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How To Cycle Your Aquarium With Liquid Ammonia (6 Simple Steps)

Whether you're new to fish keeping or returning to the hobby after a hiatus, the notion of "cycling" an aquarium may be unfamiliar.

Tank cycling is commonly misunderstood, causing it to be neglected while setting up a tank for new fish. We all know someone who has successfully set up a tank without cycling it, which frequently causes others to believe that cycling is not a necessary step.

This could not be further from the truth, therefore let's discuss why cycling a new aquarium is essential and how to do it correctly using the ammonia approach.

Please note that if you are cycling an aquarium that already contains fish, this approach is inappropriate. Instead, you must complete a fish-in cycle.

To know more details, please continue reading "How to Cycle Your Aquarium with Liquid Ammonia (6 Simple Steps)" by BestForPets (bestforpets.org).

Why Bother Cycling an Aquarium?

The process of cycling an aquarium involves the establishment of colonies of nitrifying or beneficial bacteria. These bacteria are essential to the health of the aquarium and its inhabitants because they aid in the removal of waste from the water.

This indicates that these bacteria eat ammonia, which is a byproduct of fish digestion. Ammonia is also created by the decomposition of dead plants and animals in your aquarium.

Beneficial bacteria are involved in the nitrogen cycle, which involves the transformation of waste products such as ammonia and nitrite into nitrate. Nitrate at high concentrations can be harmful, although plants use it as an energy source.

This means that nitrifying bacteria and plants can self-manage waste product levels in planted tanks. However, water changes are still necessary to lower nitrate concentrations.

When an aquarium is not properly cycled, waste materials will accumulate in the water. The more the bioload added to the water, the greater the need for a completely cycled aquarium.

Similar to plecos and other big fish, goldfish generate a substantial bioload. Typically, dwarf shrimp and tiny fish, such as tetras, are low bioload providers. The greater the bioload, the quicker waste will accumulate in the water.

Depending on filtration, fish population, and tank size, an uncycled goldfish tank may require daily water changes to prevent ammonia and nitrite poisoning. A dwarf shrimp tank without a recycling system will produce garbage at a much slower rate.

What Supplies are Needed to Cycle an Aquarium?

  • Filtration: Beneficial bacteria require a large surface area to grow on or in, as well as oxygenated and moving water to flourish. This implies that a tank without an adequate filtering system will not cycle. You require a filtration system with high-surface-area filter media, such as ceramic rings or bio sponges.
  • Ammonia: You have two options when purchasing ammonia to cycle your aquarium. Either ammonium chloride supplied as a cleaning chemical or pre-measured ammonia can be purchased at a supermarket or hardware shop. Ammonia that has been pre-measured is designed for use in cycling aquariums. It includes comprehensive directions for safely cycling your aquarium.
  • Water Test Kit: A trustworthy water test kit will allow you to check the cycling status of your aquarium. The use of liquid test kits, such as the API Freshwater Master Test Kit, is advised. Ensure that any kit you pick can accurately measure ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
  • Starter Bacteria (optional): Beneficial bacteria in a bottle are not required for cycling your aquarium, as the bacteria will colonize as the tank cycles. However, adding bacteria supplements may help your tank cycle more quickly by bringing bacteria into the water more quickly.

Steps to Cycle Your Aquarium Using Ammonia

1. Getting Started

Collect the necessary items and set up your filter to get started. In addition to the filter, you may use bubblers or air stones to boost the oxygen content of the water to better stimulate the development of bacteria.

Note that a cycled tank still requires the addition of fresh water for chlorine and chloramine treatment. The elimination of chlorine does not contribute to the nitrogen cycle.

2. Import Bacteria (optional)

If you prefer to use bottled bacteria to speed up the procedure, you should add it to the water before adding ammonia. This can be done on the same day, or the bacteria can be added a day or two before the ammonia. If bacteria are added too early, they may perish without a source of energy.

3. Begin to Add Ammonia

If you are using pre-measured ammonia, follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Daily additions of around one drop of ammonia per gallon of water are typical, irrespective of the type of ammonia used.

Adding too much ammonia will not speed up the cycling process. In fact, it can actually slow down the process. Remember that you are still attempting to cultivate bacteria that eat ammonia.

4. Check Your Water Quality

After adding ammonia to the tank for a few days, begin testing the water’s properties with a test kit. You do not need to monitor nitrate levels for at least the first week, so start with ammonia and nitrites. Continue to evaluate the water’s characteristics everyday. Once you see a decline in ammonia levels and the presence of nitrites, you should begin monitoring nitrate levels.

5. Being Aware of When Your Tank Is Cycled

When your ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero, your aquarium has been thoroughly cycled. Unless your aquarium is crowded with plants, nitrate levels between 5 and 20 ppm are safe and usual.

Some individuals are OK with nitrate concentrations of 40 ppm or greater. If your aquarium exhibits the presence of ammonia or nitrites, it is not cycled and you should continue adding ammonia and monitoring the parameters.

6. Include Your Fish

Once ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero and nitrates are detected during testing, the aquarium is cycled and ready for fish. Once your fish have been acclimated and introduced to the aquarium, you must continue to check the water conditions for at least the first few days or weeks. This will guarantee that your tank is still cycling and that garbage does not accumulate in the water.

Maintaining the Cycle

Keeping your aquarium cycled is often a simple task, however many individuals make mistakes in this regard. It is essential to realize that your helpful bacteria reside on surfaces that get oxygen. This implies that they do not live in the water, thus water changes should not affect the cycle of your aquarium.

However, they do inhabit the substrate and filtering system. Most manufacturers advise replacing filter cartridges and other filter material often.

When individuals follow the manufacturer’s instructions, they unintentionally disrupt the tank’s cycle by removing beneficial bacteria with the filter material.

Ideally, you should choose durable filter media that can be washed in filthy tank water as needed to eliminate solid waste but does not need to be replaced frequently. If your filter media is in need of replacement, do not replace it all at once. Spreading it out across a few weeks will aid in cycle maintenance.


How to Cycle Your Aquarium with Liquid Ammonia (6 Simple Steps)” by BestForPets (bestforpets.org) has clarified that cycling your fish tank is a must to build a strong, healthy, and sustainable living environment for your beloved fishes.

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Dr. Deborah Fletcher

Deborah R. Fletcher, DVM, is a skilled veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience dealing with companion and exotic animals. She has experience caring for a variety of animals, including household cats and dogs, reptiles, birds of prey, and even primates. Dr. Fletcher is a valuable part of the BestForPets team, where she contributes to their aim of providing pets and their owners with the finest possible treatment and services.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Deborah Fletcher


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