Nitrites And Ammonia Too High. What Do I Do?

SunEater
  • #1
Hello, I'm new to fish-keeping, and I'm struggling with a 55 gallon tank I got about a month ago. I've had it running since I got it, and I was fishless cycling it until someone told me that I could just get Tetra Safe Start and add fish right away. I looked into it and seemed to get positive answers, so I did about a 50% water change (ammonia was at 1ppm), added the TSS and two days later went to get fish. I figured the bacteria would be alright with the ammonia already in the tank. I didn't find out until later that apparently dechlorinators can cancel out the bacteria in TSS so now because of my impatience, I'm doing a fish-in cycle.

I've got four albino corydoras in the tank now. One that was already not looking so good when I got him died that next morning. Since then I've been doing daily 50% water changes and using Seachem Prime to try and control the parameters. Today, four days later, I woke up to another dead cory (leaving me with the four I have now) who had red spots on him that I think were probably from red blotch disease from the water conditions)

I did a water test and got .5 ammonia and .5 nitrites, so I did another 50% water change. I got home from classes and checked the water again and the ammonia was .25 and the nitrites 1ppm already. I did another 50% water change and now the ammonia is .5 again (my tap runs between .5 to 1ppm ammonia) and the nitrites dropped to .25

Should I continue changing the water as much as I am with my tap running such high ammonia? Is there anything else I can do for the fish to keep the water in check until the tank cycles? I have some media from a 10 gallon tank in the 55's filter, but I'm not sure what else I can do. I feel awful for the fish and should have looked into TSS and which fish to start off with more.
 
sfsamm
  • #2
Every time you do a water change dose a double dose of prime for the full volume of the tank, instead of partial dose for volume changed. I would be dosing 10-11ml at each water change. No more than once a day.

Prime detoxes Ammonia and nitrIte to less harmful compounds for 24-48 hours, by then your cycle should have kicked it through to nitrAtes.

I am curious though with only four small Cories in a 55 gallon tank why you are getting those readings? Was this tank used before? Could there be mulm or detritus in the substrate or around the tank contributing to the Ammonia levels? I understand that you have some in the tap but 4 small fish in a 55 really shouldn't be raising the amounts that significantly in a matter of 12 hours or a day.
 
Rainbows and Fishes
  • #3
I've gone through the same thing friend It isn't fun. Feed very sparingly, water change as much as you can, dose with prime to eliminate the ammonia into a non lethal form nightly, if you can get some filter media gravel or anything from an established aquarium and resist the urge to buy more quick cycling products, they won't work Maybe the tap water is the problem?
 
david1978
  • #4
With ammonia in your tap your not going to get much better than were you are until you get a complete cycle to remove the ammonia. I guess I would I try to keep it around were you are now and dose with prime to help detoxify the ammonia and nitrites. Not sure what else you can do. Could you move the fish over to the ten?
 
Mithe
  • #5
HI SunEater, I went through a similar process myself. The pet store "experts" told me I could just add TSS and add fish almost immediately. I even started with albino corydoras just like you It's tough, but basically I did water changes every day until I got that nitrite spike and finally zero readings. There's not a lot you can do other than keep adding Prime and using bottle bacteria. It took me about 2 months to get it going, but finally we got there.

Water changes, prime, stability, and essentially no food are the biggest things you can do. If you wanted to get really technical, you could read into the effect of pH and temperature on Ammonia toxicity. Ammonia is MORE toxic when the temperature is higher and pH is higher. So, if you can keep pH and temperature lower that would reduce the ratio of un-ionized ammonia, which is more toxic to fish. This is described here, by the University of Florida:
FA16/FA031: Ammonia in Aquatic Systems

Interesting stuff, but nothing will make a bigger difference than water changes and prime. Good luck!
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
Every time you do a water change dose a double dose of prime for the full volume of the tank, instead of partial dose for volume changed. I would be dosing 10-11ml at each water change. No more than once a day.

Prime detoxes Ammonia and nitrIte to less harmful compounds for 24-48 hours, by then your cycle should have kicked it through to nitrAtes.

I am curious though with only four small Cories in a 55 gallon tank why you are getting those readings? Was this tank used before? Could there be mulm or detritus in the substrate or around the tank contributing to the Ammonia levels? I understand that you have some in the tap but 4 small fish in a 55 really shouldn't be raising the amounts that significantly in a matter of 12 hours or a day.
I've been dosing a capful each water change (says it does 50 gal per capful). I am wondering about the high readings too! I've tested the kit on my other tank, the tap water, and bottled water, and it seems to be accurate. I was using fish food to raise the ammonia before, I've siphon vaccumed a little with the water changes but was too afraid of messing with the BB to do too much.


I've gone through the same thing friend It isn't fun. Feed very sparingly, water change as much as you can, dose with prime to eliminate the ammonia into a non lethal form nightly, if you can get some filter media gravel or anything from an established aquarium and resist the urge to buy more quick cycling products, they won't work Maybe the tap water is the problem?
I've got some media from the 10 gallon in the filter that I put in about two days ago. I'm hoping it'll help some. I'm not sure if it's the tap, since the other tank is doing alright.


With ammonia in your tap your not going to get much better than were you are until you get a complete cycle to remove the ammonia. I guess I would I try to keep it around were you are now and dose with prime to help detoxify the ammonia and nitrites. Not sure what else you can do. Could you move the fish over to the ten?
They seem to be eating and doing alright, so I hope they'll be okay through the cycling. I might be able to put them in the 10g. It's got two platies and a bunch of fry right now though.

HI SunEater, I went through a similar process myself. The pet store "experts" told me I could just add TSS and add fish almost immediately. I even started with albino corydoras just like you It's tough, but basically I did water changes every day until I got that nitrite spike and finally zero readings. There's not a lot you can do other than keep adding Prime and using bottle bacteria. It took me about 2 months to get it going, but finally we got there.

Water changes, prime, stability, and essentially no food are the biggest things you can do. If you wanted to get really technical, you could read into the effect of pH and temperature on Ammonia toxicity. Ammonia is MORE toxic when the temperature is higher and pH is higher. So, if you can keep pH and temperature lower that would reduce the ratio of un-ionized ammonia, which is more toxic to fish. This is described here, by the University of Florida:
FA16/FA031: Ammonia in Aquatic Systems

Interesting stuff, but nothing will make a bigger difference than water changes and prime. Good luck!
Aw, I'm sorry you went through it too! It was pretty much the exact same for me, and it's hard to ignore the pull of the cute fish in the tanks. I don't have an adaptable heater. It stays about 77% and the pH is around 7.4 to 7.6. I don't know if I'd want to mess with it too much since I've heard messing with pH can lead to crashes if you're not careful? I'm currently using the bucket method to fill my tank, so I guess I'll just be developing some nice arm muscles with the water changes for now. Thank you for your advice!
 
Mithe
  • #7
Haha, the bucket workout has its perks! Agreed, adjusting pH chemically is usually not advised. I found that adding some minerals via coral to harden my water helped stabilize the pH and seemed to help the fish. My tap water was fairly soft, so it has helped hardening the water a bit naturally with coral.
 
TexasGuppy
  • #8
But lower temps and pH slow bacteria growth. I would trust prime and keep temp and pH normal.
 
Mithe
  • #9
That's true. At this stage, the only real thing to do is prime and water changes.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #10
The pH out of my tap is fairly high too(8.6 last I checked), so I don't want to get it too far down and risk shocking the fish during water changes or having to add the water more slowly than I am lol. It is good to know that coral can do that though, I had no idea! Thank you everyone for your replies
 
Rainbows and Fishes
  • #11
And just try not to worry too much, it may not seem like it now but your tank will cycle and there will come a day when you don't even think about the ammonia because the system works so well. Coral is nice because then you aren't chasing PH which can make matters worse.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
And just try not to worry too much, it may not seem like it now but your tank will cycle and there will come a day when you don't even think about the ammonia because the system works so well. Coral is nice because then you aren't chasing PH which can make matters worse.
Thank you so much! I feel a lot better now and will definitely keep up with the water changes and try and make sure they're doing alright. And I do have sea shells from the beach that I got years ago, would those work like the coral?
 
sfsamm
  • #13
So is your pH 7.4-7.6 or 8.4, I'm a bit confused? Also as to the syphoning the gravel to remove the fish food... I'd strongly recommend getting that done throughly. The majority of your BB is going to be establishing in your filter. There are BB through out the tank yes, but when you are producing Ammonia like you currently are removing the source is a greater value to the stock than the tiny bit of BB you may lose. Removing the extra Ammonia leaves that much less BB required anyway.

Adding cycled media from your other tank absolutely will help move your cycle along, kudos for that!
 
Rainbows and Fishes
  • #14
Keep us updated friend <3
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #15
So is your pH 7.4-7.6 or 8.4, I'm a bit confused? Also as to the syphoning the gravel to remove the fish food... I'd strongly recommend getting that done throughly. The majority of your BB is going to be establishing in your filter. There are BB through out the tank yes, but when you are producing Ammonia like you currently are removing the source is a greater value to the stock than the tiny bit of BB you may lose. Removing the extra Ammonia leaves that much less BB required anyway.

Adding cycled media from your other tank absolutely will help move your cycle along, kudos for that!
The tank pH is 7.4 to 7.6. The water that comes straight from the tap is 8.6. Sorry for the confusion! And alright, I'll gravel vacuum good tomorrow when I do my water change. I also have Java ferns in the tank. One of them moved from the 10 gallon that has a bit of the leaves that were browning but seems to be doing better now. Would that be contributing to the ammonia too, you think?

Keep us updated friend <3
Will do!
 
sfsamm
  • #16
So long as the leaves are still intact then they would have a very minimal impact on the Ammonia level, if they are melting then possibly a bit more but one plant would still be negligible in a 55. I wouldn't worry about the Java fern. If it has good growth and the browned leaves deteriorate further the plant will benefit from having the leaves trimmed off though. and of course if they are obviously dead trim and remove the dead leaves as close to the rhizome without damaging the rhizome as you can.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #17
I just went to check on the tank, and one of the cories was swimming sideways/upside down before sinking to the bottom on his back I don't think he's going to make it. Could changing the water twice today have caused it? Can I do anything for him at this point?
So long as the leaves are still intact then they would have a very minimal impact on the Ammonia level, if they are melting then possibly a bit more but one plant would still be negligible in a 55. I wouldn't worry about the Java fern. If it has good growth and the browned leaves deteriorate further the plant will benefit from having the leaves trimmed off though. and of course if they are obviously dead trim and remove the dead leaves as close to the rhizome without damaging the rhizome as you can.
I usually do trim the really dead parts off once a week. I didn't think it would be that but wanted to make sure. Talking about the Java fern reminded me of the three marimo balls in the tank as well. They've been looking bleached, but I thought it was just because I had too much light on them. I pulled one out and sure enough it had an awful smell to it. I don't know if those are enough to effect the tank, but I took them out.
 
sfsamm
  • #18
My only other curiosity is why your pH is dropping so significantly when you are doing so many water changes. I'm curious... Do you by chance know your kH or gH of your tap? Although the pH is higher at the tap I'm wondering if you have soft water and the pH swinging down so drastically is affecting the fish.

If you don't have a kH/gH test try aging a bucket or pitcher of water with bubbles running for 24 hours (48 without bubbles) and testing the pH as soon as you fill the bucket and again after aging. It'll give a general idea if that is something you should look into more.

In the meantime I would recommend ceasing water changes until Ammonia and nitrIte combined are over 1ppm and just dosing prime daily at a double dose to keep them detoxed for the fish. When Ammonia and nitrIte reach 1ppm combined do a 50% water change.

You can dose up to a 5x dose of prime without it becoming toxic and each single dose effectively detoxed 1ppm Ammonia+NitrIte. Just don't dose more than once per day.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #19
My only other curiosity is why your pH is dropping so significantly when you are doing so many water changes. I'm curious... Do you by chance know your kH or gH of your tap? Although the pH is higher at the tap I'm wondering if you have soft water and the pH swinging down so drastically is affecting the fish.

If you don't have a kH/gH test try aging a bucket or pitcher of water with bubbles running for 24 hours (48 without bubbles) and testing the pH as soon as you fill the bucket and again after aging. It'll give a general idea if that is something you should look into more.

In the meantime I would recommend ceasing water changes until Ammonia and nitrIte combined are over 1ppm and just dosing prime daily at a double dose to keep them detoxed for the fish. When Ammonia and nitrIte reach 1ppm combined do a 50% water change.

You can dose up to a 5x dose of prime without it becoming toxic and each single dose effectively detoxed 1ppm Ammonia+NitrIte. Just don't dose more than once per day.
According to Tetra 5-in-1 EasyStrips, my gH is 75 . And my kH is 0. It also says the pH is between 7.2 and 7.8. I did test my tap water pH with the API Masterkit a day after the waterlines went out for a bit so something the water company did may have temporarily spiked the pH? I'd have to get the kit out and test it again to make sure though.
Just to be sure, you mean double dose as in dose it with Prime like it's a 110 gallon tank?

Tested the water straight out of the tap, and it's 8.2
 
sfsamm
  • #20
Yes dose as if it was 100-110 gallon tank. But.... Read on as I think we've gotten to the bottom of the dying fish.

As for the kH.... I think that is your problem. You have a very unstable pH in the tank. Your pH is pinging all over and that is extremely stressful for fish. I strongly advise looking into a kH buffer and treating your water prior to adding it to the tank.

There are many kH buffers on the market, one of the more readily available is Seachem alkalinity buffer. It will add to your kH and stabilize your pH in the tank stopping the yo-yo effect.

You will want to treat the tank over several days to raise it slowly to the 4-5 kH and treat all your water to match the tank when you do water changes. You can also accomplish this through water changes and only treating the added water to 4-5 kH. I would recommend twice daily 20% water changes until kH in the tank is between 2-3 and then go ahead with 50% daily to increase the remaining amount. Since you are cycling with fish this may be easier than all of the matching math.... While doing the twice daily changes only dose a single dose of prime each time, you can even dose conservatively (if you use the cap to dose just go to the top thread each water change).
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #21
Yes dose as if it was 100-110 gallon tank. But.... Read on as I think we've gotten to the bottom of the dying fish.

As for the kH.... I think that is your problem. You have a very unstable pH in the tank. Your pH is pinging all over and that is extremely stressful for fish. I strongly advise looking into a kH buffer and treating your water prior to adding it to the tank.

There are many kH buffers on the market, one of the more readily available is Seachem alkalinity buffer. It will add to your kH and stabilize your pH in the tank stopping the yo-yo effect.

You will want to treat the tank over several days to raise it slowly to the 4-5 kH and treat all your water to match the tank when you do water changes. You can also accomplish this through water changes and only treating the added water to 4-5 kH. I would recommend twice daily 20% water changes until kH in the tank is between 2-3 and then go ahead with 50% daily to increase the remaining amount. Since you are cycling with fish this may be easier than all of the matching math.... While doing the twice daily changes only dose a single dose of prime each time, you can even dose conservatively (if you use the cap to dose just go to the top thread each water change).

So, I'll need to get a more accurate kH tester to make sure the water I'm adding is 4-5 kH. And that's for each bucketful I'm adding back in, right?

With the twice daily 20% water changes, how far apart should those be? And can I still add the dose of Prime to the tank water and then pour the buckets in or should I treat each bucket like with the alkalinity buffer?
 
sfsamm
  • #22
I would recommend a more accurate kH test like that from API which so many use in the hobby.

And yes treat each bucket. Which means whatever the size of the bucket you'll want to do the math to know how much buffer to add to the bucket to get 4-5 dkH and add per bucket to the tank.

Add Prime to the tank as usual.

I reread my last post and didn't quite say what I'd intended, it would be two 10% changes a day totalling 20% per day not two 20% water changes.

I'd recommend morning and dinner or 10-14 hours apart from the last water change.

It seems like a TON of work. Really though it's a short period of time that you have to do it and it's conveniently while you are cycling anyway. Once you stabilize the pH you may also see your cycle kick right over and be done with both! It'll be a great day and you'll have mastered the math on your buckets by then too.

Once the pH is stable you will be want to monitor it a couple times a week to be sure you're not dipping under 4 dkH during the week. Generally speaking 4-5 dkH will maintain a stable pH. Otherwise you will be able to double check before water changes and then dose accordingly each week to maintain it.

I just converted two of my existing tanks to RODI water that I'm remineralizing to better kH and gH for the inhabitants so I am keenly aware at the moment of the overwhelming feeling to start. But having done it before I assure you it'll all be over before you know it!
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #23
I would recommend a more accurate kH test like that from API which so many use in the hobby.

And yes treat each bucket. Which means whatever the size of the bucket you'll want to do the math to know how much buffer to add to the bucket to get 4-5 dkH and add per bucket to the tank.

Add Prime to the tank as usual.

I reread my last post and didn't quite say what I'd intended, it would be two 10% changes a day totalling 20% per day not two 20% water changes.

I'd recommend morning and dinner or 10-14 hours apart from the last water change.

It seems like a TON of work. Really though it's a short period of time that you have to do it and it's conveniently while you are cycling anyway. Once you stabilize the pH you may also see your cycle kick right over and be done with both! It'll be a great day and you'll have mastered the math on your buckets by then too.

Once the pH is stable you will be want to monitor it a couple times a week to be sure you're not dipping under 4 dkH during the week. Generally speaking 4-5 dkH will maintain a stable pH. Otherwise you will be able to double check before water changes and then dose accordingly each week to maintain it.

I just converted two of my existing tanks to RODI water that I'm remineralizing to better kH and gH for the inhabitants so I am keenly aware at the moment of the overwhelming feeling to start. But having done it before I assure you it'll all be over before you know it!
Okay, so two 10% changes daily with a full 50 gallon Prime dosing with each water change? Equalling a 100 gallon Prime dosing a day?

And are there other ways to keep alkalinity higher for the long term? Like with the corals that Rainbows and Mithe mentioned? I really do appreciate your help with this! I feel like I'm in way over my head right now.
 
sfsamm
  • #24
Adding some crushed coral or argonite will help maintain the kH in between water changes but will not replace the need to buffer your water prior to adding it to the tank. If you had say a dkH of 3 rather than 0,than yes that would likely suit as a solution rather than an additive but adding unstable water with 0 dkH coral /argonite will not work quickly enough to prevent swinging parameters. Also crushed coral and argonite in significant quantities can raise pH as well as gH. If you want to use it to stabilize your pH between changes you can add a cup or so to your filter or otherwise in a good current (you could aI'm a power head at a bag in the tank or sump). It will slowly release to assist in maintaining your pH and kH between changes but once buffered appropriately should be unnecessary.

If you find after the dkH in the tank is up at 4-5 and you've finished cycling that over a month or so you're still seeing a swing down in kH or pH between weekly water changes it may be a good idea to add some. All tanks are a bit different so you may find that you continue to swing down and need a bit more stability, you may also find that just buffering during water changes works well.

Like I said there are many buffers out there besides Seachem. So don't pin yourself into one in particular. Seachem is well known and widely available and their support is phenomenal so I recommend it for someone just starting down that path. It's also one of the more cost effective buffers available.
 
TexasGuppy
  • #25
It's says on the container, but 2tsp will raise KH 2.8 in 40g. You don't want to raise more than that per 24 hrs. If you can't get that right away, you can use some baking soda for now.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #26
Adding some crushed coral or argonite will help maintain the kH in between water changes but will not replace the need to buffer your water prior to adding it to the tank. If you had say a dkH of 3 rather than 0,than yes that would likely suit as a solution rather than an additive but adding unstable water with 0 dkH coral /argonite will not work quickly enough to prevent swinging parameters. Also crushed coral and argonite in significant quantities can raise pH as well as gH. If you want to use it to stabilize your pH between changes you can add a cup or so to your filter or otherwise in a good current (you could aI'm a power head at a bag in the tank or sump). It will slowly release to assist in maintaining your pH and kH between changes but once buffered appropriately should be unnecessary.

If you find after the dkH in the tank is up at 4-5 and you've finished cycling that over a month or so you're still seeing a swing down in kH or pH between weekly water changes it may be a good idea to add some. All tanks are a bit different so you may find that you continue to swing down and need a bit more stability, you may also find that just buffering during water changes works well.

Like I said there are many buffers out there besides Seachem. So don't pin yourself into one in particular. Seachem is well known and widely available and their support is phenomenal so I recommend it for someone just starting down that path. It's also one of the more cost effective buffers available.
I'll be going by in a few hours to see if my lfs has any good buffers in stock. I'm a little limited where I am. I'm hoping they have the seachem brand since it seems like a lot of people trust it.
It's says on the container, but 2tsp will raise KH 2.8 in 40g. You don't want to raise more than that per 24 hrs. If you can't get that right away, you can use some baking soda for now.
Will regular old arm and hammer baking soda work? And would I dissolve that to the bucket I'm adding like with the seachem buffer or to the tank as a whole? Sorry I have so many questions. I just want to make sure I'm doing this right.
 
TexasGuppy
  • #27
Yes.. You can heat up a little tank water in the microwave in a cup and dissolve in that. Then, add a little more water to cool it, then add back to tank.

2tsp should raise 2dkh in your tank.

"One teaspoon will raise 50 liters/13 gallons of water 4°. So ¼ teaspoon would raise 50 liters/13 gallons by 1°."
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #28
I looked all over and there weren't any kh buffers available where I am, so I think I'll go with your baking soda method for now, Texas Guppy! The plan is to take out 10% of the water, add about a tsp and a half of baking soda to the tank (is this right?) And then add Prime for the full dose before adding back in the water.
I got a better kh test kit as well, so I'll check to make sure my kh really is zero before I do.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #29
The API kH liquid kit says that my tap water has a dkH of 3 or 4 (turned yellow/green on third drop and yellow-yellow on 4th) which is 53.7 or 71.6 ppm. I did the test twice on my tap and got those results.
In my tank, the kH was 5 drops (dkH) to turn yellow. Do I still need to worry about adding a buffer?
 
sfsamm
  • #30
What substrate and what if any rocks do you have in your tank? KH higher in your tank kind of takes me by surprise lol. I'm glad you got a more accurate test those strips can be quite accurate they are just so easily contaminated it's difficult to rely on their readings only for something like this.
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #31
My tank's half smooth, small gravel and half white imagitarium sand from Petco. I've got two zebra stone rocks in the tank too. And I figured they might have been pretty off, so I got some new fresh ones and the liquid kit to be safe

Do you think I'll still need to try and raise the alkalinity?
 
SunEater
  • Thread Starter
  • #32
Good news! The tank has been cycled for about a week now and everything seems stable so far! The fish are eating well and doing a lot better. I've put a few seashells in the tank to maybe raise the alkalinity slightly, and I'm keeping an eye on that and the pH.

Thank you everyone for your help!
 

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