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Old 03-13-2015, 01:06 AM Thread Starter
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Low pH and high ammonia

Having a problem with 6.0 pH and 4-8 ammonia.

My original post (what am I doing wrong): https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/sh...t=#post7389897

The LFS owner tested my water and can't understand why my pH would be so low and the ammonia so high. He thinks something toxic got into the water and told me to drain the tank and start over. I did that and now the same thing is happening. He said the substrate must be bad.

My substrate is osmocote plus covered with a bag of Eco-Complete black and then Estes black aquarium sand.

My fish are fine because it's ammonium instead of ammonia but if my pH ever rises, I'm in trouble.

I started with some cycled filter material and water, have tried daily water changes, tried not doing water changes, still end up with low pH high ammonia.

Any ideas?
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Old 03-13-2015, 01:21 AM
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I am including the fishless cycle. Read through it to understand the optimum conditions to grow these bacteria.

Test the tap water. GH, KH, TDS, pH.

Put some of each thing that is in the tank into separate jars of water and test each separately. 1 jar has a few pellets of Osmocote. 1 jar has a handful of EC. 1 jar has the sand. ...and so on, until a little of everything is being tested.

What is the GH and KH of the water (tap and tank). How do these compare to the fishless cycle?

What I would do at this point:
1) See the results of the tests in the jars. If you find something that is contributing the ammonia, or is dropping the pH, redo the tank to remove these items.
2) Keep up with the Prime. Keep the pH low, until we figure out where the ammonia is coming from. Prime includes directions to dose heavier to control the ammonia. Not sure if you have to do this if it is in the form of ammonium, though.
3) If all the stuff in the tank (jar tests) are negative, then it is the fish producing the ammonia.
a) return the fish and do the fishless cycle.
b) do a 100% water change, add new water with GH and KH more conducive to the reproduction of the nitrifying bacteria.
c) add a bottle of Dr. Tim's One and Only, or Tetra Safe Start (contains Nitrospira species of bacteria)
d) Monitor the conditions in the tank, and keep the KH high enough for the bacteria to get going.
e) If you want to keep the fish while you are cycling, then be prepared to do a very large water change if the bacteria in the bottle are dead. I really would not risk it. Figure out the problems without risking the fish.

Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.
__________________________

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.
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Old 03-13-2015, 06:10 AM
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Also, I would do some sanity checks here... You've been doing W/C's and not driving the ammonia down, so let's make sure that it is coming from the tank....

1) take some of the water you are using for water changes.. test it for ammonia.
2) treat it with whatever you normally treat it with in the tank (dechlorinator, etc), let it sit for a few hours, and test it for ammonia.

If either of these test at 4-8ppm, post-back and detail what products you are using...


Also, since you mention your substrate, you should know that your sand is going to eventually work its way down below the eco-complete. Finer substrates always settle down below coarser ones, assuming neither is buoyant in water. It is a slow process, but as the substrate gets shifted around, the sand works its way down and the eco-complete ends up working its way up. It is just a a matter of gap filling and physics.

You can demonstrate it to yourself by layering them in a cup and shaking it around gently....eventually you end up sand on bottom, eco on top.

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Old 03-13-2015, 06:39 AM
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It's the O+ leeching NH4.
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Old 03-13-2015, 03:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Solcielo lawrencia View Post
It's the O+ leeching NH4.
Plausible, but after 6 weeks of cycling with this level of ammonia I would expect the leech rate would have tapered off some and the biofilm would have grown sufficiently to handle it...

I would expect high nitrites, or nitrates, but not ammonia. Instead we have high ammonia, and presumably high nitrate (not that I believe the nitrate test)

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Old 03-13-2015, 06:02 PM Thread Starter
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Diana, I have a sample of everything in jars with water treated with Prime.

I never bought a GH/KH test because the LFS says I have hard water and this isn't a factor.

Mattinmd, funny you should mention that because my son said the same thing. I did that test a while ago with no rise in ammonia. I'll do it again today. I only use Prime, 0.1 ml per gallon (I use a measuring dropper- very OCD about this). My nitrates fluctuate between 20-80, nitrite 0.

I put a heavy layer of sand above the eco for my cories, hoping it wouldn't end up on the bottom, oh well! If it ends up being the osmocote, I'm guessing I will have to take it all out anyway and it will get mixed up.

Solceilo Lawrencia, I've been reading everything I can find on osmocote plus and have been hoping it would have stopped leeching by now. I set up the tank 12/27/14. If it's leeching ammonium, will it eventually stop? Ammonium is safe for the fish, correct?

Thanks everyone, I'm new to all of this and I'm definitely not a scientist Although I find it fascinating and enjoy learning! I'll keep you posted with my test results.
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Old 03-13-2015, 06:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shimmer View Post

I never bought a GH/KH test because the LFS says I have hard water and this isn't a factor.
It certainly isn't a factor in your ammonia problem if you have hard water... if the GH or KH zero out it can limit bacterial growth and cause problems, but with hard water that is pretty much impossible..


Quote:
Originally Posted by Shimmer View Post
Mattinmd, funny you should mention that because my son said the same thing. I did that test a while ago with no rise in ammonia. I'll do it again today. I only use Prime, 0.1 ml per gallon (I use a measuring dropper- very OCD about this). My nitrates fluctuate between 20-80, nitrite 0.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shimmer View Post
I put a heavy layer of sand above the eco for my cories, hoping it wouldn't end up on the bottom, oh well!
Cories are fine with eco... IMO the "sharp substrate eroding barbels" stuff is nonsense, others may differ in this opinion with religous fervor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shimmer View Post
Solceilo Lawrencia, I've been reading everything I can find on osmocote plus and have been hoping it would have stopped leeching by now. I set up the tank 12/27/14. If it's leeching ammonium, will it eventually stop?
Well, it *should* leech ammonium until it runs out.. but it should settle in to leaching very slowly, and your biofilter should easily consume it all.

Even if the osmocote keeps leaching at a high rate, the bacterial populations in your biofilter should still grow to consume it all.

Normally once they are cycled, tanks only experience non-zero ammonia levels if one of two things is happens:

1) The ammonia input rises suddenly and the bacteria populations can't grow fast enough to keep up. This causes a "spike" and eventually the bacteria consume it all. This doesn't go on for 6 weeks unless the input levels keep rising...

2) The bacteria in the biofilter die off due to antibiotic use, filter bleaching, etc...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Shimmer View Post
Ammonium is safe for the fish, correct?
Ammonium is safe, but as you've noted, it changes to free ammonia as the pH rises...

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Old 03-14-2015, 03:27 AM
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When did you cover the EC?

There is a pretty good population of nitrifying bacteria living on the top layer of substrate. When you cover this the bacteria cannot get the high oxygen levels they need, so they slow way down.
If the timing of the ammonia coincides with when you buried the bacteria, this could be one factor in this problem.
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Old 03-14-2015, 03:58 AM
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Hard water and low ph doesn't sound right to me.
I would suspect with a low ph(test only goes down to 6.0, it could be lower if API) the cycle has stalled and plants are taking up what they can.
Now why ph so low, especially if hard water.
First, don't ever, ever trust an employee at a fish store?
Do you have wood in your tank, decorations?
Do u use tap water? Water softener? Well or city? Co2? Are you dosing fertilizers in the water column and what?
Sorry, just read through your other post for some of my questions. I still wonder about the kh and gh, I don't trust employees!

If in doubt, add more plants!

My not-enough-plants-but-not-enough-space-to-put-anymore-so-will-start-going-up-box-of-water.

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Old 03-14-2015, 04:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jeepguy View Post
Hard water and low ph doesn't sound right to me.
I agree, that sounds a little odd, but it isn't impossible.

There is nothing about water hardness (GH, ie: calcium/magnesium levels) that actually impacts pH...

Now KH on the other hand, is caused by carbonates and does affect pH. Most hard water is hard due to limestone (calcium carbonate), which causes both to go up together..

While not common, it is possible to have low KH, high GH water..

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Old 03-14-2015, 02:36 PM Thread Starter
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Here are the test results:

Tap water pH 7.6 Ammonia 0

Tap water with Prime pH 7.6 Ammonia 0

Osmocote + pH 6.4 Ammonia 8.0

Gneiss rock pH 7.6 Ammonia 1.0

Malaysian Driftwood pH 6.4 Ammonia 0

Sand pH 7.6 Ammonia 0

Eco-Complete pH 7.6 Ammonia 0.25

Diana, the O+, Eco and Sand were installed at the same time, are you saying the beneficial bacteria are sinking below the sand?

So the Osmocote + is the culprit. Is the Gneiss rock a problem? This particular piece was out of the tank for over a week before I tested, is the ammonia 1.0 just a remnant? I'm guessing the Eco-Complete is just saturated with the O+ causing the 0.25 ammonia reading, although I did rinse this particular sample to get the O+ pellets out.

What do I do???? The driftwood should keep the pH from going over 6.4, so do I need to worry about digging the O+ out or let it run it's course?

Bump: Jeepguy,

The LFS owner knows his stuff, it's well known that Columbus water is hard, but that's all I know. He's stumped on this problem as well, it doesn't make sense.

Years ago I had an aquarium but never tested anything and it did great, only problem was snail shells were deteriorating so I added crushed oyster shell and it worked.

Would low calcium/magnesium play into the ammonia problem?

Sorry guys, I should've just bought the KH/GH test but didn't want to pay shipping on Amazon.
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Old 03-14-2015, 03:09 PM Thread Starter
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Found our local water source info:

pH average 7.8 (range 7.7-7.9)

Hardness ppm average 104 (range 83-123) gpg 6.1 (range 4.9-7.2)

Nitrate ppm average 1.6 (range 0.80-1.04)

Total Organic Carbon average 2.24 (range 1.90-2.80)
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Old 03-14-2015, 03:25 PM
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Great!

Yes, the test with just tap water is what a glass box of water would be if you did nothing else to it.

Seeing the results of each item taken one at a time shows what each item is contributing.

Take the Gneiss out of the water, scrub it really well (perhaps with a soft bristled brush) and test it again. Remove any possible surface contaminant.
REALLY odd for a rock to raise the ammonia levels.

I thought you had the EC in there first for a while, then added sand later. No, bacteria is not sinking through the sand. Bacteria will live on the surface of the grains of sand.

In your last post, which water hardness are you reporting? GH? or KH? (KH might also be called alkalinity)

What I would do:
Strip it down, remove the Osmocote.
Rinse the EC and the sand REALLY WELL to get rid of the ammonia.
When you set it up again maybe put just a few Osmocote on the actual bottom of the tank, under all the substrate. Then do not disturb this layer when you plant.
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Old 03-14-2015, 03:39 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Diana, I'm going to start working on it.

The water report just says hardness, doesn't say alkalinity or acidity anywhere in the report, so who knows if they mean GH or KH by hardness.

Hopefully the redo will finally solve the problem. Thanks!
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Old 03-14-2015, 04:22 PM
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Generally hardness when not specified means GH.

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