Do Ammonia Go Bad? - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 11:06 AM Thread Starter
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Do Ammonia Go Bad?

I'm cycling my tank with some Old Dutch Ammonia that I got about 12 years ago. It's the same bottle that I used to cycle my tank back then. It still smells like ammonia and the test readings are indicate that it doing the job but I've noticing some bubbles on top of the water. Not a lot, just a few clusters of bubbles here and there.

I gave the bottle a good shake to see if it bubbles and it does. When I look inside there's about a 1/2 inch of foam on the top. Should I be concerned or is that normal for ammonia to foam a little?

33 gallon tall, LIGHT: 24W t5HO (6400K), 24W t5HO (6700)
FILTER: Fluval 206 and a small powerhead 100gph
SUBSTRATE: Eco Complete & sand.
WATER: pH: 7.5, GH: 10.7, KH: 7.
PLANTS: micro sword, ludwigia repens, amazon sword, java fern, rotala indica, annubias, baby tears, wisteria, staurogyne repens.
FISH: 2 corys, 3 otos, 2 shrimp, 2 guppies 2 dwarf gouramis.
DOSING Seachem Flourish products according to instructions, (for now)

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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 01:46 PM
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The foaming is caused by surfactants. They are used in Bleach as well as ammonia. This is incredibly tough to read if you're not a chemist, but scroll to the last few paragraphs and it gives you a flavor of what they are and how they are used:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfactant

The key differences between Ammonia and Chlorine as they are used in the hobby are actually critical. Items disinfected/cleaned with Chlorine are rinsed, rinsed, and rinsed again.........or at least they should be. I've never used ammonia to start a tank. My gut feel tells me that the quantities that you would use, would make the type of surfactants in there a non-issue, but I'm no expert there. But you can at least reflect on your prior experience with the product.

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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 01:56 PM
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Ammonia only goes bad to the extent that it slowly becomes weaker if left open, as ammonia gas escapes from the solution, leaving behind plain water. It definitely doesn't break down into anything that foams.

My guess is that your old dutch ammonia is actually a sudsy type, and always has been. I've noticed several brands market sudsy ammonia without clearly indicating that on the front of the label. Often you'll find surfactants or detergents mentioned in small print on the back of the label where they list the ingredients.

Chemistry reactions:

Household ammonia is just ammonium hydroxide and water.

When dissolved in water, ammonium hydroxide splits into its ions:
NH4OH -> NH4+ + OH-

Then, assuming out gassing can occur, it will undergo this change:

NH4+ + OH- -> NH3 + H20.

Where NH3 is escaping ammonia gas, which is what you smell when you open the bottle.

When the bottle is sealed, some out gassing occurs, but the little air in the bottle eventually reaches equilibrium with the solution and this effectively stops. (technically some is still leaving solution, but it is also re-entering it at the same rate)
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 02:10 PM Thread Starter
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The only thing it says on the bottle about ingredients is a precaution: Contains ammonia. If splashed in eyes or on skin, flush thoroughly with water. It still smells like very strong ammonia. The bottle was never opened since the last time which was in 2003 and it worked fine back then to cycle the tank.

The one tiny little snail that's in there seems to be doing fine so I think I'm going to continue to use it.

33 gallon tall, LIGHT: 24W t5HO (6400K), 24W t5HO (6700)
FILTER: Fluval 206 and a small powerhead 100gph
SUBSTRATE: Eco Complete & sand.
WATER: pH: 7.5, GH: 10.7, KH: 7.
PLANTS: micro sword, ludwigia repens, amazon sword, java fern, rotala indica, annubias, baby tears, wisteria, staurogyne repens.
FISH: 2 corys, 3 otos, 2 shrimp, 2 guppies 2 dwarf gouramis.
DOSING Seachem Flourish products according to instructions, (for now)

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 02:14 PM
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Not all surfactants are dangerous... Since this product worked once, it should work again.

That said, I would do as complete a water change as possible after the cycling before introducing fish, mostly as a precaution.
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 02:21 PM
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Two things that I think of when dealing with old stuff in bottles. One is that the label doesn't always say it has added things like surfactants. This is true of the ammonia I buy at Wal-mart. I'm assuming that there is not a requirement to list it as it is not a food item. So you may have had soap in it all the time. That does not automatically mean it won't work. It just may be more difficult ,etc.
Second is the question of how plastic bottles work. Plastics can let gas pass through even when factory sealed. Some of the gases may have passed through the bottle sides. You can find this when hiking in rural areas when you stop to buy a soda that has been on the shelf for years. It can be totally sealed but all the fizz is gone!
At the price of a bottle of ammonia, I would go for a new bottle?
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 02:35 PM
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If you use that ammonia put a good amount of carbon in the filter and agitate the top of the water with a powerhead.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 02:49 PM Thread Starter
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I will get another bottle but I live in one of those rural areas that PlantedRich mentioned and I don't get to town every day. When I Googled Old Dutch aquarium cycle, it seems that plenty of people us it so what ever is in it, it can't be too bad.

33 gallon tall, LIGHT: 24W t5HO (6400K), 24W t5HO (6700)
FILTER: Fluval 206 and a small powerhead 100gph
SUBSTRATE: Eco Complete & sand.
WATER: pH: 7.5, GH: 10.7, KH: 7.
PLANTS: micro sword, ludwigia repens, amazon sword, java fern, rotala indica, annubias, baby tears, wisteria, staurogyne repens.
FISH: 2 corys, 3 otos, 2 shrimp, 2 guppies 2 dwarf gouramis.
DOSING Seachem Flourish products according to instructions, (for now)

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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-08-2014, 08:14 PM
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I can see the ppproblem. All the rural folks have much the same problem. We would be glad to replace a fifteen cent item in many cases but it may take a half day just to get there and back so we make do.
I'm kind of in one of those in between places. I have Clippard and Swaglock dealer access due to the high tech computer plants here but when I want a four foot piece of tubing, I drive all over trying to find what I want!!!
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-09-2014, 01:00 AM
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If it worked before, keep on trying it. Ammonia in the tank may create some bubbles, they sort of linger, not pop right away like bubbles from an air pump.

Monitor the ammonia level and the nitrite level.

If no nitrites show up in a week or so, then something is wrong.

I am including the fishless cycle here so you can check that the other requirements for the bacteria are being met. Maybe the ammonia is fine, but something else needs adjustment.

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. 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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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-09-2014, 10:55 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks again, Diana. Some great information in your post. I need to print this one.

33 gallon tall, LIGHT: 24W t5HO (6400K), 24W t5HO (6700)
FILTER: Fluval 206 and a small powerhead 100gph
SUBSTRATE: Eco Complete & sand.
WATER: pH: 7.5, GH: 10.7, KH: 7.
PLANTS: micro sword, ludwigia repens, amazon sword, java fern, rotala indica, annubias, baby tears, wisteria, staurogyne repens.
FISH: 2 corys, 3 otos, 2 shrimp, 2 guppies 2 dwarf gouramis.
DOSING Seachem Flourish products according to instructions, (for now)

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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 12-09-2014, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Booswalia View Post
Thanks again, Diana. Some great information in your post. I need to print this one.
+1

This really clarifies the process of cycling. Thank you Diana and Booswalia!
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