Below is a quick guide to cycling your aquarium without fish. Cycling without fish has many benefits for both you and your future fish. It is less stressful for you because there is no need to worry about daily water changes and the health of your fish, and less stressful for your fish because they will not be exposed to harmful toxins during the cycling process. You can expect a complete cycle to take anywhere from 1-3 months on average, but every tank is different. If you are not familiar with the nitrogen cycle please read about it here http://www.kokosgoldfish.com/cycle.html
What you will need:
1. Ammonia source
- Liquid ammonia, used for cleaning, can be found at hardware stores, dollar stores, and some larger chain stores. Ammonia should be free of any dyes or perfumes. Ingredients should read ammonia and water only.
- If liquid ammonia cannot be obtained, a frozen prawn or fish food can be used as an ammonia source. Liquid ammonia is preferable though when it is available because it is easier to measure exact amounts.
2. Water test kit
- A liquid test kit, such as the API master freshwater kit, is necessary. Test kit should contain pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate tests.
- A kh and gh test kit can also be helpful, particularly if you suspect you may have soft water.
- A heater is not always necessary, but can help the cycling process along.
Starting the Cycle:
- It is a good idea to keep a log somewhere regarding your cycling process. You can use a notebook, or start a thread on the forum in the water quality section.
1. Test your tap water to determine if your tap contains ammonia/nitrite/nitrate, make note of this if it does. Also test pH along with gh/kh if you have this test kit. Ultimately, pH should be 7.2 or above and gh/kh should be 100ppm or above for goldfish. During cycling, a pH of less than 7.2 and kh less than 40ppm can inhibit the cycling process. Optimal pH and kh for the purpose of building a colony of nitrifying bacteria are 8.3 and 300ppm respectively. If you find you have a low pH and kh you will need to buffer your water. A commercial buffer, crushed coral, or baking soda can be used for this purpose http://www.kokosgoldfish.invisionzone.com/forum/index.php?/topic/110296-stabilizing-your-tank-ph-with-sodium-bicarbonate-baking-soda/
2. Fill your tank as you normally would, adding dechlorinated tap water
3. Raise tank temperature to 80F. This will help the beneficial bacteria to multiply more quickly.
4. Add enough ammonia to bring the ammonia concentration to 4ppm. How much ammonia you need will depend on the concentration of your ammonia. However, approximately 1.5 ml (.3 tsp) should bring 10 gallons close to 4ppm. Add ammonia to tank, wait 5-10 min for it to circulate, then test ammonia. Adjust as necessary.
- If you are using fish food, begin by adding about 1/2 tablespoon of food per 10 gallons or frozen prawn to the tank. You can place food in a mesh or pantyhose for easy clean up if you like. Wait a couple days and test ammonia. If ammonia is less than 4ppm, add more food and repeat ammonia test in a couple days. It is a good idea to replace the food with new food every couple weeks
5. Wait..... test your ammonia regularly. At the beginning of your cycle it is not necessary to test daily, however as you begin to see ammonia dropping it is important to begin testing on a daily basis so that you will know when it is time to add more ammonia. There is no need to test nitrite/nitrate until ammonia begins to drop.
6. When ammonia drops near 0ppm, add enough ammonia to bring it back up to 4ppm. Continue testing your water daily, and bring ammonia back up to 4ppm as necessary. It is important to begin testing nitrites at this point.
7. When you first register a nitrite reading, drop the ammonia concentration down to 1ppm. From now on you will dose 1ppm of ammonia. Allow ammonia to drop near 0ppm before raising ammonia back to 1ppm. It is important to begin testing nitrates at this point in the cycle.
9. If nitrites reach a concentration of 2ppm, do a large water change and add ammonia back in. Nitrites higher than 2ppm can sometimes stall the cycle, so water changes are necessary to keep these lower.
10. You should begin seeing nitrates soon. If nitrates register as high as your test kit is able to detect, do a large water change and bring ammonia back up.
Completing the Cycle:
You will know your cycle is complete when, within 24 hours of adding 1ppm of ammonia, ammonia and nitrite test 0ppm and your test kit registers some nitrate reading. Nitrite readings typically take longer to bottom out as compared to the time it took for ammonia readings to drop to 0ppm. Remember that cycling can take time, keeping temperatures warm, kh high, and pH at an optimal level will help things along. However, if you feel as though your cycle is taking longer than typical to complete, please begin a thread in the water quality section of the forum and we would be happy to help you problem solve.
Adding Fish and Cycle 'Bumps':
When you feel certain your tank has finished cycling, do a 100% water change before adding any fish. When you add your fish, check water parameters daily for at least 1 week to make sure there are no cycle bumps. If you do see ammonia or nitrite readings, indicating a bump in your cycle, follow the instructions below:
- Test water daily. If ammonia plus nitrite are less than 1ppm, add a double dose of Seachem Prime water conditioner for the day (repeat the next day if necessary). If ammonia plus nitrite are equal to 1ppm or higher do a large water change to bring ammonia/nitrite down. Please remember to match temp and tap pH when doing water changes. Tank and tap pH should match within .5ppm and temp within about 3 degrees. If there is a large difference between tap and tank pH you may need to do multiple smaller water changes to bring ammonia/nitrite down.
- If you have a tank that is already cycled or have a friend with a cycled tank that you trust is free from pathogens, you can seed your filter with cycled media to speed up the cycling process significantly. Depending on how much cycled media you add to your filter, you can almost instantly cycle your tank.
- Do not clean the tank/filter or wipe down walls during the cycling process. Your beneficial bacteria are just beginning to establish and cleaning can disrupt this process.
- Do not use cartridges in your filters. Please check out this link on how to set up your filter without cartridges http://www.kokosgoldfish.invisionzone.com/forum/index.php?/page/index.html/_/aquatic-equipment/simple-media-setup-for-hob-filters-r248
- Bacterial additives that claim to cycle a tank instantly are making false claims. Nothing will cycle your tank instantly, except perhaps the addition of already cycled media from another tank. These products get very mixed reviews. Some people have reported faster cycling time using these products, others have seen no effect. At best these products will increase cycling time, at worst they are a waste of money. They are not necessary for the cycling process, but will not hurt if you want to try them.
Written by Koko's mod/helper team!