Cycle 5 Gallon - So confused

DragonFox91

Been trying to get an aquarium going.
Bit of history:

1.) Was told betta fish don't need tank cycled. Well, mine died in a week.

2.) I completely restart, washed everything, etc. Let aquarium sit for 2 weeks. Ammonia was going down & I was starting to test for nitrites & nitrates. I thought that was good enough & put fish in. It lasted 3 weeks. Ammonia tested too high.

3.) So now I'm trying to do fishless cycle by the book. I didn't re-start after my second betta died. Been 2 weeks fishless cycling (plus the 3 weeks she was alive, PLUS the 2 weeks I waited before adding her) . I overdosed on the ammonia (was up to 4) & did a massive water change (90%ish) to get it down to 2. That was on Saturday. I tested Nitrite Sunday & Monday. Sunday was a positive test .25, Monday a solid shade of purple. Today, nothing for Nitrites. Last night, nothing for Nitrites. Nothing at all for Nitrates ever. I'm so confused. What am I doing wrong? What happened to all my Nitrtites?

Starting when I re-start after my first fish died, this tank has essentially been cycling 6 weeks. (2 weeks after restart fishless, PLUS 3 weeks w/ fish alive, PLUS 2 weeks fishless). & I'm still not getting consistent Nitrite test results. I'm so confused.
 

StarGirl

Welcome to Fishlore! :)

My first question to you is you said you didnt re-start the tank but did you change any filter cartridges or anything like that? Does the tank have a heater and filter?
 
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DragonFox91

Welcome to Fishlore! :)

My first question to you is you said you didnt re-start the tank but did you change any filter cartridges or anything like that? Does the tank have a heater and filter?
Yes, heater & filter. I did remove the carbon of the filter b/c the fish had ick & the medicine said to remove the carbon. I tried to buy a replacement one but store's been out of stock for 2 weeks. I just tried to order one off their website but they're out of stock too. Grr.
Hopefully the beneficial bacteria doesn't grow on the carbon or that could be it. Still, what happened to my Nitrites?????

I'm so confused
 
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StarGirl

Is the cartridge still in there with no carbon in it or was it separate? You will want to use the same one and not change it anyway. Most of your bacteria grows on it. When you throw it out you throw away most of your cycle. If you can find a filter sponge and some media like rings or Matrix that would be better than the cartridge anyway seeing you are just starting out. A lot cheaper too. Just squeeze the sponge at water change time.

Yes the bacteria can grow on the carbon. You may have experienced a mini cycle. Where is your ammonia sitting right now?
 
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DragonFox91

Yes, the cartridge is in. I just cut a hole in the mesh part & dumped the carbon into the trash & put the filter in the housing right away after. If the bacteria grows on carbon, oh no! I'm wasting my time then.

Ammonia has been sitting at 2 since I did a GIANT water change this past weekend to get it down from 4 (was advised cycling a 5 gallon betta tank doesn't need ammonia to be so high). But the weird thing is I tested for Nitrites Sunday & Monday after I did the giant water change (Tuesday & today, nothing)

What's a mini cycle? I haven't heard of that?
EDIT: I did get under my gravel real good when I did the 90% water change, so maybe that's why I got Nitrites? But then apparently that means my tank isn't making much progress. B/c ammonia staying at 2 & no Nitrtites other than that :(
 
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StarGirl

Yes, the cartridge is in. I just cut a hole in the mesh part & dumped the carbon into the trash & put the filter in the housing right away after. If the bacteria grows on carbon, oh no! I'm wasting my time then.

Ammonia has been sitting at 2 since I did a GIANT water change this past weekend to get it down from 4 (was advised cycling a 5 gallon betta tank doesn't need ammonia to be so high). But the weird thing is I tested for Nitrites Sunday & Monday after I did the giant water change (Tuesday & today, nothing)

What's a mini cycle? I haven't heard of that?
No you are fine with the cartridge the carbon is the least important part. All it does is get used up and clog the cartridge. Thats totally good you dumped it out. The fabric on it is the good stuff.

A mini cycle is when you change a cartridge, sponge or take out a large decoration etc and you get a small spike of ammonia or Nitrites for a few days. It is way easier to manage than a full cycle. You do some water changes a few days to control it.

I would say since you just added the ammonia pretty much Sunday I would just let it brew and not do anything else to it unless the ammonia drops to zero or close to it. Then add it back up to 2ppm. You can keep testing if you want but I would just worry about ammonia and nitrites right now. I would only test nitrates after you keep seeing no nitrites.

Are you sure you are doing the nitrate test correctly? It is a trickster.
 
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RayClem

Beneficial bacteria grow on nearly anything and everything that provides surface area. That includes glass, plastic, filter media, activated carbon, plants (real or artificial), and sand or gravel. Because of this, once you get the nitrogen cycle started, it is pretty easy to keep going.

Some medications can be harmful to beneficial bacteria. That is one of the many why most experienced fishkeepers recommend doing everything possible to avoid using medications. Sometimes you have to use them, but it is often easier to keep fish healthy than it is to treat sick fish.

If you have not already do it, please test your tap water to see if it contains ammonia. Many localities treat the water supplies with chloramine which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. If your water contains ammonia, then GIANT water changes can cause an ammonia spike. If you do have ammonia in the water, it is better to do frequent small water changes rather than less frequent large water changes. That allows the beneficial bacteria to more easily deal with the ammonia.

Activated carbon can be useful, especially for removing medications after the treatment period is completed. The problem with carbon is that it does its job too well. It removes stuff you do not want in the water, but it can also remove stuff that you do want, especially if you have live plants in the tank. Many fishkeepers recommend that activated carbon only be used when necessary, not as a general practice. That is why many of us do not like the replaceable filter cartridges that contain carbon. You are better off with a filter sponge or a filter pad that can be rinsed out periodically to remove debris. As long as you do not rinse the media in chlorinated tap water, most of the beneficial bacteria will survive. Only replace filter media when absolutely necessary.


Your first experience with fish can be frustrating, but there are lots of folks here who have survived that experience. You will survive as well. Do not lose heart.
 
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DragonFox91

It's been 2 weeks since fish died & ammonia just holding steady. I have TopFIn Readistart Nitrifying Bacteria Starter bottle (says it's used for start-up). Is that worth putting in? I didn't put it in b/c it says it reduces ammonia & Nitrites & I thought I'm trying to get Nitrites so I can get Nitrates?
 
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StarGirl

Yeah I think those kind of bacteria are for fish in cycles to protect the fish. You could add bacteria but you are getting nitrites i wouldnt worry about it.
 
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DragonFox91

Yeah I think those kind of bacteria are for fish in cycles to protect the fish. You could add bacteria but you are getting nitrites i wouldnt worry about it.
I got Nitrites just Sunday & Monday. That's it. It's been 2 weeks w/out fish.
 
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mattgirl

Is the ammonia still going down? Are you sure you are following the nitrate tests instructions to a tee. Are you shaking bottle number 2 like your life depended on it? You have to break loose the sediment in the bottom of that bottle to be sure it is mixed well. Once you've added drops from both bottles are you shaking the test tube for a full minute?

You don't have to see nitrites to get nitrates. You did see nitrites at one point and then they went back down to zero. That could simply mean you have enough nitrite eating bacteria to eat all that are being produced by the ammonia eating bacteria. Nitrites are, simply put, ammonia eating bacteria poop. Nitrates are nitrite eating bacteria poop. Once you have enough ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria to keep both at a constant zero the cycle is complete.
 
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DragonFox91

Is the ammonia still going down? Are you sure you are following the nitrate tests instructions to a tee. Are you shaking bottle number 2 like your life depended on it? You have to break loose the sediment in the bottom of that bottle to be sure it is mixed well. Once you've added drops from both bottles are you shaking the test tube for a full minute?

You don't have to see nitrites to get nitrates. You did see nitrites at one point and then they went back down to zero. That could simply mean you have enough nitrite eating bacteria to eat all that are being produced by the ammonia eating bacteria. Nitrites are, simply put, ammonia eating bacteria poop. Nitrates are nitrite eating bacteria poop. Once you have enough ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria to keep both at a constant zero the cycle is complete.
No, ammonia is still at 2. It's not changing at all. Yes, I do shake Bottle #2 & the test tube before adding Bottle #2, but I'm not bothering testing Nitrates anymore if ammonia refuses to go down, & especially if I only tested for Nitrites twice.

Moving past frustrated to the next level.......

Good news is I'll be on & off w/ vacation for the next couple weeks so am not planning on adding fish till after, but my goodness, if it's still stuck w/ ammonia at 2 afterwards............

2 weeks trying fishless cycle + 3 weeks w/ fish in it before it died + 2 weeks fishless cycle = Ammonia stuck at 2.
 
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mattgirl

No, ammonia is still at 2. It's not changing at all. Yes, I do shake Bottle #2 & the test tube before adding Bottle #2, but I'm not bothering testing Nitrates anymore if ammonia refuses to go down, & especially if I only tested for Nitrites twice.

Moving past frustrated to the next level.......

Good news is I'll be on & off w/ vacation for the next couple weeks so am not planning on adding fish till after, but my goodness, if it's still stuck w/ ammonia at 2 afterwards............

2 weeks trying fishless cycle + 3 weeks w/ fish in it before it died + 2 weeks fishless cycle = Ammonia stuck at 2.
Have you been doing any water changes during all this time? If you haven't or if it has been a while I highly recommend you change out most of it now. Once done get the ammonia back up to 2ppm and let's see if it will get this cycle moving forward. Quite often the water change is all it takes.
 
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DragonFox91

Have you been doing any water changes during all this time? If you haven't or if it has been a while I highly recommend you change out most of it now. Once done get the ammonia back up to 2ppm and let's see if it will get this cycle moving forward. Quite often the water change is all it takes.
I did 90% water change last weekend to get it down from 4. I changed it 20-50% a couple times when fish was alive. You really think it'll help? Plus what if I finally have some Nitrites, won't it essentially just be restarting again. Ugh. :( This is unbelievably frustrating
 
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mattgirl

I did 90% water change last weekend to get it down from 4. I changed it 20-50% a couple times when fish was alive. You really think it'll help? Plus what if I finally have some Nitrites, won't it essentially just be restarting again. Ugh. :( This is unbelievably frustrating
I don't remember if I've asked. What is your pH level? If it is too low the cycle can stall. As long as it is 7 or above then the pH isn't the problem.

I know this is hard to do but all I can recommend is give it time. You may or may not ever see nitrites again. You had them at one point and they did what they were supposed to do. They spiked and then dropped to zero. Since you changed so much water last week-end you shouldn't have to do another one now.

Edited to add: I just read back through this thread. Going forward don't clean anything in this tank. Don't do anything other than run the tests and add ammonia when if finally goes down.

From what i am reading you are too hung up on seeing nitrites. Not seeing them seems to be your main reason for frustration. It is very possible you have nitrite eating bacteria in this tank. The fact that you had them at one point and then they dropped to zero leads me to think this.

Once the ammonia starts going down you may very well see nitrites again but if the ammonia starts going down and you finally get a nitrate reading it won't matter if you never see nitrites again.
No, ammonia is still at 2. It's not changing at all. Yes, I do shake Bottle #2 & the test tube before adding Bottle #2,
But are you shaking the test tube for a full minute after adding drops from both bottles?
 
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DragonFox91

pH tested more than 8 last week when I tested it.

But good news! I just tested for Nitrate, shaking the bottle & tube longer than usual, & I got a healthy Nitrate amount. It looks more copper/penny color than orange. I wonder if earlier this week when I tested for Nitrite that was my Nitrite spike? Not sure what ammonia is, I'll test that tomorrow, but getting a nice Nitrate test result is big. I just don't get why ammonia's been stuck at 2. Could it be I have a bunch in my gravel & it's slowly releasing into the water to replace the ammonia that's getting eaten, or vice versa (the ammonia in the water is seeping into the gravel to replace the ammonia getting eaten there)?
 
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Islandvic

Your getting a lot of good advice and definitely made the right choice by joining the forum.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, cycling a small tank is harder than a cycling a large tank.

StarGirl mentioned adding extra media to the filter and I agree 100%.
 
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BibiLee

Put in the Aquarium starter bacteria you‘ve been holding off on (even a bit more than the bottle says, it should also say you can’t overdose bacteria) before you leave on holiday, when you get back you should have a fully cycled tank. Just my two cents. Good luck.
 
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mattgirl

pH tested more than 8 last week when I tested it.

But good news! I just tested for Nitrate, shaking the bottle & tube longer than usual, & I got a healthy Nitrate amount. It looks more copper/penny color than orange. I wonder if earlier this week when I tested for Nitrite that was my Nitrite spike? Not sure what ammonia is, I'll test that tomorrow, but getting a nice Nitrate test result is big. I just don't get why ammonia's been stuck at 2. Could it be I have a bunch in my gravel & it's slowly releasing into the water to replace the ammonia that's getting eaten, or vice versa (the ammonia in the water is seeping into the gravel to replace the ammonia getting eaten there)?
This is good news. I had to think there were some nitrates in there so am happy to see that there are some. The nitrate test has to be done exactly as instructed or you will get a false reading. Shaking both bottle #2 and then the test tube for a full minute is very important to get an accurate reading. I am going to recommend you shake all the various bottles of testing solution before each use. Just a quick shake is all that is needed for all but bottle #2 for nitrates. Some folks do get more accurate results after shaking the bottles.

I do think the nitrites you saw may be all you will see. For now just let the cycle finish up. Eventually the ammonia will go down. Since you over cleaned your gravel at one point I don't think there would be anything in there producing ammonia. Good thoughts on where the ammonia is coming from but I don't think so. It simply means you just don't have enough bacteria to clear all of it out yet.

Please don't freak out if at some point to do see nitrites again. It won't mean you have done anything wrong and you don't have to do anything about it. Just allow it to run its course.

Keep your filter running at all times. We need to keep this ammonia filled water pulled through it so the bacteria can grow and thrive on the media.
 
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DragonFox91

So I am on & off vacation this week & next week so have been gone for a few days. I tested my water today & .25 ammonia reading. I think tank is almost ready, but I'm scared it's going to crash before I can get fish in a couple weeks after vacation's over, so I put in a drop or 2 of ammonia today. I will be in town this weekend & off-and-on next week (not sure what days)

Thoughts?
 
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Azedenkae

So I am on & off vacation this week & next week so have been gone for a few days. I tested my water today & .25 ammonia reading. I think tank is almost ready, but I'm scared it's going to crash before I can get fish in a couple weeks after vacation's over, so I put in a drop or 2 of ammonia today. I will be in town this weekend & off-and-on next week (not sure what days)

Thoughts?
Presuming you have nitrifiers and not some other microorganism (which is expected), your cycle won't crash if you go away.

Nitrifiers can go for months ammonia-starved.
 
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mattgirl

So I am on & off vacation this week & next week so have been gone for a few days. I tested my water today & .25 ammonia reading. I think tank is almost ready, but I'm scared it's going to crash before I can get fish in a couple weeks after vacation's over, so I put in a drop or 2 of ammonia today. I will be in town this weekend & off-and-on next week (not sure what days)

Thoughts?
Just add a few drops of ammonia or a pinch of fish food from time to time and you should have no problems.
 
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RayClem

I have a tank that has some plants, but no fish. I keep it as a quarantine tank. It has a heater, filter and lighting. In order to keep the beneficial bacteria active, it put a pinch of fish food in the tank every few days. I also do water changes just as if it were a tank with fish. That way, if I need to use it to quarantine new or sick fish, it will be ready to go.
 
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DragonFox91

Thanks everyone. I am soooo close I was scared I'd lose it all. I put a couple drops in today of ammonia & will be in town a couple days next week so I"ll be able do do it next week too. Just a couple more weeks & it should be all but ready! It's sooo close.
 
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DragonFox91

So I put ammonia in every few days last week. On Sunday ammonia was testing zero so I did a 50% water change to reduce any Nitrates, & bought a beta. She seems to be doing okay, but is starting to glass surf. I tested ammonia & it looks like it's been 0 & .25, if that's possible.

Thoughts?
 
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StarGirl

Yes it is possible. What are your nitrites at? Were they zero too?
 
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DragonFox91

My Nitrates are 80! That's probably WAY too high! I'm doing massive 2/3 water change right now.
 
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RayClem

My Nitrates are 80! That's probably WAY too high! I'm doing massive 2/3 water change right now.

StarGirl asked about your nitrites, not nitrates.

An ammonia level less than 0.25 is unlikely to be harmful to any but the most sensitive fish.

Nitrites are less toxic than ammonia, but you still want to keep it as close to zero as possible.

Nitrates are not toxic to most fish until they get really high. However, 20ppm is a good target unless you keep shrimp, which need even lower.

If you have fish in the tank you no longer need to add ammonia. The fish food that you use to feed the fish should be an adequate source of ammonia for fuel the nitrogen cycle.

Live plants are a good way to reduce nitrate levels.
 
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DragonFox91

I did 1/3 water change this morning. Ammonia Zero, Nitrite Zero, Nitrate 40ish. Is that still too high for Nitrate in a 5 gallon tank?
 
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Ouse

Hi, and welcome. So nitrate isn’t harmful until it surpasses 50mg/L, in which case it becomes toxic. 80mg/L and higher and it becomes lethal to fish. Test kits tend to measure up to 80-160mg/L of nitrate max.

40mg/L is ok, but when it reaches this high it’s your signal to do a water change to lower it. It could become toxic if it creeps higher.

A 50% water change will halve it to 20mg/L, removing less depending on how much nitrate is in your water source however.
 
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DragonFox91

She's still glass surfing so I did 50% water change. Hopefully that helps.

Question: in a few weeks if she's still doing okay, could I add another female betta in a 5 gallon, just one more? I'm hearing conflicting stories.
 
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Ouse

I'm afraid adding multiple bettas to a 5 gallon can't end well. Even the females can be territorial and stocking with multiple females is better pulled off in a larger tank.
 
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DragonFox91

I'm afraid adding multiple bettas to a 5 gallon can't end well. Even the females can be territorial and stocking with multiple females is better pulled off in a larger tank.
Bummer. The LFS has 2 females in a 8 gallon.

Is there anything that would go w/ a betta in a 5 gallon?

Also, she continues to glass surf. I hope this means she's not stressed. My last betta would glass surf like her butt was on fire before she got ick, so I hope the one i have now is okay......I shut the tank light off & left just the side cieling light on, so hopefully that helps some.
 
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StarGirl

Bummer. The LFS has 2 females in a 8 gallon.

Is there anything that would go w/ a betta in a 5 gallon?

Also, she continues to glass surf. I hope this means she's not stressed. My last betta would glass surf like her butt was on fire before she got ick, so I hope the one i have now is okay......I shut the tank light off & left just the side cieling light on, so hopefully that helps some.
The only thing my female will put up with is a nerite snail.

If your water is ok the light off will help.
 
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DragonFox91

Fish is doing good

EDIT: still likes glass surfing tho. I hope it means she's not stressed.
 
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DragonFox91

Fish is doing well. It's been a month so I got a snail the other day. It's really cool! I thought snails didn't really move much by mine is very active. To anyone who's not thrilled about a snail, try it!
 
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DragonFox91

Scary news: I was just cleaning my tank w/ my net & didn't realize till after my net was out of the water for a minute or so my betta got caught in it. She lost a lot of color but when I realized my mistake, I put her in the water & a lot of the color came back. She is swimming well now, recovered fast, as if she wasn't out. She does have a little part on her head where it looks like scales got torn off, but I think it was like that before, it just looks a bit bigger now.

I put some stress coat in.
 
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jdhef

I think she'll be fine. Just keep the water as pristine as possible.
 
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DragonFox91

She got Ick 2 days later & is dying. I am crying. I messed up. She was doing so good. A month & a 1/2. I feel horrible. Now I have to restart everything too.
 
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RayClem

Ich can be treated. The first thing to do is raise the temperature a little at a time. Watch the fish for obvious signs of distress. If the fish will tolerate 86 degrees, then that may kill the ich. However, If the fish was out of water long enough for the gills to dry out, that could be a problem. Bettas can withstand being out of water for a short time as their labyrinth organ will allow them to breathe for a while.

You can also try ich medications. One of the most recommended is Hikari Ich-X, sold in the States by Health Aid. Most pet shops will carry it.

If the fish does die, you might not have to start over. Ich is a parasite that requires fish to complete the life cycle. If the tank is allowed to stand without fish for a few weeks, the ich will die off and a new fish can be safely introduced.

If you do decide to start over, I highly recommend upgrading to a 10 gallon tank. Although bettas can be kept in a 5 gallon tank, a 10 gallon provides a more stable environment. Every few months, Petco has their Aqueon glass tanks on sale for $1 per gallon for some sizes. The last sale was in July, so they should be on sale again in a month or two. Sales usually last a month or until inventory is depleted. If you do decide to upgrade, keep your existing tank running until you get the new one. Then move your gravel, heater, filter, etc. over from the old tank to the new tank to help cycle the new tank. By the time you can purchase a new tank on sale, the ich parasites in the old tank should be dead. Even if your betta survives its ordeal, it will appreciate larger quarters.
 
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