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How To Reduce Ammonia In A Fish Tank

If you have an ammonia problem in your tank, you may be asking a few of the following questions:

  1. How do you lower ammonia levels in a fish tank?
  2. How does ammonia get in fish a tank?
  3. Does ammonia remover work fish tanks?
  4. How do you fix an ammonia spike?
  5. Do fish tank filters remove ammonia?
  6. How to check your ammonia levels without a test kit?

Below we will answer all these questions and even show you some other things that you can do to help reduce ammonia in your aquarium.

Let’s begin.

Find Awesome Ammonia Reducing Products

Below we’ve picked some GREAT Ammonia Prevention supplies. The products listed all help with reducing ammonia and come in pellets, neutralizing drops and even media for your filter.

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

How to Get Rid of Ammonia in 10 Quick Steps:

If you have ammonia you should be worried, ammonia is the most harmful toxin for your fish and you need to fix it fast. So rather than waste your time with the science behind it, here are 10 things you should do right away if you have an ammonia spike in your tank.

  1. Immediately do a 50% water change
  2. Vacuum your gravel
  3. Remove any uneaten food
  4. Remove any rotting plants
  5. Look for any dead fish
  6. Ensure your filter isn’t clogged and it is flowing freely
  7. Cut down on feeding
  8. Make sure your tank isn’t overstocked
  9. Use ammonia removing pellets in your filter
  10. Keep doing water changes every day until ammonia levels dropdown

If you do all of these things, you should start to notice an improvement within a day or two.

If the problem persists, then continue to perform water changes and the steps noted above until you notice an improvement.

We will go into each step in more detail below, but first, watch this short video that will give you a better understanding of the ammonia problem.

Watch: How to Remove Ammonia From a Fish Tank

Reducing Ammonia in a Fish Tank Step-By-Step

Step 1) Immediately Do A Water Change

One of the first things you should do when you notice that your ammonia levels are high is to perform a 50% water change.

The water change won’t remove all the ammonia, but it reduces the amount by adding clean water, which will allow your biological filter to catch up.

This is all part of the nitrogen cycle, and you can click here to see 5 Fundamentals Of The Fish Tank Nitrogen Cycle explained in an easy to understand infographic.

Step 2) Vacuum Your Gravel

Over time fish waste and uneaten food will accumulate in your gravel and start to produce ammonia.

When you complete your water change, it’s a good time also to clean your gravel.

Identify The Symptoms of Ammonia 

Fish picture

Now that you’ve completed a water change and cleaned your gravel, you need to identify the underlying symptoms of the ammonia in your tank.

Usually, it’s one of the following items below.

Step 3) Remove Any Uneaten Food

Each time you feed your fish, be sure to remove any uneaten food floating around or any large uneaten chunks on the bottom of the tank.

Step 4) Remove Dead Or Rotting Plants

Just like fish waste, rotting plants will also produce ammonia, so remove any dead or decaying plants as soon as you notice them.

Keep this in mind: If you have just set up a new tank every new tank will have high levels of ammonia at first, this is okay, it’s all part of the nitrogen cycle as baceteria is building in the filter media. If you just set up your tank the best thing to do is wait for your tank to cycle.

Step 5) Remove Dead Fish

If you have a large community tank with lots of hiding places, it can be tough to notice dead fish.

But if you can’t seem to keep your ammonia levels down, I would suggest looking under some rocks; you never know what you might find.

Step 6) Unclog Your Filter

Your filter is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your tank. The filter is where your beneficial bacteria will grow. This bacteria is what breaks down the ammonia so that your tank can cycle.

If your filter is clogged and water isn’t flowing freely over the bacteria, then the ammonia will not be broken down to less harmful nitrites, and you may experience an ammonia spike.

Check your filter tubes, cartridges, media, and impellers. If needed, clean your filter.

Step 7) Cut Down On Feeding

If you have an ammonia spike, your fish may become lethargic and likely not eat as much, take this time to cut down on feeding.

Try to feed your fish only once per day and ensure all the food has been eaten. Anything left behind will just add to the ammonia levels.

Step 8)Make Sure Your Tank Isn’t Overstocked

Sometimes beginners will add too many fish too fast.

When you have too many fish, the bacteria that is building up in your tank hasn’t established itself and simply can’t keep up with the amount of waste produced by the fish.

Add fish slowly and allow your beneficial bacteria to develop over time.

Step 9) Use Chemicals (Band-Aids)ir?t=aquariumledlighting 20&l=li3&o=1&a=B0006JLXGU

If you do all of the above and still have an ammonia problem you can start to add chemicals like ammonia-removing pellets to your filter.

API AMMO-LOCK Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Ammonia Detoxifier 16-Ounce Bottle

Check Price On Amazon

Another good product is Seachem AmGuard which can be used for emergency situations and good for up to 48hours.

Keep in mind that chemical fixes are only temporary, and you should still try to find the root of your ammonia problem. It’s likely overfeeding, overcrowding, the biological filter hasn’t developed, or your filter is clogged.

Step 10) More Water Changes

If all else fails, continue to do water changes every day until the ammonia levels dropdown.

Question #1: How do you lower ammonia levels in a fish tank?

Keep Your Ammonia Levels Lower Through Prevention!

If you’ve completed all the above steps, hopefully, you’ve removed or at the least lower the ammonia levels in your tank.

So what’s next:

Easy Aquarium Maintenance
Aquarium Log Book

This Aquarium Log Book is the best way to make note of all the steps you take when caring for your aquarium. Easily keep all your aquarium tasks, schedules & plans all in one place.

Well, since I’m sure you don’t want to go through all this work for the second time, you need to monitor your water parameters by testing your water weekly with a test kit.

As you use your test kit, it’s important to understand that you are hoping for an ammonia level of near 0, but this may not always be possible as your fish are continually producing waste.

So what do you do?

Well, you can use an awesome chart found on ecofilms.com that shows you when ammonia will become toxic to your fish, depending on your PH levels and temperature.

One necessary take away when you check out the chart is that the warmer your water is, the less ammonia it takes to become toxic to your fish.

Prevention is all part of a bigger picture in maintaining your aquarium and keeping a regular cleaning schedule. Everyone should read this article on cleaning an aquarium.

Question #2: How does ammonia get in a fish tank?

The most common way ammonia enters your fish tank is from fish waste, uneaten food, and when things like plants die and decompose. Source: Aquarium Water Quality: Nitrogen Cycle. Florida Department Of Agriculture And Consumer Services, 2020.

This is why some of the first things we recommend to do when you have an ammonia problem are to remove decaying organic matter with the following steps:

Step 1) Immediately Do A Water Change

Step 2) Vacuum Your Gravel

Step 3) Remove Any Uneaten Food

Step 4) Remove Dead Or Rotting Plants

Step 5) Remove Dead Fish

Step 6) Unclog Your Filter

Step 7) Cut Down On Feeding

All of these steps try to remove any organic matter that is contributing to high ammonia levels.

Question #3: Does ammonia remover work in fish tanks?

Ammonia removal products will work but only temporarily. They won’t address the root of the problem, causing your ammonia levels to spike.

I recommend using ammonia removers only when setting up a new tank, when you have an overstocked tank or when you first notice an ammonia spike but can’t do one of the seven steps listed above.

Question #4: How do you fix an ammonia spike?

An ammonia spike is typically caused by a build-up of fish waste, uneaten food, and when things like plants die and decompose.

When dealing with an ammonia spike, you should first look for things like dead fish, rotting plants, uneaten food, or possibly a clogged filter.

Remove any decaying organic matter that you find immediately.

Question #5: Do fish tank filters remove ammonia?

Different types of media you use in your fish tank filter can help remove and lower the ammonia levels in your fish tank.

That said, your filter media is not removing the ammonia but converting it into less harmful nitrates.

Nitrifying Bacteria called Nitrosomonas found not only in your filter media but everywhere in your tank consume ammonia and convert it into Nitrites.

Question #6: How to Check Your Ammonia Levels Without a Test Kit?

To my knowledge, there isn’t any way to do this.

But good news:

Most aquarium stores will test your water for free. But if you have a tank, you should have your own, and the API Master Test Kit is relatively inexpensive and very reliable.

Further Reading: Do You Have More Problems? We Put Together A List Of The Most Common Aquarium Problems Along With Their Causes And How You Can Fix Each Problem.