No nitrates? - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 9 Old 12-21-2009, 07:08 PM Thread Starter
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No nitrates?

I set up my tank almost 2 months ago and it has been doing very well. I have a 39 gallon with 3 young angels, 3 otocinclus and 10 neons. I test the water at least once a week before I do my weekly water changes.

My question is - I have never had a nitrate reading. When I initially started my tank my pH was high, and ammonia went up, followed by nitrite going up, then ammonia going down and nitrite going down, but nitrate never did a thing. I bought a brand new test kid (Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Master Test Kit) because there was some question with my old tank if my old test kit wasn't working properly.

Each week I do a water change, I try for about 20% but I always wind up with more because a lot comes out when I try to get the excess debris off of the gravel, but never more than 50%. I then test my water again about 24hrs after the water change if I have replaced a large amount to make sure that my levels are all still OK.

Is it normal/OK to not have any reading for nitrate? Considering it is a waste I would think this was OK, but is it abnormal? I have some live plants in the tank, a canister filter and what I would think to be a large colony of bacteria as I add some whenever I add new fish and I add small amounts when I do water changes just in case I remove too much.
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post #2 of 9 Old 12-21-2009, 07:40 PM
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If you have an abundant supply of live plants it is certainly possible that they are using all of the available nitrate, resulting in actual zero levels of Nitrate buildup. What types and how many plants do you have?
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post #3 of 9 Old 12-21-2009, 08:06 PM
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Are you shaking the beegeezas out of the nitrate bottle (especially bottle #2) and also the test tube once you add the drops from bottle #2? Are you shaking it for the recommended length of time (at least 30 seconds for the bottle and at least 1 full minute for the test tube)? This may have an impact on your reading if you're not.

150 Gallon - Mostly American Cichlids
135 Gallon - Angelfish Community
75 Gallon - Odd couple (Polleni/Angelfish)
55 Gallon - African tank
20 Gallon Long - QT
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post #4 of 9 Old 12-21-2009, 09:50 PM
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My hand goes numb after testing nitrates. If your's isnt then you're not doing it right.
Jokes aside, why don't you try testing it before the water change and see if you get a reading. Mine has been ~10ppm since my cycle was complete and I do have some plants. I try to check ammonia,nitrites and nitrates before the water change to make sure that its stable before I clean it up with a wc and lower everything.(if anything is present)
PS, I read somewhere that if you do not shake the bottle enough you will actually get a HIGHER reading.
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post #5 of 9 Old 12-23-2009, 12:53 PM Thread Starter
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I always test for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH before every water change. I was shaking the bottle and the tube, but not for the amount of time jeaninel suggested, so I just did a nitrate test and shook Bottle #1 for 30 seconds and added it and shook the tube for 10 seconds, then shook Bottle #2 for 60 seconds and added it and shook the tube for 60 seconds and I am still getting a zero reading.

I have probably 25 or so plants. I have a few anubias, a few amazon swords, an argentine sword and a bunch of little maroon fern-looking plants, not sure what they are. They're all babies, I got them at a discount from the store because they got a shipment of mature plants in and had no more rooms for the young ones that they had cultured off of older plants.
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post #6 of 9 Old 12-23-2009, 03:33 PM
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You have a good amount of plants so they are probably taking up any nitrates. I couldn't remember whether the nitrate test was affected by higher or lower numbers when the bottle/tube wasn't shaken enough.

150 Gallon - Mostly American Cichlids
135 Gallon - Angelfish Community
75 Gallon - Odd couple (Polleni/Angelfish)
55 Gallon - African tank
20 Gallon Long - QT
10 Gallon - Empty
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post #7 of 9 Old 12-23-2009, 03:52 PM
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I agree with Jeaninel, with that many plants I'm sure they are using up all availabe nitrates. All my tanks are planted and all my tanks test zero for nitrates. I think you're good.

If you don't stand up for something you'll fall for anything...
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post #8 of 9 Old 12-23-2009, 08:19 PM
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Others have all correctly said it, but just to add my agreement, it is the plants coupled with a relatively small fish load.

Plants require nitrogen, and their preferred source for it is from ammonium. In acidic water the ammonia produced by the fish and biological actions changes to ammonium and the plants grab it. In basic (alkaline) water, the plants use the ammonia and "convert" it through their cell structure into ammonium, then they use the ammonium to photosynthesize. If you suddenly removed all the plants, you would actually have quite a mini-cycle because the bacteria simply are not there when there are live plants. The bacteria exist at a level sufficient to consume the ammonia, and because there is so little ammonia available because of the plants, the level of nitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas and nitrospira) in a well-planted aquarium is very, very minimal. Plants are quicker at grabbing the ammonia/ammonium than the bacteria can become established. It takes something like nine hours for nitrosomonas bacteria to multiply when ammonia increases, which they do by binary division, and the plants have simply grabbed the ammonia/ammonium before this can occur.

With the low level of nitrosomonas bacteria due to the low level of ammonia/ammonium present, nitrite is also low and nitrospira bacteria similar. It is believed by many that plants also use nitrite by converting it back to ammonium. And the nitrite that does get converted to nitrate is minimal, and some species of plants will use the nitrate as well. Studies have shown however, that the majority of aquatic plants prefer ammonium over nitrate, and by a significant margin.

The reason I mentioned your fish load is because with fewer fish in the aquarium, less ammonia is being produced, and the plants are quite possibly consuming all of it. I have constant nitrate readings of 5-10 ppm in my aquaria; I suspect I see this level (though low) simply because I have a heavy fish load. With fewer fish I would expect the nitrate to be 0-5 ppm.

Just a last word on the API nitrate test kit. It apparently does give false readings usually on the high side if the regeant #2 is not shaken for at least 2 minutes rather than the 30 seconds mentioned in the instructions. I've come across situations both on this forum and elsewhere that substantiate this fact, so I would suggest that you shake the regeant for 2 minutes in order to get a more accurate result.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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post #9 of 9 Old 12-24-2009, 09:23 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone! I didn't think that I had a low fish load, but I guess I do!
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