How to Lower Nitrates in a Freshwater Aquarium

Nitrates are caused by various sources, including fish poop and uneaten food debris that pollutes the water, eventually breaking down into ammonia (which can kill fish) and eventually into less harmful forms like nitrates.

There are various methods you can employ to decrease nitrate levels in a freshwater aquarium, including regular water changes and the presence of live plants. You may also choose special filters designed to reduce nitrates – these filters can usually be found at aquarium stores.

Water Change

Are You A Longtime Keeper of Fish? If you keep fish, chances are you are familiar with the three harmful substances that can accumulate in an aquarium: ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Nitrate forms part of a nitrogen cycle system when functioning correctly; when levels remain below an optimal threshold level it can be converted to non-toxic nitrogen gas without harm to fish or humans. Water changes are one way of keeping these levels down; other solutions may exist as well.

Nitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas) provide beneficial nitrifying bacteria with ammonia from fish waste and decaying plant material to convert to nitrite and then nitrate, but most fishkeepers must perform regular water changes due to rising concentrations of nitrate over time causing muscle tremors and disfigurement; it should therefore be removed by replacing some percentage of tank water with fresh, dechlorinated tap water from a different source.

There are devices designed to reduce nitrates in aquarium water, including nitrate-adsorbing filter media and anaerobic denitrifying biofilters, but these solutions can be expensive and take up space in your tank. Furthermore, these filters need frequent changes; thus making water changes the most efficient solution to combating nitrate levels.

Plants are fantastic at lowering nitrate levels in saltwater and tropical freshwater systems. Macroalgae are particularly helpful at quickly absorbing nitrates and waste products; this type of macroalgae should be grown in a sump tank as part of a refugium setup; regular clipping or removal will keep it from overgrowing and depleting oxygen supply from your aquarium.

Feeding Less

Although high levels of nitrates will not necessarily kill your fish, they can place it under tremendous strain. Your fish could experience loss of energy and become lethargic; metabolism could slow; sores could develop on skin; while extreme levels could even stunt growth.

One of the main culprits behind high nitrate levels in freshwater aquariums is overfeeding. If your fish consume more food than they can consume, their waste rots and produces nitrates – something which can be managed by only providing feed twice daily and making sure all your meals are eaten within two minutes of being introduced into their environment.

An aquarium that features abundant plant life will help to keep nitrate levels down by absorbing much of the ammonia and nitrite produced in your tank, while filter media that absorbs nitrates may also be effective at mitigating their buildup.

Though these methods may help reduce nitrates, the most efficient and effective way is through regular water changes. When you change the water, all the nitrates within that volume of water are removed – as long as you use tap water that has lower nitrate levels than your aquarium water and make changes at least 50% of the time, your nitrate levels should decrease significantly.

One beneficial way of testing your water is with nitrate testing strips. These strips can detect ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels in your aquarium’s environment and use this information to detect problems early and manage them before they escalate into bigger issues. When detect rising levels of nitrates it’s essential that regular water changes and cleaning be conducted immediately if you detect an increase.

Live Plants

Nitrates in an aquarium are produced as by-products of the nitrogen cycle, in which beneficial bacteria convert fish waste and uneaten food into less harmful substances. While this process is necessary for your tank’s inhabitants, if not managed appropriately it can result in high levels of nitrates which must then be decreased through regular water changes, feeding schedule changes, or other methods.

Conducting water changes is the fastest and most efficient way to bring down nitrate levels in an aquarium quickly. Nitrates may be present in tapwater used for your aquarium, and by replacing this water with clean freshwater from your tap, the nitrate levels may quickly decline to safe levels. Before beginning water changes however, you should test your tapwater for polluted levels first as adding polluted tapwater may lead to unexpected issues with your aquarium.

Live plants can help reduce nitrate levels in an aquarium by using ammonia and nitrite produced in an aquarium to produce life. Some great aquatic plant options for this purpose are crypts, mosses, sword ferns and Pistia stratiotes (the mangrove plant), while common houseplants like Pothos, Philodendrons or Lucky Bamboo may also work to remove nitrates from water sources.

An elevated nitrate level in any freshwater aquarium is a serious cause for concern, and should be monitored closely in order to avoid health problems for its inhabitants. Regular water changes and proper feeding schedule can help lower nitrate levels; be diligent and observe regularly – your aquarium’s chemical makeup should manage itself by itself!


Controlling ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels is essential to creating an aquarium with healthy fish that looks beautiful. Fish waste accumulates in an aquarium’s ecosystem over time, producing nitrates – the most harmful element among them all.

Nitrates in your tank can be taken up by plants, but they cannot absorb enough to balance out your system. Therefore, it’s essential that some form of nitrate-reducing filter media be installed so that bacteria will take up and convert nitrates to less harmful forms.

Siporax (commonly referred to as borax) has long been an aquarium hobby favorite, used to foster the growth of bacteria that reduce nitrates in your tank. Available in various forms – including nitrate pads that absorb them – Siporax is widely available at pet stores and online.

Ceramic filter media that promotes the growth of bacteria that reduce nitrates and ammonia can also be an effective means of nitrate removal, known as bio-media, works well in both freshwater and reef tanks alike. MarinePure ceramic material comes in round spheres for this purpose – fitting easily into most filters.

An effective natural method to lower nitrate levels is pruning live plants on a regular basis, to keep their leaves from becoming too lush, which could result in too much nutrient uptake or equipment clogs. Frogbit is an excellent plant to trim for both aesthetics and lower nitrate levels in aquariums; duckweed and water sprites should also be regularly pruned since too thick foliage could clog filters and cause other issues.

Natural Filters

Nitrate levels that reach toxic levels in an aquarium can become toxic to its inhabitants, including fish and other creatures. Therefore, it’s vitally important that nitrate levels be checked often and done what’s possible to keep them low; whether that means regular water changes, providing only enough food and limiting fish populations as needed or using natural nitrate removers like reverse osmosis technology, there are various methods available to you for keeping freshwater aquarium nitrate levels under control.

Nitrates are produced when ammonia produced from fish waste and nitrites produced by cycling bacteria are converted to nitrate by microorganisms in the water, and then consumed by blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), becoming food sources that may prove fatal for aquarium inhabitants.

Implementing periodic partial water changes is an excellent way to quickly lower nitrate levels in your tank and retest for their nitrate content. Even if full water changes aren’t feasible, try doing at least 50 percent every week and monitor their effects.

Nitrate levels can also be reduced naturally and easily by adding nitrate-absorbing filter media, like API’s Nitra-Zorb, to your tank. Not only is it economical and rechargeable, it’s also simple to use: simply position near an outflow or powerhead for constant waterflow.

An effective natural method for lowering nitrates is keeping a heavily planted tank. Plants will help absorb the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate produced by fish and decaying plants to lower nitrate levels naturally. If live plants cannot be grown, consider adding macroalgae or mangrove plants into your aquarium as these will absorb waste products to bring down levels further – which is why reef tanks feature so much macroalgae! This phenomenon also makes reef tanks so popular among marine aquarists!

Lisa Thompson

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