The Aquarium Cycle

Before you get started; The Aquarium Cycle
How to cycle an Aquarium
The Best Method to Cycle an Aquarium
Aquarium Cycle Products
More on the Aquarium Cycle
Aquarium Cycle Gallery

Before you get started; The Aquarium Cycle

Before you buy an aquarium or get started in the hobby there are a few things you should know.  One of the most important things for you to know about is the aquarium nitrogen cycle or the aquarium cycle for short.

You see all the fish and animals in the aquarium produce waste in the form of some sort of urea as well as solids and there is also uneaten food in the tank as well as all sorts of invisible creatures in the aquarium that live and die on a daily basis.  The is the first part of the aquarium cycle.

Some is “recycled” by small, invisible animals in the tank or plants and corals and the urea which is very close to ammonia breaks down into ammonia which is extremely toxic to the animals during the aquarium cycle.

Nitrate Reducing Bacteria
Nitrate Reducing Bacteria

A specific type of bacteria that breaks down the ammonia into nitrites plays a key role in the aquarium cycle.  There is a second specific type of bacteria that converts nitrites into nitrates in the last part of the aquarium cycle.

aquarium cycle
The Aquarium Cycle

In the above illustration, the ammonia is shown peaking between days 10-15 in the aquarium cycle, nitrites peak around days 22-24, and the nitrate then continues to rise until the nitrates in the tank drop off.  The intervals are the time it takes for the each of the bacterial populations to fully develop.  Overall the aquarium cycle takes about 40-45 days under normal conditions.

It is so important to understand the aquarium cycle before you start any aquarium because ammonia is highly toxic to fish and nitrites are as well and high levels to both can easily kill off all the fish in the tank!!!

How to cycle an Aquarium

Hopefully you have gotten the point that the aquarium cycle is to be taken seriously and you should not go out and buy a bunch of expensive fish and put them in new tank.  Which begs the question, what is the best way to cycle a new aquarium?  There are many different methods which I will share here.

API Freshwater Master Test Kit - Buy Here!
API Freshwater Master Test Kit – Buy Here!

 

First of all, you will want to invest in a test kit or at the minimum the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH tests.

There are many brands and these tests will help you get through the aquarium cycle smoothly.  You might also want to get ammonia and nitrite neutralizing water

 

Seachem Prime 500ml - Buy Here!
Seachem Prime 500ml – Buy Here!

conditioners depending on how you cycle the tank.  Having some handy can prevent fish death in the case of a higher than expected ammonia reading.  You also definitely want to remove the chlorine and chloramines from the water, even if there are no fish so the bacteria can get started growing.  Chlorine can be removed the water by using water filtered with a carbon filter or some other filters as well as with specific neutralizing water conditioning additives.

Feeder Fish
Feeder Fish

One method is to use a feeder fish or a cheap saltwater fish for saltwater tanks in the aquarium cycle.  The aquarium cycle will still take at least 40 days so you really have to be patient while the entire process completes and you can get the good fish you really want!

Some people start out with fish they want, but are hardy and only start out with one or two fish.  This is slightly risky but with the use of ammonia and nitrite neutralizing aquarium additives (there are several good brands to choose from) and water changes you can complete the aquarium cycle safely.  It can still take a long 40 days before you are safe though!

Feel free to add plants from the beginning.  Living plants (as opposed to fake plastic ones) typically speed up the nitrogen cycle, especially if they’re introduced from a mature tank. Not only can plants carry beneficial bacteria, but they also pull ammonia out of the water directly to use in a biological process called protein synthesis.

The Best Method to Cycle an Aquarium

Aquaripure Bacteria Culture
Aquaripure Bacteria Culture

I find the best and fastest way to cycle an aquarium is to use a good bacterial culture and cycle it with no fish in it at all.  I have fully completed the aquarium cycle in only 8 days and then the tank was fish ready!  Adding the right bacteria will speed up the process vastly.  You just add the bacteria and just a little fish food.  I can’t speak for other bacterial products and in my experience many are not effective.  I can speak for Aquaripure’s Saltwater and Freshwater bacterial cultures because I actively maintain them myself.  The Saltwater culture actually has water from the Atlantic Ocean in it and they are both carefully tended too.  You can actually add a tiny amount of pure ammonia to help the process but it has to be 100% pure and so I would recommend just using some fish food.

Using used filter media or decorations and substrate from an established tank will also help establish bacterial populations more rapidly.  In any case and

API 5 in 1 test strips
API 5 in 1 test strips

whatever method you use you will want to regularly monitor what stage of the aquarium cycle you are at.  5 in 1 Test Strips are a convenient way to do a quick check on a daily basis.  I recommend more accurate and detailed test kits for at least the nitrates and pH though.

Now that you understand and are prepared for the aquarium cycle, we can think about what tank we want to get and what kind of fish we want.

Aquarium Cycle Products

API Freshwater Master Test Kit $23.37 t
Freshwater Master Test Kit for the Aquarium Cycle

API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT

Includes all the tests you need for the initial aquarium cycle.  Freshwater pH, HighRange pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. Kit features computer-analyzed laminated color cards, instruction booklet, 4 test tubes, a holding tray and test tube rack. Made in USA.

Contains one (1) API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, including 7 bottles of testing solutions, 1 color card and 4 glass tubes with cap

Helps monitor water quality and prevent invisible water problems that can be harmful to fish and cause fish loss.

Accurately monitors 5 most vital water parameters levels in freshwater aquariums: pH, nitrite, nitrate. Designed for use in freshwater aquariums only.

Use for weekly monitoring and when water or fish problems appear.

Saltwater Master Test Kit for the Aquarium Cycle
Saltwater Master Test Kit for the Aquarium Cycle

API Saltwater Master Test Kit

Contains all the tests you need for the initial aquarium cycle.  One (1) API SALTWATER MASTER TEST KIT 550-Test Saltwater Aquarium Water Test Kit, including 6 bottles of testing solution, 1 color card and 4 glass test tubes with cap

Measures levels of high range pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate

Helps monitor and adjust pH and prevent invisible water problems that can be harmful to fish

Provides high accuracy results that ultimately prevent fish loss

Use for weekly monitoring and when water or fish problems appear

Nitrogen detoxifying water conditioner for the Aquarium Cycle.
Nitrogen detoxifying water conditioner for the Aquarium Cycle.

Kordon Amquel Plus Water Conditioner

A good water conditioner is a must when you start a new aquarium cycle.  Unique water conditioner providing actions needed for safe aquarium and pond keeping for fishes and invertebrates. Nontoxic and saves on the need for as many water changes as would otherwise be required. Removes/detoxifies all of the kinds of toxic nitrogen compounds in the water.

 

 

API 5 in 1 test strips
API 5 in 1 test strips, great for quick testing during the Aquarium Cycle.

API 5-IN-1 TEST STRIPS Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips

Test strips are great for monitoring an initial aquarium water cycle.  However, we recommend you also use more accurate test kits as well.  Keep your fish healthy and thriving by testing your aquarium water regularly with easy-to-use API 5-in-1 TEST STRIPS. API 5-in-1 TEST STRIPS for freshwater and saltwater aquarium help fish owners measure levels of Nitrite, Nitrate, Carbonate & General Hardness, and pH found in aquarium water. In order for fish to thrive, water must be similar to that which could be found in their natural environment.

 

Aquaripure Bacteria Culture to jump start the Aquarium Cycle.
FW Aquaripure Bacteria Culture to jump start the Aquarium Cycle.

Aquaripure Freshwater Bacteria Culture

Great for the initial aquarium cycle of a brand new tank or helping an Aquaripure Nitrate Filter cycle. -Keep Refrigerated -Use up to 1 oz (30 ml) per 40 gallons every few days when starting a new aquarium to speed cycling when used to cycle a new tank.

 

 

 

Aquaripure Bacteria Culture to jump start the Aquarium Cycle.
SW Aquaripure Bacteria Culture to jump start the Aquarium Cycle.

Aquaripure Saltwater Bacteria Culture

Great for the initial aquarium cycle of a brand new tank or helping an Aquaripure Nitrate Filter cycle. -Keep Refrigerated -Use up to 1 oz (30 ml) per 40 gallons every few days when starting a new aquarium to speed cycling when used to cycle a new tank.

More on the Aquarium Cycle

Of primary concern to the aquarist is management of the waste produced by an aquarium’s inhabitants. Fish, invertebrates, fungi, and some bacteria excrete nitrogen waste in the form of ammonia (which converts to ammonium, in water) and must then either pass through the nitrogen cycle or be removed by passing through zeolite. Ammonia is also produced through the decomposition of plant and animal matter, including fecal matter and other detritus. Nitrogen waste products become toxic to fish and other aquarium inhabitants at high concentrations. In the wild, the vast amount of water surrounding the fish dilutes ammonia and other waste materials. When fish are put into an aquarium, waste can quickly reach toxic concentrations in the enclosed environment unless the tank is cycled to remove waste.

A well-balanced tank contains organisms that are able to metabolize the waste products of other aquarium residents. This process is known in the aquarium hobby as the nitrogen cycle or simply the aquarium cycle. Bacteria known as nitrifiers (genus Nitrosomonas) metabolize nitrogen waste. Nitrifying bacteria capture ammonia from the water and metabolize it to produce nitrite.[citation needed] Nitrite is toxic to fish in high concentrations. Another type of bacteria (genus Nitrospira) converts nitrite into nitrate, a less toxic substance. (Nitrobacter bacteria were previously believed to fill this role. While biologically they could theoretically fill the same niche as Nitrospira, it has recently been found that Nitrobacter are not present in detectable levels in established aquaria, while Nitrospira are plentiful.) However, commercial products sold as kits to “jump start” the aquarium cycle often still contain Nitrobacter.

In addition to bacteria, aquatic plants also eliminate nitrogen waste by metabolizing ammonia and nitrate. When plants metabolize nitrogen compounds, they remove nitrogen from the water by using it to build biomass that decays more slowly than ammonia-driven plankton already dissolved in the water.

Live plants in an aquarium help to complete the aquarium cycle, by utilizing nitrate as fertilizer. What hobbyists call the aquarium cycle is only a portion of the complete aquarium cycle: nitrogen must be added to the system (usually through food provided to the tank inhabitants), and nitrates accumulate in the water at the end of the process, or become bound in the biomass of plants. The aquarium keeper must remove water once nitrate concentrations grow, or remove plants which have grown from the nitrates.

Hobbyist aquaria often do not have sufficient bacteria populations to adequately denitrify waste. This problem is most often addressed through two filtration solutions: Activated carbon filters absorb nitrogen compounds and other toxins, while biological filters provide a medium designed to enhance bacterial colonization. Activated carbon and other substances, such as ammonia absorbing resins, stop working when their pores fill, so these components have to be replaced regularly.

New aquaria often have problems associated with the aquarium cycle due to insufficient beneficial bacteria. Therefore, fresh water has to be matured before stocking them with fish. There are three basic approaches to this: the “fishless aquarium cycle”, the “silent aquarium cycle” and “slow growth”.

In a fishless aquarium cycle, small amounts of ammonia are added to an unpopulated tank to feed the bacteria. During this process, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are tested to monitor progress. The “silent” aquarium cycle is basically nothing more than densely stocking the aquarium with fast-growing aquatic plants and relying on them to consume the nitrogen, allowing the necessary bacterial population’s time to develop. According to anecdotal reports, the plants can consume nitrogenous waste so efficiently that ammonia and nitrite level spikes seen in more traditional aquarium cycling methods are greatly reduced or disappear. “Slow growth” entails slowly increasing the population of fish over a period of 6 to 8 weeks, giving bacteria colonies time to grow and stabilize with the increase in fish waste. This method is usually done with a small starter population of hardier fish which can survive the ammonia and nitrite spikes, whether they are intended to be permanent residents or to be traded out later for the desired occupants.

The largest bacterial populations are found in the filter, where there is high water flow and plentiful surface available for their growth, so effective and efficient filtration is vital. Sometimes, a vigorous cleaning of the filter is enough to seriously disturb the biological balance of an aquarium. Therefore, it is recommended to rinse mechanical filters in an outside bucket of aquarium water to dislodge organic materials that contribute to nitrate problems, while preserving bacteria populations. Another safe practice consists of cleaning only half of the filter media during each service, or using two filters, only one of which is cleaned at a time.

Aquarium Cycle Gallery

Seachem Prime 500ml $12.02
Water Conditioner is useful during the Aquarium Cycle
Aquaripure Bacteria Culture
Bacteria Culture is useful to jump start the Aquarium Cycle
API 5 in 1 test strips
Test Strips are very useful during the Aquarium Cycle
API Saltwater Master Test Kit 29.91 t
A Master test kit is very useful during the Aquarium Cycle
Nitrate Reducing Bacteria
Nitrate Reducing Bacteria that form during the Aquarium Cycle
aquarium cycle 3
An Aquarium Cycle Chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Aquarium Cycle
Another Aquarium Cycle Chart
aquarium cycle
The Aquarium cycle timeline. This can be sped up with Bacterial Culture.

 

 

 

 

 

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