When you’re just starting with a new fish tank, you’ve probably heard about aquarium cycles. This is where you let nitrite and ammonia hit 0 ppm before you add the fish. It can seem somewhat confusing, but ammonia is important.
All aquatic systems have it, and it must be dealt with appropriately. Most of the time, microorganisms do it. However, you may need to intervene with chemicals and water changes.
We’re going to explain what ammonia is and the right levels for a fish tank. Then, you’re going to find out how it affects the tank and how to keep it from being a problem.
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What Is Ammonia?
Ammonia (NH3) is a chemical compound that often happens because of fish waste and decayed organic matter in the aquarium. There’s bound to be some ammonia at times. However, at high levels, ammonia poisoning happens and affects everything in the tank.
This means you’ve got to fully cycle in a new fish. You’ve also got to establish the biological filter. In fact, ammonia’s the first step for facilitating a nitrogen cycle in your aquarium.
The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle
Ammonia gets turned into nitrite because of the beneficial bacteria inside the aquarium. A source of ammonia is necessary to jumpstart the process, and it often gets created from fish waste.
Other options can include putting in pure ammonia. Ghost feeding is also a possibility. This is where you put in too much food, and it is left to decay so that it releases ammonia.
Nitrifying bacteria perform the nitrification process to convert ammonia to nitrates. They are then transformed into different nitrifying bacteria called nitrates.
Organisms and plants can take in nitrates more easily. Once you detect them (through a test kit), a large water change is necessary. Then, you can start adding your fish.
This process takes about three to six weeks to complete. However, there are varying circumstances involved.
What Does Ammonia Do For the Aquarium?
Ammonia can seem like a bad thing for the aquarium, but it’s food for some of the plants and microorganisms. Once your tank has been thoroughly cycled, ammonia enters into the tank from fish waste. Fish excrete the ammonia as waste, and then it’s converted to good things in the tank.
The uneaten food and all the organic matter in the tank are consumed by something. That way, it gets integrated back into the nitrogen and food cycle.
In return, the bacteria feed on the ammonia to reduce levels in the tank and keep your fish from developing ammonia poisoning. Plus, aquarium plants also take up nitrites, ammonia, and nitrates to grow. This helps to maintain and lower the ammonia levels within the tank.
Best Ways to Lower or Remove Ammonia in Aquariums
You don’t necessarily want to lower ammonia levels if you’re starting a new tank unless they get unmanageable. However, if you’ve already got an established ecosystem, it’s important to keep it at the right level. Typically, 1-2 ppm is suitable for the beginning stages of your cycle.
If the ammonia levels are higher, the cycle could stall. That means your beneficial bacteria can’t keep up with ammonia amounts produced in the tank. You may need to get rid of or reduce ammonia manually, and there are many ways to do it.
One of the most efficient and easiest ways to lower the ammonia levels is by performing a water change (or multiple water changes). They immediately remove all the ammonia from the tank and introduce safe water. This helps dilute any remaining ammonia traces in the system.
Consider spacing water changes out over a few days. That way, fish and invertebrates don’t become more stressed than necessary.
Once you’ve tested the water quality and know that ammonia is a problem, consider performing a large water change of 50 percent. You should allow the system to realign itself and then test again the next day. If there’s still ammonia present, perform a 20 to 30 percent partial water change.
Wait one more day and then test again. You can continue performing partial water changes as necessary until ammonia levels read 0 ppm. However, you should also be looking into why there was a high ammonia spike.
Ammonia is going to continue being introduced into your water if the tank is overcrowded. Another option is that something died in the tank and must be removed.
Water changes are the easiest option to remove high ammonia levels. However, a chemical supplement might also be necessary. It can also speed up the process of cycling a new tank, and there are many products on the market.
You can also introduce beneficial bacteria products into the aquarium. These are going to keep all the nutrients at the right range.
However, they aren’t going to immediately reduce the level of ammonia. Instead, good bacteria gets added to help the nitrogen cycles process faster.
It’s a good idea to keep conditioner products on hand. They’re a great way to remove chlorine, detoxify nitrites, ammonia, and other metals.
This isn’t going to solve your ammonia problem directly, though. However, the fish and other living things aren’t going to be affected less and less over time. Plus, you can work to figure out the problem’s origin and correct it.
The last resort for lowering ammonia levels in the aquarium is to get a filter media. Though filters can remove a lot, they aren’t specific to ammonia. You can find them, though, and use them in a pinch until you can perform a water change or use some of the other tips.
How Long Might it Take to Achieve Lower Ammonia Levels?
The problem with ammonia in the tank is that it has to be removed quickly without stressing your fish more. Therefore, the speed at which ammonia leaves the tank depends on why it was happening initially. However, you can lower ammonia levels in a few days so that it’s safer for the marine environment.
Remember, ammonia is going to be present when cycling the fish tank. Ammonia is going to show up on the test kits for about one to three weeks. After that, though, nitrates and nitrites should appear.
How to Prevent Ammonia in the Aquarium?
Fish tanks don’t reach maturity levels until a few years. During that first year, the tank is prone to bacteria and algae outbreaks. Some mature tanks do experience high ammonia because of changing conditions.
There are ways to prevent ammonia spikes from occurring. These can include:
You’ve got to know the chemistry of your fish tank to find out what’s happening on a biological level. Regularly test your water parameters the first year to make sure things are going well. Find out the base reading and then figure out where the tank operates at maximum performance.
Test the Source Water
Ammonia can’t just appear in the tank. Usually, it happens because of overfeeding, overcrowding, organic die-off, and poor tank maintenance. Still, it could be the water source you’re using, so test that first.
There could be many reasons why your ammonia levels are higher than normal, such as poor maintenance practices, overcrowding, overfeeding, and more. Luckily, it is easy to fix the problem.
You can perform water changes, use chemical supplements, and test for ammonia to prevent it from getting worse. That way, your fish are going to be healthy, and you can enjoy them for many years to come.