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When you first get into fishkeeping, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the large volume of equipment and accessories you need to keep your aquarium fit and happy. One of the most important pieces in your aquarium test kit.

Some of the things you see on lists are niceties, but not necessities, but if you’re a new aquarist, it can be hard to know what’s absolutely needed and what’s a luxury.

I’m here to tell you that aquarium test kits are definitely a must for your new aquarium.

Top tip: You may not need a CO2 system or an auto-top off system. You may not need live plants or reef salt. But whatever kind of aquarium you keep, you absolutely must use testing kits for the safety of your fish.

Best Aquarium Test Kit Quick-Find Table

Image Product

  • Great base tester for saltwater test kits
  • Incredibly easy to use and understand
  • Does the trick for easy monitoring of pH and nitrates and nitrites
  • Great base tester for saltwater test kits
  • Incredibly easy to use and understand
  • Does the trick for easy monitoring of pH and nitrates and nitrites

  • Versatile and easy to use
  • Tests several things, including general hardness of water and pH
  • Nearly instantaneous results
  • Versatile and easy to use
  • Tests several things, including general hardness of water and pH
  • Nearly instantaneous results

  • Includes High Accuracy Titration Tests
  • Enables Accurate Dosing Of The Reef Foundation Supplements
  • Easy to use and understand
  • Includes High Accuracy Titration Tests
  • Enables Accurate Dosing Of The Reef Foundation Supplements
  • Easy to use and understand

  • Tests more things than most other kits
  • Reasonably high value to price ratio
  • Very easy to use and understand
  • Tests more things than most other kits
  • Reasonably high value to price ratio
  • Very easy to use and understand

  • Trusted company
  • Multiple tests
  • No ammonia tester
  • Trusted company
  • Multiple tests
  • No ammonia tester

What is an Aquarium Test Kit?


An aquarium test kit is used to measure specific parameters in the aquarium water.

There are liquid tests, testing strips, and various other media used to test the water to assure healthy balances in the various micronutrients and macronutrients that may or may not be great for your fish.

As you read below, you’ll get a bit of a better understanding on what we mean by this.

Why It’s Vital to Use Test Kits to Test Your Aquarium’s Water Levels

Testing kits may seem a hassle. I remember as a kid being baffled over my parents spending so much time dealing with those messy strips and drops when they could be playing!

But they are absolutely necessary for a thriving aquarium environment.

Author note: They test the water quality for a variety of things, especially those that could kill your fish or plants.

What Do Aquarium Test Kits Measure?

Tiger snout seahorse West Australian seahorse
Tiger snout seahorse – West Australian seahorse (Hippocampus subelongatus) swim underwater in Ningaloo reef in Western Australia.

There are literally dozens of things that could be lurking around inside your aquarium water.

Some of these things are unseen bacteria and natural elements that are great for the health of your miniature eco-system.

However, there are a large number of things you don’t want in there. And these are primarily what the test kits look for.

Alkalinity and pH Testing Kits

The alkalinity test kit determines whether or not the stability of the pH levels in your aquarium.

This is necessary to maintain a stable environment in your fish tank at somewhere at 8.0 or higher for saltwater aquariums or between 5.5 and 7.5 for freshwater fish tanks.

The test will give an accurate assessment on how alkaline or how acidic your aquarium water is. Zero is the lowest, seven is a neutral number while fourteen is the highest range.

Ammonia Test Kit


One of the deadliest things in your fish tank water is ammonia, which is produced by fish waste and decomposing food. Ammonia is a fish killer, so you want a zero-level reading.

Because of this, ammonia testing is extremely critical, especially for beginner aquarists who have a higher tendency to overfeed their aquarium fish.

Fish with ammonia poisoning usually display symptoms of gasping at the water surface, red or purple coloring around their gills, lethargy or lying at the bottom of the aquarium, and, finally, death.

Top tip: If you see any of these signs, you need to test and remedy the problem immediately or you will lose your fish.

Calcium Test Kit

The calcium test kit is necessary for anyone who grows corals. The test kit helps you stabilize the calcium levels for corals in your reef tank.

Corals need this element to grow and strengthen their skeletons – just as humans and mammals do.

Coral draws calcium from the water, which means they deplete the levels. Most reef tanks need levels between 380 and 420 ppm.

Chloramine and Chlorine Test Kits

Tap water contains dangerous chemicals and elements that your aquatic life should not be exposed to.

We use filters for this primarily, but those filters need some help sometimes.

Top Tip: That’s why we test the water regularly using these kits to verify the chlorine and chloramine levels of the aquarium water are low enough – zero – for the safety and health of your fish.

If you notice your fish displaying any of these symptoms, immediately test and treat for chlorine or chloramine toxicity.

  • Gills with a white tinge
  • Quick, jerky movements that are unnatural to your fish species
  • Distressed fish trying to escape the aquarium

Copper Test Kit

Copper is most commonly introduced into your aquarium by the use of tap water, certain substrates or fertilizers for planted aquariums, or other “foreign” objects.

Fish don’t need copper – and some invertebrates may die from copper overdoses – so you should test regularly to avoid having too much – or any – of this element in your fish tank water.

Iodine Test Kit

Saltwater aquariums usually require iodine kits because, well, they need iodine for healthy critters. But too much iodine can be dangerous for them.

Using an iodine kit will help you maintain proper levels.

Magnesium Test Kit

Another marine tank kit, the magnesium kit helps test your saltwater levels for this element. The levels should be between 1200 ppm and 1400 ppm for a healthy tank.

Anything above or below can be detrimental to the health of your fish and corals.

Nitrate and Nitrite Test Kit

A cycling fish tank converts nitrates into nitrites. While nitrite isn’t as bad as ammonia for your fish, it can still be dangerous.

The levels should be less than 20 ppm.

Phosphate Test Kit

Finally, in the list of common aquarium test kits is the phosphate kit. If you notice you’ve got problems with algae, this is a kit to grab.

Phosphates are often the problem behind algae bloom, so testing and maintaining the right levels can help to keep your aquarium water clear.

Do You Need a Kit to Test Your Fish Tank Water?


So, the final question is, do you need a fish tank water tester? Can you test fish tank water without a kit to understand the levels of the various nutrients in your aquarium?

The answer is that you need aquarium water tester kits, unless you happen to be a chemist or want to become one.

The complicated processes used to test aquarium water requires an in-depth knowledge of chemistry beyond what you learned in high school or college.

However, you don’t need to buy a “full kit,” per se, but you can construct one of your own through gathering the various testing kits individually.

But you do need the various forms of fish tank testing based on your freshwater or saltwater tank needs.

No Matter the Aquarium You Keep, You Need These Kits

Whether you’ve got a marine tank, reef tank, or freshwater aquarium, you need to use these kits for the safety of your fish and plants.

  • pH or alkalinity test kit
  • Ammonia test kit
  • Nitrate and nitrite kit
  • Chloramine and chlorine test kit
  • Phosphate test kit

For Marine and Reef Tanks, You Need These Kits

On top of the mentioned kits above, if you keep a marine aquarium or reef tank, you also need these kits.

  • Calcium test kit
  • Iodine test kit
  • Copper test kit
  • Magnesium test kit

Species-Specific Test Kits

Before you make your purchases, you also need to check your species-specific needs.

Some fish, invertebrates, corals, et cetera will have very specific balances needed, so study up heavily on these things to make sure you’re looking for everything your aquarium life needs.

Top tip: If you have freshwater invertebrates, for example, you’ll need a copper test kit, but you may not if you keep betta or discus.

Reviews of the Best Test Kits

tropical fish

We cross-examined as many kits as we could get our hands on and came up with a list of the best of the best aquarium water test kit options available.

We looked through the needs of as many of the basic aquarium foundations as we could and make suggestions for everything from freshwater to reef tanks.

How We Chose the Test Kits

We searched through dozens of freshwater aquarium test kit reviews and saltwater test kit reviews to find the best of the best aquarium test strips and bottle kits to assure everything we recommend meets all these mandatory standards.

All of our choices are:

  • High-quality
  • High accuracy
  • High ratings from real-life users
  • Well-trusted manufacturers in the fishkeeping business
  • Ease of use

Since various aquariums have different needs, we also examined the 12+ kits we reviewed to make suggestions for the various kinds of fish tanks people keep.

Not every tank needs a calcium or magnesium tester, for example, so we looked for these qualities in “add-on” kits to include in the suggestions of the best aquarium test kits below, as well.


#1. API Saltwater Master Test Kit

api saltwater master test kit

For the best, easy-to-use multi-test kit for saltwater aquariums, you’ll want to grab one of the API Saltwater Master Kits. The kit comes for a well-trusted brand in the business and does the trick for giving accurate readings reasonably quickly.

  • Tests for: pH, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites
  • Test type: Solution drops
  • Ease of use: Easy
  • Accuracy: High
  • Result time: 10 minutes

What We Loved

We love that the API saltwater test kit comes with 7 bottles of testing solution and the color card for comparison.

Not every kit needs this much, but the options make it a valuable kit, especially for any beginner aquarists. It contains all the really vital tests, including ammonia, pH, nitrates, and nitrites.

We love how accurate the kit is. It works really well for both seasoned aquarists and beginners – just read the instructions and pay attention to the color cards to understand the levels.

We also love how incredibly easy to use the kit is. Practically anyone can use it and get clear, accurate results every time.

What We Didn’t Love

The only real negative is a semi-negative that most kits also share: There aren’t any test tube holders. It would be great if they were included, but since they’re not, you’ll have to get some separately.

Our Verdict on the API Saltwater Master Kit

Overall, the API Saltwater Master Test Kit is the best saltwater aquarium test kit for anyone needing a complete set on the basic balances. pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates can all be tested with this single kit.

And since most individual testers would cost half of the amount of this kit, you save a bundle of cash, as well. It’s not a complete set for all saltwater necessities, but it makes a fantastic base to customize from for your species-specific needs.

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#2. API Freshwater Master Test Kit

api freshwater master test kit

Another fantastic, accurate, and easy to use kit, this one is for freshwater aquarium water testing from API, one of the most trusted brands in the aquarium keeping business.

The API Freshwater Master Test Kit is easy to use and understand – though they’re admittedly not great for folks with colorblindness – and come at a very reasonable price.

  • Tests for: pH, nitrite, nitrate carbonate and general water hardness
  • Test type: Solution drops
  • Ease of use: Easy
  • Accuracy: High
  • Result time: 10 minutes

What We Loved

We love that the API test kits check several things in your aquarium, meaning for less money you get more value.

This set uses the easy to use strips as your best nitrate test kit, along with nitrate, pH, high range pH, and ammonia. That means you get way more for less.

The kit gives very accurate results – meaning almost anyone can use them accurately and easily.

And those results come quickly, almost instantaneously.

So, if you live a busy life – and who doesn’t these days? – these are perfect for a high-level picture of key water parameters in less time than it takes to add milk to your coffee.

What We Didn’t Love

There’s only one thing that stood out, really.

The colors in the strips can sometimes be a bit hard to distinguish. For those who don’t have great color vision, this will especially be challenging.

Our Verdict on the API Freshwater Master Kit

Generally speaking, this API test kit is one of the absolute best on the market. It’s accurate, fast, and easy to use.

That means it’s great for beginners, folks in a hurry, or anyone who just plain wants less work to go into maintaining a healthy aquarium.

The only potential issue is that the colors aren’t necessarily as distinctive as you might need, unless you’re really good at reading shades.

Whether you’re looking for saltwater or freshwater kits, these top 2 from API are the best.

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#3. Red Sea Foundation Test Kit

Red Sea

The Red Sea Reef Foundation test kit is one of the best options for your supplemental testing. It targets alkalinity, magnesium, and calcium.

  • Tests for: Calcium,
    magnesium, alkalinity
  • Test type: Liquid test
  • Ease of use: Moderate
  • Accuracy: High
  • Result time: Unknown

What We Loved

The saltwater reef foundation kit is designed to be your best foundational testing kit. That is, it tests for the three components all reefs need testing. Add on others as needed only.

We love how accurate this is. Many folks report preferring it over other brands for ease of use, as well.

The test kit allows you to easily check levels and help ensure your corals are getting what they need for health.

What We Didn’t Love

There’s not really much we don’t love about these.

There were a few complaints in reviews about the occasional kit having a leaky container or two, but the problems were rectified quickly with a refund and reorder in those rare cases.

Our Verdict on the Honeforest Hard Water Test Kit

All-in-all, these are a genuinely useful, moderately easy to use test kit for your saltwater and reef tanks.

Your corals need calcium and you need to measure the levels of both calcium and magnesium to verify everything’s all in balance. Thanks to these, you’ll know in less than a minute if they are.

This is going to be your best reef test kit. Just be sure to also get testing kits that check for ammonia, pH, nitrates
and nitrites, and other mandatory levels based on your aquarium’s specific needs.

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#4. JNW Direct 7-in-1

JNW test kit

If you’re looking for a test kit that covers almost everything you might need, then look no further than the JNW Direct 7-in-1 Aquarium Test Strips kit.

The kit tests for seven things – including a few that none of the previously mentioned kits look at – and works easily and reasonably accurately.

  • Tests for: Total hardness (calcium and magnesium), chlorine, nitrite & nitrate levels, pH, total alkalinity & KH/carbonate
  • Test type: Strips
  • Ease of use: Very easy
  • Accuracy: Moderately high
  • Result time: Almost instantaneous

What We Loved

Of course, the first thing we love about this test strips kit is that it tests more than pretty much any other single kit on the market.

From hardness levels (calcium and magnesium) for your saltwater aquarium test kit needs to pH and alkalinity, nitrates, and nitrites, plus chlorine, the kit tests most things you need.

The test strips are really easy to read and that’s a big plus for us, especially for any newbies out there. Just make sure you use a solid light to read them for accurate results.

We also love how economical these are. 150 for a low price is a great value!

What We Didn’t Love

Despite being so thorough in some less-common areas, we don’t love that this kit does not test ammonia. We prefer an all-in-1 style kit to include this critical testing component. After all, ammonia is one of the biggest fish killers.

But, on the other hand, it is nice to be able to hand-pick the ammonia tester, since this is such a vital area for the health of your tank.

While our findings indicate this is a fairly accurate test, we have seen several reviews from real life users who say it wasn’t as accurate as others they’ve tried. So, though it’s not necessarily a downside, it could be.

It is extremely economical, though, and we think you will get fairly accurate responses. Just carefully read current reviews to verify there are no bad batches or issues with those going out in recent weeks.

The main complaint we saw was on pH readings.

Our Verdict on the JNW Direst 7-in-1 Test Strips

The JNW Direct 7-in-1 test strips are a great option for anyone getting started in the aquarist hobby. The results are quick – literally seconds from dip to read – easy to understand, and reasonably accurate.

The only potential issue is the pH readings, but that’s based on some reviews from consumers. It could go either way.

They’re extremely economical, too – 150 strips per small price – and can easily help you maintain your freshwater or saltwater aquarium.

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#5. Tetra Easy Strips

Tetra aquarium test kit

Another aquarium water test kit worth mentioning is the Tetra Easy Strips 6-in-1 testing kit that covers a number of elements and nutrients, including:

  • water hardness (calcium and magnesium)
  • nitrates
  • nitrites
  • alkalinity
  • pH

Overall, it’s a pretty good testing kit from a well-known, well-trusted company that’s been in the game a long time, and a lot of folks swear by the kit.

It just didn’t make it into our absolute top picks because other options offer a wider selection of tests for a better value, or they offer more specific tests.

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How to Test Fish Tank Water Using Your Kits


Each test kit is a little different and should include instructions to follow for anything unique to the given kit, but here are a few standard steps you’ll take for testing solutions, so you know what you’re getting into.

Kits that use strips have fewer steps and often just involve dipping the strips directly into your fish tank water and reading the results according to the color charts provided.

Please follow all instructions with your kit for the most accurate understanding of the health of your aquarium water.

1. Understand all the parameters of your specific aquarium’s needs. Understand the pH levels, calcium counts, et cetera that each of your intended fish, plants, corals, invertebrates, et cetera needs.

2. Purchase the kits you need to test for the right qualities in your aquarium water.

3. Find a syringe or eyedropper to get a sample of water from your aquarium.

4. Fill the test kit tube with the water to the necessary level, which should be indicated on the tube.

5. Add the testing solution, as directed.

6. Mix the water and solution as directed.

7. Read the results of the test based on the instructions included. The test should give clear indicators of how this is to be done.

8. Make adjustments to your aquarium water as needed with the various recommendations offered per need.

9. Continue testing the water each day until the readings are consistently stable. Then, revert to testing the water at the frequency level recommended for the particular nutrient the kit tests for.

About The Author

1 thought on “Best Aquarium Test Kit for Keeping Water Perfectly Balanced in Your Fish Tank”

  1. Hi there, Very informative post, thank you for taking the time to write this all out! Keeping track of your aquarium’s health is of the utmost importance. I also want my fish to live for as long as possible. Again thanks!

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