How To Raise pH In African Cichlid Tank? Can You Use Baking Soda?

Oct 10, 2021

How To Raise pH In African Cichlid Tank

The rule of thumb in the aquarium hobby is to leave your tank’s pH alone. Your ‘hardy’ fish can tolerate any given pH value. After all, your African cichlids didn’t really come from Africa. They were commercially raised in fish farms here in the US, right? 

At Urban Fishkeeping, we cannot overstate how important it is to regularly moderate and regulate your tank’s pH levels. After all, a couple of generations of commercial breeding doesn’t change hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. 

If your fish needs alkaline water, that’s what you should give. They shouldn’t just survive but thrive. 

In this blog, we will share the dos and don’ts of raising the pH value of your tank. Does baking soda really work for that purpose? Keep reading to know! 

First, here’s a quick glance at the ideal pH value for different cichlid types. 

Central American Cichlids 7.0-8.0
South American Cichlids 6.5-7.4
Malawi and Victorian Cichlids 7.4-7.9
Tanganyikan Cichlids 8.3-9.3

How To Raise pH in African Cichlid Tank?

There are several simple techniques to increase the tank’s pH levels. Some effective ways are adding crushed coral, aragonite sand, rift lake salt, dolomite chips, limestone, or macroalgae. Aeration and regular water changes also help in maintaining a higher pH value. 

Now, let’s look at these alternatives one by one. 

Crushed Coral To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Using crushed coral is one of the most reliable ways to increase an African cichlid tank’s pH levels. That’s because coral contains mineral compounds like calcium carbonate at top levels. 

What I like about using crushed coral is that it increases the pH value slowly but steadily. So it doesn’t expose your fish to sudden fluctuations.

And there are two ways to use crushed coral. You can either use it as the substrate or put it inside the HOB filter or in one of the canister trays. 

The benefit of using it as a substrate is that crushed coral’s buffering capacity lasts a lot longer. The downside is that once the buffering capacity ends, you’ll have to change the entire substrate base. And we all know too well how tedious that is. 

On the other hand, the benefit of adding crushed coral to the filter is obvious – it’s easy. The disadvantage is that there’s a high nitrate concentration in the filter, which degrades the crushed coral’s buffering capacity a lot sooner. 

Personally, I like placing a small pouch of it in the filter. 

Crushed coral is readily available both online and offline. If you’re interested, here’s an Amazon link:

Aragonite Sand To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

If you’re not a fan of the sharp and edgy look that crushed coral lends, go for aragonite sand. It offers the same functionality, besides a smooth, sandy look for your tank. 

If your cichlids dig around and rummage often, sharp corals can inflict injuries. In that case, aragonite sand would be your best bet. 

Once again, you can either use it as a substrate or keep a small pouch in the filter. The first option would be a lot more effective in this case. 

The pros and cons of putting in the filter or using it as a substrate are the same as for crushed coral. 

When buying aragonite sand, look for a phosphate-free option. If it’s sustainably sourced, even better! 

If you’re on the lookout, here’s one by AquaNatural that ticks all the right boxes. Also, it’s made with naturally renewable oolitic aragonite. 

Malawi/Victoria Buffer To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Several pH-raising commercial products that are specially designed to suit African cichlids’ needs are commercially available. Seachem’s Malawi Buffer is a great option that I have previously used and recommend. 

Use 1 level teaspoon for around 10-20 gallons every day until you meet the desired pH level. And once the optimum pH level is achieved, use it once every 2-3 weeks to maintain it. 

Here’s a link if you’re interested:

Seachem Malawi/Victoria buffer can maintain pH values between 7.8 and 8.4, based on the amount you use. If your fish needs pH lower than 7.8, you can use it combined with Seachem’s Acidic Buffer

On the other hand, if your fish needs even higher pH values, mix it with Tanganyika Buffer

For best results, dilute the buffer or buffer mix in tank water in a separate container before adding it to the tank. 

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Aeration To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Simply put, aeration increases oxygen concentration in water and displaces carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is highly acidic, and when dissolved in water, will form carbonic acid that lowers the pH value significantly. 

There are two ways to stimulate aeration in the tank. The easiest way is to place the filter outlet above the water surface. This will interfere with the water current, which helps air move into the water. 

The second option is to use a reliable air/water pump. These pumps create aquarium current, which helps the air move into the water. 

However, keep in mind that if your fish do not prefer strong currents, aeration is not the right option for you. 

Regular Water Changes 

Nitrate lowers the pH value and makes the water acidic. And pollutants released in multiple ways like uneaten food and fish waste increases nitrate buildup in the tank. 

Therefore, it’s vital to conduct regular water changes and remove toxic nitrate buildup from the tank. 

For African cichlids, 15% water change twice a week is ideal. But if you’re short on time, you can conduct around 30% water change every week. 

Well, there’s no rule set in stone. The frequency and amount of water change mainly depend on the tank’s size and the number of fish you have. Contrary to popular belief, smaller tanks are more temperamental and high-maintenance than bigger tanks! 

Calcareous Decor To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Calcareous decors comprise natural matter containing minerals that can buffer pH, hardness, or both. So, you can definitely use them as decors to upkeep your tank’s pH needs. Some examples are limestones, tufa rocks, ocean rocks, or dry reef rocks. 

If you like the rustic look driftwood offers, you can also add a couple of these after vigorously boiling them. Driftwood releases tannic acid and tannins, which lower the water’s pH levels. So, make sure you boil them often. 

Macroalgae To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Macroalgae is an unlikely hero when it comes to increasing the water’s pH level. On top of that, it will make your tank look like a proper seabed. 

Besides raising the pH level, macroalgae also help to eliminate useless algae from the water. Resultantly, this will keep your water more pristine than usual. 

Macroalgae will also serve as an alternative source of food and minerals for your fish. Just make sure you don’t let it overgrow. 

Dolomite Chips Or Limestone To Increase Tank’s pH Value 

Using dolomite chips or limestones is a great way to increase the tank’s pH level and aesthetic appeal. 

Those tiny, colorful stones you see in your tank are actually dolomite chips. These chips are super rich in magnesium and calcium – minerals that can significantly enhance the water’s pH levels. 

Another excellent option is using limestones. These are super rich in calcium carbonate – the substance responsible for making the water hard. I love using limestones as they impart a mystical, cave-like look to my cichlid tank.

Here’s the limestone by Carib Sea I have placed in my tanks: 

It doesn’t require curing and can be used right away!

Why Should You Not Use Baking Soda To Increase pH Value?

While researching for this blog, I found some sites listed baking soda as a cheap and easy way to increase the pH value. While it’s true, using baking soda can backfire in unprecedented ways. So, we definitely don’t recommend it. 

With so many other great options available, we strongly advise you not to use baking soda to increase the pH value. That’s because it makes the water hard in a brief span – changing the water chemistry and possibly shocking your cichlids. 

Also, the effect doesn’t last too long. You’ll have to add baking soda more frequently. And in the long run, it’ll cost you way more than any of the above methods mentioned above. 

How To Check the pH Of Your Aquarium?

Checking the tank’s pH value is no rocket science. You simply have to buy a reliable testing kit and test the waters using it frequently. My go-to pick is API Freshwater Master Kit. It offers more value for money than buying individual strip kits. 

And besides pH, it also measures ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and high range pH. 

Here’s a link if you’re interested:

And here’s a digital pH tester from Dr. Meter that my friend got me for Christmas last winter! If you’re into one-time investments, this definitely is a great buy.

What’s pH? Why Is It Important To Measure It?

In simple words, pH is a measure of hydrogen ion activity levels in the water. We can measure it on a scale of 0 t0 14. Lower values show the water is acidic, which means there’s a high amount of hydrogen ions in the water.

On the other hand, the higher pH spectrum denotes the water is hard or alkaline – containing a higher amount of hydroxide ions. 

Achieving ideal pH balance is the key to healthy and happy fish. While different tanks have different needs, ALL tanks must have stable pH values. 

If pH fluctuates too much, it will compromise your fish’s immunity and make them susceptible to diseases. For example, highly acidic water causes skin burns, with young and old fish being more vulnerable to such effects. 

On the other hand, overly hard water harms the gills and directly contributes to sudden death! 

Parting Words: How To Raise pH In African Cichlid Tank?

First, sorry for bombarding you with so many Amazon links today. But what can I do… This article demands so. All the recommendations I made are tested out by myself or result from meticulous research and comparisons. 

As fish parents, we have to try our best to emulate the water chemistry of their natural habitat to give them the best life possible in a tank. And the water’s pH level plays a pivotal role in determining that. 

TL;DR – you can make the water harder by using crushed coral, aragonite sand, buffers, calcareous decorations, as well as aeration and performing regular water changes! 

Happy Reading! 🙂

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.