BRStv Investigates: Are test kit reagent refills lower cost in the long run?

October 14th, 2016
0 Views Today on BRStv, we have a brand new episode for our series, BRStv Investigates. In this series we explore popular reefing theories, products, methods, and what the manuals are missing, with a focus on putting them to the test!

This week we are going to challenge the theory that reagent refills are cheaper than buying test kits alone and share some thoughts on each kit along the way.

Since Salifert, Red Sea, and Hanna make up a vast majority of the saltwater test kit market and what everyone here uses we are going to limit our the discussion to these three brands, starting with alkalinity.

A few notes on each kit. I think color change on the Salifert from blue to pink is arguably the easiest to see between the two kits. It's not a huge difference but if I had to say one was easier to read than the other it would be the Salifert. I will also say the syringe with the Salifert kits has more resistance which makes it a lot easier to drip single drops.

The red sea has a few nice factors. First, it’s a one step test meaning there is nothing to mix with the sample water: only a single reagent where the pH indicating dye is included in the titration reagent. It also comes with a hard shell plastic box which keeps everything dry and doesn't deteriorate like thin cardboard. Instructions are on a water proof laminated card, and it also comes with this cool titrator which allows you to drop and shake with one hand. I will say while it is cool, some people love the titrator and some don’t. After years of use i just stopped using it and find it easier to use the syringe with one hand and shake with the other so I see less value in the titrator these days

I will also note the main difference between the kit and the refill is the plastic box, titrator, jar, and instruction card. If you were particularly frugal you could locate your own test vial and google the results card. This would make the reagent refill kit by far the lowest cost per test out there and one of the best at the same time.

Lastly the checker is actually the only alkalinity testing device I personally use these days. I test alkalinity almost every day on the brs160 so i need something that finds that middle ground between quick and affordable. The checker is absolutely the quickest , digital read out the easiest to read, has one of the lowest long term costs and meets my accuracy requirements.

When it comes to calcium test kits, I find the color change from red pink to clear blue on Salifert kit to be significantly easier to see than the red to navy blue on the Red Sea. I can read either, but the change is just more distinct with the Salifert.

Again, the red sea comes with all the fancy extras but I do have a few other notes. First, is the the red sea doubles the tank sample size and correspondingly more than doubles the reagents used which I think is going to result in more accurate results. The reagents themselves are also noticeably different which I think could increase accuracy. The Salifert's dry reagent is is crystalline, where the Red Sea's is more powder-like which makes it a lot easier to get an even spoonful. The Red Sea's liquid reagent is also thicker and comes in a bottle which is more likely to produce consistent droplets compared to the larger Salifert bottle.

I will note that the small sample bottle is pretty hard to clean properly unless you have a brush or small fingers. It tends to form a precipitate crust under the lip which is hard to remove and I am sure can interfere with results. Overall I am a bit more confident in the Red Sea's results even though they are a bit harder to read. Again, if you don't need all the extras and can locate your own test vial and instructions sheet you could skip the test kit and buy only the reagent refill to save a few bucks.

With the Hanna Calcium Checker I will just come out and say i personally wont use it. The dilution steps make it no easier than a test kit, the reagents are the most expensive, and I cant get reliable results because the dilution step is so extreme. You need to dilute a 1/10 of a ML in 10 ML of RODI water which is a 100/1 dilution. Given the provided tools its basically impossible to get exactly 1/10 of a ML, the tiniest of variances will throw the results off drastically. It can be used a ball park tool, or if you can find a reliable way to get exactly 1/10 of a ML it is likely a good option but I find test kits are just easier.

In regards to magnesium, the Salifert was easier to perform because the steps didn't take as long and both test came out with identical readings. The red sea came with all the same extras the other kits come with, however rather than using power reagents which are harder to measure the Red Seas are liquid. There is no question the dropper bottles are more accurate and easier to use than the droppers Salifert uses.

So follow along as we answer today's question, provide some helpful insight, and help make reefing just bit more fun and easy for you and your tank.

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