What could be causing very high nitrate?

Lucas35

I have had a constant problem with water quality in this tank since December. At first the pH got very low causing the cycle to crash and ammonium to build up to an unbelievable amount. I drained and refilled the tank and it took a few moths to cycle again because the pH kept going down. Currently the pH is normal and the cycle is good but the nitrate is super high. I have tried everything to try and lower nitrate but I don't know what is causing it. The tank is not overstocked. I am going to give away the fish to a good home if I can't fix this because I have been trying to fix it since December but it has not gotten better.

Tank

What is the water volume of the tank? 35 gallons
How long has the tank been running? Since September 2020
Does it have a filter? Yes
Does it have a heater? Yes
What is the water temperature? 77.5° F
What is the entire stocking of this tank? (Please list all fish and inverts.)

1 guppy (sadly the other 2 died and I don't want to get more until the water quality is fixed)
11 neon Tetras
1 female Betta
4 honey gourami
Lots of rams horn snails (I am trying to get rid of them)
Bladder snails (physa)
About 5 Japanese trapdoor snails
4 baby rabbit snails
5 Amano shrimp
2 pond snails (lymnaeidae)
1 tiger nerite snail

Maintenance

How often do you change the water? Once a week
How much of the water do you change? About 70%
What do you use to treat your water? Nutrafin aqua plus
Do you vacuum the substrate or just the water? Sometimes both sometimes just water but the gravel still stays very clean.
*Parameters - Very Important

Did you cycle your tank before adding fish? Yes
What do you use to test the water?
API master test kit
What are your parameters? We need to know the exact numbers, not just “fine” or “safe”.

Ammonia: 0 ppm
Nitrite: 0 ppm
Nitrate: over 160 ppm
pH: 7.5 (7.4 on normal range pH and 7.6 on high range pH)

Feeding

How often do you feed your fish? Twice a day
How much do you feed your fish? Enough for them to eat in about 4 minutes on the morning and enough for them to eat in about 1 minute at night.
What brand of food do you feed your fish? Tetramin tropical flakes in the morning and fluval bug bites at night.
Do you feed frozen or freeze-dried foods? No

Illness & Symptoms

How long have you had these fish? Since late October
How long ago did you first notice these symptoms? December 2020
In a few words, can you explain the symptoms? High nitrate with no obvious cause
Have you started any treatment for the illness? I have tried lots of things but none of it was worked
Was your fish physically ill or injured upon purchase? No except that the pet store was overfeeding the Betta
How has its behavior and appearance changed, if at all? Yes. Some fish have slight fungal infections and the guppy has fin rot.

Explain your emergency situation in detail. (Please give a clear explanation of what is going on, include details from the beginning of the illness leading up to now)
See the beginning of the post.
 

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awilkinson871

I think the first step should be vacuuming the gravel every week. Snails poop alot and with that amount of bioload you need to remove as much poop/uneaten food, decaying leaves as possible. The higher the ammonia output the more BB and nitrates. You can also add more plants. Plants use nitrates in order to grow. Have you tested your source water to see what the nitrates are in it?
 
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Lucas35

Yes. This picture is of the test I did today.
 

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RayClem

Have you tested the tap water you use for water changes? It may be that your tap water contains ammonia, nitrite or nitrate. My tap water is treated with chloramine, so it contains ammonia along with chlorine. Because of this, I decided to use RO water for topping off the tanks and for water changes. I have to remineralize the water before using it for water changes as purified water is not suitable for fish, snails, shrimp, etc.

Most species will tolerate higher levels of nitrates that we consider desirable. However, a buildup of nitrate may indicate a buildup of other chemicals in the tank.

If you tap water does not contain ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate, the changing 70% of the water should bring the nitrate down. Thus, I suspect you will find something in the tap water. Let us know the test results.
 
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Fisch

It does not look like 160. Can you take a picture in better lighting?
If you know the Nitrates in your tap water, you may have to do more water changes to keep it at a lower level.
 
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MacZ

Either the Nitrates are from the tap or I'd check if the test liquid is still good. I find the latter more likely, actually.
 
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Dechi

How are your fish acting ? If your nitrates were 160 ppm, your fish would be suffering.
 
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MacZ

How are your fish acting ? If your nitrates were 160 ppm, your fish would be suffering.

It can take months until they show acute Nitrate poisoning. But there could have been some unexplained sudden deaths.
 
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Lucas35

Here is a picture under better lighting. It looks like it might be closer to 80 ppm. The parameters in the tap water are 0, 0, 0.
 

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mattgirl

I don't see many plants in your tank but will still ask if you are adding any kind of fertilizers to the tank? If not and you can't get and keep the nitrates down with water changes it might help to run some nitra-zorb in your filter. It would be better to figure out why they are getting so high but while you are figuring it out the nitra-zorb should help lower them.

BTW: I am seeing 40 or possibly 80 in the last test. It definitely doesn't look like any where close to 160 to me.
 
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Lucas35

I don't add fertilizers because the copper could kill the snails I want to keep. There used to be tons of plants but I took them out to try to illuminate the ramshorn snails and they died of when I put them back. I am going to and grow them back as soon as possible.
 
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mattgirl

I don't add fertilizers because the copper could kill the snails I want to keep. There used to be tons of plants but I took them out to try to illuminate the ramshorn snails and they died of when I put them back. I am going to and grow them back as soon as possible.
Should you decide to replant your tank I can recommend the all in one liquid fertilizer Thrive or Thrive C. Both will raise your nitrates so weekly water changes must be done to keep them down. I use the Thrive C in my planted tanks. The tanks have mystery, rabbit and ramshorn snails in them. One tank also has both ramshorn and assassin snails in it. There normally isn't enough copper in liquid ferts designed to be used in our tank to affect our snails. I even use it in very low amounts in my shrimp bowl.

Lots of times plants don't fare well when being uprooted and replanted but given time they should settle back in and start growing again.
 
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Bruinfishkeeper1

I personally use houseplants such as pothos for my overstocked tank. Check out my article below on houseplants in your tank (well the roots are in ur tank, i explain in the article)
 
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Andystanks

Unchance machanical filtration dirty bio balls or you might Wana gravel vac
 
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Flyfisha

As you have been feeding twice a day with NO fry in the tank that would be a good place to start . Feeding for 5 minutes eating every day seems like WAY to much from what I have seen?
Uneaten food ends up in the filter. Over eating and over pooping ends up in the filter or substrate.

I would suggest feeding once per day 5 or 6 days a week, but only enough so that it’s all gone in one minute or less.

( edit as you did not mention fry )
 
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Wouldratherwatchaquarium

I've had trouble getting nitrates down with just water changes. I think a good place to start if you haven't allready is the filter and really good rinsing out of sponges and media with aquarium water. As others suggest, vac the gravel, feed less and more plants are going to help.
 
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Flyfisha

Hey Wouldratherwatchaquarium and Andystanks I agree that cleaning out filters is always a good idea when there is some kind of issue with high nitrates BUT.

Have you guys tested the brown water that fills a bucket of old tank water when you clean multiple dirty ( very dirty ) filters? The liquid test kit is not going to work with a chocolate treacle of brown sludge but the paper test strips gives an idea.
This is a snapshot I took today of the dark brown change water that I had cleaned two sponges and a box filter in. It is my opinion that in this case the brown water has the same minimal nitrates as the tank water. Just saying it’s something I have been looking at for a while and only the paper strips help answer my question or perhaps lead me to more questions ?
036F3E18-E852-4E97-9905-AA685757C926.jpeg
 
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Wouldratherwatchaquarium

Interesting question and nope I've never tested the dirty filter water. I assumed it would be the same as the aquarium water itself.

I have always thought that cleaning a filter is going to directly remove a good amount of the BB colony and thus lower the amount of nitrate they are producing. Unless I'm way out with that thinking haha.

Of course the colony will re establish to meet the bio load so its not gunna be a permanent fix.
 
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mattgirl

Interesting question and nope I've never tested the dirty filter water. I assumed it would be the same as the aquarium water itself.

I have always thought that cleaning a filter is going to directly remove a good amount of the BB colony and thus lower the amount of nitrate they are producing. Unless I'm way out with that thinking haha.

Of course the colony will re establish to meet the bio load so its not gunna be a permanent fix.
Lesson for the day.

The amount of bacteria doesn't cause the nitrate spike so removing some bacteria isn't going to help.

The amount of ammonia being produced causes the high nitrates. Lower the amount of food fed and the amount of ammonia being produced (the bio-load) will be lowered and in turn less nitrites being produced leading to less nitrates.

It truly does go in an endless circle thus the reason it is called a nitrogen cycle. :)
 
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MacZ

Lesson for the day.

The amount of bacteria doesn't cause the nitrate spike so removing some bacteria isn't going to help.

The amount of ammonia being produced causes the high nitrates. Lower the amount of food fed and the amount of ammonia being produced (the bio-load) will be lowered and in turn less nitrites being produced leading to less nitrates.

It truly does go in an endless circle thus the reason it is called a nitrogen cycle. :)

I agree. Cleaning orgies like recommended above only bring the cycle in danger and can cause even more dangerous imbalances. And cleaning the filter in such instances should only be to remove rotting surplus food that's in there.
 
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Wouldratherwatchaquarium

I'm learning :)
 
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RayClem

I'm learning :)

Don't ever stop learning.

I have been keeping fish for over 60 years and I still learn new things every time I visit the forum. The accumulated knowledge and experience of forum members is phenomenal.
 
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