So I just bought this fish tank and I was wondering how do I cycle it so that my fish will have a safe environment to live in? Luckily, I found an easy way to do it and I want to share that with you in this blog post.
The first thing you want to do is get it ready and prepared for proper cycling. That means putting in all your substrate and plants and filters mechanisms and filling it with water. after you get it prepared then you’ll want to put in some additives like a biological enhancer with bacteria to help start building beneficial bacteria in your biological media. If you have your filter system properly setup you will already have biological media in your chamber. This should be something like a ceramic or another very porous material that can collect the beneficial bacteria that will grow. Proper cycling takes about 5-7 days. You’ll have to test the water continually to see if there are any ammonia or nitrites present before you add your fish.
The nitrogen cycle (also known as the nitration cycle) is the process that breaks toxic nitrogen waste products (ammonia and nitrites) that come from your fish and excess food in an aquarium into less harmful components like nitrate. For this cycle to develop, beneficial bacteria that feed on these waste products need to grow in the aquarium filter system. Introducing fish to an aquarium without a healthy nitrogen cycle in place is a bad idea — the buildup of waste chemicals can put major stress on the fish, even potentially killing them. Thus, cycling is something that every new aquarium owner needs to do to ensure the health and safety of his/her fish.
There are two ways to do this. The first way is without fish and is the recommended way. The second way is with fish.
First, we’ll ever go over how to cycle a tank without fish.
How to fishless cycle your fish tank.
After you’ve got your fish tank all set up and ready to go with the filter system, substrate, plants decorations, and water, you’ll want to turn on your filtration system and if you’ve used tap water you’ll want to add a product like Seachem Prime to eliminate the chlorine. You can add another product like Seachem Stability to the water with 4 types of beneficial bacteria, but the more efficient way is to add gel filter starter balls to your bio media. They contain live bacteria and dissolve slowly into the bio media for faster growth.
You’ll notice the water will turn cloudy and that’s normal so don’t worry.
Install your aquarium heater and turn it up to around 85 degrees because the hotter the water the faster the bacteria will grow. You don’t have to worry about your fish because there aren’t any in there yet. Just remember to turn the heat back down before you add fish. Another thing you will want to add is an air stone to help aerate the tank for your aerobic bacteria.
Since you don’t have fish in your tank yet to produce the waste products, you’ll have to get the process started by introducing a very small amount of ammonia with an eyedropper. One drop per gallon is all you will need. You can buy some ammonia at the hardware store, but it is very strong so be very careful about how much you introduce into the tank. Only do this when there are no fish in the tank.
Now, let the tank cycle for 24 hours and measure the ammonia and nitrite levels. I recommend you get a nice test kit like the API Master water test kit. Keep in mind that the bacteria you added should be doing its job and consuming the ammonia and nitrite so you should get a lower reading after 24 hours.
Your ultimate goal is to get to a 0 reading at both ammonia and nitrates. If after the first 24 hours, you get a 0 for ammonia, then introduce another drop per gallon of water and cycle another 24 hours.
If there is still some ammonia after the first 24 hours then don’t add any more ammonia. Just let it cycle another 24 hours. You may have a small number of nitrates but that’s okay because it’s not terribly harmful to fish and if you have live plants that will help absorb the nitrates.
You should add ammonia and cycle three times and get to a 0 ammonia and 0 nitrite reading before it’s safe to add fish. The process should take about 5-7 days total.
Cycling a tank with fish
In order to do this, you should have a pretty hardy species of fish like a guppy, or zebra danio, or neon tetra. You should also have a fairly large tank and only add a small amount of fish at first. Your goal is to have the fish produce waste that will build up the beneficial bacteria. That’s why you need a hardy fish that can handle an ammonia spike or two.
Do not add any ammonia! Let the fish produce the waste.
Now add the formula with bacteria into the water. I use Seachem Stability.
Do not overfeed your fish. Just enough to get them by without starving them. You don’t want any excess food to end up at the bottom of your tank to rot.
You’ll also do frequent water changes. About 25% of the water every two days. Don’t use chlorinated water or be sure to treat the chlorinated water before you add it. The chlorine will kill most of the beneficial bacteria that have built up.
If you get ammonia spikes, do a 25% water change and add more bacteria solution.
Test the water every day to monitor the ammonia and nitrite amounts and when you get 0 readings, you are good to go. You can now slowly introduce more fish.
Can you cycle a fish tank with plants?
Yes, in fact, if you have live plants all the better. Healthy live plants are one of the best things you can do for your tank. Plants are nature’s filter and will absorb ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates as well as other minerals in the water in order to grow. You want use good fertilizer and observe the plants. If they are growing new leaves that is a good sign that your tank is alive and ready. Even algae growth is a good sign that the system is working. When you combine nature’s filter with man-made filtration, that is a powerful combination.
An added benefit for live plants is that many species that you buy online or where ever already have some bacteria in the roots to help establish the tank.
How to cycle a fish tank fast.
If you’re impatient and want to cycle a tank faster, a good method is to use bio media or substrate from an established tank. It already has the good bacteria in it so eliminates the need for bacteria to grow. Another way to accomplish this is to run a new filter alongside a filter in an already established tank, then transfer the new filter over to the new tank after a few days. These are reliable methods to use to cycle a tank fast.
How to cycle a fish tank with food.
You can use fish food without the fish to cycle a tank, but this method takes forever. The idea is the food breaks down and causes ammonia and nitrite spikes which the bacteria then feed on. I wouldn’t rely on this for properly cycling a tank because you need a lot of food to break down and that gets expensive.
If you have any questions about the process of cycling a fish tank, please let me know in the comment section below.