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Old 05-25-2020, 11:49 PM   #1
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question about cycling dirty tank

Hello everyone,

I'm about to get a very neglected 10g aquarium that comes with a few live fish and I'm not sure how to go about cycling it. This aquarium is VERY dirty (there is a layer of fish waste and old food on the gravel among other things), and really the only way to clean properly it is to clean the tank, gravel, etc separately with tap water, and then start fresh. From what research I've done, cleaning the tank in this way would destroy most of the beneficial bacteria and I'd need to cycle the tank. However, I don't have another aquarium to put the fish in, so I'd have to do a fish in cycle. I'd like to make this process as short as possible to reduce the suffering of the fish, so would putting the old filter and media in the tank help speed up the cycling, or would it somehow worsen the water quality?
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Old 05-26-2020, 02:36 AM   #2
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Hello everyone,

I'm about to get a very neglected 10g aquarium that comes with a few live fish and I'm not sure how to go about cycling it. This aquarium is VERY dirty (there is a layer of fish waste and old food on the gravel among other things), and really the only way to clean properly it is to clean the tank, gravel, etc separately with tap water, and then start fresh. From what research I've done, cleaning the tank in this way would destroy most of the beneficial bacteria and I'd need to cycle the tank. However, I don't have another aquarium to put the fish in, so I'd have to do a fish in cycle. I'd like to make this process as short as possible to reduce the suffering of the fish, so would putting the old filter and media in the tank help speed up the cycling, or would it somehow worsen the water quality?
Keeping the old filter media separate while cleaning the tank and then running it afterwards would be a great way to seed the tank with bacteria. By doing that you could essentially preserve the cycle.
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Old 05-26-2020, 04:35 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by danman View Post
Hello everyone,

I'm about to get a very neglected 10g aquarium that comes with a few live fish and I'm not sure how to go about cycling it. This aquarium is VERY dirty (there is a layer of fish waste and old food on the gravel among other things), and really the only way to clean properly it is to clean the tank, gravel, etc separately with tap water, and then start fresh. From what research I've done, cleaning the tank in this way would destroy most of the beneficial bacteria and I'd need to cycle the tank. However, I don't have another aquarium to put the fish in, so I'd have to do a fish in cycle. I'd like to make this process as short as possible to reduce the suffering of the fish, so would putting the old filter and media in the tank help speed up the cycling, or would it somehow worsen the water quality?
Hi Danman,
I would be very careful about changing the water in a negleted tank all at once,is the water from the same area you are ie is it the same ph hardness etc?Has the water been changed on a regular basis,it does not sound like it has.If the answer is no I would say the fish has gradually got used to the bad conditions and suddenly changing them would possably kill them.I would go easy with the water change maybe a third at the most every week for a month or so and while doing gravel clean the mess and don't take the gravel out to clean.Leave the old filter medium in but carefully rinse it in the old tank water to make sure it is not clogged up,and add bacteria boost to the water.
Best of luck to you and the fish.
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Old 05-26-2020, 05:47 AM   #4
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I would keep the tank running. I dont see the need to totally start over.

Clean everything you can while the tank is running. Wipe down the tank sides with a suitable algae scraper. Lightly wipe down any plant leafs you may have. Do a waterchange to remove any floating debris, algae etc. Decorations, driftwood etc can be cleaned outside of the tank and replaced without too much harm

If a good gravel vac really isnt going to do the job, remove the gravel and rinse with dechlorinated water to retain the bacteria as much as you can. Gravel can be replaced in a filled tank by half filling a plastic bottle with the gravel, lowering it into the water so it fills with water and then inverting the bottle so the gravel pours out back onto the base. Ive removed gravel before with a syphon hose, but you can scoop it out if that doesnt work for you.

Clean down the filter media, again with dechlorinated water.

As previously suggested dont do all this all in 1 day. And maybe top up the beneficial bacteria with some bottled bacteria.
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Old 05-26-2020, 06:58 PM   #5
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Thanks for the help everyone.



Telesman, you are correct that the water wasn't changed on a regular basis, if they have adapted to the poor conditions I'll go easy on the water changes as you suggested. One thing I didn't mention is that the previous owner never had a heater in the tank, so these fish are used to colder water than normal. I am planning on adding a heater ASAP, but would this do more harm than good if the fish are used to colder water?
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Old 05-26-2020, 07:00 PM   #6
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Thanks for the input Aiken, I'll clean the gravel with de chlorinated water if that will help preserve the bacteria.
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Old 05-27-2020, 04:24 AM   #7
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Just a note on how long beneficial will live when removed from the aquarium.

2 to 3 hours if allowed to dry out, 2 to 3 days if kept wet.

So getting the gravel out, cleaned and replaced in 1 operation would minimise the impact. Maybe do 1/3 on one day, 1/3 a couple of days later, and the last 1/3 a couple days after to spread out the impact over a larger period of time.
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Old 05-28-2020, 02:28 PM   #8
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I reckon that you would need to slowly increase the temperature over a couple of weeks or so,as everything just take it slowly and in even increments over that time.
I am guessing that you are planning to install the heater so that you can add some more fish otherwise why would you do it? I am wondering what the fish are ,something that can live in quite low temps for tropicals Neons maybe?
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