Congratulations if you are at the point to start cycling your new aquarium! You are about to start on one of the most beautiful hobbies you can ever have in your home! Allowing your aquarium to fully cycle is one of the most important steps you can take to ensuring all your livestock is going to live and thrive in your new aquarium.
By rushing this process and adding livestock before that aquarium has finished cycling you could end up with a long-running battle against high Nitrates, Phosphates, and Ammonia.
To cycle a fish tank you will need a bacteria starter culture solution, a thermometer, and ammonia, nitrite, nitrate & Ph test kits to test the water. The culture is added first to start the cycle, then testing the water every few days will be required to monitor the cycles progress.
Before you begin your cycle ensure your aquarium is set up and ready to go. View my Aquarium Setup Guides if you require more help and information on what equipment you need for your aquarium.
You want to ensure your aquarium is set up and running just like it will be for years because this is the time when your eco-system is going to begin building. EVERY piece of equipment needs to be running to allow it to ‘Break-In’ and settle while your tank goes through the Nitrogen Cycle.
I recommend you read my article on The Aquarium Cycle so you know what you should be looking for over the next 1-2 months.
Another useful guide is my Ideal Water Parameters which you can use to see what your water parameter should be at the end of the cycle.
What Equipment is Needed During an Aquarium Cycle?
You are going to need the following items to get your cycle started and to monitor its progress:
A notepad or someway to keep track of your aquariums progress is very useful. Each time you do a series of water parameter tests you need to write down the results. This will help you track the cycles’ progress and ensure everything is happening at the right time.
As the weeks go by it can be difficult to remember what each parameter was the last time you tested it. The journal is here to solve that issue.
One of the most important parameters in your aquarium to monitor, as it is one that can fluctuate wildly. Does your home get warm? Do you like to have your windows open? Is the aquarium close to an external door?
Your cycle is where you need to check your temperature regularly to see if you can eliminate causes of the aquariums temperature fluctuations before you begin to add livestock.
The bacteria that is building during the cycle also need a steady temperature, so now is the time to get your aquarium dialed in and decide where you are going to keep it at.
78°F, 79°F, 80°F are all common temperatures.
I like to have several types of thermometer in my aquarium system to make it easy to ensure all are reading correctly. It also adds redundancy which is important for this parameter:
Glass Thermometer – See my recommendation here at Amazon.com
I have a glass thermometer in my sump which I look at each time I’m there. It’s just a simple old-school style thermometer that sticks to the glass with a rubber suction cup. Simple, but very effective.
Digital Thermometer – See my recommendation here at Amazon.com
I have a digital thermometer discretely stuck to the back corner of my aquarium which I glance at every time I walk past. This is a habit I recommend everyone gets into. I love this one as it has High & Low Temperature Alarms which really grab your attention if something starts to go awry. These are great for those without an Aquarium Controller!
Aquarium Controller – Click Here to read more about them in my other post
I have another digital temperature probe linked to my aquarium controller.
Aquarium controllers are expensive but they do so much to monitor and control your parameters. I would never have an aquarium without one!
After the thermometer, this is the second most important piece of equipment you WILL need for your aquarium. Ensuring the salt level in your water is dead on is as important as having a stable temperature.
There are other devices for measuring your salt content, such as Hydrometers, but these are wildly inaccurate and should never be used if you are serious about saltwater.
You can read more about measuring Salinity in my article dedicated to it HERE…
The Refractometer I really recommend is This One from Amazon.com. It’s a great price and super easy to use and calibrate.
Live Bacteria Culture
One of the best ways to get your cycle started is by using a natural live culture of bacteria. Many people begin their cycle by feeding their tank as if they had fish in them, but this just leads to a detritus problem that can get out of hand and just starts off your new aquarium on the wrong foot.
By using a Live Nitrifying Bacteria culture like Dr Tims ONE and ONLY you can help to speed up the cycle time and create a really good quality bacteria colony to multiply and produce the best Bio-filtration for your new aquarium.
Dr Tim himself explains all about it in this video:
Dr Tim’s ONE and ONLY comes in various sizes to get any size aquarium started. I wish this had been available when I cycled my tank all those years ago!
You can find out even more about it HERE at Amazon.com.
Ammonia Test Kit
Ammonia is going to be the first measurable parameter you will be testing for during the aquarium cycle. Your Ammonia will rise and then fall as the Nitrosomonas Bacteria begin converting the Ammonia into Nitrite.
Without testing for it you will be unable to track the progress of the cycle.
The test kits I have been using for years along with many, many other aquarists are the Salifert Range of Test Kits.
For more information regarding why I love these test kits, you can read my article HERE…
You can see more information on the Salifert test kits and their prices HERE at Amazon.com.
Nitrite Test Kit
Nitrite is going to be the second measurable parameter you will be testing for during the aquarium cycle. Your Nitrite will rise as the Ammonia begins to fall. You are now monitoring for the second spike in the Nitrogen Cycle. Once your Nitrites begin to fall and your Nitrates begin to slowly rise you are starting to near the end of your cycle.
You can see more information and prices HERE at Amazon.com.
Nitrate Test Kit
Nitrate is going to be the last measurable parameter you will be testing for during the aquarium cycle. Your Nitrate will slowly begin to rise as the NitroBacter Bacteria begin to consume the Nitrite and convert them to Nitrate.
Your cycle is completed once you begin to see Ammonia & Nitrite rise and fall and then your Nitrate slowly rise.
Nitrate is now one of the main parameters that you will be monitoring for the life of your aquarium. Too much Nitrate is poisonous for your livestock, but a little is OK.
Once you begin to get above 5ppm you could begin to see problems.
You can see more information and prices HERE at Amazon.com.
Monitoring the progression of your aquariums Nitrogen Cycle is not only an important step in the life of your aquarium, but it should also be an exciting part too!
Not only does the cycle teach you the patience you will need to develop to be successful, but it also allows you time to figure out how to do all your tests, daily tasks and maintenance so that by the time it comes to adding livestock, you are a pro!