I feel like an fool as I keep coming back here and trying to help folk and i mostly get crap and I walk away again. The thing is, I am posting here not so much here to help people as I am here to try and help fish. Since they cannot handle these situations, it is up to fish keepers to do so.
1. The SeaChem ammonia alert detects only NH3 which is the gaseous and toxic form of ammonia. Most hobby test kits test for total ammonia (TA) which includes NH4. This is ammonium and way way lest toxic than NH3.
1. a. Ammonia in water turns mostly into NH4 and only a small amount is NH3. How much is in each form for any given reading of TA depends upon the pH and temperature of the water.
1.b. The level at which NH3 starts to become an issue is at 0.05 ppm (you read that right).
Example: 2 tanks of the same size and contents. Both tanks are tested with the same kit and both tanks show 2.0 ppm TA.
Tank A has a pH of 7.0 and a temp of 76F. The NH4 is almost 100% (1.989ppm) of the TA, there is 0.011 ppm of NH3.
Tank B has a pH of 8.0 and a temp of 80F. The NH4 is lower at 1.876 ppm, there is 0.124 ppm of NH3.
Tank A is safe for fish over the short term- a week or two. Tank B is already harming or killing fish.
2. Stability does not contain any of the bacteria that will actually end up in a tank handling the nitrogen complex. The bacteria we want to reproduce by division and do not form spores. Read what Stability constains and it is. You figure it out. But buried on the SeaChem site is an old article by them which essentially acknowledges this. The article is so old it gives the wrong bacteria for handling nitrite. If you want a oroven product use Dr. yim;s One and Only or Tetra's Safe Start. They are essentially the same product. When bacteria die, they break down and cause ammonia. http://www.seachem.com/Library/SeaGrams/Biofiltration.pdf
3. Most water conditioners which detoxify ammonia will slow, but not halt, a cycle. The problem with them is after they have been in a tank a short time they cause false ammonia readings on certain test kits. This is why the ammonia alert can show alomst 0 and the test shows a number clearly higher. The detoxifier basically turns NH3 to NH4 for some time. Here is what SeaChem states in the FAQs re Prime:
Q: I tested my tap water after using Prime® and came up with an ammonia reading. Is this because of chloramine? Could you explain how this works in removing chloramine?
A: Prime® works by removing chlorine from the water and then binds with ammonia until it can be consumed by your biological filtration (chloramine minus chlorine = ammonia). The bond is not reversible and ammonia is still available for your bacteria to consume. Prime® will not halt your cycling process.
I am going to assume that you were using a liquid based reagent test kit (Nessler based, silica). Any type of reducing agent or ammonia binder (dechlorinators, etc) will give you a false positive. You can avoid this by using our MultiTest™ Ammonia kit (not affected by reducing agents) or you can wait to test, Prime® dissipates from your system within 24 hours.
Q: I am using Prime® to control ammonia but my test kit says it is not doing anything, in fact it looks like it added ammonia! What is going on?
A: A Nessler based kit will not read ammonia properly if you are using Prime®... it will look "off scale", sort of a muddy brown (incidentally a Nessler kit will not work with any other products similar to Prime®). A salicylate based kit can be used, but with caution. Under the conditions of a salicylate kit the ammonia-Prime® complex will be broken down eventually giving a false reading of ammonia (same as with other products like Prime®), so the key with a salicylate kit is to take the reading right away. However, the best solution ;-) is to use our MultiTest™ Ammonia kit; it uses a gas exchange sensor system which is not affected by the presence of Prime® or other similar products. It also has the added advantage that it can detect the more dangerous free ammonia and distinguish it from total ammonia (total ammonia is both free ammonia and non-toxic ionized forms of ammonia).
4. Contrary to what you may have read all over the net, a fair amount of bacteria lives outside of a filter. In a non-planted tank you find it in the first 1/2-3/4 inch of substrate. Below that oxygen is too low to support it. It is also on most hard surface in a tank as long as they are not in direct light. The bacteria are somewhat photophobic. In a planted tank a lot of the bacteria is in the substrtate and can live a lot deeper. Plants also host bacteria on their roots, stems and even leaves (again out of the light).
When one vacuums in an established tank you need to be carefull not to turn over the substrate in the process in a way that the upper 1/2 inch ends up lower down than where it was. You are moving bacteria coated substrate from where there is readily available oxygen to a place where it is not.
There are also ways to improve your filter by adding more filtration sponges / bio-media. This won't improve your water quality immediately, as it takes time for beneficial bacteria to develop, but over time it will help you avoid running into this problem. especially when changing your filter inserts.
You can see how to maximize the use of your filter in this video (I believe he covers the same type of filter you have at the end of the video)
The very first post in this thread indicates that the OP is using an Emperor 400. 20 years ago this was my first filter along with an undergravel. Most of the bacteria lives on the bio-wheels not in the filter cartridges which are filled with carbon. I used an alternative system of cartridges in mine because I did not need or want the carbon. I filled them with filter floss instead. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NIG7R4/?tag=ff0d01-20
They were a lot cheaper 18 years ago especially since the 400 requires 2 or 4.
One of the reasons I am so familiar with nitrification and the bacteria and other critters involved is that, when I became fascinated with the subject, I actually corresponded with Dr. Hovanec (who identified the bacteria at work in tanks) about different factors involved. I have read all three of his seminal papers on the subject. Dr. Hovanec also invented the bio-wheel when he working for Marineland where he ran their labs in Moore park, CA among other things.
There are three major benefits in using a bio-wheel.
1. The pleated design creates a large surface area in a relatively small space.
2. Because it is essentially a wet/dry and because the bacteria need plenty of oxygen- the wheel is exposed to the air. There is often more O in the air than there is dissolved oxygen in the water in a tank. (A bio-wheel is kind of a poor man's trickle filter.)
3. As the bio-film in which the bacteria live tends to get thicker over time, it can become less effective. The spinning motion of the wheel causes the bio-film to tend to spread out horizontally and helps prevent it from building up too thickly.
Unless one allows the wheel to dry out completely, the bacteria should be just fine. Until my Emp. 400 died after about 8 or 9 years, I had never cleaned the wheels.
The minimum doubling time for the ammonia oxidizers is as slow as molasses in terms of most bacteria (they can double in minutes). However, under optimal conditions, tank bacteria can double in about 8 hours but it can be as long as about 11 hours. The nitrite oxidizers need at least 12 hours in optimal condition to double. This is why when cycling a tank the ammonia levels get to 0 in fewer days than nitrite levels will do so.
60 Gallon tank Marineland Emperor 400 bio wheel filter 2 bubblers
I am new to aquariums. I took my water to the local fish store on day 7 and was told tank tested perfect I could add fish so I did. I have been fighting high ammonia ever since. Cant get it to go away. I am now on day 46. Have been doing water changes every other day. I even did a 90% water change as instructed by fish store. They have had me keep putting prime and stability in., Still no change in ammonia. I am at whits end can anyone help me? I have been spending a fortune on chemicals the store been selling me. I don't mine spending the money if it helps but it hasn't budged. Any suggestions?