Starting Over After Fish Loss

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by avab80, Apr 6, 2017.

  1. avab80New MemberMember

    Hi everyone. I'm new here, obviously, and hoping to get some advice/tips for starting over after losing all of my fish. These were actually the 3rd round of fish we've had in this tank over the last 2-ish years. Some background...

    The tank was a birthday gift for my daughter & we started out with a group of 6 or 7 glo-fish and a pleco. My only prior experience in keeping fish was goldfish I won at the fair as a kid that lived for years with minimal care, so I didn't know about the nitrogen cycle or doing regular water changes or any of that. Despite that, the glo-fish were actually fine for about a year & a half before we started having issues. Shortly before the holidays last year a couple of them died, but we figured we'd had them for a while so it was just their time. We went away for a week & put one of those dissolving vacation feeders into the tank, and when we came back the tank was full of algae and two more glo-fish and the pleco had died, and the remaining two glo-fish were clearly not well. We took them out of the tank to clean it (not knowing any better) and they didn't make it.

    So - again not knowing any better - we drained the tank, threw out the gravel, cleaned the tank & decorations with bleach water, threw out the filter cartridge, etc. We decided we wanted to try some different fish so we set the tank back up and a couple weeks later went to get fish. At the recommendation of the fish guy at Petco, we got 4 guppies and 3 platys. Things were okay for a few weeks, then one night I watched as 3 fish died one right after the other. Frantic googling of "why are my fish dying" brought me to this site, I read about ammonia poisoning & cycling your tank & all that, so we immediately did a water change and the remaining fish seemed better. I read the articles about the nitrogen cycle and got a test kit & started doing every other day water changes but we still lost all but 1 guppy. We tried to save him, kept doing water changes & testing but I'd misunderstood what I read & thought ammonia, nitrites, & nitrates should all be 0. After another couple weeks we thought the water was fine & our 1 guppy seemed lonely so we bought 3 more guppies, and we've now lost all of them in less than 2 weeks. (We found the last one dead this morning.)

    SO - now that we have an empty tank again and I've done some more reading and think I understand how to cycle and what the levels should be, I want to do a fishless cycle and really try to do this right. But I have some questions.

    1. Should I drain the water that is currently in the tank? Should I clean anything? I don't think any of the fish were diseased but I'm not 100% sure.

    2. What's the deal with pH? The last few tests I did it was on the low side (6.2-6.4). Is that bad? How can I control the pH of the water? Is pH as important as ammonia, nitrite, & nitrate levels?

    3. We want to try live plants again (had them at first with the glo-fish but they didn't last long). Can I add the plants while I'm trying to establish a nitrogen cycle? Does one affect the other?

    I'm sure I'll have more questions but this is long enough already, so thank you to anyone who reads this & can offer some advice!
  2. LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    Drain all the water, and rinse all the decor/gravel and the tank with a vinegar/water solution.

    If your PH stays a 6.2-6.4, it'll be okay. You just don't want it to change; most fish can adapt to most PH levels.

    You can definitely add in the live plants while cycling! Do you have a sufficient light?
  3. AWheelerWell Known MemberMember

    I would drain all the water, clean the gravel and any decorations with really hot water. Your ph should actually be a little higher for live bearers, and to help with the nitrogen cycle. You can raise it a bit by adding crushed coral or crushed oyster shells to a mesh media bag and put it in the back of your filter. You aren't going to need much though, you want to aim for a Ph of 7 at least.

    Upping the temp in your tank will also help things out while you are cycling :)

    As for plants, I think it depends on the plant, some can handle it as long as ammonia levels don't get too high (I'm thinking at least).
  4. bubblegum-heartValued MemberMember

    Welcome to Fishlore! :happy: I know how you feel about staring over, I'm in the process of starting over too!

    1. Definitely! I'd follow what Lorekeeper said about cleaning, just make sure you really rinse everything. (I always rinsed my decorations/gravel until I could no longer smell vinegar, and then a little longer because I have a horrible sense of smell.) If you don't have vinegar you can rinse it with hot water - I actually used tongs to hold whatever I was rinsing so that I didn't burn my hand.

    2. As long as your pH is stable it shouldn't be much of a problem. (Depending on your fish, I think.) You can control it by adding things like pH Up or Down, and there are ways to naturally raise and lower your pH levels. (Like adding crushed corals to your filter.)

    3. Plants can help with the cycling process, so if you want you can add them now or later!

    What size is your tank?
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2017
  5. BluMan1914Well Known MemberMember

    Hello and welcome to Fishlore. You came to the right place.
    What I am going to suggest some members will strongly disagree with me. I suggest that you do a fish in cycle. It's soooooo much easier and faster, plus you will not have to worry about dosing and constant water testing that comes with a fishless cycle.
    Here is what I suggest, after cleaning your tank.
    1: Get a big bottle of Tetra   Plus ( +) and a bottle of   Prime .
    2: Set up your tank.
    3: Add Prime, wait 24 hours.
    4: After the 24 hours are up, you can then add the whole bottle of TSS+. Make sure that you shake the mess out of the TSS+. This is important: It's best to add fish within 45 minutes after adding the TSS+. If not its possible that the BB can die without an ammonia source.
    5: For two full weeks you don't have to do anything but sit back, relax, watch your fish, and feed them. Don't do any water changes, or clean the gravel, or do any water testing. This will allow the Beneficial Bacteria (BB) to build up.
    6: After the two weeks are up, do a water change of 50%, then test your should be cycled.
    Just too easy!!!
    P.S. make sure that the test kit you get is the   Master test kit. It tests for everything except hardness and softness.

    I almost forgot. When you are ready to put fish in only add a few at a time. Ex. If you have a 20 gallon tank, I suggest that you start with only 2-3 fish, a 30 gallon, 3-4 fish.. Also make sure that the fish you will use to cycle your tank, will be part of the final stock. You should never use fish to cycle a tank and then get rid of them.

    Do not worry about trying to control the pH. It's best that you let fish adjust to the pH.
  6. LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    Fishless cycles are best. Please don't recommend a beginner to do this kind of cycle, as it's just asking for trouble, even with experienced aquarists.

    OP, if you wanted to grab some Seachem Stability or TSS, you could seed your tank with that and quicken your cycle. I think everyone else forgot to mention that!
  7. AWheelerWell Known MemberMember

    I did forget to mention that, you can also do fishless cycling with TSS+, I've done it before myself....Just make sure you wait 24 hours after adding prime or any other water conditioner before adding the TSS+.
  8. BluMan1914Well Known MemberMember

    I have to disagree with using pH up or down. In my opinion it does not keep the pH steady for more than a week or two, and it's hard to keep a stable pH. Please just let the fish adjust to the pH when you acclimate them.
    Also imho the only time that you may want to worry about pH is when you are dealing with sensitive fish, or when you want to get into breeding.

    @Lorekeeper, I have to disagree with you. There is nothing wrong with doing g a fish in cycle when it's done right. The reason why I suggest fish in cycle is because cycling a tank can be difficult, and with a fishless cycle it can be overwhelming to some people, also some people don't have the time or patience to constantly add ammonia, water changes, as well as testing, for weeks at a time.
    Besides, there are many members here who have done it, and have suggested it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 7, 2017
  9. LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    Fishless cycles are much, much easier than fish in cycles.

    You don't have to add ammonia. All you have to do is throw in a pinch of cheap flake food once a day or so for 2-4 weeks until you get no ammonia, no nitrites, and some nitrates.

    Fish-in cycling is overwhelming. Not only do you have to do constant tests to ensure that the ammonia/nitrite aren't at toxic levels, you have to do large WC's pretty often, and you'll also have to be constantly worried about something going wrong in the tank and a spike occuring before you can stop it.

    I wouldn't recommend a fish-in cycle to anyone, especially not for someone who's just entering the hobby. I've done them, and I'll never do one again unless I absolutely have to.
  10. bubblegum-heartValued MemberMember

    I was just listing ways you could, chemically, raise and lower pH. I haven't used them myself, it was just one of those, "Hey, this is a thing that exists," statements. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have mentioned it.
  11. BluMan1914Well Known MemberMember

    We will have to agree to disagree.
    The way I've explained to the OP, there is no testing, and no water changes. The only water changes that is done, is after the two weeks is over.
    Personally, I would never suggest a fishless cycle to a beginner because of the constant dosing of fish food or ammonia, constant water testing to make sure that the ammonia levels are where they should be, as well as changing water.
    You say you have done a fish in cycle, but have you done it using TSS+ and Prime?

    You had every right to mention it. You were giving suggestions, nothing wrong with that.
    When I first started in the hobby, I used it a lot before knowing that it was best to let the fish adapt to the pH.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 7, 2017
  12. bubblegum-heartValued MemberMember

    Yeah! I thought about getting some pH down because the pH out of my tap is crazy high, but it's dropped in the tank I'm cycling now and it's been stable, so now I'm not too worried about anymore. I've just got the nitrates to worry about now...
  13. avab80New MemberMember

    Thank you all for commenting!

    I definitely do not want to do a fish-in cycle. We've lost so many fish in the last few months that my kids are a bit upset about it. We don't want to give up on the tank, but I want to minimize the chance of losing fish again when we finally get more. Plus, I want to do some more research and decide what type(s) we want. We ended up with guppies & platys at the recommendation of the guy at Petco but after learning they are livebearers I don't want more of those.

    To answer some of the questions...

    Tank is a 20 gallon. As far as lighting, we just have the lights that came with the tank, I think they are LED. Are those sufficient for live plants, or do we need to get something additional?

    I should probably test the PH, ammonia, etc of my tap water to see where I'm starting from. Should I get something to test the hardness/softness of the water, or will most fish adapt to that?

    My wife floated the idea tonight of filling tank mostly with lush plants and then getting a single betta. Is this a good idea for a 20-gallon tank? Or is that too big for one betta?
  14. AllieStenFishlore VIPMember

    @BluMan1914 I prefer fish in cycling also. Instead of TSS I use Stability. It allows me to do daily monitoring and water changes as needed. I prefer a more hands on approach, so it works for me. I find the whole process of fishless cycling way more difficult, confusing, and just flat out frustrating.

    @avab80 I might have missed it, but how big is your tank? If you are worried about your pH being low, the first thing you should do is get the gh/kH testing kit. Then test your tap water. This will help you determine if you have hard or soft water. If your water is soft, it can cause a big pH crash which will harm your tank. I am not great at the chemistry of it all. I do know that you can add crushed coral (or something similar) to your tank and it will raise your pH and stabilize your gh/kH. The chemical additives tend to be a temporary fix for this issue. whereas the coral, shells, or cuttlebone tend to be more of a stable fix that you just need to add more when they dissolve. (Which can take several months)

    I agree with what everyone else has said about cleaning the tank and decorations. Only you can decide how you are going to cycle your tank. If you decide to do a fish-in cycle I recommend using Seachem Prime and Seachem Stability. Prime is a dechlorinator that also will make the ammonia and nitrites non-toxic for 24-48 hours after adding. Which is what you need while cycling with fish. Stability is a bottled bacteria that will boost your bacteria production while cycling. They are made to be used together. I have had great success using both. I just cycled my 5 gallon betta tank in 12 days with a fish in the tank. He is happy and healthy, and quite the piglet lol

    You will need the API Freshwater Master Test kit (liquid) if you want to monitor your tank. Makes it way easier to navigate through cycling with or without fish. The key to doing a fish-in cycle though, is to have a hearty fish that can tolerate it. So you may start there. Decide what kind of fish you want, and then see if they are able to tolerate the process.
  15. BeanFishWell Known MemberMember

    Fishless cycles are way easier than fish in cycles. But fish in cycles are not that hard and with the basic attention every tank needs you can be sucessful.
    I have done fish in cycles without any of that prime or bottled bacteria stuff, I would consider myself everything but an experienced fishkeeper and even then I have not killed any fish doing cycles.
    I dont believe in bottled bacteria, I believe in siphons. ;)
  16. avab80New MemberMember

    @AllieSten, my tank is 20 gallons. I have the API Master Test Kit & will look into a gh/kh test kit too. I'd much rather do a fishless cycle; even if it takes longer I won't have the stress of worrying about a living animal while I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing.
  17. LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    Gh/KH tests are important, good idea on getting one!

    Any idea how you want to cycle? Fish flake, the shrimp method, or pure ammonia?
  18. BluMan1914Well Known MemberMember

    Ive heard great things about Stability from @Lchi87. The next time I will give it a chance on my next cycle just to get the experience. I'm hands on with my tanks, but hate testing water for some reason. I only test my water once every 2-3months just to make sure everything is copacetic.
    @avab80, will you please go into detail of how you last cycled your tank, and how you will do it this time, this way you can get detailed instructions before you start.
  19. avab80New MemberMember

    @Lorekeeper, probably fish flake since I still have a bunch of it left. I'll get the tank drained & cleaned this weekend. Is it best to add live plants before the tank is completely filled, or can I fill the tank & start cycling and add the plants later? I found an aquarium store in my city that I'd like to try (instead of going back to Petco) but not sure I'll be able to get there this weekend.

    @BluMan1914, I've never properly cycled a tank before! That was my problem. I've read the articles on this site about starting a cycle, so I'm going to attempt to follow those instructions.

    Should I change the filter media, or keep the one I was using with my last group of fish?
  20. bubblegum-heartValued MemberMember

    If you go with the betta, it would love a 20 gallon! You could also do some snails - nerite if you don't want them to breed. (Nerite Snails only breed in bracksih water.) Bettas can be aggressive, and not all like having tankmates. (There's a big debate about it among betta-keepers.) Some are good with tank mates, some aren't. In a 20 gallon though you could probably do some cories with a betta since they're bottom dwellers, but I'm not too sure about which kind or how many at the top of my head. Maybe eight? (Of the cories, not the bettas. That'd be a terrible idea.)