Aquarium, Chemistry, Filtration, Lighting

How to Start a Saltwater Aquarium

An aquarium can add beauty to your living room or any room you choose to put it. A saltwater one will add more pop since there are plenty more colorful saltwater fish that there are on fresh water. If you add corals to your aquarium, it makes it even more attractive. So, before you get started, do your homework because a saltwater aquarium can become pretty expensive.

Choose a Tank, Fish, and Extra Features

Choosing the tank – Starting a saltwater aquarium can be a challenge; however, there are many places you can go to get assistance on how to start the process. Visit your pet store and speak to an expert who knows about saltwater fish. By knowing what type of fish you want can determine the size of the tank to purchase. Also, the other features you plan to put in the tank as well will give you a better idea on the capacity to get. If you have space, get a wider tank than a taller one. Wider tanks make circulation better than tall tanks.

How to determine the right tank size – Know how large your fish will get can present a better picture of the size of tank to purchase. For example, if your fish will grow up to 24 inches and you plan to get a two by 6 feet tank, you divide 96 inches by 24 inches to get 4. The tank is just okay, but a bigger one would give the fish more space.

Which fish to select – Selecting your fish is pretty essential. You want to have a peaceful environment for your fish. Saltwater fish are more expensive than freshwater, and you don’t want to lose money by purchasing fish every other day. So, you also want to choose a fish that is tolerant of a fluctuating environment, resistant to parasites, and non-aggressive. Avoid the sensitive and aggressive ones to begin with; also the picky eaters.

Select the extra features – Saltwater tank creates an eco-system, and once the eco-system is in the sink, any living organism in it will survive in harmony. Purchase live sand to put in the aquarium. Live sand has bacteria and tiny invertebrates that help filter the water. Choose a filter that can handle the amount of water in your aquarium. If you are not sure about the filter, asked at the pet store. A submersible heater will also be necessary to keep the water at a specific temperature, usually 70 to 82℉, depending on the fish. Lastly, lighting is critical, and a suitable one for your saltwater will keep the ecosystem stable. LED lights are best and especially with color variations.

Setting up The Tank

Now that you have a tank setting it up is as important as deciding which tank to buy. You want to make the spot you choose to place the tank will be easily accessible to you when it is time to clean it. Also, make sure you have an outlet nearby to plug in all necessary equipment that requires power. Or, purchase a power supply with multiple outlets that will provide enough power.

Choosing the right place – The right place, whether it is a corner or the middle of the wall, will affect the aquarium and its inhabitants. First, make sure the surface you put your aquarium is level. Also, the table or stand you use can sustain the weight of the tank. You don’t want to come home and find your fish swimming on the floor. The tank should not be hanging over the end of the table or stand. Get a stand that is precisely the size of the aquarium or larger. The same goes for a table if it is your choice.

Avoid heat sources – Keep the tank away from anything that provides heat. That includes direct sunlight and heat vents. Also, the air conditioner will provide cold air which can decrease the water temperature. The fish or other living creatures in your tank will surely not survive in conditions like that.

Setup your tank away from the wall – Have some space between you’re the aquarium and the wall; at least five inches or more away. The area will provide room for the outside equipment like a filter or protein skimmer. Also, you can clean the outside of the tank without the need to move it or to avoid cleaning it.

Preparing The Saltwater and Substrate

At this point, you have an empty tank, a filter, and light sitting on a table or a stand. This is when the fun begins by preparing the water to pour inside the tank. You can mix the water or purchase pre-mixed saltwater to avoid any mistakes. With the pre-mix, you can throw it directly into the aquarium. Make sure that when you purchase the pre-mix, you get the right amount for your tank and not less. You don’t want to dilute the water by just adding top or bottled water to get the quantity you need to fill the aquarium.

Clean the tank – Before you put anything inside the empty container, clean it with water first. By doing so, you will remove any dust that has accumulated during the time. Do not wash it with any chemicals or cleaners; use water and a clean cloth. Once you are finished cleaning, add the live sand at least 2 to 3 inches from the bottom.

Add the pre-mix saltwater – Now pure the water in gently to avoid any spill. Read the direction on the container carefully to get the right solution if you plan to create your saltwater mixed. You must purchase a hydrometer or refractometer to test the gravity of the water if you combine your solution. If the gravity is too low, add more salt and if too high dilute with fresh water.

Place the heater and filter – Once you have the right water gravity, now place the heater and filter inside the tank. Plug in both and leave on for 24-48 hours. The time will be enough for the salt to dissolve and the temperature to rise to where you set it. Test the water again after a day for the gravity and temperature. If you need to a just the gravity or temperature, do it at that point. You can add a live rock or coral to the tank. The stone will create a bio-filtration system to help convert ammonia into less harmful compounds.

Test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate – Now you can test for these chemicals with a saltwater test kit. You will notice the levels of ammonia and nitrate or nitrite increase and decrease at times. This occurs because of the aquarium cycling taking place. You may continue to add other features for decoration but only if there is space to do so. Don’t take away space from the fish or decrease the quantity of water in the tank.

Getting The Fish and Acclimating Them

Now that the tank is all set up and ready for the fish, it is time to purchase your fish. Remember, start small and get the right fish for your tank. Make sure the fish are healthy, not missing any parts, and shows no sign of injury or weakness. Once you leave the store, returning with a dead fish and asking for a refund will not guarantee it.

Acclimate the fish – Before you submerge the fish in the aquarium, you must get them adjusted to their new environment. To do so, get a container, preferably a bucket, and pour the water and fish into it. Do not add saltwater or fresh water to the container. Run a tube from the tank to the water and slowly drip the water from the aquarium into the container. The process may take an hour or more, be patient. Once the water in the container is about double, test it to see if it is similar to that water in the aquarium. If not, pour some into the tank and repeat the dripping process. Until both water, from the container and tank, have similar readings you can put the fish into the tank. Use a net to put the fish one at a time into the tank.

Taking Care of The Fish

You now have a saltwater aquarium with the right condition for your fish and any other living organisms to survive. You want to keep it like that for as long as you can. So, to do that you must feed your fish, clean the tank, and treat the water as regularly as possible. Having it is one thing but maintaining it is another.

Feeding the fish – Depends on the type of fish you have, you may want to use pellets or flakes. Flakes may work when you have a variety of fish. The falling pieces will give the smaller and less aggressive fish to eat while the more aggressive eat as fast as they can. It is also better to feed them small amounts throughout the day instead of more substantial amounts once or twice a day. Feeding the fish more frequently will keep them satisfied.

Attach a protein skimmer – A protein skimmer will help to collect organic compounds to keep the water clean and clear. When you are setting it up, follow the installation directions that come with the product. By doing so, you will have it longer and doing its job. Clean the protein skimmer daily to get the best results.

Replenish evaporated water – Keep your tank with the same amount of water. The water will evaporate from time to time but on a weekly basis, add purified freshwater to the tank. Do not add salt water. When the water evaporates, it leaves the salt, and by adding fresh water, the gravity becomes stable.

Clean and wash the tank parts – Clean the tank from algae by using an algae magnet, brush, or scraper. You can use a gravel vacuum to get rid of excess waste at the bottom of the aquarium. The more you feed your fish, the more waste they will produce. You must also clean the filter and any other features you can remove. Do not use any chemicals or detergents to clean the tank parts. Test the water after cleaning to make sure you maintain the proper living conditions for the aquarium.


If you follow these steps to start a saltwater aquarium, you will have more success with your fish. Once you get the right gist of how to maintain your aquarium, you can then move on to more aggressive fish or increase the size of your tank. Either way, you will have a long and prosperous eco-system sustaining itself and its living organisms.

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