El Jefe was starting to worry me today because he mostly sat in the bottom corner of his tank and didn't move around much all day.
So on a whim while I was at the pet store I bought an ammonia test and tested the his tank water tonight. Even though I had just done a 50% water change it was high in ammonia. So then I tested my fresh tap water and found out my tap water has ammonia in it! I am really bummed about it because he has been in the ammonia water almost all week. I heard that you can use something called Prime to fix this? Does anyone else have ammonia in their tap water? Do you have to have a filter for the Prime to work?
I went out and bought a few gallons of spring water and put him in a fresh tank until I can figure this out. Hopefully he will perk up... :(
Prime, and many other water conditioners that treat ammonia and/or nitrites will fix the problem. Most work by converting the free ammonia to ammonium (and some conditioners work by enhancing the nitrifying bacteria, which then convert the ammonia), which is safe for the fish.. eventually that ammonium will get converted by your biological filter to nitrites and then nitrates.
Don't worry about it too much. However, since your tap water already contains ammonia, you will have to use an ammonia treating water conditioner from now on.
A biological filter is more of a process than an actual item (at least in this context...). It's a natural process where the good bacteria in the tank, present on the gravel, rocks, glass, etc., consume the ammonia and convert it to nitrites. Then, another type of bacteria in the tank converts the nitrites to nitrates, which are safe for the fish at low-moderate levels.
Depending on your tank dimensions and the amount of "stuff" you have on the bottom of your tank, most of the bacteria is located in your filter (clinging to the filter pads, sponges, etc). As the water flows through the filter, the bacteria in the filter convert the ammonia and nitrites and then to nitrates, naturally!
I would definitely recommend getting a filter though. You can "cycle" your tank (which means letting the bacteria colonies develop in the tank) much easier with one. It will reduce the number of times you need to change the water as well, and it keeps the water clean and fresh for the fish.
For a 5.5 gallon tank, you could get something like a sponge filter, or a Tetra Internal Whisper filter. I'd probably recommend the latter if you're still new to things. No special procedures needed... just install the filter, and let the tank do it's thing. It will take about 3-6 weeks to get a complete "cycle" where the bacteria are strong enough to process the ammonia levels. You can tell when it's done by testing for nitrites and nitrates. If you're getting nitrates and no nitrites, your cycle is finished. Until then, you need to change the water in the tank about every other day, maybe every two days... anywhere from 25-50%.
One more thing... If you do plan on cycling your tank, you will need to be extra careful when using tap water to fill your tank up. Make sure you treat the water before adding it to the tank, or else the chlorine/chloramines in the water (assuming you use tap water) will kill any good bacteria in the tank within minutes.
And never rinse your filter pads in tap water. Always rinse them in treated water... most people use dirty tank water. Again, this is done to prevent the chlorine from nuking your bacteria.
1. I treated fresh tap water with the ammonia treatment
2. Filled my tank and set up my new filter (also put a baffle on filter)
3. Waited 45min and tested the water and still showing slightly high ammonia.
Will the ammonia level eventually go down? When will it be safe to put my fish back in the tank?
The API ammonia test unfortunately tests for ammonium as well as ammonia (you can see it on your chart there "NH3/NH4+".
You may actually have low to no ammonia in your water, but a bit of ammonium present, which is OK for the fish. Once you get your cycle going, the bacteria will convert both ammonia and ammonium for you... eventually you should see readings of 0 ppm ammonia on the API test.
You'll just have to trust that the conditioner is doing it's job at this point. You could, if you really wanted to, go out and buy a free ammonia test kit (only tests for NH3), but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. Treat your water with the ammonia neutralizer, "set it and forget it". Stay on top of your water changes until your cycle stabilizes and you should be fine.