which I believe are tied to fluctuating CO2
levels due to fish respiration and plant/algae
photosynthesis over the course of the day,
but I would caution you to not get too bogged
down in watching charts and comparing
test-kit colors. While water testing is an
important and useful tool for monitoring the
health of your aquarium, stability is more
important than forcing everything into an
ideal range. Too often, we chase numbers on
a chart and wind up stressing out our fishes
with constant change.
If I rinse it thoroughly
afterward, can I clean driftwood in a bleach
solution and use it in an aquarium?
Bleach, properly used, works
well for decorative items such
as nonporous rocks and plastic
décor. However, driftwood—as
well as any type of porous rock—should never
be bleached. Driftwood or porous rocks can
absorb the bleach into their little nooks and
crannies and then release it into the aquarium.
For driftwood, the best sterilization
technique is to boil it. This may not be
practical for larger pieces, in which case, you
can soak them in the hottest water possible
in the bathtub (but be aware that driftwood
will release tannins that may stain a tub if
left in too long, and then you may have some
domestic problems to solve as well). Change
the water frequently, and keep it hot. This
will also remove many of the tannins, so your
aquarium water will not turn as dark when
you finally add the wood.
As a bonus, this process allows the wood
to absorb water so that it will sink better.
Another method is to simply leave it in the sun
for a few weeks, but that obviously will not
help it sink in water any better.
I have kept tropical fish for
decades. I am down to one
freshwater 55-gallon (208-
liter) community tank with a mix of fish
and a lot of plants. A few months ago the
heater failed. The fish were stressed and
began to die. Nothing I tried helped, and
all of the fish died. Since then I have made
several attempts to start over. Each time
the fish have died within days.
They become coated with white stuff
and die very quickly, often in a single day.
To make a long story short, I went through
several levels of cleaning and starting
over, until finally I took the whole setup
apart and cleaned everything. I threw the
plants out, boiled the stones, and soaked
everything in chlorine.
Essentially, I started over from scratch. I
set the tank up, and checked for chlorine—
all gone—then let it sit filled for several
days. I just bought some new plants, and
within two days, they were coated in
white (which I can rub off), and the tank
had an odor. What more can I do? The
tank has stones, gravel, and two pieces of
It sounds to me as though your
aquarium is experiencing a
bacterial bloom each time you
set it up, and likely the aquarium
water has high levels of ammonia and
nitrite. Rather than your aquarium getting
cloudy, the bacteria are forming a thick film
on your decorations. These bacterial films
may have a bad smell, which checks with
the rest. I doubt that this is the same thing
as what’s happening to the fish, but rather
assume they’re becoming stressed by poor
water conditions and getting sick.
Whenever a tank is started new, its
resident population of beneficial bacteria
needs to be reestablished. Until that happens,
other types of less desirable bacteria are able
to take advantage of high nutrient loads
and can cause massive problems, including
cloudy water. The process of these bacteria
growing in the aquarium is called cycling.
Over time, most aquariums will develop the
right bacterial population, but this takes
8 www.tfhmagazine.com Sep/Oct 2017
Driftwood should never be cleaned with bleach, which may be absorbed into the porous wood and later released into the aquarium.