Water Quality FAQ

What makes good "water quality" for amphibians?

Most people keep aquatic amphibians successfully in tap water. But before use, the water probably needs to be treated to remove chlorine/chloramine. It is also recommended that the water should be aged to equilibrate its temperature and dissolved gasses. The following are the features of "good water" for aquatic amphibians:

  • No chlorine or chloramine.See questions below for more details.
  • No excess dissolved gasses.Tap water, especially during cold weather, comes to us carrying a lot of extra dissolved gas. Allowing the water to age for a day will allow these gasses to come out, and also bring the water to room temperature.
  • Reasonable pH. This is usually not a problem because newts are not very picky about pH. Anything from 6 to 8 is OK. However, beware of pH drops or "crashes" in long-term established tanks. Also avoid rapid changes in pH, and never use “pH UP” and “pH DOWN” solutions to adjust your pH.
  • No ammonia. If you can only afford one test kit, the ammonia test kit is the one to get.
  • No nitrite. If you can afford a second test kit, this is worth testing too.
  • Reasonable levels of nitrate. It won’t kill anything directly, but if you have a high level, you aren’t doing enough water changes, and you are likely to have problems with algae and pH drops. The nitrate doesn't directly cause the pH to drop, but these two parameters are often linked, and a pH drop can be dangerous.
  • Good oxygenation. Very important for amphibian health.
  • Beneficial bacteria. Good bacteria in your tank convert ammonia and nitrite into nitrate. Any time you kill these bacteria, your tank water can build up toxins very quickly.

If your tap water is unsuitable, or you suspect a problem, bottled spring water may be used. See Bottled Water for Amphibians. For more details on maintaining optimal tank water, read Water Quality for Aquatic Caudates.

How can I tell if my tap water contains chlorine versus chloramine? Does it matter?

Yes, it matters. Everyone who keeps an aquarium needs to know this. There are 3 ways to tell for sure whether your water contains chlorine or chloramine. First, you can call customer service at your local waterworks and ask. Second, if you have an aquarium store with well-trained employees, you may be able to get an accurate answer there. Third, do an ammonia test on your tapwater. If the water from the tap contains ammonia, then your waterworks is using chloramine.

How do I treat my water if it has chlorine (not chloramine)?

The age-old advice is "Let the water stand overnight at room temperature". However, depending on the temperature and the shape of the container, it can take more than a week for chlorine to dissipate naturally. It is better to use a product intended to detoxify chlorine, but you still want to let the water stand overnight anyway to equilibrate gasses and temperature.

How do I treat my water if it has chloramine?

You must use a product that neutralizes chloramine. This product should be able to break the chlorine-ammonia bond and detoxify both the chlorine and ammonia. There are many products marketed to do this, but two examples are Amquel and Tetra Aquasafe. You should also let the water stand overnight to equilibrate gasses and temperature.

How often do I need to do water changes?

Unless you are battling an infectious disease or have very serious water-related problems, never do a "total" water change. This is stressful to any aquatic animal. A good schedule for partial water changes is 10% every week or 20% every two weeks. If you are testing for ammonia, do the test just before doing the water change. When you replace water that is lost to evaporation, this amount does NOT count toward the required water changes.

What is "new tank syndrome"?

A new tank can be dangerous. Although the tank may look clean, even small amounts of waste in a clean tank will turn into toxic ammonia and/or nitrite. After the tank has cycled (about a month), there will be an established population of beneficial bacteria that will break down these compounds into harmless nitrates. Read Cycling an Aquarium for Aquatic Animals.

What should I do if I detect ammonia in my tank water?

Ideally, an established tank (one that has been up and running for at least a month) should always have zero ammonia. If not, then something is wrong, either overcrowding, overfeeding, or improper care of the tank and water. If the ammonia is 0.5 ppm or less, continue to test frequently and do regular partial water changes and the problem will probably correct itself in time. If the ammonia level reaches 1 ppm or more, do partial water changes (approximately 25%) daily until the level comes down. Clean out all debris daily with a siphon or basting bulb. Reduce feedings if possible. As a last resort, a product like Amquel can be used to inactivate ammonia. However, rather than adding a chemical fix, it is better to address the underlying reason for the ammonia being there in the first place.

Be aware that most waterworks in the U.S. now sanitize tap water with chloramine, which is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. If your waterworks is using chloramine, your tap water will test positive for ammonia. Letting the water sit overnight will NOT get rid of chloramine. You must use a product that specifically removes chloramines (not just chlorine). If not, water changes will actually be adding ammonia to your tank.

film on water surface

My surface of my tank water has a film (or bubbles). Why? What should I do about it?

A film can be caused by dust on the surface or by protein in the water. Bubbles or foam are usually caused by protein. Although ugly, this is not a serious problem and will not harm the animals. To get rid of it, try the following:

  • Be sure you are doing the recommended water changes, removing and replacing 10-20% of the tank water per week. If the problem is severe, you may want to do this more often.
  • Add additional agitation of the water surface (like an airstone) to get rid of it.
  • Use a paper towel or newspaper to skim off the film and bubbles.
  • Minimize protein in the tank water by feeding less and/or removing uneaten food sooner. If using frozen bloodworms, thaw before use, and do not add the red liquid to the tank.

How many newts can I safely keep in my tank?

The first thing to consider is the temperament of the species. Some, such as paddletails, will do best with only 1 per tank. Territorial species need more tank space per animal. The second thing to consider is the carrying capacity of the tank. Even for fish, many aquarists now believe that surface area, not volume, determines the carrying capacity of a tank. This is surely true for newts. A reasonable formula for newts is:

(length x width in inches)/18 = total inches of newt
(length x width in cm)/45 = total centimeters of newt

Thus, a 15 or 20 gallon tank (12 x 24 inches; 30 x 60 cm) can comfortably accommodate about four 4-inch (10 cm) newts or two 6-inch (15 cm) newts. The number of newts should be fewer than the maximum if there are also fish in the tank.

What kind of water should I use for a terrestrial salamander to spray the habitat and put in the water dish?

You can use tap water, treated to remove chlorine/chloramine as explained above. Or you can use bottled spring water. If the animal is not going to sit in the water much (or if the water is only used to spray the habitat), distilled or RO water may be used. Distilled or RO water will cause less residue to accumulate on the glass, as compared to tap or spring water, which contain some minerals.


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