How To Test Ammonia In An Aquarium

Taking care of your aquarium buddies involves looking after the water they live in. Imagine water as their home, and just like we need clean and safe surroundings, fish and other underwater pals need that too. 

One thing we must watch out for is something called “ammonia.” It might sound fancy, but it’s a sneaky troublemaker that can harm our aquatic friends. 

In this article, I’ll break down what ammonia does, where it comes from, ways to test ammonia in an aquarium, ways to get rid of it, and even ways to stop it from causing problems. So, let’s dive right in.

What is the role of ammonia in the aquarium?

Ammonia is like a tricky friend in your fish tank. It’s made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, and it can be good or bad. In the wild, ammonia is created when things like fish poop, leftover food, and plants that are falling apart break down. 

A little bit of ammonia is okay, kind of like a natural part of the fish tank. But if there’s too much ammonia, it’s not good for your fishy pals.

Here’s the deal: too much ammonia is like poison for your fish and other water buddies. Even just a little bit too much can make the fish feel stressed out, mess up their ability to fight off sickness, and hurt their delicate gills. 

If the ammonia levels get really high, it can cause serious health problems and even make your underwater friends very sick or even die. So, keeping an eye on ammonia is important for the well-being of your aquatic gang.

What is the cause of ammonia in the fish tank?

To maintain a healthy home for your aquatic buddies, it’s important to know where ammonia in your fish tank comes from. Imagine it as the first step to keeping things in balance. 

Ammonia, a substance that can cause issues, mainly comes from a few places: First, there’s fish waste and poop – a natural occurrence, but too much can be problematic. 

Then, there’s leftover food that your fish didn’t eat. Just like when a forgotten snack turns gross in your bag, uneaten food can turn into ammonia. Similar to leaves getting mushy on the ground, decaying plants or other things in your tank can also produce ammonia. 

Even though fish tanks have filters – which are like their cleaning crew – sometimes these filters don’t work properly and ammonia sticks around. Think of it as if your vacuum cleaner wasn’t doing a good job picking up dirt. 

So, when you grasp these sources, you’ll be better equipped to stop too much ammonia from building up and causing trouble for your finned pals.

How Can I Test Ammonia In An Aquarium?

Regularly testing your aquarium water for ammonia is crucial. Testing kits are easy to find and provide a simple and accurate way to measure ammonia levels. Just follow the instructions step by step.

Your goal during testing is to see zero on the results, like earning a gold star. Zero ammonia means your fish tank is in great condition. If you notice any ammonia, it’s a little alert that you might need to take action to keep your fish happy and healthy. 

So, think of testing your tank as giving your fish a thumbs-up for their home. It helps you catch ammonia issues early, so you can fix them and keep your underwater buddies smiling.

Methods for removing ammonia from water

clean aquarium
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1. Natural Methods

Aquatic Plants: 

These underwater plants are like ammonia magnets. They grab onto ammonia just like a sponge soaks up water. It’s similar to when a plant drinks water when it’s thirsty. 

When you introduce these green pals to your tank, they work as ammonia busters, helping to keep ammonia levels low. Think of them as your little cleaning team, working to keep your tank nice and tidy.

Bacteria Teamwork: 

Now, let’s talk about good bacteria. Yep, bacteria can be helpful too. Inside your fish tank, there’s a special type of bacteria that acts like a team.  These good bacteria eat up ammonia and turn it into something less harmful. 

It’s like turning a messy room into a tidy space. To make sure these bacteria pals are strong and ready for action, you need a good filter system. They hang out in the filter and do their job, making sure your fishy friends breathe clean water.

2. Chemical Methods

Ammonia Removers

Imagine finding the missing piece of a puzzle that makes the whole picture come together beautifully – that’s what ammonia removers are like. These are products you can purchase, and when you introduce them to your tank, they latch onto ammonia and transform it into something safer. 

Ammonia removers work effectively, though keep in mind, their effects aren’t permanent. It’s important to stay vigilant and take additional measures to ensure your tank remains ammonia-free over time.

3. Test Kits

Ammonia Detection Kits 

When you employ these kits, they provide you with crucial details about the ammonia levels present. These kits act as a quick solution, offering you some additional time to investigate the root cause of excess ammonia. 

Keep in mind, it’s essential to identify and address the underlying issue to ensure the safety and well-being of your aquatic companions.

Methods for preventing ammonia build-up in a fish tank without the use of a test kit

Taking Care of Your Tank: Just like you tidy up your room and keep things clean, your fish tank needs some special care too. Here’s how you can do it:

1. Partial Water Changes

Think of your tank as a bathtub that needs a little refreshment. Regularly, take out a bit of the water and replace it with fresh water. Use a small container to scoop out some water from the tank, then add the new clean water. 

This trick is like giving your fish a short vacation in a clean place. It helps remove extra ammonia that might be in the old water, giving your fish a breath of fresh air.

2. Vacuum substrate

Imagine your fish tank is like your room, and just as you tidy up your room by picking up toys and sweeping, you need to do something similar for the fish tank. At the bottom of the tank, there’s a mix of things like leftover food and waste from the fish. 

Even though it might not look nice, this is a natural part of having fish. If we don’t clean it up regularly, it starts to pile up and can turn into something called “ammonia,” which is bad for the fish. It’s like having a bad smell in your room that can make the fish sick. 

By gently cleaning the tank bottom, we remove the old food and waste before they turn into ammonia, just like stopping a bad smell before it starts.

When we do this often, it’s like giving your fish a fresh and healthy place to swim, making them happier and healthier. So, keeping the tank bottom clean is like creating a cozy and comfy home for your fishy pals.

3. Proper feeding

Feeding fish the right way is important. Just like when we eat too many snacks and feel too full, fish can’t eat all the food we give them. And guess what? The leftover food that they don’t eat can become ammonia. 

There’s an easy trick to stop this from happening. When you feed your fish, give them just the right amount of food that they can finish in a few minutes. Imagine having a small plate of your favorite snack, like popcorn or a few grapes. You’d eat it all and feel good, right? It’s the same thing for fish.

So, when you give your fish the right amount of food, you’re making sure they eat enough without leaving any extra bits that can turn into ammonia. This helps keep their home clean and healthy, just like keeping your room neat after munching on your snacks.


In conclusion, It’s really important to test and control the ammonia levels in your fish tank to make sure your underwater pets have a happy and safe home. 

By knowing about ammonia, finding out where it comes from, using good tests, and stopping it from causing problems, you can keep your fish and other water creatures healthy. 

Just remember, a happy fish tank needs the right balance of chemicals in the water, so your aquarium can be a colorful and exciting place for everyone to admire. Thanks for taking the time to read this article.


How much ammonia is OK in a fish tank?

Ideally, ammonia levels should be at zero. Any detectable ammonia can be harmful to aquatic life.

How do fish act if ammonia is high?

Fish may exhibit stress behaviors, including gasping at the water’s surface, erratic swimming, and loss of appetite.

Do aquarium filters remove ammonia?

Yes, aquarium filters with biological filtration components play a significant role in converting ammonia into less harmful substances.

Can aquarium plants remove ammonia?

Yes, aquatic plants absorb ammonia as part of their natural growth process, contributing to water quality.

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