How To Check Ammonia Levels In A Fish Tank Without A Kit?


Checking Your Ammonia Levels

Okay, let’s say you recently set up a new aquarium, and it’s been running for about four days. The water is at 77 degrees; it looks great, everything is working.

So how can you tell if the water is safe if you don’t have a test kit?

In all honesty, if your tank has only been running for a few days or even weeks, then chances are it has not cycled.

This means it’s not safe to add fish.

You can cycle your tank in many ways, and you can click here for more information on how to cycle an aquarium.

However, you can add beneficial bacteria like Seachm Stability or Tetra safe start for a quick cycle. Or, you can add some seeded filter media to start it off.

Okay, so let’s say it’s been running for a while.

How do you test for ammonia levels in the water without a test kit?

There isn’t any way to check ammonia levels in your fish tank without a kit! Period.

Of course, I suppose you could look for signs and causes of ammonia, but at that point, it’s likely too late for your fish.

Another way you could test for ammonia without a kit is to bring your water to a local fish store and have them test it for you.

However, they are just using a test kit for you, so you might as well buy one while you’re there. I mean, you just drove to the store, so buy it now…Seriously, buy one!

I recommend two options to test for ammonia in your aquarium;

  1. The API Master Kit 
  2. Seachem Ammonia Alert

Controversial Ammonia Testing Methods

Some forums and sites have suggested that you can smell your tank.

They recommend raising the lid and smelling the tank. If it smells normal, you are good, but your ammonia or nitrite is high if it has a smell.

To be clear: this is not something I would recommend at all. There are far too many factors that could impact the smell of your tank to be reliable.

Can You Make A DIY Ammonia Test Kit?

I’m not sure there are many options to create a DIY ammonia test kit.

However, I was able to find this thread on where they discuss how to use some advanced chemistry to do it.

But? Who has time for that? Just get a kit.



Final Thoughts.

A fish tank without a test kit is like jumping into a pool when you don’t know how to swim.

It would help if you had the tools to succeed.

To keep a healthy fish tank, you need to test your water parameters for ammonia and other things like hardness, pH, nitrites, and nitrates.

Most fish species can acclimatize themselves to large ranges of hardness and pH; however, I don’t know one fish species that can be acclimated to ammonia.

If you don’t want to buy a test kit, then take a sample to your local fish store and get it tested regularly and take some time to learn about the nitrogen cycle.

Lastly, if you have determined you have an ammonia problem then read this: How To Remove Ammonia From Your Fish Tank for some detailed steps on how to do it right.

Jack Dempsey
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