Ammonia spike!

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by Zed, Jun 15, 2016.

  1. ZedNew MemberMember

    I've had my 10 gallon tank for about 3 months now, cycled for about 10 days (fishless cycle) then I took a sample to my local fish store and they told me it's good to go... so I added 2 platties. About a month later, and after the bloom disappeared completely, and things seemed to be stable, I added 3 neons and 2 guppies (over the course of 1 week). I ordered an API test kit in order to monitor my water quality, and it arrived today. To my surprise, it seems like my tank never cycled.

    I have nitrates and nitrites at 0 ppm, while my ammonia seems to be around 4.0 ppm. I freaked out and did a 50% water change, added conditioner to the water, and started searching for ways to deal with this. I use tap water, which I just tested it, the tap water seems to have 4ppm ammonia as well. I don't have any plants in my tank (I didn't want plants right now), but my water is crystal clear. my filter is the standard filter that came with the tank and runs on carbon and a small sponge, but I just bought an Aquaclear filter and some ceramic media, but I'm worried that my water quality will get even worse if I attempt to change anything now. The fish seem ok, they eat and swim regularly, in fact, if it wasn't for the test, I never would've suspected anything... Any advice is much appreciated.


  2. BamBamSorg

    BamBamSorgWell Known MemberMember

    I would do another water change of 25%+ you have to add fish very very slowly to a newly cycled tank or else the bacteria cant handle it all at once they need to build up and then you can get more fish once the levels are back to normal. I would say add prime everytime you do a water change. How in the world is your tap water have 4ppm ammonia???? If that is the case you might just want to get water bottles from the store (spring water etc) then you dont have to wory about the huge ammonia spikes everytime you do a water Change
  3. peregrine

    peregrineValued MemberMember

    It sounds like either 1) your tank never actually cycled. Or 2) you crashed your cycle somehow. When did you last replace your cartridge? a good portion of the BB at first resides on your filter portion of your cartridge so if you replace it there goes a some of the bb.. ((I'm assuming it's a cartridge since most kits come with cartridge using HOB))

    When you tested the tap water, was it before water conditioner or after? If it's after it's showing ammonia because that is how many of the conditioners usually work. It changes Chlorine and Chloramines into Ammonium which will show up on a test. that being said. The tank being that high too is not good and swings are bad and you may want to look at using bottled water. I know it's expensive, but may be better for the fishies...

    If you have a top on the tank remove the top and run both filters at the same time for a few weeks (a monthish)) while the bio media is getting populated.

    I would also run a second test of the tank after 24/48 hours letting it run just to see if the BB take care of it.
  4. OP

    ZedNew MemberMember

    thanks for the replies guys. @peregrine I've been changing out the carbon once a month as recommended so that it doesn't release the toxins back into the water, but I haven't touched the sponge in the filter since day 1. I did find out that my municipality uses chloramine to sterilize its water supply, which contains ammonia and is converted to ammonium when the conditioner is added. This did not put me at ease, but did offer a reasonable explanation. The tap water I tested was prior to adding any conditioner. and the reading I go was slightly darker than the one from my tank. Frankly, the most alarming part to me is the zero nitrates, because it tells me that there is no cycle. I'm gonna take your advice on running botch filters to start cultivating BB and stick to the 25% daily water changes and hop for the best :|
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2016
  5. jdhef

    jdhefModeratorModerator Member radar started beeping when you said you cycled the tank for 10 days, then took a sample to your fish store. Exactly how did you cycle those first 10 days? The cycling process doesn't start until you have ammonia in the water. And if you did not use a bacteria additive, it would take far more than 10 days to develop the bactria that converts ammonia into nitrite and then the bacteria that converts nitrite into nitrates.

    But here's were I get a little confused. your tap water contains 4ppm ammonia. So while that ammonia would count as the ammonia needed to start the cycling process, like I mentioned, there is really no chance the tank would be cycled in 10 days. So why did the fish store say your water was good? Is it possible the tap water did not contain ammonia when you initially filled the tank, but for whatever reason, your tap water now contains ammonia?

    But with an ammonia level of 4ppm, your fish would have been really suffering. But it is possible that depending on your pH level (and water temp) the toxic ammonia turned into far less toxic (some claim non-toxic) ammonium. Also at low pH levels the ammonia converting bacteria either goes dormant or just won't develop, which would prevent your tank from cycling. So if you could test your pH level and post the results it would be helpful.

    BTW: Carbon does not leach toxins back into the water, it just gets saturated after 3-4 weeks and stops working. So it's good that your changing your carbon monthly, but I just wanted to dispel that common myth.
  6. OP

    ZedNew MemberMember

    When I first set up the tank, I was told to add a pinch of food to get the bacteria going, I waited for the bloom to appear and waited until it cleared up, and that's when I took my sample to the fish store. @jdhef what you're saying makes sense 100%, but I looked up what my water plant uses to chlorinate the water and they've been using chloramine since 2005. Which means that more than likely, the water I used from the tap 3 months ago would more or less have been the same.

    I tested the water again today and I got exactly the same reading, and my tap water is showing the same results for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate (7.6, 4ppm, 0, 0). Exactly the same parameters, as if I'm not running a filter at all. Yet I'm adding Seachem and my water stays crystal clear. My fish swim and sleep and eat like nothing is wrong.

    I started running the Aqueon filter along with my previous filter that came with the tank. added some ceramic media and a sponge to start cultivating bacteria, but I know it'll take a while until that happens, so I'll keep running both filters for the meanwhile. I'll also take a sample to the fish store tomorrow and buy some bacteria additive. I did a 25% water change today, but since the tap water and tank water are giving me the same readings, I'm not diluting my ammonia levels. I'm also gonna get some bottled water for another 25% water change. Also, does anyone know if there is a test kit to differentiate between ammonia and ammonium? I really hope I figure this out soon, before I start seeing dead fish. :-\
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2016
  7. jdhef

    jdhefModeratorModerator Member

    A bloom does not indicate anything, other than the fact that there was a bloom. I highly recommend you read up on the nitrogen cycle (words will be link to article),

    Crystal clear water does not indicate that the water is safe for fish. When you say your adding SeaChem, do you mean SeaChem's Prime? (SeaChem makes many other products).. Also, I don;t think ammonia would show up in tap water that contains chloramine, until the a water conditioner that removes chloramines is added. And then once the chlorine-ammonia bond is broked by the water conditioner, I do not think it should produce anything near 4ppm of ammonia.

    There are test kits out there that can differentiate between ammonia and ammonium, but I don't know which ones. Hopefully someone who knows will post. I know it has recently been talked about on the forum. Maybe CindiL knows.

    But with a ammonia level that high, your fish have to be suffering. I would recommend you start using bottled water for your water changes. I think even a fully cycled tank would have a hard time processing that much ammonia in a reasonable amount of time.

    Best of luck!
  8. CindiL

    CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    Hi, wow that is some high ammonia. I agree you were definitely not cycled and the presence or non-presence of a bacterial bloom does not indicate you're cycled or not, unfortunately nor does clear water. With ammonia that high it would've taken you 4 weeks or probably quite a bit longer. Even with a bacterial additive, probably longer than two weeks which those levels would be pretty toxic to the bacteria and would most likely have killed them off or greatly inhibited them.

    Will you also test your ph using the high range test and post the results?

    Is your tank ph lower than your tap right now? I have a chart you can use to see the toxicity levels of ammonia in regards to ph and temperature I'll insert.

    If you had a mature bio-filter, it would be able to convert the ammonia during water changes but your nitrates would probably always be too high because of it. There are ways to help that which can be discussed later :)

    But for now I would pick up some spring water and do a 50% change today and another 50% change tomorrow which should get your levels down to about 1.0. I would dose prime every 24 hours for the full volume of the tank. Pick up some Seachem Stability and pour in 1/3rd of the bottle straight into your filter box today and tomorrow. Post your results in a couple of days and we can see if you need to do another change.

    Once your filters can handle the smaller amount of ammonia you can slowly increase it or continue to always use 50/50 spring and tap for as long as your water supplier is using such high amounts of chloramines.

    Feed sparingly, only once a day.

    Hope that all made sense.


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