Aquarium DIY CO2 Kit: Citric Acid/Vinegar and Baking Soda

[Update 17 July 2017] I have a new HIGH PRESSURE DIY CO2 Canister. Check it out!

[Update 15 May 2017] Added video of my setups.

[Update 13 Mar 2017] Well, I have moved the DIY CO2 kit to my 75 gallon tank and changed the ceramic diffuser to a larger one and the results were amazing. Currently I am doing about 2 bubbles per second because I am cycling the new 75 gallon tank and I want to keep the pH level high to encourage bacteria growth (they need about 7.5 pH).

The maximum I tried was like a billion bubbles per second! Too much to be counted! And pH dropped from 7.5 to 5.8 @.@ and I was getting off the scale nitrites reading (nitrite eating bacteria shutting down). And the bottle of vinegar was depleted within 2 days.


I have deployed in addition to my 5 gallon, DIY CO2 to my 75 gallon and 20 gallon tanks.

 

I have a spare 5 gallon tank and I have been toying with the idea of doing up a planted tank with fish, and going semi high-tech with a DIY CO2 kit. And some ask is DIY CO2 really worth the trouble?

Why I chose DIY instead of a pressurised CO2:

Pro

  1. Low initial cost
  2. Ingredients can be purchased locally, or stocked up.
  3. Ingredients are everyday item and can be used for other purposes.
  4. Whenever I run out of ingredients, I can get the system up and running away shortly.
  5. Refilling CO2 tank at the nearest LFS is 16km away. Imagine the time and fuel cost.
  6. Refill sometimes are not 1-for-1 exchange and need to wait for a few days. Again I will need to travel 16km to collect it.
  7. The LFS will be closed by the time I knock off from work and travel down for 1-for-1 exchanges. That leaves only weekends. And we all know weekends at the LFS is a nightmare. Furthermore, I have 2 kids and weekends is all about family and not so about plants in a tank.

Con

  1. Low capacity compared to Pressurised System’s 2 month running time.
  2. Low CO2 pressure. You will find atomizer impossible to be used with DIY setup.
  3. Inconsistent CO2 releases. Sometimes when I leave my house, it is doing a respectable 4~5 bubbles per second. But when I got home, it is doing maybe 1~2 bubbles per second.
  4. Need to replenish the bottles and it can get a little messy sometimes (but much easier than yeast/baking soda formula)
  5. Higher running cost in the super long run.

After researching online for days I settled for a DIY CO2 kit that is quite popular on Aliexpress and Amazon. Cost just around US$21 delivered to where I live from Aliexpress.

The single greatest advantage of this kit is you can actually shut it off at night! It will not explode like the yeast + baking soda recipe. In addition, the reaction is immediate. Squeeze the bottle, vinegar got pumped into baking soda, and you get CO2 and pressure build-up immediately. No need to wait for fermentation.

There are cheaper variants around but I settled on this because it has a brace that can secure the soda bottles so it is easier to carry around when doing maintenance. And it looks much cleaner.

The kit came with all the tubes attached so there is really nothing else to setup. The only thing you need to do is to screw the soda bottles in and attached the outlet tube to the kit and to your bubble counter/diffuser.

Additional items that you MUST purchase:

  • Ceramic diffuser,
  • Bubble counter,
  • Check-valve (some bubble counters comes with it)

 


Citric Acid or Vinegar

There are a few instructions on how to setup a citric acid/baking soda recipe. I read through every one of them and then I hit a road block. From where I come from, citric acid is not available, or at least not conveniently and in small packing.

One of my mates owns a chemical company and the smallest pack of citric acid powder is a 25kg pack. My wife will kill me if I store that at home.

So I went online to search for alternatives. There were several websites that stated that vinegar can be used in place of citric acid. But none of them stated the ratio one should need. Some even suggested mixing vinegar with water. And none of them actually states what kind of vinegar to use.

So I decided to do a trial and error with vinegar/baking soda recipe. And it worked! And the results were great!

Here’s the recipe:

Baking Soda 400g +
Man-made/artificial vinegar 1L

That’s it!

You do not need to mix the vinegar with any water.

You do not need to mix the baking soda with water as well!

The cost is well under US$3. The 400g baking soda cost me just US$1.30 and I purchased a 5L white vinegar at my local supermarket for a mere US$4. My latest mix has past 10 days and I predict it can surpass 15 days, no sweat. If I increase the baking soda to 800g I am pretty certain it can last 1 month.

Singapore Reader Note: So far I discovered that only Giants @ Vivocity sells the 5L white vinegar. You can still get the 3L pack from a reasonable size Giants. The smaller Giants are only selling small bottles.

Setting Up

You will need to get two empty soda bottles. I am using 1.5L bottles. They MUST be from soda drinks. From what I learned, soda bottles are manufactured to withstand higher pressure than your normal non-carbonated drinks.

  1. Pour 400g of baking soda powder into one bottle. No need to mix with water. Just raw powder form. (Okay, 400g maybe too much! 200g~300g will be perfect.)
  2. Screw the bottle containing the baking soda into the socket with the tube that DOES NOT have the ball-head. Make sure it is tight. Be careful not to over screw and risk damaging the threads.
  3. Pour 1L of vinegar into the second bottle. You can adjust the amount of vinegar according to your bottle size or needs. BUT DO NOT FILL MORE THAN 1L or you will cause the baking soda bottle to be overfilled later on, and the vinegar/water mixture will end up being pump into your tank!
  4. Screw the bottle containing the vinegar into the socket with the tube that has the ball-head. Make sure it is tight as well.
  5. Attach one end of the long tubing to the outlet that is on the screw valve.
  6. Next, estimate how long you will need to run the tube from your bottles to the tank. Cut off the excess.
  7. Then cut the tubes into sections so you can connect your check-valve, bubble counters, and diffuser.

Starting the reaction

Once everything is connected you are ready to start the reaction.

  1. Make sure the outlet valve is open. Then give the bottle with the vinegar bottle a really hard squeeze.
  2. When the vinegar touches the baking soda powder, the reaction is immediate!
  3. You will need to give the vinegar bottle a handful more squeezes before the reaction can be self-sustained.
  4. Once you see vinegar started flowing without your intervention it is time to shut the valve.
  5. Now let the pressure build up. Keep squeezing the vinegar bottle until you cannot squeeze any more. Yes! That’s how much pressure we need to build up. I would take a break and come back again later.
  6. The pressure gauge is a bit tiny and I have trouble reading it under dim light some times. Getting old. At 1.5 reading you can slowly release the valve.
  7. If everything went well, you can see the diffuser fizzling immediately.

If even after releasing the valve all the way until it came out and there is still nothing coming out of the the diffuser, DO NOT PANIC!

Troubleshooting method #1

Sometimes the reaction is not sufficient. Unscrew the bottle containing the baking soda SLOWLY but not completely. Keep unscrewing slowly until you hear gas escaping hizz. Immediately vinegar will be drawn into the baking soda bottle resulting in more reaction and more CO2. Screw the baking soda bottle back immediately.

Troubleshooting method #2

The DIY CO2 pressure is kinda low for some check-valve. Loosen the check-valve. Keep loosening. And then you will get a rush of CO2 into your bubble counter! The feeling will be tremendous! Lol.

If your bubble counter comes with check-valve, loosen until water starts to leak from it. Then gently tighten it until there is no more leak. If there is still no movement, use your finger to give the bubble counter a good knock.

I will try to upload some videos later on. Let me know if this works 😉

I have a new HIGH PRESSURE DIY CO2 Canister. Check it out!

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Chi Siang Written by:

Hi! I am a Singaporean who used to work and live in Saigon for 6 years. I am married to my Vietnamese wife and we travel back to Saigon regularly. My years living amongst the Vietnamese and not amongst the expats community, gave me an unique insight into Vietnamese people, their culture, and their way of life.

6 Comments

  1. Nathan
    May 15, 2017
    Reply

    Hi I read your post on diy co2 with interest. How many days of co2 can your bottles generate?

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      Hi,

      For my 75 gallon tank running uncountable (probably 4 bubbles per second) it last about 7 days.

      For my 20 gallon tank it last about 10 days running 2 bubbles per second.

      For my 5 gallon tank it last about 14 days running 0.5 bubbles per second.

      But every now and then I need to stir the bottle with the baking soda to “re-activate” the chemical reaction.

      I have now become used to maintaining the bottles that all it took me was 5 minutes to discharge the old solution, add new baking soda, add new vinegar, reattach the tube and get it going again.

  2. Nathan
    May 15, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for the prompt reply. Do you have a picture of your setup? I have not decided on the recipe – sugar or vinegar with baking soda. Was hoping to get at least some co2 to last for 1 month

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      Hi Nathan

      I will take a few photos of my setup later tonight when I get home.

      For sugar/baking soda method, there is a delay between initializing and pressure building up due to the fermentation process requires time. For vinegar or citric acid with baking soda, the chemical reaction is instantaneous. You get CO2 immediately. And you can safetly shut off the CO2 supply without running the risk of an explosion.

      As for getting it to last 1 month, it will not be possible. Thisbis because of the inherent nature of this setup.

      As the vinegar or citric acid reacts with the baking soda, water is the byproduct. So eventually you will have so much water as byproduct that fresh vinegar entering the baking soda bottle will be so diluted that chemical reaction will no longer take place.

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      I’ve uploaded video of my setup. You can check it out.

  3. Nathan
    May 16, 2017
    Reply

    Very nicely done- thank you. I have some confidence now to set it up for my tank!

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