Nitrates and Nitrites are HIGH - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:25 PM Thread Starter
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Question Nitrates and Nitrites are HIGH

After setting up and cycling my 36g first freshwater aquarium I did a 90% water change and tested my water...problem Nitrates and Nitrites are very high..

Setup 36 Aqueon bow front with a DIY canister filter (3ft tall 4"w sch 40 pvc pipe) filled with lava rock as media...
Other than some gravel substrate w/ sand ontop, driftwood, and a fuew plants I havn't got my fish yet.. What do I need to do to get Nitrates and Nitrites down so I can begin to add fish
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:37 PM
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How long did the tank cycle, and what are you using for an ammonia supply?

Nitrite-eating bacteria take longer to reproduce and grow than the ammonia-eating variety. It's pretty normal to have your ammonia removed quickly but your nitrates to hang around for a good long while - especially since you must constantly feed ammonia-eating bacteria to prevent them from dying off.

Nitrates are the end result of niTRITE eating bacteria. In other words, some of your nitrite is being eaten and converted, but there are not enough bacteria to convert all of your nitrite in short order. Your cycle is not complete.

Removing niTRATE is easy. Perform a large water change and/or very heavily plant the tank. They will not simply go away on their own.
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:49 PM Thread Starter
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A little more than a week.. I used 100% amonia (no suds) as my amonia source

The amonia went from .5ppm to .02 in 24 hoursso I figured it was cycled
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Ibinyth View Post
The amonia went from .5ppm to .02 in 24 hoursso I figured it was cycled
There's more to it than that... ammonia -> nitrIte -> nitrAte. Just seeing the ammonia drop doesn't mean much - you could still be a long way from having a cycled tank. It's not cycled until both ammonia and nitrite are 0.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:56 PM Thread Starter
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So I should bump it back up to .5 and keep cycling? Also does it. Affect the cyling if there isn't a lot of air in the water? I dont have a air pump on this tank because I plan to keep air breathing fish so the only sir comes from the return on my filter
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 08:57 PM
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To build on that, it's not cycled until the tank can eat at least 1ppm of ammonia and then eat the resulting 1ppm of nitrites in less than 24 hours. 12 is better. I've got a tank that has been cycling for 3 months now and I still don't trust it - it hasn't been very consistent.

The tank is not cycled and you're looking at another 2-3 weeks of your ammonia-dosing routine before it probably is. I've had good luck with Tetra SafeStart in the past, which might give you enough of a boost so that you can cycle in around 2 weeks, but you'll want to add fish slowly.

Keep at it, it's doing what it's supposed to do, it'll get to the end of the road eventually.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-13-2013, 09:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Ibinyth View Post
So I should bump it back up to .5 and keep cycling? Also does it. Affect the cyling if there isn't a lot of air in the water? I dont have a air pump on this tank because I plan to keep air breathing fish so the only sir comes from the return on my filter
Dose a capful of ammonia. That's probably enough to take you to between 2-5 (or more) ppm. Let the tank eat it, testing once per day. Once it's eaten most or all of it, dose it again. This will probably continue for 2-3 weeks, sometimes even longer.

The bacteria you're trying to grow do like warm water, so you can bring your heater up to 78-80 range and they don't like light, so keep them off after you give your plants an 8 hour photoperiod or so. Tank oxygenation isn't really vital, but some folks do say it helps. A decent hang on back filter creates enough surface agitation that a pump probably isn't needed.

You say you're going to keep air-breathers, like labyrinth fishes? Bettas and gouramis and such? Keep in mind that your tank may be too tall for these fishes, and they will require high-growing plants or perches (google betta hammock) to rest on near the surface.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 02-14-2013, 12:55 AM
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See the fishless cycle (below)

1) bring the ammonia to 3 ppm. Test to be sure. Then test daily and add ammonia no more than once a day to return it to 3 ppm.

2) Test NO2 daily, and do a water change if the NO2 gets near 5 ppm. The bacteria do not do well if the NO2 or ammonia are too high (over 5 ppm). If this happens, do not add quite so much ammonia for a few days (perhaps stop at 1-2 ppm) then add a little more once the bacteria have caught up.

3) These bacteria are high oxygen bacteria. You are growing most of them in the filter, so do not turn off the filter, but the regular circulation though the filter ought to bring them plenty of oxygen.

4) Air bubblers do not, in themselves, add oxygen to the water. They work by creating a bit more water circulation (the rising bubbles make the water rise, too, in that area) and by increasing the surface movement. If your current filter is creating gently ripples at the surface, that is plenty. If not, a power head might be a better way to increase the oxygen level of the water buy creating better circulation.

Here is the fishless cycle:
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.

1) 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.

1a) 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. 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.

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 1) 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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