How to cycle a tank instantly

While there no guaranteed way to instantly cycle a fish tank, because the process of creating and establishing a beneficial bacterial colony takes time there are some things you can do shorten the cycling process. And if you are willing to take a small risk you can add fish right away after using one of these methods. If you want to see a more traditional way of how to cycle a tank or how to skip cycling tank you can check out these related articles.

What is cycling a tank

Cycling a fish tank refers to the process of establishing a beneficial bacterial colony in a new aquarium. This colony will help to break down fish waste and uneaten food into less harmful compounds, such as nitrite and nitrate. The process of establishing this colony is called the Nitrogen cycle. It’s a natural process that happens in any aquatic environment, whether it’s a natural pond or a man-made tank. The Nitrogen cycle is composed of three stages:

  1. Nitrification: In this stage, beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in the water begin to convert the fish waste and uneaten food, into ammonia (NH3)
  2. Nitrite Oxidation: The second stage of the Nitrogen cycle, in this stage, another type of beneficial bacteria converts the ammonia into nitrite (NO2)
  3. Nitrate Reduction: In the final stage, another type of beneficial bacteria converts the nitrite into nitrate (NO3)

Once the Nitrogen cycle is established, the beneficial bacteria will continue to thrive in the tank and will consume the waste produced by fish and other organisms in the tank, maintaining a safe water chemistry. It is important to note that it takes time for the colony to establish and stabilize, this process usually takes 4-6 weeks.

Why you should cycle your fish tank

Cycling a fish tank is an important step when setting up a new aquarium. It helps establishes a beneficial bacterial colony that helps to break down fish waste and uneaten foods into less harmful compounds, ensuring that the water in the tank is safe and healthy for fish to live in. By cycling a tank before adding fish, you can prevent issues that may arise from poor water qualitys such as disease, stress and death of the fish. A healthy bacterial colony will also help to maintain good water quality, keeping the pH at an appropriate level and reducing the load on the mechanical and chemical filtration of the tank.

How to instantly cycle a fish tank

I have personally used each of these methods to instantly establish a tank and can vouch for each one of them. While they will all work you need to monitor your water quality levels and be prepared to do some water changes to keep the ammonia and nitrites under control.

1. Use pre-established substrate

This method is uses substrate from a healthy established tank. You want to take substrate such as aquarium gravel or aquarium sand from a established tank and put it in bottom of the tank you want to establish.

You can also use rocks or plants from a established tank as these will also already have beneficial bacteria on them that will help start converting the ammonia into nitrate.

2. Use a filter from an established aquarium

This method uses a filter from an established aquarium. You want to make sure that the host aquarium is healthy with an strong bacterial colony.

Take a filter such as a hang on the back filter or sponge filter and install in the new aquarium. You need to make sure that the filter you are installing in your new aquarium is adequate for the capacity of the bio load of your new fish.

3. Use media from an established aquarium

With this method instead of installing a filter from an old aquarium you can just use some of the filter media like filter itself, noodles, rocks, or floss. Depending on what use for filter media.

I like to rinse the filter media first in some dechlorinated water to get some of the big chunks of waste off the media. This will not harm the good bacteria because the bacteria itself is attached to the filter media.

Other Methods to instantly cycle your tank

Plant cycling

Plant cycling is a method where you add plants to your tank. The idea is that the plants will help cycle your tank. While I have never tried this method of cycling a tank I have heard of other fish keepers having some success with this method

Using a store bought bacteria

There are many store bought bacteria that claim they will help establish a healthy tank. While I do add beneficial bacteria every now and then I have never noticed a big correlation in the water quality of the tank after adding the store bough bacteria.

Other methods of cycling an aquarium fast

All new fish tanks start out with no good bacteria and they all need time to establish enough to keep the water parameters healthy enough for your fish. One thing to keep in mind is that the levels are always changing based on how much you feed your fish and how many fish you have in your tank.

Sponge filter

A good sponge filter in my opinion is one of the best ways to establish a healthy bacteria colony. Every time I have used a sponge filter the water quality has improved

Air stones

A good air stone help break up the surface tension on an aquarium allowing gasses to escape and oxygen to enter the water.


Plants can help with water quality because they use some of the nitrates and nitrites for plant growth.

How many fish should be in a new fish tank?

I would recommend not starting of with more than one small fish per a 10 gallons of water. If you limit the number of fish to this and limit the feeding you will lower the ammonia in your tank and give the beneficial bacterial a chance to catch up. Here are some tips for choosing fish for your aquarium.

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