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Old 08-20-2011, 06:03 AM   #1
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water chemistry trouble!

Hi we recently bought an established fish tank that came with 9 large fish. we kept as much of the original water as we could during the move. we have since removed 5 large fish due to incompatibility (bullying etc) with the more peaceful species. These were exchanged for a number of smaller species. We were testing the water with 5 in 1 test strips where everything seemed in order except the GH and KH which were a little high
ph - 7.2
Nitrite - 0mg/l
Nitrate - 160mg/l
KH - 240mg/l
GH - 180mg/l

Trying to lower the water hardness we removed 25l from the tank and replaced with RO water. After testing again we found the hardness has reduced slightly and other values remained the same. after 24h one of our pregnant guppies died. we then took a water sample to our local pet store who carried out a more accurate test where we found

Ph - 7.2
Nitrate - 10ppm
Nitrite - 1.0ppm
Ammonia - 0.50ppm

we were advised to carry out another 25% water change and not to clean filters etc. and not to focus on the water hardness untill our slightly toxic issue had been resolved. we tested the water we were adding to ensure no ammonia and toxins were being added and found all results were 0, but hardness is still an issue this was treated with nutrafin cycle bacteria supplement and nutrafin aquaplus conditioner. we have been advised to go back to the store in 9 days but we bought our own more accurate test kit so we can monitor our tank more closely.

48 hours later we woke up to find one of our gouramis dead. we have tested the water and found

ammonia - 0.5ppm
nitrite - 0.25ppm
nitrate - 80ppm
ph - 7.5

also using a test strip to confirm results and found additionally

KH & GH - 180 mg/l

we are a little concerned aswell because one of our guppies has been showing similar behaviour as his dead tank mate for almost 2 days. can anybody offer any advise i dont know if another water change is going to help right away and thats all our petstore seem to advise.

When we carried out the 25% water change as first instructed we treated the new water we were adding to the tank. should we have also treated the water that was left in during the change.



Dean & Lorna

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Old 08-20-2011, 09:01 AM   #2
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hi i just wanted to add that when we brought the tank home the filters filtration equipment was all drained and left out of water for 1 - 2 hours which i think would kill all the benificil bacteria (turning it into ammonia??) we have been advised not to rinse our filters when we are doing water changes to allow bacteria to reestablish but everything is absolutley filthy and full of green gunk. we were told the tank would establish quickly because we kept the gravel and about 50% of the water but if all the filters are full of ammonia which it is pumping back into our tank surely that would just be making it a whole lot worse for our fish. also i have just discovered that the bacteria products that the lfs have been selling us are a load of cr*p and are probably adding to our problems.
I was thinking of vacuming the poop from the bottom of our tank and doing a part water change with some RO water again but was advised that constantly using RO water would cause a PH crash is this true and if so how can i lower my ammonia and nitrite levels to 0 or almost. it seems that our tank is cycling because our Nitrate levels have gone up alot in 48 hours but these are about 80ppm and ive read that it shouldnt be above 40....
im really stumped on what to do, i feel like every time i look for advice i end up £20 out of pocket and no better off..i dont begrudge spending the money i just want a safe environment for my fish i just hate the fact i cant trust a word any of these lfs are telling me. if anybody has a good plan of action i would be greatly appreciative ive found some threads with similar problems but they are usually cycling a tank without a whole bunch of fish in it. our problem was the tank came with fish.. and we had no choice but to try and get things as stable as we could and get the fish out of there buckets asap..

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Old 08-20-2011, 09:49 AM   #3
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Do you know the species of fish you have? High GH and KH is actually required for some.

More experienced members will advise i'm sure but the ammonia / nitrite readings done by your LFS and yourself i think highlight the problem. Also the nitrate at 80 is high and would require a partial water change to reduce.

I think definitely vacuum the waste from the gravel, i don't believe this has a significant/any detrimental effect on bacteria and will be contributing to the ammonia levels.

For treating water during your water changes you only need to add enough conditioner to cover the water you are adding. Primarily you are doing this to remove chlorine from the added water.

The fact you are seeing nitrates increase shows you have some conversion of ammonia to nitrite to nitrate from bacterial conversion so not all is bad.

If there is a lot of waste in the filter etc you can rinse this out. Take water from your tank into a clean bucket and rinse out. Do not use tap or other untreated water.

I think its important to get things cleaned up - waste will just be adding to the ammonia. WHat type of test kit are you using now? generally members will advise you to use the API freshwater master test kit which works with water samples from your tank rather than test strips.

Can you post pictures of your fish if you don't know what they are?
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Old 08-20-2011, 09:54 AM   #4
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Oh yes and using RO water i don't think is advised right now. Yes RO water will not have the dissolved minerals in it which are responsible for water hardness, but as you mentioned not having these can mean that PH will be unstable which is just as much a problem as the ammonia / nitrite.

I would stick for now with tap water using your water conditioner.

Are you checking the temperature of the water you are adding to the tank when doing your water changes? you want it to be very close to your tank temperature to prevent stress on your fish due to sudden temperature changes.
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Old 08-20-2011, 10:09 AM   #5
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thanks for the response.

we are using the api master kit we bought it after the first lfs sample test so we could monitor it ourselves.

i did include a species list in our profile when we registered but ill copy it for ease of reading

Fish and No's & approx size:
Common plec - 1 - 6''
Clown loach - 1 - 5''
clown loach - 2 - 1''
pakistani loach - 2 - 2''
julii Catfish - 3 - 1''
Dwarf gouramis - 3 - 2-2.5''
Guppies - 5 - 1.5''
Elephant nose - 1 - 5''

most of the fish came with the tank originally we got rid of 2 large silver dollars, 1 albino redfin shark and 2 large pictus catfish. the dollars were just too large and the other 3 were aggressive towards our more peacefull fish.

we replaced these with the 3 small catfish and the 6 (now 5)guppies informed by the store we bought them from these would be good for a community tank.. since then we have been told we have too many bottom feeders which might make a hard life for our elephant nose.

when we first set up the tank we found the heater was unreliable so bought a new one and we use the old one to heat the new water to the same temp as the tank water.

thanks again for the advice

Dean & Lorna
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Old 08-20-2011, 10:17 AM   #6
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No worries .. It may seem a bit overwhelming, but IMO all your issues can be solved with
1. A good quality test kit like the API test master. Since you used test strips, I really can't say how accurate your test numbers are. Strips are notoriously inaccurate.
EDIT ... SKIP #1 ... I Just saw you posted you have the API test kit.
2. Seachem Prime Dechlorinator - it helps to lock ammonia into a less toxic form for up to 24+ hrs giving your fish breathing room yet still allowing bacteria to consume it ... plus it's very concentrated.
3. Test & PWC's to keep your nitrates below 40ppm.
4. Patience.

That's it ... No need to do R/O which strips your tank of buffers needed to prevent pH swings. I'm assuming your using your tap for PWC's? If so your pH numbers look fine. If the filter media dried out, the bacteria in there died, but any alive in the gravel will help seed the tank. Oh BTW ... feel free to gravel vac and rinse the filter media of it's gunk ... just use treated tank water ... not tap. Don't worry, you wont wash the bacteria away and clean media is important for maintaining a healthy bio-filtration.

There's no need for you to spend bundles of $$$ ... except for the API test master and Seachem Prime. Keep at the PWC's.

Last question ... how large is your tank and what type of filters came with it?
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Old 08-20-2011, 10:19 AM   #7
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Why are you trying to alter the hardness of the water? Most fish will adapt to your tank water (PH, KH, etc) unless they are extreme. As long as you slowly acclimate them, they should be fine.

The water itself doesn't contain much beneficial bacteria; most of it lives in the filter media and some on the substrate and decor.

What size tank is it? It's possible it's overstocked which could be causing the ammonia spikes. Also how long has the person actually had the tank running before giving it to you? Was it truly cycled already?

I wouldn't use R/O water for a freshwater tank. R/O water doesn't have the required minerals in it and you would have to replace these. The sudden change from the tank water to R/O water is what probably killed the fish the first time.

If the person you bought the tank from was using tap water, and you live in the same area, then your tap water is probably fine to use. I would stick with that unless you know of some definite issues? What is the PH out of the tap and GH/KH?

I would also stop adding fish until you can get this sorted out and until we know the size of the tank; it's possible it's overstocked already.

For right now, your main concern is to keep ammonia and nitrite <0.25 and nitrate <20-40 (the 160 nitrate reading is very high to fish and at toxic levels which again could have caused fish deaths).

There's a link in my signature: new tank with fish. Read it and it'll help you maintain the tank until it fully cycles. Doing a gravel vac might also be a good idea since we don't know the maintenance routine of the previous owner and it's possible a lot of detritus has built up in the gravel which could also be causing the ammonia spikes.
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Old 08-20-2011, 10:23 AM   #8
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from your profile your tank is 165L right? that's about 40 gallons
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Old 08-20-2011, 01:07 PM   #9
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We have been trying to lower the hardness because of our clown loaches they prefer soft water and the larger fish has developed a pale patch on his back which we have been led to believe is caused by incorrect GH.

Our tap water is about 180mg/l for both KH and GH which i believe is about 7 or slightly hard

yes the tank is 165 litres im not sure on how much that is in gallons. we were told it was fully stocked originally by the lfs so after selling a few of the larger antisocial fish we replaced them with a handfull of smaller ones. we arent really planning on adding any more. the people we bought the tank off had had it for a few years i presume and by the state of the filters and the size of the fish i can be almost certain that it was already cycled to begin with although we did lose about 50-60% of the water in the move.

i do apologise we didnt have a nitrate reading of 160 (excuse my sausage fingers and curse me for not proof reading) i would be panicing otherwise it was 10.

We will do another water change straight away its reassuring to know that we cant really do too many changes (after reading the newbies guide) and ill give the filters and pump a good rinse in the old water.

Im a little concerned we might be over stocked i hope not cause we have taken out 5 large fish before we put in the much smaller ones i heard there is a way to calculate this with the widthxlength but i found 2 sites one says divide by 40 and another said 60.. any help with that will be much appreciated. i believe the clown loaches will get BIG which again is a worry.

Thank you all very much its nice to be reassured that its not all going wrong and there is still a chance to put things right.

dean & lorna
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Old 08-20-2011, 01:23 PM   #10
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Well first thing is I would try to get that ammonia and nitrite under .25ppm, and keep it there. With your numbers it looks like youre part way through a cycle, till its cycled you're going to have to stay on top of pwc's. I would do a 50% pwc as quick as I could, then maybe a 25% later today. To make sure your fish aren't getting hurt by the ammonia and nitrite. There's some links around here that'll help you, let me see if I can find them.

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