Help needed! 3 weeks into fishless cycle, ammonia not dropping

tgf11

Member
Hi everyone.

I am really running out of ideas. I have searched and read other forum posts about people with a similar issue to me but I can't find any solutions. This is my first time owning a tank/cycling.

I have recently got a second hand 60L tank. I have added some new decorations, new plants and re-used some second-hand decorations. New sand substrate. Everything was rinsed thoroughly. My friend threw away their old filter media so I have started with new filter media..

Filter is running/splashing to aerate the water, temp fluctuates a little as Ive had some issues with the heater but has been 80-85F throughout, I have an air stone in place.

Water was treated with love fish tap safe.
I used MAX STRENGTH ammonia to start the cycle (just ammonia/water according to here Correct Ammonia For Fishless Cycle | 287209 | Freshwater Aquarium Discussion). This does seem to be pure ammonia as there are no bubbles on shaking etc.

Using API MasterTest kit. I noted a slight drop in ammonia around 5 days into my fishless cycle to 2ppm - re-dosed up to around 4ppm. Absolutely nothing has happened since. I am now on day 20. Testing every other day - ammonia is still at 4ppm, nitrites and nitrates at 0. There was a tiny rise in nitrites when my ammonia dropped but that was it. pH is 7.4.

Around day 15 I tried a 30% water change to see if that would help - re-added the love fish tap safe. Ammonia level remained stable so didn't add any more.

Some green algae has started to grow on my decorations and there is a slimy film on various things on the tank.

I am getting really frustrated. My plants are turning a horrible yellow colour and some look as if they are dying. Do I need to remove them?
I have bought a bottle of API QuickStart (desperate to try anything!). Should I add that now? Or do I need to re-start to add that?
Do I just need to fully drain the tank and completely start again?

I really have no idea what I am doing wrong. Really not a great start to the new hobby! Thank you so much for your advice.
 

mattgirl

Member
Welcome to Fishlore. I will try to help

I can't promise this will help but if this were my tank I would change out no less than 80% of the water. Be sure to add your water conditioner to the fresh water and get it close to the same temp as the water you pulled out before you refill the tank. After all this time and the fact that it did process some ammonia tells me there is some bacteria so you want to protect it.

This should get the ammonia level down pretty low. Run your ammonia test to see where you are. If it is less than 2ppm add enough ammonia to get it up to that level and no more. This is an approximately 15 gallon tank. 4 ppm ammonia is more than you need to add.

You can add quick start at this time but I've not read of many folks actually having much success with it. More folks have had success with tetra safe start plus though. Personally I've never used any type of bottled bacteria but it has helped some folks.
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
mattgirl said:
Welcome to Fishlore. I will try to help

I can't promise this will help but if this were my tank I would change out no less than 80% of the water. Be sure to add your water conditioner to the fresh water and get it close to the same temp as the water you pulled out before you refill the tank. After all this time and the fact that it did process some ammonia tells me there is some bacteria so you want to protect it.

This should get the ammonia level down pretty low. Run your ammonia test to see where you are. If it is less than 2ppm add enough ammonia to get it up to that level and no more. This is an approximately 15 gallon tank. 4 ppm ammonia is more than you need to add.

You can add quick start at this time but I've not read of many folks actually having much success with it. More folks have had success with tetra safe start plus though. Personally I've never used any type of bottled bacteria but it has helped some folks.
Thank you for your advice, I will try this and post back here. If there are any other ideas or things I may have missed I would appreciate any other tips! Fingers crossed!
 

mattgirl

Member
tgf11 said:
Thank you for your advice, I will try this and post back here. If there are any other ideas or things I may have missed I would appreciate any other tips! Fingers crossed!
Please let me know if it helps. If it doesn't we will have to look into it farther.
 

ElysiumPlants

Member
tgf11 said:
Hi everyone.

I am really running out of ideas. I have searched and read other forum posts about people with a similar issue to me but I can't find any solutions. This is my first time owning a tank/cycling.

I have recently got a second hand 60L tank. I have added some new decorations, new plants and re-used some second-hand decorations. New sand substrate. Everything was rinsed thoroughly. My friend threw away their old filter media so I have started with new filter media..

Filter is running/splashing to aerate the water, temp fluctuates a little as Ive had some issues with the heater but has been 80-85F throughout, I have an air stone in place.

Water was treated with love fish tap safe.
I used MAX STRENGTH ammonia to start the cycle (just ammonia/water according to here Correct Ammonia For Fishless Cycle | 287209 | Freshwater Aquarium Discussion). This does seem to be pure ammonia as there are no bubbles on shaking etc.

Using API MasterTest kit. I noted a slight drop in ammonia around 5 days into my fishless cycle to 2ppm - re-dosed up to around 4ppm. Absolutely nothing has happened since. I am now on day 20. Testing every other day - ammonia is still at 4ppm, nitrites and nitrates at 0. There was a tiny rise in nitrites when my ammonia dropped but that was it. pH is 7.4.

Around day 15 I tried a 30% water change to see if that would help - re-added the love fish tap safe. Ammonia level remained stable so didn't add any more.

Some green algae has started to grow on my decorations and there is a slimy film on various things on the tank.

I am getting really frustrated. My plants are turning a horrible yellow colour and some look as if they are dying. Do I need to remove them?
I have bought a bottle of API QuickStart (desperate to try anything!). Should I add that now? Or do I need to re-start to add that?
Do I just need to fully drain the tank and completely start again?

I really have no idea what I am doing wrong. Really not a great start to the new hobby! Thank you so much for your advice.
I feel your frustration. Take it as a learning opportunity. Be patient with yourself. You‘ll get there, and then you’ll look back at your rocky start and it won’t seem so bad at all.

In the meanwhile, I’d do exactly what mattgirl suggested. Water changes are pretty much the first go-to solution for almost anything IMHO.
 

Lilthuglet

Member
You're more patient that I am. I'm at 10 days with no noticable drop in Ammonia levels and only a hint of Nitrite, and no Nitrates and I am starting to feel crazy.
 

Jammyfish

Member
If you do use tetra safe start or any other form of live bacteria just make sure the bottle is in date or you are buying from a supplier who has kept it in the right temperature conditions, usually the main reason it doesn’t work is because the bacteria has died!
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
mattgirl said:
Welcome to Fishlore. I will try to help

I can't promise this will help but if this were my tank I would change out no less than 80% of the water. Be sure to add your water conditioner to the fresh water and get it close to the same temp as the water you pulled out before you refill the tank. After all this time and the fact that it did process some ammonia tells me there is some bacteria so you want to protect it.

This should get the ammonia level down pretty low. Run your ammonia test to see where you are. If it is less than 2ppm add enough ammonia to get it up to that level and no more. This is an approximately 15 gallon tank. 4 ppm ammonia is more than you need to add.

You can add quick start at this time but I've not read of many folks actually having much success with it. More folks have had success with tetra safe start plus though. Personally I've never used any type of bottled bacteria but it has helped some folks.
Ok - 6 days after a 90% water change I'm back at ammonia approx 3ppm (did dose up to 2 but it's increased ?because of rotting plants) and nitrite 0.

In addition to the 90% temp-matched water change I added double the amount of tap safe before adding to the tank, added QuickStart and have bought a new heater which is keeping the temperature at a constant 31C.

Do I need to give it yet more time? Surely it can't be this difficult, I must be doing something wrong?

Thanks again for your help!
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
Lilthuglet said:
You're more patient that I am. I'm at 10 days with no noticable drop in Ammonia levels and only a hint of Nitrite, and no Nitrates and I am starting to feel crazy.
Have you had any luck yet?
 

mattgirl

Member
tgf11 said:
Ok - 6 days after a 90% water change I'm back at ammonia approx 3ppm (did dose up to 2 but it's increased ?because of rotting plants) and nitrite 0.

In addition to the 90% temp-matched water change I added double the amount of tap safe before adding to the tank, added QuickStart and have bought a new heater which is keeping the temperature at a constant 31C.

Do I need to give it yet more time? Surely it can't be this difficult, I must be doing something wrong?

Thanks again for your help!
Cycling a tank is a waiting game and it takes a ton of patience. I've personally never done a fishless cycle, With fish in we pretty much know what is happening and what to expect to happen. When fishless cycling it seems it is unpredictable.

It probably isn't doable or you would have already done it but I have to ask. Is there any way you can get your hands on some seeded media from a cycled tank? If so that media will help much more than anything that comes in a bottle.

I do have one more suggestion you might want to try. A company called sells seeded sponge filters. Some folks have had success but using these sponges. All you get is the sponge filter so you would have to provide the air pump and accessories (airline tubing, check valve and control valve) to run it.

Other than this all I can advise at this point is a boat load of patience. The last time I cycled a tank with no seeded media it took a full 6 weeks to go from dry tank to fully cycled.
 

Lilthuglet

Member
tgf11 said:
Have you had any luck yet?
In the last two days the ammonia has just dropped from about 0.4ppm to 0 like magic. The nitrites are still a little high, but the nitrates are coming up. A couple more water changes and another week or so and I think I'll be there.
 

ForceTen

Member
Do a major water change and make sure the tank is relatively clean.
Buy a bottle Prime Stability. Treat. Add fish. Done. Enjoy your new tank.

This does work. But I do caution you to not add all the fish you want at once even though you can.
 

bamos1

Member
I started a fishless cycle on a new 20 gal tank around the end of June. I put it in my sunroom so it would be nice and warm 83ish degrees. It was finally cycled last Saturday. Almost exactly 2 months. I know it’s frustrating, and feels like nothing is happening, but as long as there is nothing in the water that will kill the bacteria, it will cycle. Just keep checking the ammonia and nitrite levels every couple days. You will see progress, it just takes a while.

Just a side note, I did a fish in cycle on another tank starting in May, used QuickStart and it took until the first week in August to cycle, About the same time frame as the other tank where I added no bottled bacteria. Perhaps the bottle was old, but the expiration date was in 2021. We lost 3 fish in the process, which was why I decided to do a fishless cycle on the other tank.

I know how much waiting sucks, but it’s so worth it once it’s cycled and you know you can put anything in there and it’ll be fine.
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
mattgirl said:
Cycling a tank is a waiting game and it takes a ton of patience. I've personally never done a fishless cycle, With fish in we pretty much know what is happening and what to expect to happen. When fishless cycling it seems it is unpredictable.

It probably isn't doable or you would have already done it but I have to ask. Is there any way you can get your hands on some seeded media from a cycled tank? If so that media will help much more than anything that comes in a bottle.

I do have one more suggestion you might want to try. A company called sells seeded sponge filters. Some folks have had success but using these sponges. All you get is the sponge filter so you would have to provide the air pump and accessories (airline tubing, check valve and control valve) to run it.

Other than this all I can advise at this point is a boat load of patience. The last time I cycled a tank with no seeded media it took a full 6 weeks to go from dry tank to fully cycled.
Yes sadly not, I have no other friends with a tank other than the one who gave me this one! Also I am in the UK and looks like that company doesn't do international shipping unfortunately.

I'll try patience again for a few more weeks but then might have to look at fish-in cycling as some of the other posters suggest. I think my patience would be helped if there was even a tiny bit of progress whatsoever. It's just the fact that absolutely nothing seems to be happening that is frustrating! Again today, still no nitrites and ammonia remains the same :(
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
bamos1 said:
I started a fishless cycle on a new 20 gal tank around the end of June. I put it in my sunroom so it would be nice and warm 83ish degrees. It was finally cycled last Saturday. Almost exactly 2 months. I know it’s frustrating, and feels like nothing is happening, but as long as there is nothing in the water that will kill the bacteria, it will cycle. Just keep checking the ammonia and nitrite levels every couple days. You will see progress, it just takes a while.

Just a side note, I did a fish in cycle on another tank starting in May, used QuickStart and it took until the first week in August to cycle, About the same time frame as the other tank where I added no bottled bacteria. Perhaps the bottle was old, but the expiration date was in 2021. We lost 3 fish in the process, which was why I decided to do a fishless cycle on the other tank.

I know how much waiting sucks, but it’s so worth it once it’s cycled and you know you can put anything in there and it’ll be fine.
Thanks for the reassurance! As I said to mattgirl I think even the tiniest trace of nitrites or drop in ammonia will help my patience significantly, just something to confirm I've not made some big mistake and it's all been a waste of time!
 

mattgirl

Member
tgf11 said:
Yes sadly not, I have no other friends with a tank other than the one who gave me this one! Also I am in the UK and looks like that company doesn't do international shipping unfortunately.

I'll try patience again for a few more weeks but then might have to look at fish-in cycling as some of the other posters suggest. I think my patience would be helped if there was even tiny bit of progress whatsoever. It's just the fact that absolutely nothing seems to be happening that is frustrating! Again today, still no nitrites and ammonia remains the same :(
I know it is often frowned on but if done right doing a fish in cycle shouldn't harm the fish. All it takes is a willingness to do as many water changes as necessary to make sure the fish are never in any danger. The cycle I mentioned before was a fish in cycle with a fully stocked tank. Most of those fish are still with me almost 5 years later.

If you run totally out of patience I can help you through a fish in cycle. :)
 

bamos1

Member
tgf11 said:
Thanks for the reassurance! As I said to mattgirl I think even the tiniest trace of nitrites or drop in ammonia will help my patience significantly, just something to confirm I've not made some big mistake and it's all been a waste of time!
Just a thought, I tried to keep my ammonia around 2 ppm until it started dropping, then I dosed it to 2 ppm every day until the nitrites also disappeared. I wasn't 100% diligent in adding ammonia every day, or in checking the parameters every couple days. There may or may not have been a few days in there where I got too busy and forgot. Maybe that helped me in not caring that it took 2 months.

I'm sure things are headed in the right direction, even though you don't see it happening. There are so many environmental factors that affect the bacterial growth, it's hard to say how long it will take, or what's really going on in there. Not just water temp and ammonia, but mineral content of the water, competing bacteria that are present, bad stuff in the water it has to overcome, etc. The only reason a cycle won't go is if there is something in the water actively killing the bacteria. But the conditioner should take that out.

At this point It's just a test of patience.
 
  • Thread Starter

tgf11

Member
Well - it is day 42 and I have seen a drop in ammonia! Ammonia now 0.5, nitrite between 2-5. I am so pleased!

What seems to have made the difference is the addition of Fluval Cycle Biological Enhancer which I added on day 39/40/41. API QuickStart did absolutely nothing for me.

Will top up ammonia to 2.0 and hopefully things will continue to progress. Thanks again to everyone that gave advice. Not finished yet but at least something has happened!
 
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