How To Cycle A Saltwater Tank Faster

How To Cycle A Saltwater Tank Faster


There are many ways how to cycle a saltwater tank faster than simply waiting for the natural bacteria that breaks down toxins to build up naturally. The easiest way is to buy some bacteria in a bottle to add to your aquarium. You can even instantly have a saltwater aquarium ready to go and not even need to worry about cycling your tank. They typical saltwater tank cycling process tanks months to properly cycle through and build up enough beneficial bacteria.

We’ll cover various methods to help speed up the cycling process and even explain how to skip the cycling process completely. Continue reading to learn how.

Typical Saltwater Tank Cycling Process

How To Skip Cycling A Saltwater Aquarium

Cycling a saltwater tank is the process of building up beneficial bacteria that will break down the ammonia from fish waste and uneaten food that will kill fish and cause algae growth. You can’t just dump some saltwater in an aquarium, then toss in some fish, and expect everything to be fine. If you want to skip the cycling process you need to add the beneficial bacteria too. Sounds pretty simple right? It sort of is but getting the bacteria requires buying live rock that has plenty of bacteria already living within it.

Finding Good Live Rock

I purchased live rock from my local fish store (LFS). You can buy live rock online too. Live rock from your LFS is the best way to go since you’re able to ensure that it has only been out of the water for a very short period of time and won’t be subjected to extreme temperatures or other conditions that would kill the beneficial bacteria. Buying true live rock online will end up causing some bacteria to die off in transit. The longer it’s out of the water the more die off you’ll have. You really can’t use live rock purchased online to skip the cycling process. You can’t guarantee how much bacteria is still live and you’ll at least need to wait a few days and do some testing of the ammonia levels in your aquarium after adding some fish food to see how the food breaking down affects ammonia levels.

Start Slowly and Test Often

Once you’ve secured your live rock you should be able to place it in your aquarium with some salt water and be reading to go. It is still advisable to start slowly. You can’t be certain there is enough beneficial bacteria to support a large amount of fish. Start with one or two small and hardy fish. Damsels and clownfish are very robust fish that can handle less than flawless water conditions.

Test for ammonia regularly to ensure that levels remain at zero. You’ll also want to stay on top of your regular water changes. Weekly changes of 10% would be ideal.

How To Speed Up Cycling A Saltwater Aquarium

Skipping the nitrogen cycle may not be possible or practical for you. There are many reasons you may not want to not use the previously described method. The main one is that you may introduce unwanted pests into your aquarium. The only way to truly ensure you don’t start off with things like aiptasia anemones, harmful nudibranchs, or other unwanted critters is to carefully monitor want goes into your tank. Live rock can have all kinds of things hiding within it. My LFS had some pristine rock that it cured for customers in a quarantined tank but most won’t go to this trouble. I’ve previously bought live rock from a different LFS and brought home all kinds of pests that I regretted having to deal with later on.

Bacteria In A Bottle

Like I mentioned before, the trick to speeding up the nitrogen cycle is to add bacteria. While this is typically done by adding live rock that has bacteria within it, you can also add bacteria from a bottle. You can’t expect this to be an instant solution but it will significantly speed the process up. You’ll want to regularly test your ammonia levels as you add fish food to the tank without any fish actually in the tank. The food will break down into ammonia and if there is enough beneficial bacteria the ammonia will be eaten by the bacteria and your ammonia levels will read as zero when you test.

Other Methods For Cycling A Saltwater Tank

There are many other ways to cycle an aquarium through the nitrogen cycle. Here are a few methods:

Using Pure Ammonia

By adding pure ammonia with no fragrances or other additives included you can simulate the effects of adding fish food or allowing shrimp to decay in your aquarium. To do this process you need to maintain 5ppm of ammonia until you begin to see nitrite. You can then simply add 2 or 3 drops of ammonia for every 10 gallons of water in your aquarium each day until you no longer read any nitrite when testing. This process may slightly speed up the process but is much more involved.

Transferring Some Bacteria From An Existing Aquarium

If you have access to an established aquarium and it has some filter floss, foam pads, or filter socks, you can transfer them uncleaned to your aquarium. Bacteria that has been trapped within these will get transferred to the new aquarium.

This process will definitely speed up the process but it relies on the established aquarium not having any pests or diseases that could end up being transferred to the new aquarium.

Wrapping Up: How To Cycle A Saltwater Tank Faster

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t put any fish in your aquarium until you’ve tested it and it proves to be safe for your fish. In the past, some people have used fish to cycle their tank. This is obviously very cruel and will almost always end up with dead fish.

The way we recommend as the best way how to cycle a saltwater tank faster is to use a product like MicroBacter7 to boost the beneficial bacteria in your aquarium. This method is the best for preventing the introduction of pests and diseases into a brand new reef setup. You may decide some of the other methods described are preferable to you but they do run a higher risk. Even with an incredible local fish store like the one I use that has pristine live rock, you can’t be 100% sure there won’t be unwanted hitchhikers lurking deep within the rock.

Good luck and happy reefing!

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