I have heard an apt description that fishkeeping is nothing more than ‘waterkeeping’, which is to say, making the water conditions for your fish favorable to thier needs. For many of us, this starts with a good product to treat the tapwater we use in our aquariums. Since I have gotten back into the hobby, I have used Seachem Prime to condition my water and I wanted to discuss the product and how to use it.
Water Conditioner – Who Needs it and What Does it Do?
Tapwater is generally good enough for many types of fish that are kept in home aquariums, although some hobbiest choose to further prepare it for their aquariums by purifying through a reverse-osmosis filter or by using additives to change the ph, it is great if you can get away with just using tap water. What is not good is the additives that municipalities add to drinking water.
The two biggest offenders present in tap water are chlorine and chloramine. Both are an effort to provide drinking water that is not subject to growing water-borne diseases. They hurt the critters in your aquarium in a few ways. First, they are toxic to fish and the compounds disrupt the function of their gills and how they transfer necessary oxygen to their bodies. Second, being that it is a compound designed to kill bacteria, chlorine will kill the beneficial bacteria necessary for a healthy aquarium. If the fish and inverts survive the exposure to Chlorine they may then face the unhealthy consequence of a ‘crashed’ cycle and subsequent spike in ammonia and nitrite.
Chlorine added to the drinking water at the treatment facility has a relatively fast ‘off-gas’ time. If you put tap water into a container and aerate it by mixing or using an air stone, the chlorine will dissipate and be removed within a day or two. This used to be a perfectly adequate method to preparing water for an aquarium. A new problem is presented because water treatment facilities understand the shortcomings of Chlorine so they also add the longer lasting compound Chloramine. This is a problem for fish keepers as chloramine has a much longer life and does not dissipate by simply aging water.
Water treatment facilities can change the compounds that they add on a whim so it is best to use a product that will account for both chlorine and chloramine. In addition to the major problem of Chlorine and Chlorimine, there is another issue of metals that are in the water, like copper, zinc, and lead. Any of these could be picked up by the city water distribution or even in the piping inside your home. A good water conditioner will neutralize these heavy metals as well.
Seachem Prime Review:
It’s tough to give a proper review to water conditioner. I don’t have a lab to verify that it is doing what it says it is – i can’t test for before and after levels of copper, chlorine, etc. All I can point to for its effectiveness is a healthy aquarium with a working nitrogen cycle and healthy fish and shrimp. What more could I want?
For more on what they claim the product does (from the Seachem website):
“Prime® is the complete and concentrated conditioner for both fresh and salt water. Prime® removes chlorine, chloramine and ammonia. Prime® converts ammonia into a safe, non-toxic form that is readily removed by the tank’s biofilter. Prime® may be used during tank cycling to alleviate ammonia/nitrite toxicity. Prime® detoxifies nitrite and nitrate, allowing the biofilter to more efficiently remove them. It will also detoxify any heavy metals found in the tap water at typical concentration levels. Prime® also promotes the production and regeneration of the natural slime coat. Prime® is non-acidic and will not impact pH.”
Sounds great, but Seachem goes above and beyond just removing harmful things in the tap water. They also claim to neutralize harmful ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate that are already in your aquarium:
“Prime® also contains a binder which renders ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate non-toxic.”
This is a cool added function in that if, for whatever reason, your nitrogen cycle gets fouled up and your ammonia or nitrite levels get high, you can help to alleviate these problems with Prime. I would not rely on Prime as a long term solution to water quality issues like these, but it is good to know that in a pinch it can help alleviate conditions that are dangerous to your fish and inverts.
I can vouch that this product is very easy to use. I will get more into dosing below, but it is highly concentrated. Conditioning the full volume of water for my Spec V aquarium only requires 11 drops of conditioner. Because it is so concentrated, a bottle last a long time, especially for use in a nano aquarium. My initial 100 ml bottle has lasted almost 9 months at this point and I still have lots left. It is available in many sizes with the better deals (cost per volume) found with the larger quantities. When I purchase Prime again, I will get the 500ml bottle as it seems to be the best deal without buying a very large quantity.
I keep mine in the kitchen near the fish tank so it will be ready quickly if I need it. The only negative I can think of for this product is that it stinks with a strong sulfur smell. When I use it, I dose quickly and get the cap back on to limit the stank.
It would be nice if Seachem could include a better way to dose their product. They mention using the cap as a measuring cup (like other of their products like Excel) but this is not accurate for a smaller aquarium. If they could incorporate some sort of syringe into the cap for more precise metering that would be very helpful.
Proper Usage and Dosing of Seachem Prime:
Seachem prime is a simple product to use. Their recommended dosage to condition water is 5 ml of Seachem Prime for every 200 Liters of water you are treating. The only twist for dosing relates to water changes and adding tap water directly to the aquarium. If you choose to add tap water directly to your aquarium, you need to add a dose adequate to treat the entire volume of your aquarium. For example, when I am adding make-up water to my aquarium, I fill a tupperware container with tap water and add the sachem to that container. I only have to treat for that volume (less than a gallon). I can then add that treated water directly to my aquarium as it is safe.
If, however, I am performing a 30% water change on our 5 gallon aquarium, I choose to add the tap water directly to the tank by way of my DIY water changer. I am only adding about 1-1/2 gallons, but I need to first add conditioner for the entire 5 gallon volume and then start adding the tap water. It felt strange adding tap water directly to the aquarium the first time I did it, but if you use this method, your fish and aquarium will be safe.
Below is a table that gives the proper dosing for various volumes (click to enlarge). Just always keep in mind if you are treating the water outside the tank (dose only for that volume) or if you are adding tap water directly to the tank (dose for the entire volume of the tank). As best I can tell, it works instantly when you add it to water – hard to believe but I take their word on it.
For dosing in a nano tank or very small quantities, I find Seachem’s direction of using “1 thread’ of a capful hard to manage. Using the cap in any form will not be all that accurate for a small tank. I would get a small syringe with ML markings, or better yet – use my method of dosing in small quantities.
Over Dosing Seachem Prime:
They have some interesting things to say about going above the recommended dosing on the Seachem Website:
“For exceptionally high chloramine concentrations, a double dose may be used safely. To detoxify nitrite in an emergency, up to 5 times normal dose may be used.”
I don’t know what constitutes an ‘exceptionally high chloramine concentration’ or how you would know this. My takeaway is that Prime can be safely dosed above the recommended quantity by 5 times. There is no need to dose above their recommended ratio. However, it is nice knowing that you can dose much higher and not do damage.
This can be useful in a practical way: let’s say i’m doing my water change and i get distracted. Halfway through adding water I can’t remember if I actually added the water conditioner. Given Seachem’s allowance to add up to 5x as much as necessary, the decision is easy at that point – just stop what I’m doing and put in the full dosage again. I know that I’m covered and I don’t have to worry about the consequence of doubling up. I wouldn’t make it a habit of doing this, but it’s nice to know the product won’t do harm if I add a little too much.