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TDS Meters and its Uses Over recent years, there has been a widespread use of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter for analyzing the purity of fresh water. Most aquarists use these meters to determine if tap water purification systems such reverse osmosis/deionization (RO/Dip) or reverse osmosis (RO) are working properly or if there is a need for the deionizing resins to be replaced. The use of these meters, however, is not without complications. Contrary to what the name might imply, the devices do not measure all the dissolved solids. This article describes how these devices work, what they detect and don’t detect. Additionally, it gives some tips on how to best use them. The Operation Mechanism of the TDS Meters TDS meters are, in reality, conductivity meters. The meters work by using a voltage of between two or more electrodes. Positively charged ions will get attracted to the negatively charged electrode while the negatively charged ones will move to the positively charged electrode. These ions have an electric current because they are charged and are moving. The work of the meter here is to monitor how much current is passing between the electrodes as a gauge of how many ions are in the solution.
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TDS meters only detect mobile charged ions and will not detect any neutral compounds such as alcohol, sugar, and unionized forms of silica, ammonia and carbon dioxide. The meters are incapable of detecting macroscopic particulates as they are too large to pass through the electric fields used.
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TDS Meters Using Tips Make sure that you rinse the business end of the TDS meter prior and after each use with clean, fresh water. Salt Build up on the operational tip will interfere with proper operation and any transfer of salts from one solution to the other can skew the readings.The buildup of salts is likely to interfere with proper operation and carrying over salts from one solution to another can distort the readings. Ensure that the electrodes are cleaned whenever necessary by dipping the tip in acid like vinegar or diluted hydrochloric acid and then rinsing it well in water. In case it is heavily covered with organic material, it is appropriate that you soak the tip in alcohol or bleach. If the TDS meters are being used to measure RO membrane performance; the measured value should drop by at least a factor of 10 from the starting tap water. For example, if the tap water reads 231ppm, the RO water should be less than 23ppm. If the drop is less than a factor of 10, then this is an indication that the RO membrane has an issue. When the TDS meter is being used to measure the performance of the RO/DI system, the value measured should drop to near zero. If you record values higher than this, it means that something is malfunctioning or that the DI resin has become saturated and needed replacement. Readings of 1ppm should not worry you as there is carbon dioxide in the air that gets in the water and ionizes it causing the TDS to yield results of 1 or 2 ppm even in pure water.