API Calcium Test Kit Review: Is it a good kit?

API Calcium Test Kits have long been one of the most affordable brand of test kits available to reefkeepers. But the lower price often causes to people to question how accurate or reliable they are.

Curiosity got the better of me. So, when my Elos test kit ran out, I decided to give the API Calcium Test Kit a try.

Let’s take a look at how the API Calcium Test Kit stacks up against the competition.

Wide availability in large pet store chains such as Petco make it one of the easiest calcium test kits to find.

API Calcium Test Kit

And a price around $10 retail and $7 on Amazon make it, as mentioned, the most affordable kit on the market.

Now, here’s a quick look at how it works.

Using the API Calcium Test Kit:

The API Calcium Test Kits is easy to use.

You simply fill the test vial with aquarium water up to the 5 ml mark. Add 10 drops of the solution from bottle #1. Shake well. Then add test solution from bottle #2 into the vial drop-by-drop until the solution turns blue.

Most other test kits, such as those from Salifert and Elos, involve mixing three or more reagents instead of just two.

There is one slightly annoying catch with using the API test…

You need to shake the vial after adding each drop of solution #2. A plastic cap is included in the kit to cover the vial while shaking. But a little solution does drip down the outside of the vial each time you remove it. And it is cumbersome having to cap and uncap the vial after each drop.

The short cut I use is simple. I toss out the cap and simply hold the open end of the vial against my palm or thumb when I shake it.

Vial mount covered by my palm

You can also add several drops of solution #2 at once if you know roughly where your calcium level is already at. Just switch to adding one drop at a time when you get close to your anticipated endpoint.

The test is complete when the solution changes from pink to blue.

As you get closer to the end of the test, the solution turns purple. That is when you know you only have one or two more drops of test solution #2 before it turns blue.

And the colors along the way – pink, then purple, and finally blue – a vibrant enough to clearly tell apart.

This is about as easy as testing calcium can get.

But what about reliability and precision of the results?

Precision, Accuracy, and Reliability of Results:

Accuracy is where some reefkeepers feel the API Calcium Test Kit falls behind the competition.

It only has an accuracy of 20 mg/l (ppm). Other test kits, such as the Elos kit mentioned earlier, have a precision of 10 ppm.

This wider window of accuracy is the trade off for having to mix just two reagents rather than three or more. It’s also the reason the API kit costs less than most others. Fewer components means less cost to produce the kit.

I have to be honest though, I really don’t find this slightly ‘poorer’ accuracy to be a problem. The more experienced I’ve become at reefkeeping, the more I’ve come to realize that being off by 20 ppm on calcium instead of just 10 will have little to no effect on having a happy, healthy tank.

Think about it. The ideal range for calcium is 400-450 ppm. But that’s for it to be absolutely ‘ideal’. It can fall anywhere between 380 and as high as 550 and still be perfectly fine with happy, healthy corals. And it can even go as high as 600 ppm before there is any real cause for concern or corrective action.

If you have a 50 ppm window to be ‘ideal’ and a 170 ppm calcium range that will keep your reef completely happy and health, a precision of 20 ppm on a calcium test kit is more than enough.

Some of experienced reefkeepers … folks who’ve been keeping tanks for decades … even consider 10ppm to be unnecessary overkill.

And I have to agree. An accuracy of 20 ppm isn’t ‘poor’, it’s perfectly fine. And anything ‘better’ than that is just money wasted on something unnecessary … money that could be used toward more corals, fish, or other equipment.

As far as precision and reliability go…

I’ve tested it several times against both Salifert and Elos calcium tests and it never varied more than 10 ppm from either of them. Which makes sense given both of the other kits have an accuracy of 10 ppm.

So it certainly seems to be reliable.

And multiple tests with the API kit have almost always been spot on with the same reading … only varying by 20 ppm once in a very great while. That’s more than enough precision to ensure your calcium stays in a range that will keep your corals happy.

 

 

IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump Review

The IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump is a budget-friendly aquarium dosing pump that is easy to operate. But, can you rely on it for dosing your aquarium…

IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump
An IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump

I used two of them for a year to dose 2-part solutions in my 24g mixed reef tank. Here are some of the pros and cons I have found with the IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump in that time:

Pros:

  • Can be daisy-chained. Each IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump is a single, stand alone pump and you can purchase either a master or a slave. Each master comes with a DC adapter to plug into a power outlet. Slave units cost about $5 less and come with a short power link cable for plugging into the master or slave next to it. You can link up to 3 slave units to each master. This allows great flexibility for keeping down the cost and space used. For example, I only needed two pumps: one for dosing the alkalinity component of the 2-part, and one for dosing the calcium component. If I ever wanted to dose something else in the future, such as magnesium, I could purchase another slave unit if needed.
  • Easy to program. You don’t need a computer to program the pumps. There are six buttons next to the pump display: one to prime the pump, one to enter calibration mode, two to adjust the timing schedule, and two to set the dosage amount. Say you want to dose 20ml a day. Simply set it to 05 for the dose amount and 6H for the timing. The pump will then dispense 5ml of fluid every 6 hours for a total of 20ml every 24 hours.
  • They seem quite reliable. Over the course of the year I never had a pump fail. After initially setting up and calibrating the pumps, I also never had to re-calibrate them (I checked them every 3 months or so but never had to make any calibration adjustments.).

Cons:

  • Limited flexibility in the dosing schedule. The way you schedule the dosing times is the set the pump to dispense every so many hours or days, either: 1H, 2H, 4H, 6H, 8H, 12H, 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D and so on up to 9D.
  • Can only dose in whole milliliter amounts. The pumps only have a precision of 1ml.

In essence, the simplicity of the pump and the ease of programming it can be a bit of a double-edge sword at times.

Let’s say you are currently dosing a total of 16 ml/day by having the pump dispense 4ml every 6 hours.  But now you have to raise that amount to 17 ml/day. Since 17 is not an even number and cannot be divided by a multiple of two, you will only have one option: to dispense the entire amount in one big dose each day.

If you are dosing something like alkalinity buffer this may cause problems, such as pH or alkalinity swings that upset sensitive SPS corals.

The inability to dose in 0.1 ml increments can cause similar problems if you have a smaller-sized aquarium. For example, while using the pumps to dose 2-part in my 24g, I often found either my Alk or Ca would continue to slowly rise or fall because I had to dose, say, either 19 ml or 20 ml instead of the 19.5 ml I need to stay in balance with what my corals were consuming.

Final Thoughts on the IceCap Liquid Dosing Pump:

The IceCap dosers are nice little pumps. And if I were running an aquarium 100g or larger with ordinary corals in it then I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to use these dosers.

For tanks that are under 100g … or that have sensitive or expensive SPS corals, a doser that has finer dispensing precision and more scheduling flexibility may be a better choice.

As for me…

I got tired of constantly fighting to keep the Alk and Ca (e.g. 2-part) in my small 24g tank in balance with my coral consumption due to the inability to make fine dosing adjustments. So I replaced my IceCap Liquid Dosing Pumps with a much pricier, high-end GHL 2.1 Doser that would allow me to dispense with a precision of 0.1 ml.

 

Elos Calcium Test Kit Review

Today we’ll be taking a look at the Elos Calcium test kit.

Every good aquarist knows it is vital to maintain proper levels of alkalinity and calcium in your reef aquarium. They are the key components for keeping corals healthy, happy, and growing.

Fortunately both can be measured easily and reliably with good quality test kits.

Now, when it comes to high quality aquariums and accessories, one brand name typical shows up in the top of the list: Elos.

The tanks made by this renowned Italian company are considered to be the ‘Ferraris’ of aquariums. And although they tend to be a bit pricey, many longtime reef keepers consider their test kits, fish foods, and other accessories to be top-of-the-line as well.

I myself find their phosphate (PO4) test kit to fantastic.

So I decided to give the Elos calcium test kit a try as well.

Elos calcium test kit

The Elos calcium test kit screams quality from the moment you open it up.

Everything from the logo-embossed glass testing vial to the color quick guide looks and feels top rate.

The kit comes with four reagents labeled A, B, C, D.

Three are used in the Approximation Test. And all four are used in the Precision Test.

The approximation test allows you to test your calcium to within 50 ppm (e.g. 50mg/l if you prefer metric) of it’s actual value.  Essentially it’s a quick check just to see if your calcium is within the recommended range of 380-450 ppm.

Then, if you desire a more accurate reading, the Precision Test allows you to read your calcium within 10 ppm.

I’m not going to go into details of performing the tests. There are already plenty of videos online that show it – such as this really nice done by Coralvue:

The key thing to know is this: in order to a Precision test, you first have to do an Approximation test. Otherwise you will use up the D reagent quite fast.

If you calcium tends not to shift very much, you’ll only need to do an approximation test once, and can then use it as the basis for all the Precision tests you do thereafter.

But if your calcium tends to shift quite a bit, you will have to do an approximation test before each and every precision test.

When I first saw that the Elos calcium test kit offered the choice of doing a quick, ballpark test or a more precise test, it seemed as though it would result in the use of less reagent … and therefore the kit would last longer and save money in the long run.

It turns out the opposite is the case.

As I said, it is a quality kit. The color changes are very easy to distinguish. And determining the calcium value from the number of drops required to reach the color change is very easy to do – especially since they provide with an easy to read conversion chart.

If you would like to try it for yourself, you can order one from most any large, online aquarium store such as Coralvue or Premium Aquatics …  or even from Amazon.

However, the reading I got from the Elos calcium test kit was the same as the reading I got from my Salifert calcium test kit – the brand I had been using up until now…

And the Salifert kit also measures to a precision of 10 ppm … while only requiring one test each time … using just three reagents … and for two-thirds the cost.

Oh, and both kits are good for 50-100 tests.

The bottom line: When I use up this reagents in the Elos calcium test kit, I will be switching back to the Salifert calcium test kits instead.

Both are great kits. But the Salifert kit is a bit quicker and easier to use … not to mention less pricey.