Do Axolotls Need A Cycled Tank? How to Set It Up

Every fish hobbyist acknowledges the importance of a cycled tank for their pets. Cycling the tanks means that you are establishing a healthy bacteria environment in your biological filter to remove the toxins that the fish naturally create.

An axolotl aquarium must be cycled before the axolotl is added to the tank, so the water is clean and free of harmful bacteria. Axolotls and all other fish naturally produce waste. Cycling an axolotl tank kick starts the growth of beneficial bacteria that will consume harmful things like ammonia and nitrites. A cycled tank is vital to an axolotl’s survival.

Let’s look at the topic a bit more closely and find out why axolotls need a cycled tank and how to provide one:

Why Do Axolotls Need A Cycled Tank?

A ‘cycled tank’ means that you have allowed all the equipment in the aquarium such as a filter, air pump and temperature regulator to begin working and achieve enough balance of the water quality before introducing your pets to their new home. The same approach applies to axolotls as well.

Axolotls and all other fish naturally produce waste. When they are not in their natural environment, there is nothing to move, ‘cycle’, the water (wind, waves, waterfalls) and therefore the water remains still.

This stillness results in a stale environment and increased amounts of waste in the water. If not cleaned, this waste can turn highly toxic and eventually kill the axolotl. Essentially, your pet gets poisoned by its own waste.

Explained more scientifically, the waste contains ammonia, which is toxic. The more it piles up, the higher the risk for your axolotl to get poisoned.

The natural bacteria that eats the ammonia is produced by the axolotl pee and it is called nitrites that is toxic, too. The beneficial bacteria that grow from cycling your tank eliminate the nitrites by turning them into harmless nitrates.

However, nitrates are only harmless as long as there are not too man in your tank. This is why you need to cycle your tank every week in addition to the initial tank cycling before putting your axolotl in the tank.

The weekly cycle is different. You simply change about a third of the water in your tank and replace it with fresh water that has been treated with an aquarium water conditioner like seachem to keep the chlorine out.

When you change a little bit of the aquarium water every week, it keeps the nitrate level from getting too high.

How Long Does It Take to Cycle An Axolotl Tank the First Time?

Setting up an axolotl tank is a lengthy and precise process. You should allow yourself enough time to prepare everything properly in advance and achieve the perfect living conditions before introducing your axolotl to the tank.

The cycling process usually takes between 6 and 8 weeks. Once ammonia and nitrite levels are so low that they do not show up on the tests, then you can add your fish.

Also, when setting up the tank for the first time, all necessary filters need to start working together and balance out. This is another reason why you need so much time to get a cycled tank. You can add ammonia through decaying fish food, tub water or liquid ammonia. After that, allow enough time for the filters to do their job.

Remember, the initial tank cycling is to allow for the growth of beneficial bacteria. Make sure when you are buying your filter, you get an all in one filter or a separate filter for the three filter categories.

The filter categories are mechanical, chemical, and biological. The biological filter has some beneficial bacteria already or has materials that promote the growth of biological filtration. You can buy these filters separate or as an all-in-one filter.

How Do You Set Up An Axolotl Cycled Tank?

Let’s look in more detail how to set up a cycled and healthy axolotl tank!

Option 1: Using Chemicals

1. Set Up Your Aquarium and Its Filtration System.

Before doing anything else, you need to make sure the tank is placed where it should be – a quiet, shady area away from the sunlight. Ensure the filtration system is attached properly.

The setting up process includes:

  • Assembling the aquarium
  • Adding substrate (Bare glass bottom or flat slate recommended for axolotls, only fine sand if you must have a substrate so the axolotls don’t swallow the gravel and get a blockage)
  • Adding water
  • Adding air stones, air pumps, etc.
  • Adding plants, rocks, etc.
  • Adding filtration system (and/or protein skimmer)

Remember your aquarium system needs to get some beneficial bacteria and start filtering out the bad stuff before you add your axolotl!

2. Add Prime

Prime is the first chemical to add (if you choose using this one). It is the complete and concentrated conditioner for both fresh and salt water. It removes chlorine and chloramines. More importantly in your case, it detoxifies ammonia. The chemical converts ammonia into a safe, non-toxic form. Prime is regularly used for tank cycling to alleviate ammonia.

Read the instructions on the package before proceeding but it generally goes like this:

Add 1″capful (5 mL) for each 200 L (50 US gallons) of new water. “For smaller volumes, note each cap thread is approximately 1″mL.

3. Add Stability.

Stability is created especially for aquariums and contains a mix of aerobic, anaerobic and facultative bacteria that facilitate the breakdown of waste organics, ammonia nitrite and nitrate. Stability itself is harmless and does not produce any harmful and toxic substances.

Use 1″capful (5″mL) for each 40 L (10 US gallons) on the first day with a new aquarium. Then use 1 capful for each 80 L (20 US gallons) daily for 7 days. Fish and other aquatic species may be introduced at any time.

Same as with prime, make sure you carefully read the instructions on the package before adding anything into the water.

4. Use A Test Kit.

The last step is to test the water with the help of a test kit. If you have conducted the process precisely, your cycled water should be established and stable in substances and most of all, safe.

Option 2: Without Chemicals.

1. Set Up Your Aquarium And Filtration System.

This step follows the same process as in Option 1.

2. Add A Sprinkling of Fish Flakes.

Drop a few pieces of fish food into the tank. The amount should be around the same as what you would give to your fish to eat. Then, wait a few days. The food flakes will begin to decay and release waste substances, including ammonia.

3. Test Your Water for Ammonia.

After you have waited a couple of days, test the water for ammonia levels. You want to see an ammonia level of at least three parts per million. After that, you have to check the ammonia levels every day and replenish with more fish flakes when the level goes below three parts per million. In this way, you will ensure that the cycling process is continuous.

4. Start Testing for Nitrites.

After one week the bacteria will have started consuming ammonia properly and begin to produce nitrites. Start testing for the level of nitrites. Once detected, this would mean that the cycling process is working. Continue adding ammonia as before.

5. Test for Nitrates.

Eventually, enough beneficial bacteria will start to grow and turn nitrites into nitrates. Nitrates are harmless to the water environment. When this happens, then cycling is near to completion. Soon enough the water in the tank will be healthy enough to accommodate your axolotl.

Having your axolotl in a cycled tank is very healthy and safe for it. Cycling ensures fresh water every day, free of waste and high levels of the very toxic ammonia.

Alternatively, you can go for a non-cycled tank but you will have to change the water every single day. This can be very time-consuming, bothersome, and even tiring as it can get very monotonous. This option is especially not recommended for beginners who are just starting to care for an axolotl.

Be patient. The cycling process can last up to 8 weeks, which is 2 months. The beneficial bacteria you need grow very slowly and that is why cycling is not instant. Make sure you have enough time to complete the process fully. Don’t rush off to buy your axolotl immediately.


Axolotls do need a cycled tank. The cycling process is vital for their survival. Axolotls, just like any other aquatic creature, produce natural waste. In nature, the water cleans itself through movement of waves, currents and winds. The water in the tank, however, is still and needs help to get cleaned.

There are two options to cycle a tank. One is with the use of chemicals (prime and stability) to produce ammonia and nitrites. The other is without chemicals by adding fish food flakes that eventually decay to produce ammonia and nitrites.

The whole process may take up to two months as the beneficial bacteria grow very slowly. Be patient and ensure you are able to provide the perfect healthy environment for your axolotl!

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