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My 28 gallon bow front has been up and running for 5 months but in the last month or so I've had high nitrate readings (between 40-80). I did my weekly water change and vacuuming today and tested 3 hours later and I have at least 80 on the nitrates and suddenly I have a low nitrite reading .25. No matter what I do I can't get the nitrate down but it's higher than ever today.

The tank is lightly planted with about 8 plants.
Stock is:
5 head and tail light tetras
3 glo tetras
1 silver molly
2 female sword tails

I have two filters running a penguin bio wheel with a new filter in it for 2 weeks plus a cut to size nitrate filter pad for about 3 weeks. The other filter is an aquaclear 50 that has been running for about 4 weeks along side the biowheel. I took out the carbon and put a piece of cut to size nitrate filter pad.

I do between a 30-40% water change weekly and dig into the gravel when vacuuming.

I can't figure out why my nitrates are always so high and why I suddenly have nitrites today?

I also tested my 5.5 gallon betta tank and everything is fine with that although even that showed the nitrate a little high maybe at 40. Seems odd since I only have one betta who eats 3 pellets a day and his water is changed weekly also.

I checked the expiration date for my API test kit and it's good until 2017. I tested my water a few weeks ago and the nitrates are between 10-20 in the tap water. I'm at my wits end trying to lower the nitrates. I haven't cleaned any filter media in a few weeks, could that be the cause of the high nitrates? and since I haven't fed the fish today it can't be because of rotting food and there are no dead fish or plants. Last week I thoroughly cleaned everything meaning I removed the decorations and the silk plants so I could vacuum good, scrubbed the glass with my algae brush and put all new plants in.

Could someone please give me an idea of what to do to lower my nitrates?
 

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My 28 gallon bow front has been up and running for 5 months but in the last month or so I've had high nitrate readings (between 40-80). I did my weekly water change and vacuuming today and tested 3 hours later and I have at least 80 on the nitrates and suddenly I have a low nitrite reading .25. No matter what I do I can't get the nitrate down but it's higher than ever today.

The tank is lightly planted with about 8 plants.
Stock is:
5 head and tail light tetras
3 glo tetras
1 silver molly
2 female sword tails

I have two filters running a penguin bio wheel with a new filter in it for 2 weeks plus a cut to size nitrate filter pad for about 3 weeks. The other filter is an aquaclear 50 that has been running for about 4 weeks along side the biowheel. I took out the carbon and put a piece of cut to size nitrate filter pad.

I do between a 30-40% water change weekly and dig into the gravel when vacuuming.

I can't figure out why my nitrates are always so high and why I suddenly have nitrites today?

I also tested my 5.5 gallon betta tank and everything is fine with that although even that showed the nitrate a little high maybe at 40. Seems odd since I only have one betta who eats 3 pellets a day and his water is changed weekly also.

I checked the expiration date for my API test kit and it's good until 2017. I tested my water a few weeks ago and the nitrates are between 10-20 in the tap water. I'm at my wits end trying to lower the nitrates. I haven't cleaned any filter media in a few weeks, could that be the cause of the high nitrates? and since I haven't fed the fish today it can't be because of rotting food and there are no dead fish or plants. Last week I thoroughly cleaned everything meaning I removed the decorations and the silk plants so I could vacuum good, scrubbed the glass with my algae brush and put all new plants in.

Could someone please give me an idea of what to do to lower my nitrates?
Water changes will get the nitrates down. Even if this means a water change every day I do it. Obviously you have nitrates in you water soo don't expect them to go down to zero but they shouldn't be higher then you tap water.

What plants do you have in the tank?? Some plants will handle nitrates better then others. Duckweed comes to mind here (even though I hate this plant it will work in the ad of the removal.).

lastly before you changed the fliter in the bio wheel did you have nitrate problems??? I am not sure what the bio wheel has in it. Is it just a filter pad??? I am wondering if you sent the tank into a mini cycle due to taken out the old pads.
 

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With the new Nitrite reading it does sound like a cycle issue.

It doesn't appear that you are overstocked and you seem to have plenty of filtration.

3 hours after a water change you had 80 Nitrates? I would have the water analyzed by your LFS or by a club member (if you are in an aquarium club) to verify your numbers.

The test procedures for Nitrate bottle #2 is to shake for 1 minute, I shake mine like H$#L for 2 minutes before adding - make sure you are shaking #2 really really good.

You may have somehow disturbed the cycle by over cleaning the filters, deco and substrate?

There are some good TFK threads pertaining to Nitrates (especially by Abbey's Dad and Byron) do a search and you should find a large amount of valuable ideas and information.

Keep us posted on how things go, but do daily water changes until you get the nitrate problem resolved.
 

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Larger more frequent water changes. Nitrates just accumulate from the ammonia and nitrites being oxidized.

Duckweed seems to work for me, I have nitrates always under 5ppm, closer to zero, even after two weeks (or more sometimes) between WCs.

Jeff.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Larger more frequent water changes. Nitrates just accumulate from the ammonia and nitrites being oxidized.

Duckweed seems to work for me, I have nitrates always under 5ppm, closer to zero, even after two weeks (or more sometimes) between WCs.

Jeff.
My only concern with duckweed is that it covers the light doesn't it by laying on the top of the water? That being the case will my other plants still get enough light?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
With the new Nitrite reading it does sound like a cycle issue.

It doesn't appear that you are overstocked and you seem to have plenty of filtration.

3 hours after a water change you had 80 Nitrates? I would have the water analyzed by your LFS or by a club member (if you are in an aquarium club) to verify your numbers.

The test procedures for Nitrate bottle #2 is to shake for 1 minute, I shake mine like H$#L for 2 minutes before adding - make sure you are shaking #2 really really good.

You may have somehow disturbed the cycle by over cleaning the filters, deco and substrate?

There are some good TFK threads pertaining to Nitrates (especially by Abbey's Dad and Byron) do a search and you should find a large amount of valuable ideas and information.

Keep us posted on how things go, but do daily water changes until you get the nitrate problem resolved.
I smacked the bottle #2 around and really shook it before testing again and it was still high. I'm starting to think there is something wrong with the bottle and I probably should get it tested somewhere else. I agree that I may have gone into a mini cycle with the cleaning but this has been going on for awhile and it just baffles me. Thanks.
 

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Water changes will get the nitrates down. Even if this means a water change every day I do it. Obviously you have nitrates in you water soo don't expect them to go down to zero but they shouldn't be higher then you tap water.

What plants do you have in the tank?? Some plants will handle nitrates better then others. Duckweed comes to mind here (even though I hate this plant it will work in the ad of the removal.).

lastly before you changed the fliter in the bio wheel did you have nitrate problems??? I am not sure what the bio wheel has in it. Is it just a filter pad??? I am wondering if you sent the tank into a mini cycle due to taken out the old pads.
I have anubuis (sp?), swords, wistera, java moss and two little ones I don't know exactly what they are. I may have put it in a mini cycle but yes I had the problem before I changed the filter pad. In the bio wheel I have a cut to size nitrate filter pad (suppose to help keep nitrates down) and the regular pad that comes with it. Guess I'll do another water change today and see what happens. Thanks.
 

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10-20 nitrates in your tap water is awfully high imo. Maybe you can try half and half of ro/di water with ur tap water?
 

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The nitrate pads get full, so to speak, but can be "recharged" I believe... something about soaking in salt water comes to mind.

The duckweed can block out the light but that depends on the light that you have and the plants in the substrate and how much you let the duckweed propagate. Most fish prefer shaded areas so I consider that surface plants are a must in most tanks (there area some exceptions). It actually takes a lot of plant growth at the surface to affect the light enough to make a difference except with really high light plants. Just remove enough to keep it moving around the top of the tank in the water flow. The worst thing that you might have to do is increase your photo-period. I am at 14 hours currently, but I use that time with or without massive surface plant masses.

The RO or distilled water idea is good as long as you don't mess with the hardness too much. Your livebearers prefer hard water (so do the plants) and cutting 1/2 and 1/2 with RO will effectively halve your hardness.

Jeff.
 

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The nitrate pads get full, so to speak, but can be "recharged" I believe... something about soaking in salt water comes to mind.

The duckweed can block out the light but that depends on the light that you have and the plants in the substrate and how much you let the duckweed propagate. Most fish prefer shaded areas so I consider that surface plants are a must in most tanks (there area some exceptions). It actually takes a lot of plant growth at the surface to affect the light enough to make a difference except with really high light plants. Just remove enough to keep it moving around the top of the tank in the water flow. The worst thing that you might have to do is increase your photo-period. I am at 14 hours currently, but I use that time with or without massive surface plant masses.

The RO or distilled water idea is good as long as you don't mess with the hardness too much. Your livebearers prefer hard water (so do the plants) and cutting 1/2 and 1/2 with RO will effectively halve your hardness.

Jeff.
Ok think I'll look into some duckweed. I currently have the lights on a timer for 8 hours. RO setups are pretty expensive and I'm almost afraid to use distilled. I also have an 18" bubble wand across the bottom, will that effect the use of duckweed? Thanks for the good information :)
 

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RO and distilled are basically the same thing.

I think that there are two courses that you can take that don't go the RO or distilled water avenue:

First, you can work at smaller less frequent water changes while treating the water for nitrates through some nitrate absorbing filter material and nitrate loving plants (Water Hyacinth is another but I think that they get fairly tall out of the water).

Second, you can consider that you will always have 10-20ppm nitrate as a minimum and keep with frequent water changes to keep any additional buildup to a minimum.

Either way just vacuuming the bottom and keeping it as clean as possible and letting the plants look after most of the ammonia up front so nitrates don't buildup as fast would be your best course.

I don't vacuum anymore, there's nothing really to vacuum, and I leave decaying plant material in the tank as much or as long as possible. I have a full load of fish, shrimp and snails, which I am sure I overfeed, and a boatload of surface plants including duckweed, pennywort, hygrophila, bacopa, and some others. I would have expected that my routine would end up with a buildup of nitrates as there must be lots of ammonia generated and even though the plants are numerous, some would get nitrified. I think that perhaps I just lucked onto the right balance... we'll see if my second tank works out the same and whether it is actually luck our not.

Jeff.
 

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RO and distilled are basically the same thing.

I think that there are two courses that you can take that don't go the RO or distilled water avenue:

First, you can work at smaller less frequent water changes while treating the water for nitrates through some nitrate absorbing filter material and nitrate loving plants (Water Hyacinth is another but I think that they get fairly tall out of the water).

Second, you can consider that you will always have 10-20ppm nitrate as a minimum and keep with frequent water changes to keep any additional buildup to a minimum.

Either way just vacuuming the bottom and keeping it as clean as possible and letting the plants look after most of the ammonia up front so nitrates don't buildup as fast would be your best course.

I don't vacuum anymore, there's nothing really to vacuum, and I leave decaying plant material in the tank as much or as long as possible. I have a full load of fish, shrimp and snails, which I am sure I overfeed, and a boatload of surface plants including duckweed, pennywort, hygrophila, bacopa, and some others. I would have expected that my routine would end up with a buildup of nitrates as there must be lots of ammonia generated and even though the plants are numerous, some would get nitrified. I think that perhaps I just lucked onto the right balance... we'll see if my second tank works out the same and whether it is actually luck our not.

Jeff.
Very impressive!! I don't seem to have any problem with ammonia but I still haven't figured out the cause of the high nitrates unless I'm cleaning it too well every week. I was having a slight brown algae problem, just little spots on the glass here and there but that seems under control. The fish don't seem to be in any distress so I just don't get it :( My water is crystal clear, I don't think I'm over stocked and what food hits the bottom is constantly being picked at by the bottom feeders.

I wonder if I should leave my lights on longer than 8 hours for the plants? They seem to be doing ok. I add 1/2 cap full of flourish 2x a week but the last plants I had kept rotting. Oh well I guess if nothing seems too bad I should leave well enough alone and do 2x weekly water changes.
 

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Very impressive!! I don't seem to have any problem with ammonia but I still haven't figured out the cause of the high nitrates unless I'm cleaning it too well every week. I was having a slight brown algae problem, just little spots on the glass here and there but that seems under control. The fish don't seem to be in any distress so I just don't get it :( My water is crystal clear, I don't think I'm over stocked and what food hits the bottom is constantly being picked at by the bottom feeders.

I wonder if I should leave my lights on longer than 8 hours for the plants? They seem to be doing ok. I add 1/2 cap full of flourish 2x a week but the last plants I had kept rotting. Oh well I guess if nothing seems too bad I should leave well enough alone and do 2x weekly water changes.
UPDATE
I just did a 50% water change and waited an hour to check the nitrates. Something interesting...if I'm holding the test tube up to the natural light at the front door, the liquid is orange like the 20 mark on the chart, but if I hold the tube to the white on the API chart it's red like the 40-80 mark. How can the colors look so different?? I know they say to hold it next to the white part of the chart but I'm thinking the true color is what I'm seeing in the natural light and it's not direct sunlight, it's in a shady spot. I may not have high nitrates after all. Hmmmm....just some thoughts....
 

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Ammonia gets oxidized into nitrites and they in turn get oxidized into nitrates so ammonia in = nitrates out... that's the only source. If you have no problem with ammonia, then your plants are sucking it up directly and the various biofilms are oxidizing them into nitrates efficiently. If your tests are accurate and the nitrates are actually getting that high that fast, then you have an over abundance of ammonia going in and a very effective nitrification cycle.

If you did two large water changes in a week, even as much as 75%, your nitrate levels should be down to close to your tap levels. Sort of resetting to get you to a stable starting point. With plants there should be no reason for the nitrates to jump any more than 5ppm per week... let alone getting to 40 or 80 ppm. If your nitrate bottle #2 hasn't been shaken every time, the test could be off as the solution can change in concentration and could affect the results, I dont know which way.

Your cleaning will help reduce ammonia sources from decaying matter (food, fish waste, plant material). Increasing your photo period may help the plants suck up more ammonia bypassing the nitrate production and help reduce the amount of algae showing up, even though it isn't much now.

Jeff.
 

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Ammonia gets oxidized into nitrites and they in turn get oxidized into nitrates so ammonia in = nitrates out... that's the only source. If you have no problem with ammonia, then your plants are sucking it up directly and the various biofilms are oxidizing them into nitrates efficiently. If your tests are accurate and the nitrates are actually getting that high that fast, then you have an over abundance of ammonia going in and a very effective nitrification cycle.

If you did two large water changes in a week, even as much as 75%, your nitrate levels should be down to close to your tap levels. Sort of resetting to get you to a stable starting point. With plants there should be no reason for the nitrates to jump any more than 5ppm per week... let alone getting to 40 or 80 ppm. If your nitrate bottle #2 hasn't been shaken every time, the test could be off as the solution can change in concentration and could affect the results, I dont know which way.

Your cleaning will help reduce ammonia sources from decaying matter (food, fish waste, plant material). Increasing your photo period may help the plants suck up more ammonia bypassing the nitrate production and help reduce the amount of algae showing up, even though it isn't much now.

Jeff.
I did 50% yesterday when I posted my original post about high nitrates and did another 50% over an hour ago and according to the API chart (with the tube on the white) there was no difference in the nitrate from yesterday to today. I shake the mixture like mad so I know that's not the problem and I have 0 ammonia. I'm starting to think the testing solution is the problem. I think it's time to buy another one since the #2 is almost empty which could be the problem. I do appreciate all your help :)
 

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Well the thing is with the high nitrates and hard water is that, yes your plants and livebearers do prefer it, but they also prefer ( and need) a nitrate level at <20. I think that a slight adjustment in hardness ( that ur livestock will no doubt adjust rather easily) is much preferable over poisoning them with high nitrates. If it were me inwould try cutting with some ro water and experiment with it to keep my hardness and nitrates acceptable.

As far as the color question, i go through the same thing. To me even on the chart i dont see a concernable difference between 10 and 20. I have a bit of trouble discerning the high range ph too. I hold it to natural sunlight against the white if the chart. As long as its light orange and not dark orange im happy lol
 

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UPDATE
I just did a 50% water change and waited an hour to check the nitrates. Something interesting...if I'm holding the test tube up to the natural light at the front door, the liquid is orange like the 20 mark on the chart, but if I hold the tube to the white on the API chart it's red like the 40-80 mark. How can the colors look so different?? I know they say to hold it next to the white part of the chart but I'm thinking the true color is what I'm seeing in the natural light and it's not direct sunlight, it's in a shady spot. I may not have high nitrates after all. Hmmmm....just some thoughts....
That sounds plausible, and more likely. With a 50% change and you doing one or two changes a week the nitrates almost cannot be that high, even with a 20ppm starting point... I think I said as much in my last post too.

I use a separate white card to eliminate any chance of other colour bars affecting what I see, and either daylight or a white flashlight to get rid of the yellow of the tungsten incandescent lighting colouration.

Jeff.
 

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Well the thing is with the high nitrates and hard water is that, yes your plants and livebearers do prefer it, but they also prefer ( and need) a nitrate level at <20. I think that a slight adjustment in hardness ( that ur livestock will no doubt adjust rather easily) is much preferable over poisoning them with high nitrates. If it were me inwould try cutting with some ro water and experiment with it to keep my hardness and nitrates acceptable.

As far as the color question, i go through the same thing. To me even on the chart i dont see a concernable difference between 10 and 20. I have a bit of trouble discerning the high range ph too. I hold it to natural sunlight against the white if the chart. As long as its light orange and not dark orange im happy lol
The only time I see light orange is in natural light NOT against the chart lol! Thanks for your thoughts.
 

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UPDATE
If I'm holding the test tube up to the natural light at the front door, the liquid is orange like the 20 mark on the chart, but if I hold the tube to the white on the API chart it's red like the 40-80 mark. How can the colors look so different?? I know they say to hold it next to the white part of the chart but I'm thinking the true color is what I'm seeing in the natural light and it's not direct sunlight, it's in a shady spot. I may not have high nitrates after all. Hmmmm....just some thoughts....
FROM THE API WEBSITE : Directions for Testing Nitrate

Read the test results by matching the color of the solution against those on the Nitrate Test Color Chart.

The tube should be viewed against the white area beside the color chart.

Color comparisons are best made in a well-lit area.

The closest match indicates the ppm (mg/L) of nitrate in the water sample.

The problem is that it doesn't specify if the tube should be pressed directly against the white part of the chart or held back.... The closer you bring it to the chart the darker it is going to get...

I personally have the best luck just looking at the color in good light, I don't really hold it against anything white.. you can't tell if its 10-20 but you can tell the difference in 10 and 80.

For your personal sanity, I still think you should take a sample to your LFS and get them to provide an opinion....

It can be hard to read some of the results, but once you hit 5 million tests, like me, you'll have it down... For some weird reason I love to test and keep track of my water params....
 
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