Can't get the ammonia levels down!!

  • #1

I am a neewbie to the fish hobby and I went to Petsmart and bought one of those 29 gallons Top Fin fish aquarium kits about 5 weeks ago. Not knowing anything about fish, I setup the tank, I filled the water from hose in my front yard and put in the aquasafe water conditioner and waited about 3 days until the water temperature was around 78 degrees then bought fish. When I bought the fish, I had know idea how many I could get to start out the tank, so I asked the staff there and he said I could get 11. So I bought 11 semI aggressive tropical fish, ranging from Tetris, Angel, and sharks. Well it didn't take long about 3 days and fish started to die, in all I lost 6 fish within a week. I went back to Petsmart and talked to the manager of the department and she told me for every 10 gallons of tank, you should start out with 1 fish, so I guess I should of only bought 3 fish. Anyways, the remaining 5 fish have lived fine for a couple of weeks, but I just lost 2 more a couple of days ago.

During the 5 weeks this has been happening, my ammonia levels are dangerlously high and I have tried 3 different ammonio products, with the latest being ammino lock, gone back to Petsmart every couple of days and still nothing. I tried taking out the filter for a couple of hours while I put the stuff in but still no change. I tried a 25% water change from the water in my kitchen sink, but still nothing. So 3 days ago, I took the fish out of the tank and emptied out 80% of the water, cleaned inside the gravel because I noticed there was a lot of fish food in there. Filled the tank back up with water from the sink and with the aquasafe conditoner back in. That's when I lost 2 more of the fish. I check the ammonia levels and still dangerlously high.

At this point, I don't know what to do next, I thought I was doing everything right, I really need some help. I feel really bad for these fish keep on dying. As far as feeding the fish go, I was feeding then 2 pinches per day when I had 11, but I'm down to only a small pinch per day. I thought maybe over feeding them was causing the ammonia levels because they weren't eating all the food, but I don't think that's the problem.
  • #2

has the tank fully cycled yet
  • #3
OK mrv....Let's see if we can't get you straightened out. First, my recommendation would be to read these in detail.. These will give you a great explanation of aquarium water chemistry and what it is all about.

Next....You can cycle your tank with fish. Most recommend a hardy fish such as zebra danios. You must have a tank heater (adjustable are recommended) to allow you to control the temperature of your water. I use two thermometers. Somethink it's overkill, but if both read the same temp then I know that my heater is working correctly and the thermometers are as well. I use a bulb type that sticks on the inside of the tank with a suction cup and an LCD type that sticks to the outside of the tank with an adhesive back.

Fill your tank with tap water treated with a water conditioner such as "Prime" or "Amquel+". These water conditioners will detoxify chemicals that are toxic to fish that will build up in the water as the tank cycles. Using these water conditioners helps to keep these chemicals called ammonia and nitrites in check, however, you cannot allow the levels to build up or the fish can die. You keep these levels in check during the cycle by performing regular water changes of about 25%. The goal is to keep the ammonia and nitrites at less than 1. You can test your own water with a test kit. Many of us here use and recommend the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Freshwater Master Test Kit. You can get them on line at Pet Smart. They will also usually honor the on line price (typically less than $20) at the store with a print out of their on line ad.

Each time you do a water change you add the recommended amount of water conditioner to your clean water. This way as the ammonia and nitrites build they are less toxic to the fish. The goal is to keep the fish comfortable during the cycle period and doing these things will help that.

Eventually you will see the ammonia spike. Next, the ammonia will subside and the nitrites will spike. After this happens you will eventually see the ammonia disappear, the nitrites disappear and then nitrates - beneficial to the water chemistry, but still toxic to fish - will appear. You want to keep your nitrate levels at less than 20. You would do this by performing water changes of 25-30% weekly. Once only nitrates are present in the water you can add more fish. Add them a few at a time over the course of a few weeks to avoid sending your tank into a minI cycle.

There is also an apparatus called a syphon or gravel vacuum. This will assist in keeping the excess waste and uneaten food from building up in your tank and throwing your water chemistry into a tizzy. You should vacuum the gravel when performing your water changes after the tank has cycled. I usually do 1/3 per week.

Of course this is a pretty condensed version of what happens during your cycle, but it should be enough info to get you started. Oh, and one more thing....Try to avoid overfeeding your fish as this can cause problems down the road and do not clean your filter or change the pad that is inside. You are trying to colonize bacteria that are beneficial to the water chemistry. If you change the filter pad you will be destroying the very bacteria you are trying to colonize.

Remember, we're here to help!!
  • #4
Vin has given you great advice!

Water changes with conditioner and help from the great guys and gals on here will sort you. Big chain pet stores have targets to meet and give staff minimum training. Remember good sale staff could sell sand in the sahara!

I've only had fish since sept 06 and 80% of what I have learnt hs been from this site.
  • #5
I had similar problems at first but I treated my water with ammo-lock when the ammonia spiked. One thing to keep in mind if you do this is that the ammonia will still test at the same level but it is detoxified for the time being. I couldn't figure that out for a long time so I thought it might help you out, so don't worry if you do use one of these products and you still get high readings when testing ammonia levels.
  • #6
personally I wouldn't use products to stabilise water. I think they cause more problems. 50/70% water change with conditioners if really bad readings.
  • #7
I do agree with taz, I wouldn't use chemical stabilizers now either. It was a desperate decision and I'm glad it worked but def. not the best route to take.
  • #8
what fish are remaining?
  • #9
I do agree with taz, I wouldn't use chemical stabilizers now either. It was a desperate decision and I'm glad it worked but def. not the best route to take.

I think you guys are confusing stabilizers with water conditioners....The products I recommended are what 90% of us use to treat water every week when we do our water changes......They do nothing to normal water chemistry whatsoever except for detoxify the very toxins you don't want in your water.....I would agree if someone advised using a pH balancer...That is too hard to maintain and spikes are inevitable. But Prime and Amquel+ are recommended for routine aquarium maintenance.

60-70% water changes will without a doubt slow down the process to say nothing of the fact that they would allow ammonia and nitrites to remain toxic. The idea here is two fold...First, you want to keep some ammonia in the tank to allow the conversion to take place. Second, you want that ammonia in a non-toxic form.
  • #10
I had similar problems at first but I treated my water with ammo-lock when the ammonia spiked. One thing to keep in mind if you do this is that the ammonia will still test at the same level but it is detoxified for the time being. I couldn't figure that out for a long time so I thought it might help you out, so don't worry if you do use one of these products and you still get high readings when testing ammonia levels.

Hey... Vin I think they are refering to the piece of advice I have quoted (pertaining to ammo-lock) and not to the conditioners you suggested. the conditioners are very important, especially because of the chlorine in tap water, that will surely kill the fish. Ammo-lock is a detoxifier and that's what people (including me) do not recommend... as said before water changes are better if worse comes to worse. However, the cycling should take care of the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate spikes eventually when you get enough beneficial bacteria (nitrosomas and nitrobacter) fluorishing in your fish tank. Actually I am thinking you will probably lose all your fish. If you do, you might just want to cycle your water without fishies, adding some flakes. Biospira, water from a cycled fishtank, or ammonia. You probably have read the following but just in case I paste it:
Take care
  • #11
I agree. If they don't use a water conditioner that detoxifies they will surely lose all of their fish.....Ammo-lock does the same thing, but the others have more benefit.
  • #12
Help! I don’t know what’s going wrong. I’ll try to be as thorough as possible so this will be long and my aquarium log with all my readings is posted at the bottom.

My 29 gal tank has been set up for 2 months now and I can’t seem to get my ammonia levels right. I set up the tank with fluorite substrate mixed with a little play sand for color and a large piece of awesome driftwood that I found at a local pond(I cleaned it in the dishwasher on the hot cycle twice) and fishless cycled for a week, I got bored and used Cycle before I added 3 live plants, 4 Black Fin Tetras, 3 KuhlI Loaches, 3 Small Neon Tetras, and 3 Rummy Nose Tetras the first stocking, and 3 more plants 2 more Black Fin Tetras, 3 more small Neon Tetras and 3 more Rummy nose tetras a few days later.

When I bought my fish I had them in my tank for a few days and they got Ich. I started treating with AP Quick Cure but all the rummy nose tetras died with in a week as did 4 of the Neons. The Ich cleared up in a few days but came back a few days later. I treated from 4-8-09 to around 5-11-09. During that time I was doing 1-2 30% water changes a week and I use ultimate to treat the water. Since then some of my plants have died I’ve had a few more fish deaths. Now all I have left are the 6 Black Fin Tetras and 1 small Neon Tetra.

The Black fins seem happy and 2 of their tails went from silver to a deep black. I feed the fish once a day just enough that they finish it in a few minutes and they always seem to be very hungry when they get fed. I believe I have a regular fluorescent bulb in the hood so some of my plants have dead leaves at the bottom of their stems. I was starting to worry that the driftwood is causing the ammonia problem so on 5-29-09 I took it out and added some more fluorite. I checked the Ammonia level the day after and 2 days after that and it was in the .25 range so I figured it was the driftwood after all. In 3 days it went from .25 to 5.0.

The Black fins weren’t happy with the removal of the wood and went back to being all silver and crowding around each other (although today 2 of them seem to be getting their color back). My questions are these: How likely is it that found wood will make Ammonia levels rise so fast? Is there any way to treat the wood so that it’s chemically inert and doesn’t decay? Does ammonia have any bearing on my low pH levels (Even though I added pH up on many occasions and my tap water has a high pH but is very soft, I’ve never gotten it above 6)?

Is it possible that my changing the water and vacuuming the gravel as often as I do is not letting bacteria build up and cycle like it should? If that’s the case what is the best course of action? Are chemicals in this case the best course of action and if so what should I be using? Could my 3 half dead plants be causing that many problems? Are there any plant bulbs that fit in a regular fluorescent aquarium hood? Is it true that you should cover the fluorite substrate to keep the minerals in? I know that I posed a ridiculous amount of questions but I keep getting contradictory information and would rather hear what actual people in the hobby think.

Thank you every one in advance for your input. I’d hate to have to get rid of my tank and I need all the help I can get.

25% water change at every date unless otherwise specified.
4-3-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-.75
4-8-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-.75 Found Ich
4-10-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-.75
4-16-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.2 NH3NH4-5.0
4-20-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-5.0
4-24-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-1.0
4-27-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-1.0 No water change
4-29-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-1.0 No water change
5-4-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.1 NH3NH4-5.0
5-8-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.1 NH3NH4- 5.0 No water change
5-9-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.1 NH3NH4-5.0 50% water change
Right after pH-6.0 NO2-.1 NH3NH4-0.0
12 hrs later pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-0.0 YAY!
5-11-09 pH-6.0 NO2-0 NH3NH4-.05 No water change
5-15-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-1.0 Stopped Ich meds
5-17-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-.25 No water change
5-28-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-5.0 No water change
5-29-09 pH-6.0 Took drift wood out and 35% water change
5-30-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-.25 No water change
6-4-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-5.0
6-5-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-1.0
6-6-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-5.0 No water change. Added Stresscoat, Stresszyme and Cycle(I'm getting desperate)
6-7-09 pH-6.0 NO2-.05 NH3NH4-5.0
  • #13
I have a feeling that the pH being as low as 6.0 is delaying the process. The driftwood n the tank (assuming it's real) will cause your pH levels to drop. I think the tank will still cycle but it may take longer than normal. Are you adding any chemicals to cause your pH to be that low? Like pH UP! or pH Down! ??? If so, I would stop using it. Too, what temperature is your tank? For cycling I'd keep it at 80 degrees but not over 84. This will help to speed it up as well.
  • #14
HI Welcome to Fish Lore
Cycling is one of the post frustrating aspects of fish keeping.
Ok, so it didn't take long to figure out what the problem is. Actually, it's in the first couple of sentences. lol

The product Cylce contains the wrong kind of bacteria. It uses up the ammonia that the beneficial bacteria needs to develop.
Never allowing your tank to cycle properly. It would be best to stop using it.

Drift wood doesn't cause ammonia, I fact it's a great place for the bacteria to live on. It will cause your ph to lower.
With you pH of 6, the ammonia is converted to ammonium which isn't harmful to your fish. (good news, huh?)

Then I get to one of your last additive, StressZyme, about the same as Cycle, stop using it.

My suggestion would be to to using these bacterial additives.
Start to do 50% daily water changes to keep the ammonia and nitrite down until your tank cycles. You can use Prime as your water conditioner, that'll detox the ammonia for 24 hours between water changes.

Be patient, it'll take a while but the cycle will complete.
Don't give up and good luck with your tank.

Edit: Thanks aquarist, forgot about a lower pH prolong cycling also.
  • #15
I've used ph up on a few occasions with no luck so I've given up on that. The drift wood was real but it's been out of the tank for over a week now and no change in pH. While I was treating for ICH I was even adding aquarium salt to my water changes and it didn't even go up then. I kept the water at 85 degrees while they had ich but for the last month I've had it at about 82.
  • #16
Driftwood isn't causing the ammonia (it could be contributing to lowering the ph though, as Aquarist correctly pointed out).

Imho, your tank never cycled properly, didn't establish the proper bioload and the addition of that many fish AND the decaying plants, is what's causing the ammonia.

Your single strip flourescent, what's the wattage on that bulb? Single strip lighting fixtures that come with the tanks sold as a kit, are usually not adequate wattage for plants, that's why your plants may be rotting.

You must do daily water changes to keep the ammonia down. You say your tap has a high ph, what's the number?
  • #17
Thanks Lucy. I just bought a bottle of stresszyme yesterday. I'm in the middle of a water change right now and have nothing else for a water conditioner. Does Prime act as a water conditioner as well? If not what should I be using? So looking at my #'s do you think the drift wood was still possibly rotting or do you think it might be safe to put back in?

pH of tap water is about 8.0 My light is 20W and I know it isn't enough but I don't have the means to get a VHO setup. I saw somewhere they had plant light bulbs that fit in a regular fluorescent hood but didn't know if that would be adequate.
  • #18
Thanks Lucy. I just bought a bottle of stresszyme yesterday. I'm in the middle of a water change right now and have nothing else for a water conditioner. Does Prime act as a water conditioner as well? If not what should I be using? So looking at my #'s do you think the drift wood was still possibly rotting or do you think it might be safe to put back in?

Your welcome. Prime is a water conditioner with the added benefit of detoxing ammonia and nitrite.
When you say the driftwood was rotting.....was it decomposing?

Since there's a big difference in your tap and tank ph, 50%water changes may be too much of a change, wouldn't want to shock the fish. Maybe do 2 daily changes of 25%.
  • #19
Lucy's right. Ph fluctuations--even seemingly minor ones-- stress fish. Rapid ph fluctuations can even kill them. Going from a 6 to a 7 would be a huge fluctuation, for example.

with fishkeeping, it's more about keeping a stable ph.

edited to add> Since your ph is low, I wouldn't add the driftwood back in yet. Try to get the ph stabilized first.
  • #20
The fish that you have should be able to adapt to the pH of 8.0. As Lucy suggested maybe 2 changes of 25% a day would be best. That way the fish will acclimate better and not be so stressed. As for the neon tetras they really should only be added to a well established tank because they are very sensitive to water conditions. Chemical pH adjusters are very unstable and could actually cause your pH to crash and you'd be at risk for losing all of your fish.

  • #21
So I got the Prime added it to my water change now I'm crossing my fingers. I will be back tomorrow for another change and hopefully this will fix it. As far as the drift wood goes, it's soft wood and I'm paranoid that it's rotting and I can't tell. I got it at a local pond so I have no idea what it's been through. I'm going to set it in the sun and see what happens. Wish me luck.
  • #22
welcome to fishlore .....great advice from everyone!!

but it will take a few weeks to finish up the continue with daily changes and prime..goodluck!
  • #23
Just checked my water and my ammonia is still at about 5 Argghhh. Gonna do another water change.
  • #24
It may take a while to get the readings of 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite and 5-10 nitrates. Hang in there and don't forget to add the Prime. It will detoxify the ammonia for about 24 hours but will not inhibit the cycle from doing it's thing so to speak. It will get better and before long you'll be enjoying a beautiful tank I'm sure Keep us posted.
  • #25
Have you thought about ordering some Tetra Safe Start? I've read from a lot of different people on this forum that it's the only cycling product that really works because it contains actual aquatic bacteria instead of bacteria that eventually dies off and you have to keep adding (like Stresszyme and Cycle).
  • #26
I'd be afraid that with a reading of 5 for ammonia, it would overwhelm the bacteria in TSS.
TSS is usually added to a new tank with the addition of a couple of fish. This allows the bacteria to get a good hold and build a nice healthy colony as more fish are slowly added.
  • #27
After my last battle with ICH I'm setting up a quarantine tank before I add new fish(after I get this ammonia level in check). Should I be cycling that with TSS or pure ammonia?
  • #28
Hello. Once your ammonia level is in check then you could add more fish slowly but I would wait a couple of weeks to do so (two or three at a time). Let the bacteria get a little more established first. If you have room in the filter for more filter media (sponges, ceramic tubes) stuff it full! As long as it is all wet.
For the quarantine tank: You can take some filter media from the established tank, or you can add a second small filter to the main tank and then switch it to the quarantine tank as you need it. I always keep extra media in my filters for an emergency. Also you can use substrate or gravel from the main tank (placed in media bags or NEVER SEEN SOAP panty hose) and place it in the quarantine tank along with the seeded media from the main tank. This will just about give you an instant cycle. Still you should be prepared for a few water changes in the quarantine tank in case you get a minI cycle.

Edit: Once you're done with the quarantine tank I suggest NOT adding that filter media back into the main tank. You don't want to spread any cooties
  • #29
So I just did a 35% water change and added more than enough Prime and ammonia levels look the same. How long does it take for the Prime to neutralize the ammonia? Sorry I keep asking so many questions I'm just worried about the fishies.
  • #30
Ok...ask all the questions you want. That's what we're here for is to help
Prime will detoxify the ammonia levels so it isn't poisoning your fish. You will still get readings of ammonia but it won't be toxic. The Prime is good for 24 hours.
  • #31
At what level are my fish ok because after a water change I'm still getting somewhere around 4.0 and thank you every one for all the help. I obviously need it.
  • #32
Prime turns the ammonia into ammonium which is not toxic. You'll still get readings of ammonia even though you've added it. I suggest daily water changes of 35 to 50% daily until your ammonia readings are at 0. Also 0 nitrites and 5-10 nitrates. Then you're cycled.
  • #33
So I'm still having issues but I might have discovered the root of this whole problem. I am still getting ammonia readings of about 5 even though I've been adding prime and doing water changes every 3 days or so. I brought my water into the LFS today and my pH level was at 4.75. She said it was the lowest she's ever seen. I just read that a low pH will not let a tank cycle properly. Is that true? She sold me some crushed coral to put in the tank and ammonia removing crystals to add to the filter and now I want to know if on top of that there's anything else I should be doing. poor fishies.
  • #34
Over the past few days, I have been having ammonia problem. I have lost 2 rummynose tetras and one neon tetra. I have a 20 gallon tank. The tank has been set up for about 8 to 9 months. Any tips on what to do ? I have heard some ideas of squeezing out used filter media and the pouring the yucky water in to the main aquarium. Also heard of changing water frequently. Need help ASAP.

  • #35
welcome to the forum

What are you using to test and what are your readings?

Ammonia in the water is a result of incomplete filtration - the water coming out of the filter has ammonia in it. First thing I'd do, after a water change of course, is to add more biomedia to your filter in order to house a larger bacteria colony. Then, all the ammonia should be consumed in one pass through the filter. Having ammonia get through the filter and back into the tank means that there's not enough bacteria to consume it.
  • #36
My readings are 0.5 for ammonia, o for nitrite and 10 for nitrate.
  • #37
What do you have for filtration, and what do you have for media?
  • #38
I use a boyu filter supported by a sponge filter for biological filtration. The boyu filter has activated carbon and filter cloth with sponge(750 liters per hour).

Also can I use tetra aquasafe to reduce the ammonia levels or should squeeze used filter and pour the dirty water into my tank. Got this from YouTube.
  • #39
I'm not familiar with that filter. In any event, unless the test is wrong, ammonia in the water means more is being produced than the bacteria can handle. Is this a chronic issue or an isolated occurrence? If its chronic, that means that you have to provide more room for bacteria to grow. If its isolated, just do a water change and dose with prime (water conditioner), then check again the following day.
  • #40
How frequently should I do the water change and the percentage of water change?

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