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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sorry to ask what's probably another very common cycling question...

I set up my 20 gallon tank on 9/6 and received three goldfish from a friend on 9/9. I'd learned about the nitrogen cycle and decided to order Tetra SafeStart to quickly cycle the tank since my friend was moving and in a hurry to transport the fish.

SafeStart was added on 9/17, I waited a week for signs it was working, but none ever showed up. Ammonia got to 4.0ppm, so I did 25% water changes daily for a week until levels got down to 1.0. I have since reduced water changes to every 2-3 days, and ammonia's held steady around 1.0-2.0.

When I went to Petco on 10/13 to pick up some more goldfish food, I struck up a conversation with one of the employees. He basically told me I was doing too frequent water changes and that this was preventing my bacteria from developing. To my horror, he told me not to do any more water changes unless the "ammonia got really bad" (pointing to around 8.0ppm on the API test kit). I called my friend up (the one who had given me the goldfish) and she told me a water change once a week was enough. This seemed kind of hard to believe because I'm pretty sure if I didn't change water for a week, the ammonia would get as high as 4.0ppm.

After explaining to my friend I was worried about getting my tank cycled, I asked if she had any old filter media; luckily, she did. Yesterday (10/15), I stuck her old filter cartridge (from a Marineland Penguin filter) behind my newer Aqueon QuietFlow cartridge. It's a very tight fit, though, and I'm worried it's reducing my filter's flow rate.

My questions are:
- Should I keep doing the 25% water changes every other day? Does it really impact the growth of the beneficial bacteria? I try not to disturb the gravel or tank decorations.
- Is it okay for me to put two filter cartridges in my filter, especially when I had to jam the old one in? The old cartridge has the grey filter sponge encased in plastic, and I was wondering, when using old filter media, do you use the entire thing OR is the important part the sponge? If it's the sponge, would it be okay for me to somehow remove the plastic and just stick the sponge behind my new cartridge? It would probably fit better, too, but not by much.

Other information:
- 20 gallon long tank
- 2 comet goldfish, 1 ryukin/fantail goldfish
- Aqueon QuietFlow 20 power filter (125 gph)
- Top Fin AIR-3000 air pump (up to 40 gallons)
- 1 6" airstone, 1 3/4" airstone
- 2.5" deep gravel

Tank parameters as of 10/16 @ 11PM PST:
- Temperature: 70 F (room temperature, light on, lid open)
- pH: 7.4
- Ammonia: 4.0ppm
- Nitrite: 0ppm
- Nitrate: 5ppm

Thanks in advance for any suggestions! I really want my fish to do well and for this tank to at least show SOME signs it wants to cycle...
 

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Water changes may slow the cycle a little as you will take out some bacteria and if you turn the filter off, the bacteria start to starve. However, most of your bacteria is in the filter media, so even 100% water changes won't stop the cycle. This "no water changes when cycling" myth is deadly to fish. Even at 1ppm ammonia, you can see some effects on sensitive fish. At 8 ppm, not only will all but the hardiest fish be dead, but so will all your filter bacteria. If you have to turn the filter off to change water, try doing smaller water changes more often. Otherwise, just ignore that bad advice. If you are having trouble keeping the ammonia in check, you can also try to feed less for a few weeks. A single very high spike from an overfeeding can set your cycle back weeks.

Extra cartridges are fine as long as the flow isn't too restricted. The amount of bacteria you can grow depends on flow among other things. Any soft or porous part of the media will have bacteria colonies. Using even a small piece of old media will seed the cycle. I'd use the biggest piece that didn't slow the flow. After a week or two, if you get nitrites and the ammonia goes down, but you aren't getting nitrates, you may need a new piece to seed the nitrite phase of the cycle. If you can't get another whole cartridge, a little snip from a corner will still help.

Keep an eye on the nitrates and the ammonia. If you start getting nitrates rising and you still have ammonia, it may indicate that your filter isn't big enough (media area x flow rate) for the amount you feed. This will likely happen eventually as the fish get bigger and eat more.
 

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I'd keep up the water changes. Sure, you will lose some bacteria with the lost water, but the ammonia will certainly damage your fish if you don't. That said, I haven't used safestart. I'm partial to Sea-chem stability. When I use that I don't even really have ammonia spikes.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I always turn the filter (and everything else) off when doing water changes because I'm paranoid about getting electrocuted, but I try and get them done as quick as possible precisely because I don't want the bacteria to starve. What constitutes a small water change? Is 25% considered too much? If the ammonia's really bad (anything nearing 4.0ppm) I usually do a 50% and then follow-up with some 25%'s.

Hmm...the water flow from the filter isn't reduced by much, but you can tell if you look very closely. I'd say the flow's reduced about 25%-33%. Since the important part seems to be the sponge, I'm going to try cutting the plastic holder away...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I'd keep up the water changes. Sure, you will lose some bacteria with the lost water, but the ammonia will certainly damage your fish if you don't. That said, I haven't used safestart. I'm partial to Sea-chem stability. When I use that I don't even really have ammonia spikes.
I'd dumped a bottle of SafeStart in because I'd heard good things about it and that it could could help cycle your tank in about two weeks. I concluded after two weeks of no nitrites that the product just didn't work for me, although other people have had success. My friend gave me a bottle of Top Fin bacteria supplement, but I haven't used that yet. It seems that adding in artificial bacteria would do more harm than good, so I've been holding off for as long as possible.
 

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The reason I turn off filters during water changes is the water level gets below the intake. if you do smaller changes, you can let the filter run and make a nice waterfall to aerate the water and keep the filter bacteria alive. Do turn off the lights or unplug them. The only time i've come close to being zapped is when i've dunked a light or broke a glass heater.
 

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I'd dumped a bottle of SafeStart in because I'd heard good things about it and that it could could help cycle your tank in about two weeks. I concluded after two weeks of no nitrites that the product just didn't work for me, although other people have had success. My friend gave me a bottle of Top Fin bacteria supplement, but I haven't used that yet. It seems that adding in artificial bacteria would do more harm than good, so I've been holding off for as long as possible.
I don't think it is artificial bacteria - I think it is just like "seed" bacteria. Have you ever been on antibiotics and had stomach problems afterwards and eaten yogurt or taken probiotics to get things back the way they were before? I think of products like sea-chem stability or the other ones as like the probiotics in yogurt that need to be introduced when a system gets out of whack. I don't know if I'm thinking about it in the right way, but that's how I've imagined it works.
 

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That's how i think of it.

The first product that came out had the "wrong" bacteria. The strains they used wouldn't do what you needed done and would compete with the ones you want to develop and actually slowed the cycle. That gave these things a bad rep from the start. But Stability is good and some of the other new ones are too.
 

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I always use bacterial supplement after a water change and get a mini-bloom within the hour. My tank also looks clearer after. Chemically, I don't know if topfin does anything, but it looks to work.
 

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Am I the only one that thinks the filter is a tad on the small side for a 20 gallon tank?? it is only giving 125 gph. A 30-40 gallon filter would give better capacity.
 

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I agree. Its one of those "up to 20 gallons". It might do for a few, small fish, but the goldfish will certainly outgrow it. I suggest adding a sponge filter or 2 since there is already air to drive it. Ugly, but cheaper than a power filter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I always use bacterial supplement after a water change and get a mini-bloom within the hour. My tank also looks clearer after. Chemically, I don't know if topfin does anything, but it looks to work.
I'm also not sure it does anything either, but my friend uses it when adding fish. It took her three months to cycle her tank even with it, though, probably because she was overstocked.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Am I the only one that thinks the filter is a tad on the small side for a 20 gallon tank?? it is only giving 125 gph. A 30-40 gallon filter would give better capacity.
Nope, you're not the only one who thinks that. Every time I think about it giving out only 125 gph, I cringe a little (that's why I was worried about the extra cartridge reducing water flow), but I purchased and began using the filter before finding out goldfish need double filtration. I wish I'd found out earlier so I could've exchanged it for a 40 gallon filter. :(
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I agree. Its one of those "up to 20 gallons". It might do for a few, small fish, but the goldfish will certainly outgrow it. I suggest adding a sponge filter or 2 since there is already air to drive it. Ugly, but cheaper than a power filter.
If I switch out one of my airstones for a sponge filter, would I also be taking out some of the bacteria in the tank? I know you mentioned that the bacteria's mostly in the spongy, porous part of the filter media, but it's also on/in the gravel, on the decorations, the tank itself. I've had the airstones in for about three to four weeks now, so I'm worried I might be removing what little bacteria there is. Although since my tank still has no nitrites, I'm beginning to believe "little" bacteria is closer to "none"...
 

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the bacteria will seed itself into the sponge as well so the total amount of bacteria in the tank will be the same as before -just divided up differently. This can be a bonus if you want to set up another tank. You can transfer some of the media from your sponge to the next tank and will have a good start to cycling the next tank.
usually if you only remove portions of filter media when cleaning filters, using in a new tank etc., the remaining bacteria can make up the loss in about 24 hours.
 

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Are your air-stone powering a undergravel filter? If yes, just get a gang valve and split the line to the sponge filter. If the air-stones are just blowing air, they help aerate the water, but thats about it. You can run a sponge filter and add biological filtration at the same time without losing the aeration benefit.

There is bacteria everywhere, but the number will be limited by surface area, the oxygen available, and the food (ammonia or nitrite). A hard surface like glass will have very little, gravel will have some on surfaces exposed to water flow. Without a UG filter, its mostly on top of the gravel.

Compared to the needs of a messy goldfish, the bacteria outside of a filter with moving water is pretty inconsequential. A glass globe might have enough "cycled" bacteria for one tiny shrimp's waste.

Anything you can do to increase water flow or the surface area that water is flowing through should increase your filtration capacity.

When you have extra capacity, the bacteria will multiply automatically as there is more for them to eat. If you have no extra space, any extra ammonia or nitrite will stay in the water and possibly kill your filter bacteria and/or your fish if the levels get high enough. "understocked" and "over-filtered" tanks are less risky for this reason.
 
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