How to Cycle a Tank Without Any Ammonia

4 min read

Most aquarium owners usually spend a lot of money on maintaining their fish. Aquarium cycling is one of the first steps towards giving your aquarium fish the best healthy life.

Tank cycling is a process of establishing and multiplying the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that protect your fish from toxic ammonia and nitrites.

Ammonia and nitrite come from various sources, so you need to render them harmless through cycling.

Fish food

You can cycle your tank without adding any ammonia by using fish food, dead prawns, and hardy fish. The fish food method is the only one that doesn’t harm the fish since the dead prawn method can introduce pathogens, and the hardy fish method kills some of the starter fish.

You may not need any ammonia while cycling your tank because ammonia products containing scents, perfumes, and additives can halt the cycling process and harm the fish. Besides, it’s challenging to get 100% pure ammonia.

Why You Should Cycle Your Tank

When you cycle your tank, you’re creating and multiplying beneficial bacteria that help to render the released toxic ammonia harmless. These bacteria are called nitrifying bacteria. A fully completed cycle guarantees that the tank now has enough nitrifying bacteria that will consume the released toxic gases.

“The nitrifying bacteria are generated through the nitrogen cycle process. This process is spontaneous and occurs naturally or induced to convert the ammonia released through fish respiration, wastes, and decaying matters to nitrites and nitrates.

“You must exercise patience for these bacteria to form large colonies before adding your fish into the new tank if you want them to survive and live healthy without stress.

How Long Does It Take to Cycle A Fish Tank?

Tetra Safe Start

There is no specific cycling period, but experts said it usually lasts between two weeks and two months. You can speed up the cycling process by introducing filter media from an established tank or using instant starter products like Tetra Safe Smart.

How to Cycle Your Fishless Tank

The process of cycling a tank without any fish is called fishless cycling. This cycling method is the commonest and less harmful to the fish since it uses fish food to generate the ammonia fed on by the nitrifying bacteria.

Materials Required for Tank Cycling

Before you start the cycling process, you need the following materials:

  • Standard Aquarium Test Kit: The best way to monitor the cycling process and ascertain its completion is by using an aquarium test kit. Most kits have an apparatus to determine the ammonia, nitrite, pH, and nitrate levels.
  • Fish Food: Fish food is a bacteria inducer since it releases ammonia upon decay. They are important since all tank cycling methods require ammonia.
  • Water Dechlorinator: The majority of fish tanks are filled with tap water. Tap water contains chlorine, which prevents bacteria growth. Therefore it is necessary to remove this chlorine to achieve the cycling goals.

Once these materials are ready, you can proceed with the following cycling procedure. You need to follow the instructions to avoid ruining the cycle.

Set Up The Aquarium Tank

Your aquarium usually has a heater, air pump, filter, plants, and substrates. You must fix the equipment to provide a suitable clinging surface or filter for the bacteria. When you are done setting up, it is advisable to switch on the heaters, filters, and bubblers to facilitate growth and quicker cycling.

Check The Water pH

Most people miss this crucial step during the cycling process. Maintaining the pH is essential to achieving a complete cycle since a lower pH below 7.0 can negatively impact the process or even stop the cycle.

If the water pH is below 7.0, you should do a 20% water change to bring it back to 7.0 or above. You should check the water pH using the pH test kit every day since it’s prone to fluctuation due to the acidic material released by the nitrifying bacteria.

Add Enough Fish Food

If you are cycling a new tank without any existing fish debris, you need an ammonia source such as fish food to initiate the process. The bagged fish food should be added every 12 hours to maintain a constant ammonia level.

It would help if you didn’t forget to check the ammonia production rate because an ammonia level higher than 5ppm is not beneficial.

You can reduce the higher ammonia level by changing the water. You should also note that the ammonia level should not be less than 1ppm. The recommended ammonia level is between 2-5ppm.

Nitrifying Bacteria Become Established And Grow

The ammonia level will increase as the fish food is added. However, it will reach a point where the level starts to decrease to generate nitrite. When this occurs, you should confirm if the decline is due to nitrite production using a nitrite test kit.

When nitrite starts to form, its level will increase until the bacteria begin to convert it to nitrate, which is harmless to the fish and bacteria in small amounts.

You should continue to add fish food during all these processes because the added food serves as the only means of survival for the nitrifying bacteria. Without ammonia, the bacteria will starve and die, rendering the earlier cycling effort useless.

Using the test kit, you should also confirm that nitrate production is due to the nitrifying bacteria action. The cycle is complete when the ammonia and nitrite level after 24 hours is 0ppm after adding more fish food. “

However, you need to change the tank water before adding your fish since the accumulated nitrates can cause damage to the fish.


Aquarium owners often take their time to completely cycle their tank using various ammonia sources like fish food.

To achieve the best cycling result, you should keep the tank well oxygenated, maintain pH above 7.0, keep the heater temperature at 80°F, and keep the fish food in a bag to prevent it from being messy.

Written by:

Pet Aquariums

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