Best Aquarium Test Kits & Strips Tested & Compared to Lab Results (2022 Review)

I bought and tested five aquarium test kits. I tested four different aquariums in my home, all of which have vastly different livestock, plants, substrates and mineral additives.

I rated the test kits based on their ease of use, the time testing took and the consistency of the results.

I also had an independent lab (EuroFins) test the same water samples so I had definitive results to compare the home tests to. Here are my results:

Quick Overview For Water Testing Kits

The most accurate and consistent test results came from the API Freshwater Master Kit and the API GH & KH Test Kit. It takes a bit more effort and time to run these tests, but they give you the best information about your water parameters.

I recommend these liquid tests above all else.

I also tried out and compared three different brands of test strips. I found the Aqua Care Pro test strips to be the most accurate and consistent.

However, the only test strips that include an ammonia test are the Tetra EasyStrips. But, these strips had problems with both accuracy and consistency. I really would recommend the API Master Kit over these.

Preview Product
API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single,...
API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit
Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine General & Carbonate Hardness (GH & KH) - Easy to Read Wide Strips & Full Water Testing Guide, 116 Ct Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine...
API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box
Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Do you need an aquarium test kit?

Yes, yes you do!

Testing your aquarium water is an important part of your maintenance routine.

It can tell you if your tank is still cycling, if you need to start doing more water changes, or even if you should just keep doing exactly what you’re already doing because your numbers are great.

Testing your water should be the first thing you do if you notice that you have sick fish. A lot of fish ailments are caused by poor water conditions.

What should you test for?

This really depends on the age of your tank.

When you’re first getting your tank set up, and you’re trying to get it to cycle, it’s important to keep tabs on the ammonia (NH3), nitrite (NO2 -1) and nitrate (NO3-) every few days.

At this stage, you need to monitor how much ammonia is in the water column, especially if you’re doing a “fish in” cycle. Nitrite and then nitrate will start to show up once you have beneficial bacteria starting to grow in your filter. So, these are important indicators to watch out for.

Everything is very delicate during this time and you need to know exactly what’s going on so you can make adjustments when necessary.

If you’re not familiar with the stages of the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle, please see our in-depth article about it here.

The first few months after the tank is initially cycled, I would recommend testing your  parameters once a week. 

The water parameters should be more stable at this stage, however, there can sometimes be big shifts in an immature tank. 

Once the tank has been cycled for 4 or 5 months, assuming the parameters have stayed steady, you can go to testing for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate about once a month. 

At this stage, I would also add on testing for pH. Sometimes, the pH can start to drop in mature aquariums, usually because of poor maintenance practices, so it’s a good idea to monitor this occasionally just to be on the safe side.

Do not get caught up in trying to achieve the “perfect” pH. Consistency is much more important than trying to play around with chemicals to alter your water. Generally, good aquarium maintenance is all that’s needed to maintain a healthy pH in your tank.

I also routinely measure the mineral content of my water, the GH and KH, especially in my shrimp tanks. These parameters usually aren’t mission critical to fish only setups, unless you’re trying to get a finicky fish species to spawn. 

But since I have shrimp in more of my tanks than not, I like to keep a close eye on these parameters to ensure the shrimp have the minerals they need to grow their exoskeletons.

Most of my tanks have been running for several years, some of them over a decade, but I still run tests on them monthly to make sure that everything is staying balanced.

How were the kits tested?

I used each test kit to measure the parameters of four of my aquariums.

I ran three tests on each sample with each test kit. You never know when you’re going to get a funky test strip, so I wanted to make sure I gave each kit a fair shake.

I recorded all the results for comparison. I wanted to be able to compare the numbers I got from each test kit in three ways: 

  • Consistency: were the results consistent over the three tests? In other words, were there large deviations between each test or did I get the same numbers each time? 
  • Different samples: did the test results vary according to known factors for different water samples? I tested water samples from four different aquariums that I know have very different water parameters:
    • Rainbow Tank – Heavily stocked planted fish tank with inert substrate
    • Angel Tank – Heavily stocked planted fish tank with aragonite substrate. You would expect this tank to have slightly higher GH and KH because the aragonite puts off calcium and carbonate into the water.
    • Shrimpville – Lightly stocked and heavily planted Neocaridina davidi (cherry shrimp) tank with GH and KH additives
    • Crystal Red Tank – Lightly stocked and planted Caridina cantonensis (crystal red shrimp) tank with GH additives, but no KH additives
      • I wanted to make sure that the test results reflected the radically different parameters in each tank and didn’t just give me a generic read out.
  • Accuracy: I had an independent lab test the water samples so that I could compare the accuracy of each test kit to known values. 

I had the lab, EuroFins test for the basic parameters that I always test for:

  • Ammonia 
  • Nitrite 
  • Nitrate 
  • GH – general hardness measures the amount of calcium and magnesium dissolved in water.
  • KH – carbonate hardness, also known as alkalinity, measures the amount of carbonate and bicarbonate dissolved in water.

I also wanted to take a look at the user experience when it comes to running these different tests. I took notes along the way about two main criteria: 

  • Ease of use: how difficult are the tests to use?
  • Testing time: how long did it take to do the testing? 

Measuring pH is Not Absolute

I did not have the lab perform a pH test because pH is relative to temperature

At 77°F (25°C), pure water has a pH of 7.0. But, as the temperature of the water increases, the pH goes down. The inverse is also true, as water temperature goes down, the pH goes up.

I couldn’t guarantee that I would be measuring the pH at the exact same temperature as the lab would be, so trying to compare my findings with theirs would have been problematic. Therefore, I didn’t have them run pH tests.

Best Aquarium Test Kit Reviews

1. API Freshwater Master Kit

Tests for:

  • Ammonia
  • Nitrite
  • Nitrate
  • Low range pH
  • High range pH

Ease of use: 1 out of 5

Definitely, these liquid tests are much harder to use than test strips. There is a lot of measuring, mixing and timing that has to go on to use these tests. 

The nitrate test in particular is a pain in the butt. You have to add drops from one bottle, cap the test tube and shake it, then shake the second bottle of testing solution for at least 30 seconds, then add those drops to the test tube, then shake the test tube for at least 1 minute and then set a timer so the color can develop for 5 minutes.

So yeah, there’s a lot more to using these liquid tests than a simple test strip. But, the quality and reliability of the test results are worth it, in my opinion.

Testing time: 1 out of 5

These tests also take a lot more time to perform than just dipping a strip and reading the results in 60 seconds. You have to run each test individually and some of them take at least 5 minutes for the color to develop. 

To run the full panel of tests, I’d count on needing at least 20-30 minutes. So definitely, way longer than test strips. 

Accuracy: 5 out of 5

This test kit gave me the most accurate results overall. Most of the test strip results gave a false reading for how high the nitrate was in the tank. 

In fact, the API 5-in-1 strips gave a reading that was 10 times higher than what the lab results showed.

If accuracy is your number one goal, I would definitely recommend this Freshwater Master Kit over any of the test strips.

And, once you open a package of test strips, you only have about 6 months at most before humidity affects them and they become even more inaccurate. These liquid tests are good for a full year after they’ve been opened.

Consistency: 5 out of 5

The API Freshwater Master Kit provided the most consistent results of the bunch. I got the exact same results every time that I ran a test.

Pros: 

  • More accurate than test strips
  • More consistent than test strips
  • Tests have a longer shelf life

Cons: 

  • Does not test for GH/KH
  • More complicated than test strips
  • Takes more time than test strips
Sale
API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored
API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored

    Last update on 2022-09-26 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    2. API GH & KH Liquid Test Kit

    Tests for

    • GH
    • KH

    Ease of use: 2 out of 5 

    These GH/KH tests are easier to use than a lot of the tests in the Master Kit, but they’re still harder to use than test strips. 

    You fill a test tube with 5 ml of water, add one drop of test solution, cap the tube, invert it to mix in the testing solution and examine the color. 

    You add drops like this, one by one, until the water turns a certain color, bright yellow for KH and green for GH. Each drop equals a degree of hardness. 

    So, for example, if you had to put in 5 drops to get the KH solution to turn yellow, then the water has a carbonate hardness of 5 degrees of carbonate hardness.

    Since these tests give you the dGH and dKH (degrees general hardness and degrees carbonate hardness), you’ll need to use hardness calculators (like this one for GH and this one for KH) if you want to convert the results into parts per million (ppm).

    If your water is really soft, these tests are really easy, because it only takes a few drops to get the water to change colors. 

    But, if your water is really hard, it becomes more of a pain because you keep having to cap and uncap the test tube and adding more solution. It’s not difficult, but it can be quite tedious.

    Testing time: 3 out of 5

    I would allot about 8-10 minutes to get both a GH and KH test done, especially if you have hard water that will require you to add a higher number of drops.

    You do not have to wait for the color to develop when you’re using these tests, making them much faster than the timed tests from the Freshwater Master Kit.

    But, they’re still a lot more work than just dipping a test strip.

    Accuracy: 5 out of 5

    The results that I got from these GH/KH tests were right in line with what the lab results said. I was very impressed with how accurately you can calculate the mineral content of your water.

    I would especially recommend these if you plan on keeping freshwater shrimp. It’s important to know what your GH and KH are with these guys, especially Caridina shrimp that won’t spawn without a low KH and pH.

    The test strips only give you a vague idea of what your GH/KH are. And some of them have a very limited testing range. So, the upper limit of the strip might be 150 ppm GH, but your water is actually up over 250, higher than the test strip can measure.

    These liquid tests don’t have an upper limit, you just keep adding drops until the color changes.

    Bottom line: if you’re keeping species whose well being is highly dependent on the GH/KH of the water, these API liquid tests are the best.

    Yes, they’re a little bit more of a pain, but they’re worth it.

    Consistency: 5 out of 5

    I got very consistent results each time I used one of these tests. The biggest obstacle to getting good results is making sure that you don’t lose count of the number of drops you’ve already put in.

    It might sound silly, but believe me, it’s really easy to get distracted and then find yourself saying, “Is this drop 13 or 14?”

    I started using a counter app on my phone because people and/or pets kept coming into the kitchen, distracting me, and then I would lose count.

    Pros: 

    • More accurate than test strips
    • More consistent than test strips
    • No upper limit

    Cons: 

    • Only tests GH/KH
    • Takes more time than test strips
    • Easy to lose count of drops
    API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit
    API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit

      Last update on 2022-10-06 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      3. Aqua Care Pro Freshwater Test Strips

      Tests for

      • Chlorine 
      • Nitrite
      • Nitrate
      • GH
      • KH 
      • pH 

      Ease of use: 5 out of 5

      Please, be aware that these strips do not include an ammonia test. If you’re cycling your tank, you’ll need an ammonia test. I’d recommend getting the API Master Kit or the Tetra EasyStrips. 

      Using these strips is super easy. You just dip the strip in the tank water for 2 seconds, take it out and lay it on a flat surface. You can read the results in 60 seconds.

      I like that the chart you compare the test strip to is right on the side of the bottle. 

      Some brands place the chart on this awkward flap that hangs off the side of the bottle. These always want to curl back around the bottle and they’re a pain.

      But the chart for these Aqua Care strips is very convenient. 

      I do want to nitpick, though, I wish the GH test on these strips was different. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between 0 and 25, as well as 75 and 100. The colors are almost exactly the same.

      Testing time: 5 out of 5

      Like I said, it only takes about 60 seconds to get results. This is really quick and convenient. 

      Accuracy: 4 out of 5

      These Aqua Care Pro strips were the most accurate of all the test strips. Although they’re not as precise as liquid test kits, you can definitely get a solid ballpark idea of your parameters. 

      I do like that the GH test goes all the way up to 300 ppm. This let me get much more accurate results for my shrimp tanks that I add minerals to. 

      The lab showed that the Crystal Red tank has a GH of 300 and Shrimpville has a GH of 220. Some tests max out at a GH of 180, which just would give you completely inaccurate numbers for such hard water. So, the scale for these Aqua Care Pro strips is much more effective.

      Consistency: 2 out of 5

      I did have some issues with getting inconsistent test results; 25% of the tests gave me inconsistent results. The results weren’t far off, it would be between two results that were right next to each other on the chart, but they were distinctly different.

      None of these would lead me to believe that you would miss something that was at a dangerous level. But, I wouldn’t rely on a single test if you need to precisely measure something. 

      Pros: 

      • Quick and easy to use
      • The most accurate test strips
      • High upper test limit for GH
      • Chart is right on the bottle

      Cons: 

      • Inconsistent results sometimes
      • No ammonia test
      Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine General & Carbonate Hardness (GH & KH) - Easy to Read Wide Strips & Full Water Testing Guide, 116 Ct
      Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine General & Carbonate Hardness (GH & KH) - Easy to Read Wide Strips & Full Water Testing Guide, 116 Ct

        Last update on 2022-10-06 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

        4. API 5-in-1 Test Strips

        Tests for

        • Nitrite
        • Nitrate
        • GH
        • KH 
        • Fresh and saltwater pH

        Ease of use: 3 out of 5

        Please be advised, these strips do not include a test for ammonia. I recommend going with the API Freshwater Master Kit or the Tetra EasyStrips if you are cycling your tank.

        For routine testing, these strips are simple to use. You’re supposed to swirl the strip twice in the water, and place it on a flat surface so the color can develop. You can read the GH and KH tests immediately and then just wait 30 seconds for the pH, nitrite and nitrate tests.

        The chart is right on the outside of the bottle, no awkward flap thingy, which I like. 

        I didn’t like how little the color changes for the nitrate test. It’s very hard to tell the difference between 0, 20 and 40 ppm. That could cause you to do unnecessary water changes.

        It would be much better if the color were easier to distinguish. 

        Testing time: 5 out of 5

        These take less than a minute to use. They’re very convenient.

        Accuracy: 3 out of 5

        These API strips are not as accurate as I would like. The nitrate results were consistently much higher than the lab results, as well as the results from the other test strips. 

        For example, the nitrate in my Angel Tank was only about 4 ppm, but the test strip showed what looked like 40 ppm every single time.

        Based on the test strip, I would think I needed to immediately do a water change. But that was not the case at all.  

        Also, the upper limit for the GH is only 180. If your tanks have very hard water, this is going to give you completely inaccurate results.

        I definitely do not recommend these strips for a shrimp tank with added minerals. These tanks routinely have a GH higher than 180 ppm. You need a test that goes up to 300 to get results you can trust.

        Consistency: 4 out of 5

        Only two sets of tests, so just 12.5% overall, gave me inconsistent results. Just like with the Aqua Care strips, the different results were right next to each other on the chart, but they were definitely different results.

        So, these API 5-in-1 strips gave the most consistent results of any of the test strips. But, that doesn’t count as much since the limited test range provided inaccurate numbers.

        It doesn’t matter that I consistently got a readout of 180 ppm of GH for all my shrimp tanks, because that’s incorrect. Those tanks have a GH between 220 and 300. 

        If the strips give me a consistent number, it doesn’t help me if that number is wrong. 

        Pros: 

        • Quick and easy to use
        • Chart is right on the bottle

        Cons: 

        • No ammonia test
        • Upper limit of GH test is too low for really hard water
        Sale
        API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box
        API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box

          Last update on 2022-10-06 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

          5. Tetra EasyStrips

          Tests for

          • Ammonia
          • Chlorine
          • Nitrite
          • Nitrate
          • GH
          • KH

          Ease of use: 3 out of 5

          These are the only test strips in this article that have an ammonia test, something to keep in mind if your tank is cycling. 

          You actually get two bottles of strips with this kit. The ammonia tests are on separate strips.

          Just dip the ammonia strips and immediately read the results. The chart for the ammonia is right on the back of the bottle. 

          The separate multi-test strips can be read 60 seconds after you dip them. The strips themselves are easy to use, but I’m not crazy about the comparison chart. 

          My big gripe is that you have to peel the label for the bottle back and it becomes two flaps that hang off the side, one has the freshwater comparison chart, and the other has the saltwater one. 

          I know that having the charts on these flaps was the only way to fit both a freshwater and saltwater chart on the bottle, but that doesn’t negate the fact that this style of chart is cumbersome and awkward. 

          It’s always trying to curl back on itself while you’re trying to squint at the chart, it’s a bit annoying.

          I also really didn’t like that the paper the chart is printed on isn’t waterproof. The wet strip leaves little marks on the paper and makes it wavy and uneven over time. 

          I really don’t get why you would make the label out of a non-waterproof paper. You know people are going to have damp hands and be placing a wet test strip up against the chart so they can compare the color.

          It’s for this reason that I knocked off some points when it comes to ease of use.

          Testing time: 5 out of 5

          Just like the other test strips, you get super fast results from these tests.

          You can read the ammonia results immediately, and the other tests only need 60 seconds.

          Accuracy: 2 out of 5

          The Tetra EasyStrips were the most inaccurate of all the tests I tried out. The ammonia and nitrite tests were all good, but the results for nitrate, GH and KH were at times wildly inaccurate, especially when it came to KH. These strips greatly undercounted the KH levels in all four tanks. 

          The nitrate tests for all of the tanks showed 20 ppm no matter what the actual nitrate levels in the tank were, which were close to zero.

          Based on my observations, I definitely would not recommend these strips for maintaining anything as delicate as a shrimp tank. They could give you a basic idea of your parameters, but you need more precise testing for shrimp tanks.

          Consistency: 1 out of 5

          These strips also tended to be inconsistent. About 35% of the tests had inconsistent results, more than the other two brands of strips. And some of the tests gave me three completely different readings for the same parameter from the same sample. 

          So, for example, I got KH readings of 40, 80 and 120 for the KH of the Angel Tank. The lab showed a KH of 88 ppm, so only one of the three was in the right ballpark. 

          Pros: 

          • Includes an ammonia test
          • Meant for both fresh and saltwater

          Cons: 

          • Less accurate than other test strips
          • Less consistent than other test strips
          • Chart is awkward
          • Chart paper isn’t waterproof
          Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips
          Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips

            Last update on 2022-10-05 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

            Which aquarium test kit is best? 

            I value accuracy and consistency above all else. I especially want super accurate numbers for my shrimp tanks.

            So, even though they take more time and effort, I really think that the liquid test kits are the best.

            I would recommend picking up the API Freshwater Master Kit for general aquarium keeping, especially while you’re cycling your tank. It includes all the basic tests that you’ll need to keep an eye on things with your water.

            Not everyone needs the GH and KH test kit. I do recommend it for someone with really hard tap water, shrimp keepers and anyone trying to breed finicky fish that need specific pH in order to spawn.

            The API GH & KH Liquid Test Kit was far more consistent and accurate than any of the test strips. Again, it requires more effort than test strips, but it’s worth it to me to get more accurate results.

            But, if you really only need a general idea where your parameters fall, and you have your heart set on the convenience of test strips, I would recommend the Aqua Care Pro test strips over the other two brands.

            Aqua Care was both more accurate and consistent than the other two brands.

            I hope you find this article helpful.

            I wish you and your fish the very best!

            Preview Product
            API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single,...
            API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit API GH & KH TEST KIT Freshwater Aquarium Water Test Kit
            Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine General & Carbonate Hardness (GH & KH) - Easy to Read Wide Strips & Full Water Testing Guide, 116 Ct Freshwater Aquarium Test Strips 6 in 1 - Fish Tank Test Kit for Testing pH Nitrite Nitrate Chlorine...
            API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box
            Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips

            Last update on 2022-10-05 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

            Katherine Morgan
            Katherine Morgan

            Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. A nunchuck specialist, I've kept aquariums for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast. If You'd like to see more of my tanks, check out my Instagram

            2 Comments

            1. Your article is complete and detailed. I especially like the way you explain the pros and cons of each type of aquarium water testing device. Thank you!

            2. I have purchased Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit 25, 6 in1 Testing Strips and 25 Ammonia Testing Strips. Thanks to your post I have found them. They work very well. thank you!

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