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2.8.2. Sludge Removing Bacteria

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Author : David Bogert

Published :

Time To Read :
7 minutes
Difficulty : Level 7

Excerpt :

There are products which are supposedly “sludge removing” bacteria-in-a-bottle. These include Seachem Pristine™, Tetra Cleaning Bacteria™, API Stresszyme +™, Fluval Biological Cleaner™, Nutrafin Waste Control™ , Outbreak!™, FritzZyme® MONSTER 360™ and Dr. Tim’s Waste Away™. They are the very definition of fraud. “Definition of fraud; DECEIT, TRICKERY, specifically: intentional perversion of truth in order to ... Read more

There are products which are supposedly “sludge removing” bacteria-in-a-bottle. These include Seachem Pristine™, Tetra Cleaning Bacteria™, API Stresszyme +™, Fluval Biological Cleaner™, Nutrafin Waste Control™ , Outbreak!™, FritzZyme® MONSTER 360™ and Dr. Tim’s Waste Away™. They are the very definition of fraud.

“Definition of fraud; DECEIT, TRICKERY, specifically: intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value”

Otopharynx lithobates Sulphur Head
Otopharynx lithobates – Sulphur Head

Test Abstract

A test was run on six “sludge eating bacteria” products. 14 small two ounce (59 Milliliter) clear bottles were filled with heavy sludge filled water from the squeezing of several heavily filled sponge filters. Six “sludge eating bacteria” products were then added to twelve of the bottles. The bottles were shaken daily and then allowed to settle with the caps off. After two months there had been little reduction in the amount of sludge in any of the bottles, including the bottles without any “sludge eating bacteria” added.

This simple test that anyone can do, proved “sludge eating bacteria” simply don’t work.

Test Equipment

  • fourteen 2 oz (59 Milliliter) Clear PET Plastic Boston Round Bottles
  • brown squeezings from four large powerhead operated sponge filters
  • six “sludge eating” products
    • Seachem Pristine™
    • Fluval Biological Cleaner™
    • Nutrafin Waste Control™
    • Outbreak!™
    • FritzZyme® MONSTER 360
    • Dr. Tim’s Waste Away™.
Otopharynx tetrastigma
Otopharynx tetrastigma

Test Procedure

  • Shake each bottle of product thoroughly
  • Add an equal amount of squeezings to each of 14 bottles
  • Add one milliliter of six sludge eating bacteria products (after shaking the bottles) to twelve of the bottles
  • Leave the bottles with the caps off open to the air
  • On the second day mark each bottle with the level of brown that the contents had settled to (initially about 3/8 inch (9.5 mm), not a lot)
  • On a daily basis cap the bottles and shake them, keeping the caps segregated to prevent cross contamination.
  • Did this for sixty days


At the end of sixty days all the bottles still had about 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) of sludge in them. There was no discernible difference in the drop in any bottle, with no bottle showing noticeable drops in the sludge levels. On this basis it was concluded the products were not effective in reducing sludge.

Amphilophus hybrid, midevil, Midas, Red Devil
Amphilophus hybrid, midevil, Midas, Red Devil


There is a type of bacteria of interest here. It is called “heterotrophic bacteria”. “Heterotrophic” is just a big word that means “eats normal food”. I.e. just like us, these bacteria eat proteins, carbohydrates and fats. This means normal everyday bacteria, found everywhere in millions of species and numbers in the millions to billions per square inch. Last time you went to the bathroom you probably deposited about half a pound of these bacteria into the sewer.

These bacteria are found on one’s walls, counter tops, body, pets, literally everywhere. They multiply by dividing in two in as little as 15 minutes. The “bacteria-in-a-bottle” products used for cycling aquariums are unquestionably 99.99% these heterotrophic bacteria, if indeed they are anything but bottles of water. If these “sludge removing” products have anything at all in them they are probably identical to the bacteria-in-a-bottle products. These products simply have different labels.

These bottles of “sludge removing bacteria” are thus simply very dilute solutions of sewage in a bottle. They are just the common everyday heterotrophic bacteria found in sewage, soil, manure, any surface, the air, the water etc. etc. in millions of species and strains.

There are no “unique” heterotrophic bacteria. If there were unique strains of heterotrophic bacteria that broke down waste faster than other strains they would be worth millions of dollars to the sewage treatment plants of the world. Sewage treatment plants don’t buy inoculate for their systems. There is no such “unique strain” of “sludge eating bacteria”.

Maylandia estherae Red Zebra
Maylandia estherae – Red Zebra

Note that there are some YouTube videos proclaiming the value of these products. The person doing these videos works for the company making the products. He’s got to make a living! That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to believe him.

The extent of this fraud is revealed by the Seachem Pristine™ claims:

Pristine™ uses bio-augmentation, a non-chemical and natural method, to improve water quality. It provides bacteria that break down excess food, waste and detritus in freshwater and marine systems. It will also reduce excess nutrients (e.g. ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites) that may fuel the growth of nuisance and disease-causing organisms. Pristine™ increases water clarity and promotes overall better health for the aquatic environment. The bacteria species in Pristine™ thrive in fresh or saltwater and can utilize a wide range of organic compounds, including fats that can cause unsightly films. Unlike traditional nitrifying bacteria, this bacterial blend can adapt to harsh or low oxygen environments and continue to multiply and improve water conditions. Biopolymers produced by established bacterial colonies trap particulates and increase water clarity. The species of bacteria in Pristine™ are a unique blend, specifically developed for hardiness and their ability to adapt to a wide variety of environmental conditions.

Seachem Pristine™

This is incredible snake oil salesmanship. This write-up mixes science with cleverly deceitful claims in the pseudo-scientific bedazzlement so typical of Seachem. These folks are literally selling decomposing poop (that’s what sludge eating bacteria are!!!) for incredibly high prices. The author simply finds himself at a loss for words to describe this fraud.

Now there are many, many hobbyists who belief Seachem can do no wrong. These hobbyists will absolutely believe that Seachem has developed special strains of bacteria capable of rapidly decomposing sludge. After all, “Seachem is an honest outfit”.

The author has a very good deal for these people. We have a white pill which is guaranteed to raise I.Q. by 40 points, make one irresistible to the opposite sex, and take 20 years off your apparent age. It is only $998 per tablet. Just ignore the letters B-A-Y-E-R on the tablets. Honest! Would I lie?

picture of an aquarium fish Pangio semicincta Striped Kuhli Loach
Pangio semicincta – Striped Kuhli Loach

A Really Fraudulent Snake Oil

Just about the time you think you’ve seen it all, someone comes up with an even more egregious snake oil.  There is a new product which is supposedly “beneficial pathogens”  (Did I just read that right? “BENEFICIAL PATHOGENS“???? Wow!) which do the following:

“Aquazo™ 4-in-1 Fish Tank Solution

  • Eliminates pesky algae
  • Cleans hazy water
  • Prevents disease
  • Kills harmful bacteria

Naturally dissolves in water bed. Kills bad bacteria for a healthy aquatic life. Naturally eliminates algae and other harmful compounds and prevents disease-causing bacteria in just 1 bottle.

Wow! This is just a load of complete and total bull____.

Protomelas spilonotus Mbenji Island
Protomelas spilonotus – Mbenji Island

There is another fraudulent “bacteria in a bottle” product called Photosynthetic Bacteria (SL-Aqua Blackmore PS Bacteria).

Supposedly this product:

  • Removes ammonia and nitrite
  • Decomposes nitrate to nitrogen gas
  • Helps improve the quality of water in an aquarium.
  • Helps decompose many toxic matters such as nitrous acid, organic materials, ammonia, pond sludge, and hydrogen sulphide.
  • Enhances the disease resistance capacity of an aquarium.
  • Not only purifies the water quality but increases oxygen dissolution capacity.
  • Helps reduce the chemical and antibiotic usage as it prevents disease in aquatic life.
  • Helps decrease diseases by restraining the pathogenic bacteria counts in the water.
  • Helps decrease dissolved organic compounds (DOCs), SS (suspended substances) and BOD and improve water quality.
  • Is rich in nutrition as it contains vitamin B, vitamin A, vitamin D, protein and others.
  • Helps improve the appetite of fish and shrimp and their digestion.
  • Helps promote botanical plankton growth.

Not a single word of this pile of bull____ has even an inkling of truth to it. It is all just incredible marketing hype. ALL OF IT. And people will believe this marketing hype and buy it!

Cynotilapia zebroides Jalo Reef
Cynotilapia zebroides – Jalo Reef

Bacteria in a Bottle Products

There are a lot of bacteria in a bottle products which claim to allow one to “instantly” cycle an aquarium. Testing on these products said that they are ALSO snake oil products with no value in the aquarium. One can review the test of these products at the following link:

2.8. Test of Bacteria in a Bottle