African Cichlids Water Parameters – Everything You Need to Know

Although African cichlids are very similar in appearance to their American cousins, they have a number of qualities that set them apart. They are a much more diverse group of fish, in terms of body shape and coloration, and in behavior.

They also have a different breeding cycle and parental care habits, making them ideal for the breeder or hobbyist who is interested in learning something about breeding cichlids.

In terms of behavior, African cichlids can be curious or shy, aggressive or peaceful. They make good community fish if they are the same size as others in the tank. Generally, African cichlids from Lake Malawi are a little smaller than those from Lake Tanganyika.

African cichlids can tolerate a wide range of water parameters, however in order to thrive, they need a stable environment. In this article, you can learn about the water parameters African cichlids require.

African Cichlids Water Temperature

Ideally, the temperature in your African cichlid tank will be between 26-30°C (79-86°F). This is the ideal temperature for most species of cichlids, however, if you’re keeping a particularly cold-water species such as a Lake Tanganyika cichlid then you will want to keep the temperature lower.

You can use an aquarium heater to regulate the temperature of your tank. Just make sure that your heater is able to keep up with the size of your aquarium and choose one, which has protection on it, so your fish will not touch the hot surface when swimming around.

The water temperature will directly affect their behavior patterns. If they’re kept in tropical temperatures, they will be much more active than if they were kept in cooler water temperatures. This can be beneficial for breeding purposes because males will display their colors more often when the mood is right, but it can also create problems in a community aquarium.

If you keep your tank in a location where the temperature is cooler, just be aware that they will be more lethargic and less likely to display their colors. This will mean that you have to do more work to get them to show off.

Once you get them into the breeding mode, they will usually display their colors often enough for you to see them.

African Cichlids Water pH

The pH of your African cichlid tank should be between 7.0-8.5. The ideal range for most species is 7.8-8.2, but it will depend on the species of fish you have in your tank as some might prefer a higher or lower pH level than this range.

It’s best to test the pH of your tank regularly and alter it based on what your fish prefer! You can purchase pH test kits online or at any pet store for around $20-$30 USD. Test kits aren’t required but they will help ensure that your fish are happy and healthy.

Is it okay to use tap water with African Cichlids?

Yes, you can use tap water for your African cichlids, but there are few things you should do before pouring in the water.

It is best to get water from the tap and then let it sit for 24 hours in an open container before adding it to your aquarium. This will let the chlorine evaporate off of the water and get rid of the harmful elements that are in tap water that can harm or kill your fish!

I recommend using a product like Prime by Seachem which will help detoxify tap water if you don’t have access to a reverse osmosis filter or you don’t want to wait a day for the chlorine to evaporate.

Can I use R/O water with African Cichlids?

Yes, many hobbyists use Reverse Osmosis (R/O) water to keep African Cichlids. R/O water is very pure and therefore it is the best water to use if you don’t have access to RO/DI filters and still want to use tap water!

African Cichlids Ammonia

The ammonia level in an aquarium will reach a maximum of 2-3 ppm before it is converted into nitrite and then into nitrate. This process takes about 2-3 weeks to complete.

African Cichlids prefer higher pH levels, in which ammonia becomes more toxic for the fish. So make sure, that the tank is well-cycled before adding your fish. Ammonia should be at 0ppm, otherwise, your fish will suffer and die.

Ammonia poisoning does don’t have any symptoms, this will kill your fish almost instantly.

African Cichlids Nitrite

Nitrite is toxic for fish, so you will want to keep the nitrite level at 0ppm, which is absolutely safe for African cichlids. Sometimes the nitrite level may spike for a short time during the nitrification process, so it is important to keep an eye on the nitrite level and do regular water changes to keep it at a minimum.

The best way to keep the nitrite level down is to add pure oxygen to the water so that any nitrogen cycle bacteria will be forced to use the oxygen and not produce any toxic nitrites.

African Cichlids Nitrate

Having a nitrate level of less than 20 ppm is ideal. If the nitrates are higher, you need to do some water changes to keep the levels down.

If you have African cichlids, you should ideally perform one large water change every week or 10 days. You can do one smaller water change every other day if you would like to, but this is not necessary.

The safe nitrate level for African cichlids is between 5 ppm and 10 ppm. This range of nitrates concentration is safe for African cichlids because it will not affect the quality of life in your cichlid tank. Very high levels of nitrates in your tank may cause your fish to become weak or even die, especially if they are breeding.

Nitrates are very important in an aquarium, especially if you have live plants because nitrates are nutrients that are essential for the growth of your aquarium plants.

Nitrates are an important element for plants, but they can also become a limiting factor if there are high levels of nitrates in your aquarium due to excessive fertilization, or if you have plants growing inside your aquarium that require large quantities of nitrates to grow properly.

If there is too much nitrate in the water, your fish may suffer from diseases caused by “nitrate poisoning” that is indicated by the following symptoms: rapid breathing, which may end up in your fish gasping for air, loss of appetite, and eventually death.

African Cichlids Phosphate

The safe phosphate level for African cichlids is between 0.5 ppm and 1.0 ppm. This range of phosphate concentration is safe for African cichlids, because it will not affect the pH of the water, nor will it cause the formation of calcium phosphate deposits on their shells.

The main problem with high levels of phosphates in your cichlid tank is that they may cause a reduction in water quality, which may lead to an environment that is not optimal for your fish.

Phosphates are one of the most essential elements that are present in fertilizers, whether organic or synthetic. They are also one of the main elements that plants need to grow properly.

Phosphate is an essential element for plants, but it can also become a limiting factor if there are high levels of phosphates in your aquarium due to excessive fertilization, or if you have plants growing inside your aquarium that require large quantities of phosphates to grow properly.

African Cichlids kH

The recommended kH level for African cichlids is between 7-10 dKH. African cichlids are more sensitive to high alkalinity than many other fish species.

Many Africans will not thrive at high kH levels, but others will be fine. The best thing to do is test your water and see how your fish respond.

African Cichlids gH

The safe gH level for African cichlids would be in the range of 7 to 10dH or 150-250 ppm.

From experience with my own fish, the gH levels in the tanks I have kept them in are 8dH, or slightly higher. As you increase the gH level in the tank, the pH tends to rise. A further increase raises the pH even more until you get to a point where fish begin to suffer from high pH stress.


I really hope that this guide has helped you learn what water parameters do African cichlids need. These fish species are not as hard to keep, as long as you give them what they need. As a beginner you might not want to start an African cichlids tank, however, if you have some experience with keeping fish, go ahead and try out something new.

For additional information about freshwater aquarium water parameters, you can read the following articles:

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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