Ammonia poisoning is one of the leading causes of death of fish in an aquarium. Ammonia content, if found anywhere between 0.02 to 0.05 ppm (parts per million), you should be worried.
Ammonia poisoning is also known as ammonia stress or nitrogen poisoning. They can make fish go lethargic, damage the organs, eventually pushing them slowly to the verge of death. If your fish tank appears cloudy and stinks, you should become alert and apt for necessary actions immediately.
This article will answer a lot of your questions related to ammonia poisoning and will also inform you on how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank.
How Does Ammonia Build Up In A Fish Tank And What Are Its Effects?
When there is an imbalance in the nitrogen cycle, ammonia levels will rise. Excessive feeding and keeping the tanks unclean for long periods of time, combined with a bad filtration system, will disrupt the nitrogen cycle.
Excess of uneaten food, fish excrements and other organic debris, will all decompose producing ammonia. A good biological filter, would have trapped all this debris, and promote the growth of nitrifying bacteria which break down ammonia to nitrates.
So if a filter is missing, the amount of ammonia will dominate.
In new tanks higher levels of ammonia is common since there are not enough bacteria in that tank yet. Tap water may also contain ammonia therefore test the water before using it for your fish tank.
Other reasons for high levels of ammonia could be overpopulation of fish and plants, improper removal of chlorine, and dramatic changes in gravel, light or temperature.
Ammonia poisoning could be life-threatening for your fish so you must know how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank. At first, if you pay attention, you will notice lethargy in the movement of your fish, they will not eat as much, and even the surface dwelling fish would be seen crowded around at the bottom.
Some might be found gasping for breath at the water surface, and may have inflamed red or purple gills, fins and eyes. If left unchecked, ammonia will poison and damage their organs, which may eventually lead to death.
How Will I Test For Ammonia Build Up?
You can test water for ammonia with NH3 or NH4 test stripes or test kits that are available in the market. The best time to carry out the test is 90 minutes after fish feeding.
Test stripes simply need to be dipped in water, and if ammonia is present, the stripes would change color which needs to be compared against a color chart which is often included with the product.
These test kits will detect ammonia levels as low as 0-6 ppm. Test charts are very easy to read and will help you to get rid of ammonia in fish tank.
What Level Of Ammonia Is Toxic?
As long as ammonia level is between 0 and 0.02ppm, it is safe. You should be alert if the test shows ammonium level between 0.02 and 0.05ppm.
Level between 0.05 and 0.2ppm is a warning sign. Reading between 0.2 and 0.5 ppm is toxic. If the reading shows above 0.5 ppm, your fish will start dying or a lot would already be dead.
How Will I Get Rid Of Ammonia In Fish Tank?
To know how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank, read the points below:
- 1. Change Water
Whether there is ammonia poisoning or not, you should change 10-20% of water every week. To check on the level of debris accumulating in your fish tank, disturb the water with a sieve, for example, and check how much debris floats up. If there is a lot, it is time for a water change. Follow the steps below:
- Take water in a separate tank and dechlorinate it, especially if it’s tap water
- In healthier tanks, aim for 30% water change. For tanks with high levels of toxicity, aim straight for 50% water change.
- Scrape off, siphon or sieve out any visible, floating debris
- After removing 30 to 50% water from your fish tank, add fresh dechlorinated from the other tank mentioned in step 1.
- 2. Clean Regularly
How to get rid of ammonia in fish tank, you ask? Clean it!
Gravel: Fish waste, excess food, dead algae and other detriments accumulate in the nooks and crannies of the gravel over time. After you have changed water, vacuum the gravel and get rid of all those decomposing waste which contributes to adding ammonium in the fish tank.
Uneaten food: Do this every time you feed your fish—use a sieve to remove the floating food particles. Use a siphon to vacuum up any food particles from the gravel.
Rotting plants and dead fish: Do not forget to look under rock in the gravel, you might some dead fish, plant or algae carcasses there, rotting away and adding to the rising ammonia levels.
Avoid overfeeding: Feeding the fish 2-3 times a day is more than enough. Feed just as much so that all the food is eaten up within 5 minutes.
Avoid overpopulation: Maybe there are too many fish and plants in your tank? Fish excrements and dead plants will decompose, adding more ammonia to the water. If your tank can hold 20 fish, place only 15.
- 3. Unclog The Filter And Grow Good Bacteria
The filter is where the good bacteria, which break ammonia to harmless compounds, grow. Unclog it by removing excess waste.
Clean the sponge or pad of mechanical filters, by simply running RO water through it and squeezing it to drain the dirty water out. As for chemical filters, just replace the carbon.
Biological filters should better be left undisturbed since they contain a lot of good bacteria, but if you must have to, just run RO water or old fish tank water through it.
If you want to change your filter, change it in such a way so that you do not end up losing the good bacteria that it has nurtured over some time. Follow these steps:
- Do not remove the old filter at least for a month since it contains a lot of good bacteria. Add the new filter alongside the old one, which will help the bacteria to move and colonize the new filter.
- Another thing you can do is, you can remove the old filter completely, except its media because that is where the bacteria grow. Simply attach the old media with the new filter, if possible.
If the old media does not fit the new filter, then simply place the old media next to the new filter for one month, and then remove it.
One effective way on how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank is to refrain from adding tap water, because tap water kills the good bacteria. Instead, use Reverse Osmosis or RO water which will help remove ammonia and chlorine from your fish tank.
If your tank has very less good bacteria, and you want to grow them quickly, you can opt for some products which contain live nitrifying bacteria, such as SeaChem Stability or Fritz Zyme.
- 4. Cycle Your Fish Tank
If your fish tank is new, before it can sustain life successfully, you would need to cycle your tank. Before that you need to know how the nitrogen cycle works. It is one of the tried-and-tested methods on how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank.
It all starts when excess food and other detriments start decomposing, releasing ammonia in the process. Nitrosomones and Nitrobacter bacteria, that have been growing in your biological filter, change ammonia into nitrites and nitrates. High levels of nitrate build-up can be controlled by regular water change.
You can exercise this nitrogen cycle in your fish tank by removing the fish first. After you have set up your new tank with filters, follow the steps below:
- Add fish food, which will start breaking down into ammonia soon.
- Place some aquarium plants which will use up any nitrogenous compounds while growing up. When the plants start growing, you need to understand that ammonia and nitrites have gone down to zero, meaning the cycle is complete.
If you want to cycle with the fish present inside, then follow these steps:
- Use water, filter media, sponge or gravel from an old tank. This will release good bacteria into the water of the new fish tank so that the cycle can begin.
- Add fish food so that the bacteria can get something to munch on.
- Wait at least for 24 hours before adding any fish. Add them slowly. Like 2/3 fish at a time, so as to avoid over load. Use organisms like snails or shrimps or some hardy fish which can easily adapt to any sort of surrounding, such as guppies, mollies or bettas.
- Test the water for presence of ammonia every few days. Remember, ammonia and nitrites will at first spike and then fall to zero ppm, whereas nitrate level will continue rising which can easily be removed by water change. It can take 2-3 months for some tanks to complete the cycle.
- 5. Aerate The Tank
NH3 gas dissolves in the water so aeration may help in diffusing out the ammonia. Aeration can be done by “cup method” where simply insert a cup in the fish tank, scoop up some water, lift the cup high up, and gently pour the water back into the fish tank.
This method causes turbulence in the water, causing aeration, highly effective on how to get rid of ammonia in fish tank.
Alternatively, you may use an aeration pump available in stores or online. Keep the lid of the fish tank open for the ammonia gas to diffuse out.
- 6. Adjust The Level Of pH In Your Tank
When the pH in the fish tank is high or alkaline, ammonia builds up. You may use pH adjusting products from your pet store.
Remember though, that ammonia level will not go down just by lowering the pH but it will prevent further build-up of ammonia.
Make sure you use the right gravel in your fish tank. Gravel that contains coral should be avoided as they raise the pH level.
- 7. Use Water Conditioner
Water conditioners can do wonders in reducing ammonia levels. It binds itself to ammonia, nitrite and nitrates, thus making them harmless.
Water conditioners change nitrates into a harmless gas which diffuses out of the water. You may try out some products like Seachem Prime, API, Aqueon or Tetra AquaSafe Plus.
- 8. Add Ammonia–Removing Products
There are some effective products available in the market like API Ammo Lock and Seachem Amguard. Remember, use chemical methods as a last resort and when the ammonia levels have gone through the roof.
Ammonia is the most harmful toxin for a closed aquatic ecosystem like a fish tank. If your fish tank smells and looks cloudy, it’s time to put on some gloves and start investigating.
Feeding fish excessively and failing to clean the tank regularly, are two of the leading causes of ammonia poisoning in fish tanks.
How to get rid of ammonia in fish tank? Well, you can opt for some effective natural or chemical-induced methods. Above all, make sure that the tank is clean, less populated, well-aerated and contains a lot of good bacteria, then you and your fish are good to go.
Pay attention to what your little aquatic buddies are trying to tell you, and save them from ammonia poisoning before it is too late.