View Full Version : Water for Malawi Cichlids

05-03-2007, 08:55 PM

I have read myriads of web sites about malawi water. Everything from chemistry level down to very basic. I was hoping someone could give me basic instructions for my situation.


My tap water is very soft (15 ppm) and the PH from the tap is 7.1. There are no nitrates in the tap water.

Tank full of various Malawi cichlids (might be a tad overstocked but I got the tank that way)

My tank is a 90 gallon with at least 3 inches of a mix of coral and gravel but mostly coral. I live on the ocean and am a diver so I also have some giant barnacle clusters as well as other shells. I have also added aquarium salt at 1 tbsp per 10 gallons. The tank PH sits naturally at about 7.5 and the water hardness is 160 to 170ppm (not sure if my test kit is testing total or carbonate). The PH and Hardness doesnt fluctuate much even after water changes.


What should I be adding to the water given my situation. I obviously need to get the PH but other than that I am not sure what to do. I was hoping to stay away from the expensive pet store additives but if that is the only way to get it close to malawi water then I guess that is what I will do but I would appreciate any suggestions.

Thank you


05-03-2007, 10:03 PM

05-04-2007, 12:03 AM
There are 2 ways to handle your situation.

You can spend money on Proper PH which keeps the water exactly 8.2, and you can add Malawi Buffer and Cichlid lake salt.
They are all great but costly.

I use 1 tsp aquarium salt per 5 gallons of water, 1 tsp of baking soda per 5 gallons of water for PH, and 1 tablespoon of epsom salts per 5 gallons of water for hardness, all pre-dissolved, of course.

05-04-2007, 12:17 AM
I use Proper pH 8.2 and it is great, holds pH better than anything else I have tried which means less worry for you and a more stable environment for the fish. I also add the Cichlid Lake Salts. These have the proper salts in the proper proportions that these are used to naturally. You are actually putting in too much salt right now. The dosing for the Cichlid Lake Salt (Seachem) is 3/4 teaspoon per 10 gallons or one tablespoon per 40 gallons. I have tried different additives and different pHs, and th ebest results by far is when I use Proper pH 8.2, Seachem Cichlid Lake Salt, and feeding nothing but New Life Spectrum. These fish have a lot of potential and this is what brings it out. I personally don't see the point in keeping them if I don't try and get the best out of them. Be careful about that thick gravel bed, that could end up as a really bad nitrate factory. What filtration do you have? What is your water change schedule? Could you list what fish you have?

05-04-2007, 02:01 AM
Thank you very much. Of course that is one article I didnt find in my searching.

05-04-2007, 02:18 AM
Ahh one more question. Can I mix all those things together dry to make it quicker to do changes or will something happen chemically to them if they are mixed dry??

05-04-2007, 02:43 AM
nothing will happen with salt and baking soda, just be sure to get the proper measurements of each that you need first before mixing them, so you don't forget what you added and what you didn't. And also be sure to premix them in water instead of dumping it dry into the tank, like Cichlid-Man mentioned.

05-04-2007, 10:32 AM
I agree with Reptileguy here.
I only mentioned the "cheap" home recipe because with some folks money is a factor.
Although Cichlids can survive with the home recipe, it is NOT what they need for their complete health.

Proper PH 8.2
Seachem Cichlid lake salt (which is NOT really salt)
Malawi Buffers.
That's what you require!

05-04-2007, 12:51 PM
Proper pH 8.2 is a buffer for Lake Malawi, so you do not need to buy Proper pH 8.2 and a Malawi buffer if that is what you are thinking. The Malawi Buffer by Seachem is one that you have to test daily and add a certain daily until the desired pH is reached. Proper pH 8.2 brings it right to 8.2 and holds it there for an extended period of time (at least for the week between water changes). However, it is a buffer and my water is naturally hard, so yours may lose its buffering capacity sooner. All that means is that in the beginning you need to test more frequently until you know about how long it holds the proper pH in your tank. And it depends on what you mean by salt. It has table salt (NaCl) in it, but it also has many other salts that are found in the lake. So technically it is salt, actually an assortment of different salts.

05-04-2007, 02:19 PM
Hi Rep...
I add the Malawi buffers because I find that helps with GH/KH somehow.
Maybe not for everybody, but the Proper PH only keeps the PH perfect, and when I add Malawi Buffers, it raises my GH/KH. At least for me.

As far as salts, we've gone through this a lot. Cichlid Lake salt is what I use. 3/4 tsp per 10 gallons for Malawi.

Yes, it is an assortment of many salts, not at all like Aquarium salt

05-04-2007, 05:56 PM
What filtration do you have? What is your water change schedule? Could you list what fish you have?

In reply to Reptileguy2727's questions:

What filtration do you have? - I have an XP2 and XP1 as well as un UGF (Yes I know nobody likes UGFs anymore but I got into aquariums 25 years ago and I still like them)

What is your water change schedule? - Well currently it is about 10 gallons daily because I just got the tank with fish and after moving it and only keeping about 25% of the old water, the nitrates are still about 60ppm. I guess that means that the nitrates were super high before. To that extent the fish are currently very unhappy (they are extremely skidish, will only eat flakes & not ravenously and a few of them are flashing but not often). The ammonia and nitrites are 0.

Could you list what fish you have? - I would love to list what fish I have but I am still trying to sort that out since they all came with the tank that I just got. On a side note I am using http://www.cichlid-forum.com/articles/african_cichlid_genus_gallery.php to identify them. Does anyone know of a better web site to identify them? I was going to take some photos of them and post them on a web site for people to possibly help me. Amazingly, I think one of them is holding.

Thanks for all the help.


05-04-2007, 09:58 PM
Post them on here. I should be able to help with most of them. There are other sites that may help. The one you are at now will be one of the best ones.

It seems that those that do like UGFs are ones who have been into fishkeeping for a while. I just keep remembering that toilet bowl of a 90 after I pulled the UGF out of the 90 at work. That could be one of the strongest driving factors for your high nitrates. With debris buildup in the gravel and under the filter plate, a mature tank can have very bad nitrate spikes.

05-04-2007, 11:20 PM
Hi Rep

I'll work at getting some pics of them today for you to have a look at.

I have been out of aquariums for about ten years so things have changed a lot. I love the setup and function of those filstar XPs that I have now.

The tank that I just bought didn't have un UGF when I got it so I just put it in when I set it up a few days ago; I am pretty sure the nitrates were just super high when I got it. I wanted to use an UGF for a few reasons and please correct me if my thinking is flawed. My tap water is so soft and low PH that I wanted to get the water flowing through the crushed coral more and so far from testing without additives it seems to be working. I also like the UGF so that when I put in rocks in the tank they are not resting on the glass especially when the fish dig. Last, I have never been that thrilled with the idea of having stagnant water in all the gravel (I need quite a bit of coral so there would be lots of non-moving water).

Re crap under the UGF; I remember from days past that with a good powerhead or several, that you can pump out anything under the UGF plates. On occasion I stick two powerheads on the same plate just to make sure it is clean under there. Also, if you have cheap UGFs the rocks will force the gaps open too much and let in more crap and rocks and then the crap starts to stick to the rocks. (a few tips from the golden age of aquariums :)

Is there any other reasons not to use an UGF that have arisen in my 10 year absence?

05-04-2007, 11:49 PM
the only thing with UGF's is they are a breeding grounds for parisites and give high nitrates. They also get dug up by some cichlids.

UGF's do give biological filtration, but 300% less than biowheel filters

05-05-2007, 03:08 AM
Some people put crushed coral in their filters to help get lots of flow across it. Sand is more natural and I think looks much better. That is what I have in my tanks and it works a lot better. We have crushed coral in the 90 at work and I would definitely not do that at home. I don't plan on setting up another tank of any type with gravel from here out, just sand. I used egg crate (plastic light diffuser with all the little square holes in it, you can find it at hardware stores in the fluorscent lighting section) under the sand in my tanks to distribute the weight of the rocks. I think this works better than UGFs. Why do you need so much substrate? Just for the buffering? I keep my sand shallow and it works well. They don't dig too deep in most of the tank.

05-07-2007, 12:00 AM
I have posted the photos of my fish as reptileguy requested. They can be seen at http://dive.bc.ca/cichlids/

I made guesses above each photo what I thought they might be but really I have no clue :)

The fish are extremely skidish. Any movement in front of the tank makes them all dash for cover. Is this likely normal after a move (and possibly because the water was so polluted when I got them)?

I broke down and bought some SeaChem Cichlid Lake Salt and some ProperPH 8.2. On the instructions for the ProperPH is says that if the PH goes down buy .2 then you should redose. I assume that means redose the whole tank so if I have a 90 gallon add 9 scoops every time it goes down by .2? In the instructions is says nothing about mixing it with water first so can I just dump it straight in or do I have to do a water change and mix it in with that?

05-07-2007, 12:44 AM
Depending on how hard your water is to begin with you may not need supplemental dosing, especially if you do weekly water changes at which point you will be adding buffer and salt. I add my salt and buffer straight to the tank with no issues.

Most are mbunas. Fish D 1 and 2 (yellow babies) look like peacocks but may be babies of F which look to be yellow labs. Fish G 1 and 2 may or may not be the same species but could still be close enough to breed together and are not mbunas.

I would not mix mbunas and peacocks.