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Does A Water Conditioner Remove Ammonia?

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Ammonia is bad for fish tanks. That is why almost every fish owner looks for a way to get rid of it. This immediately raises the question regarding water conditioners. I personally asked myself if those products can actually remove ammonia from fish tanks.

A water conditioner doesn’t remove ammonia directly. Instead, most water conditioners bind to ammonia and neutralize it. Nevertheless, the ammonia will remain in the tank, only in its non-toxic form.

As we move forward, I will explain why it is inaccurate to say that water conditioners can remove ammonia. Then, I will provide my personal recommendation for a product that detoxifies ammonia while also dealing with chlorine.

Still curious? Feel free to check my complete guide on aquarium ammonia, where I discussed what causes ammonia, how to get rid of it, what equipment to use, and much more.

Does A Water Conditioner Remove Ammonia?

Every professional aquarist you encounter will praise water conditioners for removing chlorine and neutralizing ammonia. But the difference between ‘Removing’ and ‘Neutralizing’ is essential.

Water conditioners bind to the ammonia to make it harmless.[1] They turn the toxic un-ionized NH3 into NH4, which is innocuous.

Water conditioners that remove chlorine and neutralize ammonia are essential because many government bodies use chloramine to treat their water.

Chloramine combines chlorine with ammonia. But unlike chlorine, chloramine won’t evaporate if you leave the water to stand. A conventional conditioner will split the two, eliminating the chlorine and leaving the ammonia behind.

Your only option is to either add a second conditioner that removes the ammonia or use a product that targets chlorine and ammonia.

But even with the best conditioner, the ammonia will remain in the tank as harmless ammonium. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that water conditioners remove ammonia. They don’t, not really.

What Conditioner Should I Use To Remove Ammonia?

When considering a water conditioner, besides ammonia, it is also important to focus on chlorine. As mentioned earlier, chloramine is the combination of chlorine and ammonia, but it doesn’t evaporate.

That is why I personally picked the TankFirst Complete Aquarium Water Conditioner (link to Amazon). This one binds to ammonia and neutralizes it while also actively removing chlorine.

So, not only will you get rid of ammonia, but you will also prevent the formation of chloramine, which is toxic for aquarium fish.

Besides ammonia spikes, you can apply this product when conducting a water change. Let the new water sit 24 hours and pour a few drops of this product, as the instructions state.

Another advantage of this product is that it doesn’t smell. Many water conditioners have a strong odor, but not the TankFirst.

One more product that I recommend is the Tetra EasyStrips Complete Kit (link to Amazon). This kit will allow you to monitor the ammonia and chlorine levels and many other essential factors.

On a side note, know that a water conditioner is not enough. It is only a quick solution to a much deeper problem. Instead of relying on it, you should eliminate the factors that caused an ammonia spike in the first place.

This sick goldfish suffers from ammonia burns that look like bleeding.

What Else Removes Ammonia From Fish Tanks?

Water conditioners are safe. An overdose may harm some fish, but that would only happen if you dumped the entire bottle into the water. 

For the most part, water conditioners are harmless. But some people avoid them because they don’t want to rely on chemical solutions. 

Fortunately, you have plenty of alternative methods to choose from if you’re going to remove ammonia from an aquarium, including:

1. Conducting A Water Change

A partial water change is the first and best solution to elevated ammonia levels.[2] You must perform a partial water change every week to keep the water clean. 

But during an emergency, you can change as much as 80 percent to provide quick relief to the fish.

Yet, you have to condition the water beforehand. Even if you dislike water conditioners, you need these products to remove pollutants like chlorine and lead.

Some water sources have high levels of ammonia. Therefore, you could make things worse by adding more ammonia to the tank. A conditioner purifies the new water. 

It is worth noting that significant water changes are not always possible. For instance, if your fish are barely moving because of ammonia poisoning and their bodies are covered in streaks and burns, a significant water change will harm them.

In fact, a significant water change may kill the fish. Stick with more minor water changes but make them more regular. You can even change the water every day.

This is why conditioners are so popular among aquarists. They will purify the water within minutes without stressing the fish.

2. Adjusting The Tank Size

How many fish do you have? You need one gallon of water for every inch of fish. Even if your fish are small, they require at least five gallons of water. 

Larger tanks are safer because you can trust them to dilute the toxins.[3] Smaller tanks do the opposite. They allow toxins to accumulate at a rapid pace. 

But you can’t just buy the biggest tank on the market. First of all, larger tanks are more expensive. Secondly, they are much heavier. A 90-gallon tank may weigh as much as 750 pounds.[4]

Therefore, rather than buying the biggest aquarium on the market, you should match the size of the tank to the number of fish.

If your ammonia levels have spiked because you have too many fish, transfer some of the creatures to a separate aquatic space. Keep your fish separate until you acquire a larger community aquarium that can accommodate them all.

3. Cutting Down The Meals

Stop feeding the fish. This sounds counterintuitive because fish in an aquarium with elevated ammonia levels are stressed. They require a balanced diet to recover from the discomfort.

However, food is problematic because it compels the fish to generate waste. That waste will produce more ammonia when it rots. If you hate the idea of starving your fish for a day or two, cut back on the number and size of the meals.

This will reduce the volume of leftovers you have to remove. Wait until ammonia levels drop to zero before you commence with the fish’s usual diet. 

4. Introducing Beneficial Bacteria

Aquarists count on nitrifying bacteria to process ammonia, converting the substance to nitrite and nitrate. When ammonia levels spike, you can introduce products that add beneficial bacteria to the aquarium.[5]

Increasing the population of nitrifying bacteria enhances the efficiency of the nitrogen cycle. In other words, the tank will do a better job of processing the ammonia.

I got the API QUICK START (link to Amazon) for that purpose. You can also use this product when starting a new tank. This way, you won’t have to wait 6 to 7 weeks before the tank is cycled.

5. Maintaining A Clean Environment

Have you cleaned the tank? Water conditioners will bind to the ammonia to neutralize it. But that won’t help you if your tank has dead organic matter.

As it rots, this organic matter will increase the ammonia concentration. Therefore, the ammonia will repeatedly spike despite the presence of the conditioners.

Take a moment to remove the decaying organic matter. The leftovers and waste will sink to the bottom, which is why vacuuming the substrate is so important.

Don’t expect the water change to remove all the pollutants from the tank. Go an extra step and eliminate the toxic debris in the water.

6. Handling The Filter Correctly

The filter is tricky. On the one hand, you must clean the filter media because it traps debris that contributes to the ammonia concentration. On the other hand, you can’t afford to replace the filter media.

The filter media contains beneficial bacteria. Replacing it will undo the results of the cycling process, making ammonia a bigger problem.

If you need to wash the filter media, avoid tap water. What I usually do is clean it with the aquarium water. Gently wash the debris from the media and put it back in.

The chlorine found in tap water will kill the nitrifying bacteria. If you have already destroyed the nitrifying bacteria in the filter media, get filter media from an established tank to expedite the nitrogen cycle.

7. Lowering The Water pH

You can reduce the toxicity of ammonia by lowering the pH. A higher pH increases the toxicity of ammonia. That is why even low levels of ammonia can be toxic.

You cannot remove ammonia by lowering the pH. However, a lower pH will buy you the time you need to apply other solutions by reducing ammonia’s toxicity.

You can also increase the tank’s aeration with pumps and air stones. NH3 is a dissolved gas. Therefore, you can diffuse the substance out of the water by increasing the aeration.

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If ammonia spikes in your tank, you shouldn’t rely on a water conditioner. While these products can detoxify ammonia, they aren’t a long-term solution.

Instead, it is better to conduct a significant water change (50-80 percent). Then, remove debris and dead organisms that might have decayed and ruined the water chemistry.

Also, when cleaning the filter, make sure not to rinse the media with tap water. This part contains essential bacteria that shouldn’t be removed.