3 Tips to speed up Aquarium Cycling

Aquarium cycling can be a slow (and painful for some :P) process, because it might take up to 6~8 weeks. This is especially true in the case of fishless cycling, because some people can’t wait to get their fish. There are certain things we can do to make the aquarium cycle a lot faster.

Reason for the slow cycling of aquariums
Since all the new fish tanks start with near zero beneficial bacteria of both types (nitrosomonas for converting ammonia, and nitrobacter for converting nitrite), it takes time for them to multiply to a level where you can actually see a change in the test readings. More importantly, nitrobacter will not even start to grow in number at all until the second stage when there is finally nitrite in the water. For nitrite to appear there must be enough nitrosomonas to feed on and convert ammonia first. It can take 2~3 weeks before nitrosomonas grow into sufficient number to provide nitrite for nitrobacter. The first stage is basically a bottleneck or choke point for the second stage. If we can make both stages starting simultaneously from the beginning, the whole aquarium cycling can be a lot shorter.

Three tips to speed up aquarium cycle
1. Heavy bacteria seeding
2. Higher water temperature
3. Higher oxygen level

1. Heavy Bacteria Seeding
To have some beneficial bacteria to start the aquarium nitrogen cycle will certainly speed up the cycling. More importantly, to have both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter to begin the cycle from the very beginning can be a huge jump start for the aquarium nitrogen cycle since it eliminates the waiting period for nitrite to appear.

Media from well established aquariums
Traditionally people seed bacteria for starting aquarium nitrogen cycle by using an object from an already established aquarium. This object can be a decoration, or some gravel. The best thing to use in this case is a piece of filter media. Since most beneficial bacteria colonize on the filter media, by putting a piece of filter media from a well established aquarium into a new filter in your new aquarium can give quite a jump start for cycling your new aquarium. Since not everyone has the access to a well established aquarium, this form of bacteria seeding is not available to everyone.

Bacteria in a bottle
Nowadays, there are commercial available bacteria seeding products for jump start aquarium nitrogen cycle in new aquariums. Yes, it is a fact there were some old bogus products with incorrect species of land based bacteria in them. When you use those bogus products in an aquarium, at first the tank might seem to be cycled quickly but it will not last.  Because the land based bacteria will drown in the water eventually. The end result is the user must keep dosing those products in order to keep the cycle from crash. Due to wide spread of such bogus products in the past, many people believe all bacteria seeding products wouldn’t work. This is a misconception and old news.

Since Dr. Tim came up with a way to store bacteria spores in a bottle in liquid form, the first proven working product was Bio-spira. It was not long before Tetra re-branded the same product into Tetra SafeStart which was more widely available and many aquarium hobbyists have successfully used it to quick cycle their aquariums. The very same product is now in even more different bottles with different names. Dr. Tim’s One and Only is just another example.

These commercially available bottled bacteria are all proven working after tried by many fish keepers. While it is true these products are meant for cycle with fish because the fact most people are not patient enough to do the fishless cycling in an empty tank, I have personally used Tetra SafeStart twice for fishless cycle with pure ammonia in two separated tanks. In both cases my fish tanks were cycled within a week, and the cycle was permanent. I have read plenty of good reviews from other fish hobbyists before I even tried Tetra SafeStart, the good results were no surprise to me.

2. Higher Water Temperature
Both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter love warm water. In the case of fishless cycling, you may turn the heater up and raise the water temperature to middle or high 80F, it will speed up the multiplying of these beneficial bacteria. High temperature can also increase their appetite for ammonia and nitrite. Although it will not make the day and night difference in the total time required to cycling an aquarium, it will certainly shorten it to some degree. Every little help counts when you can’t wait to get your hands on the new fish, right? 😛

3. Higher oxygen level
Both nitrosomonas and nitrobacter require oxygen to multiplying. A rich oxygen environment will certainly help them grow faster and therefore shorten the fish tank cycling time. You can easily achieve this by turn up the air pump and add more air stones. This is also required if you use higher temperature from the previous tip, because warmer water holds less oxygen.

There is no set time for how long it might take to cycling an aquarium before it is ready. By applying all of the tips you should be able to shorten it to less than two weeks.

18 thoughts on “3 Tips to speed up Aquarium Cycling

  1. Max

    If i pull half water out of my 55 gallon freshwater tank to jump start my cycle, how long before I can add fish

    Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      Did you actually use any source of ammonia and live bacteria product? If not. It will take minimal 4~6 weeks for the fishless cycling to finish. If you did both, it might take a few days to a week. To be sure, you need a test kit to check on ammonia and nitrite levels.

      Water does not hold the beneficial bacteria. They reside on the surface area of underwater objects. The one thing with the most surface area is the filter media.

      Reply
      1. Lyuba

        Hi! I was wondering if you were adding a little bit of bacteria every day (Safe start) or the whole bottle one time? Please, let me know ! Thanks!

        Reply
        1. Thor Post author

          Hi Lyuba,
          You need to dump the whole bottle of Tetra SafeStart into your fish tank at once. After you have set everything up with filter running of course.
          The live bacteria in the bottle will not last long once you have opened the seal. So you have to use it all at once.

          Reply
    2. Sam

      None. Because beneficial bacteria does not live in the water. They live in most surfaces like your substrate, filter media and the glass of your tank. So pulling water does not help in any way.

      Reply
      1. Aaron

        No putting water in won’t help the nitrogen cycle but if you where impatient and want fish in fast. Using water from an established tank will jump start the heating process! 😛 It will also help with PH levels in your tank.

        Reply
        1. Thor Post author

          Water does not hold the beneficial bacteria required for the nitrogen cycle. These bacteria colonize the surface area of underwater objects. So moving the water from an old established aquarium won’t help. The best thing you can get is a piece of filter media from an established aquarium, or a bottle of live bacteria such as Tetra SafeStart.

          PH is not too much of a concern if you acclimate the fish and give them time to adapt.

          Reply
  2. nayana

    I’m on day 10 of doing a fish less cycle on a ten gallon tank that will be split for two bettas. I’m using fish food as my ammonia and it’s at 0.50 ppm. There are no nitrites yet. I added an air stone today and the water temp is at 78 degrees. Should I buy the tetra safe start to speed my cycle?

    Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      What filter are you using? If you have a sufficient filter, then sure, Tetra SafeStart will help. You should immediately see nitrite and nitrate 24 hours after you have used this product.

      Reply
  3. Kaelee McCoy

    Nayana you need to add more fish food for ammonia if the ammonia is so low and there isn’t any nitrites you need more ammonia

    Reply
  4. Laurali

    Ok i just started my 60 gallon hexagon wet dry filter my 20 gal filter just broke on me 1st day of cycling my bigger tank. Im putting logs, plant mesh and some old fish food plus what ever else gets left on the gravel. Filter i threw away not knowing i could use it. How long eill it take to cycle? I have 10 fish in my 20 gal that i need to transfer over to the 60 gal. Whats the soonest i can do that because they have no filter?

    Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      Hi Laurali,
      It will take 4~6 weeks for the filter media to be cycled if without heavy seeding from either live bacteria products or some filter media from your old fish tank.

      Reply
  5. KK

    Hi, I’m starting week 2 cycling. So far, low ammonia levels but the pH and nitrite levels are off the charts while the nitrates are at 10 ppm and ammonia is at 0.500. I added bacteria, old tank water, moss balls, a bubbler and fish food to get it ready. Should I replace water or do anything else? Is the low ammonia level good or bad? I’m so lost lol thanks for the help!

    Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      Hi KK,
      As long as the PH isn’t as low as below 5~6, you are fine. When PH is too low, it stalls the bacteria growth because they do not like acidic environment.

      You are doing great. Just two weeks in, you already have both nitrite and nitrate. You are making good progress. My first fishless cycling too more than that to just see the nitrite.

      Reply
  6. Melanie

    I already have fish in my tank, we have had it up for about a year, but we got a bigger filter and put the new one one the tank and took the old one off, but we did not put the old filterationg in the canister, so with it being brand new fliters on our tank it thru everything off balance, we have done a 50% water change but its still out of wack been this way for almost a week now, were affraid our fish will die. What can we do to get everything back on track. Please help.

    Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      Hi Melanie,
      You could have used the old filter to run along side the new filter until the new filter is fulled cycled.

      If your old filter was taken out and dried for more than a few minutes, then the bacteria in there must have died. But you still can use two filters at the same time to make the cycling go quicker.

      Meanwhile, what you can do is to use SeaChem Prime to do partial water changes every day or so to keep the toxic at minimal until the new filter is cycled. You can also get a bottle of Tetra SafeStart, the biggest bottle you can fine. Then dump it all into your fish tank at once. It will get the cycling process to speed up by 10x over.

      Reply
    1. Thor Post author

      Fish food creates ammonia when it rots. So you have a source of ammonia. Yes, a source of ammonia is required to get cycling process started.

      Do you have a good filter? A good filter will cycle faster as well.

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Max Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *