Welcome!

Welcome to PetForums, the UK's most popular and friendly pet owners community. Please 'Sign Up' if you'd like to take part and contribute to our forum.

Sign Up

Nitrites and Nitrates present without ever adding ammonia?

Discussion in 'New Aquarium Advice' started by CuriousCreatures, Nov 2, 2018.


  1. CuriousCreatures

    CuriousCreatures PetForums Newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2018
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    I've been trying to do a fishless cycle for a 5 gallon tank (for a betta fish) for 6 weeks and was starting to get impatient, so I did some more research into the methods I was using, and my heart sank when I found the 'Just set up new aquarium' thread in this forum.

    I seem to have fallen into the same trap, except I have probably wasted a lot more time and money. I'd been using Fluval Cycle under the assumption that I didn't have to add a source of ammonia. The thing I don't understand is that from what I've read, I shouldn't have any nitrites or nitrates in the tank because there's no ammonia for the bacteria to feed on, right?

    But despite ammonia tests having read as 0 throughout the process, I currently have nitrates at 20 ppm and nitrites at 2.0 ppm, and those levels have been more or less the same for the last couple of weeks.

    Is it possible that some ammonia got into the tank somehow, from the gravel or something on my hands? Admittedly I didn't start testing for ammonia until about 2 weeks in, so maybe whatever ammonia that was in the tank spiked and dropped before I started testing. In which case, that would suggest that I'm currently in the nitrite spike phase and that tank will be fully cycled soon?

    Or is does it sound like it's all messed up and needs to be started over, in which case, how would you recommend that I proceed from this point?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I couldn't find an answer for this specific problem elsewhere.
     
  2. NaomiM

    NaomiM PetForums VIP

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2012
    Messages:
    1,925
    Likes Received:
    1,135
    Hiya,

    I've never used Fluval Cycle myself, but as I understand it, it's supposedly filter bacteria in a bottle (though how that works without an ammonia source I don't know...)

    The nitrates may come from your tap water, but the nitrites shouldn't, so if they're present, it does sound like it's possible that your tank is partly cycled.

    Do you have any live plants? Any dead plant material could possibly be providing an ammonia source, which may have helped the cycle (though if this is the case, I'd remove any dead/dying plants at this point).

    Here's what I'd recommend:

    1) Test your tap water for nitrates and report back.
    2) Get hold of some pure ammonia such as Jeyes Kleenoff - whichever brand you use should have no ingredients other than ammonia and water. Dose a small amount into your tank (around 1 ppm - this calculator can help you work out how much that is: https://www.tropicalfishforums.co.uk/index.php?page=ammonia_calculator). Then do a water test for ammonia and nitrite immediately, and another one 24 hours later. If the ammonia has disappeared or reduced and the nitrite has increased, you know your cycle has started and you're now in the nitrite phase.
    3) If you know anyone else who keeps fish, ask for a squeeze of water from one of their filter sponges, or, better yet, a small amount of filter media. Place this in your filter to speed up the cycle.
    4) Continue with water tests daily, adding a further 1 ppm of ammonia any time it reaches 0, until the nitrites also fall to 0. Then continue for a couple more days just to be sure. If the ammonia and nitrite are both disappearing after 24 hours, you're ready for fish :)

    Hope this helps!
     
    kittih and magpie like this.
  3. CuriousCreatures

    CuriousCreatures PetForums Newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2018
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    This is amazing, thank you so much! I'd never considered what might be in the tap water. I did a test and the nitrate level for water straight from the tap looked to be around 40ppm. 0.0 I may have misread that but it definitely wasn't lower than 20ppm.

    There are no live plants however there has been a small amount of algae (brown algae I think?) growing on the decor, which I periodically scrub off, resulting in bits floating around the tank for a while.

    I've ordered the brand of ammonia you suggested; should arrive on Monday. And now that I think of it my mother-in-law has a fish tank so I will ask her about the filter media.

    Regarding the Fluval Cycle, upon further investigation it seems more geared toward fish-in cycling, which makes sense because then the fish would be providing the ammonia. So yeah I think I've messed this up a bit, though in my defence none of this was explicitly stated on the bottle. >.<

    During the 6 weeks that this tank has been running I have not siphoned the gravel or cleaned the filter, as I've read that these things should be left alone during cycling to allow the bacteria to colonise as quickly as possible. Would you agree with that?
     
  4. kittih

    kittih PetForums VIP

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2014
    Messages:
    4,936
    Likes Received:
    6,971
    Yes no need to clean the filter or siphon. You may get some algae in the water as they will utilise the nitrates and phosphates found in tap water.

    Follow the excellent advice above and see how it goes. You may be partly cycled. Keep a record of levels for all tests and you should see ammonia rise and fall then similar with nitrite then nitrate will rise. Each will over lap the other slightly. Igneous have sufficient ammonia eating bacteria already it will be converted to nitrite quickly, if not ammonia will remain high whilst the ammonia bacteria multiply.

    Getting media from another established tank is great way to spend the process. If your mum in law lives close by and can swap some media for a donation of new media you can add it to your filter chop it up if needed. Remember bacteria die quickly with no water flow or oxygen to transfer the media over quickly and if driving a while keep airated and wet. I put the dirty media in a shallow container with a layer of tank water for transport and this helps retain some bacteria.
     
    NaomiM likes this.
  5. NaomiM

    NaomiM PetForums VIP

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2012
    Messages:
    1,925
    Likes Received:
    1,135
    No worries :)

    Yeah, tap nitrates can legally be up to 50 ppm in the UK. Mine are high too. For most fish it's not a problem.

    As you have no fish producing waste currently, there should be no need to siphon the gravel or clean the filter. When you do get your fish, the gravel should be siphoned weekly, but don't overdo the filter cleaning. The top pad of filter floss/wool should be cleaned regularly and replaced as necessary, but the rest of the media needs nothing more than a gentle swish in a bucket of tank water from time to time (it's best not to do it all at once, either). Never use untreated tapwater for cleaning.

    I've never had to do any water changes at all during a fishless cycle, but I've heard that occasionally it can get "stuck" in the nitrite phase, in which case a 50% water change can help to get things moving - but unless this happens, there's no need to do anything to the tank until you're cycled. Then do a large water change or two to bring the nitrates down. Re-dose 1 ppm ammonia and check after 24 hours just to make sure it's still all being processed. If all's good, then add fish :)
     
    kittih likes this.
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice