Going Nuts Over Fishless Cycle

Misterfu02

I bought a new 15 gallon freshwater aquarium about two months ago.

I set it up with substrate, hang on back filter, heater. Added Dr. Tim’s ammonia to 2 PPM. Ever since, the ammonia has sat at 2 PPM. No nitrates, nothing. I have been testing daily with the API test kit.

I did a water change a few weeks ago and added conditioner to the new water. Ph is around 8. I added live nitrifying bacteria THREE TIMES - once using the API version, and again with Tetra SafeStart around three days ago.

No nitrites, no nitrates. Ammonia STILL AT 2 PPM.

I am at a loss as to why this isn’t working.
 

JeremyW

Strange.

Could be a defective test kit. You could pick up some quick strips and test with those to see if the results are the same.
 

Misterfu02

I guess. I tried testing my tap water and it read zero ammonia.

My hang on back filter came with carbon filled media. Could that affect it?
 

JeremyW

No, the carbon shouldn't affect the cycle.

Do you know if your water has a high concentration of chloramine? If so, you may need to use a larger dose of water conditioner. What type of conditioner are you using?

I use Prime, and the directions say to double to the dose if you have high levels of chloramine in your water.
 

Misterfu02

It’s city water so it probably does.

I’m using the Aqueon conditioner that came with the tank. I haven’t added water in weeks though, and just added safe start a few days ago.
 

Dunk2

It’s city water so it probably does.

I’m using the Aqueon conditioner that came with the tank. I haven’t added water in weeks though, and just added safe start a few days ago.
Have you added anything else to the tank beyond what you’ve mentioned? Or cleaned or changed anything with the filter?

Besides the carbon, what other media is in the filter?
 

Misterfu02

I haven’t added anything. I have the rocks, fake plants and a fake log that I added over two months ago. I haven’t touched the filter or cleaned anything.

This is the filter I have:

Aqueon® QuietFlow Aquarium Power Filter 10 | fish Filters | PetSmart

And this is the cartridge that’s in it: Aqueon® Replacement Aquarium Filter Cartridges | fish Filter Media | PetSmart

I haven’t touched anything on the filter since setup.
 

Donthemon

Well when you use Safestart you will get weird readings because of the ingredients in it. What fish are you planning to add? I am one who believes fish in cycling can be fine and safe. I Would change out all the water, add conditioner, get the tank to temp. Add the safestart again and some fish and proceed from there. After 10 days check the parameters and start your weekly water changes.
 

StarGirl

I want to add if you use TSS... dechlorinate 24 hours before hand. Then add the TSS the dechlor will kill the bacteria otherwise.

The 8 pH is that the tank? tap water?
 

Dunk2

Well when you use Safestart you will get weird readings because of the ingredients in it. What fish are you planning to add? I am one who believes fish in cycling can be fine and safe. I Would change out all the water, add conditioner, get the tank to temp. Add the safestart again and some fish and proceed from there. After 10 days check the parameters and start your weekly water changes.
But the OP just added the Safestart 3 days ago? And parameters haven’t changed in 2 months.

Misterfu02 What is the water temperature of your tank?

If you remove the carbon from your filter, I assume you’d have room for ceramic media of some sort?
 

JeremyW

It’s city water so it probably does.

I’m using the Aqueon conditioner that came with the tank. I haven’t added water in weeks though, and just added safe start a few days ago.
Your municipality almost certainly provides a water test report. I think it's required by law. You can probably find it online. It will tell you what's in it.

Chloramine doesn't evaporate out like chlorine. It's much more stable. So if your conditioner didn't neutralize it, then it's still there.
 

Misterfu02

Ph of 8 is tank water.

water temp is 80.

Town water report mentions chlorine but not chloramine. Water is hard. Interestingly the town water report says there is nitrate of .25 in tap water. I never detected anything on the api test.

I saw a YouTube video where it says the API test kit picks up two different kinds of ammonia. Maybe I don’t actually have enough ammonia in the tank and the test kit is giving a false reading? I haven’t dosed ammonia in weeks.
 

Fish99

I bought a new 15 gallon freshwater aquarium about two months ago.

I set it up with substrate, hang on back filter, heater. Added Dr. Tim’s ammonia to 2 PPM. Ever since, the ammonia has sat at 2 PPM. No nitrates, nothing. I have been testing daily with the API test kit.

I did a water change a few weeks ago and added conditioner to the new water. Ph is around 8. I added live nitrifying bacteria THREE TIMES - once using the API version, and again with Tetra SafeStart around three days ago.

No nitrites, no nitrates. Ammonia STILL AT 2 PPM.

I am at a loss as to why this isn’t working.
This will be controversial here but “live” bacteria in a bottle is not a thing.
You will just have to wait….period…..
My new aquarium has been up and running for almost 6 weeks, I finally have 0 ammonia and nitrate at about 3 ppm, and a touch of nitrate.
Patients is the key here.
you can “seed” a new aquarium with old filter “gunk” to give it a head start if you have the means.
Don’t change water with no fish, yo7 will only slow the cycle .
 

Azedenkae

This will be controversial here but “live” bacteria in a bottle is not a thing.
There has been plenty of experiments done by aquarists that has zero affinity with or motivation to promote bottled bac products done and found that actually, there are bottled bac products that do work, and work very well in fact. Probably the most in depth one was done by a reefer who tested various products, and found that FritzZyme and Bio-Spira are really, really good products - at least for the marine side of the hobby.

I want to link his experiment, but unfortunately the rules of the forum does not allow it. Not sure if I can pm it to you instead.

However, I will say that not all bottled bac products seem to work.

Dr. Tim's in particular has been particularly disappointing, since he is supposedly the pioneer. Yet far more often than not, since the start of this year I found that a lot of aquarists report that his product does not work.

Seachem Stability and API QuickStart seems to be some of those that do not seem to work that well either.

On the other hand, Tetra SafeStart seems to work great. It's just a pain to use.
 

JeremyW

With or without a bacteria product, the OP should be seeing some change by now. 2 months is too long to see no action, even in a barebones cycle

Maybe you've just had bad luck with both bottled and wild bacteria.

I'd try adding a live plant. Even if you don't want to keep any plants, just buy the cheapest one available and toss it in while you're cycling. That could be the kick your tank needs to get going.
 

Dunk2

Ph of 8 is tank water.

water temp is 80.

Town water report mentions chlorine but not chloramine. Water is hard. Interestingly the town water report says there is nitrate of .25 in tap water. I never detected anything on the api test.

I saw a YouTube video where it says the API test kit picks up two different kinds of ammonia. Maybe I don’t actually have enough ammonia in the tank and the test kit is giving a false reading? I haven’t dosed ammonia in weeks.
If you have doubts about the accuracy of your tests, I’d get that sorted before taking any next steps. Are you shaking all the solution bottles well before using them?

Also, would you be able to get any filter media or even substrate from an established tank? Maybe from a friend or your LFS? I’d be curious to see if that gives your tank a bump with the cycling process.
 

mattgirl

I saw a YouTube video where it says the API test kit picks up two different kinds of ammonia. Maybe I don’t actually have enough ammonia in the tank and the test kit is giving a false reading? I haven’t dosed ammonia in weeks.
It will show both ammonia and ammonium. Since your pH is 8 what you are seeing should be ammonia. I do have to ask, are you are 100% positive you are running the nitrate test correctly?

Do you shake bottle number two like your life depended on it? You need to break the sediment loose from the bottom of the bottle to make sure it is mixed in well.

Once you have added drops from each of the 2 bottles are you shaking the test tube a full minute and then letting it set for another 5 minutes? If you are doing all of this and still seeing no nitrates and still seeing the original amount of ammonia then you are right, this cycle hasn't even started.

If adding live plants as JeremyW has suggested doesn't kick start this cycle I am going to recommend you basically start over by doing as close to a 100% water change as you can. Once done get the ammonia back up to 2ppm with your Dr Tim's ammonium chloride.

Get a very small fine mesh media bag. Put about a teaspoon of fish flakes in the media bag and hang it in the flow coming from your filter. You could just put the fish food in the tank but doing it this way makes less mess. Add another teaspoon of fish food to the media bag every third day.

We are not depending on the fish food to produce all the ammonia we need so if the ammonia you have added goes down close to zero get it back up with the liquid ammonia.

This thread will kinda explain why i am recommending the fish food. PSA: Something I am seeing more and more often, fishless cycling.... | Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle Forum | 477380
 

Misterfu02

I just did a 50% water change. Ammonia went down to 1 PPM, I put ten drops of Dr Tim’s in the tank to bring it up to 2.

I am definitely doing the nitrate test properly, exactly as described in the instructions. I shake everything before adding to the test tube.
 

Fish99

There has been plenty of experiments done by aquarists that has zero affinity with or motivation to promote bottled bac products done and found that actually, there are bottled bac products that do work, and work very well in fact. Probably the most in depth one was done by a reefer who tested various products, and found that FritzZyme and Bio-Spira are really, really good products - at least for the marine side of the hobby.

I want to link his experiment, but unfortunately the rules of the forum does not allow it. Not sure if I can pm it to you instead.

However, I will say that not all bottled bac products seem to work.

Dr. Tim's in particular has been particularly disappointing, since he is supposedly the pioneer. Yet far more often than not, since the start of this year I found that a lot of aquarists report that his product does not work.

Seachem Stability and API QuickStart seems to be some of those that do not seem to work that well either.

On the other hand, Tetra SafeStart seems to work great. It's just a pain to use.
I have seen tests on the Tetra Safestart and the FritzZyme and they showed they did nothing. I have one thought (because I'm not a chemist, I can only read what tests chemists have done on the subject), and that is how does beneficial bacteria that consumes oxygen live in a bottle anyway? :)
:)
I just did a 50% water change. Ammonia went down to 1 PPM, I put ten drops of Dr Tim’s in the tank to bring it up to 2.

I am definitely doing the nitrate test properly, exactly as described in the instructions. I shake everything before adding to the test tube.
I think stop changing water and use a little fish food like mattgirl suggested. This will probably give it some phosphate which will help too. Maybe you did get a bad dose of chlomines that killed everything off? Who knows for sure but be sure to dechlore on the heavy side from now on. When you change water you are taking out bacteria that do the cycle. With no fish there is no need to change water. Oh, and don't clean the filter.
 

Azedenkae

I have seen tests on the Tetra Safestart and the FritzZyme and they showed they did nothing. I have one thought (because I'm not a chemist, I can only read what tests chemists have done on the subject), and that is how does beneficial bacteria that consumes oxygen live in a bottle anyway? :)
Research suggests even with oxygen available, but without ammonia they will just sustain themselves and for a very long time. To clarify, the presence of oxygen when the scientist did the experiment was to see if the oxygen was consumed with some other electron donor aside from ammonia as the means to generating energy during ammonia starvation, but no. Respiration just seem to come to a halt even as the nitrifiers survive for months of end.

So really survival in a bottle is not really the question. It's more if about the production of those nitrifiers and if there are any issues there, or if it is the right type of nitrifiers for our aquariums. That, and also the production of the bottles themselves. I can't really remember which product, but someone took some samples from multiple bottles of the same brand (after shaking super hard) and looked at them under a microscope and found heaps of cells in some but very few in others.
 

Misterfu02

Dr. Tim explained on his podcast how the bacteria is able to survive in the bottle.
 

Fish99

Research suggests even with oxygen available, but without ammonia they will just sustain themselves and for a very long time. To clarify, the presence of oxygen when the scientist did the experiment was to see if the oxygen was consumed with some other electron donor aside from ammonia as the means to generating energy during ammonia starvation, but no. Respiration just seem to come to a halt even as the nitrifiers survive for months of end.

So really survival in a bottle is not really the question. It's more if about the production of those nitrifiers and if there are any issues there, or if it is the right type of nitrifiers for our aquariums. That, and also the production of the bottles themselves. I can't really remember which product, but someone took some samples from multiple bottles of the same brand (after shaking super hard) and looked at them under a microscope and found heaps of cells in some but very few in others.
Interesting. I've been reading up on the subject and yes it seems there are lots of problems with bacteria in a bottle. One of the many is the type of bacteria like you say. If you think about it we need large filter area to grow and sustain our good bacteria. I was at Petco the other day and the bottle they had (I don't remember the brand) said you can add fish right away! That seems pretty crazy to me.
 

Misterfu02

I’m going to start adding a pinch of fish flakes after every test. If ammonia gets too high I’ll just do a water change.

Crazy how long this is taking.

Ammonia is still at 2 PPM. I’m starting to wonder if this is reading ammonium and not true ammonia. Maybe I should just dose ammonia every other day and stop trying to keep it at 2 PPM on the test kit? I don’t see what harm it can do at this point.
 

Fish99

I’m going to start adding a pinch of fish flakes after every test. If ammonia gets too high I’ll just do a water change.

Crazy how long this is taking.

Ammonia is still at 2 PPM. I’m starting to wonder if this is reading ammonium and not true ammonia. Maybe I should just dose ammonia every other day and stop trying to keep it at 2 PPM on the test kit? I don’t see what harm it can do at this point.
It can take a long time. By that I mean weeks. I fed my new tank stating just over six weeks ago. It has finally gotten nitrites and a slight touch of nitrate in the last week and the ammonia is gone. I think it took 3 weeks at least to get ammonia after I started feeding it. I wish I would have documented the time.
funny how the “live bacteria in a bottle” didn’t do anything right? ;)
Adding a bit of food everyday is a good idea I think.
Patents is the key.
Also, you could seed it with brown stuff from a mature aquarium. I would do that to speed it up big time if you have the means.
Also, you will probably get cloudy stinky water, this is good. It means bacteria is growing. Mine did this and it cleared up just before the ammonia appeared, and looks good now. Just today I noticed the water getting slightly cloudy again, I’m hoping it means it will eat the nitrite soon. I think so.
Edit: I think 2 months is way long but maybe for some reason the Dr Tim’s stuff isn’t working? I have no idea. I have read that phosphates help and a low ph will slow the cycle big time. I know you said 8 ph which sure ain’t low.
Do you have lots aeration? That should help too.
 

Misterfu02

This is ridiculous. Still nothing.
There’s aeration from the water coming out of the filter. I see bubbles on the surface.

Are there hardy fish I can add to get this going? I wanted to put a betta in there but anything is better than nothing after all of this time.

I started the tank on July 24th. And here’s where we are today. Ammonia doesn’t move.
 

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mattgirl

I agree and applaud your patience. At this point if I was experiencing what you are I would change out most of the water to get the ammonia down to zero. If one water change doesn't get it to zero do another one. We want to see a true zero before adding a fish. Once done go ahead and put a betta in there. Keep an eye on the ammonia level. If you see any get it down with water changes. I suspect you aren't going to get high spikes in ammonia with just a betta in a 15 gallon tank.

I can't imagine what is causing what is not happening. As you know this tank should be cycle by now. It is really strange that it hasn't even started even when adding bottled bacteria. Not just once but 3 times. I have no explanation as to why it isn't cycled or what you can do at this point to get it going. .
 

Misterfu02

I’m going to do a 100% water change, verify 0% ammonia, and then add a betta along with a bottle of safe start.
 

JeremyW

Good luck. This one has me puzzled.
 

Fish99

I’m going to do a 100% water change, verify 0% ammonia, and then add a betta along with a bottle of safe start.
I wonder if you did a water change and forgot de-chlore which killed any good bacteria and effectively made you start the cycle over?
A Betta is a good choice for a "fish in" cycle.
My new tank finally finished cycling today, it took 3 days shy of 8 long weeks. I did no fish, only a little food every day until the ammonia was gone. That alone took at least 4 weeks. I then added 4 kuhli loaches and changed water and added some some salt when nitrite got to 2ppm or so.
I got very good use out of the Seachem hang in aquarium ammonia alert, it works and all you have to do is look at it every day to see what's up. No ammonia testing needed, very cool.
Hang in there.
p.s.
I wouldn't put safe start anywhere near my aquarium, how is it supposed to cycle if it "Helps remove dangerous levels of ammonia and nitrite" !? that's is a quote from Tetra.
You need ammonia and nitrite to cycle.
The way to remove dangerous levels with fish in is water changes. Too bad that will probably slow the cycle but it is what it is.
 

mattgirl

I wouldn't put safe start anywhere near my aquarium, how is it supposed to cycle if it "Helps remove dangerous levels of ammonia and nitrite" !? that's is a quote from Tetra.
You need ammonia and nitrite to cycle.
It is actually ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria. It removes both over time. No bottled bacteria works instantly. Even when using bottled bacteria a tank will still go through both the ammonia and nitrite stage of the cycle.

Edited to add: It works well for some and not at all for others.
 

Fish99

It is actually ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria. It removes both over time. No bottled bacteria works instantly. Even when using bottled bacteria a tank will still go through both the ammonia and nitrite stage of the cycle.
Ya, sorry, but I don't buy the bacteria in a bottle stuff. Call me a bottled bacteria denier I guess :)
Something tells me Misterfu02 is not going to believe in it much longer either. ;)
(API or Safe Start, see post #1 in this thread of his cycle nightmare)
 

mattgirl

Ya, sorry, but I don't buy the bacteria in a bottle stuff. Call me a bottled bacteria denier I guess :)
Something tells me Misterfu02 is not going to believe in it much longer either. ;)
(API or Safe Start, see post #1 in this thread of his cycle nightmare)
Personally I have never used any king of bottled bacteria. I am old and kinda set in my ways. I cycle the old tried and true way by adding fish and letting nature do what it does. In nature water gets freshened up often so I do water changes. I do spend a lot of time reading up on various way of cycling a tank though to better understand how to help folks no matter how they choose to cycle.

I am not trying to change your mind. Before I joined this forum I didn't know there was such a thing as bacteria in a bottle. Some, I agree, seem to be nothing but snake oil and do nothing more than give a false sense of security. Others do actually do what they were designed to do. I am just saying if used correctly some bottled bacteria does actually help some folks.

I helped a gentleman just last month cycle a 240 gallon tank. He used ATM Colony. I'd never heard of it before. Of course it didn't instantly cycle his tank. Most bottled bacteria won't but he completed the cycle in right at 3 weeks. Other folks have used Fritz-Zyme Turbo Start 700 and their tank completes the cycle even quicker.

The tank Misterfu02 is trying to cycle is a highly unusual case. I have helped with slow cycles before but this is the first time I have tried to help with one that refuses to even start.
 

Thunder_o_b

Your pH is good. As the pH drops the ammonia turns to ammonium which is harder for the bacteria to eat.

What is the water temp? You want it around 80 F

I use this product when I start a new aquarium. Bottled bacteria is a gamble. Seachem products have never let me down. Seachem - Stability

As mentioned above it may be your test kit. If you are using strips change to liquid. If you are using liquid check the expiration date on it.
 

Fish99

Personally I have never used any king of bottled bacteria. I am old and kinda set in my ways. I cycle the old tried and true way by adding fish and letting nature do what it does. In nature water gets freshened up often so I do water changes. I do spend a lot of time reading up on various way of cycling a tank though to better understand how to help folks no matter how they choose to cycle.

I am not trying to change your mind. Before I joined this forum I didn't know there was such a thing as bacteria in a bottle. Some, I agree, seem to be nothing but snake oil and do nothing more than give a false sense of security. Others do actually do what they were designed to do. I am just saying if used correctly some bottled bacteria does actually help some folks.

I helped a gentleman just last month cycle a 240 gallon tank. He used ATM Colony. I'd never heard of it before. Of course it didn't instantly cycle his tank. Most bottled bacteria won't but he completed the cycle in right at 3 weeks. Other folks have used Fritz-Zyme Turbo Start 700 and their tank completes the cycle even quicker.

The tank Misterfu02 is trying to cycle is a highly unusual case. I have helped with slow cycles before but this is the first time I have tried to help with one that refuses to even start.
I'm old school too. I just got back into the hobby after about 20 years. My last tank I did the ammonia cycle with food no fish, then after the ammonia was gone I did 4 very small fish and just kept the nitrite at bay with water changes to protect the little guys. It took almost 8 weeks to cycle. I know that is on the high side timewise but as I'm sure you know they all go differently.
Anyway, I love learning about this hobby too and I have been reading a lot lately. There are very few real tests and lots of antidotal info from hobbyists on this subject. From what I've seen so far the great majority of these products do nothing, others do very little.
I saw the API one at Petco the other day, it's says "allows instant addition of fish" ! Oh please give us a break!
I think we need to keep in mind that these products and companies are in no way regulated by anyone or anything and these companies can claim whatever they want. And boy some claim some outrageous stuff. When I read any info from these companies I take it all with a grain of salt.

Yes, it is very odd Misterfu02 's tank has run so long without anything happening. There are so many variables that we will likely never know why. My first guess is a water change without dechlore. Accidents happen. Could also be that something in the tank kept the cycle from happening, like maybe something from plastics that is toxic or some chemical from the store, who knows. That will likely be gone by now because of all the water changes if that was it. I always rinse anything and everything with water before I put it in the tank, I'll even use RO water when possible.
Happy Fish Keeping!
 

Misterfu02

Now that you mention it, I never rinsed the inside of the aquarium before I added water. I did use dechlorinator for every water change.

So I did a 100% water change, added dechlorinator to the new water, and let it sit for two days.

Today I added a bottle of safe start directly into the filter, and added one male betta.
 

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Fish99

Now that you mention it, I never rinsed the inside of the aquarium before I added water. I did use dechlorinator for every water change.

So I did a 100% water change, added dechlorinator to the new water, and let it sit for two days.

Today I added a bottle of safe start directly into the filter, and added one male betta.
Sounds good, let us know how it progresses.
When the guys delivered my tank they said fill her up and go. I asked about rinsing and they said no need. Well, that thing stunk bad like silicon! I let it sit to cure up real nice for a few days while I got the other stuff together then I rinsed it the best I could. Then ran it with water with the top open for a few days until it didn't stink anymore. One more water change then I started.
Beautiful tank BTW.
 

Misterfu02

He seems to be acclimating nicely. He is eating normally and doesn’t seem too stressed after going in the new tank.
 

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Misterfu02

Tested ammonia today and got around 1 PPM. No nitrite or nitrate. Ph is through the roof!

Going to do a 50% water change shortly.

Can a betta tolerate small amounts of ammonia?
 

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mattgirl

I can't say I have ever seen that color in a pH test tube. Nitrites yes, but never pH. Did you run both normal and the high pH?

A 50% water change should get it down to .5 I would actually wait a few hours and do another water change to get it down closer to .25

I don't know what to think about this tank. First it won't even start the cycle and now one little fish that shouldn't be is causing the ammonia to go up this high so quickly. I don't know what to think about the pH. None of what's happening is making any kind of sense to me.

One thing I will recommend you do is get an extension for the uptake tube on your filter. We need to be pulling water from closer to the bottom of the tank. If I am seeing your tank filter correctly it looks like it is pulling water only from the top half of the tank. I don't know how much this is going to help but at this point I am running out of options.

Am I seeing real driftwood in the tank or is that a resin piece?
 

Misterfu02

I didn’t test regular ph.

Yes the filter only pulls from middle. Driftwood and plants are ceramic.

I don’t get it either.
 

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