Bacteria in a Bottle: Snake Oil or Worth Trusting?

One of the most polarizing discussion in the saltwater tank world is the use of bacteria in a bottle products to speed up the initial nitrogen cycle. Some people swear by them, other people cry foul and claim they are all snake oil.
To find out the facts, I brought in a Ph.D in Microbiology, Dr. Tim Hovanec and ran an experiment of my own.

Links in this video:

The stuff I used in the video:


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Comments for this article (97)

  • Chris says:

    Hi Mark !
    I need your help…I need your recommendation for a protein skimmer for a 75 gallons saltwater fish tank ….right now I am reading about an Ozone Generator also, what do you think about ?!

  • chris…I sent you an email about your skimmer question.

  • Kevin says:

    Hey Mark, I just used Dr Tims One and Only. I had my tank running with Live sand and marco rock for 2 weeks prior. I had the fish and had all my parameters were 0’s (Ammonia, Nitrite/ate). I added Dr Tims bacteria to add more bacteria to my display (180g) and hopefully help seed my marco rock. I left my lights off for the recommended 48 hours. I checked my parameters last night (Put in Tuesday) so three days and my nitrate was .25ppm and was previously 0. Is this caused by any bacteria die off? Should i do a water change or just let it be for a few more days and see? Also, i started my skimmer thursday night and it seems to be pulling out some stuff. Is it ok to keep my skimmer running now? I figured the bacteria had two days to settle. Thanks for you help in advance, Kevin

  • DrTim says:

    The nitrate increased because there was ammonia/nitrite in the water that they could oxidize to nitrate – it’s what they do.

    Your can run your skimmer that is not a problem since you let the bacteria settle for two days.

    Where the ammonia came from and why your skimmer is now pulling stuff out are probably related and have to due with you leaving the lights off for 48 hours. Your system probably has some photosynthetic ammonia assimulators in it and when you left the lights off they stopped working (sucking up the ammonia) which means there was no competitors against the nitrifiers which then did their thing. Plus the ammonia assimulators probably started to extruded organics and maybe even start to die due to lack of assimulation and that organic material is what your skimmer pulled out.

    Hope this helps explain things


  • Alex says:

    Hi Where can I get this from? I live in England thank you

  • Bob says:

    Brilliant, just watched the video, everything explained in such a fashion that I could understand, all the right questions asked, exactly what I needed, thank you very much.

  • Bob says:

    Im rebuilding my 75 gallon with 15 gallon sump. I have a 40 gallon downstairs holding my yellow tang, shrimp, brital star, anomone, zenia. My question, I can see that you can add the fish fast but what about the coral, anomoe?

  • chris says:

    Mr. Saltwater Tank…just wanted to say THANKS…your channel is packed full of great advice. Keep on rockin’ the reef news…we reefers in Detroit sure do appreciate it! Keep us the great work!

  • Thanks Chris! Keep warm up there!

  • Mike says:


    I am new to the saltwater aquarium world and I have been doing a LOT of reading and asking questions. I started a 30g with live sand and LR, after discovering your site I will never do that again. I have two maroon clown fish and one diadem dottyback. The tank was doing well and I felt I didn’t have enough rock in it so I added some more LR, again never doing that again. I have had a large ammonia and nitrite spike, not sure why. Can I use Dr. Tim’s to boost the bacteria and reduce the toxins in an already established tank?


    Love the site

  • Mike…adding more Dr. Tim’s won’t hurt as you can’t overdose the nitrifying bacteria.

  • Sty says:

    I’m about to cycle a new 93 gallon cube tank and want to use Dr. Tims bacteria but I have a couple of questions. Im putting in live rock from an existing tank, and all new live sand will this effect anything?

  • Sty…the live rock can help provide bacteria to your new tank. I don’t recommend starting a tank with live rock or live sand though as they can carry pests.

  • Toni says:

    Mark I have a 60 gallon reef aquarium that I am still trying to cycle. I put in the drtim’s one and only and still have a really high nitrite level. I was told to change 15 gallon of water which I did and still the nitrite reading was very high, was then told to do a 30 gallon water change the next day and I did that but still the nitrite level is really high, I am using the API master test kit, which I test on fresh saltwater and got a 0ppm reading then test the water in the saltwater aquarium and still have a very high reading. What next would you suggest. (no fish have been harmed I am using ammonia).

  • Jumping J says:

    When would you add live rock and live sand?

  • Butch says:

    I’m interested in this guys questions, would it be safe to put coral in right away?

    Bob March 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Im rebuilding my 75 gallon with 15 gallon sump. I have a 40 gallon downstairs holding my yellow tang, shrimp, brital star, anomone, zenia. My question, I can see that you can add the fish fast but what about the coral, anomoe?

  • Butch…soft corals could be added after 2 weeks. Hard corals and more sensitive creatures like anemones should wait till the novice reef keeper’s skills have built up.

  • Mike says:

    Hello all,

    I have setup my 90 gallon FOWLR tank. The tank has been setup for about two weeks. Can I add Dr. Tims during the cycle or do I have to wait?

    My ammonia is trace at best and my nitrites are off the chart. Will Dr. Tims help here during the cycle?

    If I do use it now during the cycle will I be able to start adding livestock?


  • Mike says:

    So I am here to answer my own post.

    I needed to move my fish to my newly setup 90 gallon FOWLR early so I bought Dr Tims and added it to my tank as directed. My nitrites were high and my ammomnia was dropping as expected, I had not even completed my second week of cycling. I added Dr. Tims and within 24 hours my ammonia was gone and my nitrites were at .25 within 36 hours my nitrites were 0 and my other parameters were right on the mark. My 4 fish along with a small cleaner crew are in the tank and all is well.
    I am now a firm believer in Dr. Tims especially because I added it right in the middle of my cycle and it worked perfectly.

  • Mike…great to hear another person happy with Dr. Tim’s products and congrats on the new tank setup.

  • Hi Mark,
    Thank you for all the info. I want to ask you this: i started my tank back in June 2011 and still have algae problem (switching between cyno, green, brown, macro) although I have a phospate reactor. My tests measure nitrate and nitrite close to 0 and quite low levels of ammonia. I cannot make sense of this data. Do you have any conclusion? Recently I started measuring kh, calcium and magnesium levels and changed my T5s and algae growth seemed to have slowed…
    Thank you in advance

  • Manish says:

    Hi mark,
    Thank you for this info.It was very helpful for me because I was thinking how to cycle my tank in easy and fast way and this is the process I got from your site.Thank you…

  • Jay says:

    Mark im a week in and my nitrite are still reading 2 ppm. What should i do?

  • Jay…what test kit are you using?

  • Jay…read this and then grab this

  • Jay says:

    Should i just get every hanna checker? Looking towards long term

  • Rob says:

    Mark I use the oao bacteria on my 125g RR tank. It’s on day 7 now. Never got a ammonia spike always 0 nitrite is 0 but most it went up was 0.1. Nitrates went up as 0.25 then 0.10. I use salifert test. Is it fine to start my skimmer now? What do u think of my readings? Or suggestions!

  • Rob…you are good to start your skimmer now. Your readings sound in line with other experiences I’ve had with the product. Nice to see that you are another shining example of how good his product works.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks mark for your help. Your guides help me so much! Yes love this product! Now the fun part starts picking the fish n corals!

  • Michael says:

    Can I run my brs dual reactor with gfo and carbon while using dr tims O&O? I haven’t seen it anywheres where you can or cannot! Just not to run skimmer or uv sterilizer. Someone please help before I mess this up. 90 gal RR w/ 30 gal sump, 100 lbs brs reef saver, dry sand.

  • Michael…leave the carbon and GFO off for 2 weeks while the bacteria is growing

  • Lisa says:

    Do you have Dr. Tim’s contact info? I want to thank him. His nitrifying bacteria product just saved my freshwater 50g from utter disaster. I used a dewormer and COMPLETELY lost the cycle. Now, this tank is about as close as you can get to overstocked without actually being overstocked, and this crash was terrible news. By the time I found out what happened, my ammonia had spiked to at least 7 (I’ve lost my test kit card) and my fish were in serious distress. Following a complete water change and the addition of a bottle of his bacteria, my cycle is back and my fish are safe. It took less than 48 hours to bring back my cycle. His work rescued my beloved fishes. The total death toll, thanks to him, is a single rummynose tetra. The other two aren’t looking so hot but they are eating so hopefully they will recover as well.

  • Lisa…I’ll forward your comment onto him. Thanks for the feedback and I’m glad to hear it worked well for you. I continue to use his products with great success.

  • Roger says:

    Hi, I’m new to the Saltwater thing also, and am getting things together to set up a 120 gallon reef and fish tank. My question is, what about coral, when can I safely add them? And speaking of saltwater, I ordered 60 lbs of dry rock, do I really need 60 lbs + more? And when should I run my skimer, canister filter, and T5 lights? All these questions refer to me using Dr Tim’s product, it sounds real exciting, and makes so much sens to me tto do it this way, it sounds so much easier and safer …… Thank You, Roger

  • mark says:

    HI I’ve used turbo start (recommended by another marine biologist)on 3 different occasions with the same results as Tims so now I have 2 choices this is great thanks mark.

  • mark…besides Dr. Tim’s One and Only, Fritz’s Turbo Start is the only other nitrifying bacteria product that I’d trust.

  • daniel Tran says:

    I have been run 220 galon saltwater tank. One day, my sump broke dowm. I used none safety aquarium silicon to fix it. This even have been killed my live stock. Ammonia was high. I added some carbon, but it hasn’t been work well.
    So, i took everything down. And start over.
    My question:
    – all my bacteria system was kill by toxin from silicon. What kind of bacteria, I should add in my new set up.
    – or, do we have anyway to help me quicker. So I can put my live stock back?
    Thank you Mike

  • mike gosselin says:

    ive got a 90gallon reef ready tank can I just add the bottle of Dr. Tim’s one and only nitrifying bacteria for reef tanks to my tank and add fish maybe the next day. what about corals how long before I can add them to the tank. also will I see diatoms and all the other stuff u get when u cycle a reef tank the normal way without the Dr. Tim’s one and only nitrifying bacteria.

  • EB says:

    Hey Dr. Tim.. I just moved my tank and re-plumbed everything. I will have close to 700 gallons after everything said and done. I was curious If i could use this to cycle my main tank which is 300 gallons and then open the valve for other tanks and have them cycled off of my main. Kinda like a huge water change. Would that work?

  • REEF NUBIE says:

    Hello to all!
    I’m still in the process of my research, studying, asking lots and lots of questions, and documenting everything that I can, and have learned prior to making that final commitment to start my own Saltwater Reef Paradise.
    This question may sound really stupid to some, but I just haven’t been able to find any information that would settle my mind concerning WHO OR WHAT is BRS?
    I’ve read many, many articles where certain people refer to those initials time & time again, and to this day, I don’t have a clue as to whom these experienced reefers are actually referring to.
    Like I said, “THIS MAY SOUND STUPID TO SOME, but when I read something or hear of something that I’ve never read or heard of before, it just kind of gets to me until I can either figure it out for myself, or depend on someone else educating me on some particular subject or topic, so if anyone can answer this question for me, I sure would appreciate it!!!
    GOD BLESS!!!



  • Tony says:

    Setup my 125 gallon tank with a 55 gallon sump. I added 12 ounces of OAO bacteria and then 2 clown fish. First day I has 0.25 amonia, 0.00 nitrates and 0.00 nitrites. Today is the 7th day and my readings are still the same. I think my clownfish strarted acting weird. Can you please advise if I do something wrong. Should I add more OAO bacteria?

  • sdf says:

    Great blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What host
    are you using? Can I get your affiliate link
    to your host? I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

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