My wife and I purchased a small 5.5 gallon aquarium: Top Fin Starter Kit with a silent-stream carbon filter. We are brand new with aquariums and unfortunately didn't do our due diligence and research on tank cycling which led to quite a few dead fish over the course of the last couple months. Our initial experience has made me super paranoid about water parameters. Without going in to too much of a story, we finally seem to have a stable aquarium with a couple fish.

Now I have heard that any amount of ammonia in the tank can be toxic to fish and cause issues. I used the API Freshwater Master Kit to test the ammonia in the water the other day and it read at 1 ppm. Of course this sent me into panic mode and we went to our local pet store and got a small water vacuum, two 2.3 gallon jugs of Top Fin preconditioned water, and proceeded to do a 50% water change and vacuum the gravel.

I retested the water this afternoon and the ammonia was down to 0.5 ppm. I figured it was awesome, I'll do another 50% water change and it should dilute the ammonia even further and I can sleep easy. So I changed the water and did another gravel vacuum, waited about 5 hours and tested the water again, but the ammonia was still at 0.5 ppm.

This is a list of things we have done:

  1. We replaced the filter cartridge as the indicator on the top of the filter was red, indicating it was time to be changed, this was 4 days ago.
  2. We have performed two 50% water changes the last two days.
  3. We vacuumed the gravel the last two days (after reading, I know this was bad as it could have a negative impact on positive bacteria growth.
  4. We have added API Quick Start to the tank daily (it says it contains nitrifying beneficial bacteria).
  5. Since we have had ammonia issues we have used Top Fin ammonia neutralizer (I am aware that this does not eliminate ammonia, but converts it to ammonium which still registers on tests. I do this every other day.

That all being said, I am not certain, but it is possible we could have disrupted the tank cycle doing all of this over the course of a week. The current parameters of tank are:

  • ammonia: 0.5 ppm
  • no nitrites
  • little to no nitrates (the color was barely readable)
  • pH is 7.2 to 7.4

Also, this tank contains no live plants, just artificial decorations


So, question is, should I keep adding the API Quick Start with the bacteria and let the little guys get rid of the ammonia for me (let nature take it's course), or do I need to do something else at this point so a potential bad situation does not escalate, like more water changes, less feeding, etc.?

Thank you for reading this and I look forward to feedback!

  • I'm no expert (hence comment, not answer), but no nitrites, no nitrates, and detectable ammonia sounds like there is not, in fact, an established cycle in the tank. Unless you have something in the tank to "neutralize" nitrate? – Martha Jun 6 at 19:45

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