Triton Applied Reef Biosciences is really carving out a home for ICP testing in our hobby because it gives hobbyists the ability to test for a variety of elements and possible contaminants that would otherwise not be possible to measure at home.


Here are the top 5 reasons we recommend the use of ICP testing followed by a couple situations in which you should probably steer clear of sending off a sample for ICP testing.


The Triton Method Diagram


Triton Method

The Triton Method is the company that brought ICP testing to the forefront in our hobby. Triton promotes a data driven and precise approach to maintaining water chemistry as close to natural seawater as possible.


The data is what drives the actions you take and, therefore, is crucial to your success when employing The Triton Method. Data is collected by sending off water samples for ICP testing and is really what makes this modern approach to reefkeeping possible.


Dosing additives into aquarium


Periodic check of additives

Almost all reef tank additives make some type of claim that typically revolves around maintaining major, minor and trace elements in your tank. The issue is the claims are often confusing because they use ambiguous language with words like “...all important trace elements” or “necessary major, minor and trace elements”.


With ICP testing, reefers no longer have to live in the dark and take the manufacturer’s word for it. After starting a new additive system, an ICP test after six months +/- of use will really help you determine if the additives are actually living up to the claims or at-least your expectations. If not, switch it up and try something better.


Two Part Additives


This is also an excellent way to measure your cost vs. value which can really vary from tank to tank based on coral diversity and water change habits. By studying the results in your tank, you can compare costs of bulk or budget solutions vs. the more expensive comprehensive additives to find the most economical products for YOUR aquarium.


Aquarium Maintenance calendar


Annual tank check-up

ICP test kits can really give you peace of mind that your overall approach to additives, filtration, and maintenance are producing the desired results. Even when the tank is visually thriving, an annual check up of water chemistry will help you identify any problems early and reaffirm what you are doing is working.


Triton display tank


Unexplained problems

With reef tanks, by the time a problem is visually evident in your tank you really want to do everything you can to correct it as soon as possible. Problems arise quickly in reef tanks and then recovery can be a long and arduous process. The quicker you can turn things around, the better.


If your tank is going south and you can’t figure out why, an ICP test should be your first step for identifying the problem.


Filling ICP test vials


Hard to find answers

Sort of related to the previous but the difference here is that sometimes the problems are not so visually obvious or you want to satisfy your own curiosity to mature your reefkeeping practices.


  • •What kind of trace elements is your calcium reactor or dosing regime adding?
  • •Does your salt mix or source water contain contaminants?
  • •Is your filter media leaching?


An ICP test can answer these questions with cold hard facts as opposed to anecdotal evidence.


Hanna Checkers


When is an ICP test not worth its salt?

It is evident ICP test kits are helping hobbyists really get some useful insight that was never before possible. In some situations, however, waiting for the results or not being prepared to act on those results will sort of negate the benefits of sending off a test.


Any parameter that is easy to test for at home and/or changes on a very regular basis is best measured with home aquarium test kits instead of ICP tests. Major elements are fairly easy to monitor at home and are so critical to your aquarium’s success, they should be monitored very regularly.


Calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium, in particular, can quickly be measured at home with very similar accuracy to an ICP test.


With such high concentrations in the hundreds to over a thousand parts per million, these major elements are easily identified with home water test kits. ICP tests become more valuable for much smaller concentrations in the few hundred parts per million or even parts per billion range which would be more along the lines of your trace elements or any contaminants.


Triton Test Results


You also need to consider the time it takes to get your results. ICP test kits take anywhere from 1-3 weeks for the results to come back and by that time, it may very well be too late. Especially if your trying to identify and correct any imbalances among the major elements or nutrient levels such as phosphate and nitrate which can create serious problems in a short amount of time.


Triton Mind Map


Another situation in which you might not want to spend your hard earned cash on ICP test kits is when you are not prepared to further investigate and explore the results. Knowledge often inspires the desire for more knowledge and many of the hidden problems an ICP test can identify will require further investigation or ICP tests to resolve.


For example, accurately interpreting results for your salt mix, additives and media will typically require multiple tests. Say your salt mix is testing with high silica but the tank is within normal range, it may be the salt is actually an important source of a beneficial nutrient to many organisms in the tank. Inversely, if both your salt mix and tank water is testing for high lithium, you might want to consider switching your salt mix.


In either case, it would require testing both your salt mix and tank water to narrow it down. If testing for leaching, upon identification of the contaminate you would then need to change out your media or switch salt mix and then send off another test to verify the source and removal.


Saltwater mixing station


What’s Next?

Randy has recently gone down the rabbit hole of testing salt mix, one answer would just lead us to more questions and experiments. We released a BRStv Investigates video which really was the accumulation of everything we learned during these salt mix tests and we identified what is really required to properly mix and store saltwater. The results were quite eye opening so be sure to check it out.



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