Ammonia high, fish okay, Aquatech 20-40 filter w/ bulk media.

Discussion in 'Filters and Filtration' started by Glacier47, Aug 13, 2015.

  1. Glacier47Valued MemberMember


    25 Gallon Tank: 2 years old, no plants.

    10 fish: 6 Neon tetras (5 added today), 3 black neon, 1 Red Wag Platy.

    Ammonia=8 ppm+ *All tests come from API Frshwater Master Test Kit*

    Nitrite= 0 ppm

    Nitrate= ~140 ppm

    pH= ~6.4

    Filter= Aquatech 20-40, with media in the following order: sponge, bio-cartridge, carbon packet. The tight fit of these three causes some water to overflow, but some still makes it through. The filter is a HOB power filter originally adapted for cartridges. The media originates from the fluval 70 gallon maintenance kit.

    Chemicals: Seachem Prime, Seachem Clarity (currently cloudy due to recent use--I understand that is to be expected), Seachem pH regulator, and API Stress Zyme. I have used all save for the pH within the last 24 hours, and left my filter off for a couple hours while doing so, as I think the carbon would render them ineffective.

    Maintenance: Used to use an automatic feeder, the "daily-double," which I suspect may cause over feeding, so I have discontinued use today. I perform 10-20% water changes weekly. I use distilled water treated with prime, based on the volume of the aquarium ( 1/2 cap for 25 gallon).

    Hey guys,
    So I have been having a problem recently with my aquarium: my ammonia and nitrates are off the charts (the ammonia test literally turned dark blue), but my fish seem okay. They have been for the last year. I don't know if they just adapted to the high levels of NH3/NH4+ and NO3-, or if that's the nitrogen cycle. If I had to interpret this data, I would say that I'm in the ending/beginning of it, or that the nitrate is not being consumed. I have a bio filter cartridge that has been developed for a year, and i use stress Zyme often. Please let me know what I can do or explain the situation to me. I will be more than happy to provide any additional information or photographs. Thank you and have a nice day/night.

    Attached Files:

  2. SaturnValued MemberMember

    I can't exactly pinpoint what exactly is causing your readings to be that high BUT I do see some major/minor problems occurring in the tank and it's possible that all these together is what is causing the actual situation. I'll try and break it down:

    1) pH regulators or any chemical used to alter the pH can cause major problems in a tank. They should always be avoided and if you are trying to change your tank's pH, go about it the natural way.

    2) Automated feeders can easily overfeed the tank and the uneaten leftovers can bring ammonia to the aquarium. But, as you've already said, you've removed the automated feeder today so that's one less problem.

    3) Distilled water usually isn't recommended to use for water changes (unless re-mineralized) as it does not contain enough minerals act as the natural buffer to stabilize the pH of the tank. I'm assuming using the distilled water has your pH whack which in turn you started using the pH regulator?

    Anyway, whatever your problem is, you still need to try and get the ammonia and nitrates down as low as possible. I would recommend that you start doing daily 25 - 50% water changes (with tap water instead of distilled) if you haven't already done so. Continue to do these water changes until your ammonia is below .25 ppm and your nitrate is significantly lower than what it is now (you're trying to aim for 5 - 20 ppm).

    Did this ammonia and nitrate come out of no where or has it always been like this? Did you cycle your tank before this or has it always been set-up with fish?

  3. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

    I set it up at the very beginning and let it cycle, and since then it has been populated with fish. I have let it set with about 5 fish for about 4-5 months, and hardly touched it. I was in school, so I didn't really have time, nor did I want to do water changes. Only recently have I decided to get back into it. I used a Seachem multi test, which told me my NH3 is zero, so free ammonia is in check, it's just the "mostly harmless" NH4. Thank you for the advice. I will test my tap water and post it tomorrow.

  4. King IVValued MemberMember

    -I suggest avoid using pH regulators so the fish won't go on pH shock. You can let them adapt to the current pH of the water (if possible).

    -Too high ammonia can crash or stop the cycle.Do water change to bring them down.

    -It's possible that the water test is inaccurate.Maybe you can test again?
  5. SaturnValued MemberMember

    The lack of maintenance/water changes could be your downfall. I know school is stressful but please don't neglect your fish because of it. I'm in college and I know it's hard to take care of it sometimes but please don't let the fish suffer. Anyway, I thought you used the API Master Test Kit for your results, not a Seachem Multi test? Anyway just do the water changes I recommended above until your tank gets back on track!
  6. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

    I use all of them. Strips, master test, and multi test. Also, I was thinking of getting a better filter, and I heard some things about the sun-sun canister filter. What's your take?
  7. SaturnValued MemberMember

    The AquaTech 20-40 is a bit insufficient for the size of your tank as it only provides 160 GPH while you need something around 250 GPH (unless you get a canister). Sun Sun is a great brand! Very affordable canister filters. If you were to get one, get the SunSun HW-302! But if you change your mind, AquaClear is another good brand of HOB filters! For your tank I would recommend the AC30 if you keep your stock low. If you're wanting to stock your tank more, just go ahead and get the AC50.
  8. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

    I ordered the HW-302! I get it tomorrow, so I'll tell you how that goes. I also ordered some purigen, which I assume I can use as well. Let me know if I actually need it. Thank you, Saturn, you've been a great help to me
  9. JsigmoWell Known MemberMember

    What was the reason for using the distilled water?

    If you switch to tap water, be sure to use a dechlorinator, like Prime.

    Also, the pH sounds very low. But that's also keeping the free ammonia low. As you start using tap water for the water changes, and stop using the pH adjustment chemical, the pH will probably rise.

    That will cause more and more of the ammonium to convert to toxic ammonia. Also, sudden changes in pH can harm the fish.

    So I would go slowly with the water changes as you transition to tap water to give the fish time to acclimate, and hopefully also get the biofiltration back on track to eat all of that ammonia.
  10. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

  11. LeafrayValued MemberMember

    I don't know if anyone pinpointed the problem yet, but the only way to fully make sure that there are no ammo is spikes is by doing regular water changes, imo the reason why you have such spikes is because you haven't done any water changes in two weeks. At every one of my tanks, if I don't water change, it would spike... Hope this helps :)

    Currently breeding: h/b purple guppies
  12. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

    The thing is I have completely neglected my tank for four months before I started up again last month. Bad, I know, but I was losing faith in the hobby. The thing is, my ammonia was SUPER high, but my fish didn't care. They are all at least a year old and seemed impervious to it. Any explanations?
  13. PlastixxNew MemberMember

    Ditch the Stress Zyme and get a bottle Tetra SafeStart Plus (not regular SafeStart).

    Stress Zyme never seemed to do much for my tank as far as keeping and boosting the cycle, but SafeStart Plus is like magic in a bottle.
  14. SaturnValued MemberMember

    I mean, I feel like a lot of people go through that so I don't blame you. At one point I had 3 tanks set-up (30G, 10G, 10G) and I spent so much time on them that I just wore myself out on fish and totally didn't want fish anymore. I then neglected the tanks until all the fish died off (I just really didn't care), took them down, and sold everything. A couple years passed and I started back up this year and now I'm taking it slow and I enjoy it just as much as I did before! You're not the only one :)
  15. Dom90Fishlore VIPMember

    At that point, I would just think about trading in some fish and consolidating tanks so it's easier for you and more fair for the fish. :)

    Sent from my iPhone using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum
  16. SaturnValued MemberMember

    I mean that would've been easier, but that was more than a couple years ago sophomore of high school so there isn't anything to do about it now. I even had just as much of knowledge of fish as I do now and yet I still let my fish suffer. Mistakes happen I guess *sigh*. One thing is for sure is if I ever get to that point again I won't do such a thing. Anyway.
  17. BluestreakflWell Known MemberMember

    Ammonium VS Ammonia, let me clarify a bit. At a PH of about 6.8-7.0 youll find the threshold for conversion. As the PH goes higher, you go to Ammonia, which is much more toxic. As you go lower than 6.8, it starts to convert to ammonium, which isnt nearly as toxic. If youre seeing high readings, its likely a large buildup of ammonium from your low PH.

    I would NOT do a large water change. First test your taps PH. See how different it is from your tank. Also be sure to aerate it really good or let it sit for 24 hours as PH will stabilize and be more accurate once the water has had a chance to gas off. A large water change could shoot your PH up, thus rapidly converting your mildly toxic ammonium to VERY toxic ammonia, shocking your fish and likely killing them all.

    Instead, do small water changes daily for about a week and monitor the tank. Im talking like 10-15%, as youll want the fish to acclimate safely to the new PH, and also youll want to give your beneficial bacteria time to convert the now toxic ammonia before you have too much of it. Ill try to keep a close eye on this thread and help throughout the process.
  18. LeafrayValued MemberMember

    Agreed no large water changes, 5-10 percent sounds best for the time.beng

    Currently breeding: h/b purple guppies
  19. Glacier47Valued MemberMember

    Okay. I'm done with the water changes any way probably. Ammonia is at about .1 ppm (NH3). The api test still reads high, but that's because I use prime. The new filter I got really helps. I have never had water so clear. Btw, have any of you guys ever had a flood? Nitrates are at 30 ppm. Nitrites at 0, pH is exactly 7.0. Tap= 7.4 pH

    Saturn, you're in college, right? I'm only a sophomore in high school.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
  20. JsigmoWell Known MemberMember

    As Bluestreakfl said, the explanation is that because your pH was so low (6.5), almost all of the ammonia in your aquarium was existing in the form of ammonium.

    But the API and many other test kits cannot distinguish between ammonium (and other ammonia compounds) and "free ammonia" (which is what is toxic to the fish).

    So the pH plays a large role in all of this. And the low pH actually protected your fish from the ammonia in the water by causing it to exist, mostly, as relatively non-toxic ammonium.

    So that was lucky.

    BUT: You really don't need or want the pH to be that low. What you get from your tap sounds like it's just fine. And it's really hard on fish to have the pH change on them. Usually, fish can handle a fairly wide range of pH. BUT, what they cannot handle are rapid changes in pH.

    When you use distilled water, or Reverse Osmosis water, you've got almost no "buffering capacity" in the water. That means that the water is so pure that it cannot maintain a constant pH. Any little addition of acid or base will swing the pH of the water wildly. On the other hand, when you've got the usual minerals in the water, there is usually good "buffering power" in that water. So your tap water will likely be safer for your fish because it will maintain a more stable pH.

    So, as you switch over from the distilled water to the tap water, and you stop using the pH adjusting chemicals, we are figuring that your aquarium's pH will rise from 6.5 to the 7.4 (or even higher - I'll get to that later, and Bluestreakfl mentioned this...) that your tap water provides. That will be good in the long run, but you want to make this adjustment slowly so the fish have time to get used to it. pH really affects osmotic operations essential to the fish. So you want to go easy on them.

    Further, since the low pH has been protecting your fish from the high ammonia concentrations, jumping the pH up would also cause a jump in the amount of "free ammonia" in the system, and the fish would no longer have that protection.

    So that's another good reason to make this changeover gradually. We want your new filter and the old filter to have a chance to grow their bacteria colonies to the point where they can be effective and keep the ammonia very low. You'll want low ammonia levels for your new, higher pH levels. It'll be more critical to keep ammonia low.

    Really, the low pH you had saved your fish from the high ammonia. But even so, it will be better in the long run, to let things equalize at the "natural" pH that your tap water "wants" to be at. It makes life a lot easier because you don't have to be constantly trying to adjust the pH. It's better for most of us to just let our tank pH be what it naturally wants to be using our tap water. It's cheaper and more convenient, too! :)

    OK. To the point that Bluestreakfl made, and I'm also making about the pH of the tap water possibly being higher than the 7.4 that you've read.

    Often, tap water will read considerably lower in pH when tested right out of the tap than what it will be after it's sat out for a while (like in your aquarium).

    In the pipes, the water is under pressure. And for a number of reasons, the tap water may well contain dissolved CO2 as well as chlorine. As you let the water sit out, and even faster if you use an airstone in it to stir it up, a lot of the dissolved gases that have been held in the water by the pressure of the distribution system, will come out of solution and leave the water. This can let the pH increase in many cases. So to find out what the water's pH will really be, when in the aquarium, it's good to let the water sit out, preferably with an airstone in it to keep it stirred, for 24 to 48 hours, then take a pH reading.

    A lot of us do that with all of the water we're going to use for water changes so that it will be closer to its final pH before we add it to the aquarium. Again, that's easier on the fish because there isn't such a pH shock when we do water changes.

    Are you only using the API test for your testing? I'm a bit confused by your statement above, about the API test reading high because you use Prime. Is this API reading in comparison to some other test (Like the Seachem Multitest, which CAN read just the "free ammonia")?

    But keep in mind that using Prime won't increase your ammonia readings all by itself.

    What can happen, though, is if you have chloramines in the tap water (quite common), when the Prime (or any other dechlorinator) sequesters the chlorine, it then frees up the ammonia part of the chloramine molecule. But Prime also has a chemical in it that will bind the free ammonia and render it harmless for a while. Hopefully long enough for your beneficial bacteria to eat it.

    But, since the API test (and many others) will read not only free ammonia, but also some ammonia compounds, it's possible that the API test will still show "ammonia" because it's reading the ammonia compound that the Prime "makes" out of the chloramine in the tap water. Hopefully that ammonia is safe, but the API test can't make the distinction.

    So really, using ANY dechlorinator will free up the ammonia that's bound in the chloramine that's in the tap water. We can't single out Prime for doing this. And Prime (and many others) also include a chemical to render that freed-up ammonia non-toxic. And many of our ammonia tests show any ammonia, even if it's been bound up in another compound, and made safe.

    BUT: If you use Prime on water that does NOT already have the ammonia in it (usually in the form of chloramines), then it will not cause our API tests to read high for ammonia. That ammonia really has to be there in the water to begin with. The dechlorinator just allows it to be "seen" by the test kit in some cases. So it's kind of confusing! :)

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