I'm just a little stumped. I have searched through these forums, as well as other various sites, but so far have been unable to fix my ammonia problem. Let me give you a breakdown of my setup and readings before going into any other details.
Tank - 20 gallon
Fish - 2 Flame Dwarf Gouramis, 1 Powder Blue Dwarf Gourami, and 1 "Butterfly Algae Eater" (sold to me as that at LFS but I think its a Hillstream Loach)
No live plants
Temp - always between 76 and 78 F
Tank Age - 3 months
pH - 7.6
Nitrites - 0
Nitrates - 0
Ammonia - 4
Testing Kit: Constant Seachem Ammonia Alert to let me know its time to test
Jungle Ammonia Testing Strips
New - Starting to use the API Freshwater kit for Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates and pH
I started this tank about 3 months ago, start from scratch. I had it set up for about a month before adding any fish, but did add some food in there to get my nitrogen cycle going. After 1 month, I added in a betta male. He lived in there for about another month, no issue. My tank had seemingly cycled, as all of my numbers were in the clear at this time. Hooray! Time to add some fish.
I very possibly overloaded the bioload when I went to the fish store. Added in the above listed fish, and put the betta in his own 5 gallon aquarium (Wasn't going to risk a labyrinth fish fight)
Another month went by, and my levels went up a bit, which I was totally expecting, but they died back down to 0 again. This past week however, my ammonia level has SKYROCKETED. It is at an unprecedented 4ppm!
To get my levels down, I have been performing a 25% water change daily, alternating between Stress Zyme and Aqua Safe for conditioning the water. I tested my tap water, and it is 7.6 pH and 0 ammonia, just to be sure that THAT wasn't the culprit. When the spike first happened, I did use Ammo Clear to give them temp relief, and I know that this just neutralizes the bad ammonia. I ALWAYS vacuum the gravel when doing the water changes, and have moved all of my fake plants and decorations to ensure nothing was hiding out under it. I always monitor my fish while eating, especially when new, and all but maybe 1 or 2 micropellets or freezedried bloodworms gets eating. Even the algae disc is devoured in a few minutes! However, just to be sure, I stopped feeding them for a few days. I also made sure to rinse my filter cartridge in used aquarium water to clear it up a bit without losing the good bacteria it has.
Today I have performed a 50% water change, and have switched to using Prime after seeing several suggestions to use it.
The curious thing is that my fish do not look at all stressed by this number. They are not at all gasping for breath (and not even doing a lot of labyrinth gulping either, air stone must be working well), they are very active and playful, and they have a healthy appetite.
What else should I be doing to get this spike down? Is this just the "ammonium" I've recently read about being registered by my test kit? Should I switch to live plants? If so, which ones are the best?
Any help or suggestions would be great!