Bacteria in a Bottle: Functional or Fake?


Waiting for your new saltwater tank to cycle can be a real P.I.T.A. For roughly a month when you first start your tank, you can’t put anything in your tank: no fish, certainly no corals, no invertebrates. So you get to stare at a dark, empty tank. Can you say BORING?

(Note: some people advocate adding damsel fish to help your tank cycle. Please don’t EVER do this as it is mean to the fish as they have to swim in toxic waste. Also, damsels get very aggressive and they are impossible to catch without tearing apart your tank. Additionally, using ANY fish to cycle your tank is cruel, don’t do it).

To solve the new tank cycling problem, there are several products such as Brightwell Aquatic’s MicroBacter7, or SeaChem’s Stability that contain the bacteria your tank needs to fully cycle. Lots of people claim these bacteria-in-a-bottle products are snake oil since “bacteria can’t live in a bottle” or “you can’t speed up mother nature”.

I’m here to tell you that these products work and here is a graph of my 90 gallon tank when I was cycling it to prove it. For 2 weeks, I didn’t add any bacteria products to the tank and my cycle trudged along…slowly. Week 3 started and I couldn’t take staring at an empty tank anymore so I added Stability to my tank and 7 days later, my tank was cycled and ready for livestock.

(In the graph above, Nh3 is ammonia, NO2 is nitrites)

For $8, I recommend using Stability to help your tank cycle. The product worked great for me and if it doesn’t pan out for you, you’re out $8 and your tank will continue to cycle anyways. Minimal risk, huge potential reward.

TIP: Buy Stability (or MacroBacter7) from the largest retailer you can find. Why? Since this product contains bacteria, the shorter time it’s been on the shelves, the better. A large retailer will turn these products over quickly, helping to ensure that they are fresh.

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Comments for this article (25)

  • Jesse says:

    What about Microbe-Lift special blend, would you recommend it?

  • Microbe-lift looks freshwater slanted. Dr. Tim’s is saltwater specific.

  • David says:

    What happened to the Dr.Tim Video?

  • It works for me! Does it now work for you?

  • moseg says:

    I disagree about not using fish when cycling a tank. I always use fish for cycling and use microbe-lift products and do water changes, my tanks cycle fast with zero harm to fish. The only difference between a cycled tank and one that is not is the beneficial bacteria. This is the reason for cycling a tank to begin with. Fish will do absolutely find in an uncycled tank as long as you follow some common sense rules like don’t over-feed and do regular water changes. To me fishless cycling is artificial, fish need to be part of the cycling process IMHO. Just treat the tank like you would anyway, fish, food, water changes, 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0-20 nitrates. Your tank will be cycled before you know it. Some have turned the cycling process into some sort of rocket science, making it more complicated than it needs to be.

  • viral shah says:

    hey how long do i need to dose seachem stability?

  • David M says:

    Hi Mark,

    Can I put live sand in the tank if I use Dr Tim one and only or will be better add the sand after the cycle????

    Thanks

  • Anna says:

    So I just set up an 8 gallon and put in a bottle of Dr. Tim’s and the ammonia has been at .25 for the past 4ish days and just read I shouldn’t of had my carbon in, so I just now pulled it out…. will thing improve or did I screw it all up?

  • Anna…the cycle will just take a little longer that’s all. It’s not the end of the world. What are you nitrite and nitrates levels currently?

  • Anna says:

    Nitrite .5 and nitrate 15 …. I’m not to do a water change till after the cycle right?

  • Anna says:

    Today it was 1 , .5 , and 20

  • Anna says:

    I always am unsure about the ammonia color though anywhere from .25 to 1 look so similar

  • Anna…you could do a water change now.

  • Carlton Frisk says:

    Yes. This is exactly what we need. An “instant” way to cycle a tank, thus negating the need for patience, which is what this hobby is all about. So the people who were not willing to wait for a tank to cycle before, now have an easy way out. No wonder this hobby has such a huge annual turnover. “Looking at an empty tank”, is the equivalent of saying what 18 year old wants to drive around a 10 year old car because that is all they can afford, instead they should sell everything they own and get credit for a brand new car. The dangers of the internet, and anyone and everyone who can convince others they are experts. Sickening

  • Steve says:

    Well that’s what makes this world great. A different way to do things faster. It’s like any job you work at hurry up and do it right, so what’s the difference. If you like it slow that’s good. That’s what you like. But seeing that this site was for those of us who like a kick start like coffee you shouldn’t have even been on this site.

  • Jake says:

    Carlton…I failed with the traditional way, although I tried, and tried this way and it worked! So maybe it’s not about patience as much as it is about helping people who are honestly trying but failing?

  • John says:

    I don’t see how you could fail to cycle something that just takes time unless you are really impatient or simply unaware of how the cycle works. You just have to have a source for ammonia… That’s it… You just feed the nitrifying bacteria…

    Took me about 4 weeks to do a fishless cycle, and I have yet to have any water quality issues with my fully stocked tank. You clearly just lack the proper knowledge of how to cycle and maintain an aquarium… Which is odd because of the internet and all.

  • Brandon says:

    I’m not sure the graph really proves anything with the two week delay before adding the stuff. It could just be that the bacterial colonies had finally been able to begin forming their coating and multiplied or some other explanation other than the bacteria. The only way to actually test these products is to do two side by side tanks in which one gets the product and the other doesn’t and then take measurements. Back when BIO-spira was all the rage I did that test 3 times, with slight alterations to the experiment tank(poured it into the water, poured it over the media, put ammonia drops in a bottle with an airstone for 2 weeks before adding to the tank). Now, I was testing adding that and following the directions vs the method I normally use(doing frequent water changes to keep the levels barely testable) when I don’t have access to established media and in 2 of the three trials the method I used wasn’t showing any ammonia or nitrite 4 days before the tank I used BIO-spira on. These were freshwater tanks, so I’m not sure if it would be the same for saltwater or not though and I don’t know whether or not newer products would perform differently.

  • Aaroz says:

    Test an average ‘bacterial’ supplement, it is loaded with biologically available (inorganic) nitrogen and phosphate. It is no secret that to speed up decomposition garden/ reef aquaria one adds these two essential nutrients to a bare tank or one with little inorganic N and P… Just ask Mr Redfield ;). Trouble is the average reefer is so scared to death and obsessed with lowering nitrates these products just would not sell if they read for example nitrate: 5000mg/l phosphate: 300mg/l.
    I’ll go to my local garden centre and for $10 buy enough ‘bacteria’ for a life time of reefing lol.

  • Aaroz says:

    Test an average ‘bacterial’ supplement, it is loaded with biologically available nitrogen and phospherous (PO4 and NO3 for example). It is no secret that to speed up decomposition garden/ reef aquaria one adds these two essential nutrients to a bare tank or one with little inorganic N and P… Just ask Mr Redfield ;). Trouble is the average reefer is so scared to death and obsessed with lowering nitrates these products just would not sell if they read for example nitrate: 50Molar phosphate: 3Molar
    I’ll go to my local garden centre and for $10 buy enough ‘bacteria’ for a life time of reefing lol.
    Corrected my sloppy chemistry 😉

  • Akbar Samandarian says:

    Hi Mr. Saltwater
    My question is , if I use microbacter7, when can I add fishes to the system?

    thank you

  • Bobby Green says:

    I’ve never cycled a tank. I put 280lbs of cured live rock and havery never tested positive for any ammonia and I stocked slowly and 16 years later I still have the 2nd fish I bought sunny my yellow tang.

  • Scott says:

    I use Dr Tim’s and add my livestock immediately. I follow parameters and perform water changes. No problems Dr Tim is a doctor/ scientist. Most aquarium studies are subjective vs Dr Tim’s objective findings!

  • Scott says:

    It is nice to be aware of the nitrogen cycle but if it is made too diffult you lose many new saltwater hobbyists. Freshwater has the same nitrogen issues after all.

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