Revolutionary thoughts on ammonia. Please engage brain and comment.

Discussion in 'Test Kits' started by Redshark1, Jun 27, 2016.

  1. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    What I do:

    I use the pH, ammonia and nitrate liquid tests from API and test my water each month several days after each water change. I think I have done this for around 15 years.

    I follow the instructions exactly as described by the manufacturer who I applaud for trying to make an easy to use test which is accurate but fun to use!

    I've been keeping fish for many years, have six very varied aquaria some big some small, some planted some not. I am very pleased with the health and longevity of my fish which include 22 year old Clown Loaches and 10 year old Glass Catfish but I have always been worried about always detecting small amounts of ammonia. We are told we should have zero ammonia.

    My levels:

    My water company claims that pH is 7.4, nitrate is 10ppm and ammonia is officially 0.01ppm.

    Using the API kit my tap water measures pH 7.2, nitrate 5ppm and ammonia 0.25ppm.

    All my tanks achieve nitrate of between 5 and 20 ppm. pH measures 7.2 in all tanks.

    When using the ammonia test all my tanks always show some degree of greenish tinge in the predominantly yellow colour of the tube.

    I interpret the colour to be definitely above 0 but either at or below 0.25 in all my tanks. Some have more green tint than others but I do not think that the green exceeds the 0.25 in any of my tanks.

    Zero nitrate and ammonia:

    What has really interested me with this month's testing however is that I achieved a zero for both nitrate and ammonia for the first time ever.

    I tested my water butt outside from which I harvest daphnia. The water test produced a clear yellow on both the nitrate and the ammonia test meaning 0.00 for each.

    This is the first time I have ever seen a clear yellow colour for either test and I find it very interesting because it shows that the test kit can achieve a zero reading.

    Most importantly, it also finally convinces me that the ammonia level in all my tanks is always above zero.


    The manufacturer states that ammonia should be zero but I have not found this possible at any stage over the last 15 years.

    It would seem very reasonable to me to expect some ammonia to be present in aquaria all of the time.

    Fish excrete ammonia constantly and this has to be excreted into the water before it can make it's way to the filter and be processed. A water test will therefore detect it while it is in the water and on its way to the filter.

    The test also shows that in my case a variety of aquaria can show a small positive ammonia reading under 0.25ppm but also achieve success in keeping fish healthy for many years.

    Zero ammonia may be an unachievable aim in which case we should not be telling people they must achieve it.

    Perhaps the advice to fish keepers should be "Keep ammonia levels under 0.25 ppm if using the API test."

    I hope you found my post interesting! Understanding ammonia is at the core of our hobby so I really want to understand my findings.

    Last edited: Jun 27, 2016
  2. vasyatValued MemberMember

    It's interesting to hear your theory. I've been keeping fish for about 6 months now and have had the same experience with an intermittent green tinge on the API master test kit ammonia test. I'm keeping platies and amano shrimp (first time keeping shrimp) and am very concerned about possible ammonia spikes given the shrimps sensitivity. I have had perfect parameters (ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, nitrate 5-10) with weekly 25% water changes a month. Yesterday the ammonia test looked slight green tinged but today appears almost completely yellow. That lead me to a similar conclusion to yours- maybe at times I am sampling water with ammonia from the fish before it has fully become processed by the biofilter. I think this is an important point to recognize because as a relatively new fishkeeper, it has caused me some concern.

    Sent from my SCH-I545 using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum mobile app

  3. Lady MonsterWell Known MemberMember

    Technically there would always have to be ammonia in order for the nitrogen cycle to work, so you're probably right.

    0 would just mean the ammonia is being converted to nitrite and then nitrate quicker than its being produced, right?

  4. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    Lady Monster yes ammonia is being produced by the living inhabitants of the aquarium constantly. To achieve 0 ammonia is impossible when this is the case.

    I said above a mere 0.01ppm of total ammonia in my tap water is enough to give the API test a greenish tinge indicating ammonia above zero.

    We have got our facts wrong when advising people. It is a kind of political correctness to say ammonia should be zero and such a stance does not stand up to reasoned argument.
  5. leftswerveWell Known MemberMember

    There is no margin of error in the API kit given by the manufacture. So a 3% margin of error is 0.03ppm if my math is correct. That error rate probably doesn't even include human visual and lighting issues.
    Making it a null argument.
  6. Dragones5150918Well Known MemberMember

    Since an ammonia reading of 0 can be achieved by myself and others here, I would think of other suspects. Filter cartridge maintenance, filter maintenance, GPH, to densely packed filter, bio load, over stocked issues, over feeding issues, etc.

    0 is my base line especially when it come to first cycle. I would feel bad if I told someone they are cycled with anything above 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and say 20 nitrate, when they were not truely cycled and it caused fish death. For instance, someone buy a Betta and a 10 gallon tank. The Betta would be a small bio load, and can produce the readings you get in an uncycle tank. So they go out and buy say 10 shrimp for it. All of a sudden they have a huge ammonia spike and the shrimp are dead and no idea why.

    Though I myself have had just above 0 readings in one of my betta tanks, it usually dropped to 0 with in a month, because I changed my cartridge and put my old floss in wrong. My filter for my Betta tank is an odd one.

    So I personally do not think asking for a 0 ammonia is unreasonable, since it can be achieved.

    If you can not get a 0 reading on all your tanks, I would look at other factors.

    Just my opinion here.
  7. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    Dragones, could you explain how it is possible to have ammonia at zero when fish are in the aquarium please?

    Could you please explain how margin of error is significant here? Are you saying that I am wrong when I detect a green tint and attribute a 0.25ppm value? What part of my argument is null?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 28, 2016
  8. leftswerveWell Known MemberMember

    The difference in lighting between interior lights and sunlight has been shown to give a false reading with inside lights.
    Two examples: Both fluorescent lighting and monitors tend to give off more blue light. Blue and yellow make green.
  9. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    leftswerve, thanks for your reply. I see what you mean and that is an important point when interpreting the test.

    However, I follow instructions to the letter and I was able to compare two test results in daylight. One was yellow and the other was yellow with a green tint so I feel competent in my interpretation.

    Yellow = total ammonia of 0, Yellow with green tint = total ammonia of 0.25.

    This was a simple presence or absence judgement and not subject to percentage errors i.e. green tint or no green tint. Some people may have difficulty with these colours (e.g. those with CVD) but not me.
  10. Dragones5150918Well Known MemberMember

    I'm not exactly sure how to say there is a best way to achieve 0 ammonia in the tanks. For me personally it's a mixture of things that has produced 0 across the board for me with a pH of 8.0 in my 29 gallon. Even with the .50 ammonia and 10ppm of nitrate from my tap, in less then 12 hours I'm back to 0 across the board.

    I have a variety of plants, java moss, java fern, anubias, pothos cuttings, moss balls, and hornwart. All of those eat ammonia, and the pothos and hornwart also eat nitrate. I also keep lots of driftwood in my tanks. In my HOB, I have 4 sources to hold BB. Bio wheel, filter cartridge, extra filter floss, and a media box with Matrix.

    In the Betta tanks, there is moss balls and driftwood, and those remained at 0 ammonia as well. In the Betta tanks, I target feed using tweezers so no food reaches the bottom to mess up the peramaters. They are 1 gallon and 2.5 gallon, and can easily go bad quick. Those tanks runs at 0,0,10/20 with a pH of 8.0 at all times.

    As for how I can keep it at 0 ammonia at all times is because food never reaches the bottom to sit in any tank.
  11. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    Thanks for the reply. I am grateful for your honesty and very impressed with the great job you are doing with your tanks.

    I totally believe you when you say you have a yellow result on the water test. That is not in doubt.

    What I am trying to understand is how can ammonia be zero.

    What I believe is the following: A tank with fish cannot have zero ammonia. This is because the fish are constantly producing ammonia which goes into the water before it reaches the filter. So, ammonia will never be zero. Sorry to try your patience but do you get my logic?
  12. leftswerveWell Known MemberMember

    Your logic makes total sense, but it is very difficult to test that low of ammonia with a standard at home DIY test.
  13. slayer5590Well Known MemberMember

    Planted verses non-planted tanks makes a difference in this. I see a lot of the folks that have low levels of ammonia in their systems have few to no live plants. The plants use the ammonia before the BB can. Turnover rates also effect this. Turnover rates are usually suggested at 5-10 times the tank capacity per hour which doesn't leave the BB in contact with the ammonia long enough. A good flow for the BB would more along the lines of 1-2 times the tank capacity per hour.
  14. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    Leftswerve, with respect, that's not very difficult to test. I have already described in my first post that I am detecting this low ammonia both in my six aquaria and even as low as 0.01ppm in my tapwater with the API test. But rainwater shows as zero.

    Slayer, I did say in my first post that I am detecting low ammonia in both planted and non-planted tanks. Some of my tanks are choked with plants, some are not. The fish put the ammonia in the water before the plants get it and the test picks it up.

    Also, I have low current and high current tanks from 1.25x up to 7.5x turnover and detect low ammonia in all. This is because fish add ammonia to the water in both low and high current tanks.

    But I am interested in exploring what you are saying. Can you give me an online source so I can read about the effects of flow and contact times? Thanks.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016
  15. Dragones5150918Well Known MemberMember

    Oh CindiL! Need your water mojo here. I get the theory but hard time explaining why ammonia goes to 0. Please help.
  16. Redshark1Well Known MemberMember

    Dragones, could you not send her a private message asking her to read this thread if you think she could add some useful information - that would be welcome, thanks?
  17. slayer5590Well Known MemberMember

    @Redshark1 not sure about online sources. My experience comes from my work in the public drinking water sector. But it makes sense that the longer water is in contact with your BB the more ammonia it will consume.
  18. Dave125gFishlore LegendMember

    Interesting but more often then not I test 0 on ammonia
  19. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    Hi, I agree that fish of course produce ammonia at all times. The reason your fish are unaffected by the ammonia reading of .25 is because your ph is 7.2-7.4 so it's in an ammonium form and therefore harmless.

    The question becomes do you have enough turnover rate in your filters to get the water through rapidly enough to cross your nitrifyers as I think this is where more is better in aquariums. My GPH rate is 15 times the tank size and my ammonia is always 0. I know that slower filters like canisters give more contact time but that doesn't negate the fact that more GPH = more nitrification. I should say I have two HOB's and maybe that makes a difference as twice the amount of water is running through and being converted to nitrates as with one HOB.

    I would "ignore" what the water company publishes and trust the test you are taking out of your tap. Maybe they are only publishing NH3 or NH4 instead of the total? Even with, let's say an error rate between .20 and .30, clearly there is ammonia more than published for whatever reason.

    The other thing to remember is how in-exact the API tests are when you think about it. For instance I use a dual wavelength photometer now that I bought about a year ago. It goes all the way down to .01 on ammonia and my ammonia reading is always 0 with it. I should add though that my test is NH3 only, not total. It would be interesting for you to purchase the Seachem Kit that only measures free ammonia and see if you then get the 0 reading.

    Now interestingly enough, the nitrite test I have also goes down to .01 and I do always show a slight reading of .03 - .06, which wouldn't show up on the API test at all. So there is something in the nitrifyers that convert nitrites that are slower. I started up a pond a couple weeks ago and my ammonia is always 0 but I have had nitrites of .10 to .30. They don't show up at all on the API test kit until they're up towards that .20 number.

    I think the bottom line is there is probably always trace amounts of ammonia and nitrites in our tanks but if it registers on the API test then I do think it's significant since it starts at .25.

    As an experiment I'd be curious if you increased your GPH of one of the tanks if that reading goes away :)

    I always enjoy a thought provoking topic.
  20. slayer5590Well Known MemberMember

    More gph is LESS contact time

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