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Think Out Of The Box
for Aquarium and Pond Supplies

Aquarium supplies

By Tony Griffitts

There are many places you can buy aquarium and pond supplies, but did you know that you can find many useful supplies at stores not catering to the hobby for a significantly less.  You can also find items not typically found in aquarium/pet stores that are very useful for your hobby.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) that you buy at the grocery stores is used to raise pH and alkalinity.  This is the primary ingredient in most aquarium pH increasers.  Using baking soda will also inchease the total disolved solids (TDS) in the water.  I use this chemical for livebearers and Central American cichlid tanks to help maintain a stable pH.  Always dilute the chemical in water and then pour it into the aquarium in a high flow area.

Extech laser thermometer.

Extech laser thermometer.

Laser thermometer can be purchased at electronics stores.  Just point at the surface of the glass on a tank or the surface of the pond and pull the trigger to get a digital readout of the temperature.  Very useful if you have multiple tanks or a pond.

Soda ash (sodium carbonate) or swimming pool pH increaser is a common ingredient in marine aquarium and African cichlid pH and alkalinity increasers.  This can be bought at grocery stores, pool supply stores, and hardware stores.  Make sure to check the label to make sure the ingredients are 100% sodium carbonate.  This chemical can increase the pH higher than baking soda.  Use only one teaspoon per 80 gallons (304 l) per day.  I use this chemical for African cichlid tanks instead of baking soda, as it will raise and maintain the higher pH values Tanganyikan and Malawian cichlids prefer (7.8 to 9.2).  Always dilute the chemical in water and then pour it into the aquarium in a high flow area.

4" Rose Pots

A four inch "Rose Pot" make a excellent spawning site for Discus and Angelfish. I normally find these pots at "Michael's" for less than a dollar each.

Terracotta flower pots often used as spawning caves for cichlids.  A tall pot can also be used as vertical spawning site for freshwater angelfish and discus.  At less than a dollar each, it's hard to beat the price.

Natural sand and gravel can be purchased at a rock yard or hardware store for often less than $5 for a 50 or 100 lb bag.  This is my primary source of sand for planted aquariums.  Rock yards often have different colors to choose from.

Decorative rocks can often be purchased at rock yards for a third or quarter the price you pay in the pet or aquarium shop.

Razor blades used for scraping algae off the sides of glass aquariums can be bought at grocery and hardware stores.  They are the  tool of choice for removing hard green spot algae  and coraline algae off of glass tanks.

Polyester fiber padding can be purchased at a fabric or upholstery store in bulk and cut to size for filters.  This material is used as padding in chairs.  Many hobbyists use the polyester fiber for trickle filters, pond filters, and canister filters.  I use it in a Hagen Quick Filter.  I wrap the pad around the inner core, when it gets dirty I through it out and wrap another pad around the core.

Pool Time Calcium Hardness Increaser - "Calcium chloride"

Pool Time's "Calcium Hardness Increaser" is calcium chloride which can be used to increase calcium level in the aquarium.

Calcium chloride is used to raise the calcium level in reef aquariums and swimming pools.  You can buy it in stores that sell swimming pool supplies.  Seven pounds of calcium chloride sold at a local hardware store cost me less than $12.  It is the same ingredient in Kent's liquid Calcium and Turbo Calcium.  In the aquarium you can use it to raise the calcium level in reef tanks, and also freshwater tanks where hard water freshwater fish are kept.  If you have soft water and you want to keep livebearers like guppies, mollies, swordtails, and platies, adding calcium chloride will help raise the hardness.  Always dilute the chemical in water and then pour it into the aquarium in a high flow area.  This chemical can get very hot when you add water to it, so use a container of water and add the chemical and stir until dissolved.

Red clay brick can also be use as a vertical spawning site for angelfish and discus, but I prefer the clay pot as they do not have any sharp edges.

Industrial floor buffing pad (white color).

Industrial floor buffing pad.

Industrial floor buffing pad (white color) (19 to 20 inches across) used to polish the floor in buildings can be cut up and used to clean algae off of the sides of acrylic aquariums.   A box of 5 at my local "Smart & Final" store sell for under $20.  For less than $4 for one giant size algae scrubbing pad, you can't beat the price.

Paint bucket strainer that come in one or five gallon size can be used for holding bulk carbon, zeolite, or a phosphate remover.   I also use them over the intake of power filters to prevent fish fry from being filtered out of the aquarium.  Most hardware store's paint section have them in stock, and they usually cost only a dollar each for the one gallon size.


A wild caught mated pair of Apistogramma cacatuoides use this coconut half as a spawning site.

Coconut you buy at the grocery store can be made into cichlid spawning huts. Cut the coconut in half and remove all the meat with a screwdriver, and then drill a hole in the side.  Coconut is very dense, so when you place it in the tank it will sink.  It makes a natural look spawning cave that is also easy to get Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana) to grow on.

Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is use to make water harder, in reef tanks for growing stony coral, and sometimes as a laxative for fish that may have an intestinal blockage.  It can be bought in most grocery stores and pharmacies for three or four dollars for a half gallon size container,

Rock salt (sodium chloride, Solar Salt, Table Salt) is used to make water harder.  Often used with brackish water fish, mollies, koi ponds, or for treating some fish diseases.  A 50 lb. bag of Solar Salt marketed for recharging whole house water softeners can often be bought for only five or six dollars at the local grocery store.  Sodium chloride is the same salt sold as aquarium salt.

Plastic syringe used to inject liquid plant fertilizer into a sand bed.

Injecting sand bed with liquid plant fertilizer.

Plastic syringe used to inject liquid plant fertilizer into a sand bed can often be bought at a plastics supply store or lab equipment supplier.

Old tooth brush are great for cleaning filter and pump impellers, inside tubing, or scrubbing algae off of rocks and ornaments.

PVC pipe not only is used for plumbing in filtration systems, but is often used for hiding place in tanks with aggressive cichlids or other fish.

Koi pond nets can be bought at sporting goods stores.  Check the nets out in the fishing equipment section.  Many often work quite well for large Koi and are often relatively inexpensive.  One of my favorite nets I use in my koi pond cost only $5, and is better quality than the one I bought at the fish store.

When your out shopping look around to see what may be useful for your hobby.  Share with other hobbyist your creative uses of other products.  Sometimes you just need to experiment, and see what happens.

Published - 20070605

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