Articles > General Guides > Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome
Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome
Published by Fishadmin on 10/12/2008 (436936 reads)

Introduction
Water quality is essential to get right if you want healthy attractive fish. In fact, it’s often said that keeping fish is more about keeping water than fish. If your water quality is good then your fish will live longer, be more attractive and your hobby will be much more rewarding.
This article explains how to get your fish tank ready for adding fish. You’ll learn some basics about water chemistry and how fish affect the water they inhabit.

Background
Fish, as part of their biological processes, secrete ammonia from their gills and in urine. In the wild this would be diluted by the environment but in a tank this ammonia builds up quickly to levels that will harm the fish. Ammonia in the water can cause breathing difficulties and burn the fish’s skin so obviously this needs to be prevented.
Luckily nature is on your side and provides a way of removing the ammonia. This is known as the Nitrogen Cycle.

The Nitrogen Cycle
The nitrogen cycle might sound like too much science but it’s actually very simple. It’s a three stage process where ‘friendly’ bacteria convert the harmful ammonia to much less harmful nitrate. The diagram below shows how this takes place.

Nitrogen Cycle

As can be seen there are two types of bacteria that are required for the nitrogen cycle. In simple terms the bacteria consume one compound and emit another.

A New Tank
A newly set up tank will not contain enough of the beneficial bacteria required for the Nitrogen Cycle. Bacteria once given a source of ammonia will start to multiply and colonise the filter and substrate. However these bacteria are slow growing and will need time to multiply to the point of being able to remove enough ammonia for fish to be added to the new tank.

The Solution – Fishless Cycling
As mentioned at the beginning of this article you are going to learn how to prepare your water for fish. This involves getting the nitrogen cycle running by adding a source of ammonia into the tank. There are two methods for this, either adding ammonia from a bottle or dropping small amounts of fish food into the tank as explained below. If you have access to fully cycled media from another tank, squeezing it out in your tank, or adding it to your filter will help start the bacterial colonies you need. Be patient when cycling a tank as it takes 4-6 weeks or even longer to fully cycle a new tank. Remember to treat the water in the tank with water conditioner to remove chlorine or chloramine otherwise bacteria won't grow.

Fishless Cycling – Ammonia method
For this you’re going to need a bottle of household ammonia from the supermarket or chemist, a syringe, a calculator and a test kit for testing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. (Test kits are an essential part of fishkeeping. It’s the only way you can be sure what’s going on in your tank.)

Household ammonia is typically 10% ammonia, the quantities used in the calculator are based on this. Commonly added amounts to the tank are between 2ppm and 5ppm (parts per million). We recommend 3ppm as a good level so all following instructions are based around using 3ppm.

1) First you need to know how many litres of water are in your tank. This is easy – measure the height, width and length in centimetres and multiply those figures together and then divide by 1000 (or use the calculator on the right). For example a tank measuring 100cm by 50cm by 30cm would hold 150 litres. If you have a lot of substrate and décor in your tank you need to take 10-20% off your calculated figure to allow for this.
2) Use the ammonia calculator at the bottom of the page to work out the amount of ammonia in millilitres (ml) to introduce and add it to the tank.
3) The following day use the ammonia test kit to measure the ammonia in the tank.If it’s below 3ppm (parts per million) use the ammonia calculator below to calculate how much ammonia to add to bring the level back to 3ppm. It may take several days before you see a significant drop.
4) Repeat step 3 every day. This process is to start the cycle off (the initial bacterial growth) and keep the bacteria alive by feeding them ammonia at the correct concentrations in the tank water.
5) After about a week you can start to test for nitrite in the water. Ammonia is converted to Nitrite in the first part of the cycle so when you can detect it, it means the cycle has started.
6) Continue testing for ammonia every day. Whenever it drops below 3ppm add enough ammonia to bring the level back up to 3ppm using the calculator to obtain the correct dose. Also test for nitrite every other day. You should see nitrite rise and then start falling after a few weeks.
7) Start testing for Nitrate after a few weeks. Nitrate is the last part of the process where the bacteria convert the nitrite to nitrate. When the test kit starts showing a fall in the nitrites you should see a rise in the nitrates.

The graph below shows how you should expect the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to rise and fall over time. The graph shows the test results you would see before adding the daily ammonia.

Cycling with Ammonia

 

Fishless Cycling – Fish food method
For this method you will need a tub of fish food and a test kit for measuring ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.This method uses decaying food to provide a source of ammonia that the cycle requires to start.

1) To start, drop a few flakes of fish food into the tank.
2) Leave it for a few days and then test for ammonia.
3) If there’s no reading or the reading is below 3ppm (Parts Per Million) drop a couple more flakes in.
4) Keep testing every other day and add a couple more flakes if the reading is below 3ppm
5) After about a week you can start to test for Nitrite in the water. Ammonia is converted to Nitrite in the first step of the cycle. If you can detect nitrite in the water then the cycle has start.
6) Continue testing for ammonia and nitrite every other day and dropping a flake or two when ammonia drops below 3ppm. After a few weeks the nitrite level should start to drop and if you now start testing for Nitrate you’ll see Nitrate levels rise as the last part of the cycling process converts the nitrite to nitrate.

The graph below shows how you should expect the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to rise and fall over time.

Cycling with Fish Food

 

Fishless Cycling – Ammonia and Fish food combined
If you’ve read the two methods above you may be wondering which is the best method to cycle your tank… Well combining the two methods is actually possible and is the most recommended method. This means you get the more accurate control of using an ammonia source with the additional biological processes that using fish food creates. Combining the two methods will give you a tank to add your fish to that’s more mature and stable.

The graph below shows how you should expect the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to rise and fall over time. The graph shows the test results you would see before adding the daily ammonia.

Cycling with Ammonia and Fish Food

 

Adding Fish
When ammonia and nitrite readings have returned to zero the cycle has completed. If your nitrate reading is above 40 you will need to do some water changes to bring this down. Test your tap water for nitrate first, it may be too high to use to dilute the nitrate in the tank.
The bacteria will need a constant supply of ammonia to keep the cycle going so if you have a cycled tank and aren’t adding fish just yet you need to keep the bacteria alive by continuously adding ammonia or food. Don’t add ammonia at the same time as fish, it’s one or the other and only when the ammonia reading is zero.

Conclusion
This article explained the three stage biological process that converts harmful ammonia to nitrite and then nitrate, commonly known as the nitrogen cycle. If you have any questions or problems with your tank cycling please post in the forums and someone will be able to advise.

 


Ammonia Calculator

Desired ammonia level (ppm):
Current ammonia level (ppm) - enter "0" for 1st dose:
Tank Volume (litres):
Household ammonia to add (ml):

Calculator by noodle

 

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  • Cichlid Adviser

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

very good precise and informative article should help simplify the explanation to menny new fish keepers

 
  • Home away from home

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Linked this on my signature, SIGNIFICANTLY better than any fishless cycle article I've seen elsewhere.

FK seems to be getting more and more self sufficient, I seem to find myself linking less to external sources, the site's got most of what we need day to day which is fantastic.

Everything in one place!

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Is there anything you can do if you didnt do the above cycle? ie to improve the water after the fish are already present?

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Have a look at the latter part of first post in this thread:

http://www.fishkeeping.co.uk/modules/ ... php?topic_id=559&forum=14

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

This is a very helpfull topic and well written, my only comment would be that I would personally carry out a large water change after ammonia and Nitrites fall to "0"

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

The only version of this I can easily understand. Thank you so much!

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

I am glad to have found this site and article and that no fish have to die in the process of my daughter's new budding hobby We set up the 10 gal. tank Nov.16, have been adding ammonia and started adding fish food on Nov.22 continuing with the tests but have not got any readings for Nitrite as of yet. Is this normal? Any ideas of how long this might take? The water level has dropped, should I be adding more water or waiting until the process is complete and then do a water change?
She is going with a tropical tank and also understands the limits in size! Wished I'd have bought the 20gal. for her Birthday instead

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi pokesgrl - welcome to FK Well done for doing your cycle before adding fish It can take 6 weeks for the cycle to do its thing so I wouldn't worry too much at the moment - best thing to do if you are unsure is start a thread in the forum, more people will see your question there and you'll get much more info HTH

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Thank you SOOOOO much for this wonderful site. It explains things far better than any other site I've visited. I've never had fish before a year ago when I inherited a 6 year old, 60L tank where after 6 half tank water changes the nitrites were STILL off the chart. The poor inhabitants encluded a MASSIVE plec (far too big for the tank), two corries and the last surviving - far to big- silver dollar. As quick as could I re-homed the silver dollar and plec to a man with a 110L tank and focused on learning about water perameters and saving the corries. A year later, the corys have managed to survive and the tank is cycling perfectly. I am just now making my first mammoth mistake by introducing new fish (five corries and a small loach)without having had a hospital tank.... the tank broke out with ich. I immediately bought a 20L quarinteen tank but made the decision to cycle it without fish. I lost the loach in the process of curing the ich. My hospital tank is not regestering high nitrites and 0 amonia. But I'm worried. Should I still be feeding the tank? I stopped. Was that a mistake? When the amonia is gone, won't the bacteria crash? I'm really trying to get it all right so they can be a happy fishy family. Any advise on what to do next(to the hosp. tank) would be greatly appreciated. And again, thanks for such an excellent site!

stephanie

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi Stephanie - welcome to FK Glad you've found it useful and thanks for the feed back

You will need to add a source of ammonia, either liquid ammonia or fish food, to the tank to keep the bacteria in the filter going so yes, you are right there Is it possible to take some filter media from a mature filter to kick start the hosp tank if you need it? I have a small filter for my hosp tank and just 'borrow' media from one of the big mature filters in the main tank if I need to use the hosp tank. When I'm done with the hosp tank I sterilise the media and put it back in the main filter.

Hope that helps, best thing to do is start a thread on the forum with any questions as more people will see it there

 
  • Home away from home

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Fantastic article, really helpful. Only one thing is missing which is a big sign saying "Do not sniff household ammonia". I just opened mine and took a sniff, nearly took my nose off hope I get my sense of smell back soon.

 
  • Tropical Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

You are not the first person to befall this terrible fate I will get Fishadmin to add it on to the end of the article.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

hi all another newbie here my new tank will be installed in the next couple of weeks and i understand the importance of cycling it but i am reading differing opinions concerning plants, my question is should i hold back from planting and leave the lights off while my tank is cycling, and then plant it before fish are added as i have read elsewhere, is there a benifit i.e plants dont get covered in alge and plants wont give false readings to the ammonia tests as i believe that they use it for food as do the bacteria.

regards

bjp

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi bjp - welcome to FK Excellent news on the fishless cycle - best thing to do it start a thread on the forum, that way we'll be able to get some more details and give you some info for the set up you are aiming for

 
  • Not too shy to talk

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi
I'm very new to fish keeping: less than a week. I thought that you just bought a tank, filled it with water and threw in a few fish a couple of days later. This is apparently not the case.

Luckily, I chanced across this article and have followed its advice. I'm only one day into the long process but, on the positive side, it does give me some time to learn more about the hobby before I get fish.

However, I do have one question. Under Fish Cycling - Ammonia method, point 3, you state a concentration of 2ppm. Should this read 3ppm to match point 6 of this method, and concentrations mentioned in the alternative, Fish food method? Does it matter?

Bill

 
  • Webmaster

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

ah yes.. should have been a 3. It's one of those things that isn't set in stone. Some people think 2ppm others 4 or 5ppm. YMMV* as they say.

*http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=YMMV

 
  • Quite a regular

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

We are going to attempt this, after getting some super advice on this site.

Wish us luck!

 
  • Webmaster

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Article updated and an ammonia calculator added.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi guys, I decided to join the forum as I really wanted to thank you for this page, we had a small aquarium to beigin with which we cycled with fish and we lost so many, when we bought our large aquarium we decided to go down the fishless route. We're now on day 23 our ammonia has been a stable zero for about a week and a half with nitrite hanging around 4/5ppm for days! (we used a piece of mature filter media from our small tank to help move things along a bit) We were getting a bit downhearted thinking things had stalled but then a nitrite test today has shown our nitite level drop to about 0.25 overnight! Hopefully should be good to go in a couple of days so thanks so much guys, I dont think we could've done it without you!

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi there, totally new to fish keepig (first post here too)!
I have just bought a 2nd hand Rena pentagon shaped tank. I have the filter, heater, ornaments ect and it is filled with water ready for the cycling.
The man i bought it from informed me it is a 30 Litre but no way did it take that to fill it, more like 24 ish?? so i'm guessing i'm not going to be able to have many fish. What are peoples thoughts on the API stress zyme and the API stress coat? would i need to add amonia and or food ASWELL as these solutions or are they enough on their own?

 
  • Tropical Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi

I'm going to repost this in the Tropical Fish Help section in the Forums where you'll have more chance of people seeing it. I'll reply to you there in a few minutes.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Thank you

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

This article said you can instant cycle or near instant cycle your tank with Tetra SafeStart.

Fishless Cycle Nitrogen Cycle

Can anyone confirm it?

 
  • Tropical Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

At the moment there is no bottled bacteria that reliably establishes a cycle rapidly, permanently and safely. Most use a different form of bacteria than that which is required and any apparent cycle will not last unless continuously redosed. Some of these products can help protect fish in a "fish in" cycle, but we don't recommend that method for welfare reasons.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Actually the article did mention all your points including the part of many products were bogus when it come to the live bacteria products. However the writer claimed to have first hand experience on trying Tetra SafeStart twice with no ill effect. The first time it instantly cycled the tank. The second time it gave the cycle a huge jump start. Both cycle were permanent.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi

I am awaiting delivery of my new 125 litre acquarium & your guide re fishless cycling seems to have very positive feedback. Is the Household Amonia you refer to 'Pure' Amonnia, only I have read several comments suggesting anything other than Pure may not be good for the tank. Do most chemists sell this ?

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Yes, you want something without perfumes, surfactants etc. You can sometimes get it in Boots, and I believe you can usually get it in Homebase.
Otherwise go for Waterlife's Biomature (available from their website or eBay if not in lfs) but make sure you follow the manufacturer's own instructions to the letter, don't use the fishless cycling with ammonia instructions.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Just got my ammonia from Homebase- dirt cheap- esp compared to the 'bacteria starter pack' my LFS sold me. I've been to lots of shops asking questions about how to set up my tank and no-one mentioned 'fishless cycling'- just kept telling me to stock slowly. I feel sad that so called 'fish fanciers' feel its reasonable to suject 'hardy' fish to high levels of ammonia even to the point of them dying. Thanks- you've saved at least a handful of guppies from a painful few weeks- wish I'd found the site earlier

 
  • Just can't stay away

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

I need help! I have bought a 450l tank with all the bits and i want to keep Discus as my daughter must have a "pink fish" for Xmas.......I have bought a nearly new tank with a lot of equipment included in the deal but now need advice. I need to Cycle the tank in order to start stocking the tank just before Xmas. I live in the isle of Man and need lots of advice : ( help!

 
  • Coldwater Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi - welcome to FK, your best bet is to start a thread in the forums You'll get a lot more help and advice there as more people will see your post more quickly

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi. Thanks for a very comprehensive guide to starting out with fishless cycling. We purchased a tank yesterday and would like to set it up, however, we are going away for 5 days betwenn Christmas and New Year. I understand that the tank may still be "cycling" then. If I am unable to keep up the daily ammonia feed, will the bacteria die and the process have been in vain? Could I solve this by adding holiday fish feed blocks- those white doo-dahs? Would appreciate your advice


EDIT:

I've copied your message into the forums (and answered the question) as more
people will see it there.

Follow this link to the new forum post.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hello,

Great guide! i have my 35L tank all set up and ammonia added (Thank you FishLady for letting me know where to get some) Now ill wait for tomorrow to start the tests :)

Very Helpful!

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

just joined the forum and found this guide which I am using to cycle my new tank

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi - Thank you very much for this Informative post! I have started up my tank again and would like to apply this method... problem is I already bought plants.. Is it ok to add Household Ammonia or will it kill the plants?

Then - my Ammonia Test Kit states that I should use the Diagram to measure exact Ammonia Levels and I am not sure how to determine ppm...

It has a Table that indicates pH Value and mine is 8.0.

Then it indicates Temperature but I have no idea how to determine ppm - Any Suggestions ?

A Link to the Instructions on the Ammonia Insert : http://www.redseafish.com/wp-content/ ... P-TK_GB.DE_.FR-_2013a.pdf

 
  • Webmaster

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Just a note to say it's better to ask questions in the forums - http://www.fishkeeping.co.uk/modules/newbb/ as more people will see it.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

I dont think this has been mentioned anywhere in this article or in the comments on this page. If it has, i apologize for the duplicate question.

I, too, am new to fishkeeping and am slowly setting up a new tank. I am in the US so forgive me for using american units of measure. My tank is a 40 gallon tank. i have the basics setup and am starting the fishless cycle. I have not yet found a pure ammonia source so i have decided to try to use the fish flakes method for the cycle. I have, just today, introduced the first few fish flakes. Baseline ammonia was .5-1 PPM per the API test kit i used to test the water (this is before i added the flakes).

My question is this: is there some beginner bacteria in the tap water that will (very) slowly start to consume ammonia in the water? or would i need to find an external source of bacteria to begin the cycle?

i purchased tetra safe start plus but have not put it in the water yet because of the comments i have read in this thread. I would very much prefer the bacteria to grow and colonize naturally, if possible, versus introduce external bacteria.

any thoughts or suggestions?

 
  • Tropical Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

The bacteria are present all around and will naturally colonise the tank once ammonia is added. There won't be any in tap water though - that is why water suppliers use chlorine in the water: to kill bacteria.

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

i cant find any household ammonia at my place. But i do find it at chemical store. i ask for ammonia and the shop owner give me in 1 liter bottle. He say its a pure ammonia. So how many drops i need for my 66g tank ?

 
  • Tropical Moderator

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Use the calculator in the article above

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

well.
I have just started week four of the fishless cycling and so far have had no indication of anything happening lol.

Started with 3-4ppm ammonia and have only had to top up content once in 4 weeks.

Is this normal ?

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hi all. Followed this guide to the letter and I've successfully started a cycle about a week ago. I've tested the water a day after adding the ammonia back to 3ppm with 0ppm on ammonia and nitrites readings. I've done a partial water change to bring the nitrates down and after my readings were ok I have just added 6 small Black Neon Tetras to start off. I've just tested the water and I have 0ppm ammonia, 2ppm nitrites and 4ppm nitrates and I worried because I don't know what to do with the reading spikes. It's the first time I've kept fish and I'm trying to do everything right. Do I need to keep doing a partial water change or will the levels go back to normal once the balance has been restored?
Thanks

 
  • Just popping in

 Re: Fishless Tank Cycling and Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

Hey guys, i got a question about the fish food method. i only can use fish flakes or i can use other fish food as well?

 
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