The Best Way to Cycle A Fish Tank

Tropical fresh water aquarium front view with lush foliage plants and some fishes yellow Pterophyllum Scalare and Cardinalis neon

Every new aquarium must undergo the time-consuming process of cycling. The term "cycling" refers to the establishment of bacterial colonies that control your nitrogen cycle, which is the conversion of ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate. In a fresh aquarium, there is no way to instantaneously create the essential stable nitrogen cycle. Your fish will thrive in their new home if you take the time to correctly set up your filter. Use a liquid-based test kit with all of the approaches indicated below to ensure that your levels are where you want them to be.

Always start with 10% to 20% of your final fish load to safeguard your fish from a rapid fall. This will allow your filters to settle in without endangering your fish. Slowly introduce fish over a few weeks to months, monitoring water quality along the way.

Do you need to take any actions to ensure that your filter is working properly before adding fish? No. You are not required to use a fish-free cycle if you are starting with a fully new system and have no access to existing systems. Begin with a low bioload and carefully monitor your readings. As your filter becomes established, expect ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels to rise. Ammonia and nitrite increases will not be fatal if you keep only 10 to 20% of your whole fish load to begin with. Regularly check your levels and be prepared to perform further water changes if they become too high. Your tank will be cycled in four to six weeks.

Fish-less Cycling

This approach has the advantage of requiring no fish in the tank, which means no fish are at risk of being lost. When completing a fishless cycle, timing is crucial. If you purchase your fish online rather than at a store, make sure you contact them to find out when your fish will arrive.

The secret to a fish-free cycle is that YOU are in charge of introducing ammonia to the tank to simulate the waste that the fish would make. You must keep adding ammonia to your system so that your cultivated bacteria do not go hungry. Once your filter has cycled, gradually add fish to keep the system running.

Fishless cycling does not immediately cycle the tank. Fish-less cycling, like traditional techniques of building biological colonies in an aquarium, takes time. It is, however, far gentler on your fish.

Using Pre-Established Media

Using pre-established media from another system, sometimes known as "seeding an aquarium," is an age-old strategy for jump-starting the biological colonies in a new aquarium. Fill the filter with a cup of gravel from a stable, existing tank or a piece of the filter material from a previously created system. The bacteria should not be allowed to die or dry out while being transferred across systems. This strategy can reduce your cycle process unless you have a lot of filter media on hand, but it will take some time for your filter to reach maximum capacity.

Not all bacteria colonies, however, will function in all tanks. Seed material from an aquarium with drastically differing water conditions than the new tank should not be used. Make sure the pH and kH of your water are in the same range. Bacteria, like many fish, cannot resist drastic changes in water chemistry. Every fish will contribute some germs to the mix. The colonies you begin with may not be the colonies you finish up with. Keep a constant check on your nitrogen levels to ensure that everything is running well.

Never take bacteria from a tank showing any signs of disease. Even though most pathogens only live on fish, there is a chance that something might be lurking in their filter colonies.

Dual Filters

Another way to speed up the nitrogen cycling process is to install the filter that will be used in the new tank on an old tank and operate it alongside the existing filtration system. This strategy will need some forethought on your behalf. Make sure your systems are healthy and have identical water chemistry characteristics as the approach above.

This developed filter can be switched to the new system after 4-6 weeks. Before you transfer the new filter, double-check that everything is in working order. Remember to include a few fish so that your filter can consume ammonia.

Over-the-Counter Bacterial Products

Several fish retailers will offer you a vial of bacteria that will "instantly" activate your filter. If what's in the bottle is still alive, there's a tiny possibility the bacteria colonies are what your fish require. Save yourself the money and take the effort to properly set up your filters. Your fish will appreciate you if you avoid the lure of fast satisfaction.

There is no secret way to instantly produce completely viable biological colonies, regardless of the transfer method utilized. You must plan ahead of time and take your time. Regularly check your water chemistry until your system is fully cycled and stable.