Constantly rising TDS and other weidness (seeking advice) - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 06:09 PM Thread Starter
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Constantly rising TDS and other weidness (seeking advice)

Hi there. There's some odd stuff going on in my tank and I'd really appreciate it if anyone could even give me something to try or test to get to the bottom of this.

I have a Fluval Spec V that I had set up for a betta last year. I cycled it fishlessly and like with my other tank, I did not read nitrates or nitrite in it at any point, which I had attributed to having a decent number of live plants in the tank. I had been struggling for a long time, however with hair algae in the tank. It doesn't receive any natural light. I changed the lighting schedule down to 2 3-hour cycles a day. Tried dosing a bunch of different ferts and anti-algae supplements, and then switched to 50% RO water for my water changes. I then tried adding the poly-filter media that removes things from the water and it was showing that it was only removing organic material. My tap water was horrifically high in phosphates (3.0ppm as I measured it) but the tank itself, after the RO mix was OK (a little under 1.0). My Dennerle 30L tank had no problems at all, using the same water with the same 50% RO mix. Many of the plants in the Fluval simply melted and died during this time, but the usual ammonia, nitrite and nitrates were all reading 0ppm. Then the betta in the Fluval started showing symptoms of dropsy, which got progressively worse and I made the decision to euthanize. Again; no traces of anything in the water that indicated an underlying issue, but the hair algae was engulfing the entire tank by this point.

So, I drained the tank, removed the built-in filter, changed the heater and the substrate, cleaned the tank with a vinegar mix and cleaned the driftwood and dipped the plants. At this point, the tank was just a glass box. I decided, given the algae problems, to turn this into a shrimp tank. Got a new filter and heater, new substrate and an aqua one nano CO2 gas kit. Got it set up and decided to start it cycling. I dosed to 2.0ppm ammonia the first day and 24 hours later it was back to 0; gone, completely. No nitrite, no nitrates. I did this a few more days and the same thing kept happening, and then I decided to try over-dosing and put it up to (if my maths is correct) a little over 4.0ppm ammonia. Next day, it was 0.6, then 0 the following day. Again, no trace of nitrite or nitrates. BTW, I'm testing with Salifert, Nutrifin and API liquid tests as well as JBL strips; they all read the same.

On the recommendation of my LFS, I also picked up a TDS meter around the same time. My tap water is 160, the tank with no problems is 175. This tank started at 320 on Monday and reached 680 by Sunday, then I did a water change that night, bringing it back to 250. It's Thursday now and it's just under 400 and is still rising daily. The hair algae is making a strong comeback, too. Even since before the rebuild, I'm also losing a pretty sizable amount of water to evaporation (which I realise will put the TDS up but this much?). I just have no explanation for this; I've tested and treated for anything I can think of or have found online and I would really appreciate any advice, even if it's just "Have you tested [x]?" because I'm out of ideas...
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post #2 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 06:22 PM
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Do you have any stone in the tank? Not all of them are inert and can cause problems.

A cycled tank has nitrates as it is the end of the nitrogen cycle.

How long did you wait between doing all those changes to the tank? Recommended time frame is anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month for each change.
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post #3 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 06:27 PM Thread Starter
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No stone in the tank, no. The tank sat completely dry after the breakdown for a week.
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post #4 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 06:38 PM
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Let me try this again.

How long did you wait between each change when the betta was in the tank? Did you did them all at once? A few days apart? A week apart?

Quote:
I have a Fluval Spec V that I had set up for a betta last year. I cycled it fishlessly and like with my other tank, I did not read nitrates or nitrite in it at any point, which I had attributed to having a decent number of live plants in the tank. I had been struggling for a long time, however with hair algae in the tank. It doesn't receive any natural light. I changed the lighting schedule down to 2 3-hour cycles a day. Tried dosing a bunch of different ferts and anti-algae supplements, and then switched to 50% RO water for my water changes. I then tried adding the poly-filter media that removes things from the water and it was showing that it was only removing organic material. My tap water was horrifically high in phosphates (3.0ppm as I measured it) but the tank itself, after the RO mix was OK (a little under 1.0). My Dennerle 30L tank had no problems at all, using the same water with the same 50% RO mix. Many of the plants in the Fluval simply melted and died during this time, but the usual ammonia, nitrite and nitrates were all reading 0ppm. Then the betta in the Fluval started showing symptoms of dropsy, which got progressively worse and I made the decision to euthanize. Again; no traces of anything in the water that indicated an underlying issue, but the hair algae was engulfing the entire tank by this point.
If you did all of these things in a short period of time, that is a lot of the tank to handle. Since you were getting a 0 nitrate reading, the tank wasn't cycled which is why you lost the betta. Now that you've torn the tank down and started it again, it needs to be recycled.

What are you using for substrate?
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post #5 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 06:53 PM Thread Starter
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Ah, I see, sorry.

Those changes were made over a period of over 6 months, one at a time with about a month in between each, some much longer. I don't know the exact timeline but I stopped using anti-algae meds and ferts before I switched to 50% RO in December last year. I tried adding the poly-filter media to the filter in early March if I remember right. I lost the betta about 4 weeks ago. Between December and now, the plants were mostly doing fine. I had to throw out some java moss because the hair algae had completely entangled it but other than that, the rest were surviving. I was doing 1/3 water changes every fortnight. I still tested ammonia, nitrite and nitrates before the water changes but was never able to read anything. It's entirely possible that the tank never cycled but I did add in and read ammonia during the attempt to fishlessly cycle, which was gone with no trace on further readings. I've been told that having live plants could potentially explain this but maybe that's not the case. I'm positive that the tank was not high in ammonia at any point while the betta was in it, though. Is there something else that the bacteria should be breaking down that might explain the condition of the tank if the cultures never grew?

EDIT: Substrate is gravel that was recommended for shrimp by the LFS. I'm fairly certain it was from Dennerle's Shrimp King range but I didn't take a note of it and don't have the packaging.
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post #6 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 07:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kanped View Post
Ah, I see, sorry.

Those changes were made over a period of over 6 months, one at a time with about a month in between each, some much longer. I don't know the exact timeline but I stopped using anti-algae meds and ferts before I switched to 50% RO in December last year. I tried adding the poly-filter media to the filter in early March if I remember right. I lost the betta about 4 weeks ago. Between December and now, the plants were mostly doing fine. I had to throw out some java moss because the hair algae had completely entangled it but other than that, the rest were surviving. I was doing 1/3 water changes every fortnight. I still tested ammonia, nitrite and nitrates before the water changes but was never able to read anything. It's entirely possible that the tank never cycled but I did add in and read ammonia during the attempt to fishlessly cycle, which was gone with no trace on further readings. I've been told that having live plants could potentially explain this but maybe that's not the case. I'm positive that the tank was not high in ammonia at any point while the betta was in it, though. Is there something else that the bacteria should be breaking down that might explain the condition of the tank if the cultures never grew?

EDIT: Substrate is gravel that was recommended for shrimp by the LFS. I'm fairly certain it was from Dennerle's Shrimp King range but I didn't take a note of it and don't have the packaging.
Ammonia cannot be broken down without nitrites. If you never got a reading of those, that means you wouldn't get a nitrate reading. Nitrogen cycle is: Ammonia ---> Nitrites ----> Nitrates. Nitrates are the least toxic of the three as long as the number doesn't get too high. Yes, plants can help with ammonia and remove it, but it isn't likely you had that many plants that were growing that fast enough to make that much of a difference. If they were growing that fast, your algae issue would have been minimal, if at all.

Fishless cycling requires patience. For some people it goes faster than others. It all depends on the makeup of the water being used.

The hair algae thing is annoying, but all new tanks break with some type of algae or many in some cases. Yes, it is ugly, but it can be dealt with fairly easily once the tank is stable biologically. I had to look up the substrate you're using, or believe you are using. Was it this one? https://www.aquaristikshop.com/aquar...e-Soil/907065/

I'm confused by it. It says it reduces hardness, but adds 'trace elements', whatever that means. Shrimp do not need special substrate. They like clean water and things to graze on.

What does your R/O water test at for TDS? Do you buy it or do you have a R/O system? If you have your own, how often do you change filters?

If your TDS is stable from the tap with R/O mixed in and you are getting these increases in TDS in the tank, I'd say it is the substrate putting stuff back in the water. This is simple enough to figure out with some experimenting.

Take the water mix you have been using ( tap water plus R/O) and put it in a bucket. Let it sit for 24 hours and test it. Do the same thing with some of the substrate added to a different bucket. Let it sit for 24 hours and test.
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post #7 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 11:40 PM Thread Starter
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I *think* it was this substrate; Dennerle Shrimp Gravel Sumatra Brown 2kg - Pro Shrimp UK

Yeah, the 'cycle' played out much the same way in the other tank. Never any nitrite or nitrates, tested with multiple different test kits and after a while, never any ammonia either (that one was a fish-in cycle with another betta, who is alive and well; I read ammonia and did not add it to the tank).
It leads me to think that there could be something else in the water throwing off the tests, maybe? I've heard stories from the LFS that people using the same water source as me have turned up with water that was 9.0 pH out of the tap and all other sorts of things, so god knows what's going on. What's odd is that with the same tap water mixed with the same RO, the other tank doesn't have the same algae or TDS problem. I'm well aware that going from 2.0ppm to 0 ppm in 24 hours with no added bacteria or anything else in a brand new tank should not be chemically or biologically possible, and that ammonia should break down to nitrite then nitrates but I have nothing to go on bar these tests. I also haven't been able to work out what 'solids' are making up the rising TDS and it's frustrating that I only got the TDS meter after breaking down the tank, because I suspect it was probably high beforehand but I'll never know.

The 30L tank did have diatoms a bit during the first weeks but settled down. The 19L had black beard algae at first, then brown hair algae that was out of control, then after switching to RO, green hair algae that took over the tank but in the 10 months I've had it, it has always been an issue. I'll get a reading on the TDS in the RO and run the bucket test and report back; the RO is bought from the LFS.
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post #8 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 12:09 AM
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The substrate you posted a link to is different from the one I found. The one you posted said it is inert and makes no mention of adding things to the water, so that's out. Do the bucket experiment anyway. If everything comes up clean, then it is on to more brain storming unless this is something else in the tank that you haven't mentioned.

You did use straight ammonia to cycle with, right? If it has bubbles from surfactants, that will kill the bacteria. Here's the link to fishless cycling that I recommend and have used in the past here if you want to read it. Ammonia instructions for a fishless cycle | 19627

Is the 30L still set up? If so, can you grab some filter media from it? This doesn't provide a 'instant' cycle as bacteria colonies still have to grow on the substrate, glass, ect.... but it should get this tank off on a good note. If you have shrimp in this new tank, you need to monitor it closely. Ammonia and a uncycled tank kills shrimp.

Do you use water conditioner? If stuff is being added to your water, that can kill of bacteria as well.
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post #9 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 08:57 AM Thread Starter
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The 30L is still set up and doing well. Only thing going into it is Seachem Prime during water changes, which I'm also using with the other tank. Good plant growth, no algae, fish is healthy. In the past, I've left it for up to 4 weeks with no water change and still read 0 ammonia, nitrite and nitrates. I've gotten 0 ammonia since about this time last year and have never read nitrite or nitrates despite regular testing with different kits.

The filter is a Dennerle corner filter, so there's no removable media unfortunately; it's a cotton core with a spray bar, everything's pretty much built-in.

I used Dr. Tim's ammonia to cycle; no bubbles and the dropper is attached to the bottle, with recommended dosage listed there, too. I have added his 'One and Only' bacteria product to the 19L tank after the breakdown. I also used it in the initial fishless cycle on the 19L tank, but not the 30L.
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post #10 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 10:51 AM
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Prime and Dr.Tim's do not mix. You said you used it for the 19L, but not the 30L. How did you cycle the 30L?

The reason Prime and Dr.Tim's do not mix is because the bacteria that is responsible for breaking down ammonia needs ammonia to feed on to grow. That ammonia can come in a few forms. If you 'starve' that bacteria, it won't grow and colonize as it does in a tank that has healthy bio-media along with all the bacteria that lives in the substrate, ect...

When I do a fishless cycle, I do not use water conditioner that converts ammonia. It takes about a week to see nitrites and the conversion from nitrites to nitrates is always the longest part of the cycle as it for most people. That specific bacteria takes longer to grow. From start to finish, the process takes about a month.

I haven't forgotten about this thread being about TDS by the way. Through the process of discussion, we're figuring out what is going on with the 19L.
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post #11 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 12:36 PM Thread Starter
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OK. Seachem's blurb did say at the time that locking in the ammonia did not discourage the bacteria colonies from developing, that it only made it safe for the creatures in the tank. Or it may have someone on another forum said that...
The 30L was 'cycled' fish-in using a single betta, with Prime and doing a 1/3 water change when the ammonia read 0.25; at one stage, that was daily changes but I never let it get much higher than 0.25. Then, I stopped reading ammonia altogether after a while. Actually, the LFS has their own brand bacteria booster called AquaCare Bio Boost and I did add that, but it was added 2 weeks before there was any source of ammonia in the tank, so I can't imagine it was doing any good (first tank; I also planted an anubias rhizome in the substrate for a few days). I did get the cloudy bacteria bloom at that stage, though.
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post #12 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 12:56 PM
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I like Seachem and use their products, but like with anything sold in this hobby, sometimes one has to look past the PR speak and let their tank or tanks do the talking. Your 19L has had a lot to say.

The ammonia source for the 30L was the betta. Prime was okay to use in this case because there was a constant source of ammonia being produced by the fish. Fish food, decaying and or dead plant matter are also sources of ammonia. Since you were not consistent with testing and stopped, you didn't see the full cycle as it were.

If a person were to take a cycled tank, remove the fish and do nothing else to the tank other than possibly top it off occasionally, the tank would eventually revert back to it's uncycled state. How long that would take, I don't know, but with no ammonia, the bacteria dies.

I have never used Dr.Tim's, so I don't have a opinion about it. From what I've read, it does work, but like Seachem, they don't tell you the whole story on the bottle. A person has to go to their website and dig through their FAQ to find information. That is a rant in and of itself, but that is not what we're talking about. To make Dr.Tim's work, you would have to use a water conditioner that does not convert ammonia. A lot of people use Tetra Safe Start, but any of them will do.

I've tried Fluval and a few other so-called 'instant' tank cycle products and they are crap. They're a total waste of money. People can get results from a bottle of pure ammonia for a dollar at the Dollar Store assuming they are in the US. They don't even need a tank set up to do it. All they need is a bucket, filter, water and a few test kits and have a cycled filter in a few weeks.
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post #13 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 01:20 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smooch View Post
The ammonia source for the 30L was the betta. Prime was okay to use in this case because there was a constant source of ammonia being produced by the fish. Fish food, decaying and or dead plant matter are also sources of ammonia. Since you were not consistent with testing and stopped, you didn't see the full cycle as it were.
Actually, I still *haven't* stopped testing. When I said I stopped reading ammonia, I mean the results were consistently showing 0ppm on any test I did. Initially, I was testing daily, I still test weekly. There's still never been any measurable nitrite or nitrates. I'll admit, a few months after I stopped reading ammonia in the results, I wasn't doing the full suite of liquid tests, I was just using the JBL strips weekly and doing liquid tests maybe once a month.

The idea that Prime might be preventing the colonies from developing could be a good idea. I still needs to run the other tests you suggested but since there's nothing in the tank that could be harmed from doing so, I think I should stop using Prime in the next water change and try dosing to 6.0ppm ammonia and waiting, as recommended in the link you provided. I'll do the full suite of tests daily to see what happens.
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post #14 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 01:31 PM
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Since there are no fish or critters in there, you can experiment as much as you want to.

If you wanted to and trust that your LFS is selling you RO water that has nothing in it, you could skip the water conditioner and use RO water only to cycle with. Some people do this, others think it is a waste of RO. Choice is yours. The more options you have, the better.

Cycling a tank with the link I posted works. There is a lot of testing involved though so a person can see where they are in the cycle. There is no way to tell by just looking at a tank if it is cycled or not. Once nitrites drop, a person is done, All they need to do is a massive water change to remove all the nitrates, perhaps do some clean up of algae if they have any and fill the tank with clean, treated water.
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post #15 of 40 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 02:29 PM Thread Starter
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They're a fairly popular shop and they sell a lot of RO, I can't see it being an issue (I'll check it out anyway; could even be an issue with the container I use to bring it home). I'm used to regular testing and a massive water change in a 19L... well it's not so massive. Sounds like a plan.
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