help.
Don’t just reach for the first aquarium water treatment product you see though, since many products only neutralize chlorine. Look for one that specifically neutralizes chloramines too.
Why Use a Water Conditioner in an Aquarium?
As we’ve explained, most tap water is not appropriate for aquarium use. Introducing poor quality or contaminated water into your aquarium can cause lots of problems including:
- Poor fish health and shortened lifespan.
- Uncontrolled algae growth.
- Death of corals and aquatic plants.
- The constant need to clean the aquarium and aquarium glass.
- Extreme pH levels.
Using the right water conditioner in your aquarium will help in a number of important ways:
- It will neutralize chlorine and chloramine typically found in tap water. Water conditioners break down the chlorine-ammonia bond, neutralize the compounds and make the water safe for your fish.
- The right water conditioner will promote and protect the slime coat of your fish. Chloramine goes directly into the gills, where it damages them and causes a painful death. The protective barrier provided by the slime keeps your fish protected and safe.
- Water conditioners remove metals, like copper and lead and other elements, including fish waste, from the water.
- They renew essential trace elements needed by fish.
- A water conditioner will help minimize stress in fish as they familiarize themselves with their new home. This is true both in your permanent aquarium or in a temporary tank.
Do You Need to Use a Water Conditioner?
It is a question we hear often. Do you really have to use a water conditioner for your aquarium water? Are there less expensive substitutes?
Remember that municipal water in the US must be treated to make it fit for human consumption. No water company wants legal issues. The EPA is pretty strict about the quality of water provided to the public.
As mentioned earlier, if your water only contains chlorine, aging it will get rid of the chlorine. You can also boil the water and let it cool down before introducing it to your aquarium.
When it comes to chloramine, aging or boiling water doesn’t work. In this case, using a water conditioner is the best way to neutralize this compound.
Water conditioners are relatively cheap, and you only need to use a little at a time. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on the label for how much to use. Depending on the number of aquariums you own, one bottle can last you a long time.
Are aquarium water conditioners essential? Absolutely. Your finned friends deserve a healthy environment in which to live, eat and play—you owe them that much.
What are the chances that your tap water will not contain chlorine or chloramine? Probably zero. If you want to keep your fish alive, with very few exceptions, you will require a water conditioner.
Two of these exceptions may be the use of private well water or applying a process called reverse osmosis.
Private Well Water
Some people use water that is sourced from a private well. This is often much safer than our treated tap water, and may not contain any chemical compounds at all.
If this is your water source, be sure to test the water before using, just to be sure. This is required to make sure that the source hasn’t been infected with any chemical additives.
Reverse osmosis, also known as RO, is a process of removing contaminants from water using a semi-permeable membrane. Water is forced through extremely fine membranes that can remove up to 90 percent (or more) of the impurities.
Under normal circumstances, water will pass through the membrane from a low concentration to a high solute concentration. With RO, the opposite happens.
When pressure is applied to the high solute concentration, water passes through the membrane to the other side.
The residue, which contains dissolved chemicals like nitrates, phosphates, and chlorine, together with heavy metals, is left behind. You can actually use this residue to fortify your garden plants. Or, you can choose to simply discard it.
This water, when purified through the RO process, is cleansed to the point of becoming sterile. While this sounds like a positive thing, it actually isn’t such good news for your fish.
The purification process gets rid of the good and bad stuff alike. Sterile water lacks the minerals needed by fish, coral, and plants. It is therefore unstable and unfit for aquatic life.
As such, if you put your water through RO, you will then need to re-mineralize it. This is required if you intend to create the right conditions for your aquarium inhabitants to thrive.
Is Reverse Osmosis Worth it?
If you’re looking for an alternative to commercially produced water conditioners, then the answer is maybe.
RO will work well for anyone planning on investing in a saltwater reef tank that will incorporate a variety of coral and anemones. Those interested in keeping challenging freshwater species, like Discus, can also consider a reverse osmosis water filter.
If you suspect the source of your tap water or cannot authoritatively speak for your well water, an RO filter will help set your mind at ease. You can use the filtered water around the home as well.
RO water filters are relatively cheap, and the TFC membranes can last for several months if you take care of them.
Additionally, installation is relatively easy and doesn’t require a plumber. Many RO filters are simply screwed onto your tap and you are good to go.
For the majority of us fish-loving folks, however, an aquarium water conditioner is definitely the preferred route.
How Often Should You Use a Water Conditioner?
It’s essential to add a water conditioner to any water you add to your tank. It is that simple.
As long as you are introducing fresh water into your tank, you need to condition it first. Let’s look at specific instances when you should use a water conditioner.
Setting up a New Tank
Naturally, a water conditioner should be added to the water when you are setting up a new tank for your fish.
Always treat the fish tank with the manufacturer’s recommended dose before you start the nitrogen cycle.
A Standard Water Change or Top up
Some people prefer hooking a hose pipe to their taps and allowing the water to pour directly into their fish tanks. Afterward, they add the water conditioning product. This may seem more convenient, not to mention that it saves you time.
However, in doing so, you are also introducing toxins into the water that can hurt your fish. The best way to handle a water change is to:
- Have your replenishment water in a bucket.
- Add the water conditioner.
- Ensure the temperature of the water is similar to the current fish tank temperature—not too hot or cold.
- Add the conditioned water into your aquarium.
A word of caution here—never leave your aquarium unattended while drawing out the old water. The aquarium vacuum might draw out too much water, or may even suck up some of your fish.
During an Emergency Water Change
Aquarium emergencies happen. You may experience a situation whereby a water test reveals the presence of ammonia, nitrite or high levels of nitrate.
In this case, you will need to change the water every day—or perhaps more than once a day—to get things back to normal. Every water change will require conditioning to ensure the situation is not aggravated further.
If you move your fish out of the aquarium and into a temporary abode, add conditioning to that water too.
In a Quarantine Tank
Sick fish need to be separated from the healthy ones for proper care to be given. Be sure to use a water conditioner in the quarantine water to promote good health.
How Much Water Conditioner Should You Use?
Various factors determine the precise amount of water conditioner that needs to be added to your aquarium. These include:
- The size of the tank.
- How heavily stocked your aquarium is (including fish and plants).
- The quantity of water you want to condition.
The manufacturer’s label contains precise guidelines on the quantity to be used.
For example, SeaChem Prime (one of our recommendations below) says that one teaspoon treats up to 50 gallons of water. That means you can use a single bottle of this particular water conditioner to condition 5,000 gallons of tap water.
Once again, be sure to follow your specific manufacturer’s instructions.
What are the Different Types of Water Conditioners?
By now you have a clear understanding of how essential water conditioners are to the survival of your fish friends. Let’s look at the different types of water conditioners available and what they can do for you.
Don’t forget to check the water treatment being used in your area before going out to purchase a water conditioner. This will ensure you pick the right product for the job.
This is a favorite among many aquarists as it handles pretty much everything there is to handle. Complete conditioners do a lot of things all at once, including:
- Dissipate chlorine.
- Neutralize ammonia.
- Detoxify heavy metals.
- Remove copper.
- Protect fish coat slime.
- Buffer pH.
Complete Conditioner – With Supplements
The complete conditioner with supplements refers to a few types of more complex water conditioners. They can be used to medicate, or simply to provide healthy supplements. They do the work of a complete conditioner, plus a little extra.
There are medicating complete conditioners that contain antifungal properties and treat fungal, bacterial and protozoan infestations. Others contain vitamin E and aloe vera that helps with slime coat and also relieves stress on fish.
You can also find types that contain trace minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, along with coral disinfectants. Their aim is to promote a healthy environment for your finned friends.
Other (non-medicating) supplementary complete conditioners provide other supplements. These include vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, and trace minerals that are essential to fish health.
This is the most basic of all water conditioners. As its name suggests, a dechlorinator removes chlorine. Since they contain sodium thiosulfate, these water conditioners work fast and are effective.
Unfortunately, dechlorinators leave behind ammonia, and they don’t detoxify heavy metals. As a result, they are not recommended for use in areas where water is treated using chloramine.
If you’re looking for more than just chlorine removal, this is not the type you should choose. Especially if your water contains chloramine, avoid using a dechlorinator. Otherwise, you will end up with dangerously high levels of ammonia.
Chloramine neutralizers are much better than dechlorinators, since they remove chlorine and also neutralize chloramine. These water conditioners are extremely useful in areas where water is treated using chloramine.
Once chloramine is broken down, the ammonia is tackled by binding it, thereby rendering it harmless to your fish. It can also be converted into ammonium, which won’t cause any harm to the residents of your tank.
I should warn you that using a general ammonia test kit to check the levels of ammonia in your aquarium may provide misleading information. This is because the kit will measure ammonia (NH3) and will also pick up ammonium (NH4).Before you freak out over the dangerously high levels, remember that ammonium is actually harmless. If you want more accurate results, use a test kit that measures ammonia only.It’s important to note that some chloramine neutralizers detoxify heavy metals, while others don’t. Always check the label to ensure that the product you buy suits your needs.
Best Aquarium Water Conditioner – Our Top Choices for 2019
There are so many products to choose from, which one should you buy?
We’ve put together a list of the best aquarium water conditioners on the market today, along with their features and benefits.
We have also included the pro and cons of each product, to help you make an informed decision.
Seachem Prime 500ml
SeaChem Prime is a hugely popular product, and for good reason. As you’d expect from an aquarium water conditioner, it tackles chlorine and chloramine, as well as neutralizing heavy metals, but it goes much further than that, too.
This quality water conditioner also converts ammonia into non-toxic ammonium, which can easily be removed by your tank’s biofilter. This is ideal for when you’re still cycling your tank and haven’t yet created a stable balance of bacteria to tackle ammonia levels.
It also contains ingredients that binds nitrate and nitrites, effectively removing them from the water.
Rather than containing artificial compounds to replenish the slime coat of your fish, Prime features ingredients that naturally promote slime coat health.
- Weight: 1.25 lbs
- Dimensions: 6 x 2.5 x 2.3 inches
- Item Model Number: 116043304
- ASIN: B00025694O
What We Like
- It is concentrated, so can last a long time.
- Has no expiry date.
- Can be added directly to a fish pond or tank
- Removes ammonia and nitrates
What We Don’t Like
- On rare occasions, users have complained about the smell.
Seachem is an excellent product that has received rave reviews from aquarists the world over. To know more about this product, follow this link:
Api Stress Coat Aquarium Water Conditioner
API Stress Coat is a more specialized product than some of the others on this list. Although it also removes chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals from tap water—rendering it safe to use in your fish tank—its primary selling point is that it reduces fish stress.
It contains aloe vera that will help heal damaged tissue and wounds and promote regeneration. It also forms a synthetic slime coat to protect the fish and reduce electrolyte loss.
Due to this, it’s an excellent product to use when you’re introducing new fish to your tank or you’re moving fish from one tank to another, as these kinds of moves can be extremely stressful for aquatic creatures.
API Stress Coat water conditioner also removes chlorine, chloramine and other heavy metals that are responsible for gill and tissue damage. If left untreated, these can lead to breathing difficulty and even death.
You can rely on this product to instantly make tap water safe for your fish. It can be used for both freshwater and saltwater tanks. It is suitable for tropical, coldwater, temperate fish and goldfish.
- Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 5 inches ; 6.4 ounces
- Item Model Number: 85C
- ASIN: B000255MZG
What We Like
- Scientifically proven to reduce fish stress by 40%
- Can be used in freshwater and salt-water.
- Promotes fin regrowth.
- Works well with other products to ensure good quality water and a healthy living environment.
What We Don’t Like
- No effect on ammonia
- Contains silicates and phosphates
If you are looking for a product that will help you nurse your finned friends back to health, check this out. For more information on API stress coat, follow the link:
Tetra Aquasafe Plus Water Conditioner/Dechlorinator
As far as water conditioners go, Tetra Aquasafe Plus is fairly basic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great product. It comes from a respected brand and does its job quickly and effectively. It works in mere seconds, so there’s no need to wait around until the water is safe to add to your tank.
Its primary function is to remove chlorine and chloramines from tap water, making it safe for your fish to live in. Additionally, this product neutralizes heavy metals commonly found in tap water. On top of that, it encourages the natural slime coat in your fish, so it can help prevent infection.
Tetra Aquasafe plus is suitable for use in both marine and freshwater aquariums. You only need one teaspoon to treat 10 gallons of water, so a little goes a long way, although some alternatives require event less.
Manufacturer Specs (for 33.8 Oz Package)
- Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Dimensions: 2.5 x 4.8 x 9.8 inches
- Item Model Number: 16163
- ASIN: B00176CVK8
What We Like
- Good value for money
- Includes a beneficial vitamin and mineral blend
- Lid acts as a measuring device, making dosage easy
- Contains proprietary biopolymers to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria
- Can be used in freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
What We Don’t Like
- Tetra AquaSafe Plus doesn’t remove ammonia, so you will need to combine it with another product for this if your tap water contains ammonia.
The app is particularly helpful for those living in areas where water is suspect. You will be able to keep tabs on water, and use the water conditioner to make it safe for your fish. If you would like to find out more about this product, follow the link:
Aqueon Tap Water Conditioner
It might be inexpensive, but Aqueon Water Conditioner doesn’t scrimp on quality or effectiveness.
In addition to removing chlorine and chloramines from tap water, it also neutralizes heavy metals and ammonia. This makes it ideal for setting up new tanks or use in aquariums that haven’t yet cycled.
Additionally, this water conditioner from Aqueon also contains ingredients that help restore fish’s natural slime coat. It might not be as widely available as some similar products, but is well worth it, if you can get your hands on it.
Manufacturer Specs (for 16 Oz. Package)
- Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions: 5 x 8.4 x 2.5 inches
- Item Model Number: 100106005
- ASIN: B0010729SS
What We Like
- Helps prevent stress during water changes and tank moves
- No odor
- Promotes healing
- Made in the USA
What We Don’t Like
- Some users report it leaving a brown foam on top of the tank
If you’re looking for a water conditioner for your small aquarium, you can bank on this product to effectively clean your water. Follow this link to learn more or to make a purchase:
Hikari Usa Ahk72234 Ultimate Water Conditioner
Hikari Usa AHK72234 Ultimate provides superior water conditioning to ensure your fish have a safe environment to live in. It destroys chloramines and removes chlorine and ammonia from your tap water.
It also detoxifies heavy metals and nitrites, while at the same time adding essential electrolytes for your finned friends. This product is also known to boost alkalinity in water and provides slime coat for your fish.
It is good for setting up a new aquarium, since it “ages” the water quickly.
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Item Model Number: 72234
- ASIN: B004LODCU6
What We Like
- Removes ammonia, unlike some other conditioners.
- Instantly ages the water
- Reduces fish stress.
What We Don’t Like
- Surprisingly, we can find nothing to say here!
If you want a great all round, fast acting water conditioner for your new aquarium, that removes harmful substances and adds in a few beneficial compounds, then this is a great choice for you. To learn more about this great product, follow this link:
Api Tap Water Conditioner Aquarium Water Conditioner
This highly concentrated product instantly removes chlorine, neutralizes chloramine and detoxifies heavy metals. It also controls algae, promotes the growth of healthy bacteria and helps control and cure infections.
The product works on both freshwater and saltwater aquariums and is safe for all the aquatic life in your aquarium.
Manufacturer Specs (for 32 Ounces)
- Weight: 2.7 pounds
- ASIN: B072BGCSWT
What We Like
- Concentrated formula that only requires you to use one teaspoon to treat 10 gallons, making it long lasting.
What We Don’t Like
- Mixing guidelines start with 20 gallons. If you have a smaller tank, you will need to call up the manufacturer.
- It does not remove ammonia.
This product comes from a long line of trusted API products which stamps its authority as a worthy water conditioner. To learn more or to purchase this product, follow this link:
Natural Rapport Professional Aquarium Water Conditioning Dechlorinator
This all-in-one product instantly removes chlorine and detoxifies nitrites, chloramine, and heavy metals. It adds electrolytes to the water, promoting fish health, and will not affect the aquarium’s pH.
You can use the product when setting up a new aquarium, during a water change or top-up and during maintenance. It works well in both freshwater and saltwater fish tanks.
- Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions: 3 x 3 x 8 inches
- ASIN: B016VV93SG
What We Like
- Encourages healthy slime coat.
- Works for live reef aquariums.
What We Don’t Like
- Can make water slightly cloudy
This product is a one-stop shop and the manufacturers guarantee 100% satisfaction. If you would like to know more about this product, follow this link:
Kordon Novaqua+ Plus Water Conditioner
It might not be as popular as some of the big name brands, but we still think Kordon NovAqua+ is an excellent water condition and one well worth considering.
In addition to sorting out that pesky chlorine and chloramine, this water conditioner neutralizes common heavy metals in tap water. It’s also capable of intake of nitrite by your fish, which reduces its negative impact.
NovAqua+ buffers tap water and adds electrolytes, as well as containing vitamins and organic herbs, all of which generally improves water quality and may make your tank’s inhabitants healthier overall.
This product also adds a protective slime coat, which decreases the chance of infection and inflammation in your fish, which promoting faster healing.
- Weight: 16 ounces
- Item Model Number: MODEL-33156
- ASIN: B006OOO39K
What We Like
- Creates a slime coat on filter to help nitrifying bacteria
- Removes iodine.
- Contains beneficial herbs and vitamins.
- Can last up to 5 years if properly
What We Don’t Like
- Can be harder to source than more popular brands
- May clog filters with regular use – so increases need for more regular filter cleaning.
This is an excellent product that contains organic herbs and additives which help promote the overall health of your fish. To know more about this product, follow this link:
Tap water and other sources of water contain toxins that affect fish and all other forms of marine life. It’s down to you to make sure you are providing a healthy and clean environment for all of the residents of your aquarium.
Choosing the best aquarium water conditioner is one of the most important things you can do. It’s one way to ensure that your fish will be happy and healthy, and your tank remains safe.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, feel free to drop them in the comments below. We will answer every one of them.
Happy fish keeping!
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