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Ammonia and Nitrite

Using Chemicals to Remove or Neutralize Ammonia in a Fish Tank

(The First Tank Guide)

Ammonia is constantly produced by your fish and released into the aquarium water as part of their natural biological processes. This is normal and expected. Ammonia is also produced by the decay of excess uneaten food in the tank, and other organic matter such as dead leaves from aquarium plants.

Why Is Ammonia Building Up in My Aquarium Water?

Ammonia buildup is rather common in aquariums. This usually happens in new aquariums that are still cycling and do not yet have their biological filter established. This will be a concern in your new aquarium for at least the first 6-8 weeks.

Ammonia buildup is also common in fish tanks and bowls that are too small to safely house fish or other animals and fish tanks that are overpopulated.

In addition, any tank, bowl, or other container that you are using to house your fish will have an ammonia buildup if it is not filtered.

Ammonia will also often build up when medications are used, as many medications will kill (or at least severely stress) your biological filter.

Why Is This Ammonia a Problem?

If the fish are constantly producing ammonia, why is it even a problem? Well, the fish are producing it as part of their waste. Think for a moment, but not too hard, about having to live in a home with your own waste. it's stressful, it's disgusting, and it can lead to a number of health problems.

The same is true for your fish. The ammonia in the water, if left unchecked, can lead to ammonia stress and ammonia poisoning.

Why Not Just Use an Ammonia Remover or Ammonia Detoxifier?

Using a chemical to bind, take up, neutralize, or block ammonia, is not only unnecessary and undesired, but it is counterproductive and will be harmful to the stability of your tank in the long run. Additionally, using these chemicals can be misleading.

These chemicals will bind the ammonia into a form that is not going to be bothersome to your fish, but also is unavailable to your biological filter. This means that your biological filter will not have the nutrients it needs to stay viable and it will deteriorate. Then, when the chemical has absorbed all the ammonia it can, the ammonia will begin to build up in the tank in a form that is dangerous to your fish and will cause ammonia stress. Since your biological filter has been being starved, it is unable to process this waste and your tank will begin to cycle again.

Also, these chemicals often do not bind the ammonia away in a manner that makes the ammonia undetectable by standard ammonia tests, so it will still appear that your tank has a high ammonia level if and when you test the water for ammonia. In addition, some of these chemicals will even read as ammonia themselves on some tests, so you may get a reading for a much higher ammonia level than in is the tank. This can be very misleading and confusing, and it is all because of the use of an unnecessary chemical treatment.

Though ammonia removing chemicals can be helpful in the short term for dealing with a crisis situation, their regular use should be strongly discouraged.

What CAN I Do to Address This Ammonia Problem?

Rather than using a chemical to neutralize the ammonia, the tank should be allowed to cycle so that it can process the ammonia itself through biological filtration, or the problem that is causing the high ammonia level (overpopulation, over feeding, insufficient water changes, poor filtration, or poor filter maintenance) should be addressed so that the ammonia is no longer a problem.

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February 2, 2006
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February 8, 2004
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