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FAQs on Freshwater Aquariums & Ammonia:

Related Articles: Ammonia, Freshwater Aquarium Water Quality, pH, alkalinity, acidityTreating Tap Water, Freshwater MaintenanceFrequent Partial Water Changes Establishing Cycling, Freshwater Filtration, Know Your Filter Media, A Concise Guide to Your Options by Neale Monks, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for Beginners

Related FAQs: Freshwater Ammonia 1, Freshwater Ammonia 2, Freshwater Ammonia 3, & FAQs on FW Ammonia: Science, Measure, Sources, Control, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting/Fixing, & Freshwater Nutrient Cycling, FW H2O Quality 1, Aquarium MaintenanceEnvironmental Disease, Treating Tap Water for Aquarium Use, pH, Alkalinity, Acidity, Biological Filtration, Nitrogen Cycling, Establishing Cycling 1, Nitrite, Nitrate, Freshwater Algae Control, Algae Control, Foods, Feeding, Aquatic Nutrition, Disease

Any detectable amount of free ammonia is toxic... debilitating to fatally so.

Systems need to be set-up, allowed to cycle ahead of introducing livestock.

Ammonia poisoning is very likely the number one killer of all time (including the present)
of ornamental aquatic life.

Red gills and strange swimming?  Env.... NH4OH and high pH   5/8/12
Hello crew!
Before I get into my question, I'd just like to say that I love your website! I've used it a couple of times and I've always been able to solve any problems I had with your information. I'm really glad you guys are able to help answer our questions, so thank you! :)
<Thanks for the kind words.>
My question is about my angels and platies in my 30 gallon. I have a single 3" tall angelfish and four platies, three only being about an inch long and another full-grown 2" long sunset wag. The three younger platies are the newest additions, just got them about two weeks ago, while I've had the older platy for several months and the angel about two years. I recently did a water change, close to 50% like most of my water changes. All other times my fish would have been fine, but soon after the water change all of my fish started acting strangely. Ever since I added the three new platies, their gills have been slightly pink and I figured it was just from being moved into a new setting. After the water change, though, their gills
became very dark red.
<Does sound like a reaction to the water changes, possibly the water conditioner isn't working (or given enough time to work). Perhaps the water conditioner isn't adequate (make sure it treats chlorine, chloramine, ammonia and copper). Try this: do smaller, but more frequent water changes.
Instead of a 50% water change, do 25% per week, or better still, 10-15% twice a week. Moderate feeding to keep nitrate levels down. Stock moderately (though it sounds like your tank is moderately stocked to be honest, one Angel and a handful of Platies). If smaller water changes elicit less of a reaction, then there's your answer. Check the tap water and water conditioner, and act accordingly.>
Of course one of the platies is black, so I could not see but I figured like the others, it was in the same condition. They all began this strange, spastic swimming pattern, where they'd dart around the plants and up and down the sides of the tank My older platy and my angelfish were also acting the same way. Even when my tank was at its worst condition, the angelfish
was always the one to show no signs of illness out of all the other fish.
So when she went from perfectly fine to darting around and gulping air like a drowning man, it was more than just a little concerning!
Right now, my water parameters are:
Ammonia- .2 ppm
<<Trouble w/ a capital "T". RMF>>     5/9/12
Nitrate- 0ppm
Nitrite- (unknown, ran out of chemicals for testing last week)
Ph- 7.6 or higher
<<Causing/indicating the ammonia to be MUCH more toxic. RMF>>
For some reason, my ph is unusually high. The scale stops at 7.6 with my test kit and the readings say the Ph is at 7.6, but I cannot tell if it really is 7.6 or if it is higher. I'm trying to find a way to slowly drop the Ph to a more ideal level, like 7.2 or 7.0.
The fish are doing a lot better than they were on Monday, the second day after the water change. Their gills are still really red but the angel and three of the four platies have all started to act a little more normal, not gulping air or darting around.
Could it be the Ph that's causing the problem? If it is, then how should I be lowering it? I've tried to use "Correct Ph" tabs recently but they have little to no effect in lowering the Ph. Any suggestions?
<<...? Don't think Neale saw this part of your email; so am jumping in here. Do read:
You NEED to eliminate all measurable level of free ammonia, AND assure the pH is more neutral, stable. I would hold off on ALL foods/feeding till this is accomplished. Bob Fenner>>
Thank you for taking the time to read my email!
<Hope this helps, Neale.>

Ammonia poisoning ... goldfish, sys., dis.  6/12/06 Hello <Hi there - you've got Jorie here> Please can you help me? <Will try...> I bought a tank and 4 goldfish 16 days and I stupidly thought that adding the fish straight away without leaving a tank to sit for a week would be ok<...> <I'm not exactly sure what you are trying to say here.  I think you mean that you bought 4 goldfish in 16 days?  In any case, from your following statement indicating that you didn't let the water sit for a week, I think you are confusing two issues: (1) if you are using pure tap water, you need to either let the water sit to allow the chlorine/chloramine levels to lower (a few days if there's no aeration in the water, less if you are aerating the H20), or you need to use a liquid dechlorinator, which works almost immediately to remove harmful chlorine/chloramine from the water and (2) establishing the nitrogen cycle in the tank prior to introducing livestock.  Sounds to me like we need to start from the beginning - here are some very helpful articles/links:  http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwset-up.htm and  http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/gldfshsystems.htm  Additionally, there's a good beginner book out there by David E. Boruchowitz, which has a title something like "The Simple Guide for Freshwater Aquariums" (sorry I don't have the exact title - I've lent the book to my boyfriend's dad...do an author search on www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com)  Everything contained within that book is very helpful and I've found accurate, with the exception of his stocking suggestions - he tends to overcrowd his tanks a bit, in my opinion.   In any case, after reading the material I've linked you to, plus other material which you can readily find via www.google.com or the likes, you'll need to invest in a good test kit.  Personally, I like Tetra's Master Freshwater test kit.  Definitely stay away from dipstick type tests, as they are notoriously inaccurate.  When you are cycling your tank, you will need to take daily readings of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate and you will see a spike, and subsequent reduction, in all three.  As long as there aren't fish in the tank, you can allow these three readings to spike, but, obviously, if you are cycling the tank with fish in it (which I don't recommend, as it is cruel...a small bit of fish food or a cocktail shrimp in the tank will achieve the same result), you need to do frequent water changes to get the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate out of the water, as all are toxic to livestock.> <...>
as I had a goldfish when I was younger that lived in a bowl of tap water for 3 years but I have found out (in a very stressing way)  that this was the worst thing to do as the following occurred: Day 1 - put 4 fish (roughly 2.5cm each) into a 14 Litre tank with an air pump and filter <1 goldfish, let alone 4, DO NOT BELONG IN A 14 Litre tank (rough equivalent is less than 4 U.S. gallons).  This is cruel and unusual - there is not enough room for the fish to swim and thrive.  You need a min. of a 50-70 gal. tank for the four fish you have.  To be bluntly honest, for the purpose of sparing the poor fish, you should return whatever surviving fish you have and read and research prior to doing anything else with livestock.> Days 2 to 8 performed 20% water changes every other day... <In such a ridiculously small tank with 4 messy goldfish, this is totally inadequate.  Even if the 3-4 U.S. gal. tank were sufficient, you'd need to do at least 100% daily water changes to rid the water of the pollution left behind from 4 goldies.   <...adding Nutrafin Biological aquarium supplement and Nutrafin water conditioner each time, I have since found out should only have done this when there were no fish in the tank. <I am not a fan of using artificial supplements to "quicken" the cycling process.  It is totally not necessary if you've gone through the entire nitrogen cycle (without fish, preferably)> Days 9 and 10 Noticed the fish were not as active and seemed to lying at the bottom of the tank or hiding <Yes, they were likely dying a slow, painful death due to toxic poisoning.> Day 11 Noticed one of the fish had severe problems swimming and its tail was badly torn, then I seen one of the other fish take a bite out of it, so I  quickly put it in the jug I used for water changes but it died about 10 minutes later. Day 12 Another fish died I went to my local garden centre with a sample  of water from the tank and explained what I had done, the test showed the there was a very high level of ammonia in the water, I was advised to do an 80% water change that day and to add some King British Safe Water to get rid of the ammonia and to give a salt bath to the fish in the morning.   Day 13 Found another fish dead which just left one I removed her from the tank and gave her a salt bath and she immediately picked up when she was added back to the tank. I took another sample to get tested and the ammonia level had  gone down but I was told to perform partial water changes until the ammonia was  gone and to keep giving salt baths. Day 14 I went to check on her in the morning and she was at the side of the tank when she saw me she floated up to the top, the man at the garden centre told me I could give her a little food so I broke up 1 fish food flake and put it in the water beside her she followed it around the tank for a bit and did take a few bites but then she went back to the side of the tank again and spat it all back out. I gave her another salt bath and did a partial water change making sure the water was the same temp as the tank when I put her back in the tank she picked up but only for a short period of time and for the rest of the  day she never left the side of the tank she appeared to float at the top and  sometimes all her fins would come out and then she slowly pulled them back in at  the same time as sinking back to the bottom I went to a pet shop and I was  advised to put Sera water conditioner into the water. Day 15 I checked on her in the morning and she was still a the side of the tank sometimes at the top and sometimes at the bottom when she showed all her fins I noticed that she wasn't using her left fin very much and upon closer inspection  noticed that it was red  at the base. I took another sample to the garden centre, which showed there was  1.5 mg of ammonia in the tank. I spoke to the same man as I had done on my first  visit there and explained what had happened he told me to keep giving salt baths  and to add 75mg of soluble aspirin to the bath and use water from the tank for  the bath and to do a water change when she was in the bath and to put the Sera  water conditioner and King British safe water into the new water before adding it  to the tank. I also explained that she wasn't eating and that her fin was sore,  he told me to give her live feed and not to worry about her fin yet as getting rid of the ammonia was the main problem to sort out first. I came back and gave  her a salt bath with the aspirin and did a partial water change. When I put her  back in the tank she swam around for a while but then went back to the side, I  added the live feed and she showed no interest in it at all I then crumpled in 1 flake of food and again she followed the pieces but this time she didn't take any bits into her mouth so I removed the dried food. Today I went to check on her and she is now at the bottom of the tank  hiding behind an ornamental cave and she won't come up for food and she's not moving much she is opening her mouth but not frantically. I bought a water testing kit yesterday and I've tested the water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate the ammonia level is 0.8mg the nitrite level is 0.1mg and the nitrate level is  0mg <You cannot have any traces of ammonia in the water when there are live fish in there!  First off - FIND ANOTHER HOME FOR YOUR FISH, unless you are capable of immediately providing a suitable sized home for the fish.  As mentioned above, you need a larger tank (by far), you need to make sure the tank is cycled prior adding any livestock.  I cannot condone you keeping your 4 fish in such cramped quarters, but if you insist, since you now have your own test kit now, keep doing water changes and keep the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels at ZERO.  That's the only thing you can do at the moment. In all honesty, I expect your fish to die if you keep there where they are now.> Please can you help it's so upsetting seeing her like this especially as  I know this is all my fault I really would appreciate any advice you can  offer I look forward to hearing from you soon <Dawn, I, too, am very distraught in reading this.  In all honesty, your fish are dying right now due to ammonia, nitrite and/or nitrate poisoning.  I'm glad you care and give you kudos for wanting to do what's right.  Please understanding I'm not trying to beat you up, and if I honestly thought there was another solution, I'd tell you.  You really aren't prepared for your fish at the current time, so please try to find another home for them ASAP.  If you absolutely cannot replace them, then keep doing water changes and keep testing the water.  You do not want any traces of ammonia, nitrite or nitrate.  For your water changes, use a liquid chlorine/chloramine remover to make your tap water immediately suitable, and do water changes until all readings are at zero.  But please consider returning the fish, doing some homework, and returning to this hobby once you are better prepared.  In the meantime, please do peruse www.wetwebmedia.com for helpful information about fishkeeping.> Dawn Ord <Best regards, Jorie>

Re: Question I just replied to on WWM...  6/12/06 Hi Bob, Sabrina:    <Hi, Jorie!!>  I just answered a query entitled "Ammonia Poisoning", and I hope I wasn't too harsh.  Someone was/is trying to keep 4 goldies in a 3-4 gal. uncycled tank, and short of immediately purchasing a 50-60 gal. aquarium, the best advice I could give was to find a better home for the fish.  I did talk about the nitrogen cycle, water changes, etc., etc., but bottom line, I kept stressing getting rid of the fish ASAP.  I hope I wasn't out of line - of course feel free to amend my response before posting.        Thanks!    Jorie   <My take?  Say what you mean; don't skimp on truth to spare someone's pride at the risk of the life/lives in their care, be honest....  On queries that get me particularly incensed, I'll go have a coffee and chill out a bit before responding.  That doesn't usually change how I respond, though ;)  If you're comfortable with your replies, so am I.  But that's just my $0.02, Bob's "da man".  -Sabrina> <<Da fish man. Who agrees. RMF>>

HIGH AMMONIA >>> EMERGENCY PLS HELP! Hello, I will start off by saying that I have a 60gal freshwater tank which has been up n running for about 2 1/2mo now ... I have 14 1" baby piranhas, 1 3" Pleco, and 1 3" black lobster ... I have about 10 live plants and 2 whisper 60 filters (660gph total filtration) ... <Not sure about mixing Piranhas with the other stuff, and obviously once these fish get even more than 3" long, they will need a massively larger aquarium.> My nitrites & nitrates are always at 0 (I would assume due to the live plants) and my ammonia is always in an acceptable range. <There is NO ACCEPTABLE AMMONIA RANGE. Let me be crystal clear about this! If you can DETECT ammonia, you've got problems. Period. End of discussion. Piranhas are notoriously sensitive to ammonia, and any exposure to the stuff is life threatening.> Well I tested my ammonia lvl one day and it was at 8.0, so I decided to clean all my filters and get the gunk out of them, rinse/change my filter media, and I also added 2 3"x8" bags of carbon/ammonia reducer pellets. I vacuumed my gravel thoroughly twice and did a 50% water change. I did not find any type of dead fish or decaying matter other than what was in the gravel. I also tested my tap water and its ammonia reading was 0 ... <If you have this much ammonia in the system, you have MAJOR problems. Let's take this one step at a time. Carbon is neither here nor there, and in most freshwater tanks is a waste of space. Anything carbon can do, 50% weekly water changes can do better -- and without the need for the carbon to be replaced every month. Or the risk of removing medications. Next up, ammonia remover is irrelevant here. Ammonia remover is for fixing very specific situations, e.g., hospital tanks or breeding tanks. You'd need huge amounts of the stuff for fish on a high-protein diet, and you'd also need to replacing it all every few days. So don't waste your time with it. Finally, if you have no ammonia in the tap water, but lots in the fish tank, it means only this: overstocking, overfeeding, under-filtration. Pick and choose from these. Likely more than one.> so after doing my water change, I tested it and my ammonia WAS STILL AT 8.0!!! I don't get it at all ... and not to mention my water looks dirty and my water smells??? <Almost certainly overfeeding and/or under-filtering.> I took out all the deco fake trees and everything too ... I don't understand what is causing such a large ammonia reading ESPECIALLY after doing a water change and cleaning all the gunk out of my filters ... like I said I did not find any decaying matter at all so I do not understand y after such a large water change my ammonia is still high ... PLS HELP ME bc I'm going nuts trying to figure out what's going on! Thx for your help, I look forward to your knowledge ... thx again! <You need to [a] stop feeding; and [b] remove everything but mechanical/biological media from the filters; and [c] insure those filters are mature/adequate to the task at hand. Simple as that! Hope this helps, Neale.>

Ammonia Spikes Stress Goldfish Hi, I will try to keep this short. I bought a 10 gallon tank and overloaded it with 5 goldfish. < Not a good idea.> The evident happened with ammonia, so I went and purchased a 46 gallon. I lost 2 of them. Now the 10 gallon finished cycling (this is in a 2 month perimeter) the 46 kept having huge ammonia spikes like 8ppm for a week  and I noticed one of my favorite black moor's was doing poorly in the 46 gallon (clamped fins, laying at the bottom of the tank just moving her lips to breathe). So I put her in the 10 gallon. She quickly picked up and was swimming all around the tank. Now this is the second day and she is back to clamped fins and lying at the bottom of the tank. She lays there until I come over and then she acts like she just woke up from a dream and is trying to shake it off, and then goes back to the bottom. Did I poison her possibly and is there anyway to help her? Or is she doomed to die? She has been my little trooper through all the ammonia spikes and problems I have had. I would hate to lose her. Thank you < These ammonia spikes weaken fish and promote disease. I would recommend that you do a 50% water change, vacuum the gravel and clean the filter. After that add Bio-Spira from Marineland. Your tank should be stable in a couple of days.-Chuck>

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