Saving a neglected tank

pugletfan

Hi! I am brand new here! Wow , what a helpful forum! I have a 29 gallon tank , running about 7 years, HOB filter (Penguin 330), that I have sadly neglected in recent years. So now I am trying to be a good fish owner and take good care of it! It has live plants (Java fern, anubias, a few Amazon swords, a banana plant), cf light 65 watts (10,000 K daylight). Current fish : 1 red eye tetra, 2 zebra danios, 1female platy, a few platy fry. I used to have more tetras and danios and platys. Ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate 40, pH 6.0 before water change, 6.2 or 6.4 after. I have been doing 20% water changes 3 x per week the last 2 weeks. Also I used to have a huge algae problem (tons of dark green hair algae) but the light bulb burned out a few months ago and I just replaced it. Still remnants of algae but generally tank looks great. Somehow the java fern and anubias did fine without lights, just from the room. Swords and banana plant are new. Ugh, I feel terrible for being negligent!! But today is a new day, right? Are frequent water changes good? 3 x a week ok? Java fern is growing on 2 large pieces of driftwood . Should I vacuum under them often? I did vacuum under them once. I may re-home the fish at some point and get new ones, gradually, but I am still thinking about good stocking schemes. Still want to keep peaceful small community fish. Ideas? I realize that for now water changes to get the nitrates down would be good. Lights are on 8 hours/ day to avoid fueling more algae growth. I changed both filter inserts last week but in the future will alternate replacing them. I use Prime and Flourish (for plants, 1/ week). Thanks so much for the support !
 

Drakkenfyre

I am not super experienced with plants, but some people with heavily-planted tanks don't vacuum their tanks at all, and let the mulm decompose to feed the plants.

And yes, Java fern and Anubias are low-light plants.

If you are trying to get a problem under control, 3X a week would be fine depending on the problem, and the kind of fish you have. If your water parameters are fine, and your Nitrates aren't going above 40, I would say it's not necessary 3X a week, but shouldn't hurt anything.

Not trying to promote a product here like I work for the company, but Seachem Purigen works good in removing Nitrate, and will make your water crystal-clear. The smallest version is a 100ml pouch that will clean up to 100 gallon tanks (smaller tanks are fine, too) and last for months. You just rinse it well, and place it in your filter. Once it's dark brown or black, you can either regenerate it (there are instructions included) or replace it. The bulk stuff requires a very fine media bag as it's so fine it will leak out of everything else.

Of course treating the source of the Nitrates is better than using something to remove it constantly, but if your water already has Nitrates, or Nitrates are an on-going problem even with addressing it, it's helpful.
 

Lucy

HI pugletfan welcome to FishLore!!

Sounds like you are getting things under control.
That's great!

Good luck!
 

pugletfan

Are some fish going to be bothered by nitrates of 40, or do I not need to worry about it? I suspect that the nitrates are that high and the pH is rather acidic (6.0 to 6.2 or 6.4) because I didn't stay on top of water changes. So I am doing more frequent water changes to try to help out my tank, even though there are no major water problems (ammonia and nitrite are 0). At some point I will do once a week water changes.
 

Theman1

I would get the nitrates down to at least 20.
 

Sarcasm Included

Frequent smaller water changes are much better for bringing down the nitrates than one big one. Even though the nitrates are not good for the fish at that level, a drastic change would shock them. Is your tap that acidic or is the driftwood leaching? You might consider a buffer in the tank to keep it from dropping like that.
Sounds like your working on things fine though.
Welcome to Fishlore and back into the hobby.
 

ricmcc

If your pH is actually dropping after a W/C, I would think that either your source water is quite acidic (rare) or that you have a lot of nitrogenous material in your tank, the breakdown of which often causes a lowering pH and is most often seen in older, well established tanks--it also increases the nitrate load.
I love Seachem products, and highly recommend purigen, but I don't think that it actually adsorbs nitrates directly, but rather their precursors--Seachem does sell products like De-nItrate that address nitrates directly, and bring them down very quickly. The Seachem website is well worth a visit.
Changing your water 3 times a week is great, I do that, but in fairness, I am retired, and therefore have the time for it,, which not all do. Still, W/Cs are rather like brushing your teeth--hard to overdo
I would strongly suggest that you get your schooling fish, the tetras, some company, they really need others of their species to do well.
Giving your tank a good scrub inside to remove the algae remnants, and doing a thorough gravel vac will almost certainly lower your nitrates--do it just prior to a W/C..
Very nice to see you here, and other than me, the members here do know their stuff, and make this a friendly, as well as informed site. Best to you, rick
 

gilpi

Sounds like you are doing the right thing with water changes and up keep . I have also amazon swords and ferns and they do well under a couple of 6500k T8 strips. Actually lack of light for a couple of days is good to kill some algae but your plants will need some light. You can go on the cheap as I did and get a shop light and just hang it over the tank. How was the cf light working for you?
 

pugletfan

My fish tank is pH 6.0 before a water change and after the water change it is 6.2 or 6.4. Slightly more basic. My tap water is pH 7. My tank is about 7 years old . So I think with continued water changes it should gradually become less acidic and also the nitrates should come down. I do realize that very gradual changes are much better for my fish. Thank you all for your input!!!
 

endlercollector

This acidic water is actually good for tetras--what luck! Your situation is really not at all bad. I became quite ill for a couple of years, and my tanks suffered terribly. Yours is nowhere near that bad. Here's what I'd recommend:

1) Your water changes are quite reasonable--stay on that course

2) Do vacuum your gravel well and move your plants around as much as possible to get gunk out from around the roots and under the decor. You have gravel, so you can have gas pockets. Only a dirt or dirt-like substrate will be able to handle decaying matter.

3) I would take a large bunch of some kind of bacopa and float it. It will soak up the nitrates and not melt like anacharis, vals, or hornwort. This would be a more natural approach and not require regular doses of chemicals.

A. You can let roots develop and then push it into the gravel and also anchor it somewhat by tying bunches to decorations, so that the roots will grow down into the substrate.

B. Bacopa is cheap, grows like crazy, you just break up the stems, and you have more plants. If you have too much, let the trimmings dry out and compost it (do not release into waterways). Heavily planted tanks should have nitrates from 20 to 40 ppm. I have actually gotten water changes down to once every 4 weeks on some of my gravel tanks. But you will need to take your water readings religiously to see when you need to change water.

With this soft, acidic water, you can go with a community tank of a school of small tetras, a few small gouramis, and a shoal of small cories. Or just go all Southeast Asian. It'd be sweet. Our water is so hard, and I've done some real jumping through hoops to keep softer water fish before just sticking mostly with Endler's
 

ricmcc

On the off chance that you meant Seachem's de-Nitrate in using plants rather than chemicals to reduce nitrates, I agree entirely that chemical filtration is best avoided., but would point out that de-Nitrate is far more akin to a bio ring, than to a chemical filtration agent such as A/C. Once in the filter, it stays there, with the occasional light rinse.
And as a Btw, why is it whenever I hear the word Bacomba, I immediately start to channel Richie Valens, and sing&dance to , "Ba, ba, Comba, ladee de dah". Not a pretty sight, I can assure you---rick
 

pugletfan

Endlercollector, thanks for all the useful input! I will continue with water changes and vacuuming under my driftwood . Floating fast-growing plants is a great idea. Thanks for the specific plant suggestion too! Good for out-competing the algae too! My tank looks wonderful now with all the tlc and it will be great to see it with more fish. Thanks too for the fish suggestions!
 

endlercollector

Endlercollector, thanks for all the useful input! I will continue with water changes and vacuuming under my driftwood . Floating fast-growing plants is a great idea. Thanks for the specific plant suggestion too! Good for out-competing the algae too! My tank looks wonderful now with all the tlc and it will be great to see it with more fish. Thanks too for the fish suggestions!

Be sure to post updates with pics! Glad to be of some help
 

pugletfan

I need to learn how to post pics from my iPhone .
 

pugletfan

The cf light is working fine so far. I have a great fish store about 30 minutes away, with very knowledgeable folks . Very helpful. They advised me on lighting when I set up this tank years ago.
 

pugletfan

I just did another water change ( I remove 5 gallons from a 29 gallon tank). Vacuumed under both pieces of driftwood . Got lots of stuff out of the gravel. Nitrates were the same before and after, as nearly as I can tell (40). Measured my tap water for nitrates and it looks like 5. Seems like the nitrates would be lower after a water change. Hmmm... The piece of driftwood on the left is definitely well aged, black, easy to break off pieces. Should I keep vacuuming all of the gravel, working around the plants, every time I vacuum / water change? Or just do the front part?
 

endlercollector

You're doing great with the vacuuming! Pic looks nice!

You will have to vacuum all the gravel every week. It just comes with the territory. Sloping the gravel down toward will help concentrate the gunk there, but it doesn't get rid of the need to vacuum everywhere.

You are going to have to a min 50% water change to see the nitrate go down to 20 ppm. Changing 5 gallons every few days should help hold this nitrate level on place, but it won't cut it down.

Hope this helps ≥Ö‿Ö≤
 

pugletfan

So each water change should be 50%? And keep doing this several times per week until the nitrates come down?

I got some bacopa and wysteria plants to add . And I may try adding purigen in the filter.
 

endlercollector

Yes, people do 50-75% and even 80% changes to get down nitrates fast, but the fish can go into shock and keel over. Been there, done that. Ugh.

There's also the smaller, 10% daily approach. That worked well for me when setting up a 10-gal Walstad inspired tank with a medium bio load. I saw it recommended on another site for treating old tank syndrome, but I went with the most aggressive water change route. But then I was dealing with nitrates bouncing up from 20 ppm to 160+ in a week. You are not there by any means.

The plants will make a big difference, and remember that they need nitrates, so 20-40 ppm will be good for balance.
 

pugletfan

Thank you so much for your helpful advice! Since I only currently have 4 small fish , I suspect the major source of the nitrates might be in the gravel? This tank over the years has housed quite a few platys (the original ones raised some babies in the tank) as well as a small school of red eye tetras and zebra danios. So a lot of stuff has collected in the gravel over the years. I am now working hard to vacuum it clean!

Since most of the fish are around 7 years old, it is sort of a fish nursing home! They are obviously acclimated to the water so I wonder if frequent smaller water changes might be better than less frequent large changes. I will continue to do my best for these fish! I still use buckets for water changes so it takes a while. And since I don't enjoy hauling 5 gallons of water, it gets scooped and dumped in 1/2 gallon increments! Trying to save my back!

I have learned more from fishlore in a week than by 30 years of reading aquarium books. My original aquarium mentor years ago advised no water changes , fiddling with water parameters with chemicals, and treating illness with meds. It's amazing my early aquariums succeeded ! I did read about and do fairly regular water changes.

Should I gently unplant and vacuum under my few plants that are rooted in the gravel (6 are) ? Most are tied to driftwood (java fern ) or floating. A few of the planted plants (anubias) could be tied to rocks or driftwood too I guess. I think only the 2 amazon swords must remain planted. And a little crypt is growing back from where it once was planted.
 

Drakkenfyre

And since I don't enjoy hauling 5 gallons of water, it gets scooped and dumped in 1/2 gallon increments! Trying to save my back!

Google "Python water changer."

Just remember to put water conditioner in the tank before using it, obviously.
 

pugletfan

I still have hair algae on my java fern and driftwood . I have been reading the thread on getting rid of hair algae and am pondering whether to keep trying physical removal / snipping off affected leaves or take drastic action and hit the tank with H2O2 followed by Flourish Excel. Could also consider dipping the java fern /driftwood things in something instead of adding stuff to my tank. But I don't know how to do that. Thoughts?
 

Drakkenfyre

I still have hair algae on my java fern and driftwood . I have been reading the thread on getting rid of hair algae and am pondering whether to keep trying physical removal / snipping off affected leaves or take drastic action and hit the tank with H2O2 followed by Flourish Excel. Could also consider dipping the java fern /driftwood things in something instead of adding stuff to my tank. But I don't know how to do that. Thoughts?

Snipping affected leaves isn't going to do much except make your plants look bare. Java fern is slow-growing. And there would probably be enough hair algae to keep bringing it back.

Hydrogen-Peroxide has to be carefully used. Your plants won't care much, but you can poison your fish with it if you use too much. And inverts like shrimp can't take it at all. Same with Excel, but even moreso (except the invert part, Excel can be used safely with inverts if you are careful.)

If you use a syringe or pipette to squirt some Excel right on the hair algae, that's probably the best way to use it. I don't have experience with how much to use with that method because I don't use Excel, so someone else will have to chip in with that.
 

pugletfan

Ok, I just did a 50% water change, vacuumed all the gravel. Nitrates reduced from 40 to 20! Also used a syringe to put a dose of Excel near some of the hair algae. This tank is on the road to recovery! Thanks so much to all you experienced folks for being so helpful!!!
 

endlercollector

So glad your tank is on the road to health and happy fish
 

Drakkenfyre

Glad to hear the tank is doing better.
 

pugletfan

Yesterday I did a 50% water change and nitrates came down from 40 to 20. Today they are 40. I plan to keep on doing 50% water changes 2 to 3 times per week for now. Plus vacuuming gravel.

I got Purigen and am thinking of using it too. Good idea? Would it make the nitrates too low for live plants? What should be my goal for nitrates? 20 to 40?
 

Drakkenfyre

Yesterday I did a 50% water change and nitrates came down from 40 to 20. Today they are 40. I plan to keep on doing 50% water changes 2 to 3 times per week for now. Plus vacuuming gravel.

I got Purigen and am thinking of using it too. Good idea? Would it make the nitrates too low for live plants? What should be my goal for nitrates? 20 to 40?

Purigen is great stuff. My tank was 98% clear (I had some slight haze under the lights, figured it was just the particulates in the water, and it was normal) after putting Purigen in, it was 100% clear.

I have plants and Purigen, and mine seem to do fine. My test usually reads between 0-5 Nitrate.

Nitrates should remain 40 or under. 40 is where you should start doing water changes if you see it that high. 20 is good. Lower than that is even better.

As long as you stay consistently around 20 and below, you don't have to worry much. If you get plenty of plants, they will suck it up, and you won't have to worry much about it.

There are also chemical filtration you can use to remove Nitrate. Nitra-Zorb (I think that's the name) by API is supposed to remove it. de-Nitrate by Seachem, too. There are several products.

However, with a planted tank, I wouldn't use those simply because I think the plants should get the benefit of the Nitrate, and would do a more-consistent removal on a permanent basis without having to replace media. Of course, if you had really high source water, then using both might work.
 

KDS

I second the idea of using bacopa. When my nitrates get high and I don't have time for a water change, I grab a huge handul out of my koi pond and float it in the top of my tank. Works great and when get around to the water change I just throw it back in the pond.
 

pugletfan

I found a very small package of Bacopa at Petsmart (in a fancy sealed up package). Haven't seen it at other local shops. Maybe a store could order it for me? Or I could order it online? Where do you buy aquarium plants?
 

Harlebleondora

I normally order my plants from my LFS. They are supplied by pisces so they have a big range.
 

pugletfan

I test my water before a water change. Then I use prime in the water that I add. Can I test the water again right after the water change or is it good to wait 24 hours. I am wondering if Prime would change the results because (I think) it binds to nitrate? Not sure. Ammonia and nitrite are always 0; just checking nitrate levels.

Thanks!!
 

Drakkenfyre

I test my water before a water change. Then I use prime in the water that I add. Can I test the water again right after the water change or is it good to wait 24 hours. I am wondering if Prime would change the results because (I think) it binds to nitrate? Not sure. Ammonia and nitrite are always 0; just checking nitrate levels.

Thanks!!

Prime doesn't change the test results. In fact, if you use it to detoxify ammonia and nitrite, and you use a kit like API's which cannot distinguish between free and bound versions of those chemicals, it will read like normal, and may make you worry.

Because it takes awhile for the water to even itself out after a change (pH and hardness change, for example) you probably won't get a super-accurate reading for a day or two, but I would wait at least an hour or two before retesting, to give the filter some time to recirculate the water, and let it even out.
 

Cailyn

HI you mentioned that you have had danios before, just a quick question approximately how long did they live for?
 

pugletfan

I am pretty sure the two danios in my tank are 7 years old at least, maybe a bit more. They are very hardy fish!
 

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