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Old 09-22-2016, 06:38 PM   #1
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Is anything wrong with my tank setup?

...alternately titled, "Why Won't My Tank Cycle?"

Bought a 10 gallon aquarium for my daughter's 7th birthday in May. I decided to go with a fish-in cycle so that she could enjoy fish right away. Bought two platys. Was vigilant with doing PWC every few days, but they died after two weeks. Took distraught daughter back to store where this time the lady was able to talk her into danios. Got four of them; they were all dead before the week was over. Decided we had better stick with fishless cycling. Bought Ace Hardware ammonia, dosed to 4ppm. That's it. It never, ever dropped. It's been since May, so I'm pretty sure I've given it enough time.

Waited til after vacation to continue efforts... last week I decided to add a bottle of TSS to see what might happen. After a day and a half, ammonia read 1ppm!! Dosed back up to 4ppm. And there it stayed.

Trying to decide what to do next. A coworker who used to own an aquarium told me he gave up because our water here is too hard. I looked into that and thought maybe I should try RO water next. However, I'm reading a lot that says that shouldn't make any difference in establishing a biological filter, just with what kind of fish we end up adding.

So maybe I will try buying a seeded filter sponge next, but first, to make sure that isn't a waste of more money, I thought I'd look to the experts to see if I've done anything wrong in my setup that will ruin any attempts. Here's what we've got:

10 gallon tank
multicolored gravel
plastic plants
castle
undergravel filter
Aquaclear Powerhead 20 - 127gph
Tetra HT submersible aquarium heater - non adjustable; stays at 78 degrees
Overhead lamp - incandescent
Aqueon tap water conditioner


I know that ideally I should be able to turn the heat up higher during the cycle. Is not being able to raise it higher than 78 the problem? I didn't want to go spending tons of money on new setup just on guesses.

Or possibly the filter? I did all kinds of reading on filters, and I know most fishkeepers are pretty divided on whether or not UGFs are okay. I decided to go with it but...

Or would the RO water actually help?

I forgot to mention that the Ph is 7.6. Don't really want to go buy yet another test kit for water hardness unless absolutely necessary.

If anyone is able to solve the mystery of this tank, end my frustrations, and bring my daughter's dreams of owning real fish to fruition, I would be most grateful!!

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Old 09-22-2016, 07:40 PM   #2
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With your undergravel filter, is there any type of media (sponge, bio rings, etc) that was included with it or is it just the plastic base with the air tube(s)?

Personally I think undergravel filters are pos but to each there own. I'm wondering if the filter choice may be your issue with the cycle not going through. Maybe try a sponge filter (super cheap off eBay) or a HOB (cheap on the internet trough many sites). I've never had a cycle take more then 2 months (that's my fault because I bombed the tank with ammonia). Oh and a cycle can go through with lower temps, it just takes a little longer. I cycled one of my tanks at 78 degrees within a month.

What do you mean by your water is too hard? If you are buying fish from a fish store in your area then you should be fine with them. I would encourage you to stick with the stores in your local area that way you don't have to mess with acclimation or changing parameters. Your pH is decent for any fish.

RO water you will have to remineralize to make it fish safe. You cannot just add fish to RO water, it will kill them. You can use RO water to cut your water though if it is really hard but this will get expensive if you have to keep purchasing RO water.

With a 10g tank you are limited in the fish you can put in there. A 10g is perfect for a betta but not much else. It is best to research fish before buying them and putting them into a tank that is too small for them. The platys and danios would outgrow the 10g in no time. Small 10g tanks are best for shrimp, betta, guppies, minnows, the little guys.

Sorry if I seem short writing this, I am just trying to answer all the questions at once to give you a little help so your daughter can have her tank.
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Old 09-22-2016, 11:24 PM   #3
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First, 78 degrees is plenty warm - any more than that and you will cook most fish. Your pH is 7.8? That's a bit high. What is your hardness? That could be the problem. Check your ammonia and nitrates as well. I'm not fond of adding any chemicals at all to the water, but you may have to. Compare your water parameters to those of the fish shop. You should not have these problems with fish deaths unless the two sources of water are very different.
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Old 09-23-2016, 11:04 AM   #4
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Agree with the first poster, probably not so much with the second.

ph of 7.6 is on the higher side, but not too high. I live in Houston, where tap water is at 7.8 and my semi aggressive community does just fine. pH crashing during a cycle may potentially stall the cycle though.

78 will not cook your fishes. That happens to be my tank temperature. The type of fish you put in there will matter though. Danios will do just fine and so will the platies. I have danios in my tank. Temp had nothing to do with the death of your fishes. Most tropical fishes need temps more than 82.

As for cycling: the first poster raises an excellent point. The bacteria need a large solid surface area to grow on. While gravel and tank walls do provide some of that, media really promote their growth. Eg would be a sponge filter, bio balls, ceramic beads etc. investing in a sponge filter, especially one from an established tank will be extremely useful. Online shops like angels plus sell those.

1. Start over with new water + conditioner and no store bought bacteria

2. Get a sponge filter, preferably an established one with beneficial bacteria.

3. Start with 2 ppm dosing. Smaller tanks may take a long time to reduce 4 ppm. Until you see ammonia reducing all the way to zero, do not dose again. Your problem might be that you don't have enough bacteria to convert that much ammonia. Lower is better in those cases. It might be different when you get your sponge filter.

4. Reduce ammonia dosing when you start seeing nitrItes. Most cycles stall because people keep overdosing ammonia and their nitrItes spiral out of control.

5. Keep us posted and ask questions when in doubt.

With a seeded tank, cycling should be a lot easier.

Good luck and hope your daughter has her tank very soon!


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Old 09-23-2016, 01:56 PM   #5
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Okay, thanks everyone for your answers. Sounds like I'm going to try replacing the UGF with a sponge filter.

Question - can I use my powerhead with the sponge filter? I'm rather confused as to the difference between a powerhead and an air pump. It seems like I should be able to use the powerhead and all I have to buy is the filter. Yes?
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Old 09-23-2016, 05:20 PM   #6
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Some might call it a bit of an overkill, but I'd leave the ugf setup alone and just get a sponge filter and a small air pump. The whisper air pumps run as low as $11 in Amazon.


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Old 09-24-2016, 06:07 PM   #7
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An air pump (connected to a small box filter) provides mechanical filtration. You replace the filter floss when it gets dirty.
A powerhead and sponge filter provide mailnly biological filtration as the spaces are too large to catch that much of the waste. Periodically you will 'gently' rinse the sponge of waste making sure you don't kill off the biological bacteria.

As for the stalled cycling, the only thing I can think of is something is killing the bacteria. Copper is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps you added some medication (lots of meds are harmful to BB). Or perhaps your local water has too much copper or something else that is harming the BB.
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