Zeolite filtration instead of biological filtration

monocronto

Hi! This is my first post on this forum and I was wondering if such an idea is possible: using zeolite as the primary source of ammonia removal instead of cycling a tank.

A little bit of background about me: I've tried to get into fishkeeping countless times. I've done endless research on aquarium maintenance and water levels. I know basic aquarium theory by heart. My only problem is that I have trouble putting this theory to practice. Whenever I try to do the nitrogen cycle, the ammonia just won't go down. I've yet to get an aquarium with any level of nitrates. I've tried everything - from $40 test kits to bottles of living bacteria. The nitrogen cycle just isn't working for me.

Now, this has detoured me from truly experiencing fishkeeping, but the other day, I found something that sounded like a dream come true: zeolite.
It's a rock that absorbs ammonia rather than temporarily detoxifying it like conditioners or converting it to a less toxic form like the nitrogen cycle. Seachem and many other brands sell large amounts of ph neutral zeolite at a reasonable price.

I have an interesting idea... Maybe I can stuff a filter full of zeolite and foam (for mechanical filtration) and let it run through a tank. If there's still ammonia, I'll just make a bigger filter and stuff that full of even more zeolite. This way, instead of the typical nitrogen cycle where ammonia is converted into a less toxic chemical, all of the toxic waste is absorbed. In theory, this would be so much better for the fish because they wouldn't have to deal with nitrates (which are still toxic). Every week or so, I'll make sure to take all the zeolite out and give it a salt bath or bake in the oven to release ammonia. This way, I'll prevent a dangerous ammonia crash. Zeolite can only absorb a limited amount of ammonia and therefore it must be either recharged or replaced.

In the possibility of the worst-case scenario, I'll get one of those ammonia testers that are in the water 24/7. This way, I can easily be notified of an emergency and add Prime.

As for Ph, I'll just add driftwood or peat moss in the filter to lower it.

In theory, this system would have its advantages. Ammonia isn't even being temporarily detoxified, it's being absorbed. This means that the toxic waste is being removed from the water rather than being turned into a slightly less toxic one. Even though zeolite can only hold a limited amount of ammonia, I'll make sure to regularly replace/change the rock so that ammonia is always absorbed.

I'm going to try this out with a DIY filter and some ammonium chloride. If that's successful, I'll try it out with a betta fish. I see them in cups at Pet stores all the time and those cups are cleaned just by replacing the water - not through the nitrogen cycle. The betta fish don't seem to be affected by the lack of beneficial bacteria, so I'm sure they'll be fine if there are no beneficial bacteria in my tank.

I also don't plan on having a live-planted tank, so the lack of nitrates won't be a problem. If I want to add plants later, I'll just buy fertilizer substrate and nutrient chemicals. And just for extra security, I'll also add a compartment in my filter for biological filtration that comes before the zeolite compartment - this way, it's possible that some beneficial bacteria develop over time. However, I'm not planning on cycling my tank because zeolite makes beneficial bacteria unnecessary. I'm also not going to skip water changes completely just because there are no nitrates; I'll just do them less often. Different bacterias and substances grow in aquariums, and I want to make sure my new betta's doesn't grow nasty.

Ok, so there is where I need this forum's help. Can anyone here who has experience with zeolite or bettas answer these questions? Thank you so much.
So, I'm planning on having a five-gallon tank with one betta fish. Keep in mind that I'm going to have one of those 24/7 ammonia testers in his tank.

1. How much ammonia does a betta fish or similar sized fish produce per day in a tank this size? (if a betta fish were to be in an unfiltered aquarium; obviously, I would never subject the fish to these conditions but I just want to know because zeolite can only absorb a limited amount of ammonia and then has to be replaced or recharged)
2. How many ppm of ammonia does 1 gram of zeolite absorb before having to be recharged or replaced?
2. To absorb the betta's ammonia for 1-2 weeks before being replaced, how many grams of zeolite is required?
3. To absorb the betta's ammonia for 1 month before being replaced, how many grams of zeolite is required?
4. Are there any other solid substances similar to zeolite that can work as ammonia absorbers?

Also, please do not lecture me on why I should cycle my tank instead or avoid using zeolite. I've already spent so much stress, money, and time trying to do the nitrogen cycle to no avail. I read every article and forum and the cycle just wasn't working out for me. I've done my research on zeolite and have talked to other people and I've decided that this is a good option for me and safe for the fish. I understand the risks that come with this system, but I'll make sure that an ammonia outbreak won't occur.
 

SixThreeOh

You must have magic water if the nitrogen cycle doesn't work. I'd call a university or maybe Coke to come in and bottle it.
 
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Baylum

Haha I agree, you are definitely doing something wrong. What is your process to cycle your aquarium?
 
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mattgirl

Interesting concept so following to see if it is a viable solution. To be perfectly honest though I've not come across a tank that won't cycle.
 
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Demonskid

I used zeolite to help me cycle my tank when I was using tap water, and will probably go back to using it when I start my larger tank. I only used enough to lower the ammonia to a level that would let the nitrites form, I didn't try to completely get rid of the ammonia. It should be possible? Not sure.
 
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MySquishy

I used zeolite to help me cycle my tank...
I...used enough to lower the ammonia to a level that would let the nitrites form,

I’m intrigued. Would you mind elaborating on this process? How/ why it works?
I’m familiar with zeolite for use in the barn/ henhouse. Never used it, but I know what it is.
How does lowering the ammonia cause nitrites to form?
If it doesn’t belong in this thread you can PM me.



OP , idk if it will work, but the concept is fascinating, so I’m following to see!
 
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Demonskid

I’m intrigued. Would you mind elaborating on this process? How/ why it works?
I’m familiar with zeolite for use in the barn/ henhouse. Never used it, but I know what it is.
How does lowering the ammonia cause nitrites to form?
If it doesn’t belong in this thread you can PM me.



OP , idk if it will work, but the concept is fascinating, so I’m following to see!
I don't mind answering here as it may help the OP. Just a fair warning, I'm not that good at explaining things.

I don't really understand all the science behind the zeolite, but this is one of the articles I read:
Ammonia Removal | KMI Zeolite
I wasn't getting many answers in the forums on the zeolite so I trialed and error'd my way through this.

My tap water has between 1ppm to 2ppm of Ammonia in it, and with that, plus plant matter and detritus constantly forming making my bare bottom tank look like I had some sort of substrate, the ammonia kept rising. Too much ammonia can stall a cycle and keep nitrites from forming. That's what I understood from all the threads I read on fishlore and I needed the 5 gallon to cycle due to winter approaching and my shrimp tank at the time being unable to have a heater in it.

What I did was I bought 2 things of zeolite, (Link). I didn't understand the instructions, it required me to use math and I was never good at math, so I experimented. At first I added it to a small terracotta pot that had my water wisteria in it. Nothing happened. I learned that the zeolite needed water flowing through it for it to catch the ammonia. So after dechlorinating my water, I'd filter it through the zeolite. Sometimes it worked some times it didn't because the amount of ammonia in the tap would fluctuate. So I then bought a second a second sponge filter with a media compartment, (Link) and added the zeolite to that compartment.

Since my tank is just a 5g I figured that the sponge filter that would be enough to lower the ammonia to a manageable point which it did, luckily. Because the compartment is so small, it wasn't enough to fully remove the ammonia, but it removed enough to where the ammonia that stayed was able to turn into nitrites and eventually nitrates. I was finally able to move the shrimp I had left into the 5g a few weeks later.

The more zeolite used, the more ammonia that gets absorbed. I think if I had added zeolite to my other sponge filter, it would have removed it completely, but then I'd have no cycle at all.

I hope I made sense. Sorry if I didn't.
 
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FreshwaterCole

This is a very interesting post, lol.
 
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mattgirl

I don't mind answering here as it may help the OP. Just a fair warning, I'm not that good at explaining things.

I don't really understand all the science behind the zeolite, but this is one of the articles I read:
Ammonia Removal | KMI Zeolite
I wasn't getting many answers in the forums on the zeolite so I trialed and error'd my way through this.

My tap water has between 1ppm to 2ppm of Ammonia in it, and with that, plus plant matter and detritus constantly forming making my bare bottom tank look like I had some sort of substrate, the ammonia kept rising. Too much ammonia can stall a cycle and keep nitrites from forming. That's what I understood from all the threads I read on fishlore and I needed the 5 gallon to cycle due to winter approaching and my shrimp tank at the time being unable to have a heater in it.

What I did was I bought 2 things of zeolite, (Link). I didn't understand the instructions, it required me to use math and I was never good at math, so I experimented. At first I added it to a small terracotta pot that had my water wisteria in it. Nothing happened. I learned that the zeolite needed water flowing through it for it to catch the ammonia. So after dechlorinating my water, I'd filter it through the zeolite. Sometimes it worked some times it didn't because the amount of ammonia in the tap would fluctuate. So I then bought a second a second sponge filter with a media compartment, (Link) and added the zeolite to that compartment.

Since my tank is just a 5g I figured that the sponge filter that would be enough to lower the ammonia to a manageable point which it did, luckily. Because the compartment is so small, it wasn't enough to fully remove the ammonia, but it removed enough to where the ammonia that stayed was able to turn into nitrites and eventually nitrates. I was finally able to move the shrimp I had left into the 5g a few weeks later.

The more zeolite used, the more ammonia that gets absorbed. I think if I had added zeolite to my other sponge filter, it would have removed it completely, but then I'd have no cycle at all.

I hope I made sense. Sorry if I didn't.
Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this. You actually explained it very well.

I am sorry you had to put yourself through it though. I don't know how it got started about too much ammonia preventing the cycling process. I have to ask. How much is considered too much. Simply removing excess plant matter and detritus would have controlled the amount of ammonia. The 1 or 2ppm in your tap water shouldn't have been too much.

I am glad you were able to get the tank cycled and were able to provide a safe home for your shrimp.
 
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Cherryshrimp420

Hard to imagine a tank that won't cycle....Unless the water went through a filter/softening system....
 
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Demonskid

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this. You actually explained it very well.

I am sorry you had to put yourself through it though. I don't know how it got started about too much ammonia preventing the cycling process. I have to ask. How much is considered too much. Simply removing excess plant matter and detritus would have controlled the amount of ammonia. The 1 or 2ppm in your tap water shouldn't have been too much.

I am glad you were able to get the tank cycled and were able to provide a safe home for your shrimp.
The ammonia would go up to about 4-8ppm if not higher, those darker colors are hard for me to tell apart sometimes. I'd do water changes to lower it but it'd raise back up pretty fast. I was cleaning the tank of detritus and plant matter almost every day to every other day to try and control the ammonia. There was nothing else in the tank to cause ammonia. I was at a complete loss. Still am. And to think I have to do this all over again when I get my 40g.
 
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mattgirl

The ammonia would go up to about 4-8ppm if not higher, those darker colors are hard for me to tell apart sometimes. I'd do water changes to lower it but it'd raise back up pretty fast. I was cleaning the tank of detritus and plant matter almost every day to every other day to try and control the ammonia. There was nothing else in the tank to cause ammonia. I was at a complete loss. Still am. And to think I have to do this all over again when I get my 40g.
This is a strange one. Hard to imagine where the ammonia was coming from. I am glad you were finally able to get the tank cycled.
 
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Demonskid

This is a strange one. Hard to imagine where the ammonia was coming from. I am glad you were finally able to get the tank cycled.
Same. My poor shrimp were freezing to death.

Anyway, I hope my experience can help monocronto
 
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jtjgg

a few factors would affect how often you would need to recharge the zeolite.

stocking = bioload compared to tank volume
size of filter and how much zeolite you can pack in there.
 
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jdhef

What is you pH reading?

Below a pH of 7.0, toxic ammonia converts into not so toxic (some claim non-toxic) ammonium. And by the time the pH gets down to 6.0, all ammonia has been converted into ammonium. (In between 6.0 and 7.0 you will have both ammonia and ammonium).

The bad thing about ammonium, is that it will not a good food source for the ammonia converting bacteria, so you will not be able to develope a colony of bacteria that converts the ammmonium into nitrites. And without nitites, you can't grow a colony of the bacteria that converts nitrites into nitrates. So basically, you cannot cycle your tank.

You can add crushed coral to your tank to naturally raise the pH to 7.0+, at which point the tank will cycle.

I also have a theory, but I'm not sure it's true. My theory is if you have a low pH and have only ammonium in the tank, does the tank need to cycle? If ammonium is non-toxic, you would think the fish could live in water containing ammonium with out any health issues. Of course you would want to perform weekly water changes to keep that ammonium level from getting too high (much like you do water changes in a cycled tank to stop nitrate levels from getting too high) and also to replenish depleated minerals in the water.

Best of luck!
 
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Jordanlp

I’m sorry I don’t have any answer regarding your zeolite theory and I know you didn’t want questions but the situation of no cycle is very intriguing. Have you been trying to cycle with fish or without? It’s hard to imagine if you’ve got fish in a tank creating waste that bacteria wouldn’t grow, this is no lecture or anything I’m just very interested and hope you have good luck with your alternative method.
 
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