How to Detect and Fix Stray Voltage in an Aquarium
Stray current in the aquarium is when you have an errant electrical charge running through the water. This is dangerous not only for you, but also harmful to your fish, corals and invertebrates. Typically stray current enters the water through a faulty power cable on a pump (protein skimmer, circulation pump, media reactor pump) or a heater. Making your tank a safer and healthier place for your fish is easy and affordable. We'll look at how to test for stray voltage, and how to to fix it.
How to test for stray voltage in an aquarium. The first thing you need to do is test for stray current in your aquarium. One way to know for sure if you have stray current, when you place your hand in the tank to do cleaning or maintenance, you fell a slight zap, especially if you have an open cut or a hang nail. This is not a recommended method to test for stray current. The best way to check for stray current is to get a multi-meter, they can be purchased for under $20 at your local home improvement store or online. Set the meter to 120 AC Voltage. Place the tip of the black prong into a grounding hole of an electrical outlet. Now insert the tip of the red probe into the aquarium water. Watch the meter to see what the voltage reads. If it's anything above a ZERO reading, you have stray voltage in your water.
How to fix stray voltage in an aquarium. Start by finding the culprit of the stray voltage. Unplug each heater and pump that is submersed in the water. Then plug them in one at a time and read the multi-meter each time another item is plugged in. Once you see the voltage increase, you have found your culprit. Remove the offending piece of equipment and repair or replace it.
If you have tested and replaced each piece of faulty equipment and you still have stray voltage in your aquarium, then you will want to install a grounding probe. This is simple and doesn't cost much. The grounding probe either plugs into an outlet with a grounding hole, or is attached to an outlet via the screw in the center of the cover plate on an outlet. Once you have a ground established, place the titanium tip of the grounding probe into the tank water. This will allow the tank to be grounded thus removing the stray voltage from the aquarium.
Although this is a fairly safe and straight forward trouble shoot, as always when working with water and electricity, proceed with caution and be mindful of what you are doing. For added protection, you may wish to wear a pair of rubber Aqua Gloves to help prevent electric shock. The risk of injury or harm due from electrical shock is always possible SO BE CAREFUL!