Ammonia never goes below 1?

MonkeMan

Relatively new fishkeeper here, I have a 20 gallon aquarium housing 2 angelfish, a golden gourami and a chocolate catfish. It's kept bare bottomed with dense plastic plants, I'm not very good at aquascaping or keeping live plants, and I change the water twice a week. When I test for ammonia in the tank, the level is always hovering between 1-2, I've been told this isn't good for fish, however it's been like this for over a month, and all fish show no signs of being affected and always eat readily. I've tried daily water changes and using a water conditioner, so far nothing's been working. Anyone have any suggestions or advice? I'd like to hear from someone more experienced on this. Thank you.
(Photo attatched in case needed)
 

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Dunk2

Relatively new fishkeeper here, I have a 20 gallon aquarium housing 2 angelfish, a golden gourami and a chocolate catfish. It's kept bare bottomed with dense plastic plants, I'm not very good at aquascaping or keeping live plants, and I change the water twice a week. When I test for ammonia in the tank, the level is always hovering between 1-2, I've been told this isn't good for fish, however it's been like this for over a month, and all fish show no signs of being affected and always eat readily. I've tried daily water changes and using a water conditioner, so far nothing's been working. Anyone have any suggestions or advice? I'd like to hear from someone more experienced on this. Thank you.
(Photo attatched in case needed)

Have you tested your tap water for ammonia? What kind of filter and filter media are you using and how long has the tank been running with fish in it?
 
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MonkeMan

Have you tested your tap water for ammonia? What kind of filter and filter media are you using?
Actually, now that I think of it, I've been sticking to the methods the people at the fish store told me, along with a bit I learned on the internet. The media came along with the tank, not sure what "type" it's supposed to be, they're under the sponge in an overhead filter. I'll go test the tapwater right now, thanks for reminding me. Still relatively new at this.

20210717_205354.jpg
Have you tested your tap water for ammonia? What kind of filter and filter media are you using and how long has the tank been running with fish in it?
Just got the test results by the way, they read 0.25. Should I add the dechlorinator in advance to water and let it sit before performing a change? The bottle says it removes ammonia and chlorine when used.
 
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Dunk2

Actually, now that I think of it, I've been sticking to the methods the people at the fish store told me, along with a bit I learned on the internet. The media came along with the tank, not sure what "type" it's supposed to be, they're under the sponge in an overhead filter. I'll go test the tapwater right now, thanks for reminding me. Still relatively new at this.

20210717_205354.jpg

Just got the test results by the way, they read 0.25. Should I add the dechlorinator in advance to water and let it sit before performing a change? The bottle says it removes ammonia and chlorine when used.

How long has the tank been running with fish in it?

Given the ammonia level in your tank, the tank isn’t cycled yet. When it is, it should be able to handle the 0.25 ppm of ammonia in your tap water. What is your pH level and what water conditioner are you using?

If you’re not already using Seachem Prime as a water conditioner, I’d suggest you switch to it. After removing water from the tank and before adding new water, add Prime based on the total water volume of the tank, not the amount of water being replaced.

A few things about your aquarium. . .
1. Unfortunately, your tank is too small for the fish you have in it, especially the angelfish.
2. Cycling a tank with no substrate can be challenging given less surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.
3. I can’t tell from the picture what filter or filter media you’re using, but I’d be concerned that it’s not providing enough filtration (especially given your stock) and wonder if the media provides enough surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow?

Do you know how to cycle a tank/Are you familiar with the nitrogen cycle?
 
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RayClem

There are some excellent local fish stores with knowledgeable people who are experienced fishkeepers. However, many pet stores have people who are hired to clean tanks and cages and net fish. They may not be experienced fishkeepers.

Usually, you will get much better advice on this forum than you will get in most fish stores. There are experienced fishkeepers from all over the world who have the knowledge and experience to provide good advice. I have kept fish for over 60 years and have learned a lot over that period, but I still learn new things every time I visit the forum. There are always new things to learn and this is a great place to learn them.
 
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MonkeMan

How long has the tank been running with fish in it?

Given the ammonia level in your tank, the tank isn’t cycled yet. When it is, it should be able to handle the 0.25 ppm of ammonia in your tap water. What is your pH level and what water conditioner are you using?

If you’re not already using Seachem Prime as a water conditioner, I’d suggest you switch to it. After removing water from the tank and before adding new water, add Prime based on the total water volume of the tank, not the amount of water being replaced.

A few things about your aquarium. . .
1. Unfortunately, your tank is too small for the fish you have in it, especially the angelfish.
2. Cycling a tank with no substrate can be challenging given less surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.
3. I can’t tell from the picture what filter or filter media you’re using, but I’d be concerned that it’s not providing enough filtration (especially given your stock) and wonder if the media provides enough surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow?

Do you know how to cycle a tank/Are you familiar with the nitrogen cycle?
I've been running it for about three months. When I first started, I did make sure to cycle the tank, and there was a sand substrate. My father eventually removed the sand due to cleaning inconveniences, he does help me a little when I'm not free. I think the ammonia started after my mother once overfed the fish when I left the house for a day and it spiked to 8, even though I specifically told her I'd come back and do any feeding. Following internet advice, I did daily water changes for about a week and it slowly dropped, but it never goes below 1 now. According to the aquarium shop staff, they said the media allows bacteria to grow and they gave me "bacteria in a bottle" to use. The media fills half the black box in the image above if you're saying it's insufficient, I'm not too sure on that. They also said angelfish would do fine in that tank, but I will rehome them when they grow older, they're middle agers which aren't very large at the moment. Currently my conditioner IS seachem prime. Thanks for all the advice, I appreciate it. Not very educated on pet keeping, but I do care for the welfare of my fish, I've grown really attached to them.
There are some excellent local fish stores with knowledgeable people who are experienced fishkeepers. However, many pet stores have people who are hired to clean tanks and cages and net fish. They may not be experienced fishkeepers.

Usually, you will get much better advice on this forum than you will get in most fish stores. There are experienced fishkeepers from all over the world who have the knowledge and experience to provide good advice. I have kept fish for over 60 years and have learned a lot over that period, but I still learn new things every time I visit the forum. There are always new things to learn and this is a great place to learn them.
Can definitely see that, thank you. I kind of entered the hobby on a whim here.
 
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RayClem

It sounds like your tank was initially cycled with sand substrate. Fine sand has a lot of surface are for the growth of beneficial bacteria. When the sand was removed from the tank, any beneficial bacteria that were on the surface of the sand were removed as well. Then when the tank was overfed, there were insufficient bacteria to deal with the excess, so the ammonia level spiked.

It is possible to have a tank without substrate. However, to do so you need to have plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria to thrive. I have a 29 gallon tank with a single large pleco (well over 12" in length). In order to keep the tank clean, I use a HOB filter designed for a 75 gallon tank, plus a large sponge filter, plus a sponge prefilter on a 300 gph powerhead. I also have a bag of ceramic bio rings that I leave on the floor of the tank in addition to the media in the HOB filter. You probably do not have enough bioload to require as much filtration as I do under normal circumstances, but it sounds like you needed it when the fish were overfed.

Substrate does serve multiple purposes in a tank. If you find sand too messy, try a coarser gravel. I like using the epoxy coated gravel that covers any sharp edges and minimizes dust.
 
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jtjgg

Seachem Prime does temporarily detox ammonia for up to 48hrs. it starts working instantly.

what are the nitrite and nitrate levels? do you have your own test kit?

i can't see what media is in the black box but most media will be able to host a large enough bacteria colony.
 
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Azedenkae

Heyo!

Probably what is happening is, you are experiencing a fish-in cycle.

Prime is what is preventing the ammonia from harming your fish. Note that Prime detoxifies ammonia (temporarily), but does not prevent it from being read by a test kit. I.e. the ammonia is still there, just not in a form that can harm your fish.

Hard to say if your cycle has really started though. Three months is a long time, but it seems like you are experiencing a lot of ammonia still and has to do water changes to prevent it from getting higher.

If you can see ammonia being produced at a slower rate or actually being consumed more than produced, that's a good sign. Hard to say if you are not super aware of your ammonia readings and calculate how things change based on water changes though.

Having plants also make this a pain. Measure nitrite anyways to see if there is any, but even if there is no nitrite or nitrate, it is impossible to tell if nitrifiers are being established or not.
 
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Dunk2

I've been running it for about three months. When I first started, I did make sure to cycle the tank, and there was a sand substrate. My father eventually removed the sand due to cleaning inconveniences, he does help me a little when I'm not free. I think the ammonia started after my mother once overfed the fish when I left the house for a day and it spiked to 8, even though I specifically told her I'd come back and do any feeding. Following internet advice, I did daily water changes for about a week and it slowly dropped, but it never goes below 1 now. According to the aquarium shop staff, they said the media allows bacteria to grow and they gave me "bacteria in a bottle" to use. The media fills half the black box in the image above if you're saying it's insufficient, I'm not too sure on that. They also said angelfish would do fine in that tank, but I will rehome them when they grow older, they're middle agers which aren't very large at the moment. Currently my conditioner IS seachem prime. Thanks for all the advice, I appreciate it. Not very educated on pet keeping, but I do care for the welfare of my fish, I've grown really attached to them.

Can definitely see that, thank you. I kind of entered the hobby on a whim here.

At some point we all realize that some LFSs are good, some not so much. And they're all in business to sell fish. . . So, it's up to us to do our own research so we're not completely reliant on them telling us what will work.

I agree with RayClem . . . Removing the sand substrate could have caused you to lose whatever cycle you had. Whatever the case, you're now doing a fish-in cycle.

Prime is great stuff, but my advice would be to not rely on it too much. Prime is only effective up to a combined level of ammonia and nitrites of 1 ppm (which means getting a nitrite test done is important if you haven't tested it already). And Prime shouldn't be used IMO in lieu of water changes (don't use more than a single dose of Prime).

So test ammonia and nitrites daily and do water changes (possibly daily) to keep the combined level below 1 ppm (I always targeted below 0.50 ppm when doing fish-in cycles).

Finally, I had asked about your pH but I don't think you ever said what it is. I asked because as pH levels approach 6.0, the cycling process can stall. So if you haven't tested pH, you probably should.
 
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MonkeMan

At some point we all realize that some LFSs are good, some not so much. And they're all in business to sell fish. . . So, it's up to us to do our own research so we're not completely reliant on them telling us what will work.

I agree with RayClem . . . Removing the sand substrate could have caused you to lose whatever cycle you had. Whatever the case, you're now doing a fish-in cycle.

Prime is great stuff, but my advice would be to not rely on it too much. Prime is only effective up to a combined level of ammonia and nitrites of 1 ppm (which means getting a nitrite test done is important if you haven't tested it already). And Prime shouldn't be used IMO in lieu of water changes (don't use more than a single dose of Prime).

So test ammonia and nitrites daily and do water changes (possibly daily) to keep the combined level below 1 ppm (I always targeted below 0.50 ppm when doing fish-in cycles).

Finally, I had asked about your pH but I don't think you ever said what it is. I asked because as pH levels approach 6.0, the cycling process can stall. So if you haven't tested pH, you probably should.
Nitrite tests always read 0. PH always stays at 6, which I read was ideal for the 4 species in the tank. The overfeeding accident by the way happened when the tank still had sand over a month ago. Basically the ammonia's been stalling at 1 for weeks now, and the water changes aren't doing anything. Would a sponge filter actually help in this situation? Or should I add more of the bacteria to the filter?
 
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mattgirl

Nitrite tests always read 0. PH always stays at 6, which I read was ideal for the 4 species in the tank. The overfeeding accident by the way happened when the tank still had sand over a month ago. Basically the ammonia's been stalling at 1 for weeks now, and the water changes aren't doing anything. Would a sponge filter actually help in this situation? Or should I add more of the bacteria to the filter?
I have to think the reason the cycle seems to be stalled is the low pH. The process basically comes to a standstill when the pH is this low. What is the pH level of your tap water? If it is higher than this and drops once in the tank you may need to use crushed coral to raise and stabilize it up to the level of your tap water. If it is higher straight from the tap water changes will help hold it up until you can get the crushed coral.
 
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MonkeMan

I have to think the reason the cycle seems to be stalled is the low pH. The process basically comes to a standstill when the pH is this low. What is the pH level of your tap water? If it is higher than this and drops once in the tank you may need to use crushed coral to raise and stabilize it up to the level of your tap water. If it is higher straight from the tap water changes will help hold it up until you can get the crushed coral.
My tapwater's 6pH and doesn't change when added to the tank. Thanks for the advice.
 
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RayClem

Are you sure your pH is 6.0? The standard pH test uses bromothymol blue which has an useful pH range of 6.0 - 7.6. At a pH of 5.0, the indicator color will look exactly the same as pH 6.0. Thus, if the color is yellow, the only thing you can say is that the pH is at or below 6.0. I suggest you try to find a pH indicator based on methyl red which has an effective range of 5.0 - 6.0. Sometimes these are used to test swimming pool pH.


The good thing about a low pH is that ammonia does not exist. The ammonia will get converted to ammonium ion which is less toxic than ammonia. However, the bad thing is that the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite are not good at functioning at such low pH levels. That is why you are constantly seeing a reading of 1 ppm ammonium ion.
 
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Dunk2

Are you sure your pH is 6.0? The standard pH test uses bromothymol blue which has an useful pH range of 6.0 - 7.6. At a pH of 5.0, the indicator color will look exactly the same as pH 6.0. Thus, if the color is yellow, the only thing you can say is that the pH is at or below 6.0. I suggest you try to find a pH indicator based on methyl red which has an effective range of 5.0 - 6.0. Sometimes these are used to test swimming pool pH.


The good thing about a low pH is that ammonia does not exist. The ammonia will get converted to ammonium ion which is less toxic than ammonia. However, the bad thing is that the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite are not good at functioning at such low pH levels. That is why you are constantly seeing a reading of 1 ppm ammonium ion.

Out of curiosity, why is it important to know how far below 6.0 the pH is?

Isn't the real issue needing to bring it up to a point around 7.0 to get this cycle going? And can't that be accomplished without knowing how far below 6.0 the pH currently is?

Or are you saying that possibly the pH doesn't need to be raised?
 
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RayClem

Out of curiosity, why is it important to know how far below 6.0 the pH is?

Isn't the real issue needing to bring it up to a point around 7.0 to get this cycle going? And can't that be accomplished without knowing how far below 6.0 the pH currently is?

Or are you saying that possibly the pH doesn't need to be raised?

I am not an expert in "blackwater" aquariums. I have always kept tanks with a pH of 6.8 or higher. My current tanks are around 7.5 pH. However, there are South American species that are from the "blackwater" tributaries of the Amazon. The water is very soft and the pH is acidic, sometimes below 5.0.

If your aim is to produce colonies of beneficial bacteria that will concert ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, then raising the pH will be needed. However, if your aim is to keep species that are quite comfortable in soft, acidic water, then you do not need to worry so much about the ammonia concentration of the tank as the ammonia will all be in ammonium ion form.

If you are attempting to keep species that prefer soft, acidic water, it is a good idea to be able to measure the pH. Tests like GH and KH are useless as they are designed to measure hard, alkaline water. The standard pH test using bromothymol blue is useless as it only measures down to a pH of 6.0. If the pH is 5.0, the water is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6.0, so you need to be able to measure it, whatever it may be.
 
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Dunk2

I am not an expert in "blackwater" aquariums. I have always kept tanks with a pH of 6.8 or higher. My current tanks are around 7.5 pH. However, there are South American species that are from the "blackwater" tributaries of the Amazon. The water is very soft and the pH is acidic, sometimes below 5.0.

If your aim is to produce colonies of beneficial bacteria that will concert ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, then raising the pH will be needed. However, if your aim is to keep species that are quite comfortable in soft, acidic water, then you do not need to worry so much about the ammonia concentration of the tank as the ammonia will all be in ammonium ion form.

If you are attempting to keep species that prefer soft, acidic water, it is a good idea to be able to measure the pH. Tests like GH and KH are useless as they are designed to measure hard, alkaline water. The standard pH test using bromothymol blue is useless as it only measures down to a pH of 6.0. If the pH is 5.0, the water is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6.0, so you need to be able to measure it, whatever it may be.

I understand all that. As a matter of fact, I keep German Blue Rams that thrive in my soft acidic water (which I do need to buffer and stabilize a bit with a small amount of crushed coral).

But my question was really directed to the OP’s situation. . . I don’t think he’s keeping any fish that require a pH on the (very) low acidic end of the spectrum?
 
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RayClem

Angelfish and Gouramis, both of which are in the OP tank, are species that prefer acidic water. However, farm raised fish are typically bred at higher pH levels such that most of the fish we purchase at the LFS will do just fine at higher pH.

Since the tap water used by the OP is acidic, it would be good to be able to measure the actual pH, even if it is below 6.0. I would suggest that steps be taken to increase the pH of the tank, but knowing the starting point would be helpful so progress can be monitored. If the pH is below 6.0, even the addition of crushed coral would have to be done judiciously to prevent a rapid change in water parameters.
 
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mattgirl

The best thing about using crushed coral to raise and stabilize the pH is it isn't going to raise it quickly. As long as it is rinsed before putting it in the tank it is going to take several days for it to reach its full potential. The fish shouldn't be harmed since it goes up so gradually. With the pH being so low in this tank it could take even longer for the pH to start going up.
 
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MonkeMan

Are you sure your pH is 6.0? The standard pH test uses bromothymol blue which has an useful pH range of 6.0 - 7.6. At a pH of 5.0, the indicator color will look exactly the same as pH 6.0. Thus, if the color is yellow, the only thing you can say is that the pH is at or below 6.0. I suggest you try to find a pH indicator based on methyl red which has an effective range of 5.0 - 6.0. Sometimes these are used to test swimming pool pH.


The good thing about a low pH is that ammonia does not exist. The ammonia will get converted to ammonium ion which is less toxic than ammonia. However, the bad thing is that the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite are not good at functioning at such low pH levels. That is why you are constantly seeing a reading of 1 ppm ammonium ion.
Thanks for all the advice! It's been very helpful, I'll have to work on my fishkeeping skills a bot though.
 
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RayClem

Thanks for all the advice! It's been very helpful, I'll have to work on my fishkeeping skills a bot though.

If you want to improve your fishkeeping skills, you have come to the right place. There is a lot of knowledge available from the various members here.
 
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