Why You Need Cycling for Your Desktop Aquarium Before Putting Fish in It

When you get a brand new desktop aquarium, it is vital you do the cycling process before you even buy the fish. There are always horror stories of people who buy a desktop aquarium, set it up, then plonk some fish in immediately, only to see the fish dying within weeks. The reason is that the fish are being poisoned by their own waste (ammonia). To ensure you have a good environment for your fish, you’ll need to set up your tank properly, which does takes time.

Desktop aquarium kits usually come with almost everything you need to get started out of the box so you don’t have to worry about choosing suitable filters or accessories, but the cycling process you need to go through is not heavily emphasized enough by either poorly trained or unethical salesmen.

What is cycling?

Cycling a fish tank is the process of preparing a good mini environment for your fish to live in. An aquarium kit usually consists of the tank itself, a filter, lighting, and a heater (although for some kits such as Fluval’s smaller tanks you’ll need to buy them separately, as a heater is dependent on your fish and environment). The cycling process mainly concerns your filter, as it has a hidden story that beginners wouldn’t immediately realize.

The hidden story of your filters

The filtration system of a desktop aquarium is there to ensure the quality of your water. There is quite a lot going on with the filter, as it removes debris or suspended particles, remove ammonia and nitrites, and also aerate the water. Which is why most filters are divided into 3 stages or sections: mechanical, chemical and biological.

The mechanical part of the filter is to pump water and trap debris or particles for disposal later to keep your water clean and clear. The chemical filtration is to remove unwanted materials through chemical reactions such as activated carbon to remove impurities in the water.

Finally the biological filtration is where colonies of good bacteria breaks down toxic ammonia. But these bacteria don’t come pre-packaged in the filter, it has to be cultivated by you so it thrives in the filter to keep your water safe for your fish. The process of cultivating these good bacteria is known as cycling. You can easily find a lot of resources on how to cycle a tank, but stay tuned to my site for a guide on how to do this for a smaller sized desktop aquarium.

It’s not biology, well it is but you’re not doing science experiments…

Cultivating bacteria colonies sounds dangerous or messy, which is why we call it cycling so it’s not so off-putting. But jokes aside, you’re not expected to be a biologist or anything. The basic gist of it is that it is just a series of steps where you setup and fill your tank with water (don’t buy the fish yet) and run the filtration system for a few weeks. You test the water once a while with a water test kit until you’re happy the water quality (the tank has cycled), which you can then start to gently introduce fish to the tank.

Knowing what cycling is helps you appreciate how important it really is. Plus it’s not as yucky, messy, or as difficult as you might imagine, it just takes time and patience. The payoff from your effort is a great looking desktop aquarium with a guilt-free happy and healthy fish for your endless enjoyment.