Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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jonlong 04-28-2010 10:25 PM

Problem with Ammonia - New Tank
Hey everyone, I'm new to the forums and hoping you can help me. I would like to preface this by saying that I am very familiar with the nitrogen cycle (since I anticipate answers telling me to read up on that).

I have a new tank, (20 gal, freshwater) that's been running with fish in it for close to 2 weeks. I only waited 48 hrs before putting fish in, because I had been successful doing that in the past. What I had done the previous times (in a different state) was use water conditioner and bacteria starter. I performed water changes to keep the ammonia levels in check and the fish were healthy from day 1.

This time around, though, I noticed the fish weren't doing so well, so I tested the aquarium water w/ the API ammonia test kit and found that it's 1ppm. After that, I was performing 25% water changes every other day, but the aquarium was still staying at about 1ppm. I finally tested my tap water and found that it has 1ppm of ammonia. I purchased an ammonia neutralizer (Aqueoun ammonia neutralizer), but I don't think the fish are doing well. I already lost 3 neon tetras.

I currently have 3 sunset platies and 3 gold barbs and 1 remaining neon tetra. I feel terrible for making such a rookie mistake, but I never ran into this problem in the past, where the tap water was much cleaner.

What is the best thing to do at this point? I found that if I use the drinking water filter in my kitchen, the ammonia level is reduced to 0.25ppm. There aren't any reputable fish stores in the area for me to talk to about local water chemistry and which supplies they recommend.


MOA 04-28-2010 10:39 PM


Personally, I have seen success for people with ammonia in their tap water if they keep lots of live plants and use a resevoir. The normal procedure for such a resevoir does require extra expense and space, however:
  1. Purchase large, non-toxic, water container (doesn't have to be pretty). Farming stores are often helpful in this regard--plastic chemical barrels (unused) do very well as resevoirs. You want your resevoir to be about four times the capacity of your aquarium.
  2. Find an out-of-the-way place to store the resevoir. Basements and garages are popular.
  3. Buy a circulation pump for the resevoir (enough to cycle all the water at least once every two hours; most powerheads will perform this role well).
  4. Fill the resevoir with tap water and let the water cycle over the course of a few weeks. Eventually, if very small amounts of commercial ammonia are added weekly (less than 1/8 teaspoon for a large resevoir), the resevoir will cycle and start cycling the ammonia from the tap water on its own.
  5. Use resevoir water to replace water taken from the main tank. Fill back up resevoir with tap water.
The idea behind a resevoir is to give the nitrogen cycle some breathing room. Letting the water sit in a container without fish poses no risk to the fish. Added ammonia (or even regular fish flakes) keeps the beneficial bacteria alive. Overall, very useful if you have the space and money.


jonlong 04-28-2010 10:43 PM

Thanks for the quick response. Unfortunately I live in an apartment where there isn't adequate space for such a reservoir.

I've considered getting a tap water filter, like the one made by API, but I'm not sure if it is more effective than the one under my kitchen sink.

aunt kymmie 04-28-2010 10:51 PM

How often do you do water changes and how much per change? Maybe you can use a 5 gl jug of spring water, stored in a closet? Just a thought...

jonlong 04-28-2010 10:54 PM


Originally Posted by aunt kymmie (Post 371594)
How often do you do water changes and how much per change? Maybe you can use a 5 gl jug of spring water, stored in a closet? Just a thought...

I change 25% of the water about twice a week, although I don't like putting the high-ammonia tap water into the tank. I thought about using some type of bottled water, but it seems there are a lot of issues with that, specifically the lack of minerals in the water.

aunt kymmie 04-28-2010 10:58 PM

Doesn't spring water contain minerals? I thought for sure that it did. I know distilled doesn't.

jonlong 04-28-2010 11:00 PM


Originally Posted by aunt kymmie (Post 371605)
Doesn't spring water contain minerals? I thought for sure that it did. I know distilled doesn't.

Oh yeah, you're right. I didn't read carefully enough. I'm not sure if spring water is safe to use. I'll look into it.

aunt kymmie 04-28-2010 11:12 PM

I know it's safe as I've used it. I used to have 5 gl jugs delivered to my house until I realized my fish are just fine in my tap water's ph. (ph being something else to consider) Walmart sells it really cheap by the gallon.

MOA 04-29-2010 12:18 AM


Whatever you choose, I would strongly advise against using distiled water as the lack of dissolved substances can wreak havoc on a fish via osmotic imbalances.


Austin 04-29-2010 02:50 AM

I know some LFS here sell fresh water for aquariums. I assume that water would be better than your tap.

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