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Old 01-26-2021, 12:51 PM   #1
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Question Cycle Advice - 3 Months and still high ammonia/nitrate

Hello Everyone,

This is my first post here, so i hope i'm posting this in the right place and sticking with the community guidelines and etiquette!

3 months ago

I brought our first aquarium, a 40 ltr tropical tank for my daughters. We purchased this from a large supplier here in the UK; and let's just say the advice was a little vague and wishful - put this active bacteria in, wait 3-4 days and then add fish, it'll be fine...

Naively, we added 2 fish (Mollys - i know what your thinking) a week later, and one sadly died.

Ever since then I've been on a mission to keep my girl's fish alive, learn what i can, and get the tank to a harmonious PH/Ammonia/Nitrite/Nitrate balance!

3 months on

We have 4 Guppies and 2 Mollys and haven't lost any fish since. The problem is, although I finally managed to get the Nitrite to 0ppm (took about 6 weeks), i'm STILL getting 2ppm Ammonia and 40-80ppm Nitrates.

Does any one have any advice on what i might need to do/stop doing to bring the Ammonia down to 0 and get a sub 40ppm Nitrate level?

Over the last few months I've:
  • Beed feeding the fish carefully and occasionally skipping days to avoid ammonia build up
  • Used an API test kit to test and measure the levels regularly
  • Performed weekly water changes (between 30-50%)
  • Used a gravel cleaner to remove poo
  • Used Pure Aquarium bacterial treatment (weekly with WC)
  • Added a small amount of Aquarium Salt during most WCs to help protect the fish (i used this like a tonic when the first fish died and the remaining one was looking very poorly - i swear it saved that fish).
  • Using Prime to keep the levels safe for the fish (every two days and during WCs)
  • Added 3 Zebra snails to deal with a brown algae outbreak we had 6-8 weeks in.

The good news is, fish seem absolutely fine. No signs of distress or struggling breathing whatsoever - if it wasn't for the test kit, you wouldn't even know there was a problem!

I came across a completely different post on this website (thats how i found it) where the user suggested a back to back 50% water change and then daily 25% changes there after until the problem resolved. What are you thoughts on this?

I've also wondered whether i might have too many fish, but the other (much better) shops i've spoken with have said that i still have space for a few tetras - which i've held off on getting because i know they are sensitive.

I've also just brought some java merino moss balls in the hope that getting fresh plants will bring the ammonia levels down - we only have plastic plants at the moment.

Thanks in advance for your ideas and suggestions!
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Old 01-26-2021, 03:31 PM   #2
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Might the post you refered to have been from me? It sounds like something i would say.

The main thing is your fish seem to be doing ok, so no need to panic.

Your target should be to keep ammonia + nitrite combined below 0.5ppm. Those moderate weekly water changes don't seem to be achieving that. If your fish werent so healthy i would definitely be saying back to back 50% water changes to get that ammonia down. However, seeing as your fish arent exhibiting ill health, maybe a daily 20% water change would be better to see your water parameters gradually come down and then whatever you need to do to keep them there until your tank is cycled.

A few points.

- Have you checked the water parameters of your tap water?

- Is your filter of an appropriate size for the tank? Is it a cartridge type? Are you doing any maintenance to that filter?

- A 40 litre tank is quite small and smaller tanks tend to be harder to get cycled.

- Once all your fish are fully grown, then i would say you are on the limit of the tank capacity. I wouldn't recommend adding more fish, certainly not while its not cycled.
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:15 PM   #3
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Thanks for your reply Aiken Drum.

I checked a screenshot of the post i took and it looks like it was 54seaweed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aiken Drum View Post
- Have you checked the water parameters of your tap water?
No, I havent done an actual test. The API ph test is coming up around 7.6 and i believe the water is hard in our area. I believe i did a test with all the API chemicals and they came back neutral.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Aiken Drum View Post
- Is your filter of an appropriate size for the tank? Is it a cartridge type? Are you doing any maintenance to that filter?
Its a I Love Fish tank with a filter that came with it.
It has cartridges.
Ive been super careful with the filters as i know thats where a lot of the BB are. I havent changed any cartidges yet and wouldnt know when a cartidge js "done". Ive had to rinse and scrub a fair bit at the sponge and mesh as they have had algae on them. Ive only rinsed in water taken out of the tank - not tap water etc.

Heres a question for you. Would it be disastrous if someone rinsed filter media in tap water that they had just put conditioner on? Is there a rough amount of time you should leave the conditioner in before it becomes dechlorinated/"safe"?
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Old 01-26-2021, 04:37 PM   #4
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Test your tap water for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH same as you have your tank water. You might have ammonia in there which is contributing to your tanks ammonia.

Love Fish? Is that the Pets at Home brand? Good value for buying stuff, less useful for advice.

Ive not got a lot of experience with cartridge type filters, the one ive got i threw the cartridge out and stuffed some sponge and hard filter media in there. You shouldn't need to scrub them though, you might be removing BB. If you have an algae problem then your lights are probably on too long. Rinsing on tank water is all you should need to do.

Rinsing in dechlorinated tap water is fine instead of tank water. I sometimes do that. The dechlorinator should work pretty much instantly, but probably best to leave it a few minutes to be sure.

I would say you are on the right track to cycle your tank, it just needs some more time and effort to do water changes to keep the water safe until you are cycled.
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Old 01-26-2021, 10:21 PM   #5
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Cycle Advice - 3 Months and still high ammonia/nitrate

Also think a complete test of tap water to get baseline readings a good idea. If you do get ammonia or nitrates in tap water (not unheard of), would do a test on spring water (or something that should give 0 readings so you can check the test kit is working properly).

One other idea was is your substrate just basic sand or gravel? Some of the more fancy planted tank substrates can generate readings until settles down.
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Old 01-28-2021, 01:02 PM   #6
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Thanks both for your advice. Ill give the tap water a test again to see whether it picks up anything.

@Aiken naively, i never thought of the led causing algae. Makes complete sense now, especially as the algae growth mimics position/shape if the light!

Not sure if ILoveFish is a pets at home brand or not. I have identified the filter that came with the tank is an Interpet CF1, which uses cartidges.

On that front, i havent ever changed the cartidges in fear of loosing the BB and messing up the cycle. However, Interpet recommend changing these every 4 weeks. So i have brought a pack, just incase the filter is causing the problem? I read somewhere that the filter can affect the breakdown of Ammonia; i know the BB in the filter would do this, but would the media in there also help?

Im not planning on changing all cartidges at once, maybe the sponge (which is susceptible to algae) first and the other a week later. What do you think?
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Old 01-28-2021, 01:11 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Delapool View Post
Also think a complete test of tap water to get baseline readings a good idea. If you do get ammonia or nitrates in tap water (not unheard of), would do a test on spring water (or something that should give 0 readings so you can check the test kit is working properly).

One other idea was is your substrate just basic sand or gravel? Some of the more fancy planted tank substrates can generate readings until settles down.
Sorry Delapool, missed one of your questions... the substrate is gravel. Im trying my best to clean it as thoroughly as possible to remove the poo/ammonia, but at the same time be concious that im removing BB! Any tips?
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Old 01-28-2021, 02:06 PM   #8
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Timing and intensity of aquarium lighting should be adjusted to balance any growth and managing algae. Typically this ends up being 6 to 8 hours to provide sufficient light for plants while keeping algae at a managable level.

As i said, i dont have much expertise with cartridge filters, but i wouldn't advise changing the cartridges. As you say, thats where the BB live and changing it will crash your cycle. I never really understand how people that do change them manage to keep anything alive for very long.

However, there is a solution. A popular youtuber called pondguru does a series on setting up filters, and one of his videos is on the Interpet CF3 which is a larger version of the CF1 and the setting up of your smaller version could follow the same guidelines. I use biohome media that he recommends in his videos, but any similar hard media would be better than the cartridges. You could even use plastic pot scrubbers which also makes a good filter media. If you do follow through and set up your filter without cartridges we can advise on getting your BB transferred to the new filter media.

https://youtu.be/h1cmBMfy6xQ
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Old 02-13-2021, 06:56 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Delapool View Post
Also think a complete test of tap water to get baseline readings a good idea. If you do get ammonia or nitrates in tap water (not unheard of), would do a test on spring water (or something that should give 0 readings so you can check the test kit is working properly).

One other idea was is your substrate just basic sand or gravel? Some of the more fancy planted tank substrates can generate readings until settles down.
Ok, so i tested my tap water and the API kit is showing nitrate levels that are as high (sometimes higher) than my tank!!!

Tap:
Ammonia 0.125ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 60ppm

I read somewhere to leave the tap water for 24hrs, so did that:

Tap water (after being left for 24hrs)
Ammonia 0.125ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 60ppm

I then thought that perhaps it might be the API test kit, so tested it on rain water and then bottled water:

Rain:
Ammonia 0.20ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 5ppm

Bottled water:
Ammonia: 0.1ppm
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 5ppm

Any ideas? Should i be worried about my tap water being higher than the fish tank?!

Its intersting to see that there was a little bit of ammonia in the bottled water. Do you think my ammonia test is off?
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Old 02-13-2021, 05:31 PM   #10
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60ppm Nitrate in your tap water is pretty high. Keep in mind,
Using just tap water for water changes will probably just keep
you at about 60-80ppm.

My tap water is about 40 ppm Nitrate. I'm a bit more into the hobby,
so I use an aquaponic filter to cut the nitrates down to 5ppm.
Plants eat nitrates. I'm in the process of upgrading my aquaponic
filter right now. Fun times! The Pothos plants up top munch nitrates:



Another way to cut nitrates is to mix you tap water with R/O filtered
water. That will also cut the hardness down, but this will require an
investment into a R/O filter. There are also Nitrate removal filters,
that are cheaper, but still require $$$.

You can also get Nitrate filter pads for filtration systems, but they
also require changing and $$$.

You see why I went Aquaponic. It was about $70 out of pocket,
but no continued expense, fewer water changes, and happy fish!
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Old 02-13-2021, 08:50 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BubbleAndSqueak View Post
Sorry Delapool, missed one of your questions... the substrate is gravel. Im trying my best to clean it as thoroughly as possible to remove the poo/ammonia, but at the same time be concious that im removing BB! Any tips?
Sorry - late reply. I've seen threads suggest doing half the gravel one water change and the rest the next. Generally I find the bacteria get more established as tanks get older. Overall I think removing the waste as much as possible is best even though might disturb the bacteria a bit.
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Old 02-13-2021, 09:01 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BubbleAndSqueak View Post
Ok, so i tested my tap water and the API kit is showing nitrate levels that are as high (sometimes higher) than my tank!!!

Tap:
Ammonia 0.125ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 60ppm

I read somewhere to leave the tap water for 24hrs, so did that:

Tap water (after being left for 24hrs)
Ammonia 0.125ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 60ppm

I then thought that perhaps it might be the API test kit, so tested it on rain water and then bottled water:

Rain:
Ammonia 0.20ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
Nitrates: 5ppm

Bottled water:
Ammonia: 0.1ppm
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 5ppm

Any ideas? Should i be worried about my tap water being higher than the fish tank?!

Its intersting to see that there was a little bit of ammonia in the bottled water. Do you think my ammonia test is off?
Some good ideas on dealing with the nitrates above. Good testwork on the bottled water as well. Perhaps the testkit is picking up something and a little incorrect or personally I find the colours are tricky to interpret. May not be as high as thought.

Plants an excellent idea.

For common hardy fish the nitrates may be ok. I've seen people run a "tap water aging tank" with plants only to get rid of high ammonia / nitrates but most seem to mix with RO or bottled water.

I'd get a tap water report and see what else is in the water. I've been happy with seachem safe/prime - heavy metals would be one to look for in the tap water report.

Nitrates at that level used to have a warning for infants - I'll see if I can find it.

The idea of leaving tap water "standing" in a glass for 24hrs is to allow the ph to stabilize and find the "true" tap water ph. Worth having as well for a baseline reading.
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Old 02-13-2021, 09:03 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mcfly View Post
60ppm Nitrate in your tap water is pretty high. Keep in mind,
Using just tap water for water changes will probably just keep
you at about 60-80ppm.

My tap water is about 40 ppm Nitrate. I'm a bit more into the hobby,
so I use an aquaponic filter to cut the nitrates down to 5ppm.
Plants eat nitrates. I'm in the process of upgrading my aquaponic
filter right now. Fun times! The Pothos plants up top munch nitrates:



Another way to cut nitrates is to mix you tap water with R/O filtered
water. That will also cut the hardness down, but this will require an
investment into a R/O filter. There are also Nitrate removal filters,
that are cheaper, but still require $$$.

You can also get Nitrate filter pads for filtration systems, but they
also require changing and $$$.

You see why I went Aquaponic. It was about $70 out of pocket,
but no continued expense, fewer water changes, and happy fish!
Like the aquaponic filter - looks really good!.
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Old 02-13-2021, 09:11 PM   #14
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Found a link re nitrates and human health.


https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Article...drinking-water


Milligrams/Liter to Parts/Million (Ppm) Conversion Calculator
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Old 02-14-2021, 04:33 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mcfly View Post
60ppm Nitrate in your tap water is pretty high. Keep in mind,
Using just tap water for water changes will probably just keep
you at about 60-80ppm.

My tap water is about 40 ppm Nitrate. I'm a bit more into the hobby,
so I use an aquaponic filter to cut the nitrates down to 5ppm.
Plants eat nitrates. I'm in the process of upgrading my aquaponic
filter right now. Fun times! The Pothos plants up top munch nitrates:



Another way to cut nitrates is to mix you tap water with R/O filtered
water. That will also cut the hardness down, but this will require an
investment into a R/O filter. There are also Nitrate removal filters,
that are cheaper, but still require $$$.

You can also get Nitrate filter pads for filtration systems, but they
also require changing and $$$.

You see why I went Aquaponic. It was about $70 out of pocket,
but no continued expense, fewer water changes, and happy fish!
Wow Mcfly, that looks great. I havent heard about Aquaponic filtration before. Ill have to explore.

Its reassuring to hear that someone else has similar nitrate levels in their tap water...

Ive contacted my Water Provider and sent them my findings and a request for a test, as i appriciate an API kit, as good as they are, arent the most accurate of tests (and dont get me started on trying to read the readings!!)

For now, i think im going to continue with regular water changes and using Seachem Prime. Ill probably get some plants as well to see if they will bring it down a bit - its a tiny tank though, and i want to be able to see the fish!
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Old 02-14-2021, 04:40 AM   #16
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Some good ideas on dealing with the nitrates above. Good testwork on the bottled water as well. Perhaps the testkit is picking up something and a little incorrect or personally I find the colours are tricky to interpret. May not be as high as thought.

Plants an excellent idea.

For common hardy fish the nitrates may be ok. I've seen people run a "tap water aging tank" with plants only to get rid of high ammonia / nitrates but most seem to mix with RO or bottled water.

I'd get a tap water report and see what else is in the water. I've been happy with seachem safe/prime - heavy metals would be one to look for in the tap water report.

Nitrates at that level used to have a warning for infants - I'll see if I can find it.

The idea of leaving tap water "standing" in a glass for 24hrs is to allow the ph to stabilize and find the "true" tap water ph. Worth having as well for a baseline reading.
Thanks Delapool! Hopefully the test is a bit off and ill get some clarity from the water suppliers.
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Old 02-14-2021, 04:42 AM   #17
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Sorry - late reply. I've seen threads suggest doing half the gravel one water change and the rest the next. Generally I find the bacteria get more established as tanks get older. Overall I think removing the waste as much as possible is best even though might disturb the bacteria a bit.
Yeah, i think im going to continue doing the lot, but not overdoing it.
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Old 02-14-2021, 04:44 AM   #18
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Thanks for these. Interesting to read that less than 50ppm is considered safe.
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Old 02-14-2021, 05:51 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BubbleAndSqueak View Post
Wow Mcfly, that looks great. I havent heard about Aquaponic filtration before. Ill have to explore.



Its reassuring to hear that someone else has similar nitrate levels in their tap water...



Ive contacted my Water Provider and sent them my findings and a request for a test, as i appriciate an API kit, as good as they are, arent the most accurate of tests (and dont get me started on trying to read the readings!!)



For now, i think im going to continue with regular water changes and using Seachem Prime. Ill probably get some plants as well to see if they will bring it down a bit - its a tiny tank though, and i want to be able to see the fish!

Try some floating plants instead same effect and you still get to see the fish.
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Old 02-15-2021, 01:48 PM   #20
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Tap, tap, tap...thats all I hear anymore. Softeners, hard water, well water...its important to know where your water is coming from...who thinks to test their tap???...RO water and many trips to the H20 store to fill my 5 gallon bottles...determine your fishies...harder or softer...brackish or not...overcrowded? Planted or no? Also healthy plants or no?
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