Using bacteria in your aquarium is a lot more beneficial for your plants and fish than it sounds. Murky water from fish waste and plant debris is an inevitable part of maintaining an aquarium, something that the best filtering systems simply can not prevent.
Sure, you can clean your tank out more frequently and perform partial and full water changes more often than necessary, but what if there was a ‘cheat’ way of keeping the water clean available?
That is where bacteria supplements come in. These are beneficial bacteria that do a lot of the work in your tank’s favor by breaking down dirt and debris from both fish and plants, keeping the water clearer and free of toxins not only for your enjoyment but for your fish benefits, too.
Before we jump into the product review, let’s talk about how to be certain you are choosing the right aquarium bacteria for your tank. This sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong!
There are so many factors involved in choosing the right bacteria for your tank but don’t worry, that is where we come in. We are going to look at some of the things you will need to consider before committing to a particular aquarium bacteria. So let’s get started.
Is This a New Tank?
Have you decided what kind of aquarium you are going to be set up? If not, you will need to consider your options between saltwater, freshwater, or coldwater aquarium. Fish in these three categories can not be mixed together in a tank as they all have different water requirements. Do a bit of background research first, if you are unsure.
One of the biggest deciding factors when picking an aquarium is how the fish look. For example, Betta is a freshwater tropical fish and comes in a variety of colors. Most strikingly is that they have a long and flowy tail that swishes around in the water. If that sounds like the kind of fish you are seeking then go for a freshwater tank.
How Big Is Your Tank?
This is not necessarily important when it comes to what brand of aquarium bacteria you buy, but it is important when it comes to how much you use. If you are new to using bacteria in your aquarium, you may assume the dosage suggestions on the packet are appropriate for all aquarium sizes.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. If you inadvertently overdose the tank with bacteria you may find that your fish will become ill. Similarly, using too little bacteria will take longer to achieve the results you are after.
Where Are You Putting the Tank?
Location, location, location…place the aquarium in a brightly lit room, or in direct sunlight will stress the fish. If you have an aquarium that is full of plants and is actually fish-free, the plants may not grow as fast as you would like with too much sunlight.
It is also important that the room they are kept in is quiet and not full of distractions. Fish don’t like loud noises or having their tank poked or tapped. Being subjected to these conditions will cause them to get depressed, may even die regardless of how well you maintain the tank.
Explore other common reasons why fish may die, and identify ways to prevent it from happening again.
Knowing When to Add Bacteria Supplements
You will find that your tank will need bacteria added to it quite frequently and regularly. Remember the four main occasions to add the bacteria and why it is important and you will be well on the way to maintaining a happy, healthy aquarium. Here are the key times to add bacteria supplements and the main reasons why.
Cycling a New Aquarium
When you first set up your aquarium, it will be a few days, maybe even weeks before you can add your fish to a new tank. This is because the tank needs to cycle first. Cycling your tank basically means that you are creating an environment as close to what the fish will find in their natural habitats.
Fish create a lot of toxins that are harmful to them if these toxins stay in the water for long periods of time. Your tank will be fully cycled when there are bacteria present in your filter that naturally convert ammonia into nitrite, then from nitrite into nitrate. Only once this process has happened the tank will be livable for your fish and you won’t run the risk of “new tank syndrome.” Using aquarium bacteria supplements will speed up this process and introduce the right kind of neutralizing bacteria into the tank.
New Tank Syndrome: When fish get sick or die due to the build-up of harmful toxins in the tank. This usually happens when an aquarium is new and the fish are placed in the tank before there is enough build-up of ammonia fighting bacteria that create a fish-friendly environment.
Adding New Fish
If you are looking to introduce new fish into your established tank, you should add a few drops of bacteria supplements to make the process less stressful for the fish. Because the more fish in the tank, the more gases they release into the water and the more waste in the water that needs to be decomposed. Failure to add additional supplements may result in ammonia peaking, waste settling, and rotting in the tank.
When you are doing partial water changes, you are removing 20% or 30% of very stable water in your tank. The new water you are adding won’t be at the right PH level for your fish. The water may be too hard or full of chlorine if it came from the tap. Therefore you will need the tank to cycle once again and bacteria supplements will help this process along.
Medicating Your Fish
If your fish are sick, there is no other option than to give them antibiotics. You can do this via the fish food or antibiotic drops in the water. The medication causes a little bit of havoc with the good bacteria present in the water. The antibiotics not only kill off any diseases present, but they also kill the healthy bacteria that you have worked so hard to build up in the tank.
Now that you know when to use your aquarium bacteria and why it is important, we can start looking at the best bacteria supplements available. Here are the top 10 supplements out there with a breakdown of their features, what we think is great about them, and what we don’t like about them.
6. SeaChem Bacteria Fish Tank Stabilizer
- Maintains biofiltration
- Restored filter health
- Prevents ‘new tank syndrome’
|1. API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria
|2. Tetra Cleaning Aquarium Bacteria
|3. SeaChem Prime For Fresh And Saltwater Aquariums
|4. Marineland Bio-Spira Freshwater Bacteria For Aquariums
|5. Fluval Hagen Biological Booster
|7. ATM Aquarium Nitrifying Bacteria For Freshwater
|8. Gloss Factory Dry Bacteria – Freshwater Aquariums
|9. Dr Tim’s Aquarium Bacteria
|10. Planted Aquarium Concepts Dry Bacteria Powder
Our Best Aquarium Bacteria Supplement Reviews and Comparisons
1. API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria
The API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria maintains good water quality to prevent your fish from getting diseases.
- Each bottle contains 16 ounces of fluid
- Suitable for freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Reduces harmful chemicals in the water
- Prevents fish and plant loss
What We Like About API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria
This product starts a natural tank cycle quickly without the need to condition your tank. There are clear and easy-to-follow instructions on the bottle so it is easy for new aquarium enthusiasts to use. Plus the bottle will last you a really long time. The most impressive feature is probably that it dramatically reduces the ammonia in your tank, even when all other options have failed.
What We Don’t Like About API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria
Works on cycling old aquariums better than newer ones, so ‘new tank syndrome’ may still be a bit of an issue. It also may not cycle a new aquarium at all, so keep the fish in another tank when you are cycling your new aquarium or they may get sick.
It says you can add your fish immediately, however, make sure you check the water for ammonia and nitrates first, as it isn’t always the case.
- Great for old tanks
- Comes with instructions
- Works within days
- Bottle will last a while
- Not good for new tanks
- Cannot add fish straight away
2. Tetra Cleaning Aquarium Bacteria
Using this bacteria is simple, just add a few drops to your aquarium water every month or so.
- Reduces general waste in the aquarium water
- Keeps the good bacteria levels up
- Aids and improves filtering process
- Nitrate and ammonia in the water reduces significantly
- Biologically balances the water
- Easy to use, one cap full is one dose
What We Like About Tetra Cleaning Aquarium Bacteria
Your tank can go from needing a filter change every week to only needing a change every month when you use this product. This also really aids with algae growth that can be caused by certain lights.
Tanks that have a tendency to get murky and muddy become noticeably clearer. Most importantly it keeps the ammonia and nitrate levels in the water down or even nonexistent.
What We Don’t Like About Tetra Cleaning Aquarium Bacteria
Damages delicate fish if the doses are not followed as instructed. You must make sure that the fish you have in your tank will benefit from having bacteria in the water. Certain fish species can develop bacterial infections if they are not used to bacteria in the water. Some fish will get very stressed out when this solution is added to the water.
- Reduces tank cleaning time
- Reduces nitrates and ammonia
- Reduces algae growth
- Keeps water balanced
- Can cause the fish to be prone to bacterial infections
- Damages delicate fish
3. SeaChem Prime For Fresh And Saltwater Aquariums
Removes metals and chlorines from the tank water. Use in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
- Doesn’t over activate protein skimmers
- 100 milliliters treats 1,000 gallons of tap water
- Detoxifies ammonia and nitrates
- Keeps water clear and clean
What We Like About SeaChem Prime Bacteria
You can cycle your tank without having to remove the fish and it will do a great job detoxifying the high nitrate levels in your tank. You only need to use a few drops at a time and by doing so the fish and plants are kept safe from harmful chemicals that build up in the water.
Top Tip: You can use this product in small ponds too.
What We Don’t Like About SeaChem Prime Bacteria
If you do not follow the instructions properly your fish may get poisoned. It can sometimes cloud the water and cause black specks to form on the inside walls of the tank. The solution has a very strong smell to it that is quite unpleasant, to say the least.
Although this product does what natural marine bacteria will do in an aquarium (get rid of, or neutralize ammonia and nitrites), it does not actually contain any bacteria and is completely synthetic. It is recommended that this product be used in conjunction with good aquarium bacteria.
- Suited in small or large aquariums
- Detoxifies the tank
- Recycles the tank
- A little goes a long way
- Smells terrible
- Solution is very strong
- Does not contain bacteria
4. Marineland Bio-Spira Freshwater Bacteria For Aquariums
This product is designed for monthly use to reduce sludging and to boost your biofilter.
- Instantly reduces nitrates
- Removes ammonia
- One packet treats 100 gallons of water
- Prevents ‘new tank syndrome’
What We Like About Marineland Bio-Spira Freshwater Bacteria
This is a great product to use to help a new tank cycle faster. Use it before adding fish to a new tank. The Bio-Spira bacteria makes a significant difference to the clarity of the water when used monthly.
Your tank should be ready for the fish to be added within a few hours of adding the solution. Your shrimps and bacteria-loving fish will be happy and they may even feed off the bacteria from time to time.
What We Don’t Like About Marineland Bio-Spira Freshwater Bacteria
The bag must be kept cold when you order it online. You cannot be certain how it has been stored and transported.
The water should get cloudy when you pour the solution into the tank because of the bacteria, however, it has been reported that it doesn’t always happen with this product. If you add the fish to the tank prematurely, they could get sick because the ammonia levels in the water seem to take longer to drop than advertised.
- Great for new tanks
- Keeps water clear
- Reduces nitrates
- Keeps fish happy
- Bag must be kept cool
- Ammonia takes a long time to drop
5. Fluval Hagen Biological Booster
If you are looking for a tank bacteria that will allow you to add your fish to the tank immediately, then this product is for you.
- Instantly makes water biologically safe for fish
- Reduces nitrates
- Eliminates ammonia
- 16.9 ounce bottle
- Prevents fish loss
- Use in freshwater and saltwater aquariums
What We Like About Fluval Hagen Biological Booster
Once your tank is cycled, the bacteria will eat the ammonia within 24 hours, only then can you add your fish. This product speeds up the time it takes to cycle your tank.
This product is suitable for freshwater or saltwater aquariums, as well as outdoor garden ponds. The fish will become less stressed than usual during partial water changes and when you add new fish to the tank if you first place a few drops of this solution every time.
What We Don’t Like About Fluval Hagen Biological Booster
You must shake the bottle before use, if you do not, the solution will stay separated and will not work properly. The instructions must be followed properly in order for the tank to cycle faster, failure to do so will result in an unreliably long cycle time.
You are putting your fish at risk if you add them to the tank immediately after using this product. Every tank takes a different amount of time to cycle depending on its size and water type which means you must plan accordingly since you cannot rely upon returning the fish back to the tank immediately.
- Speeds up cycling process
- Fish are less stressed
- For both freshwater and saltwater tanks
- Removes nitrates and ammonia
- Can’t placed fish back in tank straight away
- Solution separates over time
6. SeaChem Bacteria Fish Tank Stabilizer
Many aquarium enthusiasts that are new to fishkeeping are often worried about overusing a product. The SeaChem fish tank stabilizer is harmless to all aquatic life and will not cause any harm if overused.
- Prevents ‘new tank syndrome’
- Bacteria do not produce hydrogen sulfate
- Contains aerobic, anaerobic, and facultative bacteria
- Breaks down fish and plant waste
What We Like About SeaChem Bacteria Fish Tank Stabilizer
If you use this bacteria in conjunction with the prime conditioner then your tank cycle time will be halved. This is very convenient when you have fish ready and waiting to go back into the tank. Alternatively, you can keep the fish and plants in the aquarium during the cycle process if you use the prime conditioner and the SeaChem bacteria together.
The SeaChem Stability bacteria are tough and adaptable to a lot of different environments and changes in the aquarium. It restores filter health after very large water changes or after medicating your fish.
What We Don’t Like About SeaChem Bacteria Fish Tank Stabilizer
Contrary to what is stated on the instructions, it is more likely your tank will not be fully cycled within 7 days. The bacteria do not seem to efficiently convert nitrite to nitrate. The bacteria seem fragile and may die quickly if the bottle is not stored correctly.
- Maintains biofiltration
- Keep fish in the tank during cycling
- Restored filter health
- Prevents ‘new tank syndrome’
- For effectiveness must be used in conjunction with SeaChem Prime
- Beneficial bacteria will die if not kept cool
7. ATM Aquarium Nitrifying Bacteria For Freshwater
Use this aquarium bacteria only in freshwater tanks. Sea Life sanctuaries all over the world use this bacteria in their aquariums, so it is suitable to use on a large and small scale.
- Improves nitrifying bacteria
- Suitable species of bacteria for freshwater tanks
- Add your fish to the tank within days (not weeks) after applying ATM nitrifying bacteria
- Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter consume nitrite and ammonia
What We Like About ATM Aquarium Nitrifying Bacteria
If the PH level in the water is not acidic, you could have your tank fully cycled within 4-5 days. Once opened, the bottle has a shelf life of one year.
If you have a bio-wheel filter, you might actually be able to see the bacteria congregating on the wheel. Some fish, like guppies, will actually eat the bacteria as it floats in the water.
What We Don’t Like About ATM Aquarium Nitrifying Bacteria
It must be kept cool, if not, the bacteria stored in the bottle may die in transit. Introducing your fish to the tank prematurely will most probably result in fish loss. ATM Aquarium Nitrifying bacteria seems to be inconsistent to process ammonia and turn it into nitrite, so conducting regular tests is a must.
- The bacteria comes out of the bottle in colonies
- Fish like to eat the bacteria
- Cycles tank within 4-5 days
- Bacteria is visible in the tank
- Does not process ammonia into nitrite
- Must be kept in a cool place
8. Gloss Factory Dry Bacteria – Freshwater Aquariums
This is slightly different from the other bacteria supplements we have spoken about. Gloss Factory bacteria comes in a powder form and remain dormant until mixed with water.
- Over 90 strains of bacteria
- Must be used with de-chlorinated water
- One bottle treats 7100 gallons of water
- Not suited in a new aquarium or in a fishless cycle
- Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate
- Freshwater aquariums only
What We Like About Gloss Factory Dry Bacteria
Firstly, a 50-gram bottle will last a really long time. When making a big water change, using just a scoop of the Gloss Factory bacteria will get the water levels back to normal pretty quickly. If you use the bacteria with SeaChem Prime conditioner, the bacteria will speed up a new tank’s cycle time.
What We Don’t Like About Gloss Factory Dry Bacteria
You cannot use the bacteria in saltwater aquariums. Using the bacteria during a fishless cycle in a new aquarium will render the bacteria completely useless. The bacteria do not activate once added to the taking, which means the process takes a little longer.
- Not activated until mixed with water
- 50 grams lasts a long time
- Long shelf life
- Quickly restores water levels to normal
- Shouldn’t be used in a new tank
- Bacteria take a while to get activated
9. Dr Tim’s Aquarium Bacteria
It is best to use Dr Tim’s bacteria when setting up a new tank. It contains live nitrifying bacteria.
- Removes ammonia and nitrite
- Prevents ‘new tank syndrome’
- Contains 100% natural, live bacteria
- Sulfur and odor-free
- Bacteria stay active for a long time
What We Like About Dr. Tim’s Aquarium Bacteria
For anyone that notices their fish are dying quickly from random ammonia spikes in the water adding this bacteria will restore your tank to 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites within 10 days of application.
It is really effective in cycling new tanks and sorting new filters to acceptable standards, something that is usually really difficult to do.
What We Don’t Like About Dr. Tim’s Aquarium Bacteria
You should use ammonia drops alongside Dr. Tim’s bacteria so that the bacteria are stimulated and work faster to reduce toxin levels. The larger the tank, the longer it will take to cycle, no matter how much bacteria you add to the water.
You shouldn’t add your fish straight away as advertised, make sure to check the water for ammonia first.
- Suited for new tanks
- No sulfur
- Bacteria live for a long time
- Takes a long time to cycle a large tank
- Ammonia drops should be used with it
10. Planted Aquarium Concepts Dry Bacteria Powder
Here are another dry aquarium bacteria for you to read about. With this product, you only need 1 ounce of powder to treat 1,925 gallons of aquarium water.
- 1,925 gallons treated with 1 oz of powder
- Contains strains of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter
- Converts ammonia to nitrite
- Over time nitrites become nitrates
- 1 scoop contains 1.25 billion bacteria
What We Like About Planted Aquarium Concepts Dry Bacteria Powder
The bacteria powder helps speed up the tank cycling process and this particular bacteria last a lot longer and due to its higher concentration than liquid bacteria, it takes less time to cycle the tank.
What We Don’t Like About Planted Aquarium Concepts Dry Bacteria Powder
Large tanks can take up to 10 weeks and even more to cycle with the use of this bacteria powder, which is an incredibly long time. Some aquariums will not experience any difference as if the product was not applied at all.
Your aquarium’s reactivity with the bacteria depends on the fish you keep in the tank. A professional testing kit is recommended when using the bacteria so that you know when it is safe to add your fish.
- Treats a large amount of water with 1 ounce
- Contains the right strains of bacteria
- Good value for money
- Reduces ammonium
- Takes a long time to cycle the aquarium
- May not work for some people
The SeaChem Fish Tank Stabilizing Bacteria seems to be the most effective out of the 10 we have looked at in this review. It is easy for newbies to follow the directions to apply correctly. You do not run the risk of poisoning your fish by accidentally adding too much of this product to the water.
SeaChem Prime is ideal to use with this product to assure you the best results. I may seem to be an unnecessary added step, however, using both conditioners and bacteria in your tank will make the tank livable for fish and plants that are in the aquarium during the cycling process. It will also neutralize ammonia and nitrates instantly if they do spike without you realizing before the bacteria have a chance to eat it.
Q: Why use conditioners and bacteria together?
A: The water conditioner will instantly neutralize the ammonia in the water and make it harmless to your fish, the bacteria will then eat away at the neutralized ammonia and continue the natural tank cycling process. They work well together and make a good team to maintain a safe environment for the fish.
Q: How long will the bacteria live?
A: Because the bacteria is used to stabilize your aquarium, it means that they are subjected to chemicals and gases and PH levels in the water that is very harsh. These conditions kill the good bacteria fairly quickly which is why they should be readded every now and then to ensure your filter stays in good shape.
Q: Is Aquarium Bacteria Safe?
A: You will have to be very careful when you clean your aquarium or come into contact with the water once bacteria have been introduced. Bacteria is beneficial for the aquarium, but not so beneficial to people.
It isn’t common to get sick from coming into contact with aquarium bacteria, but it does happen. This can be avoided by wearing watertight gloves when you clean the aquarium, that way bacteria won’t get into your bloodstream through cuts and wounds on your hands.
Q: How do I store the bacteria supplements?
A: That all depends if you have liquid or powder supplements. Liquid bacteria supplements are already activated and ready to get to work straight away, so they need to be stored in a cool place, out of sunlight. Powder supplements should be kept dry. The storage temperature doesn’t matter so much as long as they aren’t stored somewhere really hot.