Confused about ammonium levels

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by jewel1231, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. jewel1231New MemberMember

    Hi, I've been reading the forums for quite some time but never posted. I recently upgraded to a 37 gallon from a 10 gallon and I'm having some trouble with cycling. The upgrade was kind of an emergency, (my 10 gallon started leaking), so I had to start my new tank doing a fish-in cycle since I had no place to put my fish. I set up my new 37 gallon, put my old filter media in, and transferred my 8 zebra danios and mystery snail. Everything was going well, I had a minor nitrite spike and then it dropped to zero, and nitrates were present at 10-20 ppm. However, ammonia levels never dropped to zero using my API master test kit. They have consistently been around 0.5ppm.

    Here's where it gets confusing. I started doing partial water changes because of the ammonia levels but the ammonia never dropped.... consistently 0.5 ppm. I finally decided to test my tap water.... 0.5ppm. I tested bottled water to confirm that the test was working... I got 0ppm, so the test kit works. I went out and bought a sea chem live alert meter. I put that in the tank and its yellow, meaning safe/no ammonia. Then I was even more confused, so I ordered the sea chem NH3 NH4+ test kit. It showed that there is no ammonia, but 0.5ppm ammonium. The test results now make sense, because API tests for total ammonia, and the live meter alert tests for only free toxic ammonia.

    So then I had to do more detective work to figure out where this ammonium is coming from, since my pH is 7.8 which should favor ammonia, not ammonium. I checked with the water company, and it turns out my city uses chloramines in the tap. So when I add my water conditioner (I use stress coat plus) it results in ammonium.

    Ok, so now for my questions. 1) Does the presence of ammonium mean my tank is not fully cycled? Should my biological filter be able to process ammonium, or just ammonia? Will I ever have a reading of 0 ppm total ammonia? 2) Is this going to be a problem every time I do a water change, since it's coming from my tap water? Using bottled water isn't really practical in such a large aquarium. 3) Is ammonium harmful at all at about 0.5 ppm?

    Thanks for any advice you can give me. I'm going crazy trying to figure this out! My fish all seem happy and show no signs of stress, although danios are pretty resilient. I want to add more fish, but don't want to do this until I'm certain that I don't have a bigger problem with the tank.
  2. pirahnah3Fishlore VIPMember

    Ok Very good questions and research on this! I have to highly commend you for what you have done, great job.

    Now on to the ammonium part, it isnt truley ammonium but kinda of a byproduct that registers as ammonium. In the real world ammonium only lasts for a VERY short period of time before becoming ammonia. What is happening here is that you are releasing most of an ammonia ion from the chloramine in the detox process. This ammonium as your seeing is not pure ammonium but still mixed with another chemical which does not want to let go of the chemical bond. Its the downfall of chloramines in your water vs true chlorine.

    To give you a good way to remove it dont honestly know because each version of chloramine is a little different. it could be as simple as a chemical marker that is tying it up or something more complex. I would think that attempting carbon filtration should help (think brita and pur filters) thou I have not tried this myself to remove. You could also get really out there and play chemically and use sodium thiosulfate or sodium bisulfate to remove the chlorine and such, but again not quite sure how they handle chloramine. Most of the water plants I work with still use sodium hypochlorite which is the liquid version that is more stable than gasseous chlorine.
  3. jewel1231New MemberMember

    Thanks for the response! I have done so much reading this... I really wanted to do this right and not make any silly mistakes with my setup, and never thought I'd encounter such a complicated chloramine problem!

    What you're saying makes sense... if it's not truly ammonium, that's probably why it isn't processed by my biological filter. Based on my nitrates, I'm pretty sure I'm cycled, so there's no reason ammonium shouldn't be processed , right?

    The water conditioner I'm using, stress coat plus, uses sodium thiosulfate to remove chlorine. From what I've read, to deal with chloramines it breaks the bond, deals with the resulting chlorine, and leaves you with ammonia/ammonium which then gets processed by the bio filter. In my case, this is where I'm hitting a brick wall.

    Maybe I should try a different water conditioner? I was thinking of using Prime, but I added a bottle of SafeStart a week ago thinking maybe it wasn't cycled.... so now I shouldn't do any water changes for two weeks.

    This is so frustrating!
  4. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    OK, so I'm no chemist, but it seems your problem must be quite common.
    Seachem also make a product in their premium brand "AquaVitro", it's called Premier. On their website, they state:

    "premierâ„¢ is a concentrated solution of potassium thiosulfate which removes both chlorine and chloramines. Although a thiosulfate-based conditioner is not recommended for saltwater aquaria because of the ammonia produced when it reacts with chloramines, it is perfect for the planted aquarium. The ammonia produced from chloramine by premierâ„¢ is predominantly in the ammonium form, and is thus rapidly scavenged by plants*. It also serves as a minor source of potassium."


    I have no idea on the chemistry (well, a vague understanding, high school chemistry was a long time ago), but it sounds like a common 'problem' for aquarists.

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice