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AquaManLife.com - Home-Bred Fish
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The Magic of Cycling Your Fish Tank: Beginner Friendly!

Unlock the secrets to a flourishing underwater world while learning about cycling your fish tank & create the perfect, balanced environment for your aquatic pets to thrive in!

The Magic of Cycling Your Fish Tank: Beginner Friendly!

Unlock the secrets to a flourishing underwater world while learning about cycling your fish tank & create the perfect, balanced environment for your aquatic pets to thrive in!

DEEP DIVE GUIDE - The Magic of Cycling Your Fish Tank

The magic of cycling your fish tank lies in the transformation of a simple glass container into a thriving aquatic ecosystem. This article will guide you through the process of cycling your fish tank, demystify the jargon, and provide you with the knowledge to ensure a healthy environment for your aquatic friends. We will cover performing a new setup cycle and if you want to read about doing a doing a "fish-in" cycle the right way with quick methods of doing so, read our "Immediate Measures: Your Essential Guide to a Safe and Effective Fish-in Cycle", which is a quick guide. So whether a beginner or an experience person in the hobby, you will learn something here today.

 

Side Note: Read "Accelerate Your Aquarium Cycle: Proven Tips for Rapid Fish Tank Cycling Success" to find out how to do this process in a quicker fashion. This article was starting to get a bit long so decided to do a separate one for this!

You've got your brand-new aquarium and filled it up with water. You're excited to introduce your fish to their new home, right?

Hold on a second! Introducing your fish now could be disastrous. Before you even think about adding fish to your aquarium, there's a crucial step you must take: CYCLE IT! For newcomers to the hobby, the nitrogen cycle can seem like the most daunting part of owning an aquarium. Fear not, though – it doesn't have to be so intimidating. I'm going to guide you through cycling your aquarium the right way, using fishless cycling – trust me, it's simpler than it appears. As mentioned above, I will also touch base on doing an emergency "fish-in" cycle in case it's suddenly needed in our "Immediate Measures: Your Essential Guide to a Safe and Effective Fish-in Cycle".

The Marvel of a Cycled Fish Tank

Cycling your new fish tank is the process of establishing a stable environment for your fish to live in.

It involves cultivating beneficial bacteria that break down harmful waste products, such as ammonia and nitrite, into less toxic substances.

With a properly cycled fish tank, your fish can swim happily and stay healthy.

Alright, this may seem complicated, but I’m going to break it all down for you easily and if you want to learn more about amonia, nitrites and nitrates and their roles, please read our article “Aquarium Filtration Explained: The Science Behind Nitrites & Nitrates Dynamics, Clear Water & Healthy Fish“, however we will do a quick review of those items down below.

Why is Cycling Your Fish Tank Essential?

Introducing fish to an uncycled tank can lead to a host of problems. Without the right balance of beneficial bacteria, ammonia levels can spike, putting your fish at risk of illness and even death. Cycling your fish tank ensures a stable environment for your fish to thrive.

Understanding the Role of Beneficial Bacteria

These tiny, invisible workers are the backbone of a cycled fish tank. Beneficial bacteria convert toxic ammonia and nitrite into less harmful nitrate, which is then removed through water changes or consumed by aquatic plants. Without these essential bacteria, your fish tank would quickly become an unhealthy environment.

Do You Need to Cycle Your Filter?

In short, yes! Cycling your filter is a crucial step in ensuring a healthy environment for your fish. A well-cycled filter helps maintain the proper balance of beneficial bacteria, preventing harmful spikes in ammonia and nitrite levels.

Patience is Key: The Importance of Cycling Your Fish Tank

Cycling your fish tank is a vital step in creating a healthy environment for your aquatic pets.

While there are methods to speed up the process, patience and diligence are essential to ensure the long-term health and happiness of your fish. By understanding the magic of cycling your fish tank, you can provide your aquatic friends with the best possible home.

Maintaining a Cycled Fish Tank: Tips & Tricks

Once your fish tank is cycled, it’s essential to keep it that way by maintaining proper aquarium care. Here are some tips to ensure your tank remains a healthy environment for your fish:

Regular Water Changes

Performing regular water changes helps remove excess nitrates and other waste products from your tank. Aim to replace 25-30% of the water every two weeks, using a siphon to remove debris from the gravel.

Monitor Water Parameters

Keeping an eye on your water parameters, such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, is crucial for maintaining a cycled fish tank. Invest in a quality aquarium test kit and check your water parameters regularly to ensure everything remains balanced.

Don't Overstock Your Tank

Adding too many fish to your tank can lead to an overload of waste products, which can throw off the balance of beneficial bacteria. Ensure you have an appropriate fish-to-tank size ratio, and introduce new fish gradually to avoid overwhelming your tank's bacteria population.

Avoid Overfeeding

Overfeeding your fish can result in uneaten food, which contributes to excess waste and ammonia production. Feed your fish only what they can consume within a few minutes, and remove any uneaten food to prevent ammonia spikes.

What is the nitrogen cycle and why is it so important?

So, what’s the nitrogen cycle, and why does it matter so much? Let’s go over this quickly and get back to the process of actually cycling your setup. As mentioned, to read in more detail, take a look at our “Aquarium Filtration Explained: The Science Behind Nitrites & Nitrates Dynamics, Clear Water & Healthy Fish“. You might have come across terms like biological cycle, nitrification process, or break-in cycle. – don’t stress; they all point to the same concept we’re discussing here – the nitrogen cycle.

Before diving into the how-to of cycling, it’s crucial to understand what’s happening behind the scenes. Picture yourself swimming in a pool, surrounded by your own pee and poop.

Gross, right?

Well, that’s how your fish feel.

Since there’s no such thing as a toilet for fish, they end up pooping and peeing in the same water they’re swimming in. Imagine having to do your business in your own bedroom!

As your fish’s waste, including pee and poop, starts breaking down, it releases ammonia into the water. Ammonia is a toxic substance that can be lethal to your fish. Dying from poop? No, thank you!

Fortunately, Mother Nature has your back. The nitrogen cycle saves your fish from meeting this terrible fate.

Through this natural three-stage process, you’ll nurture beneficial bacteria (the good guys) to establish themselves in your tank and filter, shielding your fish from the harmful effects of ammonia.

Now, let’s take a quick glance at the nitrogen cycle below.

The Nitrogen Cycle Process

This is the nitrogen cycle in a nutshell. Let’s break it down.

Stage 1: Ammonia (Harmful)

The process kicks off with waste. Poop, pee, uneaten fish food, and decaying plants all release ammonia as they break down. Ammonia levels will keep rising in your tank, becoming dangerously high. However, this is when beneficial bacteria that consume ammonia begin to form. These bacteria naturally appear in your tank on their own, and once their numbers increase, they can gobble up ammonia just as fast as it's produced. You'll know these bacteria are present in your aquarium when ammonia levels start to drop, usually after the first week. When that happens, you'll know you're stepping into the second stage of the nitrogen cycle...

Stage 2: Nitrites (Harmful)

As you observe ammonia levels dropping, you'll notice that nitrite levels start to rise. This happens because the bacteria feasting on ammonia produce a new chemical – nitrite. Just like ammonia, nitrites are highly toxic to your fish. But fear not! As nitrite levels increase, a second type of bacteria appears in your aquarium. Their favorite snack? Nitrites. Once this helpful bacteria multiplies, it can consume nitrites as quickly as they're produced. You'll know this bacteria is present in your aquarium when you see nitrite levels begin to fall. When this occurs, you've entered the final stage of the nitrogen cycle.

Stage 3: Nitrates (Harmless)

As nitrite levels decrease, you'll notice that nitrate levels start to rise. This occurs because the bacteria devouring nitrites release a new chemical – nitrate. Nitrates are the final product of the nitrogen cycle. They're relatively harmless to your aquarium, at least in small quantities. However, as nitrates accumulate, they can become toxic to your fish. Luckily, you can reduce nitrates to safer levels by performing water changes. In fact, this is one of the reasons why regular water changes are essential for your aquarium's health.
Keep in mind: It's easy to mix up nitrites and nitrates, with only a single letter separating the two. Just remember, nitrites are highly toxic to your fish, while nitrates are harmless in small amounts.

That’s pretty much all there is to the nitrogen cycle! Not so intimidating, right?

When you cycle your aquarium, you’re essentially guiding your tank through the nitrogen cycle.

The reason for cycling your aquarium is to allow the two beneficial bacteria types to multiply until they can consume harmful ammonia and nitrites as quickly as they’re produced.

AquaManLife Tip: The bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrites and nitrites to nitrates are known as nitrifying bacteria. At this point, you can consider your aquarium successfully cycled.

It’s crucial to understand that the nitrogen cycle is ongoing. Even though it’s invisible, this cycle is continuously at work in your aquarium, protecting your fish from harm.

What is the nitrogen cycle and why is it so important?

So, what’s the nitrogen cycle, and why does it matter so much? Let’s go over this quickly and get back to the process of actually cycling your setup. As mentioned, to read in more detail, take a look at our “Aquarium Filtration Explained: The Science Behind Nitrites & Nitrates Dynamics, Clear Water & Healthy Fish“. You might have come across terms like biological cycle, nitrification process, or break-in cycle. – don’t stress; they all point to the same concept we’re discussing here – the nitrogen cycle.

Before diving into the how-to of cycling, it’s crucial to understand what’s happening behind the scenes. Picture yourself swimming in a pool, surrounded by your own pee and poop.

Gross, right?

Well, that’s how your fish feel.

Since there’s no such thing as a toilet for fish, they end up pooping and peeing in the same water they’re swimming in. Imagine having to do your business in your own bedroom!

As your fish’s waste, including pee and poop, starts breaking down, it releases ammonia into the water. Ammonia is a toxic substance that can be lethal to your fish. Dying from poop? No, thank you!

Fortunately, Mother Nature has your back. The nitrogen cycle saves your fish from meeting this terrible fate.

Through this natural three-stage process, you’ll nurture beneficial bacteria (the good guys) to establish themselves in your tank and filter, shielding your fish from the harmful effects of ammonia.

Now, let’s take a quick glance at the nitrogen cycle below.

The Nitrogen Cycle Process

This is the nitrogen cycle in a nutshell. Let’s break it down.

Stage 1: Ammonia (Harmful)

The process kicks off with waste. Poop, pee, uneaten fish food, and decaying plants all release ammonia as they break down.

Ammonia levels will keep rising in your tank, becoming dangerously high. However, this is when beneficial bacteria that consume ammonia begin to form. These bacteria naturally appear in your tank on their own, and once their numbers increase, they can gobble up ammonia just as fast as it’s produced.

You’ll know these bacteria are present in your aquarium when ammonia levels start to drop, usually after the first week. When that happens, you’ll know you’re stepping into the second stage of the nitrogen cycle…

Stage 2: Nitrites (Harmful)

As you observe ammonia levels dropping, you’ll notice that nitrite levels start to rise. This happens because the bacteria feasting on ammonia produce a new chemical – nitrite.

Just like ammonia, nitrites are highly toxic to your fish.

But fear not! As nitrite levels increase, a second type of bacteria appears in your aquarium. Their favorite snack? Nitrites.

Once this helpful bacteria multiplies, it can consume nitrites as quickly as they’re produced.

You’ll know this bacteria is present in your aquarium when you see nitrite levels begin to fall. When this occurs, you’ve entered the final stage of the nitrogen cycle.

Stage 3: Nitrates (Harmless)

As nitrite levels decrease, you’ll notice that nitrate levels start to rise. This occurs because the bacteria devouring nitrites release a new chemical – nitrate.

Nitrates are the final product of the nitrogen cycle. They’re relatively harmless to your aquarium, at least in small quantities.

However, as nitrates accumulate, they can become toxic to your fish. Luckily, you can reduce nitrates to safer levels by performing water changes. In fact, this is one of the reasons why regular water changes are essential for your aquarium’s health.
Keep in mind: It’s easy to mix up nitrites and nitrates, with only a single letter separating the two. Just remember, nitrites are highly toxic to your fish, while nitrates are harmless in small amounts.

That’s pretty much all there is to the nitrogen cycle! Not so intimidating, right?

When you cycle your aquarium, you’re essentially guiding your tank through the nitrogen cycle.

The reason for cycling your aquarium is to allow the two beneficial bacteria types to multiply until they can consume harmful ammonia and nitrites as quickly as they’re produced.

AquaManLife Tip: The bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrites and nitrites to nitrates are known as nitrifying bacteria. At this point, you can consider your aquarium successfully cycled.

It’s crucial to understand that the nitrogen cycle is ongoing. Even though it’s invisible, this cycle is continuously at work in your aquarium, protecting your fish from harm.

So, What Could Go Wrong If You Don't Cycle Your Aquarium?

The Nitrogen Cycle: it’s going to happen, like it or not!

You see, the nitrogen cycle is an interesting process, as it’ll take place whether you’re prepared for it or not. If you add fish to an uncycled aquarium, the breakdown of food and waste introduces ammonia, initiating the cycling process. In fact, this idea forms the basis of fish-in cycling – a method best left to experts.

But there’s a catch…

Your fish are in the tank while toxic ammonia and nitrite levels increase. Saying these substances are harmful to your fish would be an understatement. This toxic environment is incredibly harsh on your fish – most can’t survive the cycle, and those that do become more prone to diseases and have shorter lifespans.

So, while a tank may cycle itself without any effort on your part, there’s no guarantee that your new fish will make it through. Sadly, if you’ve already bought fish for your new tank, a fish-in cycle might be your only choice.

If you find yourself in this predicament, don’t panic. I’ve created a fish-in cycling guide that offers your fish the best chance of survival.

How Long Does It Take to Cycle Your Aquarium?

I’ve heard plenty of times over the years of watching YouTube videos and reading articles online, people saying you can cycle your tank in 24 hours and be able to put your fish into your tank without worry. Those with some experience can easily see through this falsehood. For you newcomers to the hobby, let me be clear: cycling your aquarium will take much longer than that!

How long, you ask?

Depending on who you ask, cycling your aquarium can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. The most accurate answer:

It’s done when it’s done.

If you’re lucky, your cycle might be short. But don’t get discouraged if it takes longer – we’ve all been there, and it’s tough! The issue is that the bacteria introduced during the cycle grow very slowly. All you can do is wait. Which is why you should cycle your aquarium before buying your fish. Don’t add them to your tank before it’s cycled.

Keep in mind…cycling isn’t instant, but it’s essential if you want happy and healthy fish. Don’t worry – we’ll share some tips to speed up the cycling process in this guide.

If you don’t have the patience to cycle your aquarium, then fish might not be the right pet for you.

Cycling Your Aquarium the Easy Way

There are two methods to cycle your aquarium:

  1. Fishless cycle – A beginner-friendly and harmless approach to cycle your aquarium
  2. Fish-in cycling – Recommended only for experts, as this method might harm or even kill your fish, and truly should be used in a situation where you have no choice.

 

As you might’ve guessed, this guide focuses on cycling a tank without putting your fish at risk. It’s the most popular and widely used technique for cycling aquariums.

Note: There are numerous ways to perform a fishless cycle. The beginner-friendly method I’m about to share, if followed step-by-step, is nearly foolproof.

What You'll Need for a Fishless Cycle

When it comes to cycling your aquarium, you’ll only need three key items:

1. An aquarium test kit

The nitrogen cycle is an invisible process. The only way to truly understand what’s happening inside your tank is to test for it. The most popular way to do that is with an aquarium test kit.

We like this API master test kit like the one mentioned throughout the AquaManLife.com website, because it includes all the tests you need to cycle your aquarium at an affordable price.

2. Ammonia

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Instead of twiddling your thumbs while waiting for waste to break down into ammonia, you can just add it directly! This way, you’ll maintain constant ammonia levels with ease. Remember this: only use 100% pure ammonia. Some household ammonia brands sneak in scents and additives that’ll murder your cycle before it even begins. Stick to pure, unadulterated ammonia, just like the one I mentioned earlier. Alternatively, you can add ammonia using one of these methods listed:

  1. Fish food method: Add a pinch of fish food to the tank daily. As it decomposes, it will release ammonia into the water. This method is slower and requires regular monitoring of ammonia levels.

  2. Raw shrimp method: Place a small piece of raw shrimp in a mesh bag and hang it in the aquarium. As the shrimp decomposes, it will release ammonia into the water. Make sure to remove the shrimp once the cycling process is complete.

You can always add some water from another aquarium if you have access to that, or a piece of some filter from a tank that has all that bacteria built up in it already.

3. Dechlorinator

Since most of us use tap water to fill up our tanks, keep in mind that it’s got chloramine and chlorine lurking in it, two sneaky chemicals that’ll annihilate the beneficial bacteria in your tank.

But don’t worry, there’s a solution! Just grab a good water conditioner and add it to your aquarium. This will dechlorinate the water, making it a safe haven for those helpful bacteria (and, of course, your fish when the time comes). Here’s the one we use.

Remember to use this every time you add tap water to your aquarium.

Got everything ready? Awesome! Now, let’s guide you through cycling your aquarium in 6 straightforward steps.

Introducing the AquaManLife.com 6-Step Cycle Method

Cycling your aquarium can be a breeze – just make sure to pay close attention to the instructions and you will be golden!

Take your time and really grasp each step before progressing to the next one. If you don’t, you might mess up the cycle. If that happens, you will need to start the process over again.

Step 1. Get Your Aquarium Ready

You know all those cool gadgets that came with your aquarium? Now’s the time to set them up!

Heater, filter, air pump, substrate, plants… Put them in place.

Why have everything set up? Well, beneficial bacteria need a surface to cling to, like your substrate and filter media. In fact, most of the bacteria will make your filter their home.

Keep all electrical equipment, such as heaters, bubblers, and filters, switched on throughout the cycling process. Doing this promotes beneficial bacteria growth and might even speed up the cycling.

Note: Beneficial bacteria prefer temperatures between 65 – 85°F (18 – 29°C). Growth slows down outside this range, causing your cycle to take longer. Check your water temperature with a reliable aquarium thermometer.

Step 1 Summary

  • Set up your aquarium
  • Turn on all electrical equipment

Step 2: Check & Keep an Eye on Your pH

This step is often overlooked when cycling a tank, and it can be a common reason for failed cycles. The cycling process can slow down or even come to a halt if your water’s pH level drops below 7.

Since the API master test kit includes a pH test, it’s a no-brainer to use it now. So, check your aquarium water with your test kit. If it’s below 7, you’ll need to raise your pH before moving on to the next step.

Good news! Most of you won’t have any issues, as the majority of water supplies across the United Kingdom have a pH greater than 7.

However, continue performing pH tests throughout the cycling process. The beneficial bacteria in your tank release acids that lower the water pH over time. If your pH levels drop below 7, a simple 20% water change should raise the pH and get the cycle back on track.

So, make sure to test your pH regularly and adjust it as needed.

Step 2 Summary

  • Test your water’s pH
  • Adjust if it’s lower than 7 pH

Step 3: Introduce Ammonia to Your Tank

In a brand new tank, there won’t be any waste, which means nothing to break down into ammonia. So, we need to add it ourselves. Simply take your ammonia source and follow the instructions.

At the time of writing this, one level teaspoon of Fritz Ammonia per 100 gallons of water will give you an ammonia level of 4 parts per million (ppm). Alternatively, you can use fish food or raw shrimp to introduce ammonia to your tank. You need to know your aquarium’s water volume to add the correct amount of ammonia. Use a gallon calculator if you’re unsure of your tank’s water capacity.

So, measure out your ammonia…

Fish tanks less than 40 gallons: Aim for 2 ppm Fish tanks more than 40 gallons: Aim for 4 ppm

While you can borrow measuring spoons from your kitchen, I recommend having a dedicated set for your aquarium.

Now, ensure you’ve added the right amount of ammonia. To do this, use your aquarium test kit, which will give you a result in ppm. Before testing, let the ammonia sit for an hour to evenly distribute throughout the water. Then, measure the ammonia levels using the ammonia test from your master test kit. Make sure you follow the test kit’s instructions for accurate results.

If your ammonia readings are lower than the target levels, add more ammonia and re-test. If your ammonia levels are higher, perform a water change to lower the levels.

Record the amount of ammonia you added, as you’ll need that information later. Ammonia levels higher than 5 ppm can slow down the cycling process.

Now, practice patience. Check your ammonia levels daily with the test kit. This is all you can do for now. You’re waiting for your ammonia levels to drop. This typically takes a week. Once a week has passed, it’s time for the next step.

Bookmark this page, so you can easily find it when you’re ready for the next step! See you next week!😉

Step 3 Summary

  • Add ammonia to your aquarium
  • Monitor ammonia levels daily
  • Test the pH every few days

Step 4: Welcoming the Ammonia-Eating Bacteria

After a week has passed, it’s time to test for nitrites. Grab your nitrite test kit and check the levels.

If your test comes back positive, congratulations – your cycle has officially started!

Now, remember that this bacteria feeds on ammonia. Since you’re the only one adding ammonia to the aquarium, if the ammonia levels reach zero, the bacteria will starve, and you’ll have to start your cycle all over again.

So, let’s give this bacteria a little more food. Add half the amount of ammonia that you added on day one, but ensure your ammonia levels stay under 5 ppm.

Now, monitor your nitrites daily. You should see the nitrite levels continue to rise. Once your nitrite levels begin to drop, it’s time for the next step.

See you again in a few days!

Step 4 Summary

  • Once nitrites are detected, add a half dose of ammonia
  • Keep ammonia levels less than 5 ppm (but greater than 0 ppm)
  • Test ammonia and nitrite levels daily
  • Remember to test the pH every few days

Step 5: Welcoming the Nitrite-Eating Bacteria

To confirm that the nitrite drop is due to the beneficial bacteria, use your test kit to check for nitrates. If they are present, you’re now in the final stage of cycling your tank.

Let’s make sure the bacteria have enough food to eat. Add a half dose of ammonia as needed, even every day if necessary, to keep the levels above 1 ppm.

Keep testing. When you can add a half dose of ammonia and both your ammonia and nitrite levels read zero 24 hours later, your nitrogen cycle is complete.

Woo! Almost there… Just one more step to make it official!

Step 5 Summary

  • Test to confirm nitrates
  • Test ammonia and nitrite levels daily
  • Add half doses of ammonia every few days
  • When both ammonia and nitrites show <0.2 ppm, switch to daily dosing
  • Test until both ammonia and nitrites read zero 24 hours after dosing
  • Remember to test the pH every few days

Step 6: The Final Test

You’re so close! You just want to make sure your tank is fully cycled. To do that, one last test is in order. Once your ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero, add a full dose of Fritz Ammonia, the same amount you added on day one. Now, you’ll need to wait one last time.

Check back in 24 hours. Test your ammonia and nitrite levels. If both read zero…

Congratulations! Your patience has paid off, and your tank is now fully cycled.

If you record your test kit readings each day, you’ll have a clear understanding of the nitrogen cycle.

I highly recommend recording the results of your test kits each day, especially if you are new to the hobby or have several tanks you are keeping track of. It just makes things easier. I keep a small notebook close to my setup so I can take notes at any point when needed. Not only will it give you a better understanding of what’s happening in your tank, but you can also use the results for troubleshooting.

Now that your tank is cycled, the bacteria colonies are large enough to remove ammonia and nitrites as quickly as they are produced. This nasty stuff won’t be harming your fish anytime soon! Before you add your fish, perform a water change to remove those built-up nitrates.

Speaking of which – you should add your fish to your tank now. If you don’t plan on adding fish just yet, keep dosing the tank with ammonia daily. This will ensure the beneficial bacteria don’t starve. If the bacteria starve and die, you’ll have to cycle your fish tank all over again.

It might have felt like a lot of effort, but your hard work will be rewarded once you see just how healthy and happy your fish are, and it’s all thanks to your newly cycled tank!

Cycling Your Aquarium the Easy Way

There are two methods to cycle your aquarium:

  1. Fishless cycle – A beginner-friendly and harmless approach to cycle your aquarium
  2. Fish-in cycling – Recommended only for experts, as this method might harm or even kill your fish, and truly should be used in a situation where you have no choice.

 

As you might’ve guessed, this guide focuses on cycling a tank without putting your fish at risk. It’s the most popular and widely used technique for cycling aquariums.

Note: There are numerous ways to perform a fishless cycle. The beginner-friendly method I’m about to share, if followed step-by-step, is nearly foolproof.

What You'll Need for a Fishless Cycle

When it comes to cycling your aquarium, you’ll only need three key items:

1. An aquarium test kit

The nitrogen cycle is an invisible process. The only way to truly understand what’s happening inside your tank is to test for it. The most popular way to do that is with an aquarium test kit.

We like this master test kit like the one mentioned throughout the AquaManLife.com website, because it includes all the tests you need to cycle your aquarium at an affordable price.

2. Ammonia

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Instead of twiddling your thumbs while waiting for waste to break down into ammonia, you can just add it directly! This way, you’ll maintain constant ammonia levels with ease. Remember this: only use 100% pure ammonia. Some household ammonia brands sneak in scents and additives that’ll murder your cycle before it even begins. Stick to pure, unadulterated ammonia, just like the one I mentioned earlier. Alternatively, you can add ammonia using one of these methods listed:

  1. Fish food method: Add a pinch of fish food to the tank daily. As it decomposes, it will release ammonia into the water. This method is slower and requires regular monitoring of ammonia levels.

  2. Raw shrimp method: Place a small piece of raw shrimp in a mesh bag and hang it in the aquarium. As the shrimp decomposes, it will release ammonia into the water. Make sure to remove the shrimp once the cycling process is complete.

You can always add some water from another aquarium if you have access to that, or a piece of some filter from a tank that has all that bacteria built up in it already.

3. Dechlorinator

Since most of us use tap water to fill up our tanks, keep in mind that it’s got chloramine and chlorine lurking in it, two sneaky chemicals that’ll annihilate the beneficial bacteria in your tank.

But don’t worry, there’s a solution! Just grab a good water conditioner and add it to your aquarium. This will dechlorinate the water, making it a safe haven for those helpful bacteria (and, of course, your fish when the time comes). Here’s the one we use. We usually buy it eBay, however I was able to find it on Amazon as well for the same price.

Remember to use this every time you add tap water to your aquarium.

Got everything ready? Awesome! Now, let’s guide you through cycling your aquarium in 6 straightforward steps.

Introducing the AquaManLife.com 6-Step Cycle Method

Cycling your aquarium can be a breeze – just make sure to pay close attention to the instructions and you will be golden!

Take your time and really grasp each step before progressing to the next one. If you don’t, you might mess up the cycle. If that happens, you will need to start the process over again.

Step 1. Get Your Aquarium Ready

You know all those cool gadgets that came with your aquarium? Now’s the time to set them up!

Heater, filter, air pump, substrate, plants… Put them in place.

Why have everything set up? Well, beneficial bacteria need a surface to cling to, like your substrate and filter media. In fact, most of the bacteria will make your filter their home.

Keep all electrical equipment, such as heaters, bubblers, and filters, switched on throughout the cycling process. Doing this promotes beneficial bacteria growth and might even speed up the cycling.

Note: Beneficial bacteria prefer temperatures between 65 – 85°F (18 – 29°C). Growth slows down outside this range, causing your cycle to take longer. Check your water temperature with a reliable aquarium thermometer.

Step 1 Summary

  • Set up your aquarium
  • Turn on all electrical equipment

Step 2: Check & Keep an Eye on Your pH

This step is often overlooked when cycling a tank, and it can be a common reason for failed cycles. The cycling process can slow down or even come to a halt if your water’s pH level drops below 7.

Since the API master test kit includes a pH test, it’s a no-brainer to use it now. So, check your aquarium water with your test kit. If it’s below 7, you’ll need to raise your pH before moving on to the next step.

Good news! Most of you won’t have any issues, as the majority of water supplies across the United Kingdom have a pH greater than 7.

However, continue performing pH tests throughout the cycling process. The beneficial bacteria in your tank release acids that lower the water pH over time. If your pH levels drop below 7, a simple 20% water change should raise the pH and get the cycle back on track.

So, make sure to test your pH regularly and adjust it as needed.

Step 2 Summary

  • Test your water’s pH
  • Adjust if it’s lower than 7 pH

Step 3: Introduce Ammonia to Your Tank

In a brand new tank, there won’t be any waste, which means nothing to break down into ammonia. So, we need to add it ourselves. Simply take your ammonia source and follow the instructions.

At the time of writing this, one level teaspoon of Fritz Ammonia per 100 gallons of water will give you an ammonia level of 4 parts per million (ppm). Alternatively, you can use fish food or raw shrimp to introduce ammonia to your tank. You need to know your aquarium’s water volume to add the correct amount of ammonia. Use a gallon calculator if you’re unsure of your tank’s water capacity.

So, measure out your ammonia…

Fish tanks less than 40 gallons: Aim for 2 ppm Fish tanks more than 40 gallons: Aim for 4 ppm

While you can borrow measuring spoons from your kitchen, I recommend having a dedicated set for your aquarium.

Now, ensure you’ve added the right amount of ammonia. To do this, use your aquarium test kit, which will give you a result in ppm. Before testing, let the ammonia sit for an hour to evenly distribute throughout the water. Then, measure the ammonia levels using the ammonia test from your master test kit. Make sure you follow the test kit’s instructions for accurate results.

If your ammonia readings are lower than the target levels, add more ammonia and re-test. If your ammonia levels are higher, perform a water change to lower the levels.

Record the amount of ammonia you added, as you’ll need that information later. Ammonia levels higher than 5 ppm can slow down the cycling process.

Now, practice patience. Check your ammonia levels daily with the test kit. This is all you can do for now. You’re waiting for your ammonia levels to drop. This typically takes a week. Once a week has passed, it’s time for the next step.

Bookmark this page, so you can easily find it when you’re ready for the next step! See you next week!😉

Step 3 Summary

  • Add ammonia to your aquarium
  • Monitor ammonia levels daily
  • Test the pH every few days

Step 4: Welcoming the Ammonia-Eating Bacteria

After a week has passed, it’s time to test for nitrites. Grab your nitrite test kit and check the levels.

If your test comes back positive, congratulations – your cycle has officially started!

Now, remember that this bacteria feeds on ammonia. Since you’re the only one adding ammonia to the aquarium, if the ammonia levels reach zero, the bacteria will starve, and you’ll have to start your cycle all over again.

So, let’s give this bacteria a little more food. Add half the amount of ammonia that you added on day one, but ensure your ammonia levels stay under 5 ppm.

Now, monitor your nitrites daily. You should see the nitrite levels continue to rise. Once your nitrite levels begin to drop, it’s time for the next step.

See you again in a few days!

Step 4 Summary

  • Once nitrites are detected, add a half dose of ammonia
  • Keep ammonia levels less than 5 ppm (but greater than 0 ppm)
  • Test ammonia and nitrite levels daily
  • Remember to test the pH every few days

Step 5: Welcoming the Nitrite-Eating Bacteria

To confirm that the nitrite drop is due to the beneficial bacteria, use your test kit to check for nitrates. If they are present, you’re now in the final stage of cycling your tank.

Let’s make sure the bacteria have enough food to eat. Add a half dose of ammonia as needed, even every day if necessary, to keep the levels above 1 ppm.

Keep testing. When you can add a half dose of ammonia and both your ammonia and nitrite levels read zero 24 hours later, your nitrogen cycle is complete.

Woo! Almost there… Just one more step to make it official!

Step 5 Summary

  • Test to confirm nitrates
  • Test ammonia and nitrite levels daily
  • Add half doses of ammonia every few days
  • When both ammonia and nitrites show <0.2 ppm, switch to daily dosing
  • Test until both ammonia and nitrites read zero 24 hours after dosing
  • Remember to test the pH every few days

Step 6: The Final Test

You’re so close! You just want to make sure your tank is fully cycled. To do that, one last test is in order. Once your ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero, add a full dose of Fritz Ammonia, the same amount you added on day one. Now, you’ll need to wait one last time.

Check back in 24 hours. Test your ammonia and nitrite levels. If both read zero…

Congratulations! Your patience has paid off, and your tank is now fully cycled.

If you record your test kit readings each day, you’ll have a clear understanding of the nitrogen cycle.

I highly recommend recording the results of your test kits each day, especially if you are new to the hobby or have several tanks you are keeping track of. It just makes things easier. I keep a small notebook close to my setup so I can take notes at any point when needed. Not only will it give you a better understanding of what’s happening in your tank, but you can also use the results for troubleshooting.

Now that your tank is cycled, the bacteria colonies are large enough to remove ammonia and nitrites as quickly as they are produced. This nasty stuff won’t be harming your fish anytime soon! Before you add your fish, perform a water change to remove those built-up nitrates.

Speaking of which – you should add your fish to your tank now. If you don’t plan on adding fish just yet, keep dosing the tank with ammonia daily. This will ensure the beneficial bacteria don’t starve. If the bacteria starve and die, you’ll have to cycle your fish tank all over again.

It might have felt like a lot of effort, but your hard work will be rewarded once you see just how healthy and happy your fish are, and it’s all thanks to your newly cycled tank!

Monitoring & Maintaining Water Quality for Fish Health

Regular testing of water parameters, including ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and temperature, is essential for maintaining a healthy aquatic environment. Adjusting filtration, water changes, and other aquarium management practices can help maintain optimal water quality.

Final Thoughts

Phew, you did it! You should be proud of yourself. Your patience has paid off, and your tank is now cycled. By cycling your aquarium, you give your fish the best possible chance to live a happy and healthy life.

Just remember that once started, the nitrogen cycle consistently runs in the background of your aquarium. But you’re not home free just yet. You still need to continuously monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels to ensure that nothing has gone wrong. I recommend including testing your tank as part of your maintenance routine.

FAQs

Can plants help speed up the cycling process?

Yes! Live plants can consume ammonia and nitrite, helping to establish a stable nitrogen cycle more quickly. We have a great selection of plants that are grown submerged to avoid any melting back when you add them to your setup.

Is there a "bacteria in a bottle" shortcut for cycling?

Some products claim to introduce beneficial bacteria instantly. While results vary, they can potentially help speed up the cycling process. You can read about using these sort of products in our “Accelerate Your Aquarium Cycle: Proven Tips for Rapid Fish Tank Cycling Success” guide.

Can I use water from an established aquarium to cycle my new tank?

While it might help slightly, most beneficial bacteria live on surfaces like filter media, not in the water. Transferring filter media would be more effective.

Are there different types of nitrogen cycles?

Yes! There are two main types: fishless cycling (using pure ammonia) and fish-in cycling (using fish waste as an ammonia source), which you can read in our “Immediate Measures: Your Essential Guide to a Safe and Effective Fish-in Cycle” guide. Both require careful monitoring.

Can snails and shrimp help with cycling?

Some invertebrates, like snails and shrimp, produce less waste than fish, making them less stressful on a newly cycled tank. However, they still require a stable cycle for survival.

Does the tank size impact the cycling process?

Larger tanks may take longer to cycle due to a higher volume of water, but they also provide more stability once the cycle is established.

Can I use old filter media to jumpstart the cycle?

Yes, using established filter media from a healthy tank can significantly speed up the cycling process by introducing live beneficial bacteria.

What is the role of oxygen in the cycling process?

Beneficial bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle are aerobic, meaning they require oxygen to thrive. Ensuring good water circulation and aeration is essential for cycling success.

How do pH levels affect the cycling process?

The cycling process can slow down or stop if the pH level drops below 7. Regularly testing and maintaining pH levels can help ensure a successful cycle.

Can water temperature influence the cycling time?

Yes, beneficial bacteria prefer temperatures between 65 – 85°F (18 – 29°C). Cycling can take longer if the water temperature is outside this range.

Are there any fish species that are more tolerant of cycling conditions?

Some hardy fish, like zebra danios and certain barbs, can better tolerate cycling conditions. However, it’s still crucial to monitor water parameters closely to minimize stress on the fish.

Aquarium Cycling FAQs

If you have any other further questions about anything aquatic related, please do not hesitate to contact us right away! Stay tuned – we will be starting to load incredibly helpful and useful videos on the AquaManLife.com YouTube channel & Facebook, so keep a look for that coming!