Tank wont cycle PLEASE HELP

AbrahamAxolotl

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I got my first axolotl the end of July. I didn't know what cycling was or how important it was until August. I also didn't know that I would be needing a chiller to keep the temps in the right spot. I got a SunSun 3 stage canister filter 265GPH. Bottom stage has nothing in it. Middle Stage is half full with biomax. Top stage has filter floss. I know it is a cheap filter. I think it cost 49 dollars or something, and because it is cheap as soon as I take out about 7 gallons it'll start sucking up air into the hose and therefore I need to turn off the filter to do DAILY water changes. I have a 40g tank and try to change 50-80% of the water daily to keep the ammonia under 1ppm.

The chiller I have is an Active Aquachiller. It was the cheapest option at 300.00. It clicks on when the temp reaches THREE degrees above what it is set. For example - currently it is set at 62F so when the water reaches 65F it clicks on. Depending on how hot my house is the chiller has to click on 2-3 times in 12 hours.

I have had this chiller/filter set up since August. I still do not have a cycle! Yes, I know that lower temps decrease the bacteria growth. But four MONTHS and NO cycle?

I want to know if it is a mechanical issue. If maybe SunSun filters are not good enough for axolotl care. Or if Active AquaChiller is not a good brand chiller - perhaps something internally in the filter like the metal used in the piping or something - and that is killing the bacteria. Or maybe I should increase the amount of biomax in my filter.

Is chlorine maybe getting into my tank somehow? I use Prime to dechlorinate the water and to make sure if the ammonia rises too much between water changes it wont hurt my axolotl. Maybe the API test tubes aren't dry enough before I test the water and the chlorine is getting in that way and killing the bacteria? Should I rinse everything in dechlorinated water before putting it in the tank, including my hands if I washed them recently?

I am thinking of getting a new filter if I get enough for xmas, because lately I noticed the motor in mine seems to have slowed or something and the water outflow is reduced, probably because I need to cut the power to it daily (there is no on/off switch so I literally need to pull the plug). So the other part of this post is - what is the best, yet most inexpensive filter option, preferably with 1/2 inch tubing so that I can still connect it to the chiller I have.

I'd really like to get a cycle before the end of January. Between full time school, and job it's getting very difficult to keep up with daily water changes. And I would also like to get a second axolotl but that would be highly irresponsible and dangerous to the animal if I go forth with that before cycling a tank in which I can barely keep up with the ammonia levels as is.

Please help me. I'm beginning to think something is seriously wrong with my setup.
 

LSuzuki

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How very frustrating. You are right - it should not take 4 months to cycle.

The tiny amount of chlorine that would come in off of your hand or drips from the test tubes isn't enough to hurt anything, so if you are using Prime properly (and don't have an abnormally high chlorine level in your tap water) chlorine shouldn't be the cause of the problem.

Question: Does your tap water contain chloramines? Some municipalities use chloramine (chlorine and ammonia bonded - it is more stable than chlorine) instead of chlorine in the water. As a result, you add ammonia with every water change. Try the ammonia test on the tap water after you have added an appropriate amount of Prime and see.

Note: Some ammonia neutralizers interfere with some ammonia tests - read the directions on both to see if maybe you are getting false positives.

Note: with one axolotl in a 40 gal tank, I wouldn't think you would have to be doing such frequent water changes to keep the ammonia low, so I suspect chloramine or a false positive.

Have you been cleaning your filter regularly? They will clog up. (But even with a partly clogged filter, I would expect that one to be able to handle the waste from one axolotl.)

Do you have decorations in the tank? Are any of them unusual, like, not sold for aquarium use? Sometimes decorations can cause problems, but I don't think I've heard of them preventing a cycle.

If you do decide to get a new filter, perhaps you can do a "fishless (axolotlless) cycle" in a separate tank. That way, you can keep the ammonia at the optimum level for a fast (3-6 weeks) cycle. It might go faster if you can seed it with some of your existing filter media.

As to chillers, I don't have experience with them - I use the open-top, fan method of cooling. Hopefully, someone else here can speak to that.

Good luck!
 

keiko

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I'd suggest keeping the axie in a separate container with daily 100% water changes and adding pure ammonia in the tank so you get to a level of about 4 ppm and basically do fishless cycling. If the ammonia is constantly very low in the tank then there won't be anything for the bacteria to "eat" and they won't multiply. Fish-in cycling can take forever that way.

Sounds like your filter is not full of filter media? I'd stuff it full to maximize the area where the bacteria can grow. If you have a friend that has an aquarium, you could ask if you could get some of their used filter media to put in your filter too.

If the filter seems to be losing power then it sounds like it could use a cleaning. Be careful not to destroy any bacteria that might be living in there already - only rinse the filter media in tank water lightly. Also remember to clean all the tubes that go in and out of the tank. They can have algae in them that will slow down the water a lot.

Like LSuzuki said, I don't think the chlorine from your hands or test tubes would be enough to cause any harm.

Also just a note, during fish-in cycling the ammonia and nitrite need to stay under 0.5 ppm at all times.
 

Cacique

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It's normal to have to turn the filter off while you do water changes. The only way to avoid it is if you put the intake low in the tank.
 

LSuzuki

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Keiko is right - you can keep you axolotl in a separate container and cycle your existing tank, and that is probably the better solution. (I tend to think like a fishkeeper, and that would not be practical for a tank of fish.) Since you would need to change all of the water every day in a small container, you may want to keep another container of water aging so the temperature is the same at water-change time.

But do check your water supply for chloramine, since many cities use it, and it can be very confusing if you don't know about that source of ammonia.

(On the plus side of choramine, you can "fishless cycle" a tank without having to add ammonia. Just start doing water changes once the ammonia starts dropping. I did this once years ago - I can't remember how long it took.)
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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I swore I checked the tap once but can't remember so I did it again.

Multiple times.

And got different results every time.

I tested tap water without Prime first using the API ammonia bottles I already had. They're almost empty so I had a backup ready for when I ran out. The ammonia read 0.50ppm!
So I tested tap water WITH Prime using the NEW API ammonia bottles. The ammonia is reading 0.

I then tested the tank water using the new API ammonia bottles. Unfortunately, today's reading was 1ppm when I tested it earlier. I tested it again using the new ammonia bottles and it's still at 1ppm. I changed 50% of the water last night and he didn't eat last night (he eats every other day) so IDK what caused the ammonia spike.

I did put new plants in the tank, but they're silk plants, not real ones, and they said they were safe for aquarium use.

Does the two different readings of the tap mean either my ammonia testing was bad or does Prime really effect the readings? The person who recommended I use Prime in the first place told me that Prime will not effect the readings. So now I have no idea what to make of the readings. =/ Is it my tap or is it not my tap? D:
 

LSuzuki

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You may be getting false positives or poor readings. See Seachem. Prime FAQ - some test kits can't provide proper readings with Prime.

Looking at the Safety Data Sheets for the API ammonia test Welcome to API Fishcare: AMMONIA TEST KIT it looks like the API ammonia test is salicylate based, so should read properly but needs to be read immediately. From the Seachem link above: "Under the conditions of a salicylate kit the ammonia-Prime complex will be broken down eventually giving a false reading of ammonia (same as with other products like Prime®), so the key with a salicylate kit is to take the reading right away." The way I read that (I am not a chemist), is immediately read the color instead of waiting at least 2 minutes like it says on the test instructions.

Are you using any other chemicals? Some "ammonia" products (Ammolock, for one, according to a fish site and my personal experience) tie up the ammonia too tightly for the bacteria to eat, and hence prolong/prevent the cycle from getting established (or crash a cycled tank or 2 or 3 - thanks Ammolock).

Complicating factor ... I am not sure how well the API test kit measures the ammonia in chloramine-treated water. If I recall (it has been over a decade since I lived in a city with chloramine in the water), you need to use a plain dechlorinator (not one that eliminates/neutralizes ammonia) and then test for ammonia. And it would be a waste of money for you to run out an buy a product that you can't use if you do have chloramine.

So, suggested course of action: check the web site of your municipal water source - they will say somewhere what goes into the water. Or (the easier way) talk to the manager at a fish store on the same water supply and ask about chloramine in the tap water.

Repeat the tests on the tap water with and without the Prime, but do the readings immediately. Then let them sit a few minutes to "change" the way the Seachem site says they will (purely for educational purposes :happy:).

Repeat the tests on the tank water in the same way. Hopefully, they will show that your tank is cycled (or well on the way there) despite the previous readings

If you have chloramine in the tap water, don't worry. Your tank biofilter will take care of it, and Prime will keep it "safe" until the biofilter does its work. You might have to change the water slightly more often, since the ammonia will end up as nitrate, which axolotls are sensitive to.

Good luck!
 

Xtophr

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I agree with the comments on Prime and other additives. I just use API Tap Water Conditioner, no slime coat or anything else.

Usually a local fish store will test your water for chlorine/chloramine for free (Petsmart, for instance).

What is the pH of your tap water? Hardness?

You might also get different readings if you let the tap water sit out for 24 hours before testing.
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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Sorry took me so long to get back here -

I tested my PH again today, I could have sworn I did this months ago but I can't remember. Anyway, my PH is barely the color of the 6.0 on the API test kit chart. I'm assuming this means it's about 5.5 - 6.0PH. I read somewhere that while a low PH makes ammonia LESS toxic it also depletes the bacteria in the filter because it is too acidic. Someone also told me that this means that my water is soft.

What test kit can I buy to test the hardness? I know strips don't work and the API masterkit doesn't include a testing solution for water hardness, so what do I need to buy to test this? I don't even know what hardness/softness IS (I've looked it up so many times but I don't understand it at all - I am terrible at math and chemistry).

Obviously this has been this way for months, but is this hurting my baby?
I know PH chemicals are toxic to axolotls so how do I go about increasing the hardness/PH in the tank to about 6.5 - 7.0 naturally so that the bacteria can colonize and I can get a cycle in the tank once and for all and so that I wont continue to hurt my baby.

I don't understand chemistry at all, so I need it explained to me. Like exactly WHAT I need to buy and HOW to do it. :(
Can someone please help me with this? I've got no other explanations for a lack of cycle after 4/5 months so this must be it.
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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I did a full test today after making sure the vials were clean and these were my results. To me when I held the vials directly up to the light on their own the ammonia looks to be about .50ppm (as usual. It reads .50 every day with daily water changes and 1ppm if I skip changing the water for even one day) - the nitrite was obviously 0 (also as usual - I NEVER saw anything higher than a 0 EVER in this tank) - and the nitrate looks to be at least 5.0ppm to me. It’s definitely NOT yellow. So what does this mean? Does this mean I am getting false positives with my ammonia somehow? Do I have a cycle since it looks like I have some nitrates? Should I NOT be changing the water EVERY DAY since my PH is so low and there’s nitrates?

My problem is I can’t think up a way to see if I am getting false positives or not (Seachem’s website says that Prime can cause false positives when used with API test kits) but I don’t want to SKIP changing the water only to find out the hard way that I should have been changing it all along. Especially since I would just keep getting higher and higher readings of ammonia if I don't do changes even for a day.

Basically I don’t know what any of this means - I thought you shouldn’t have ammonia when you have nitrates and IDK what to do water-change wise. Keep doing it, don't do it. IDK I don't want to hurt my axie.



 

Cacique

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If it's not a false positive, it could be that you're almost done cycling. Maybe the nitrifying bacteria are building up a bit slower or something. I would keep going as normal with water changes, it won't stall the cycle but will make sure your axolotl is safe.
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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I hope that's the case! I keep the water about 62-66F, or 16-18C, which I was told and read reduces the growth of bacteria by about 50% since it's so cold. Still, everyone keeps telling me that 4 months without a cycle, even fish-in, is abnormal and there must be something ELSE going on since I've got a 40B tank with ONE axolotl and my ammonia is at .50 daily even with 50-80% daily water changes so I keep getting confused on what's right and what should be happening.

So if having some nitrates means that it's almost done cycling then I will weep with joy. haha Hopefully by the end of the month then it'll cooperate with me and be fully cycled - that'd be a wonderful thing - but the way it's been going I don't want to be too optimistic. =/

Is it true that having a super low PH - my reading was barely the color of 6.0, I made a post about it above my post about my test kit readings, makes ammonia less toxic?
Currently my axie looks normal, no marks or anything on his skin, gills look full and beautiful and everything so I'm assuming the PH, which has been this low for MONTHS, hasn't hurt him?

(also in a slightly unrelated question - I used to feed him every day, then every other day, but this week he ignored food one day making him go about four days without food - he did eat today when I fed him though, is that normal? He's an adult so maybe every other day feedings is too much? I was told they can go up to five days without food. And like I said, he did eat today. His belly isn't small or anything it's proper size.)
 

LSuzuki

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Low pH will stall the cycle. Fortunately low pH also makes the ammonia much less toxic.

I have the opposite problem - high pH. I am about to start a thread asking about safe ways to raise pH, purely because I'm curious. So, check out the answers. Hopefully, there will be an easy solution that is axolotl safe.
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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Thanks! :) Does having a low PH completely stop a cycle or will it just make it take longer? Because it has been four months but I am finally seeing a nitrate reading so I am hoping that my cycle is somewhat close to being done? Or is it completely IMPOSSIBLE to have a cycle with a low PH?

And will opening and adding MORE biomax to the filter crash any cycle that is forming/trying to form? Because I don't have A LOT in there as it is (only one media bucket full rather than two or three), but if adding more will crash my cycle then I'll skip it and returned the biomax I bought to the store.
 

LSuzuki

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Adding more biomax should not harm your cycle at all. :)

I think (but am not sure) that the low pH just slows down the bacteria. So maybe if the pH were slightly raised, all of a sudden you would find you have a cycled tank. Note that these are hypotheses - I've never had to deal with low pH water. Let's see what the experts say on that thread I started. :happy:
 

layna

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Crushed coral/oyster shell will raise PH slowly and last a long time.
You just need a low denier tight/stocking, cut the foot off, fill it to around fist size and pop it in your tank (tying it in a knot obviously :p)
If your tight is very low denier, the crushed shell will look alomost like a rock!

I had a lot of problems when i was trying to cycle my tanks originally and once i had raised the ph with the coral, my cycle sped right up :)
 

AbrahamAxolotl

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I'll have to give that a try then. I know everyone keeps saying my PH isn't harmful, just kinda annoying, but four months without a cycle is long enough! lol Thanks! :)
 
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