Need help with murky water in my 20 gallon tank

elBez

Hey all,

We got into the hobby in the summer, but have read up and learned a lot since then. Our tank has had clear water for the past four or so months, but recently taken a turn.

My stats:
The tank is fully cycled; Ammonia (doesn't want to fall below) 0.15 ppm; 0 ppm Nitrite, 15 Nitrate ppm. We do a 25% pwc once a week. Water temp kept at 78 degrees due to submerged auto-heater. Tank on a timer, gets light from 7:30am to 12:30pm, and then again from 4:30pm to 8:30pm (9 hours total).

My tank:
20 gal, planted tank with a sprawling Helanthium, a Water Trumpet, and a Java Fern. Substrate is 2/3 gravel, 1/3 aquarium sand. We currently have 6 x X-Ray Tetras and 5 x Java Loaches. We have a stone bridge, a stone castle, and one remaining plastic plant - all for atmosphere, or places for the loaches to hide.

My problem:
About two weeks ago the water went murky and hasn't been clear since. I feel that the issue was my fault - I added an algae wafer to feed the loaches, who were quite happy and coming out and attacking it during the daylight hours. I got lax on vacuuming up what they didn't eat, but it would mostly be gone by the next day. I started adding an algae wafer a few times a week and the loaches and family loved it. Wanting to "catch up" on my vacuuming, I got a little aggressive and stirred up some of the deep gravel which released some of the mulm (I believe it's called) into the tank, and that caused an algae bloom that's mostly remained, I feel. I monitored chemical readings carefully, started increasing my vacuuming of the gravel and sand, and continued to do my 25% pwcs. But the tank remains fairly murky. I will try and upload a picture later on tonight.

Any ideas or advice?
 

mattgirl

When you say murky, what color is it. If green it is an algae bloom, white is normally a bacterial bloom, brown or tea color is normally tannin's released by driftwood, leaves or as you said, stirred up excess mulm. I really don't think the algae wafer is the main cause of the murky water. Maybe some brands do but I've never had algae wafers affect the clarity of me water.

If a green algae bloom a UV light should help you out.

If white it just has to run its course. Something has gotten out of balance and you have to much of something in the tank. I can't say what that something is. By just changing out 25% of the water you are still leaving 75% of it in there each week. Over time things that we don't normally test for can build up. I would increase the water changes to no less than 50% each week and then once a month change out even more.

If brown or tea colored you may want run some poly fill in your filter. If it is stirred up mulm the poly fill should catch it. If it is caused by something other than the stirred up mulm Purigen or fresh carbon in your filter may help clear it up.

What kind of filter are you running on this tank? Is it possible the tank is under filtered? Keep in mind we can never have too much filtration. Too much water movement is possible if it affects the fishes ability to swim, but never too much filtration. I recommend having more than one filter on any tank bigger than a 10 gallon. I also recommend having a filter rated for a tank at least twice as big as our tank. Unfortunately HOB filters are highly over rated so we have to go bigger than is recommended by the folks that make them.
 

elBez

Hey,

Thanks for taking the time to reply to me. The most frustrating thing to me here is that "it didn't used to be like this," so I strongly suspect that it's something that I've done (or not done) that's thrown the chemistry off balance. I'd also prefer to be able to naturally pull the tank out of this instead of turning to just adding some of brand X, if possible - I'd like to learn what I'd done wrong, and also, not harm the fishies.

My filter:
So, the tank and filter are a TopFin from that big box store. The filter is a Top Fin Silentstream 20 Power Filter. As I'd said before "it worked just fine prior to this." I should mention that we did change out the filter insert prior to this, so that may have kicked it off too. I was really mindful that the bb hang out in the filter, and was careful to not disturb or vacuum a few days before the filter was changed so that we wouldn't accidentally recycle the tank. I've been checking chemistry every 18 hours and all is well, and all numbers are good.

Included are two pictures of the water with the lights off (2 pm) and then another two with the lights on (4 pm, give or take).
 

Attachments

  • 20211101_142142.jpg
    20211101_142142.jpg
    103.1 KB · Views: 18
  • 20211101_142157.jpg
    20211101_142157.jpg
    103.2 KB · Views: 19
  • 20211101_161054.jpg
    20211101_161054.jpg
    111.2 KB · Views: 19
  • 20211101_161102.jpg
    20211101_161102.jpg
    105.9 KB · Views: 19

mattgirl

You are so very welcome :)

I know what you mean about not just throwing anything at a problem. I am the same way. If I was experiencing this the first thing I would do is do bigger water changes and also run some poly-fill in my filter to help polish the water. We aren't depending on the poly-fill for our bio-media so it can be changed out as often as needed. This may be all you have to do to clear the water up.

Changing out the cartridge could have caused what you are seeing. At just 4 months your tank is still fairly new. I like to and recommend giving a tank at least 6 months to get firmly established before doing much in the way of cleaning. You may want to consider gradually moving away from the disposable cartridges. Moving over to more permanent media will save you money in the long run and you will no longer have to throw away bacteria when the cartridge gets clogged up.

This thread will give you some ideas as to how to make your filter better by moving away from the cartridges. Diy Media Guide For Top Fin Silenstream, Aquaclear And Other Hob Filters | Aquarium Filter Forum | 385506
 

elBez

You know, re-reading everything that I'd written has me wondering if this wasn't exactly the filter's doing. Darn. Here I'd thought that with enough gravel, materials, and overall sludge, that the BB wouldn't have been tossed out with the filter.

As long as the water chemistry comes in fine, is there any threat to the fish or plants? Or just the ups and downs of re-living the tail end of a tank cycle?
 

Phormist

You know, re-reading everything that I'd written has me wondering if this wasn't exactly the filter's doing. Darn. Here I'd thought that with enough gravel, materials, and overall sludge, that the BB wouldn't have been tossed out with the filter.

As long as the water chemistry comes in fine, is there any threat to the fish or plants? Or just the ups and downs of re-living the tail end of a tank cycle?
It sounds like you cleaned up a tad bit too much mulm (where some of your BB is munching) in your previous water change and also changed the filter.
I always clean my filter on days I am not going to do a water change, or at least not gravel suction.

*Pro-Tip: Don't gravel clean if you're going to replace or clean your filter the same day. Offset it and do the WC or filter swap the following week.

BUT, it does look like your tank is doing what it needs to do! You've got yourself a healthy beneficial bacteria colony floating in your water column right now. Give it some days, it will all settle and shift to new forms of bacteria that stay in the filter and surfaces and not free-float as they are doing now.

I would recommend a 3-tiered filter. Look up some ways to amp up those HOB filters.
 

mattgirl

You know, re-reading everything that I'd written has me wondering if this wasn't exactly the filter's doing. Darn. Here I'd thought that with enough gravel, materials, and overall sludge, that the BB wouldn't have been tossed out with the filter.

As long as the water chemistry comes in fine, is there any threat to the fish or plants? Or just the ups and downs of re-living the tail end of a tank cycle?
Thankfully cloudy water shouldn't be harmful for the fish or plants. It is just unsightly to us. They don't care. As long as you constantly see zero ammonia and nitrites your little guys and girls should be just fine. I don't think this would have happened from just replacing the cartridge if the tank wasn't so new. Lesson learned so that is a good thing. :) Ramping up the media in your filter should prevent this happening again.
 

elBez

Thanks for the replies all. Ran another test of the water: 0 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 10ppm Nitrate. The Nitrate has dropped, but otherwise everything else is working along well. I suppose this is where the best option is to just leave it alone and continue on as normal? Definitely don't want to bump anything in the wrong direction.

I'll definitely look into moving to a more permanent filter solution - after all of this is sorted, of course!
 

Phormist

Thanks for the replies all. Ran another test of the water: 0 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 10ppm Nitrate. The Nitrate has dropped, but otherwise everything else is working along well. I suppose this is where the best option is to just leave it alone and continue on as normal? Definitely don't want to bump anything in the wrong direction.

I'll definitely look into moving to a more permanent filter solution - after all of this is sorted, of course!
Sounds like a plan! Keep your normal water change routines and you should be good!
 

elBez

Hey all, just checking in - the numbers appear to be the same when I checked them last night (0 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 10ppm Nitrate). But the problem is that it's still murky as you can see. Also, I note that the java loaches don't come out and play as much anymore - could the water condition be harming them somehow, or upsetting them?
 

Attachments

  • 20211108_170011.jpg
    20211108_170011.jpg
    120.5 KB · Views: 7
  • 20211108_170022.jpg
    20211108_170022.jpg
    110.3 KB · Views: 7

mattgirl

Fish really don't care if the water is clear or murky. Adding poly-fill to your filter to help polish the water may help clear it up. It may just be the angle of the second photo but it looks like the water has a greenish tint to it. If that is the case this might be an algae bloom. Often it will clear up over time but sometimes it needs a bit of help. The poly-fill might help.
 

elBez

I'll say that I'm glad that the fish are happy, at least. Obviously, the family is less than thrilled with the condition of the tank and it's kind of falling on me to clear things up.

In addition to cutting light back by half an hour, and being a little more careful with feeding amounts, would water changes help here? More vacuuming? Would a mechanical solution, like a UV filter help? I'd rather consider things like those rather than just dumping chemicals into the water and screwing everything up for all of the fish & plants in the tank.
 

mattgirl

Normally water changes don't get to the bottom of and help remove the cloudy water. If what I am seeing is water with a greenish tint it may be an algae bloom. Often installing a UV sterilizer will help.

If it is fine particles of something in the water causing the cloudy water running poly-fill (that same stuff we use to stuff pillows or soft stuffed toys) will help pull it out. Since we aren't going to be depending on it for bio-media we can change it out as soon as it gets dirty. I run it in all my HOB filters to help keep the water polished and usually change it out twice a week. Once on water change day and again about mid-week. Plecos and mystery snails are heavy waste producers so lots of poop is being pulled out of my tank.

If it is a bacterial bloom we just have to let it run its course. We need to be sure we have adequate filtration. Under-filtration can sometimes be the problem.

As you can see, there are lots of reasons for cloudy water. Getting to the bottom of what is causing it is often difficult. I was out of the hobby for a while. When I set my 55 gallon tank back up I lived with cloudy water for about 6 weeks. Although it seemed it would never happen eventually it did clear up.
 

elBez

I added some extra material to the back of the filter, based on the guides that I'd seen and followed here. It's been running for around 12 hours but somehow the tank seems murkier to me. Tested the chemicals and ammonia went up (0.25 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 10ppm Nitrate), so I dosed with SeaChem to bring it down. I did a vacuum and clean yesterday morning, so maybe that kicked some material loose and spiked a bloom? Today after dinner, all of the loaches were doing their happy loach dance and appeared fairly happy, it looked like.

I suppose big ships turn slowly. I may need to invest in a UV Filter. I was looking at the GKM 3 watt. I know that it's primarily a water clarifier - any experience with that model? You've given me a lot to think about here.
 

affishul

Purigen should take care of it. Everytime I use it to remove the tannins from my water within in 24 hours it's usually crystal clear and best of all Purigen can be recharged and reused 10 times. It will probaly go away naturally as other said but if it bothers you that much give Purigen a shot.
 

JustAFishServant

I added some extra material to the back of the filter, based on the guides that I'd seen and followed here. It's been running for around 12 hours but somehow the tank seems murkier to me. Tested the chemicals and ammonia went up (0.25 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 10ppm Nitrate), so I dosed with SeaChem to bring it down. I did a vacuum and clean yesterday morning, so maybe that kicked some material loose and spiked a bloom? Today after dinner, all of the loaches were doing their happy loach dance and appeared fairly happy, it looked like.

I suppose big ships turn slowly. I may need to invest in a UV Filter. I was looking at the GKM 3 watt. I know that it's primarily a water clarifier - any experience with that model? You've given me a lot to think about here.
Sometimes the best thing to do is wait. If it truly is a bacterial bloom don't go crazy with the WCs, chems and UV (UV removes algae and bacteria including our beloved BB). If it's algae (I think it's reflection off of your fake plastic plants but who knows), first and foremost is to figure out what's causing it. Algae isn't a sign of healthy water but indicates imbalances. Ammonia/nitrite spikes, too much light etc but you've been without algae for 4 months so it wouldn't make sense for you to have a bloom all of a sudden. Algae thrives on ammonia, excess lighting or nutrients etc but it looks like you're good. Clouding from the wafers is also a possibility. I used to get your same kind of cloudiness - greenish white - after feeding too many algae wafers in my 90 gallon. It could stay cloudy for weeks. And yes, PLEASE change out your filter media. The "replaceable carbon" is an absolute scam. You're essentially giving people money to throw out your precious BB. Not what you want.

Try to wait it out for a week, even 2 and see what happens. Don't overdo your small weekly PWCs. Don't gravel vac, don't replace your cartridges or rinse them with tap water. Just keep it as simple and "low maintenance" as possible for now until we can confirm your problem. If it doesn't clear or looks greener during this time feed very small amounts or fast them for a week, don't replace ANY cartridges, reduce your lighting, do frequent large WCs. If you have live plants dose a lot of ferts. You can manually treat affected areas with a syringe and hydrogen peroxide or plenty ferts but I think your job should be stabilizing any and all possible problems you may be experiencing.
 

elBez

I kept monitoring the water and keeping the readings in a good range, scaled back feeding, and tried to limit water changes to maybe 25% once per week. Ammonia remained higher than I'd like (a persistence 0.25 if I'd let it), so I tightened up my feeding schedule & was sure to vacuum up uneaten food, as well as tried to remove dead leaves, or prune clearly dying plant matter.

About two weeks ago I did a water change Friday night and went to bed. My daughter noticed the tank Saturday morning and got really excited. The water was no longer the murky, pea green soup, but had in fact reduced to a slightly murky, milky colour. A day later and it was more clear. By Sunday evening, everyone was crowding around the tank commenting that we couldn't believe how clear it was. My wife said that the water appeared good enough to drink! Ammonia is consistently reading zero and the rest of the water is just fine.

My final diagnosis was that I'd moved/removed a little too much from the tank (filter/BB wise) in too short a period of time and threw the water a tad out of whack. I also wasn't handling maintenance at the level that I should've been - I do believe that those small changes that I did lowered available Ammonia by just enough that it removed a food supply for the green water. But who knows?

This was, of course, after I'd already bought a UV Filter online. Hadn't actually set it up, but I suppose I've always got that in my back pocket now...
 

mattgirl

As you have found out. Quite often all it takes is time for murky water to clear up. :) I am happy you and your family can now enjoy seeing a much better looking tank.
 

Similar Aquarium Threads

Replies
8
Views
1K
Noroomforshoe
  • Question
Replies
2
Views
205
freshwaterbegginer154
Replies
48
Views
2K
Dunk2
Replies
2
Views
257
JupiterJ
Replies
15
Views
944
KristyGatlin

Latest Aquarium Threads

Top Bottom