I think you will agree with me when I say…
Cycling is one of the most frustrating parts about setting up a new aquarium.
That’s not because it’s hard – it isn’t. Especially if you follow FishLab’s step-by-step cycling guide.
It’s the excruciatingly long time that it takes for your tank to cycle that is the issue – sometimes up to two months!
That’s two months before you can safely add fish into your aquarium. It’s a darn long time.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a faster way to cycle your tank?
Well, I have some good news for you.
Today, I am going to take you through the different ways you can speed up your cycle.
The myth of the instant cycle
Wouldn’t it be great if you could add your fish to your new tank on the same day that you set it up?
There are all kinds of products and techniques that promise to cycle your aquarium in just one day. Yep just 24 hours later, your tank is deemed fish-safe. Or you can use a method called Fish-in Cycle, which means you leave a fish in the aquarium during the cycle.
Some go a step further and claim to instantly cycle your aquarium.
This is what I like to call a beginner trap. If you don’t know any better, being able to cycle your aquarium instantly sounds perfectly realistic.
If you have tried before, then you are fully aware that aquarium cycling is anything but instant.
I have personally heard of beginners who claimed that they successfully cycled their aquarium in under a day. However, after testing their ammonia and nitrites with an aquarium test kit, they discovered that their tank was actually unsafe for their fish.
You see, the problem is that ammonia and nitrites are invisible. And at low levels, fish are often not noticeably distressed. This can fool a beginner into thinking that their tank is safe. Meanwhile, their fish are suffering.
So please, don’t go into this thinking that you can instantly cycle your aquarium – it ain’t gonna happen!
With that said, there are ways to shorten the time it takes to cycle your tank. And best of all, the methods that I cover in this guide have been proven to work.
How do you speed up the cycling process?
Remember how I said that there is no such thing as an instant cycle?
Well, that’s still true. But there are a couple of methods that you can use to kick-start your cycle, drastically shortening the cycle time.
As always, how much quicker these methods make your cycle vary from tank to tank. For some, it will drastically shorten the entire process, while for others it may only shave off a couple of days. Remember… When it comes to cycling your tank YMMV, your mileage may vary. The only constant is patience.
1. Focus on the basics
I’ll be straight up with you:
It doesn’t matter what you do to your tank, you won’t be able to speed up your nitrogen cycle unless you have the basics.
If you don’t have good fundamentals, your nitrogen cycle won’t start or worse, it will stop halfway through – that’s the opposite of fast!
So, make sure you adhere to the following guidelines so that you don’t slow down your cycle…
Keep the pH above 7
This one often catches beginners. If your pH drops below 7, the bacterial growth in the tank slows down or stops altogether. So, make sure you test regularly and don’t be afraid to increase the pH if it drops below 7.
Your master test kit has a pH test – use it!
Don’t turn off your filters
Most nitrifying bacteria lives inside your filter. This bacteria needs oxygen to survive and does so by drawing oxygen out of the water that passes through your filter. If your filter is turned off, you deprive the bacteria of oxygen.
Keep your filter turned on throughout the entire cycling process.
Don’t forget the dechlorinator
While the chlorine and chloramines found in tap water may be harmless to you and me, it’s lethal to the good bacteria.
Don’t forget to use a good water conditioner to remove these nasty chemicals.
Use it every time you add tap water to your tank. If you kill your beneficial bacteria, then you have start from the beginning.
Watch the heating
Temperature plays a major role in how quickly beneficial bacteria appear during a cycle – 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot. Temperatures below 65F can cause the bacteria to grow 50% slower.
2. Rob an old tank
A cycled aquarium that has already gone through the cycling process will be overflowing with that good bacteria that you are trying to introduce into your aquarium.
If you take some of that bacteria from an established tank, it makes sense that it will speed up your cycle, right?
This method works best if you already have access to a cycled tank. Not sure who to ask? Ask the pet store where you bought your equipment from. Otherwise, you could ask your local aquarium club… There’s at least one in every state!
Remember: Beneficial bacteria coats surfaces, meaning that it does not exist in the water column. Taking water from a cycled tank will not make your tank cycle faster.
Here are four ways you can rob beneficial bacteria from another tank.
Use a cycled filter
The best way, by far, to speed up the aquarium cycle is to install a filter that already contains the beneficial bacteria.
Simply remove the filter from the cycled aquarium and add it to your new tank.
Season your filter
The next best way is to season a filter. Simply install your filter in a cycled tank and run it alongside the existing filter system.
After about a week, the beneficial bacteria from this tank establish themselves in your new filter. Now, all that’s left is to move it to your new tank.
Beneficial bacteria also coat the substrate of a cycled aquarium. By taking a cup of gravel from a fully cycled tank and adding it to your own, you will significantly speed the cycle.
Buy some plants
Lastly, beneficial bacteria also coat the surface of plants. If you planned on creating a planted tank, buying plants from a cycled tank could be a great way to speed up your cycle.
Be careful, however, using an established tank to speed up your nitrogen cycle has a major downside…
You could introduce some nasty stuff to your aquarium.
Harmful bacteria, algaes and pests such as snails and hydra could all be hiding.
Now, I must stress that most of these problems are very easy to solve, and it’s a risk you have to take if you choose to use a cycled tank to speed up your nitrogen cycle.
3. Use bacteria in a bottle
Many aquarium brands now offer the concentrated nitrifying bacteria in a bottle to speed up the cycling process.
The idea is similar to the cycled tank method – you add live bacteria to your tank so that they can establish quicker.
Just how effective these products are is up for debate, but many aquarists swear that it helped their tank cycle faster.
Now, part of the reason for the varying degrees of success is that the bacteria in these bottles are not equal. In fact, it’s not the same bacteria at all.
You see, there are different types of nitrifying bacteria. While all are capable of eating ammonia and nitrites, only a few contain the nitrifying bacteria that will grow in your filter.
When used correctly, these bacteria-in-a-bottle products can significantly speed up your aquarium cycle.
Just be mindful that these are living products. If the bacteria inside the bottle runs out of food (past the used-by date) or the bottles have not been stored properly (excessive heat and cold kill the bacteria), the bacteria could be dead by the time it’s added to your aquarium. And, dead bacteria isn’t going to speed up your cycle.
Using any of the above methods is a great way to speed up your aquarium cycle.
The good news? You don’t have to choose one method over the other. In fact, many aquarists say that combining pre-cycled filter with bacteria in a bottle is the quickest way to cycle your aquarium.
And, they might be right. Using this method, I have frequently seen tanks cycle in less than a week. Pretty impressive, huh?
What did you do to speed up the nitrogen cycle in your aquarium? Let me know in the comments below!
I’ve been keeping fish for over 30 years and currently have 4 different aquariums – it’s an addiction. I’m here to teach you everything there is to know about fishkeeping.
I also use this site as an excuse to spend lots of money on testing and reviewing different aquarium products! You can find my reviews here.