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Old 01-06-2013, 02:03 PM   #1
sbetsy
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Default Water Softener system for the house - what do we do about the aquarium?

Hi, It's been a while since I posted but I found this community so incredibly helpful when we started up.

We have a 60 g freshwater aquarium with plants and assorted tropical community fish including loaches. We just put in a water softener yesterday for our house. Before we do any water changes (we just did one before we put in the water softener so we aren't due for one today or anything), we want to figure out what precautions we need to take for our tank.

1. Our community had moderately hard water (on the harder side of moderate) and we want to know how to transition the fish to soft water.
2. My husband bought regular salt for the water softener. Should he have gotten the potassium instead? Would that be better for the fish, the plants, the loaches?
3. If we do the soft water in the aquarium, should we be more concerned about ph changes/issues? I know there are commercially available ph balancers but we are currently not using those. After I post this I am going to test the ph in the tank and the ph in our tap water to see what the difference is.
4. Or should we bypass the water softener entirely? Perhaps we could run a line from before the water softener up to one faucet for our house?
5. Would an RO filter help us at all?

Thank you so much for your responses and I hope everyone is well!
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Old 01-06-2013, 02:23 PM   #2
sbetsy
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Okay I just tested out ph values and they are pretty high both in the tank and from the tap. They are 8.0 and 7.8 respectively.
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Old 01-06-2013, 04:12 PM   #3
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What does the water softener do? Is it one of those that eats a big block of salt and slowly fills up with carbonate? Most water softeners replace Mg+2 and Ca+2 with Na+ ions in an attempt to get rid of the lime scale (CaCO3) that forms on showers, etc. However, some of the newer ones are more like filters or RO units and remove ions without putting any back. Sodium is less useful for fish than Calcium or magnesium, so ideally, you'd fill your tanks with pre-water softener water.
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Old 01-06-2013, 04:25 PM   #4
sbetsy
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Ours is one of the old school ones. It's not a big block of salt - it's little pellets. But it is replacing the Mg and Ca with Na. At least at the moment it is. We could replace the traditional salt with potassium. I know sodium isn't useful, but is it harmful in this form? We could do it but running a new line to one faucet will be a considerable effort. We are happy to do it, but only if it is necessary.
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Old 01-06-2013, 04:26 PM   #5
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Thanks for your response by the way emc2. I remember you from a long time ago (over a year at least) and you were very helpful when I was just getting started and dealing with ich.
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Old 01-06-2013, 06:59 PM   #6
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I always used similarly "softened" water for my fish in Illinois. I raised many healthy guppies and mbuna in that water. There are some salt-sensitive fish that would suffer, but they wouldn't be likely to thrive in tap water that needed softening, either. It doesn't get all the calcium, and it your water is "hard" to begin with there will likely be enough minerals left for most fish. There are specific tests you can run, and supplements are readily available if you see problems like thinning snail shells. Thought, I never could grow live plants in that water. I never thought about it until now, but "softening" our very hard water could have put quite a bit of NaCl in the water and been a contributing factor to that failure.

Switching to potassium is more expensive, but is supposed to be good if you have someone in the house with high blood pressure. I bet it could help with plants also.
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:15 PM   #7
sbetsy
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emc7 - Yeah, I could see how the potassium would be better for the plants than the salt. Now if I want to switch to the potassium, I have to figure out how to get the salt out of the tank. Or find a temporary alternative for as long as it takes for the salt to be used up and we can refill with potassium.
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Old 01-06-2013, 10:55 PM   #8
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I think the amount of salt that goes in the water varies with how much calcium and magnesium is in there. Most houses in the US have these things. So it might not be too bad. Let us know what happens, if your plants & fish do better or worse. Start with smaller water changes and work up whenever you have any change in your tap water. Some places have outdoor taps that don't go through the softener (or the water heater). I wouldn't go looking for a new water source unless you have something bad happens (like all the plants die).
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Old 01-07-2013, 10:30 AM   #9
sbetsy
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emc7 - That makes sense. If they are replacing molecules then the more molecules you need replacing...Maybe because our water is moderately hard it won't be too bad. I'd hate to have the plants die but I guess they can be replaced with not too much effort. But we have some nice grass growing and sometimes it is hard to get those started.
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Old 01-14-2013, 04:55 PM   #10
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A properly functioning water softener shouldn't put a significant amount of salt, one detrimental to you or your fish, into the water you use... if the water is significantly salty, there's a problem with the water softener. The salt is very well flushed from the softening media during the recharge process so, at most, there should be only trace levels of salt left in the water you'll actually be using, not a significant level. I've used water softeners essentially all of my life and any fish I've kept have never had any problems.
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Old 01-15-2013, 09:55 AM   #11
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I would hope that would be the case pogobbler but I read some orchid form discussions about watering orchids with softened water and having the orchids die. So it seems a little risky. I know that orchids are super sensitive but I would hate for all the plants and grasses in our tank to die - not to mention the fish (especially the loaches).

I talked to a moderator on here to get some more advice and we seriously considered running a separate line up to one sink but after looking at our set up, it really doesn't seem possible. The way the system works the softener is before the water heater, so we'd end up with a sink in the house that has no hot water. That didn't seem like a good solution. Our set up is ideal for maintaining the life of our water heater but not so awesome for being flexible.

We continued to look into RO units and it seemed like a good option. They remove sodium, along with other minerals though, so that didn't seem ideal. However, we can supplement using things from the Seachem flourish line perhaps? Or some other source? We decided to try the RO unit approach rather than to risk it and see what happens with the softened water. What we've done is to install an RO unit under our kitchen sink with 3 out-lines. One attaches to a long tube that we can run to the tank for water changes, one attaches to a short tube that I can use for coffee, tea, whatever and one attaches to our refrigerator water dispenser/ice maker. We didn't run it up through the sink because we have a giant porcelain sink and don't have the expertise to drill through it. Maybe in the future we'll hire someone to do that or we will replace the sink (but I am loathe to do that because I love my sink!).

So that's where we are now. We think we will enjoy having the RO filter for ourselves and hopefully the fish will too. I'll continue to update with how things are going.
Oh - the big pain with the RO filter that we anticipate is how long water changes will take! Our unit has something like a 3-4 gallon tank? Once you empty the tank it takes hours to refill. We have a 60 gallon fishtank. So even if we only do a 10% water change, that's going to take 3-5 hours because we'll have to empty the RO tank and then wait for it to refill to complete the water change. Honestly we've gotten used to doing larger than 10% water changes but I'm thinking that we'll keep the percentages down because of time. Maybe that means that we'll have to do water changes more frequently. We're kind of obsessive about water changes but maybe we'll have to chill out a bit.

I will keep this thread updated in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation in the future.
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Old 01-18-2013, 03:51 PM   #12
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Update. So it takes about half a day to do a 10% water change.
Also, we realize that the RO water is stripped of important minerals so we are looking at some products to address that. Here are the products:
Seachem freshwater trace elements - Seems to replace elements necessary for fish health that diminish through ulitization, oxidation and precipitation.
Seachem flourish trace - Does the same thing for plants.
Seachem replenish - Replaces the elements removed by RO systems.
Seachem neutral regulator - Doesn't replace elements but adjusts ph which we've heard is an issue with RO water.

I'm thinking of keeping a close eye on the ph and buying some neutral regulator if necessary. Definitely want to try the replenish and maybe the flourish trace.
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Old 02-04-2013, 12:48 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by sbetsy View Post
I would hope that would be the case pogobbler but I read some orchid form discussions about watering orchids with softened water and having the orchids die. So it seems a little risky. I know that orchids are super sensitive but I would hate for all the plants and grasses in our tank to die - not to mention the fish (especially the loaches).

I can't speak for anyone else, but with my own softened water, there's not any measurable salt and I've never had issues with keeping any sort of fish using the water.
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Old 03-10-2013, 09:15 AM   #14
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Update: So its been a while and things are going well, for the most part. The fish are thriving and I think the Seachem Replenish is doing well for us. Our plants don't look as awesome so maybe they are missing some nutrients. I'm going to order some of the Seachem flourish trace and see how that goes. But it could be that the loaches are bothering the plants too much so I don't know.
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Old 03-10-2013, 09:16 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by pogobbler View Post
I can't speak for anyone else, but with my own softened water, there's not any measurable salt and I've never had issues with keeping any sort of fish using the water.
I could have been imagining it but I felt like I could taste the salt in the water when we first got the softener. I'm absolutely loving the RO unit for drinking water!
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