API Master Test Kit readings always 0

Discussion in 'Test Kits' started by bowen747x, Aug 8, 2014.

  1. bowen747xValued MemberMember

    I set my tank up just over 2 months ago, any time I test the water the levels for ammonia nitrite and nitrate are always zero (PH is 7.6),

    I added a bottle of Tetra SafeStart three weeks ago now and the readings are still all zero. I did my last water change a few days before adding the TSS. I have read all about the "proper" way to add TSS (like not adding water conditioner with it).

    the tank is clear and everything looks fine, I read the water is supposed to get cloudy from the TSS but it didn't, just some smudges have started to appear on the inside of the glass (I assume this is algae but its not quite brown?) my otos don't seem to eat it either

    I even bought another API master kit and so, now both of my 2 kits are showing 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates, and the expiration dates are jan 2018 and may 2019. am I doing something wrong when I test the water??

    I just place the 4 glass tubes in the tank and fill to the line (like duh? lol) and obviously each bottle shows how many # of drops... for ammonia and nitrate there is 2 bottles and I have read all about shaking them up really good... but I feel like im leaving something else out or missing a very basic step or something? why am I getting all 0 readings :(

    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  2. AquaticBrandon

    AquaticBrandonWell Known MemberMember

    The TSS is good bacteria that eats bad bacteria. So since you added TSS, there wasn't any bad bacteria for it to eat so it eventually died. This is what I've heard from other people having the same problem.

    Sent from my iPhone using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum
  3. OP

    bowen747xValued MemberMember

    im not concerned so much to the TSS actually, but why my readings are zero.

  4. plecodragonWell Known MemberMember

    Hi, are you giving the nitrate bottles a good bang on the table before you add it to the test tube. Sometimes the reactant in the bottle sticks to the bottom of the bottle and you don't get a accurate reading.

    Most likely you are not getting any readings because you only have 6 small fish and a shrimp in a 55 gallon correct? Large amount of water and not much ammonia or nitrite or nitrate to read.
  5. OP

    bowen747xValued MemberMember

    I read for TSS you should have 1 fish per 10 gallons... I was wondering how this tiny amount of water can judge the whole tank :confused: lol, but at this point I have done multiple tests

    I just retested everything with vigorous shaking for several minutes and still 0 everything (the 0 ammonia really baffles me?)

    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  6. LinwoodValued MemberMember

    I didn't see if you said what fish you had, but you have to get ammonia before you will see the others. Is the tank planted?

    If you have too low of a load from the fish, and if the tank is planted significantly, you might be seeing the ammonia got to nitrite and into nitrate and immediately be taken up in the plants. But that would mean it has cycled, which I am betting it hasn't?

    If it were me I'd do one of two things: add more fish slowly until I see ammonia, or just add a bit of ammonia (say bring it up to 2ppm, maybe over 2 days or so, by adding from hardware store ammonia (no other ingredients of course).

    One you see some ammonia, you can tell if the bacteria is there or not because it will either keep growing, or go down. If it goes down you should start seeing nitrites. If it keeps going up, either wait, or add some more of the TSS.

    Change water only as necessary to keep ammonia and nitrites low enough to keep things alive (e.g. before 4ppm or so ammonia, maybe 2ppm nitrite or briefly higher).

    If you are testing regularly you should catch the ammonia start down, the nitrite start up, go a bit too high probably, then back down.

    It seemed to take forever for mine (45G, 6 fish, one pretty large catfish) but was almost a month to the day before the nitrites and ammonia both hit zero and nitrates started building.

    Note when you have high nitrites you may see incorrectly high nitrate readings, I did -- as my nitrates plummeted when the nitrites went down, which was a bogus reading.

    PS. If you buy some ammonia to do this test, you can also take a bucket and mix up a specific known concentration and then use the test kit to make sure it works, which isn't really necessary but may be reassuring.

    PPS. On the off chance the tank is cycled, and you add ammonia, you'll see it gone in hours or a day and eventually see it as nitrates, but the "gone fast" would be a good indication it really was cycled.
  7. MamajinWell Known MemberMember

    Where the fish in the tank when you added the TSS, and did you do any water changes at all during the 14 day period? Please don't be offended, we have to ask. ;)

    Tank water can be crystal clear, but that's not indicative of a healthy tank. I've used TSS on several occasions and it's never made the water cloudy.

    The best place to obtain water from the tank is towards the bottom. Put the tube in the tank upside down towards the bottom of the tank, turn it rightside up and allow it to fill. Then dump out any extra. Water from the top contains debris and other organic material that you do not want in the test tube.

    You do not have to smack nitrate bottle #2 on the counter... unless the bottle has been sitting for quite some time (like right after purchase because you don't know how long it was sitting on the shelf). If you are frequently using your test kit, then there's no need to smack the bottle on a hard surface every time you use it.

    Ensure you are properly performing the tests:

    Bottle 1 is 8 drops
    Bottle 2 is 8 drops
    Cap tube and shake vigorously for 5 seconds.
    Wait 5 minutes for the color to develop.

    5 drops
    Cap tube and shake for 5 seconds
    Wait 5 minutes for the color to develop.


    1. Bottle1 is 10 drops
    2. Cap tube and invert several times.
    3. Vigorously shake Bottle 2 for 30 seconds.
    4. Add10 drops from bottle 2 to the same tube.
    5. Cap tube and shake vigorously for 60 seconds.
    6. Wait 5 minutes for the color to develop.
    7. Check color.

    Also make sure you are keeping your glass vials and caps clean. Unless you can be absolutely certain there are no phosphates in the soap, don't use soap to clean them. You can also clean them by rinsing them with Hydrogen Peroxide.
  8. Lucy

    LucyModeratorModerator Member

    This is incorrect.
    The bacteria in Tetra SafeStart helps process ammonia not bad bacteria.
  9. ryanr

    ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Assuming your profile is still correct, given the tank is planted, and very lightly stocked for a 55G, you can safely expect to see 0 readings across the board.

    The plants will consume most of the nitrogenous compounds in your water, and any that's left will likely to be little concentration for the test kit to detect.

    My planted tank, granted has been setup for years, often runs at zero nitrates. I have to dose nitrates to keep the plants growing strong.
  10. OP

    bowen747xValued MemberMember

    thanks for all the replies, so apparently my fish load is too small with the amount of plants I have? I did not realize that was a possibility, I am new to this hobby and trying to research everything but did not read about this before. Should I try adding some more fish and see if the readings start to rise?

    Ryanr you said you dose nitrates and it helps your plants? I have noticed some slight (very slight) browning the past few days, I had stopped using Flourish excel for the 2 weeks that I had added the TSS (I wasn't sure if they could be mixed) but I started it again the other day.

    How can I go about adding nitrates? And how is that going to effect my cycle? I really don't know if my tank is cycled properly or not? I guess I will add some more fish this week and see if anything changes.

    and yes my profile info is all up to date :)
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2014
  11. LinwoodValued MemberMember

    To know if your tank is cycled it is necessary to generate ammonia, and see that it ends up as nitrate, or at least that it vanishes.

    Generating it with fish is of course possible, but it is difficult to quantify because "add fish until you either see ammonia (first product) or nitrate rise (third product only if it is cycled)" is possible but pretty vague.

    That is why I am advocating buying ammonia, and dosing it to a low but measurable level. You can calculate what it takes for say 0.5 or 1.0 ppm ammonia based on volume. Put that in and see it appear on your measurements.

    if it quickly goes away (say over night, not adding Prime or other treatment) you can feel confident it is at least partially cycled and start looking for nitrites and nitrates. If it does not go away, it is not cycled, so start the path of ensuring you have the bacteria to cycle it.

    Adding ammonia with fish in is not very nice to the fish, so some people will say "don't be cruel", however the alternative of adding MORE fish so that they will generate the same amount of ammonia is basically the same thing, except with less quantitative control.

    The cycle goes ammonia -> nitrites -> Nitrates based on bacteria that should form in (primarily) your filter. Nitrates are taken up by plants. In my aquarium this means I need to change water infrequently, but I do not have enough plants so I see it build very slowly. It's possible to tip the other way where it will be consumed faster than it is produced. HOWEVER, it is at least as likely (more in my very new-to-this-but-read-a-lot opinion) that your tank never cycled, is not producing either nitrites or nitrates, and you just aren't seeing much of anything from other stuff you've added, perhaps water treatments, changes or testing.

    That's why I am suggesting a more definitive test. However, I am VERY new to this, so see what other advice you get.

    PS. Don't add nitrates. Get the whole ammonia->nitrite->nitrate cycle known to be working if you plan to have fish, otherwise you'll suddenly have an issue down stream.
  12. AlyeskaGirlFishlore VIPMember

    I am confused about what you said here. What do you mean by this ??
  13. OP

    bowen747xValued MemberMember

    here ya go :)
    Q & A With Tetra about Tetra SafeStart

    "In regards to ammonia products, yes, they kill TSS. Any type, whether a chloramines remover or detoxifier, etc, anything that says it locks up ammonia or removes ammonia. Do not add TSS for 24 hours after using such a product, and do not add such a product for at least 7 days after using TSS."
  14. ryanr

    ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    There is no requirement for an aquarium to have any presence of nitrates. The more important aspect is that there is zero ammonia and zero nitrites. If a system runs at zero nitrates as well, then a bit of a bonus. The presence of nitrates does help the aquarist validate that the system is cycled.

    Next, the method of conversion of ammonia into nitrates is not important either. By that, I mean as long as the system maintains 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites. Many systems, most notably the "Walstad" tanks/setups don't use traditional filters, they use plants to keep the system healthy and to filter out the nitrogenous compounds.

    Now, when it comes to plants. Aquatic plants are no different to terrestrial plants. They all need 3 basic things to stay healthy and growing;
    1) Light
    2) Carbon Dioxide
    3) Nutrients

    Some plants need more than others, and I don't suggest anyone doses/supplements anything unless plants are showing a specific deficiency. One because you can easily get things out of balance, and end up with an algae problem. Secondly because you waste money buying stuff your tank doesn't need. For deficiencies, the following may help: https://www.fishlore.com/fishforum/aquarium-plants/168302-deficiency-list-plants.html and  

    In my case, I dose Seachem Nitrogen as needed. If the plants start showing a nitrogen deficiency, I first test my nitrates, then if they are zero, I dose. The important part is that I let my system tell me what it needs. There are other options for fertilising too, so have a search of the forum.

    So to summarise, as long as your system looks and smells healthy, I don't think you have much to worry about, even if your tests read 0 across the board. A healthy aquarium should smell 'earthy' and not offensive.
  15. OP

    bowen747xValued MemberMember

    thank you so much, this is great info and learning about the nitrogen cycle seems very vague (imo) I have been really unsure about the necessity of nitrates and whether or not 0 nitrates was bad, so thanks for filling me in on that piece of info :) about the smell, I am pretty certain I can say my tank smells "earthy" almost like the grass after a nice summer rain.

    I don't know much about fertz... but this is how I set my tank up:
    - mineralized plain/ordinary top soil through soaking/drying it,
    - added clay, muriate potash, and dolomite (not sure what those are)
    I was following the guide from plantedtank.com
    I also added root tabs and flourish excel
    I wanted a low tech tank so I do not use Co2

    I thought I read somewhere that adding Nitrogen is almost the same as Co2? or is that the Excel? I just did a quick search on SeaChem products and I see they have tons of different flourish products.

    Some of my plants are doing great (mainly my water wisteria) others are doing fine but my melon swords seem to barely be hanging in there (possibly due to being over shadowed) would SeaChem Nitrogen help the plants AND the fish? or mainly just the plants? does adding the nitrogen show nitrates if I test for them? and I don't seem to have any algae just some diatoms on the glass

    I decided to add a couple more fish and just keep an eye on things for the next few weeks to see if anything changes, thanks again!
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2014
  16. ryanr

    ryanrModeratorModerator Member


    I need more context to say yes or no. True Nitrogen is a gas, as is, CO2, but they do very different things for plants.

    Swords are typically moderate to high light plants, so if yours aren't getting enough light, it's possible they'll struggle.

    Will Seachem Nitrogen help? maybe, maybe not. If the plants are getting what they need now, then probably not. If they are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency, then yes, definitely the plants will benefit. I've a read a lot of advice that suggests NO3 around 10ppm generally provides a better growing environment for plants, particularly the higher demand plants. IME though, my system seems happy enough without having to worry about the actual measurement.

    Seachem Nitrogen will show as NO3 on a test kit.

    Fish won't be affected by it, unless you massively overdose.

    Remember - if you start playing with one parameter, be prepared to adjust everything else to maintain the balance. There's no secret formula, but a lot of trial and error to find the right balance for your tank. And be patient, it can take weeks/months to really see if what you're doing is working.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2014
  17. LinwoodValued MemberMember

    My apologies if this is already obvious, but....

    "Nitrogen" is a term loosely used. When referring to fertilizers, it is most often referring to componds containing nitrogen that make it more readily available to plants for consumption. But nitrogen is always present, it is 80% of the air we breath, and so is present in the water also.

    It is also present in Ammonia (NH3), which is extremely toxic to fish and not all that healthy for plants (varies by plants, but they can survive a lot stronger dose than fish, and indeed some can consume it).

    It is present in nitrites (NO2-) which is also toxic to fish, but less than ammonia.

    It is present in nitrates (NO3-) which is only slightly toxic to fish, they can tolerate much more of it (freshwater fish maybe 40ppm vs 1 ppm for nitrites).

    CO2 is the most readily absorbed and available carbon source for plants; it is absorbed from water or air during photosynthesis in plants. Excel is a chemical that can be a substitute for dissolved gaseous CO2.

    They key difference in "nitrogen" and CO2 in this case is that one of these occurs in forms that are quite toxic. It is difficult (without injected CO2, and not that easy even then) to produce any kind of toxic environment with CO2. It is VERY easy with nitrogen, because it is a natural decay product.

    If you are keeping only plants, thinking of nitrogen as just another fertilizer is not a bad thing, really.

    But if you are keeping fish, you must think of nitrogen very differently, as in the most readily produced form it is a poison. That is why you see so much emphasis on making sure that your tank has "cycled". What that literally means is that you have populated it with a stable and living set of bacteria that turns nitrogen from its more poison forms of ammonia and nitrite to it's less poison form nitrate.

    The term "tank has cycled" is actually confusing, as it leads people to think it is a once-and-done thing. What it really means is you achieved a balance -- you have enough bacteria (or ancheria more commonly) to convert the amount of ammonia you produce. If you suddenly produce more, you might overwhelm them, at least until they catch up (sometimes called a mini-cycle).

    Plants can also do some of this, but not as well, as efficiently, or as completely. The nice thing is they can absorb the nitrates which otherwise you can get out only with water changes. They also to some extent make your tank bigger -- let's say a fish dies, or you overfeed for a spell, and produce a lot more ammonia. A big tank makes this less dangerous, as the change comes slowly and you can take action. Same with a planted tank, it can make things happen a bit slower.

    But it is not the same as having a tank with adequate beneficial bacteria up and running, i.e. "has cycled". If you (for example) now put a lot more fish in, fully stock the tank, you may find you have a real problem with a sudden ammonia increase, or less likely nitrite.

    ryanr mentioned all this is a balance. Think of plants as, while walking a tightrope, as that pole the guy carries to help with balance. Think of a properly cycled tank with a good, stable set of beneficial bacteria as the safety net below. It's what saves you from events (some rooting food, a dead fish, maybe low oxygen causes a sudden die-off of substrate life, cosmic rays, visiting alien fish).

    I really encourage you to study the nitrogen cycle and make sure your tank is properly processing ammonia before you start adding a lot of fish. If you are staying where you are that's different, perhaps.

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