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Unionized Ammonia Calculator – The good, bad and the ugly

Ammonia in your aquaponic, aquarium or aquaculture is in your water in two forms, NH3 (toxic) and NH4 (less toxic). The two together make up your Total Ammonia Nitrogen or TAN as referred to in text. This is the reading you will get on your color-metric test kit like below. You often will read a consistent ammonia level in your fish tank if you are consistently feeding your fish and at times this can be as high as 2 mg/L.  The amount of unionized ammonia (UIA) in the water is dependent on the water temperature and pH.  The lower the temperature and pH, the less toxic your ammonia will be to your fish. When you are cycling any fish system, aquaponic or aquaculture and even an aquarium, with fish in it from the start, it is not unusual to get test results that are quite high.  Between 5 and 10 mg/L is not unusual when starting up any aquatic system.  While many will panic about that high reading and start water exchanges, it is best to check the temperature and pH then use this calculator to determine if you need to take action.  Actions such as water exchanges and stop feeding are the common things to do if the situation is bad.  However, often it is not as bad as it looks. The calculator below is simple to use and understand.  You enter the ammonia reading from your test, the pH again from your test (be sure to check that) and the water temperature.  It is set up to choose between Celsius and Fahrenheit.   Accross from those inputs you will see the amount of  (UIA) Unionized Ammonia (NH3) and under that it will have “Good, Bad or Ugly”. The table below that will give you a wide range of parameters and results based on your original input.  This will help you in determining where is the ideal place to keep your water quality.  Especially when cycling a system with fish. The “Good, Bad and Ugly” results reflect results determined to be good or no good for your fish.  A good results means there is no risk to the fish.  A Bad result means your UIA is above the recommended 0.02 mg/L and you should reduce your feeding at this point for a day or two until the result is good again.  Your will will be uncomfortable with a “Bad” result but will tolerate it for a few days. If you have an “Ugly” result, immediate action must be taken.  It means your UIA is above 0.05 mg/L and is quite toxic to most fish and death will follow with a 3 day exposure.  At this point, stop feeding and exchange at least 2/3rds of your tank water, retest and resume normal feeding but at a reduced rate….

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