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Hello,

I have a 20 gallon long tank that's been set up for about 2 months and my ammonia keeps increasing every few days. I'd like to know what I can do to better take care of my fish!

The setup:
I started the tank with a wisteria plant, a frill, and a sword. I added 2 Aqueon Quiet Flow 30 filters so that I could stagger the filter cartridge changes and keep some of the beneficial bacteria. I added some plant nutrient substrate and more than enough gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. All of this is in a 20 gallon long tank. After about a week, I added the fish. There is also a fake rock large enough for the pleco to hide in. Later, I added a piece of mopani driftwood after boiling it for several days I also added some seashells that I also boiled for a few hours.

The fish:
1 sailfin pleco (I know he will grow and need a larger tank, and am willing to get it when he gets bigger)
2 glofish
2 bloodfin tetras
2 neon tetras (I now know the tetras like to school and should have done more research, I'm looking into getting more when I upgrade tanks)

The water parameters:
Test kits: Quick Dip Aquarium Multi-Test Kit (stick tester, tests nitrate, nitrite, hardness, chlorine, alkalinity, and pH), Ammonia Quick Dip (stick tester)
Nitrate/Nitrite: none, ever, since tank was established, all the plants probably are keeping the nitrates out I guess
Chlorine: 0
Alkalinity: 0-40 kh ppm
Total hardness: 100 gh ppm
pH: 6.5
Ammonia: usually tests about 0.5 ppm but spikes up to about 3 ppm. I perform a 10-20% water change whenever it goes above 1 ppm.

The water changes:
I end up doing about a 10-20% water change every other day using tap water because of the ammonia. I adjust the temperature of the water so it's similar to the tank water.
Before adding the tap water to the tank, I add 1mL per gallon of API Stress Coat, fish and tap water conditioner.
I use a gravel vacuum and mostly vacuum the areas where the pleco spends most of his time (in his favorite hiding spot and the spot where he eats his cucumber)

Other info:
I feed the fish about 2 flakes of "Tetramin Tropical Flakes" twice per day
Every night, I add a slice of cucumber or zuchinni to the tank for the pleco and take it out in the morning. About once per week, I also give him an algae wafer.
I had some white gunk growing in my filters about 2 weeks ago (see attached picture). I removed the filters, scrubbed the gunk off (without detergent), and replaced the filter cartridges. It hasn't come back since.



From what I've read, ammonia should not be increasing after the tank has cycled. What is up with my tank? I know it's not good for the fish if I perform such frequent water changes, but it's also not good for them to be in a tank with so much ammonia. Thank you for your help!
 

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Hey man I heard that the goldfish cause a lot of amonia or someything like that. Thats what the lady in the pet store said. could be that?
 

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The OP has glofish (a type of danio) not goldfish.

You are correct that a cycled tank shouldn't have ammonia over 0. If you are still getting true ammonia readings, the tank has not yet cycled, or is going through a mini cycle. The paper dip tests you are using are notoriously inaccurate. It would be better to get yourself a liquid test kid as they are more reliable. What are you using for biological filter media? When you cleaned your filter cartridges (because of the white gunk) did you rinse them both at the same time? Did you use tap water to rinse them?

Water changes won't harm your fish and you are correct that it is better than high ammonia levels.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thank you for the information! I will get a liquid test kit, are there any brands you recommend?

The biological filter media is just the one that comes with the pump. (it looks like this, with the white cottony stuff on the outside and activated carbon on the inside)

When I cleaned the filter cartridges, I did clean them both at the same time and used tap water to rinse them.

Is there anything I can do to so that I don't hurt the fish as the tank cycles? Or since it's a 'mini cycle' will they probably be ok?

 

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Thank you for the information! I will get a liquid test kit, are there any brands you recommend?

The biological filter media is just the one that comes with the pump. (it looks like this, with the white cottony stuff on the outside and activated carbon on the inside)

When I cleaned the filter cartridges, I did clean them both at the same time and used tap water to rinse them.

Is there anything I can do to so that I don't hurt the fish as the tank cycles? Or since it's a 'mini cycle' will they probably be ok?

The API master test kit is a good one to have, but it isn't a big deal if it;s another brand. The filter media in that filter is the blue plastic pieces, that frame and drip block where the water exits the filter. Never rinse these in tap water, as they house the beneficial bacteria. If they get nasty, just rinse them in some aquarium water that you've taken out after a water change. Keep doing water changes (daily if you have to) to keep the ammonia from building up. There should also be bacteria in the gravel so you filter media should "re-seed" before too long. Another note as far as the filter is concerned is that the white cartridge is the mechanical (floss) and chemical (carbon) stages. You are OK rinsing that part in tap water it gets dirty, but keep in mind that carbon only lasts 2-4 weeks before it is used up. Once the tank is established you might want to think about cutting a sponge or floss to fit the filter and not using the cartridges because carbon isn't really necessary unless you are removing medications or toxins from the tank.

You might also notice some white cloudy water during this time. If your fish begin "gasping" at the surface, you might want to add and airstone to the tank to provide them with more Oxygen. If you don't have one leave the level in the tank down a bit to provide a waterfall from the filter exit, as this will increase agitation and add oxygen to the water.


By the way probably the most important question: Are the fish acting strange at all?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Great, thanks for letting me know about the filters and the test kit.

The fish have been acting normally- the glofish chase each other and the other fish are fairly active. The only thing different is that my pleco is more active during the day than he used to be- he used to hide in his cave all the time and only come out at night, but he comes out during the day to suck on the walls and gravel from time to time.
 

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The first thing I would do is let the tank cycle. That means no more tossing filter cartridges and no more washing them in tap water. Filters should always be cleaned in used tank water and returned to the filter housing to re-use. That way you don't toss half of your beneficial bacteria every time you deal with a filter clean.
As others have already said, you need to get a proper test kit. I use the API but any of the liquid type test kits should work fine.
Water changes are not a problem for your fish. When I have a water quality problem, I do not mess around with small water changes. I change about 90% of the water at a time and the fish always look far better after a change like that than they did with bad chemical readings before the change. Just make sure you use a proper dechlorinator and temperature match the new water to the water in the tank. A daily 90% water change would let your fish live in good health through a fish-in cycle like you are likely in the middle of performing.
 

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Add several bunches of anacharis.

Live plants will consume ammonia before nitrates. You simply to not have enough live plants to keep up with the ammonia being generated. If you had more fast growing plants like anacharis you would see no ammonia spike but an initial nitrate spike.

my .02
 
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Your tank must not be fully cycled yet. I never have any Ammonia nor any NitrIte readings. I use API liquid tests. My tank is also heavily planted so maybe that contributes to the readings. Add fast growing plants such as Wisteria, Water Sprite, Anarcharis, or Hornwort. Do weekly water changes to help lower the ammonia while the tank cycles.
 

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For example here is a graph of parameters on a 20g long I stated a few year back. The pH reading is low as the pH kit was the api pH kit which had a max reading of 7.6. The api high range test kit reported 8.4-8.8 after these tests.

Notice ammonia/nitrIte were 0 with just slight (.25ppm) one day bump up of ammonia after adding a fish. Notice also the initial nitrate reading then drop after a few weeks.

When reading please keep in mind the x axis is not linear with the last tick reflecting several days.

(the plants were very effective in conditioning the tank)

 
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Discussion Starter #11
Thank you all for your advice! I got the API test kit, and already have several fast growing plants (tons of wisteria and a frill). Recent testing indicates that the ammonia is zero and the other numbers are where they should be. I really appreciate all you knowledgeable people on Aquarium Forum and your in-depth responses!
 
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