This is a product that I get asked about often because it is in so many of the pictures with Finley. It measures the amount of ammonia in the water, which is important because too much ammonia can kill fish.
Physically it’s just a small piece of plastic that hangs in the tank on a suction cup. In the center is a circle with a treated surface that reacts with the ammonia in the water to change colors. Around the circle is a color gauge that you use to determine the level of ammonia based on the color of the circle.
Ammonia is supposedly the leading cause of death for aquarium fish, especially for bettas because they are so often kept in small tanks (the smaller the tank, the faster the ammonia builds up). Ammonia is put into the water by leftover pieces of food and poop. You can’t see it, so having this sensor allows you to always know when your fish is safe and when they are in danger.
If you have a filter in your tank, that will take care of most of the ammonia. However, I always keep this gauge in the tank just in case. I am a first time betta owner so I don’t know much about the chemistry of aquariums, but I’ve heard that there are dangerous ammonia spikes sometimes in fitered tanks, such as after you change the filter.
Without the filter, having the gauge let me know exactly when I HAD to change the water. I remember one time I was busy and I really didn’t want to change the water until the next day, but the gauge was on full alert and rising to alarm, so I changed my plans to be sure Finley was safe. According to the Seachem website page for this product, “The ALERT concentration is tolerated for several days, ALARM for a few days, and TOXIC is rapidly harmful.” To be on the safe side, I always just stayed away from the alarm zone comletely.
Without the gauge, you only have 3 options:
- Test the water using test strips, which are expensive and only capture a single moment in the tank.
- Bring a sample of your water to a pet store or aquarium store where they will usually test it for free (PetSmart & PetCo both do).
- Leave it up to chance (which is probably the reason that ammonia is the leading cause of aquarium fish death).
I have always found this guage to be incredibly effective. The few times that I’ve had samples of Finley’s water tested at an aquarium store the ammonia was always where it should be (which the guage agreed).
The only downside to this product is that it doesn’t last forever. The company recommends that you replace it every 6 months. They make a different one that lasts a full year, but I think it just came out (just saw it for the first time on their website today – you can see it here). For my 6 month gauge, I never had one long enough to determine how long it really does last.
- The first gauge that I bought I cleaned with alcohol (while trying to deal with the mold problem that I talk about in another post) and that made it turn blue and it never worked again after that. You can see it blue in the video of Finley playing with my hairties.
- The second one I ruined by touching it and washing it (which changed the pH very quickly) and the sensor turned dull (looked worn out). Granted, it does say on the package not to touch the sensor, so that was my bad. If you ever have to wash it (such as to remove algae), just clean around it or use a paper towel to very gently wipe over the sensor if absolutely necessary – a paper towel will hopefully be pH neutral. Don’t use a cloth, which may have detergent or fabric softener residue on it as that could hurt your fish and would definitely change the pH. Always use the water from your aquarium too, not tap water, which I did, like an idiot. #FirstTimeFishOwner
- The third one was working great when Finley died. (He died from intestine problems, not ammonia-related.) 😧
So as you can see, I bought them multiple times. The best way to buy one is online. In stores, I’ve only been able to find the two-pack, which comes with one ammonia alert gauge and one pH gauge. The two pack costs about $15 at PetSmart and the one ammonia guage costs about $7 on Amazon. You can sometimes find them at your local aquarium supply shop as well.
The pH gauge is useful as well to make sure there aren’t any pH spikes in your water. These can be caused from a variety of factors, the nitrogen cycle, oxygen changes in the tank, changes in tap water, etc., which can be stressful for your fish. But that’s a post for another day.
Here are links to buy it on Amazon. (As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)
If you want to read more about the ammonia guage, there is a great product description on the Seachem website.
So, my findings are that:
- It works well.
- It’s the easiest method to test the ammonia that I’ve found.
- It provides continuous information rather than one-time information of a test strip.
- It gave me a feeling of safety.
I absolutely enthusiastically recommend this product.
Finley was a little indifferent towards it – the pretty colors faced out so, ehh, not too interesting for him. But here you can see he did build a nest next to it sometimes, so at least he didn’t mind having it in his tank.
More recently, I’ve got another betta and she too has her very own Ammonia Alert Guage.
This review is completely my own opinion.