Ammonia Instructions For A Fishless Cycle

Discussion in 'Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle' started by richard7467, Mar 1, 2008.

  1. richard7467Valued MemberMember

    Just found these instructions (bit long winded but easy to understand) for use of Ammonia for a fishless cycle on th net for UK hobbyist you can buy it in Homebase and for US Walmart apparently.
    There are threads almost daily about the proper method for fishless cycling. In actuality, a Google search will result in hundreds of links and each of those will give you slightly different instructions. I wanted to cover two of the most common ones and their advantages and disadvantages.

    Let me start by saying that when you cycle a tank, you are really cycling the filter. That is where the vast majority of the nitrifying bacteria will colonize. Some bacteria are present on the tank walls, decorations, and in the substrate but for the most part they are in/on the filter. Basically, there are NO nitrifying bacteria present in the water itself.

    First, a couple things that are common regardless of which method you use. Obviously, you set up the tank with clean, dechlorinated water. I believe it is best to fill the tank and let any sand/gravel dust or cloudiness settle for a few days before you add ammonia. This will prevent cloudy water from giving you a skewed reading when you test. Second, raise the water temperature to the mid to upper 80s. I have even had success with temperatures in the low 90s. The warmer water promotes bacteria growth and will speed the cycle. Also, you will need to add extra aeration via an air stone and air pump. The warmer water temperature will force the oxygen from the water so you must add aeration to replenish it.

    Items Needed:

    Bottle of pure ammonia. If you don't know where to find it, this thread may help you. Pure ammonia will only list ammonia and water as ingredients. Chelating agents are ok. Without going into great detail, that is simply a bonding agent that keeps the ammonia and water "mixed". If it lists dyes, fragrances or surfactants, you don't want it. If the bottle doesn't have an ingredient label, shake the bottle. If it foams, it won't work. A few air bubbles that disappear immediately are ok.
    A good test master test kit. Get a good liquid master test kit. Those generally contain tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and high pH. You won't necessarily need the pH tests during the cycling process but you will later. I would also suggest getting a KH test kit too although, once again, it's not necessary for the cycling process.
    A medicine dropper. Any cheap one that you get at the local drug store will do.

    While you are waiting on the dust to settle and the water to clear, I suggest you do a couple things. First, test the parameters of your tap water. It is important to know the pH and KH of your tap water so you will know what fish are compatible with your pH. It is also very important to know if there is any ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in your tap water. A lot of municipal water supplies have some or all of those present and well water could also have them present. Knowing that could save you a lot of head scratching later when you have an elevated level that may be caused by your tap water rather than a problem in the tank.

    You should also run a little test to determine how much ammonia to add to your tank. Since medicine droppers come in all different sizes, it's hard to say that you need X drops per gallon to get to 5 or 6 ppm to start. I have 3 different droppers for adding fertilizers and for drawing tank water for testing and there is a big difference in the size drops they dispense. Take a small bucket, one of the buckets you used to fill your tank or wash you're sand. Fill it with water and then add 2 to 4 drops of ammonia per 5 gallon of water. Swirl it around to mix it and test to see what the ammonia reading is. Continue to do this until your reading is 5 to 6 ppm. Remember how many drops of ammonia you added and then, some simple maths will tell you how much to add to your tank to get the 5 to 6 ppm required to begin cycling. You can also use a test tube to add it. The amount required will depend on the concentration of the ammonia but 1ml (about 1/5th US teaspoonful) will usually raise 5 gallon to about 5ppm.

    Ok. Your tank is set up, the water has cleared, and you know how much ammonia to add. Let's get started.

    "Add and Wait" Method

    This is the method I have used to cycle 5 tanks (from 2.5 to 75 gallon) and it has worked perfectly. I think it is the simplest and requires the least amount of work. First add your ammonia to raise the level to 5 to 6 ppm. Now you simply wait on the ammonia to drop back to around 1 ppm. Spend the time researching the fish you like and see if they are compatible with each other, with your tap pH, tank size, etc.

    Test daily to see what the ammonia reading is. There is no use to test for anything else. Nitrite and nitrate won't be present until some ammonia has processed. Ammonia will raise your pH so no use to test it either. Once you see a drop in the ammonia, test for nitrite. There should be some present. When the ammonia drops back to about near zero (usually takes about a week), add enough to raise it back to about 3 to 4 ppm and begin testing the nitrite daily.

    Every time the ammonia drops back to zero, raise it back up to 3 to 4 ppm and continue to check nitrites. The nitrite reading will go off the chart. NOTE FOR API TEST KIT USERS: When you add the drops, if they immediately turn purple in the bottom of the tube, your nitrites are off the chart high. You do not need to shake the tube and wait 5 minutes. If you do, the color will turn green as the nitrites are so high that there isn't a color to measure them with. Once the ammonia is dropping from around 4 ppm back to zero in 12 hours or less you have sufficient bacteria to handle the ammonia your fish load produces. Continue to add ammonia daily as you must feed the bacteria that have formed or they will begin to die off.

    The nitrite spike will generally take about twice as long to drop to zero as did the ammonia spike. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the nitrite processing bacteria just develop slower than those that process ammonia. Second, you are adding more nitrite daily (every time you add ammonia, it is transformed into nitrite raising the level a little more) as opposed to the ammonia, which you only add once at the start and then waited on it to drop to zero. During this time, you should occasionally test for nitrate too. The presence of nitrate means that nitrite is being processed, completing the nitrogen cycle. The nitrate level will also go off the chart but you will take care of that with a large water change later. It will seem like forever before the nitrite finally falls back to zero but eventually, almost overnight, it will drop and you can celebrate. You are almost there. Once the bacteria are able to process 4 or 5 ppm of ammonia back to zero ammonia and nitrite in about 10 to 12 hours. You are officially cycled.

    At this point, your tank will probably look terrible with brown algae everywhere and probably cloudy water. As I mentioned, the nitrate reading will also be off the chart. Nitrates can only be removed with water changes. Do a large water change, 75 to 90 percent, turn the heat down to the level the fish you have decided on will need, and you are ready to add your fish. You can safely add your full fish load as your tank will have enough bacteria built up to handle any waste they can produce.

    "Add Daily" Method

    I call this the "Add Daily" method because that is what you do. The start is exactly like the other method. To begin, you add enough ammonia to raise the level to 5 or 6 ppm. The difference is that the next day and each day thereafter you add the same amount. This continues until the ammonia drops to zero. This will take much longer than the other method because of the massive amount of ammonia the tank will initially contain. It generally takes about 3 days before any bacteria begin to form and you are able to notice even a small change in the color of your tests. In the other method, on the 3rd day there will still only be about 5 to 6 ppm of ammonia in the tank. With the "Add Daily" method, there will be approximately 15 to 18 ppm on the 3rd day so you need a lot of bacteria to process all of that.

    Once the ammonia finally drops back to near zero, cut the amount of ammonia you are adding daily in half. That will still be plenty to keep the bacteria already developed fed. Continue to add the ammonia daily and test for nitrites. Once the nitrite drops back to zero, do your big water change and add your fish.

    Advantages & Disadvantages: As I mentioned, the cycling process will take longer using the "Add Daily" method simply because you are forcing the bacteria to process quite a bit more ammonia. The advantage of that method though is that there will be much more bacteria present at the end than in the "Add & Wait" method. If you plan to have a heavy fish load (overstock) or keep messy fish (plecos, goldfish and Oscars for example), this may be the best way for you to go.

    If you plan to keep normal tropicals with normal stocking levels as I do, cycling with the "Add & Wait" method should work fine for you. It has worked well for me. Some articles I have read even stated that if the ammonia level ever goes over 6 to 8 ppm that it severely slows the process and is a waste of time and effort.

    Summation: As I said to begin, these are only 2 versions of the fishless cycle. There are numerous variations on these methods. One way to speed the cycling process is to "seed" the tank with a bacteria source from an established tank. See if a friend can give you an old filter from one of their tanks or if the local fish store has some gravel, filter media or anything that will provide a bacteria source. Any bacteria source will help.

    As a general rule, don't waste your time or money on "bacteria starter" products such as Cycle. The consensus is that they serve no useful purpose. The fact that they have been shipped on un-refrigerated trucks and stored in hot warehouses leads most to believe that there couldn't possibly be any live bacteria left in the bottles. One possible exception is Tetra SafeStart. I have personally not used this product but most things I have read suggest it works IF it has been handled properly (always refrigerated). Only purchase it from a reputable source that you trust.

    Regardless of which method you choose, please, for the sake of your fish, do a fishless cycle. It prevents them from having to go through all the toxins and saves you a LOT of water changes, stress and lost fish. A little patience in the beginning will pay big dividends down the road.

    Edit: I said that there was no use to test the pH as it didn't matter but after more reading, I have found that isn't entirely true. The optimal pH range for nitrification is about 7.0 to 8.0. As pH gets lower and closer to 6.0, the nitrification process severely slows. Below 6.0, the bacteria basically go dormant and stop reproducing. The bacteria that are present will continue to process ammonia and nitrite but the size of the colony will not grow or will grow very slowly. So in actuallity, you do need to test pH to make sure it isn't too low.

    or you could pee in it but not advisable
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 6, 2015
  2. AmunetNew MemberMember

    I can tell you that the add and wait method is definitely the way to go.
    I did that for our 28gal and it went perfectly.
  3. TennThunderValued MemberMember

    Richard, great article, on the Add Daily Method wouldn't all that ammonia kill off the beneficial bacteria? I was trying to do it that way and added 5 pm for 6 days and the ammonia level never decreased, it was always off the API ammonia test.
  4. prairielillyWell Known MemberMember

    TennThunder: It won't kill it off, it will actually grow lots and lots more bacteria, but it takes a while for the growth rate to catch up. I sterilized my tank after a disease outbreak with 10 ppm ammonia for over a week, and found that after that long if I waited at least 36 hours between doses the ammonia and nitrites would again be at zero and the nitrates would then be off the charts.
  5. TennThunderValued MemberMember

    Thanks Marsha. Glad it worked for you. Cycling that way gets frustrating bc you never see the ammonia go down, at least for mine.
  6. prairielillyWell Known MemberMember

    Remember that the time it takes to cycle a tank depends on many things one of which is how big your tank is...your tank is HUGE (* envy *) so it will take a lot longer than 6 days. Bacteria's life cycle is a set time (not sure exactly how long, but I know you can't rush it) and you have to grow enough to fill up your tank. It took me 2-3 weeks to cycle a 3 gallon. Patience is tough (!!!) but the results are well worth it! :;pickle
  7. melfranyNew MemberMember

    Hello Richard,

    My name is Melissa and I'm new in fish handling. I have a 20 gallon aquarium for a little over 2 month now and I end up messing up the bacteria because I added meds to the water trying to save my fish.
    After reading the add and wait method, I think that this will be a perfect solution for my aquarium.
    I passed my fish to my quarantine tank so now I have an empty 20 gallon tank with gravel and decor and I would love if you could help me in this process of finishing the cycling...
    My aquarium has ammonia, nitrites and nitrates in it already. The levels are not really high because today I've done a big water change (50%) using Prime, so I was wondering if you would know what should I do to start...
    The effects of Prime supposedly lasts for 24hs...I was thinking about starting to add ammonia to the water tomorrow...

    With a clean water, I still have 0.25 ammonia, 1.0 nitrite and nitrate which I don't know the level right now but I'm certain it's there too...

    So, just so I understand...

    1) I'll add ammonia util it gets to 5-6 ppm (my ammonia chart jumps from 5.0 to 7.5 is there a problem with that?)
    Then My nitrites will certainly spike, since I already have it in the water

    Is it right?

    2) I'll keep doing the tests to see if ammonia level will drop.
    Then when ammonia drops to 0.0 I'll add more 3-4ppm and wait again for it to drop
    - I don't understand if after ammonia raised and dropped enough times, will the nitrites lower as well? What will happen with those levels?

    3) Once the ammonia drops from 3-4ppm to 0.0 in about 12hs, will the nitrites be dropping together with it?

    What exactly will make the nitrites lower its level? Ammonia and Nitrites will go down while Nitrates will go up?

    Well, if my thoghts about this process are right, I think I have a chance in getting my water cycled faster than trying to have my fish into my big tank while this process goes on and end up hurting them...

    Please tell me anything, whatever it is will certainly help me a lot...

    Another question, how long did this process takes generally?

    Thanks a lot for your time,
  8. TennThunderValued MemberMember

    Thanks Marsha. Cycling definitely tests patience. Got my tank for like $220 at Petsmart so pretty good eal for a non-Craigslist. The sale runs onto 1-26-09, check it out Marsha!!
  9. Je55*eWell Known MemberMember

    Where does one buy ammonia? Just at your LFS? Is there a preferred brand?
    I'm on my second tank ever, and have had it running with the filter for a couple of days. Today I squeezed all the stuff from my used filter cartridge in the tank and over the filter.
  10. pepetjWell Known MemberMember

    What you need, and will find easily, is ammonia solution. The term pure ammonia in this article doesn't mean 99.9% ammonia, but a solution containing distilled water and ammonia, without additives.

    All you have to do is go to the household cleaning products alley at any store and look for ammonia solution. Shake the bottle, if some bubbles are formed, as if you were shaking a bottle of drinking water, you got it! Now, if you notice some film or coated bubbles that stay there as in a carbonate beverage being shaken, discard that one and try another.

    Santo Domingo
  11. Je55*eWell Known MemberMember

    ^Thanks, Pepe. On another thread, someone advised me to get Janitorial Strength (10%)
    Pure Ammonia. That sound right?
  12. prairielillyWell Known MemberMember

    The actual strength of the ammonia doesn't really matter bc you compensate for it (see following - warning! math approaching!) The important thing with the ammonia is that it DOES NOT have any surfactants added ie. stuff that makes it foam like soap. Sometimes these are added to the stuff in the cleaning aisle so check the label. It should say some percentage of pure ammonia. Then what you do is something like this - I'll put in the numbers I used, just sub your own:

    I had a 20 gallon tank --> approximately 75 L = 75 000 mL
    My ammonia solution was 5%, so 1 mL solution contained 0.05 mL actual ammonia
    So to get 1 mL actual ammonia I would need to add 20 mL solution (20 x 0.05 = 1)

    I wanted 10 ppm (different application than cycling)
    10 ppm = 10 mL/1 000 000 mL = 0.00001
    --> ten mL's (parts) per one million (mLs)
    Then solve for x in this equation --> 0.00001 = (x mL)/(75 000 mL)
    x mL = 0.75 mL actual ammonia (NOT solution) to get 10 ppm in my tank

    Remember 1 mL actual ammonia = 20 mL solution
    --> to get 0.75 mL actual ammonia, I needed (0.75 mL) x (20 mL solution/1 mL ammonia) = 15 mL solution

    So I added 15 mL of the ammonia solution to my tank (NO fish!), waited an hour or so and then tested it. In my case I was aiming for 10 ppm and API's kits don't go that high, so I used half tank water/half tap water and got around 5 ppm (yeah this is somewhat inaccurate). If you're aiming for 8 ppm or less, API's kits will work just fine.

    Hope that helps :;hi2
  13. Je55*eWell Known MemberMember

    Ok, idiotic question again: what is ppm? Parts per milliliter?
  14. prairielillyWell Known MemberMember

    Parts per million. That's why I converted things to millilitres, it was easier to work in so many millilitres per million millilitres.

    A 'millilitre' (mL) is one-one thousandth of a litre (there's a thousand millilitres in a litre). A gallon is 3.79 litres (L).

    ...that's too many millis in one post. Sorry :;sh

    By the way no such thing as an idiotic question ;D
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2009
  15. Je55*eWell Known MemberMember

    OP wrote "Also, you will need to add extra aeration via an air stone and air pump".
    If I have live plants in the tank, do I still need to add the air stone/pump?
  16. bettafish2816Fishlore VIPMember

    depends how many, if it's really really heavily planted then probably not, but to be safe i'd add one anyways :)
  17. Ricardo_NY1Valued MemberMember

    Not sure if this has been done here, but I think Ammonia brands should be listed along with how much of it was needed to get that initial 5-6 parts reading. I started a new tank today and things were as follows.......

    20 Gallon Long
    Ammonia Brand "Austin's Clear Ammonia"
    Heavily planted tank with plenty of gravel
    7.5ml raised the ammonia reading to what appeared just shy of 4 parts. I added an additional 2ml and it looks like things got pushed past 4 parts to a darker shade of green on API test. Colors jump from 4 to 8 on this kit.

    So it appears that a starting point for a 20 gallon tank could be 10-11ml of the above brand.

    I mention the heavily planted tank with plenty of gravel because it obviously takes up volume that could've been water, hence the amount of ammonia needed would be more if that stuff was not in place.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2009
  18. wabashNew MemberMember

    As the algae begins to grow is there any benefit/jeopardy to the cycle if I add a few Nerite Snails to control the algae? Do high readings affect the snails?

    EDIT: Google is my friend.

    Water Quality
    All freshwater invertebrates require good water quality in order to thrive. Most inverts will not accept poor water quality without deadly consequences soon after. Ammonia & Nitrite should be zero and nitrate and phosphate in their low ranges.
    As with all snails, Nerite snails need a pH above 7. Should the pH be lower than 7, i.e. acidic, this will cause their shells to corrode and dissolve into the water. Signs of acidity stress include flaky, pitted shells and deterioration of the shell spire. Another cause of these symptoms is lack of calcium. If you pH is greater than 7, and your snails are still showing signs of erosion, they may be lacking in calcium. Snailstrong Liquid Calcium is a simple and effective way to ensure your snails get enough of this essential mineral.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2009
  19. IIIHawKIIIValued MemberMember

    just found some good liquid ammonia at a Do It Best Hardware store.

    Company that manufactures it is Z Force. "Extra Strength Ammonia" You have to give it the shake test cause it doesn't have an ingredients section on the label. I went ahead and looked up the MSDS on the company's website and it is good to go. It is also sold under the SunBrite label as well.

    Also, WalMart's "Great Value" store brand has surfactants and is NOT suitable for cycling.
  20. ZomZomValued MemberMember