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kaholic, I feel your pain. I asked many of the same questions and got many different answers. try doing a search on this board using keywords (freshwater dip, fwd, adjust ph, etc) and hopefully you can come to a decision yourself. (my recent post was called 'adjusting water for freshwater dips', I think. or at least something like that, if you want to do a search for it.)

What I ended up deciding is for freshwater dips, adjust the temp to whatever the same temp the main tank is at, and adjust the ph with baking soda and dip for about four minutes or until the fish looks too stressed (once, I did not adjust the ph. it was at 7.4, and it didnt kill my fish when I dipped it for four minutes). do not dip inverts.

as for topoff water, I normally do not adjust the ph (which is at 7.4 unaltered) before adding it to my tank and my ph stays at around 8.0-8.2 despite that fact. However, sometimes I do buffer it up using a product called proper ph, which is supposed to automatically set the ph of SALTWATER (not freshwater) to 8.2. used in freshwater, it buffers the ph up to about 8.8, even when I dont use the full quantity recommended. thats why I dont do that very often! I might think about buying their product for cichlids which is supposed to buffer freshwater to 8.0. hope this helps, let me know.
 
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