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Tank Cycling

The most important step in preparing for a pet axolotl is establishing a nitrogen cycle for a safe environment for it to thrive in.  

This step is not optional, it is mandatory and must be done WITHOUT your axolotl in the tank.

What you need to get started:



  • API Freshwater master test kit (this is more accurate than the paper strips)

  • 1 bottle of Seachem Prime (to dechlorinate your tap water)

  • 1 bottle of concentrated bacteria (see link to the right for recommendations)

  • Dr. Tim's Ammonium Chloride Solution for Fishless Cycling 

  • Tank heater (only for use during cycling)

  • Seeded filter media or a seasoned sponge filter *OPTIONAL, but speeds up process (we do have these available for purchase at times)

  • Notebook to log your test results and progress



Tank cycling requires a lot of patience and monitoring and can take 1-3 months to complete and needs to be completed WITHOUT your axolotl in the tank.   You will have to wait to purchase your axolotl until your tank is fully cycled.  The other option you have is to keep your axolotl in a plastic tub of dechlorinated tap water and 100% daily water changes.  Some like this option because it allows you to bond with your axolotl and observe their behavior and is easier for feeding young juveniles.


Now lets get started!


1.  Add a heater

You are going to use an aquarium heater for the duration of the cycle to help speed up the process by encouraging bacteria growth. Keep the temperature between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the cycling process.


2.  Add Ammonium Chloride (Ammonia) -  (THIS IS TOXIC TO AXOLOTLS NEVER ADD THIS INTO THE WATER THEY ARE LIVING IN!) Follow the directions on the bottle of your Dr. Tim's Ammonia Bottle for this part.  It should tell you to add 2 drops per gallon of water in your tank.  You do not need to take a reading immediately and it may not show up right away either in a test kit.  This is because the bacteria you are about to add will convert the ammonia.  Instead, wait until 24 hours have passed and check that your ammonia is at 4ppm, if not, add a bit more to get it to 4ppm, but no more than this.


4.  Add concentrated beneficial bacteria - This is going to help speed up the process by adding bacteria to start the nitrogen cycle, this helps convert the ammonia you are adding, and that your axolotl will add through the waste it produces. You will want to follow the directions directly from the bottle for the amount and duration of treatments specific to whatever product you purchase.

DO NOT USE THE BENEFICIAL BACTERIA BALLS!  These will get eaten by your axolotl and can cause death and will need to be removed by a veterinarian.


5.  Test your water frequently

You are going to need to test your water frequently.  For the first week or two we test our tanks 1-2 times a week.  Then we test every 1-2 days., the more frequently you test the water and add ammonia as needed the faster your tank is going to cycle.  (We recommend logging the date and the readings each time you test)  The reason for this is, if you do not test it and all the ammonia is gone, the beneficial bacteria has nothing to eat.  The ammonia you are adding is imitating what your axolotl will produce and ammonia needs to be added until enough nitrates and nitrites build up to take care of the ammonia your axolotl will create.


**Note: You can top off the tank with new water if evaporation occurs during this process. 


You are going to need an API Master Test kit for freshwater tanks for this step.  In your test kit you will find a test review guide that shows the different levels of each parameter you will be testing.  Follow the instructions provided with your test kit for use. Below are some tips for completing this step. TIP: Shake the bottles well before adding the drops into the test tubes.


  1. Your PH levels should be between 7.6 - 8.0ppm. This is not as important to test during the cycle but you want to be sure your ph does not drop too low or it can cause issues with your cycle.  If it gets low you can add a bit of baking soda or buffer (see recommended products) to the water to get it back up to the ideal ph. 

  2. Your levels for ammonia should be 4pmm during the cycle. if it gets too high, do not add anymore ammonia.  Following these directions you should not have issues with it rising about 4ppm.  

  3. When you start seeing the ammonia drop, the nitrites and nitrates will slowly start to rise.  You do not need to see your nitrites go back down until your cycle is complete.  Do not do water changes during the cycle!  This will slow the entire process down and make it very frustrating of a time for you. 

  4. Your ammonia should go to 0ppm first, when it does, re-dose with ammonia to get it back up to 4ppm.  It will consistently drop to 0, this means you are nearing the end but until your nitrites are at 0 and nitrates are between 5-20ppm and not changing witht he addition of ammonia the cycle is not complete.

  5. When your nitrites drop to 0ppm, nitrates are between 5-20ppm and ammonia is dropping to 0ppm your tank should be cycled. But lets go to the next step to check it. 


4.  Check your cycle

When you get to this point, re dose the tank with ammonia to 4ppm.  Test the water each day until it goes back to 0 for 3 days in a row.  When it does, you will know your tank is cycled!



Ammonia  -  0ppm is ideal anything over 0.25ppm needs to be addressed (Ammonia is toxic)

Nitrites  -  0ppm (Nitrites are toxic)

Nitrates  -  5ppm - 20ppm (low levels = cycle crash, high levels = toxic)

PH  -  7.6 - 8 

GH (General Hardness) - 125.3 - 250.6ppm

KH (Carbonate Hardness) - 53.7 - 143.2ppm

Temperature: 60 - 65 F


5. Add your Axolotl

First, remove the heater!  You will need to ensure the tank temperature drops to between the ideal 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit before adding your axolotl.  

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