View Full Version : Smelly Tanks


Eggfong
02-23-2012, 4:50 PM
Even I can notice it now. The whole house smells like Beaufort SC at low tide. (Actually an odor I love but it puts guest off).
Yes I have salt creep but that's about it, what to do?

Thanh386
02-23-2012, 4:53 PM
Did you just add in new rock ?

JennM
02-23-2012, 4:54 PM
A healthy tank shouldn't smell. What are your parameters?

Miami Dolfan
02-23-2012, 5:29 PM
Clean your skimmer more often if it's already green. I added an exhaust fan drawing air outside to help.

126 reef
02-23-2012, 5:39 PM
My first tank smelled like that for awhile eight before it crashed. A ton of h2s in the sand beds. If it smells like rotten eggs there is a good chance that's it

Eggfong
02-23-2012, 7:22 PM
Getting ready to crash? Not good. The sand in the 125 and the 49 (they share a sump, one tank on one side of a wall and one on the other) came from Tampa Bay Salt Water about 8 years ago. The 90 has 3 to 4 year old sand and rock. I don't want to crash, perhaps mega water changes for a few weeks.

Thank you all for the prompt answers.

JennM
02-23-2012, 7:33 PM
Deep sand or shallow sand? If shallow, do you vacuum it?

Have you checked your parameters?

DawgFace
02-23-2012, 7:52 PM
Are you running carbon? If yes, when did you last change it?

Dakota9
02-23-2012, 8:23 PM
Getting ready to crash? Not good. The sand in the 125 and the 49 (they share a sump, one tank on one side of a wall and one on the other) came from Tampa Bay Salt Water about 8 years ago. The 90 has 3 to 4 year old sand and rock. I don't want to crash, perhaps mega water changes for a few weeks.

Thank you all for the prompt answers.


Old Tank Syndrome? Some say it doesn't really exist, but others say it happens...... Maybe a tank upgrade?

Try a massive waterchange and running lots of high quality carbon....

Eggfong
02-23-2012, 8:44 PM
JennM, deep and shallow depending on where the critters move it. It's never been vacuumed. Check parameters? I don't even know where the kit is anymore.
DawgFace, no carbon since the last time the sea hare went all black out purple dye squirting on me, a year or so ago in the 90.
Dakota9, Old Tank Syndrome... I'll look into that. Massive water changes and carbon for a week or so, that's the plan.

You all are the best to jump in and help like this. Thank you.

PAINDOCC
02-23-2012, 9:27 PM
Vacuuming sand? What's that about? Actually my sand does look kind of Grunchy

gregoryleonard
02-23-2012, 9:30 PM
JennM, deep and shallow depending on where the critters move it. It's never been vacuumed. Check parameters? I don't even know where the kit is anymore.
DawgFace, no carbon since the last time the sea hare went all black out purple dye squirting on me, a year or so ago in the 90.
Dakota9, Old Tank Syndrome... I'll look into that. Massive water changes and carbon for a week or so, that's the plan.

You all are the best to jump in and help like this. Thank you.

If you haven't checked your parameters so long ago you don't know where the test kits are, you have more problems on the horizon (IMHO). I test the major parameters of my 125 once a week to be sure all is well. SG, AK, MG, PO4, NO3, PH, Ca, Mg (just to name a few).
When you do your water change, I would also suggest you syphon out some of the deep sand parts of the tank (from the bottom layer using a 1"-1.5" hose) and vacuum the sand, this will get a lot of Nitrates and detritus out of your tank and help some of your parameters. Just my opinion to help you out.

JennM
02-23-2012, 10:06 PM
Old Tank Syndrome does not exist. Lazy Aquarist Syndrome DOES exist. We have tanks we've maintained for 10-11 years now - params are perfect. My shop systems have been running 10 years. No issues. There is no mystery to this - it's just consistent maintenance. If you don't keep on the maintenance, bad stuff happens, period.

No offense intended to OP, but by your own admission you haven't been monitoring parameters so a problem has arisen right under your nose (pardon the pun).

Test the water for starters - that will likely be a real eye-opener. I'd bet nitrates are high, for starters. Probably phosphates too. If the substrate has 8 years of poop in it that has never been vacuumed, that's the source of the smell. The decomposition of all the dirt in the substrate will stink for sure - and disturbing it now might cause an even larger set of problems when hydrogen sulfide is released.

I'd remove any fish, corals and inverts FIRST, then give the system a good overhaul and discard the putrid sand, and put a shallow layer of new, live sand.

Jenn

JBDreefs
02-23-2012, 10:26 PM
I have read somewhere about breaking the "bubble" in the sand and crashing a tank. Essentially, a lot of bad stuff builds up under the sand over time. Then one day it releases, by disturbing it or other means, and poof. Everything dies. I'm no expert, but thought I'd share what I read somewhere.

I agree with Jenn. Remove the goods and get rid of the bad. Since you have two tanks on the same system, it would be nice to isolate one tank for overhauling. Is that a possibility?

Eggfong
02-24-2012, 6:21 AM
JBDreefs, yes I can isolate one from the other for overhauling. This is not going to be fun but I do intend to post the results, good or bad. Thanks all.

126 reef
02-24-2012, 6:40 AM
Old Tank Syndrome does not exist. Lazy Aquarist Syndrome DOES exist. We have tanks we've maintained for 10-11 years now - params are perfect. My shop systems have been running 10 years. No issues. There is no mystery to this - it's just consistent maintenance. If you don't keep on the maintenance, bad stuff happens, period.

No offense intended to OP, but by your own admission you haven't been monitoring parameters so a problem has arisen right under your nose (pardon the pun).

Test the water for starters - that will likely be a real eye-opener. I'd bet nitrates are high, for starters. Probably phosphates too. If the substrate has 8 years of poop in it that has never been vacuumed, that's the source of the smell. The decomposition of all the dirt in the substrate will stink for sure - and disturbing it now might cause an even larger set of problems when hydrogen sulfide is released.

I'd remove any fish, corals and inverts FIRST, then give the system a good overhaul and discard the putrid sand, and put a shallow layer of new, live sand.

Jenn

I would agree. You will be fighting a losing battle and spend more time and money in the long run if you try to fix the problem by doing water changes and adding carbon at this point. Get rid of the sand bed! IMO you would be wasting your money on live sand if you have a tank that is already established. I would by cheaper dry sand. It will self populate quickly with any beneficial critters from your live rock, and live sand also has a lot of dead stuff in it adding additional nitrates and phosphate to your system.

Edulover
02-24-2012, 9:23 AM
I added a MP40 to my tank and when I came home the next day my tank had a fishy smell. All inhabitants are fine. Parameters are normal. I'm assuming the pump just stirred up a lot of crud on the rocks and sand.

JennM
02-24-2012, 9:35 AM
There is a 'convenience factor' in the bagged live sand when adding it to an existing tank. Biological factors aside, (which I know folks will argue, so that's not my main point) - if you get dry sand, it needs to be rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and even after much rinsing, you'll still get a "dust bowl" in your tank for a while. The moist, live sand, goes straight into the tank - no washing, and very little clouding - water should be clear again within an hour. Either way is an option - just offering up a bit of a time/work saver there.

I'd suggest having a depth of only about 3/4" to 1" and keeping it vacuumed going forward. I'm not a fan of the deep sand bed, but for those that do use it, it does need to be replaced every few years - it eventually gets saturated with crud and ceases to work properly. Deep Sand Beds are 4-6" in depth so OP doesn't really have that although it may be behaving as one that has reached its saturation point and is starting to cause problems.

I've always done the shallow sand method - keep it vacuumed, and like I said, we have tanks we've been maintaining for 10 and more years, without any issues. Consistency is the key.

Jenn

cr500_af
02-24-2012, 9:43 AM
Jenn, interested in your input here... I know you can't draw a hard line, but generally speaking, at what point in the "I never vacuumed my sand" timeline would you say it is still OK to start doing it?
Not so much for me, because I'll be switching tanks soon... but for example, when I started in the hobby I really did make a diligent effort to read all I could. I read that I should not disturb the sand on an established tank, and I didn't. Now it's almost 3 years later, and this thread made me wonder... if I were staying "in" this tank, would I be OK to start vacuuming in small sections, or would it be reset time? Somebody else has to be in the same boat...

JennM
02-24-2012, 9:50 AM
It's a tough call, Barry. Before I'd make that determination I'd be asking a lot of questions. It also depends on the depth of the sand too, and the parameters and usually whatever problem may be occurring at that time. If it's a fairly new tank, normally there would be nothing to fear, but an old tank that may have all kinds of rotting crud (and SMELL) would be a huge red flag to me, to remove the livestock first, if at all possible.

I should also mention that removing the livestock without disturbing the sand also bears hazards. If there's lots of rock, that may need to be removed before it's even possible to remove the fish... and moving the rock can potentially open up a pocket.

It's a catch-22, really.

The best way to not find oneself in this precarious situation, is not to let things go in the first place, unfortunately. In this instance, that ship has sailed - so being aware of the hazards and making a plan, are the best ways to deal with it.

Jenn

126 reef
02-24-2012, 10:12 AM
Jenn, interested in your input here... I know you can't draw a hard line, but generally speaking, at what point in the "I never vacuumed my sand" timeline would you say it is still OK to start doing it?
Not so much for me, because I'll be switching tanks soon... but for example, when I started in the hobby I really did make a diligent effort to read all I could. I read that I should not disturb the sand on an established tank, and I didn't. Now it's almost 3 years later, and this thread made me wonder... if I were staying "in" this tank, would I be OK to start vacuuming in small sections, or would it be reset time? Somebody else has to be in the same boat...

I am also in the same boat. All of the info I across originally said that you should not clean the sand bed and it is like same magical in-exhaustible nitrate converting filter. Now I realize how ridiculous it is after my first reef tank crashed mainly do to a sand bed full of crap that had broken down to h2s. I think people want to believe in the magical deep sand bed theory because it sounds so great you want it to be true.

When I bought my current tank I made a huge mistake of leaving in the previous sand bed that was loaded with waste. It has been about seven months, and I really want to relace the sand bed, but can't figure out the best way to do it. The grain is really to small to vacuum so I want something shallow and coarse I can easily vaccume up. Even after only sixonths when I vacuum small portions I will hit a occasional h2s pocket and the smell will be strong all of the sudden then go away. I am thinking of taking it about little by little maybe over and eight week span, so an 1/8 at a time.

Jenn, what are your thoughts on that plan? I have a lot sps growing and I am worried about throwing off my system balance since my sand bed is also providing some positive filtration for me still. I'm also nervous about releasing bad stuff

bpatterson617
02-24-2012, 10:18 AM
So would you recommend a gravel vacuum to do a deeper clean on the sand bed? My only concern is that I have fairly fine sand and dont want to suck out the whole sand bed by only using a piece of tubing to clean the sand.

rdnelson99
02-24-2012, 10:23 AM
So would you recommend a gravel vacuum to do a deeper clean on the sand bed? My only concern is that I have fairly fine sand and dont want to suck out the whole sand bed by only using a piece of tubing to clean the sand.

Pretty much my concern too. How do you vacuum the sand with out it all being pulled out in the process. I love the look of a nice white bed of fine sand but if I had to do it over again I think I would go to crushed coral. Or at least I would research crushed coral before just going with sand.

JennM
02-24-2012, 10:24 AM
Not sure what I'd suggest, 126... especially if you're hitting pockets of H2O2. Pew! If it were me I'd probably do the same as I suggested for OP - take everything out and put it into another vessel and do a major overhaul on the display, thus not risking your livestock when you inevitably open the can of stank.

I remember about 10 years ago when the DSB craze was in full swing, I had friends more learned than me shaking their heads at me for not jumping on board. I'd always done the shallow sand/vacuum method, which has worked well for me, so I took the, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. About 3 or 4 years later, when those same folks started yanking their DSBs because of leaching problems, I asked one, "How's that workin' out for ya?" - he wasn't a happy camper :lol: (But he's a good sport or I wouldn't have razzed him about it.)

It appears from anecdotal experiences, that the DSB works well for a period of time, but once it's saturated/exhausted, if it's not replaced/replenished, then the problems begin.

In my experience, doing the shallow/vacuum method doesn't present any long-term issue. You'll lose a bit of sand from vacuuming, but it's easy enough to replace some if the bed thins a bit (I like the bagged live sand for this - no muss, no fuss, no cloudy water for more than an hour or so).

A lot of the folks I knew that had discarded their DSB went the other extreme - bare bottom. And for a while the "Starboard" bottom was popular - they covered the glass bottom with a product called Starboard which was some sort of boat product so one didn't have a bare glass bottom. That fad seemed to have died out too, in fairly short order.

The trick to vacuuming sand with a gravel vacuum is to crimp the hose to control flow. I'm right-handed, so I use my right hand to manipulate the gravel tube through the sand, and I use my left hand to crimp the hose to regulate the flow. I don't really run the siphon wide open when I'm vacuuming sand, I pretty much always have the hose crimped to some extent. If sand starts to go too high up the gravel tube, I crimp down to slow the flow, sand falls back down, but I leave enough flow to suck up the lighter detritus. The finer the sand, the more tricky that is to do, but it's not that difficult with a bit of practice. You *will* lose a bit of sand here and there, but once you get the hang of it, it's not a biggie.

And for those who think that vacuuming sand will suck out all the amphipods and stuff - I just don't see that. I've inspected plenty of buckets of waste water - I've let it settle to see if there are critters in it, and there aren't. I suppose it's possible to suck up a few, but they're quicker than that - if you've ever tried to harvest pods with a turkey baster or a siphon, it's not that easy.

Jenn

Maelstrom79
02-24-2012, 10:52 AM
Jenn, you always offer great advice - if egg was able to rewind the clock say 5 years ago or so (to when the tank was 3 yrs old), even with diligent cleaning of the sand bed doesnt it become "depleted" at some point and must be replaced? If so, and some have told me that the bed does deplete, are you able to replace the sand in stages (vacuuming out a third of sand at a time over a long period and replacing with fresh live sand) without causing a hard cycle on the tank?

JennM
02-24-2012, 11:01 AM
I don't know if it becomes "depleted"... beneficial bacteria live on the surface of the sand, and they don't come off when the sand is cleaned by vacuuming. The volume of sand itself may deplete a bit as a bit is lost when vacuuming. What we do is just replenish the sand from time to time by adding more Arag-Alive when we feel it's a bit thin.

Using this method to maintain the sandbed, the only time we really discard and replace a sand bed is if we're taking down and moving a tank. The main reason why we do this, is so we can empty the tank completely to move it, and even with regular cleaning there are bound to be spots that are hard to access, and some junk will accumulate there - no sense keeping that junk. Also, once one drains a tank and there's no water movement, those bacteria rapidly begin to die off. Just ask anybody who has kept a bucket of used sand for more than a few hours - once you stir it up, it stinks. Decaying organic matter, dead bacteria... stinky mess. Easier and safer to just replace it at that point, and start fresh.

Of course if we are hired to take over maintenance on a tank where proper sand bed maintenance hasn't been done, we will remove some sand if we find it necessary. I've pulled a few smelly plenums over the years too (that's a whole other can of worms). In those instances we usually pull all the livestock first, and before we start we make the customer aware of the risks we've discussed - that disturbing things during the removal can also be a risk factor. So far we've been lucky though (knock on wood!)

Been doing it this way for over 10 years, have not had an issue yet. Don't forget that those beneficial bacterial also inhabit the rock, so it's not like it's a huge wipe-out of biological. Yes, removing the existing sand bed will remove a lot of beneficial bacteria but that's the safer option versus replacing the same sand bed full of a pile of dead bacteria.

Jenn

Maelstrom79
02-24-2012, 11:18 AM
Got it, so you mentioned that 1 inch is ideal but what if you have gobies (yellow watchman) and critters like pistol shrimp? Would u go 2 to 3 inches then? Also, in a fuge - still a shallow 1 inch bed?

126 reef
02-24-2012, 12:24 PM
I do think it is beificial to slowly replace sand. You are going to have little bits comming out whenever you siphon and you can replace it that way whenever it starts to look thin. My reasoning is that calcium carbonate (sand) binds up phosphates over time so it is a good way to take them out once the sand has binded a maximum about of phosphates and the new sand you are putting in can absorb them. This way it's kinds done by attrition and you never have to actually make a focused effort to replace sand

JennM
02-24-2012, 1:16 PM
Got it, so you mentioned that 1 inch is ideal but what if you have gobies (yellow watchman) and critters like pistol shrimp? Would u go 2 to 3 inches then? Also, in a fuge - still a shallow 1 inch bed?

Still a shallow 1" bed for those is fine. Burrowing wrasses too. If you're going to keep jawfish or something that needs a deeper burrow then I'd keep one area deeper for that purpose.

Jenn

Maelstrom79
02-24-2012, 2:10 PM
One inch it is then :)