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Kitty Litter

Last week my local Canadian Tire store (one of my regular aquarium
suppliers) had a sale on Hartz brand pH 5 Kitty Litter. The price was so low
that even I could afford to pick up a couple of bags (I don't have a cat and
most of this month's disposable income has been spent stocking up on Dupla
products <g>).

I picked it up basically because while I have heard about it, and commented
about it, I had never actually seen it or used it in an aquarium. Being an
equal opportunity flamer, I figure that it's about time I at least looked at
it with an open mind.

From what I have read on Dan Quackenbush's website, it is not recommended
that kitty litter be washed before use - you are just supposed to put in a
layer of dry kitty litter, cover it with clean gravel and then fill the tank
with water. I assume that this is to prevent fouling of the water column
with colloidal clay particles.

As one would expect, the first thing I did when I got home was to place a
cup of this kitty litter in a clear glass beaker and added water. It
"clumped", absorbing the water and expanding in size, something that I was
expecting it to do given the physical properties of the clay from which it
is made. As I continued to add water, it continued to absorb it, and
continued to expand, to a point. When it was totally saturated, it was a
rather gritty slurry. As I continued to add water, and continued to stir the
mixture, flashbacks to a childhood making mud-pies began to surface in my

Upon settling, there was a definate "layering" effect - on the bottom of the
beaker there was a layer of discrete clay particles, overlaid by a muddy
looking layer of much smaller particles and then milky water (clouded no
doubt by colloidal clay particles).

I placed the beaker under a running stream of water and washed as much of
the fine "slurry" out as I could. With regular stirring, it didn't take too
long. What remained was a greyish white particulate, perhaps 0.5 mm in
granule size, but definately dense enough to sink and settle out of the
water column as quickly as fine silica sand. After several days, this
material remains solid and after a quick stir still settles out of the water
column quickly. Odd, I was expecting it to have totally disintegrated. It
feels "gritty" to the touch, but is definately clay, not sand particles (it
is "softly gritty"). Mark one up for the "kitty litter brigade".

My tap water has a pH of 7.2. Three days after being submerged, I measured
the pH of the water in the beaker - it was well under 6 (the lower limit of
my LaMotte pH kit), probably closer to 5. (Yes, I realize that it is called
pH 5 Kitty Litter for a reason.)

It would seem that washing the kitty litter prior to use would remove one of
the biggest negative points to using this substance - its habit of fouling
the water column with colloidal clay particles when disturbed. Is there a
reason for recommending that kitty litter NOT be washed prior to using it in
a substrate?

Would any of the "kitty litter brigade" care to comment? Do any of you wash
your litter prior to use? Would doing so affect/remove anything valuable
from the material?

James Purchase