Stray Voltage in Aquarium: Fix and Detect Stray Electricity in Water

Stray voltage in aquarium is a relatively “shocking” discovery! If you did not get that pun, sorry, not sorry. Nonetheless, the subject of our deliberation today is not at all light or frivolous. If you surf even the tiniest bit of advice on ideal fish keeping, you will most likely always find tons of articles that stress the importance of routine water testing in your fish tank, such as temperature tests, pH tests, nitrate or ammonia tests, etc. However, there is a severe lack of attention to a problem that sneaks in without any alarm and causes very serious damage to the tank’s inhabitants as well as you, the fish keeper.  Let’s face it; there are so many electrical equipments that supplements your aquarium’s stability, including your pumps, filters, heaters, etc.

Now under normal circumstances, this electricity that fuels the equipment is coursing through safe, waterproof, insulated, and well-built wires. However, somewhere, one of our unlucky fish keeper buddies might be experiencing a strange phenomenon with a voltage leakage in their fish tank due to a faulty device. Being aware of everything that involves how to test for electrical current in water is a significant consideration for fish keepers who are maintaining a saltwater aquarium. Revoking a bit of fundamental physics, we are aware that pure water is incapable of conducting electricity. However, your saltwater aquarium has a considerable number of electrolytes, making it prone to voltage problems in the wake of faulty devices.

Now that we are aware of the importance of understanding stray voltage detection and stray voltage testing, we will tell you everything you need to know to avoid and remedy the fault lines. Follow Along!

What is Stray Voltage?

Stray voltage in aquarium is typically caused by voltage leakage of the electrical equipment you use in your aquarium.  Even if you have the right quality equipment from trusted brands, the electrical devices in your fish tanks could fail for reasons like deteriorating and malfunctioning.  Faulty wirings of your aquarium heater and powerheads, aerators, and pumps that are not appropriately sealed can cause electric aquarium problems. They can lead to accidentally exposing your fishes and corals to high voltage electrical current.

When voltage leak problems go undetected, these will cause problems that can put your fish and corals, and even yourself, in harm’s way.  The risks of stray voltage include the likelihood of putting you into a brief electric shock if you accidentally touch the water and serious health problems like Head and Lateral Line Erosion for your fish.

Signs of Stray Voltage in Aquarium

Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)

Head and Lateral Line Erosion is also known as Hole-in-the-Head Disease.  This is a common disease for both freshwater and saltwater fish.  Stray voltage in water has been pointed to as one of the possible causes of HLLE, along with overcrowding and diet.

To know whether the fish in your aquarium are suffering from HLLE, look for a hollow hole that is indented around the eye area and gradually stretches into a line towards its tail. To address this problem, the quality of water should be improved; if your fish tank is overcrowded, the best action to take is to acquire a bigger one; and provide a balanced diet.

Unusual and Strange Behavior

If you notice your finny friends exhibit unusual or atypical behavior, there are high chances that it is being caused by stray voltage.  Fish are creatures that are sensitive to the shift in their environment.  This is because of specific sensors in their bodies located along their nose and lateral line.  A sudden spike of stray electricity in the fish tank can throw off balance, which leads the fishes to act maniacally like a quivering, rapid, and jerky swimming.

Death of the Fish

Your fish dying is perhaps the worst that can happen next to unusual behavior from your pets.  This can happen when stray voltage is not noticed immediately, and this voltage leak is most likely because of a faulty electrical appliance in the tank.  Early stray voltage detection is possible if you make it a habit to check if the devices you are using are still functioning properly and not causing voltage leakage.

What Causes Stray Voltage in Aquarium

Multi-aquariums, saltwater aquariums, and larger aquariums are more prone to stray electricity compared to smaller setups. It is because these setups most likely have an increased number of electric aquarium devices and equipment.

Heaters and water pumps or powerheads are the most common cause of voltage leaks.  The kind of water used in the aquarium can trigger high voltages in fish tanks, making it very important to make sure that you conduct periodic high voltage tank review. Saltwater is found to be more conducive to electricity compared to freshwater, but this doesn’t mean that freshwater cannot have a voltage leak.

Equipment to Detect Electricity in Water and Fix Stray Voltage in Aquarium

1.    Multimeter or Multi-tester for Stray Voltage Detection

Multimeter or Multi-tester can be used to test whether there is an electrical current in the water of your fish tank that can endanger the lives of your beloved aquatic pets.  This device is relatively affordable, depending on your local pet store or home depot.

The main job of the Multimeter is to measure the voltage in your aquarium water.  This stray current tester comes with two probes, each of different color: black and red.  To use it, be sure to set the dial to AC Voltage or VAC.

The black probe should be inserted into a grounding hole of an outlet or an extension cord and then stick the red probe’s tip into the aquarium water.  If the reading reflected is above zero, then this indicates that you have stray voltage in your water.

When the voltage is already reflected in the device, remember (or label) the wires that belong to that certain device and try to unplug them one by one.  This way, you can detect which device is the reason for the voltage spike and causes stray voltage and how high is its voltage when added together with the rest.  If the voltage of the aquarium equipment is too high, it could imply that it is malfunctioning.

This can also be done via Voltmeter. Voltmeters are also considerably cheaper than the Multimeter since the Multimeter has a broader range of capacities, but the Voltmeter can do the job just as well.

2.    Aquarium Grounding Probe for Aquarium Electrical Shocks Prevention

Grounding Probes look like a long electrical cord, but the other end appears like the probe of a multimeter. Grounding probes are believed to remove stray voltages from the heaters, pumps, and other electrical equipment you use in your aquarium.

To put it to use, its other end is connected to an outlet or GCFI while the probe side of it is slipped into a suction cup, and this cup will then be attached below the waterline of the fish tank. Grounding probes act as a sensor or alarm that trips the circuit when it catches a stray voltage inside the aquarium. It prevents electric shocks and successfully eliminates stray voltages that can potentially become an electrical hazard.

Here is a short video guide on installing a grounding probe to prevent stray voltage in aquarium

Preventing Stray Voltage in Aquarium

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.  It is common knowledge that water and any electrical equipment can be a dangerous situation both for you and your fish, even causing deaths due to electric shocks.  There are several ways to promote aquarium electrical safety by learning how to eliminate stray voltage:

  • Unplug.  It is a no-brainer and a rule of thumb to unplug all electrical equipment before submerging your hands into the water to do the maintenance work and cleaning routine in your aquarium. 
  • Replace.  All the faulty electrical devices used in your fish tank should be replaced with a new one. You might hold back and think not to change the equipment since it can still serve its purpose. However, if you think about the implications and consequences if you choose to keep it for a longer time, the threat is not resolved; therefore, the risk is still lurking behind the shadows.
  • Power strips.  As much as possible, use power strips or extension cords to plug in the devices to have a safe distance between the wires and the aquarium.  But, do not overload the power strip or extension cord.
  • GCFI.  Another option is to use Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).  GFCIs are specifically designed to protect us from electric shocks.  These are usually integrated within outlets that have tested and reset buttons.  These monitors electricity and cuts the power off if it detects an interruption in power.  If there isn’t one built near the area where you wish to have your aquarium, installation can be done by an electrician.

Aquarium Equipment that is of good quality can be pricey, but it is better to be safe than sorry.  The first step to committing as a pet owner is acknowledging the fact there are purchases you have to make to provide a healthy environment for your pet. 

In the context of having fish or any aquatic animal for company, they may not need daily walks. Still, for them to thrive, you have to make sure that they have proper air circulation, heater, and chiller, precautionary devices like stray voltage detector – basically trying to mirror their original habitat, which is the ocean (or lake). 

Maintenance is the key to provide a healthy environment for your fishy friends.  Always schedule intervals as to when you will inspect your aquarium and all that comes with it, most especially the electrical devices.

Stray Voltage in Aquarium– FAQs

Is Grounding an aquarium necessary? There is still debate among aquatic pet enthusiasts from the fish community as to whether grounding by using a grounding probe is necessary. Some would claim that it protects you from experiencing an electric shock if you stick your hand in the water. In contrast, others begged to differ and contradicted this statement saying that the aquatic animals are still subjected to the dangers of stray voltage.  While there is no clear fact established yet by experts, it is best to follow through with preventive steps and not stick our hands into the water unless all electrical equipment is turned off.

What is the advisable number of aquarium electric equipment to use in a fish tank? How much equipment you have would greatly depend on the size of the fish tank that you own.  If you own a small aquarium, then it is best to have devices that have lesser volts and would not overwhelm the synergy inside the aquarium.  If you have a bigger fish tank, it would be best to acquire equipment to sustain the area and the amount of life.

The number of equipment is relative to the size of your fish tank.  You can read this All About Fish Tank Weight and Dimension for you to have an idea of what is considered to be a “small” or “large” aquarium.

Stray Voltage in Aquarium Can Be A Very Shocking Experience

Regular maintenance and monitoring of the state of your aquarium help create a clean and healthy environment for your fish and corals.  By doing some routine check-ups, problems can be detected early on, and this can prevent more serious problems from arising.

From the aquarium heaters to use and aquarium thermometers to the lights and power strips used, starting a fish tank is no easy job – pet ownership had never been a walk in the park.  Beginners should be knowledgeable about aquarium care and orient themselves with common fish tank problems so you will be able to take precautionary measures.

Most importantly, the little things that are commonly overlooked can be the gateway for more significant issues. Stray voltage in the aquarium may seem harmless, but if you look at the possible consequences, voltage problems that are not detected early on can lead to the electric shock that can cause death to your aquatic pets and cause serious harm to you as well.

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