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Do I Need To Add Ammonia To My Fish Tank?

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Most fish owners know that ammonia is bad for fish. But if you wish to cycle a new tank, ammonia products can become pretty handy. When I was in my early days of fishkeeping, I found this topic pretty interesting.

Adding ammonia to a brand new fish tank can speed ​​up the cycling process. By reaching 2-4 ppm levels, fish owners stimulate the formation of nitrifying bacteria, which are essential to the nitrogen cycle.

As we move forward, I will elaborate on why adding ammonia can be beneficial and what is the right way to do so. I will also answer how much ammonia you should add and which other routes you can take if you don’t wish to spend too much money.

Do I Need To Add Ammonia To My Fish Tank?

Ammonia is the last thing you want to add to a tank. After all, the substance is toxic, and you have to keep ammonia levels at zero. Otherwise, the ionized form will cause cellular damage in fish.[1]

However, surprisingly enough, you cannot create a conducive environment for your fish without ammonia. Aquariums should be cycled for several weeks before introducing any living organisms to the water.

The objective is to nurture nitrifying bacteria in the biofilter that can turn ammonia into nitrite.[2] Before you rejoice, nitrite is just as dangerous to fish as ammonia.

However, if you cycle your aquarium to completion, the biofilter should also contain bacteria that consume nitrites to produce nitrates.

Nitrates are superior to nitrites and ammonia because they are less toxic. Additionally, plants and algae can use nitrates, removing them from the water.

You cannot keep fish in an uncycled tank. They will die from ammonia poisoning because the aquarium lacks the bacteria required to process the substance. Additionally, you cannot cycle a tank without ammonia.

In other words, you must add ammonia to the aquarium to create the bacteria that can remove ammonia down the line.

But you should do this at the start before you add the fish. Again, fish hate ammonia. It is toxic to the creatures. Yes, fish generate ammonia, excreting the substance through their gills and waste.

But they can’t live with it, and if you don’t have strict regiments in place to lower the ammonia concentration, they will die. Therefore, you can’t add ammonia to a tank that already has fish.

How To Put Ammonia In Aquariums?

Some people use fish to cycle their tanks. But you can expedite the process by adding ammonia directly. You don’t have to waste money on expensive water conditioners.

Any bottle of ammonium chloride will do. Where possible, look for clear and unscented ammonia. They are cheaper than you think. Just pay close attention to the additives.

But you can’t add the ammonia until your tank is ready:

  • Add the air stones, filters, heaters, substrate, and every other component your fish require to survive. Don’t forget to purify the water. Chlorine and chloramine will interfere with the nitrogen cycle.[3]
  • Make sure the tank is adequately aerated. The nitrifying bacteria require oxygen to thrive.

You can experiment with different temperatures at this stage because the tank doesn’t have fish. However, you shouldn’t forget to switch the temperature back to the appropriate range before adding the fish.

  • Use a dropper to add ammonia to the tank. You only need a few drops each time (3-5).[4]
  • Hopefully, you remembered to buy a testing kit. You can start testing the water after a few days.
  • Initially, the ammonia levels will spike. This is good because ammonia will attract nitrifying bacteria. After a few days, your tests will detect nitrite.

This is another good sign because it shows that you have bacteria in the aquarium that can convert ammonia to nitrite.

  • At this stage, the second phase will begin. You can reduce the volume of ammonia you are adding by half.

In the meanwhile, keep testing the water. The nitrite levels should continue to grow over the next 20 days. This will encourage you to reduce the ammonia additions even further. You don’t want to poison the nitrifying bacteria.

  • You will know that you’ve entered the third phase when the nitrite concentration drops rapidly.

In the end, your tests should detect zero ammonia and nitrite. What if the ammonia and nitrite levels are higher than 0 ppm? You’re not done cycling. Keep cycling until you record 0 ppm in both cases.

How Much Ammonia Do I Put In My Aquarium?

If you go with the Fritz Aquatics Fishless Fuel, you should add four drops per gallon. According to the instructions, you should bring the ammonia to 2-4 ppm.

Then, you can wait for the nitrifying bacteria to form, or you can hasten the process by adding the FritzZyme Nitrifying Bacteria (link to Amazon).

Either way, make sure you test the water daily. Once ammonia and nitrite levels are reading zero, your livestock can be safely added.

But most products will require you to add up to five drops for every ten gallons each day. As a rule of thumb, you can raise the ammonia to a concentration of 5 ppm or more until your testing kit detects noticeable nitrate levels.

And then, you can fall back to three drops of ammonia every day. If the ammonia and nitrite levels are higher than expected, you can change the water.

Some fish owners use more than the five recommended drops because they don’t know any better. They may also add ammonia with perfume. Fortunately, you can remove such additives with activated carbon.

Can You Cycle A Tank Without Adding Ammonia?

Using ammonia to cycle a tank is faster and more convenient. But it is not the only option. Other methods are more likely to cloud your water. However, they work.

In fact, it is much cheaper to use the following techniques to cycle the aquarium:

1. Human Urine

You can cycle a tank using human urine.[5] The concept sounds bizarre, but it works. Naturally, you can’t just pee directly into the tank. You will overwhelm the water with ammonia.

Keep the urine in a separate jar and place it in a refrigerator. You can add a few teaspoons to the aquarium every day. The exact amount and frequency will depend on the size of the aquarium. 

2. Fish Food

Overfeeding is problematic partly because it increases the number of leftovers in the water. Those leftovers will eventually rot, producing ammonia. In the absence of fish, you can still add food to the cycling tank.

It will still produce ammonia when it decomposes. But because you don’t have fish, you have to limit the amount of food you keep adding. Don’t overdo it. As you now know, too much ammonia can harm beneficial bacteria. 

3. Dead Organisms

Find some dead organisms such as shrimp and fish and throw them into the tank. Again, the objective is for the organisms to produce ammonia after decomposing.

Dead organisms are trickier than food because they take longer to decompose. The rotting organisms will also make the water cloudy. Don’t be surprised if the aquarium starts to smell. 

4. Filter Media

Get filter media from an established tank and add it to your aquarium. The nitrifying bacteria in the old filter media will expedite the cycling process drastically.

On a side note, I’ll say that when cleaning your tank, you should avoid messing around with the filter media. Cleaning it too thoroughly will remove the essential bacteria and cause ammonia spikes.

I usually wash it with the same water in my tank. I do that every month or two (there is no rush on this matter). Try to avoid tap water as it is just too clean. 

5. Fish Waste

As I previously discussed, fish waste produces ammonia. It isn’t very pleasant in most cases. But if you’re looking for a way to add ammonia to your tank, that can actually become helpful.

If you are already growing fish in another tank, you can take their waste and put it in the water you are trying to cycle. 

After the ammonia levels reach 2 ppm, remove the feces. You don’t want it to decay further and contaminate the water. Then, keep measuring and see if the levels go lower.

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Conclusions

If you start a new tank, you don’t have to add ammonia to the water. The nitrifying bacteria will naturally form as time passes (it usually takes 6 to 8 weeks). All you need is a functioning filter and patience.

But if you wish to expedite the process, you can encourage the bacteria to form by adding ammonia. You can do that with commercial products, such as the Fritz Aquatics Fishless Fuel discussed earlier.

When reaching 2-4 ppm levels, you’ll stimulate the necessary bacteria and shorten the cycling process. You can also add premade nitrifying bacteria directly to your tank. It is a pretty common thing these days.

References

  1. https://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationByGeography/NorthAmerica/UnitedStates/alaska/sw/cpa/Documents/L2010ALR122010.pdf
  2. https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Recreation-and-Leisure/Aquarium-Fish/Aquarium-Water-Quality-Nitrogen-Cycle
  3. https://petkeen.com/how-to-cycle-your-aquarium-with-liquid-ammonia/
  4. https://www.cpp.edu/~jskoga/Aquariums/Ammonia.html
  5. https://aquanerd.com/2010/12/peeing-in-our-tanks-to-jump-start-the-cycle.html