KH, GH & PH
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Whilst there are many species of fish that thrive within the parameters of tap water, as a hobbyist progresses into keeping higher end and more difficult to keep species of fish, the need to test and maintain your KH & PH becomes paramount.
PH is a measurement of where your water sits on a scale, where 0 (or the lowest point on the scale) would be an acid with the highest point being alkaline or "basic". Generally PH will fluctuate between 6.0 and 7.6 African cichlids and marine fish prefer a higher PH. It is rare that an ideal PH would exceed 8.5.
KH (carbonate hardness) put simply is the measurement of carbonates and bicarbonates dissolved in your water column. KH acts as a buffer for acids produced by your aquarium. Acids will effect your KH before they effect your PH by consistently monitoring and adjusting for KH fluctuations you can better ensure your aquarium doesn't experience any major or catastrophic PH fluctuations.
GH (general hardness) is a measure of dissolved salts in your water, in particular, Calcium and Magnesium. When water is referred to as "hard or soft" they are talking about GH. Certain fish species prefer different levels of hardness it is important to take into account the preferred hardness of the fish you are keeping.