Cycling challenge ammonia 8.0ppm

  • #1
What is the water volume of the tank?
20gallon high

What type of water are you using in your tank? (tap, well, RO/DI, other):
Treated tap
When did you start cycling the tank?
3 weeks ago
What type of filtration are you running on this tank? (sponge, HOB, canister, other):
If canister or HOB list all the media you are running in it. (manufactured cartridges, sponge, etc.): Sponge, zeo carb, ammonia pad, bio max

Do you have good water agitation/surface movement?:
Filter and sponge filter/bubbler
What is the water temperature?:

If fish in cycling
What is the entire stocking of this tank? (Please list all fish and inverts):
I was originally but recently took them out when I couldn't control the spikes
3 female bettas
6 fancy guppies
1 spotted garra
2 mystery snails
5 cherry shrimp
5 ammano shrimp

How often do you feed them and how much?:
Every other day either pellets or flakes
2x week algae wafer

Are they showing signs of distress? (fish hiding, staying at the top, looking pale, torn fins, etc): no. Guppies bred and fry are surviving. See description for better answer.
Do you have live plants in the tank?:
Yes dracenia, Asian fern, 2 annubis Nana, some moss, some grass tissue culture, and three other plants I can't remember the name of.
If so are they healthy and actively growing?:
Yes, nothing dead or decaying that I can see

Products used while cycling
If this is a fishless cycle what ammonia source are you using? (fish food, Dr Tim’s ammonia, other):
If adding liquid ammonia how often do you dose ammonia in your tank and in what quantity? (1ppm, 2ppm etc.):
If using fish food as your ammonia source how much are you adding and how often?:

Are you using a dechlorinater and if so, which one?:
Seachem prime but originally api product
Are you using bottled bacteria and if so, which one?:
Tss and stability
Did you add seeded media from a previously cycled tank?:
Yes biomax filter and sponge filter, gravel and decor from previous cycled tank
What other products/chemicals are you using? (list them all): I added ammo lock, tetra easy balance, stress zyme, stress coat

Testing and cycling process
What was your knowledge of the nitrogen cycle before beginning to cycle your tank? (none, beginner, intermediate (please explain), advanced):
Intermediate- just enough to get in trouble

What do you use to test the water? (API liquid, test strips, other):
API freshwater master kit

Did you test your tap water for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and pH, if so post the results below?:
Ammonia 0
Nitrites 0
Nitrates 5ppm
Ph 7.4

Have you done any water changes and if so, when?: I was doing them daily to twice daily

How much water did you change?: 50-75%
Did you vacuum the substrate?: yes
Did you clean your filter, filter media, decorations and/or glass?: yes
If using disposable cartridges have you replaced one recently?: yes

*Parameters - Very Important
What are your parameters? We need to know the exact numbers, not just “fine” or “safe”.
Tank water:
Ammonia: 8ppm
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 5ppm
pH: 8 4

Tap water:
Ammonia: 0
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 5ppm
pH: 7.4

Explain your cycling problem in detail. (Please give a clear explanation of what is going on, include details from the beginning of the problem leading up to now)

So my previous 10gallon developed a leak. I recycled the gravel and the filter and the decor but upgraded tank size to a 20gallon. Added fluval stratum and more gravel. I had an aggressive betta and thought I'd really like a bigger tank and I'll get it established before adding him back in with some tank mates, original tank was just him, some ghost shrimp, and the snails. His tank had been established for about 4mo.
No research (stupid) I added 6 balloon mollies and 6 guppies as well as a bunch more plants and the garra. Tank did well, no spikes. 1 week in I add the betta. He was dead within 24 hours. I take him out also note a dead guppy and 2 mollies acting weird. Using api liquid test kit find ammonia at 1ppm. Do a 50% water change
Next day another guppy dead, 1 mollie dead ammonia still 1ppm. Add ammo lock. Ammonia testing daily never drops below 1ppm, i do 25% daily water changes and suctioning gravel each day. Started adding stress coat and quick start. Bring over sponge filter from my 15gal stable aquarium. Week passes, no more fish loss but mollies are acting weird- sitting vertical in tank, not swimming, trembling/shaking.

Now we're at the end of the second week. Ammonia still at 1ppm. Recommended to add tetra easy balance from lfs. Next day ammonia spikes to 4ppm and super cloudy water, 2 dead mollies, 2 acting dazed. Guppies are fine, shrimp are fine, snails are fine, Guppies have spawned and fry are active/ growing, garra fine. Did a 75% water change late at night and like an idiot rinsed the filter in tap water because their visibly dirty with stratum. Realized what i did and changed out to new filters overall and brought over biomax filter from established tank. Another 75% change in the am, added tss, switched to using prime( first time at max dose), changed carbon filter to zeo carb. Daily to twice daily water changes (50% or more) each time with prime, added stability as well. Can't get ammonia below 1ppm. Within 8-12 hours back over 4ppm. Lost the 2 other mollies and euthanize the last two since their now acting weird. Do 50% water changes three times per day for the past 72 hours, can't get ammonia below 1ppm even with dosing the prime at the highest level with each change.

Go back to lfs. They told me to quit changing the water, not suction the gravel and to leave it alone. Mean time I'm given a betta sorority (can't return) and i can't put them in and can't leave the other fish in this tank so I split them among two betta bowls and an old 5 gallon tank.

So 48 hours of leaving the tank alone but adding prime and stability daily has the tank at ammonia 8ppm, nitrites 0, Nitrates 5ppm, ph 8.4 and water is beyond cloudy.

I don't know what to do from here. Help!

Frank the Fish guy
  • #2
Remove all of the ammonia-eating chemicals, zeo-pad, ammonia pad, ammo lock, etc. The ammonia is needed to feed the cycle. The more ammonia the faster it will cycle.

Cloudy water is good. That is your bacteria bloom.

The water is currently deadly to fish. So leave the fish out and keep running the filter.

No need to change water since there is no fish. Just let it be.

After a week or so, see what's going on. You can sprinkle some fish food in to feed the cycle to help it along.

Cycling a tank takes about a month. It's a complex living thing, and highly variable. Different every time, even if you use the same stuff! Trust life.
  • #3
When cycling a tank don't clean filters, gravel, or anything else. At this point, as Frank said, you are doing a fishless cycle. Keep your fish healthy in other containers and proceed with patience. No need to clean your filter unless the flow is decrease from gunk buildup. I clean mine every 3-4 months, but it will depend on your setup.

I also agree that you should get rid of all those treatments and pads. I understand that you were trying to keep your fish safe, but now that they are in other conatainers, you want the ammonia to drive the cycle.

Also, no need to waste money on carbon cartridges. You can keep one on hand in case you ever have to clear medications from the tank, but otherwise their main function is to make money for the fish store.
  • #4
Do a 50% water change without any ammo remover at all, just your dechlor. That other stuff is probably throwing your readings off. 8ppm ammonia can't be right or all of your fish would be floating and dead.
  • #5
Realized what i did and changed out to new filters overall and brought over biomax filter from established tank.
A few minutes of rinsing with tap water didn't ruin your filter media. At worst it did minor damage to your bacterial colony. By switching to new filters you might have thrown away a growing/healthy bacterial colony.

Carbon filters in particular can house a boatload of beneficial bacteria, even though we think of them for primarily chemical filtration, replacing that also removed some of the nitrifying progress as well.

The risks of chloramine are often misconstrued in my opnion - damage to the beneficial bacterial colony depends on both dosage and exposure time. It could be more of an issue if you fill a whole tank, maybe even repeatedly, with untreated water.

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