Super High Ammonia (4ppm) In Tap Water

  • #1
HI all!

My tap water is extremely high in ammonia, it's 4ppm. I use Prime to treat it but it is not reducing the level at all. My tank readings are still at 4ppm after 6 weeks. The PH is also high at 8 both in the tank & from the tap.

I have two 5.5 gallon tanks with heaters set at 80 degrees & corner filters. I am planning on getting bettas for the tanks. The tanks have been running for 6 weeks & I don't thing they have even begun to cycle yet.

I guess my questions are:

1. Should I add more Prime?
2. Should I do a partial water change with spring water (or some other bottled water)? I also have access to well water.
3. Should I dump & restart this process & if I do what approach should I take.
4. Is a product like ammo-lock something that would help?

I have spent a good penny on getting these tanks set up etc & I'm getting frustrated because every little thing that can go wrong is!

Any & all suggestions are welcome.

Many many thanks to you all!
  • #2
First question, do you have cloramine in your water as opposed to chlorine ? Chloramine is ammonia plus chlorine. Prime should neutralize that no problem. If very high you may need higher dose. Should say on the bottle.

The test kit doesn't differentiate between free and total ammonia. Seachem sells an ammonia alert that does. You may want to look into that. You should be OK. If you worried still get some tropical hornwort or floater plants to soak up the ammonia. Plants will love it.
  • #3
Have you used any product to try to jump-start the cycling process?

Ammonia readings in tap water are usually from chloramine that's in the water as the secondary disinfectant from the water treatment plant. Its purpose is to prevent pathogens from growing in the distribution system, to keep the water safe for drinking.

Chloramines are compounds of ammonia with chlorine. When you add a dechlorinator (such as Prime), it strips the chlorine away from the ammonia and binds the chlorine into a different fish-safe compound. That leaves the ammonia. So most of these water treatments also contain another compound to bind with the ammonia that comes from the chloramine. Prime does.

Depending on the test kit you're using, it may very likely read this fish-safe ammonia compound as if it was plain old ammonia. Most of these tests cannot distinguish between free ammonia (dangerous to fish) and ammonia compounds that are safe for fish. So we get disturbing readings even though things may be safe. We just see "total ammonia".

Still, the fact that you are reading ammonia in your aquarium shows that the beneficial bacteria in the aquarium (and especially its filter) is not yet well-enough established to "eat" the ammonia (and ammonia compounds). When your bacteria is properly established, it will eat the ammonia from your tap water within a day or so, and you will read zero ammonia when testing the tank water a day or two after doing a water change.

Sometimes it takes quite a while to get the bacteria colonies to grow large enough to do the job.

I've had good luck with using a "bottled bacteria" product to help jump-start the process of getting the tank's filters' bacterial colonies up and going. But it still takes a few weeks.

"1. Should I add more Prime?"

No. Not to the tank. I'd use the recommended amount in the water you add during water changes, but not add any more than that. It won't change the readings you get from your test kit (most likely) because that kit (most likely) cannot distinguish between the ammonia compound that the Prime creates and the "free" ammonia you started with.

You need a test that can read free ammonia to be able to see the difference before and after adding Prime.

2. Should I do a partial water change with spring water (or some other bottled water)? I also have access to well water.

Often, well water is really great for an aquarium. But it depends on the well, of course!

If the well is good, then this will eliminate the ammonia issues as far as what you're getting from the tap. But with Prime added in the correct dosage to your tap water, that's really not a problem, either.

Still, if the well water is easy to use (not a pain, needing to fill containers and haul them, etc.), then I'd test that water, and depending on how good that water is, I might prefer it over the tap water.

But don't give up on the tap water. It really just sounds like your system isn't cycled yet, and you're getting misleading readings from your test kit.

3. Should I dump & restart this process & if I do what approach should I take.

I wouldn't give up yet. It takes some time for a tank's bacteria to become established. I've had good luck with Tetra Safe Start Plus getting a tank started, but there are a lot of other similar products, and people have their own favorites on here.

4. Is a product like ammo-lock something that would help?

Again, I really doubt that you've got an ammonia problem. If you want to find out for sure, you can get one of Seachem's test kits or indicator gadgets that will test for free ammonia.

And keep in mind that you need some ammonia in the system when starting the "cycle" of bacteria. The bacteria need something to eat, and the ammonia is that food. Without any ammonia, you'll never get the bacteria you need to grow.

It's kind of counter intuitive, but the idea is this:

There are two basic types of bacteria that you want to establish in your filtration system:

The first type "eats" ammonia and turns it into nitrite.

The second type "eats" the nitrite and turns it into nitrate.

You cannot establish the first type without having an ammonia source present in the water for it to feed off of. And the second type cannot start up until the first type starts eating ammonia and excreting nitrite. So as odd as it sounds, you need some ammonia to be present during cycling of the tank.

If you have no fish, you usually have to purposely add ammonia to the system to keep something like 2ppm of ammonia available for your bacteria to eat. If the ammonia level is too low, it cannot survive, let alone flourish.

To further complicate things, it seems that some species of the "ammonia eaters" cannot eat the ammonia compounds that Prime forms. So adding Prime starves those bacteria, and once again, the cycle cannot happen. So the tank is safe for fish, but some of the bacteria you want to cultivate cannot live because all of its food (ammonia) has been locked-up in a compound that these particular bacteria cannot metabolize.

Seachem makes Prime. They also make a bacteria starter product that supposedly WILL work with Prime. So that product might be worth looking into if you're going to use Prime. Many people on here have had good luck with it. It is called "Stability". So that might be worth a try for you.

My worry with something like Ammo Lock is that it will grab all of the ammonia and starve the bacteria you're trying to establish. I would discourage using anything like this, especially while you're trying to get your bacteria started.

Remember that the end-goal of all of this is to get a large enough colony of ammonia-eating bacteria established that it an eat all of the ammonia your fish produce, and keep up with it. You end up with a relationship where the fish excrete ammonia, and the bacteria eat it. So the fish are feeding the bacteria and the bacteria are keeping the water safe for the fish. But you have to get that balance established somehow. And stripping out all of the ammonia will starve the bacteria before they can even get started.

Right now it sounds like you have no fish in the tanks. Therefore, you don't need to be worried about the ammonia except that you want to have enough for the bacteria to feed on, yet not too much so that it actually kills or slows the bacteria. 2 to 4 ppm is often what people recommend while cycling without fish. You may find that you need to buy some ammonia so you can add it to feed your bacteria during this phase.
  • #4
Great post above by Jsigmo.

The only thing I want to mention is that it is my undertstanding that AmmoLock detoxes ammonia just like Prime does. I believe there was a time when AmmoLock actually removed or neutralized ammonia (which is not what you want when trying to cycle a tank, since as mentioned above, ammonia is the food source for the bacteria). But supposedly, several years ago, AmmoLock changed their formula so that it now detox, rather than removes ammonia.

But with that said, the recommendation is still the have no reason to use AmmoLock.
  • #5
The only thing I want to mention is that it is my undertstanding that AmmoLock detoxes ammonia just like Prime does.

Thank you for pointing that out.

I was thinking of API's Ammo Chips or AmmoCarb products.

It looks like AmmoLock is something very like Prime, and is used the same way. And I suspect it behaves much like Prime and other water treatments by forming a fish-safe compound with the ammonia.
  • #6
Yes, but I do not think AmmoLock claims to detox nitrites like Prime claims

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