Cloudy water, First Cycle, Odd readings

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Aquarium Advice Apprentice
Aug 25, 2021
Greetings, I'm very new to the hobby, and this forum, so if I am doing this wrong, i'm sorry.

I'm having a couple issues. Brand new 5 gallon aquarium. Tap water, rinsed accessories. I used API stress coat+ To get rid of the chlorine, and my test strip shows no Cl_2, so I assume that worked.

I measured with API Master freshwater test kit, that my pH was high, (low pH drops show bright blue, not the blue green it should be, and high pH drops show brown). I've been putting in a REALLY large amount (enough for 20 gallons says the bottle) of Fritz pH Lower, and it is still showing that bright blue that is 7.6 or above. I don't know why in the world it's not going down to the 7.0 pH I need.

Also, I used some API Quick Start, and I am not getting anything for nitrate or nitrite. I put a little ammonia in (Fritz fishless fuel) and i am reading no ammonia.

I don't think this is cycling, the pH is not going down, and it's really cloudy. I read a lot that says cloudy is normal for a new tank, but it's been this way for about 2.5 weeks now and nothing is changing. As far as I know I'm doing everything "right" but it doesn't seem to be working. I have no idea what to do, so I am hoping to find some help here. I REALLY appreciate your time and help.

I will attach some pictures (the strips are Saysummer 7 in 1 Aquarium Test Strips)

also, Is this plant/mountain set up ok for a betta? I am worried that it's too dense, or not dense enough or... I literally know nothing, but I don't want to give my fish a bad life.


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A few things to start with.

Stick with the liquid test kit. It covers the basics of what you need and is more accurate than the strips.

Can you list out the parameters you are seeing? pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate?

Stop trying to chemically alter the pH. Fish are very adaptable to pH levels and its more important to maintain steady pH than trying to find the "correct" pH. By adding chemicals all you will end up doing is have fluctuating levels as it bounces between the natural level of your tank and what you are trying to get it at. This is stressful for fish. There are natural ways to reduce pH if needed, but just see what the natural level of your tank is first. If its around 7.6 that's just fine.

For a fishless cycle you need to get your ammonia up to 4ppm. Then continue to daily test for ammonia. Once it drops below 1ppm dose it back up to 2ppm. This could take several weeks. At this point also start to test for nitrite and nitrate. Every time the ammonia drops below 1ppm dose it back upto 2ppm. Eventually you will start to see 0ppm ammonia in your daily checks and your ammonia to nitrite bacteria will have sufficiently developed at this point. You are then waiting for the nitrite to nitrate bacteria to do the same. Once you are able to dose 2ppm ammonia and 24 hours later see 0ppm ammonia and nitrite you are cycled and can add fish. Do a big water change to bring nitrate down as this will be very high at this point. Whole process could take 6 to 8 weeks. Often longer.

The quickstart might shorten the process, might do nothing. These products are hit and miss, mostly miss. The bacteria they contain can easily die off in the bottle before you even purchased it, it might not establish on your filter media etc. It certainly wont instantly cycle a tank as the product claims. The best way to speed up your cycle is to put some filter material from an established aquarium in your filter, or squeeze out a sponge from a cycled filter into your water. Perhaps you have a friend who keeps fish who could let you have some?

As you say, cloudy water is normal in a newly set up tank. Its called a bacterial bloom and is bacteria taking advantage of imbalances in nutrients. This should clear up as the system establishes. Im presuming its cloudy like a milky white? If not, its something else. Let us know.

Your aquascape looks fine to me, but i dont keep bettas.

Have you considered a fish in cycle? Just want to make sure you have covered your options. Its a safe procedure if done correctly.

Have i missed anything? Let me know if i have.
Thanks sincerely for the prompt and awesome response! I think that sums up most things. but i think I am doing something wrong still. You asked for a picture of all the levels, so here's a better picture of that. I'm sorry they are not as aligned as they could be. The first vial goes under the first column, and that's for pH. The rest should all be moved over to the right so the second column from the left doesn't have a vial. the rest are (from left to right) Amonia, nitrite, nitrate.

I was trying to get the amonia up to 4ppm as you said, and i dumped a WHOLE TON of the stuff i have in. FAR more than it says i should use... and it still comes out clear like there's nothing. I don't know what's wrong. Also, as you can see, reading 0 for nitrate and nitrite, and 7.6 pH.

Should I just dump the water in it and rinse everything and start over? I'm really not sure. With the amount of amonia i put in, it should not be clear at all. if anything, it should be well over 4ppm, but, it doesn't seem to be. :(.

Thanks sincerely for your help. Sorry I'm so dense >.<


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What is your substrate??
Honestly, my substrate made HOLY HELL of my tank and lost many many sponges trying to clear it out!!

And I also had problems getting a 'cycle' in my 10 gallon, until my boyfriend came home with 2 large (very large) mystery snails!
And I honestly believe THEY helped cycle my tank!
Because within a week and a half they were mating and my water was reading 'correct' for a cycled tank!
I only used seachem prime during and fed the snails every 3 days an algae wafer and a TEEEEENY TINY bit of flakes!
And it worked for me!!
I'm sure it wouldnt work for everyone though!!

But honestly, my substrate made my tank cloudy for almost 2 months!!!!

Best of luck!!
Thanks for your help :)

My substrate is just rocks, specifically:

GloFish Aquarium Gravel, Fluorescent Colors, Complements GloFish Tanks, 5-Pound Bag

From Amazon. I rinsed them before i put them in the tank, but perhaps I could rinse them more?

I would have thought if it was the substrate it would be cloudy right away but it took a couple days to get cloudy, so i was figuring bacterial bloom
Clear looking ammonia test isnt right. Thats not even reading 0ppm ammonia, its just a faulty test. Double check you are doing the test correctly as per the instructions. If that doesnt sort it, you might have a faulty test kit.
AAAAND you're a genius.... sigh... Turns out I'm surprisingly illiterate... Added 8 drops from the other bottle and now it's changing. Going back to your first post and starting there. Thanks... I feel legitimately stupid >.<

you guys are awesome! Thanks sincerely! :)
If your ammonia is way out there, like 6ppm + then bring it down with a water change. If its 4ppm ish let it sit.
yeah, it's probably way over 8 right now, I know i want it about 4, so i was going to water change about 3/4 of the tank or so, and then test it to see where it's at and go from there. :)
Just wanted to stop back and thank you all for your advice. I attached a picture of my tank at this point.

After correcting my method (thanks to advice here) on how to test for ammonia, AND, replacing 3/4 of the water in my tank 4 times, I finally got the ammonia down to about 4ppm and am starting the cycling again as advised in the first response. Thanks sincerely :) I appreciate your time :)


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No Movement

Greetings all,

Sorry to bother you again. It's been a bit over 3 months now, and there's been no change in ammonia level or cycle at all. I've not added any more ammonia, and i've had to add a bit more water a couple times due to evaporation, and ammonia levels have been pretty much exactly the same. I've been thinking about looking to find someone with an aquarium to get some of the dirty water they have when they change it, but i don't know anyone in the area, and Pet Smart won't give me any. Am I doing something wrong? I've heard it could take a couple months, should i just keep being patient? Just wanted to check in. You all are awesome. I appreciate you.
Just to rule out the obvious. You are adding water conditioner whenever you add water?

If you arent getting anywhere i would start over. 100% water change. Get your betta. Do a fish in cycle.
To add to above. Water from an established tank wont be of any benefit. The bacteria that is responsible for your cycle lives on surface area, not in the water. All you would be adding to your water is bad stuff, parasites, etc. If you find someone with a tank who can help out, ideally get some filter media to put in your filter or a sponge and rinse it in your water.
Thanks again

Ok, cool, Sounds good. Yes I'm adding the conditioner each time, cause i don't want chlorine in it. I can 100% restart and look into how to do a fish in cycle. I just didn't want to hurt the fish cause it wasn't cycled yet.

Thanks again for the advice!
To cycle a tank you need to grow denitrifying bacteria to consume ammonia and nitrite that your tank produces. The bacteria needs an ammonia source to grow colonies sufficient in size to consume all the ammonia and resultant nitrite and turn it into nitrate which typically you remove through your regular water changes.

A fish in cycle uses fish waste as an ammonia source and regular water changes are undertaken to ensure that water parameters are maintained at relatively non toxic levels.

Set up your tank. Make sure everything is running smoothly. Make sure you have used a water conditioner product with any tap water you have put in your tank. Seachem Prime is a water conditioner that will also detoxify some ammonia for a day or two, so is a good choice for a water conditioner while cycling a tank with fish.

You should have a test kit. Preferably a liquid test kit. It should test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

In ideal circumstances you should be starting a fishless cycle with a low bioload (number of fish). 1 small fish per 10 gallons/40 litres is a good number of fish, but this can be tweaked a little for fish that are social and don’t do well on their own. Ideally a hardy type of fish. You may have fully stocked (or overstocked) your tank before you knew about cycling. In these circumstances, if its not possible to return fish, you will have to make the best of it.

If you haven’t already done so, add your fish. Acclimate them to the water in your tank before doing so.

Start to regularly test the water for ammonia and nitrite. At least daily. Depending on your bioload you could start to see ammonia quite quickly. Nitrite will likely take a little longer to appear.

Your target should be to keep ammonia + nitrite combined no higher than 0.5ppm by changing water whenever your water parameters exceed this target. 0.5ppm combined is a level of waste that is sufficient for your cycle to establish but relatively safe for your fish.

If you see 0.5ppm ammonia and 0.0ppm nitrite (0.5ppm combined) then leave things be. If you see 0.5ppm ammonia and 0.25ppm nitrite (0.75ppm combined) then change 1/3 of the water. If you see 0.25ppm ammonia and 0.75ppm nitrite (1.0ppm combined) then change 1/2 the water. If water parameters get worse than these levels it may require multiple daily 50% water changes to maintain safe water conditions. This is more likely to happen with a fully stocked tank.

Remember to add water conditioner whenever you put tap water in the tank.

Over time the frequency of water changes and amount you need to change to maintain your ammonia + nitrite combined target will reduce. You can also start testing for nitrate and should see this rising. If you are finding the ammonia and nitrite in your tests are consistently low, and you aren’t already fully stocked, you can add a few more fish. It may take a few weeks to get to this point.

Once you add a few more fish, continue to regularly test the water and continue to change water if you exceed the 0.5ppm combined ammonia + nitrite target. With added bioload the frequency of water changes and amount you need to change may increase again until your cycle has caught up. Again once you are consistently seeing low ammonia and nitrite you can add some more fish. Rinse and repeat with testing, water changes, and adding fish when safe to do so until you are fully stocked.

You can then cut back on water changes to control nitrate only. Typically you want to keep nitrate no higher than 40ppm, but I would recommend changing some water every 2 weeks even if your water test says you don’t need to.

A fish in cycle from an empty tank to fully stocked can take several months.

A good way to speed up this process would be to put a small amount of filter media from an established filter into your filter, or get a sponge from an established filter and squeeze it into your tank water. Perhaps you have a friend who keeps fish who could let you have some? This will seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow and speed up the process.

Another option is bottled bacteria like Dr Tims One + Only or Tetra Safestart. These products wont instantly cycle a tank as they claim but in a similar manner to adding established filter media they can seed your filter with the bacteria you are trying to grow to establish your cycle. These products are hit and miss as to whether they work at all, but are an option if established filter media isnt obtainable and may speed up the process from several months to several weeks.
Brilliant! Thanks for all your help. I'll get this started likely this weekend! Very excited!
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