$aving Money at the Pet $hop

Okay, so we’ve all seen the cool gadgets and neat products one can buy at the pet shop, right? It’s an unfortunate truth, however, that many of these products are ridiculously-overpriced, unnecessary and often available from other source at a fraction of the cost. This post will guide you, the good aquarist, to saving money and avoiding dumping lots and lots of money into your tank, so you can instead spend it on…MORE FISHHHHHH!!! 😀

Water Conditioner:

This is a time-saving product and nothing more, and should be used only when one needs to make large water changes using water straight from the tap. Instead, get some big jugs or buckets, fill them with cold tap water and let them age for 24 hours before adding them to your tanks. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate and has the exact same effect as ion-exchanging chemical alternatives. If you do get a water conditioner, make sure it’s one that treats in drops (and not capfuls) per few litres of water. Some of the better water conditioners also help with slime-coating, break down chloramines, ammonia and other harmful compounds, so these can be beneficial with more sensitive species, however, be sure this is required before using a product you may not need.

Water clarifiers, waste control products & filter cycle-aids:

…are all a giant waste of money. Don’t bother with any of them. Instead, clean your tank when you’re supposed to, and ensure you’re vacuuming your gravel once every week or two. When starting a new tank, seed bacteria colonies by swapping inserts from already-cycled filters, or otherwise just be patient!


Instead of rushing out in a panic to buy medications, start by being patient and avoid “quick-fix” remedies. Firstly, it’s been suggested by a very experienced store associate fellow that most issues you will have with your fish are 90% to do with water quality and 10% to do with compatibility. Secondly, it’s environmentally unsound to be dumping chemicals into our water supply unnecessarily. This means that rather than running out to your fish store to buy medication when things go wrong, first look to your water parameters and fish interaction. A lot can be prevented by simply keeping on top of your water changes and ensuring your fish actually belong in the same tank! While your friend might keep a hugely-overstocked aquarium with no problems, you may have grouchy individuals in your tank that don’t fare so well….or bad upkeep practices…or both! In a cycled tank, ammonia levels should be zero, while nitrate levels should be reasonable close to zero as well. If have nitrate concentrations of 5-10 ppm, your water change routine is sound, but if you have concentrations approaching 20 ppm or more, consider refining your cleaning routine, increasing filtration, adding plants or removing fish. Once your water is in check, next look at personality. Do your fish get along or is one being constantly bullied or chased? High stress breeds disease, so do what you can to reduce stress on your fishies.

Infections can often be treated by adding salt to your water at a concentration of about 15 mL per 20 L (1 tablespoon per 5 US gallons) and increasing the temperature a degree or two above normal (but never ever more than 29 °C).

If none of these remedies work, then and only then, should you reach for your medications. But even with these can you find alternatives, so read the ingredients carefully. And remember: “sodium chloride” is just the fancy term for salt. If you pick up a product that is just salt and colouring, put it back down, walk away and read below.


Instead of buying “aquarium” salt for $7/kg, go to your local drug store or bulk food store and buy sea salt. As long as your salt is untreated and does not contain additives (such as the iodine in table salt), you do not need to pay any more than $2.50/kg!


Instead of buying over-priced “aquarium-safe” silicone at your pet store for $15-20/tube, there are alternatives:

  • GE/Momentive Specialty Construction 1200-Series Silicone is great stuff. I’ve broken the glass before I’ve been able to remove seals made with this stuff, it’s that strong! This product would be what I’d highly-recommend for any large-scale application. It comes in clear, white, black and alumin(i)um colours for $4.91/tube wholesale, and $12/tube singly. Unfortunately, however, it is often hard to find!
  • A next-best choice (for smaller projects) is GE Window & Door Silicone I (Silicone II is toxic to fish!!!). This is available at almost all hardware stores for $6-8/tube.

Please note:

  • Silicon is an element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. It’s is the tetravalent metalloid semiconductor used in the production of microchips.
  • Silicone is the gooey silicon-containing synthetic polymer that is used as a construction material.
  • One has an E on the end, the other does not. Please learn the difference!
  • (Sorry, pet peeve!)

Tank Dividers:

Your local craft store should carry some plastic canvas mesh that is used for cross-stitching crafts. Sliding some report cover bindings, available at your local stationary/office supply store, around the edges makes a sheet of this material rigid enough to be used as a tank divider. Also, the egg grating they used for covering large-scale fluorescent light fixtures can be easily cut into dividers of any size. This material is a lot more rigid, but only works for larger fish that can’t swim through the holes. Both solutions allow water to flow freely, but fish to be kept apart.


Instead of buying a half-a-coconut cave for your fish for $7, go to the grocery store, buy a yummy whole coconut for $1, enjoy the insides, then saw off, sand down and boil the remaining shell before using it as a cave for your fish. Alternatively, clay flower pots are usually less than $1 at your friendly neighbourhood hardware store. Also, for custom breeding caves, you’d be amazed what one can construct out of flower pots and silicone using a Dremel tool, a hacksaw and sandpaper.

Breeder Boxes:

Instead of buying a floating breeder box for upwards of $8, head back to the grocery store (or maybe you’re already there buying coconuts!) and buy yourself a 2 litre bottle of Coke (no, not Pepsi…it’s gross). Once the bottle is empty, cut the top part off it near where the bottle starts to slant inwards, then take a thumb tack, skewer or something else that’s small and pointy to make holes in the sides and bottom. These should be small enough to keep the fry in, but big enough to allow water exchange. This little contraption may not float by itself, so you’ll have to clip it to the side of the tank with a document clip, but you’ve made yourself an instant breeder box for $1.50…that even comes with a free 2 L of pop! Yum!


Hardware store fluorescent lighting can usually be found for about a third of what aquarium lighting costs. You don’t get the fitted, custom canopies, but some hanging solutions are readily available, as are ones that can sit atop glass lids.

Other supplies:

Can be found at the drug store, dollar store, etc…
– cheap pantyhose instead of bags for filter media
– scrubber pads/sponges for cleaning
– Instead of scrub brushes, look for baby bottle brushes for cleaning the filter tubing
– eye droppers for feeding
– flower pots
– cute ornaments
– glass vases
– rocks, marbles, shells, glass/plastic “jewels”
– fake plants
– long shoehorns make a great breeding ground for some egg-laying species, especially angelfish.

This entry was posted in Random/Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s