Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Keeping Your Fish Tank Ammonia-Free

Keeping Your Fish Tank Ammonia-Free

The presence of ammonia in your aquarium can pose a big risk for your fish population. Delicate fish species can easily get killed when exposed to ammonia in water. Hardy fish species can suffer permanent physical damage and die a slow, painful death when exposed to ammonia for a considerable period of time. For an aquatic environment to remain healthy and disease-free, the level of ammonia has to remain zero at all times.

Dealing with ammonia spike

If you have a mature aquarium and you suddenly detect a peak in the levels of ammonia in the aquarium water, this will indicate a short term, urgent problem that you have to solve immediately.
  • Here are some important steps that you can do to get rid of ammonia in the tank water: 
  • Stop feeding your fish immediately. Excess food can decompose and contribute to a peak in ammonia. 
  • Check the aquarium filter and aerate vigorously. 
  • You should also check the aquarium for any decaying material. 
  • Conduct a partial water-change to eliminate some of the ammonia-laden water. 
  • Carry out another ammonia test
  • Let your aquarium rest for two days by not feeding your fish. 
  • Conduct another ammonia test. If ammonia is still present, even in low amounts, you can choose to repeat the previous steps. 
  • If the ammonia readings are near zero, you can now start feeding your fish sparingly. 
  • Continue to test aquarium water to ensure that the aquarium filter is now able to cope and efficiently eliminate ammonia production in the tank. 
Aside from withholding fish food, you should also do a fish count and check whether you have more fish than your aquarium can handle.

Ways to remove ammonia from your aquarium

Water Change

This is the fastest way to reduce the amount of ammonia and nitrites in a tank. A large water change, i.e. 50%, can reduce the concentration of these toxic chemicals in your aquarium by approximately one-half. The best way to gauge the difference is to carry out a test for ammonia and nitrites before and after you change the water. When correcting ammonia levels, your goal is to bring the amount as close to zero as possible.

Doing a large water change (i.e. 50%) is not without its drawbacks. Although you are increasing the chance of survival of your fish population, you are also reducing the amount of important nutrients which are needed by beneficial bacteria for growth and multiplication. Doing a large water change will certainly prolong the development of the cycle and you will have to do frequent large water changes for several weeks. This is the reason why it is recommended to complete the cycle before you introduce fish into your new aquarium. You may do water changes 2-3 times a week and carry out ammonia test several times until the underlying problem has been solved.

Ammonia removers or water conditioners

Products which are marketed as ammonia “removers” do not really remove ammonia, instead these products act by converting ammonia into ammonium which is relatively non-toxic with temporary effects, if any, that usually lasts for only 12-24 hours. This will be enough time for your biological filter to convert ammonium into nitrites without your fish getting any ammonia burns.

If you are using a water conditioner, make sure that it can neutralize ammonia otherwise it won’t be of any help.

Tap water usually contains chlorine or chloramine to disinfect drinking water. Chloramine is basically a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. With chloramine in your tap water, you are going to need a product that is both a de-chlorinator and ammonia remover.

Aquarium salt (Kosher salt/canning salt)

The recommended dosage is 1 tablespoon of aquarium salt for every 5 gallons of tank water. Salt blocks the uptake of nitrite via the gills. Instead of nitrite, the chloride ion in salt is absorbed by the fish’s gills. Take note that there are species of scaleless fish such as some species of catfish, loaches and plecostomus that cannot tolerate the addition of aquarium salt. In this case, refrain from using salt and use other recommended methods to remove ammonia from the tank water.


  1. What would be the effect of temperature on ammonia concentration in aquarium water. How does it vary on hot days.

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