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Using Lava Rocks
To Remove Nitrates from Aquarium Water.

Click here now to shop for a bag of Lava Rocks.

Every freshwater aquarium and fish bowl should contain the appropriate amount of Lava Rock, which provides the ideal living  environment for beneficial denitrifying bacteria.

These beneficial bacteria will decrease the concentration of nitrates and greatly improve the quality of the water.

Denitrifying Lava Rocks for Aquariums, Fish Bowls, and Ponds.
Click here now to shop for a bag of Denitrifying Lava Rock, like the one shown just above. These Lava Rocks are very porous, which allows the aquarium water to diffuse into the rocks.

As the water passes through the rocks, beneficial nitrifying bacteria consume all the oxygen in that water to produce an anaerobic environment inside these lava rocks.

In this anaerobic environment denitrifying bacteria consume nitrate and produce oxygen and nitrogen.

More than 40-parts-per-million of nitrate in aquarium water is not good for most types of fish and aquatic invertebrates like crabs, shrimps, and lobsters.

These Lava Rocks are the best way to remove the nitrates from aquarium water.

Above, a Red Sakura Shrimp loves to examine Lava Rocks for tiny bits of food to eat.
Click here to shop online for Red Sakura Shrimp
Lets Start over at the Beginning.
You feed the fish in your aquarium or fish bowl, and much of that food is converted into ammonia in the fish's waste. Ammonia is very toxic to fish and must be removed.

Beneficial nitrifying bacteria combine ammonia and oxygen in the water to produce nitrite, which is still very toxic to fish but usually not as toxic as ammonia.

So this is an improvement in the water quality!

Next another type of beneficial nitrifying bacteria combine that nitrite with more oxygen to produce nitrate, which is still toxic to fish in concentrations of more than about 40-parts-per-million, but less toxic than the nitrite.

So this is another improvement.

As aquarium water diffuses through Lava Rocks, beneficial denitrifying bacteria, living inside the lava rocks, convert the nitrate to oxygen and nitrogen, two gases, that are both harmless, and this completes the process of converting very toxic ammonia to non-toxic oxygen and nitrogen.
For a Long Time ...
Many aquarists, including the Bailey Brothers, were told that nitrate dissolved in aquarium water was harmless to fish, but we've now learned this is not true.

Nitrate in concentrations above 40-parts-per-million can be harmful.

The best way to control nitrate is to have the right amount of Lava Rock in your aquariums and fish bowls.

Where do you put the Lava Rocks?
The Lava Rocks must be in the aquarium water. You can use them as ornaments. They look natural and pretty good. They do not need to be in an aquarium filter.
Will any old Rocks Work?
No! Rocks may contain insect sprays and other toxins that are very poisonous to fish.

Some types of rock, including many types of Lava Rock, contain minerals that are not good in aquariums.

Even if the rock is non-toxic, it also needs to be porous. Most Lava Rocks are porous, but some are glass lava and not porous, so they won't work to reduce nitrates in aquariums.

The Lava Rocks shown at the top of this page have been carefully chosen and tested to produce many good results and few bad results.

Of course, as with any natural material, something could occasionally go wrong.

Can Nitrates get too Low?
Yes! If the concentration of nitrate in aquarium water gets very low, yet another type of bacteria can begin, producing hydrogen-sulfide, which is extremely toxic to fish.

So ideally it is probably best to try to keep the concentration of nitrate between about 20 and 40-parts-per-million.

If your gravel is too deep, it can also cause low nitrate and begin the production of hydrogen-sulfide, which is another good reason to keep the gravel at most 1/4" deep, and remember very few fish need any gravel at all.

Gravel is mostly cosmetic to make the aquarium prettier to your eyes. But gravel is most often not beneficial to fish.

Jungle Quick Dip 5-in-1 Aquarium Water Test Strips.
How to Test for Nitrate?
We use Aquarium Water Test Strips, shown in the picture just above. They are rather inexpensive, seem to be pretty accurate or at least accurate enough, and they're quick and easy to use.

Just take a small strip out of the container, dip it in aquarium water, and the colors on the strip indicate the amounts of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and the pH of the water.

Click here to learn more about these Aquarium Water Test Strips.

If your Nitrate goes too Low.
If you test for nitrate, using the Aquarium Water Test Strips, and the reading is below 20-parts-per-million, we recommend removing some of the Lava Rocks, then wait a few days and test again.

If the nitrate is still below 20-ppm, remove some more of the Lava Rocks.

Adjust the amount of Lava Rocks in your aquarium until the nitrate is between 20 and 40ppm of nitrate.

This is really kind of fun, not much work, and will greatly improve the water quality in your aquarium.

Lava Rocks in a Fish Bowl?
Yes! Every fish bowl should have a nice piece of Lava Rock, which is kind of decorative and will greatly improve the water quality in the fish bowl. One piece of Lava Rock is usually enough.

Just like with an aquarium, you should test the water in the fish bowl with Aquarium Water Test Strips, then adjust the amount of Lava Rock, which may require you to break a piece of Lava Rock into smaller pieces and put a smaller piece of Lava Rock back in your fish bowl.

It doesn't take much Lava Rock to reduce the nitrate in a fish bowl to a safe concentration.

The ad below links to this advertiser.
Lava Rocks in a Pond?
Yes and no. First test the water in your pond, using Aquarium Water Test Strips, mentioned above on this page. If the test strips show nitrate is below 20-ppm or above 40-ppm, you should take action.
Above 40-ppm you should add some Lava Rocks to grow the beneficial denitrifying bacteria that will remove the nitrate. Below 20-ppm you should investigate or seek help with your pond's water quality.

Because with very low levels of nitrate another type of bacteria may start to produce hydrogen-sulfide, which is very toxic to all fish.

Lava Rocks in Saltwater Aquariums?  
Probably not. Saltwater aquariums usually have other ways of dealing with nitrate, such as live rock and deep sand beds.  
Pet Fish Talk a Podcast about keeping pet fish in aquariums, fish bowls, and ponds.  
Click here to hear the special discussion by DrTom and Nevin Bailey about denitrification of aquarium water.
Pet Fish Talk a Podcast about keeping pet fish in aquariums, fish bowls, and ponds.  
Click here to hear the special discussion by DrTom and Nevin Bailey about aquarium water quality.

Customer Comments

Hello Bailey Brothers! While I wait hopefully for a new show I thought I would take this moment to ask a question about Lava Rock. I went to Lowes and picked up a bag of red Lava Rock. Soaked it for about a week until most of the sediment was gone.
I have a colleague who let me experiment on his tank (ok ok I was too chicken to try it in mine) He has feeder goldfish and is not terrible attached to them. I however am very attached to my fish  So I first tested his water and noticed that his ammonia and nitrates were off the charts.

I quickly told him to do some waters changes to get that under control.  I went ahead and dropped a few rocks in his tank to see what would happen. I have tested his water every day for about 2 weeks weeks with no real change in his nitrates. They are about 100ppm.
So I decided to take some of my water and put it in a bowl with some  of the Lava Rock to see if I would see any changes there. I don't really know if this is a good experiment or not. I have just tested the water and the Nitrates are high about 80ppm.
Is there something I am doing wrong? The bowl maybe has a cup of water and about 13 pieces of small red Lava Rock.  Thank you for all your help and everything else you do.  Hopefully you guys are not hanging up your hats on the show.  Take care and fish on!
Jose From Maryland

Reply: Hi Jose and thank you for your interesting email. We think the Lava Rocks that you're testing probably don't yet contain enough of the beneficial denitrifying bacteria.
It may take many months for the bacteria to colonize your Lava Rocks, and that's one reason that we recommend ONEdersave's Eco-Bio Products, which are made of Lava Rock that are already seeded with the denitrifying bacteria.
Click here to learn more about Eco-Bio Products.

We have ONEdersave products in each of our personal aquariums, but we also use Lava Rock, like those that you bought, in the aquariums in our business.

However, apparently we were lucky and got Lava Rock that was already seeded with the beneficial denitrifying bacteria.
How did that happen?

Well the Lava Rock that we bought must have been extracted from a place that had been exposed to water like a riverbed, where that Lava Rock was populated with denitrifying bacteria.
It was a big surprise to us, when the nitrates in our water began to immediately decline.

Otherwise we would have had to wait, until the denitrifying bacteria colonized our Lava Rocks.
By the way you want to keep the nitrates in your aquariums, fish bowls, and ponds between about 20ppm and about 40ppm. So 100ppm is high, but not really extremely high.

Before we began using Lava Rocks in all of our aquariums and aquarium systems, our nitrates often tested at 160 and higher, which is dangerous for almost all fish.
When we added Lava Rocks, the nitrate came down in a few days to right about 20ppm. Our Lava Rocks worked like a miracle, but as we stated, we were lucky.

Once your Lava Rocks become populated with denitrifying bacteria, your nitrate should come down to about 20ppm like ours did.
Where do you get some denitrifying bacteria to begin the colonization process in your Lava Rocks.

There are some in every aquarium, fish bowl, and pond, but it takes a while for them to migrate to your Lava Rocks and then begin to multiply, until eventually there will be enough of them to reduce the nitrates in your aquarium water.
This can take as long as many months. That's why we recommend the ONEdersave Products, which begin to work immediately.

Click here to shop online for Eco-Bio Stones now.
If the ammonia in your friends aquarium is also high, as you mentioned above, then it needs to be digested by nitrifying bacteria, which are different from the denitrifying bacteria.
The best way to do that is with a Bio-Wheel filter, as we've mentioned during many of the Pet Fish Talk Shows, and the Eco-Bio Stones will also help with the nitrifying bacteria that grow on the surface of those Stones.
The denitrifying bacteria live in the interior of the Stones, where the oxygen is low, and so they use nitrate as an oxidizer instead of oxygen.
Perhaps we should mention here that ONEdersave does not advertise their products for denitrification, though they may mention it on their website.

They recommend their products as a safe haven for nitrifying bacteria, but we know that their products work for both nitrification and denitrification, and both of these processes are very important in aquariums.
Thanks again for your interesting email.


Customer Comments

My name is Bill and I was interested in some info about lava rock and denitrification. I am trying to determine how much lava rock per gallon to use and if the size of each rock matters for denitrification. I have a 135 gallon aquarium and a 90 gallon sump. My goal is zero nitrates.
Thanks for you help
Bill V.
Reply: Hi Bill, thank you for your email. We don't know of anyway to calculate or estimate the amount of lava rock to use. But here's what we do.

First, we test our aquarium water for nitrates using an inexpensive test strip.
Click here for information about these test strips, which seem to be accurate enough for this project.

If the nitrates test between 20 and 40 ppm, then you don't need to do anything. If the nitrates are a little bit above 40 ppm, you might change 20% of the water and retest.

Maybe you just need to do more partial water changes. If your nitrates remain too high above 40 ppm, then add some aquarium-safe lava rocks, and retest in a few days.
Keep testing and adding or removing lava rocks, until your nitrates are between 20 and 40 ppm.

By the way sometimes the lava rocks will start removing nitrate in a a couple of days, but sometimes it takes several weeks.
Why? If the lava rocks already contain plenty of denitrifying bacteria, those bacteria will come out of stasis in a couple of days and start removing nitrates.

On the other hand if the lava rocks do not contain plenty of denitrifying bacteria, they will need to start invading the lava rocks and slowly multiply before they can reduce the nitrate in the aquarium water.
This is sort of analogous to establishing the nitrifying bacteria in an aquarium.
You mentioned that your goal is zero nitrates, but this is dangerous!

It's good to have zero ammonia and zero nitrites, but not zero nitrates, because zero nitrates will encourage the growth of bacteria in the lava rock that use sulfates as an oxidizer and produce hydrogen sulfide, which is very poisonous to fish.

The presence of 20 to 40 ppm of nitrates inhibits the production of hydrogen sulfide.
Remember, keeping nitrates between 20 and 40 ppm is very important to almost all freshwater fish.
I hope this information helps you and your fish.


Customer Comments

I watched a video on Youtube that was selling a big device that removes nitrate from aquarium water.

The device had lots of adjustments and required adding vodka - yes vodka. The video also said it was very good because it reduces nitrate to 0, as in none.
All of this is quite different than your advice, and I just wonder if your method with lava rock, which costs a lot less and is much easier, will work as well.
Da FishMan

Reply. Hi Bubba, and thank you for your email. Actually over the years we've seen lots of these devices and even bought some.
All the ones we bought were very expensive, very complicated, and required lots of adjusting. Plus they did not work as well as the Lava Rock, which require no adjusting at all!
Unfortunately there is lots of really bad advice about aquarium equipment, and using a device to lower nitrates to 0, as in none, is one of the worst pieces of advice.
As mentioned above, if an aquarium has 0 nitrates, then other bacteria will begin to convert sulfates into hydrogen sulfide, which is very poisonous and can be smelly.

From time to time I've been able to smell hydrogen sulfide from an aquarium, and the fish in those aquariums all looked poor.

But usually, there is no smell, because the amount of hydrogen sulfide is very small. Or it is better to say the hydrogen sulfide is very dilute.
Lava Rock is cheap, works great, and is adjustment and maintenance free. It's like a miracle. Very important to the health of your fish.

So just get some and pop it into your aquarium, while keeping your money in your pocket and the vodka in the bottle! ;^ }

A Criticism of our Comments
to read a criticism of the advice we give above on this page about using Lava Rock in Aquariums to reduce nitrate.

The criticism seems to be (1) it's better to have 0 nitrate, and (2) you can buy a much bigger bag of lava rock elsewhere and pay more but much less per pound.

A few years ago I began to learn that maybe natural aquatic environments have nitrate, and I knew that all fish are pretty well adapted to the natural water that they live in.

So I began to think that maybe it was possible that nitrate is not always bad for fish.

I asked a very highly respected, perhaps in fact the most highly respected, aquatic chemist, who has a PhD from one of the best universities in that field, and who has advised many professionals in the aquarium business for many years.

He immediately said that all aquatic systems with very low levels of nitrate will start to produce hydrogen-sulfite, H2S. And that this fact has been well known for a long time by all aquatic chemists, like himself.

He explained that in aquatic water with lots of oxygen, the oxygen-using bacteria dominate. In water without oxygen, nitrate-using bacteria dominate.

And in water without either oxygen or nitrate, sulfate-using bacteria use sulfate as an oxidizer and convert the sulfate into H2S, and even very low amounts, or concentrations, of H2S are very detrimental to all fish.

How low a concentration of H2S is detrimental? Much less than one part per billion, and probably concentrations that are undetectable by aquarists.

We're left with an opinion from perhaps the best professional source vs. the opinion of 100-aquarists, who think they've never had a problem.

The information, given at the link at the beginning of this section, is the sort amateur advice that is invalid and hinders hobbyists, who are trying to advance their knowledge, which should be based on real science.

So we stand by our comments that keeping nitrates above 0 is very important. We still recommend a range of 20 to 40 ppm, and we are still very confident in our advice.

On to the second comment about charging too much for lava rocks.

There may in fact be larger bags of lava in big box stores that may cost much less per pound.

The lava we sell is about the right amount for many aquariums and is tested to be aquarium safe.

We also put the lava rock in a stream of water, being pumped through our aquariums, so the lava rocks already are populated by denitrifying bacteria, which means they'll begin to work in at most 48-hours, after being put in another aquarium.

In other words our lava rocks are pre-cultured.

Why pay more for a big bag that may not be safe for your fish and that are probably not pre-cultured, when all you need is a small bag of pre-cultured lava that's safe?

We've never pushed any product, such as lava rocks or test kits, to make money. All of the advice on this website is written to help aquarists and their fish.

As far as we know, we were the first aquarists to stumble onto this whole story about nitrate and begin to spread this information to other aquarists.

We think this shows that we're on the leading edge of aquarium knowledge. But as stated above, this story about nitrates has been very well known to professional aquatic chemists for a long time.

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