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Can I Use Fish Food to Cycle My Tank? (and How It Works)

Can you use fish food to cycle your tank? I am going to answer this question in this article.

I”ll also tell you how the cycling process with fish food works.

So let’s get into it

Can I Use Fish Food to Cycle My Tank? (and How It Works) IMAGE

You can use fish food to cycle your fish tank. First, you’ll have to set up your fish tank- add substrate, filter, dechlorinated water. Then add a pinch of fish food into the tank. In a couple of days, the fish food will break down and release ammonia. And then the nitrogen cycle will start.

How does cycling a fish tank with fish food works? (step by step)

Cycling a fish tank with fish food process

Now I’ll tell you how to cycle your fish tank using fish food.

Set up the fish tank

First of all, you will need to set up your fish tank.

Substrate

So firstly, add the substrate of your choice in the tank.

Beneficial bacteria will form their colonies on the substrate.

So if you choose a substrate that has a rough surface like gravel substrate then it will provide more surface area for beneficial bacteria to create their colonies.

And the more beneficial bacteria present in your tank, the better it is to speed up the nitrogen cycle.

So ideally, you should choose a substrate that has a rough surface.

However, it is not absolutely necessary. Beneficial bacteria will form their colonies on any substrate in more or less quantity.

Ornaments/Decorations

After adding the substrate, it’s time to place the ornaments in the tank.

Ornaments are not necessary for the nitrogen cycle. And you don’t have to add ornaments if you don’t want to. 

But if you put ornaments such as porous driftwood or rough rock which has a lot of surface area, the beneficial bacteria will grow on those surfaces. And it will help to speed up the nitrogen cycle.

Dechlorinated water

Then add dechlorinated water in your tank.

Dechlorinating the water before adding it in the tank is very important.

Because chlorine is not only harmful to the fish in your tank it is also harmful to the beneficial bacteria.

If you add the water which has chlorine in your tanks then the beneficial bacteria will not grow in your tank. And the nitrogen cycle will never start.

You can easily dechlorinate water using a dechlorinating agent like Seachem prime.

It is a very popular water conditioner. You can check its reviews and price at Amazon here.

Heater

Now add a heater in your tank and keep the temperature about 80° F or about 26° C.

Filter

Now add the filter in your tank.

You can use any filter to cycle your aquarium depending on the size of your aquarium.

You can check out our filter recommendations here

Just make sure that the filter is capable of filtering the bioload of the fish you will add in the tank.

Adding fish food

boy adding fish food in fish tank

Once you have set up the fish tank now it’s time to add fish food in your tank.

How much fish food should I add in my tank you asked?

Honestly, I don’t think anybody can tell you the exact quantity.

It depends on the size of your tank and the fish food you are going to add in your tank.

So on the first day, you should add about a pinch of fish food in your tank.

You can use any fish food whether that is sinking pellets or floating flakes.

Tip: If you are going to add the flakes just make sure to crush them before adding them so that the flakes will break down fast and release ammonia fast in your tank. This will help to speed up the nitrogen cycle process.

Fish food  to ammonia

After adding the fish food, after some time the fish food will start leeching ammonia in your tank. 

Exactly how much time does it take for fish food to turn into ammonia?

It can take anywhere between a couple of days to a week for fish food to start leaching ammonia in your tank.

So after adding the fish food wait for a couple of days and then check the ammonia levels in your tank.

You can easily check the ammonia level in your tank using a test kit.

I recommend the API master test kit. It is pretty accurate and popular test kit.

You can check its reviews and latest price at Amazon here.

It not only measures ammonia levels but also measures nitrite and nitrate levels which you will need to measure later in the nitrogen cycle process.

You can also use the API master test kit to measure the pH of your aquarium water.

The kit is a bit costly. However, it will last you for a long time.

So ultimately it does worth it.

The ammonia level should be about 2-3 PPM in your aquarium.

If the ammonia levels are lower than that then the nitrogen cycle will not start. Because the beneficial bacteria will not grow in your aquarium to breakdown the ammonia into nitrites.

On the other hand, if your tank contains a lot of ammonia more than 8 PPM then it is poisonous for the beneficial bacteria. So high ammonia level is bad!

If the test kit shows your aquarium doesn’t contain any ammonia or contains ammonia less than 2 PPM then you should add a pinch of fish food again in your tank.

And recheck the ammonia levels again after a couple of days.

On the other hand, if you see high ammonia levels i.e. more than 8 PPM then you should vacuum the substrate of your aquarium to remove the fish food from your tank. This will help to reduce the ammonia levels.

And recheck the ammonia levels.

If the ammonia levels are still high i.e. it is not between 2 to 3 PPM then you should do a water change to get it down.

Ammonia to nitrites

Once the ammonia level in your aquarium is between 2 to 3 PPM then as it is the ideal ammonia level, the beneficial bacteria will start to form in your aquarium.

And once the beneficial bacteria is formed, it will convert the ammonia into nitrites.

You can easily check whether the ammonia is converted into nitrites or not using the test kit.

Basically, as the days go by, you will start to see ammonia levels dropping in your tank and nitrates levels will increase in your tank.

Nitrites are less harmful to the fish compared to ammonia. But still, they are very harmful to the fish.

Nitrites to nitrates

After some time the beneficial bacteria will convert nitrites into nitrates.

Again, you can easily check the nitrates level in your aquarium using the test kit.

Your tank is cycled!

When you start noticing that your aquarium contains zero ammonia levels and zero nitrites level and some nitrates level (below 40 ppm) then you can conclude that your fish tank is cycled. And it is ready to support life in your tank i.e. now you can add fish in your aquarium.

The whole process of converting ammonia into nitrites and then nitrites into nitrates can take 6 to 8 weeks.

During this period you should regularly test the water of your tank to know what exactly going on in your tank.

I recommend you test the water every other day until you see ammonia and nitrites levels.

Then you can space out a little bit and check the water after three to four days or even once a week.

Obviously, the more frequently you test the water the better understanding you will have about where your tank is in the nitrogen cycle process.

And that’s how you cycle a fish tank with fish food!

15 Things You Must Know Before Buying Your First Aquarium

Benefits and drawbacks of using fish food to cycle a fish tank

fish food cycling pros and cons image

Basically, when it comes to fishless cycling there are two popular ammonia sources used to start the nitrogen cycle.

  • Fish food
  • Pure ammonia (liquid)

People have mixed opinions about both of these sources.

When it comes to the benefits and drawbacks of using fish food to cycle a fish tank I am going to compare it with pure ammonia as an ammonia source. And tell you the benefits and drawbacks of fish food as an ammonia source compared to pure ammonia as an ammonia source

Let’s start with the benefits

Benefits of using fish food to cycle a fish tank.

  • Using a fish food cycle a tank is a very natural way of cycling a fish tank.
  • Fish food is also widely available compared to ammonia. I have seen a lot of people who didn’t find pure ammonia at their local.
  • Also, while choosing the liquid ammonia for cycling a tank, you have to be careful and you should choose the bottle of ammonia which contains only ammonia and water. And doesn’t contain any other chemical. This is not the problem with fish food because you can use any fish food to cycle a fish tank.
  • Also, you have to be very careful while adding pure ammonia in your tank. Because if you mistakenly added more ammonia then it can install the nitrogen cycle.

Drawbacks of using fish food to cycle a fish tank

Now let’s see the drawbacks of using fish food as an ammonia source to cycle a fish tank compared to using pure ammonia.

  • When you are using fish food as an ammonia source for cycling your fish tank, you don’t have total control. You don’t know how much ammonia the fish food you have just added in your tank will produce. This is not the case with using pure ammonia. If you added the pure ammonia accurately then you know how much ammonia you have added in the tank.
  • It will take a bit less time to cycle a fish tank if you use pure ammonia compared to using fish food because you don’t have to wait for the fish food to release ammonia in the tank as you are directly adding the ammonia in the tank. This will reduce a couple of days or even a week from the nitrogen cycle process.

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Conclusion

Using fish food to cycle a fish tank is a very natural way of cycling a fish tank.

It will just take more time compared to other ammonia sources like using pure ammonia to cycle a fish tank.

I hope you found this article helpful.

If you do, please share it.

Good luck with your nitrogen cycle!

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