How to lower ammonia levels naturally

Ammonia is really dangerous to fish, even when as low as one part per million, and it’s an invisible aquarium fish killer. Fish produce ammonia via their gills as they breathe but they aren’t adapted to be able to deal with it as in nature it’s simply diluted by the vastness of the body of water they live in. 

In aquaria we use filters, or more specifically the live, beneficial bacteria that dwell within filters, to lower ammonia levels naturally. Thanks to Mother Nature there are strains of bacteria, called Nitrifying bacteria, which can convert toxic ammonia first into nitrite, which is also toxic, and then into less harmful nitrate.

This is the most important part of the Nitrogen Cycle and its what enables us to keep any fish in aquariums.

So the first way to lower ammonia levels is to install an aquarium filter and run it 24 hours per day. This will become the life support system for your fish. Next is to seed it with beneficial nitrifying bacteria which can be bought in a bottle and added to the tank soon after its set up. Add a few hardy fish, add the bacteria, test the water and monitor ammonia and nitrite levels for the first few weeks and months.

Fishless cycle first

You can also do something called Fishless Cycling, where you get the water ready for the fish and mature the tank before any fish are added. Use ammonia, bacteria, and a test kit to cycle the tank and when ammonia and nitrite levels are both at zero, despite you actually adding ammonia, the tank is ready for fish. 

The fewer fish you have and the smaller they are, the less ammonia there will be.

Lower fish stocking to lower ammonia

So a mature filter is fundamental to ammonia conversion. But you can lessen the amount of ammonia being produced by having less fish. An overstocked aquarium has more fish breathing and polluting, and more risk of ammonia spikes, even with a mature filter in place. Thin your fish out and you will literally have less ammonia.

Feed less to lower ammonia

Overfeeding causes ammonia levels to rise, so feed less and remove any uneaten food, and the total amount of ammonia being produced may go down. 

Add plants to lower ammonia

If you have a coldwater or tropical tank and it has a light, you can add live plants. Plants can actually use ammonia as a food source so heavily plant the aquarium with fast-growing plants you should hardly if ever, experience any elevated ammonia levels. Plants are a great additional way to lower ammonia naturally.   

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Jeremy Gay is an author, lifelong fishkeeper, and aquatic specialist. He's a former editor of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine, UK editor at Reefbuilders, a former aquatic store manager, and has collected fish in Sri Lanka and the Amazon. He's been on tv and radio, contributed to Koi Carp and Gardeners World magazines, been a product tester, a judge, and a product developer. Jeremy is here to guide and advise you on all things tropical, pond and marine, from set-up to stocking, health, feeding to breeding, as well as solving many common fishkeeping problems along the way.


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