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Help With Ammonia Spike

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by Julabean, Apr 25, 2019.

  1. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    Two weeks ago I checked my parameters with the API master test kit and discovered my ammonia level was high (4.0), pH 7.6, nitrites 0, nitrates 0. Before this I always had an ammonia level of 0. I use API Quick Start and Stress Coat every time I do a water change.

    I have been doing 30% daily water changes since the spike because a few fish died. I went a few days without feeding my fish and after checking my ammonia level and seeing it went down to 2.0ppm I started feeding them lightly once a day. Even with daily water changes the lowest the ammonia goes down to is .50 ppm. I decided to start fresh and take out all of the gravel and replaced it with Seachem Flourite (after taking out 50% of the water and vacuuming). The level stayed between .50 and 2. No other fish have died, but I can't get the level to 0.

    This morning's parameters are: 7.2 pH, 1.0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 40 nitrates. My temp is at a steady 77F.

    My fish include: 1 angelfish, 6 neon tetras, 3 mini albino catfish plecos, 4 tetra glofish, and a mystery snail. My plants include: 2 amazon swords, 3 java ferns, bacopa caroliniana, scarlet temple, s. repens, crypt. parva, and a mystery sword plant.

    Am I doing something wrong? Any advice?
  2. CocoCappuccinoValued MemberMember

    Hm.. Was your tank fully cycled before this all happened? Is it possible that your cycle may have crashed somehow (for ex, changing the filter media too often, rinsing it under tap water, or forgetting to add water conditioner when filling the tank)? Also, have you been doing water changes weekly before this spike? As a solution, I'd recommend checking the water daily until that spike goes down, and continue doing water changes. Does your tap water have nitrates?

  3. SkavatarWell Known MemberMember

    what size is the tank?

    how long has the tank been running?

    did you do anything right before the ammonia spike? like clean the filter with tap water?

    do you use the factory filter cartridges/biobags or do you customize your filter media?

    did you add any new fish?

    what are the parameters of your tap water?

  4. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    Yes, my tank was fully cycled before I added fish. I don't know if it crashed or not. Everything, including the parameters, were all at 0ppm with a pH of 7.2 for 6 months before we had an ammonia spike. I use a Sun Sun canister filter and haven't changed or washed anything since setting it up. I always add water conditioner and dechlorinator with every water change. I was doing weekly water changes of 30% weekly before this happened. I have been checking the parameters daily with little change in ammonia levels.

    I woke up this morning to find that my tank water is milky/cloudy, which happened overnight.
    The parameters are now: pH 6.4, ammonia 4, nitrites .25, nitrates 40. I am so frustrated because all my guppies are at the top of the water gulping for air.

  5. RSababadyWell Known MemberMember

    Do you have any flow of water through the filter? If not, then maybe the fliter is clogged up since you have never cleaned it - that would explain the high ammonia levels and zero nitrate levels. How long has it been running for?
  6. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    I have a Sun Sun canister filter in which we added our custom media. We rinsed them with tank water before putting the media into the filter and haven't cleaned it since setting it up. I didn't add any new fish because I was afraid they would die like the 4 guppies I already lost. The tank had been running for 6 months before the ammonia spike.

    I woke up this morning and the fish tank water was milky/cloudy, which happened overnight. The parameters read: pH 7.6, ammonia between 4-6, nitrites .25, nitrates 10. I just did a 30% water change, adding API Quick Start and API Stress Coat.

    Parameters of my tap water: pH 7.4, ammonia between .25-.50, nitrites 0, nitrates 50.
  7. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    I checked the filter today and confirmed it's running fine, not clogged and full water flow throung it. My ammonia has gone from 2 to 4-6 overnight and when I woke up this morning I had a cloudy algae bloom.

    I have a 30 long tank that has been running for 6 months. No problems until 2 weeks ago.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2019
  8. SkavatarWell Known MemberMember

    1. how long has the Sun Sun been running? does it have carbon in it?

    2. something is causing your pH to crash. can you test your tap water parameters? do you have a GH/KH test?
  9. RSababadyWell Known MemberMember

    Good point - old carbon plays dirty tricks on you. I would pull the carbon out for starters. Replace it with foam to add more surface area for beneficial bacteria. I only use carbon when I want to remove medicine or some other chemical from the water.

    That is bad. You have either lost your cycle or there is something rotting in the tank. Stir up your substrate while doing a water change (50%). If you see dark stuff between your substrate and glass, then you probably have some build up of waste in the substrate.

    Since you have never cleaned the canister before, make sure you use tank water (NOT tap water) when rinsing the canister filter media. I am sure you know this, but just wanted to ensure that you do the right thing as this will be the first time cleaning the canister filter.
  10. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    I had to replace my old canister filter (due to it leaking) with the Sun Sun about 3 months ago. It does have a bag of carbon in it along with bio rings and a foam pad made to reduce ammonia. Before the spike all of my parameters were 0 with a pH of 7.2. Since the spike everything went crazy on me. Parameters of my tap water: pH 7.4, ammonia between .25-.50, nitrites 0, nitrates 50 and there is naturally some chlorine in it. I've tried API pH up because my pH crashed. Is this a good product?

    Thank you so much for your advice. I really appreciate it.

    Today I did take out the carbon from my filter as you suggested and cleaned the media and filter with the tank water I took out when I did a 30% water change. I vacuumed thoroughly, taking out a good amount of waste, but didn't see anything abnormal. I vacuum each time I do a water change. I hadn't cleaned the filter and media before now because I was advised not to; that it would kill all of the beneficial bacteria. How often should I be cleaning it? Will cleaning it start the process of cycling again?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2019
  11. mlashNew MemberMember

    As long as you have established BB in your canister media it will repopulate very quickly. As suggested by "RSababady" make sure to only use the "old tank water" to rinse everything thoroughly that comes out of your canister it will only kill off a small amount of your BB.

    Also you have a fair amount of BB living in your gravel. So skip the Gravel Vacuuming the next time you do a Canister Cleaning (this will help repopulate the canister filter).
  12. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    Thank you for your response. I cleaned my canister filter and media yesterday using tank water that I siphoned out of the tank. I'll make sure to not gravel vac as often. I didn't realize that by doing it that often was removing BB in addition to waste from the fish and leaves that melt from my new plants. I'm still not sure how often I should be cleaning my filter. Any advice? Should I change the floss, too?
  13. mlashNew MemberMember

    I think everybody has a different answer for that based on their setup. What I would do, now that you have cleaned it for the first time, is wait a month and clean it. If it is real dirty then you will know to clean it every month. If not then maybe next time wait 6-8 weeks before cleaning. Keep doing this until you get a feel for the amount of time before cleaning. Change the floss when it limits too much flow.

    As far as vacuuming the substrate (thoroughly) you could also split your tank and do 1/2 of the substrate with each water change. Or maybe even 1/4 of the tank at a time (just don't vacuum when you clean your canister). This will also allow you to loose minimum BB.
  14. JulabeanNew MemberMember

    Update on high ammonia problem:

    First, thanks to everyone for your great advice; you all got me through a stressful time. After following everyone's advice my ammonia is back in check. I watched a video by Primetime Aquatics on Youtube where he talks about the problems with ammonia results with the API master test kit. Apparently they are known to read high.

    I thought it was unusual for my ammonia readings to be between 4-8 even after all of my fixing and my tap water started reading just as high. Also, all of my fish were fine. I bought the Seachem ammonia tester kit for free and total ammonia and the readings matched the ammonia calculator and chart that the Primetime Aquatics guy linked to in his video, which I highly recommend. My free ammonia is at 0.
  15. toosieFishlore VIPMember

    If your pH is still this low, then most of the ammonia is in ammonium form and is relatively non toxic, which is why the ammo alert says it's safe. But that doesn't mean all is good. API can read high...about .25 high. I have never come across a test kit that is wildly high. But this is where it gets a tad complicated. When pH is low, as I said previously, most of the ammonia is in ammonium form and therefore won't show up on the ammo alert, (but it does still show up using API liquid test kit). But that is only because of the low pH, not because it's not there. If you were to suddenly increase pH, a lot more of the ammonium would become ammonia and could get to levels detrimental to fish. This is because the bacteria slow down and stop using the ammonia/ammonium at low pH levels, but the fish still produce waste, so ammonium levels continue to increase. Kind of like a waiting time bomb...just waiting for you to do something about your low pH....

    This usually happens due to low carbonate hardness (KH). In an above post @Skavatar asked if you have a GH/KH test kit. I think this question was missed being addressed. Without adequate KH, it leaves pH vulnerable, and pH can crash. If left unattended, pH can crash to levels uninhabitable to the fish. So, it's pretty important to make sure there is an adequate supply of KH.

    Would you like to see about getting a GH/KH test kit so that we can see what is occurring for sure, and determine what you can do to get things moving again?
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  16. mlashNew MemberMember

    Happy to hear that you have a handle on it now!
  17. RSababadyWell Known MemberMember

    Just a quick recap, as a lot of topics are going back and forward in this thread:
    1. Canister filters need to be cleaned when needed - i.e. when the flow gets to low. I clean mine every four months. The cleaning involves:
      1. rinsing the media in tank water
      2. rinsing the canister itself in tank water
      3. replacing the fine filter floss that removes fine mechanical particles and "sticky stuff" muck etc. The dirty floss is what usually restrains water flow the most!
      4. washing the impeller in fresh water to remove the muck around it.
      5. wiping the silicone seal and the grove that the seal fits into with a soft cloth to ensure that the filter seals properly - i.e. free from gravel and other muck
      6. refiling the filter on completion with tank water
    2. I gravel vac my tank once every two weeks and stir up the substrate to ensure no additional buildup of gaseous substances caused by anaerobic bacteria or processes. I am not interested in the bacteria in the substrate - my plants keep my nitrates below 10ppm at all times.
    3. During a WC I usually trim any leaves off plants that are weak or when there are too many leaves, that I cannot see the fish ;)
    There are lots of different opinions on housekeeping, so you just need to choose one method that works for you .... and then just do it!