Do I Need to Cycle a Betta Tank?

As you’re prepping your new tank to receive a betta fish, it might get you asking—do I need to cycle a betta tank?

Cycling a betta tank is crucial to prevent ammonia and nitrite from making your fish sick or even killing your betta. 

The good news is that you have two options for tank cycling, which we’ll teach you about here.

Do I Need to Cycle a Betta Tank?

Yes, you must cycle your betta tank. Otherwise, your fish could die from poor water quality.

Cycling a betta tank creates a natural filtration system by allowing a bacteria and microbe colony to build up. These good bacteria and microbes remove waste in the water so that your betta can live a healthy life in their tank.

Toxic waste that builds up in betta tanks include:

  • Ammonia
  • Nitrite

Ideally, you want to keep your tank’s ammonia and nitrite levels at zero. Tank cycling can help you achieve this.

That said, cycling a betta tank isn’t a solution for never changing your betta’s water. However, it’s vital to help maintain water quality between your routine water changes.

By Ilmari Karonen [Public domain]

2 Ways to Cycle a Betta Tank

Here’s the good news: You have two options for cycling your betta’s tank.

Ideally, we recommend performing the cycle before putting any fish in the tank. However, if you already brought home your betta and are just researching this now, you can do the cycle with your fish in the tank.

Option 1: Cycling Without Fish

If you don’t want to put fish through the stress of a cycling tank, purchase some live plants and put them in your betta’s future home.

Then, nurture those plants by providing them with the following:

  • Fertilizer
  • High-quality substrate
  • Lots of lighting

Just like on dry land, aquatic plants offer a wealth of benefits for the environment.

These live plants can single-handedly eat excess nitrogen waste, and scientists believe they do so even better than bacteria. Furthermore, aquatic plants release the beneficial bacteria crucial to a betta’s wellbeing into the water via their roots and leaves.

So, how do you know that it’s safe for your betta fish to move into their new tank?

When you see new growth starting to emerge from your plants, it’s safe to assume that you finished the cycling process.

At this point, you can introduce your betta fish to the tank.

Understandably, the eager betta owner-to-be may not wait such a long time for their tank to complete its cycle; it can take well over two months. Therefore, another option is to speed up the process by using fish.

Option 2: Cycling With Fish

If you plan to introduce other fish with your betta, try to purchase a fish that holds up well with high ammonia and nitrite concentrations. Examples of such fish include:

  • Guppies
  • Minnows
  • Danios
  • Barbs

Place a couple of these fish in your new tank, along with a few live aquatic plants, if you plan on having them with your betta.

The fish in the tank will begin producing ammonia almost immediately, as they release it every time they go to the bathroom. But since your tank doesn’t yet have enough good bacteria and microbes, it’s crucial to replace 10 – 25% of the water every three days.

That way, you avoid ammonia and nitrite (the chemical that good bacteria will begin converting ammonia into) from building up to dangerous levels.

Continue this process for 6 – 8 weeks, testing the water daily. Once the ammonia and nitrate levels read zero milligrams per liter, it’s safe to introduce your betta fish.

Why Don’t Bettas Need Cycling in the Wild?

Betta fish don’t need cycling in the wild because they have access to such a large amount of water that the volume alone dilutes most of the harmful ammonia and nitrite.

Furthermore, bodies of water in nature already have a balance of good bacteria and microbes to help keep things in check.

Testing for Ammonia and Nitrite

Now that you know the answer to “Do I need to cycle a betta tank?” is yes, keeping a testing kit on hand is crucial for your betta’s wellbeing.

After completing the tank cycle, you should test your betta fish’s water once per week.

Ammonia and nitrite levels should always be at zero. Therefore, if you notice any signs of either toxin, address it immediately.

Strategies for Getting Rid of Ammonia and Nitrite

Although good bacteria and microbes play a huge role in removing ammonia and nitrite, they sometimes need a little help.

So, below are tips for getting rid of these toxins in your betta’s water.

  • Change your filter media to have ammonia removal properties
  • Temporarily reduce the amount of food you feed your betta
  • Add ammonia detoxifier or nitrifying bacteria
  • Change a portion of the water every few days
  • Put your fish in a larger tank
  • Clean the tank regularly

Finally, test the water daily to monitor the effectiveness of your changes. Once you get the ammonia and nitrite levels back to zero, continue some of these best practices, including regular water changes and tank cleanings.

What Other Water Qualities Do My Betta Tank Need?

Ensuring that you cycle your betta’s tank to eat up toxic ammonia and nitrite is crucial. However, below are some other areas you should check to ensure that your tank is betta fish ready.

  1. Moderate pH. Bettas need a pH that hovers around neutral, with 6.8 – 7.5 being ideal.
  2. Warm temperature. Ensure the water remains between 76 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Calm water. Bettas live at the water’s surface, so they don’t like much water movement.

Embarking on the Cycling Process

Starting a new betta tank is always an exciting time. However, it’s crucial not to skip over the cycling process.

Otherwise, you risk killing your betta due to an abundance of ammonia and nitrite in the water.

So, by putting in the work now to get your betta’s tank in good shape, your betta fish will have a better opportunity to enjoy their entire 2 – 5 year lifespan.