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seabass

Sensitivity of API's ammonia test kit

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seabass

So @brandon429 and I have this friendly ongoing back and forth about API's ammonia test kit (that we even sometimes take offline).  Which, BTW, he has never tried, but that's besides the point. ;)  Anyways, I think we learn a lot during our debates.  I do anyways.

 

Well, I've been using API ammonia kits for over a decade without any notable problems.  However, you can find instances online where people report getting ammonia results somewhere between 0.0 and 0.25 ppm, with seemingly healthy livestock in the the tank.  I feel that many of these instances can be explained by trace amounts of ammonia (keep in mind that ammonia levels in the ocean and in our tanks are usually somewhere less than 0.1 ppm, but there is usually still some ammonia present).  The results might also be due to:

  • another ammonia source (like a death, or chloramine treated water, or ammonia contaminates in salt mix, or simply a newer tank)
  • a false reading due to a water conditioner (ammonia detoxifier) such as Prime
  • color match problems due to things like blue reef lighting or even discolored water
  • expired or improperly shaken reagents

 

That said, I always get undetectable ammonia results from my healthy, mature tanks.  Still, I feel that API's ammonia test kit might be more sensitive than some other kits.  This is concerning to some who seem to get low, but positive readings.  So a recent debate with @brandon429 got me thinking, is there a way to make API's ammonia test kit a little less sensitive?

 

This evening I decided to play around with one of their kits to see if I could adjust it so that it didn't read quite as high, but still detected ammonia.  First, I dosed ammonium chloride into a test tank until it read 2 ppm by the API kit (following the kit's instructions of 8 drops from bottle #1, and 8 drops from bottle #2).

 

Then I performed a test on that same water with 4 drops from bottle #1 and 4 drops from bottle #2.

api1.jpg

Obviously not a helpful result.

 

Here are the results with 8 drops from bottle #1 and 4 drops from bottle #2.

api2.jpg

Again, not a helpful result.

 

Finally, the results using 4 drops from bottle #1, and 8 drops from bottle #2.

api3.jpg

As you can see, I was able to reduce the sensitivity by lowering the amount of the bottle #1 reagent.

 

While I'm not recommending cutting the bottle #1 reagent in half, I wonder if people would get more consistent negative results if they only used 7 drops instead of 8.  :unsure:

 

Personally, I'm happy with how the kit works as is and won't be adjusting how much bottle #1 reagent I use.  But I wouldn't mind getting some feedback on what I observed.

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Thrassian Atoll

I can test my tank later tonight with your method.  I tested a couple of weeks ago and mine was not the yellow 0 color but closer to the .25 color.  That's when I read from a few different threads that the API ammonia seems to like to read closer to .25 rather than zero, even if ammonia isn't present.

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seabass

@TILTON, do you mind posting pics of the results with 8 drops, and then 7 drops of reagent bottle #1?  Maybe even 6 drops if you would like some extra credit.  If not, no problem, I plan on doing some more testing  this weekend w/ result pics included.

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Thrassian Atoll
2 minutes ago, seabass said:

@TILTON, do you mind posting pics of the results with 8 drops, and then 7 drops of reagent bottle #1?  Maybe even 6 drops if you would like some extra credit.  If not, no problem, I plan on doing some more testing  this weekend w/ result pics included.

Sure can.  I'll do the testing after the Ohio State game.  Go Bucks!  ?

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seabass

OK, the difference is actually pretty subtle.

 

Here, respectively, I used 6 drops of bottle#1, 7 drops, and 8 drops:

api4.jpg

 

Here is a side by side of 6 drops vs 8 drops:

api5.jpg

 

Later tomorrow, or this weekend, I'll do the same at a much lower ammonia level (around 0.25 ppm).  Maybe even dropping down to 5 drops.

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seabass

One question I'd like to answer is if the color is just getting lighter, or is it giving a lower reading?  I hope to answer this in the next round of tests.

 

Here is the same water tested with only 2 drops of bottle#1 reagent:

api6.jpg

 

To me, it looks like the sensitivity is being reduced, and not just diluting the color.  But we should be better able to assess this with lower ammonia levels.

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Thrassian Atoll

Here are my results.  First number is part 1 and second number is part 2.  First photos are without flash, 2nd photos with flash.

 

IMG_1235.thumb.JPG.11379b616dd5f0fb51ef5b074be17e14.JPG

 

IMG_1236.thumb.JPG.ac50add7258fd2090c56356ab1c52f93.JPG

 

First vial is the 4-4 ammonia that I added 4 more drops of the first part to.  Then obviously nitrite and nitrates.  I honestly hate the nitrate readings more than the ammonia.

"Distinguish your color between these very subtle changes in orange."   I really wish Hanna would make a nitrate checker.  

 

IMG_1238.thumb.JPG.88c95684b16b6620c3cea45fdb9ec507.JPG

 

IMG_1239.thumb.JPG.03cbe1c983780e2d35d335b0921e7bef.JPG

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seabass

Hmm... Tilton, the 8-6 sample looks a little closer to undetectable.  However, I'm not sure that you performed it the same way that I've been doing.  I've been varying the first reagent and leaving the second the same (so 6-8 versus 8-6).  It's my thought that the way that you performed it, the coloration would just become less and less intense (eventually turning whitish) as you use less bottle#2 reagent.

 

I want to thank you for taking the time (and reagent) to post these.  It's a better demonstration than I had for modifying bottle#2's reagent.  Plus, it lets me see your results when using 8 drops of each, as directed.  I'll concede that it does look a bit more like 0.25 ppm than undetectable.  Do you feel that the camera fairly picked up the color as you saw it, or did the camera distort it, or intensify it?

 

 

OK, I'm kind of getting into this now.  I'll do some more testing at lunchtime.

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Thrassian Atoll

The camera picked up the color pretty well, that's why I did flash and no flash.  I think the flash on colors are more to what you see in person.  Another issue with the API kits is do you put them against white in a super bright room?  Do you have barely any light in the room?  The colors look completely different in different light situations which makes the reading even harder to really get an accurate reading.  

 

I can do the tests again tomorrow using the full 8 drops of part 2 and less drops of part 1. I can mix and match too.  I am wondering what it would take to actually get it to read the yellowish hue of zero?  

 

Also, with ammonia not seemingly to be not completely accurate, how accurate is the nitrate test?  The only other nitrate test kit I have is the low range Red Sea that only goes up to 5 ppm.

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seabass

Tilton, you're a trouper. :)

 

37 minutes ago, TILTON said:

do you put them against white in a super bright room?  Do you have barely any light in the room?

I'd say that brighter is better.  I usually try to take pictures of the results in natural daylight (not in the room with my tank lighting).  However, the pictures that I shared tonight are just on our dining room table, under five 4W (40W equivalents) soft white LED bulbs.  It's neither dim nor exceedingly bright.  Also, for some reason, my iPhone seems to take more realistic pictures of test results than my dedicated camera does.

 

Yeah all color matching kits do tend to present some obstacles, especially ones which change color as well as shade.  Sometimes I find that when I'm having difficulty distinguishing the color, looking a picture can help.  Also, on the API kits, laying the vial down next to the color chart sometimes helps to reduce background shadows or light reflecting through the sample (as I did above).

 

37 minutes ago, TILTON said:

how accurate is the nitrate test?

My thoughts on all hobby grade test kits is that they typically get you in the right ballpark (with some being more accurate, easier to read, or higher resolution than others).  I have found the API nitrate test to give you a reasonable estimate.  Plus, it's not a parameter which usually requires the utmost precision.  However, I'm currently using Salifert's nitrate test kit, which goes up to 100 ppm; but it also allows you to view the results through the side of the vial for even higher resolution (0.2, 0.5, 1, 2.5, 5, and 10):

083117b.jpg

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seabass

@TILTON, do any of the following apply to your tank:

  • an ammonia source (like a death, or chloramine treated source water, or ammonia contaminates in salt mix, or simply a newer tank)
  • use of a water conditioner (ammonia detoxifier) such as Seachem Prime
  • color match problems due to things like blue reef lighting or even discolored water
  • expired or improperly shaken reagents

I'm trying to figure out why your (8-8) results look like they do.  Maybe this is just a good example of a kit being too sensitive. :unsure:  In which case, dialing this in for you might help others facing the same problem.

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Thrassian Atoll

My tank has been wet for 6 weeks now.  I cycled it with API quick start and a table shrimp.  I tested a ton and here put the results in my Apex.   Here are a bunch of photos of my results.  The tank finished cycling according  to the test kits around 3 weeks ago.  I have not seen any nitrites since they hit peaked and hit zero.  

 

I use BRS a RODI system, New DD H2Ocean salt.  I don't dose anything besides calcium and alk.  My API saltwater master test kit is new from marine depot, exp 09/2021.  

 

My tank is doing quite well.  I had a diatom bloom a couple of weeks ago but there is zero diatoms now.  No deaths at all right now.  The only deaths I have had were a couple of snails a while back but removed them before they could rot.  I only have 1 fish and I don't over feed.

 

IMG_1244.thumb.PNG.a6360830921ba4049a041cd27967aeee.PNG

 

IMG_1242.thumb.PNG.b1ca98542c6afde98d54b148f5d2a2be.PNG

 

IMG_1245.thumb.PNG.c729c04f82b006707d83bebd447a3b12.PNG

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seabass
3 minutes ago, TILTON said:

My tank has been wet for 6 weeks now.

I see.  You might not consider it so, but it's still quite new.  API can pick up on this.  Eventually, as the tank matures, you should get true undetectable results.  I'm not saying that your tank isn't safe for livestock, just that levels are slightly elevated (and the API kit is picking up on that).  This is the reason that I started this thread.

 

Consider this, most people think of ammonia reduction as a linear progression.  However, it is much more of a curve.  Look at these results from an experiment I performed testing water changes during the cycling process:  https://www.nano-reef.com/forums/topic/206500-part-2-water-changes-during-the-cycle/

newammonia.jpg

For some reason, it takes longer to achieve complete undetectable levels.  This was also confirmed by a Seachem ammonia test kit.  I could only speculate that a particular strain of bacteria are more efficient at processing these low levels, and they need more time to become established.  TBH, I'm not sure why this is, just that it is a common occurrence.

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Thrassian Atoll

If ammonia was still present though, wouldn't a small amount of nitrites still be present?  It wouldn't go from ammonia to nitrates right?  

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seabass

OK, so this is what I feared.  It seems that the tint just gets lighter as opposed to changing color.  While this does give a slight appearance of less ammonia, it's not due to sensitivity but dilution:

 

I was able to achieve a pretty good 0.25 ppm match.  Then I performed a test with 8-8 drops, 6-8, 4-8, and 2-8.  Here are the results:

090117a.jpg

 

I think it was worth a shot, but I'm sorry that it didn't pan out like I had hoped.  Still, I believe that the API ammonia test kit does show that ammonia is undetectable in healthy, mature, marine tanks (that don't use an ammonia detoxifier, haven't just done a water change, and don't use chloramine treated source water).  This has always been the case for me with over a half of dozen API ammonia kits over nearly a 15 year period of time.

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Thrassian Atoll

I just want to see somebody do a test at 8 drops of each and get the zero color reading which is more yellow than green.  

 

 

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seabass
5 minutes ago, TILTON said:

If ammonia was still present though, wouldn't a small amount of nitrites still be present?  It wouldn't go from ammonia to nitrates right?  

No it doesn't go straight from ammonia to nitrate, but it can sure look like it.  When enough nitrifying bacteria that processes nitrite are present, the nitrite is processed almost as fast as it is produced.  In a mature system there are still ammonia sources; however, the bacteria just processes it so quickly that we can't detect it with our hobby grade kits.  So it appears that nitrate is produced from nothing, but we know that it isn't.

 

Ammonia isn't directly tied to nitrite (one can exist without the other).  The two can and often do experience offset spikes during the cycle, but it's possible to have detectable ammonia without detectable nitrite and vice versa.  So you can't just test for nitrite to determine if you have free ammonia in your tank water.

 

Actually, most of us care very little about nitrite.  It isn't very toxic an marine pH levels, so we tend not to even test for it.  It's ammonia that we care more about.

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seabass
37 minutes ago, TILTON said:

I just want to see somebody do a test at 8 drops of each and get the zero color reading which is more yellow than green. 

Coming up in a few minutes.  Like I said, a mature system normally shouldn't show a positive ammonia result.

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Thrassian Atoll

This is 8 drops of each with double the amount of water.  If any of the colors would be as close to the zero color on the API kit, I figured this would be it.  It's more of a diluted green though.

IMG_1248.JPG

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seabass

Yeah, I'm not sure how to make it less sensitive, diluting doesn't seem to do that.  However, when you think about it, wouldn't we pay more for something that is more sensitive?  I don't necessarily see it as a problem.  You know that the current level of ammonia in your tank is basically fine.  However, if it were to get even more green, you should do something about it.

 

Anyway, here is the result of one of my tanks, following the kit instructions:

090117b.jpg

Not an exact match.  But it looks even closer in person.

 

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Thrassian Atoll

That looks pretty close.  I am going to try and get my nitrates down to around 5<.  I am going sps dominant so I want the lower nitrates.  The Red Sea kit should work well once my numbers get lower.  

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Moorahs
3 hours ago, TILTON said:

I just want to see somebody do a test at 8 drops of each and get the zero color reading which is more yellow than green.  

 

 

Mine has. I originally thought the 0.25 reading was as low as it could go, but now the tank has been up for a month, several water changes and starting to use chemipure blue, I'm getting a zero ammonia API result. I've taken to using the flash on my iPhone to read the results so there is some consistency of light.

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seabass
4 minutes ago, Moorahs said:

I originally thought the 0.25 reading was as low as it could go, but now the tank has been up for a month, several water changes and starting to use chemipure blue, I'm getting a zero ammonia API result.

Thanks for sharing that.  I believe that many people give up on it before ammonia actually becomes undetectable.

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Thrassian Atoll

That could be possible.  Maybe in a couple of months my results will be zero.  At that point though, not many people test ammonia.  I will test it in a month or two and see if it changed at all.

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seabass

I'd be interested to see that too.

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