A major component of reefing and keeping saltwater aquariums that deters people from the hobby is the maintenance that is required to upkeep them. It may feel like reefing requires too much work, but it may also be that you have an uncertainty on how to maintain a saltwater aquarium. Luckily for you, this article will explain the basics of maintenance and how you can make it easier to do, resulting in a stable and happy reef tank.
Maintenance of Your Saltwater Aquarium can be Challenging
Most hobbyists would agree that water changes are not enjoyable. Although, they are one of the most effective methods of maintenance, as they can take large amounts of nutrients out of the water quickly.
There is a way, though, to reduce the number of water changes you need to do. If your filtration is good enough, you will not have to do as many water changes. You can replace the nutrient export that takes place during a water change by having a few different components in your filtration.
A protein skimmer is a great option for nutrient export. Skimmers are very popular equipment in the reef hobby, as most people have them in there sumps or hanging off the back. They are considered one of the “must have” ways of how to maintain a saltwater aquarium. They simply skim protein from the water and collect it in a container called a collection cup. You will have to empty and clean the cup when it gets full. Protein skimmers can be expensive depending on the size and quality, but they are a standard piece of equipment every reef aquarium needs.
Another way to reduce nutrients is to use certain types of mechanical filtration, such as GFO (granular ferric oxide). GFO can be put in a bag and place anywhere in the sump or it can be put in a media reactor where it is most effective. GFO is especially known for removing phosphate, which is a nutrient that causes algae growth. It is important to note that you can use too much GFO and remove too much phosphate. For best results, you should change out the GFO every so often, which depends on the type you use.
Carbon is another popular mechanical filtration that will keep your water clear. It too has to be replaced every so often, which adds to the maintenance.
There are also natural methods of nutrient export. These methods, such as having excess surface area for bacteria and having a refugium, have proven to be very effective. Possibly the best way of eliminating nutrients is targeting it at its source, which is food and fish waste. When this waste breaks down, it turns into nutrients. These nutrients can then be broken down by beneficial bacteria. Having more of this bacteria will allow for lower nutrient levels. This bacteria needs to have a place to live, such as rocks and sand. You could simply add more rocks to your display tank or you could buy a type of rock media, such as Marine Pure blocks. This will give the bacteria more surface area to live in. These block can be put in any section of the sump, but they do especially well in a refugium. A refugium is a separate section in a sump where you can put sand, media blocks, copepods, and macroalgae. Macroalgae is another way to export nutrients naturally. The macroalgae feeds off the nutrients in the water and grows. You can then take chunks off of the macroalgae to physically take the nutrients out.
The most obvious part of how to maintain a salt water aquarium is the removal of large waste in the tank. Mechanical removal is done using a filter sock, a foam block, or both. You will have to clean these out when they get filthy. Filter floss can also be used, but you will have to clean it and replace it more. There are two different types of filter socks: felt and mesh. Felt socks filter out smaller things, but have to be cleaned much more. Mesh socks only filter out larger things, but do not have to be filtered out as much. It is up to you to decide which is best for your tank and situation.
Dosing and Stability of your Marine Aquarium
Dosing base elements (calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium) may be a major part of your tank’s maintenance depending on what kind of corals you want to grow. If you just have soft corals or none at all, don’t worry about dosing these elements. If you have corals other than soft corals, your tank will probably need some form of base element replenishment. The most common way is dosing. Dosing allows for stability within your tank and increased coral growth. For dosing, you have a few ways of going about doing it.
The least favorable way of dosing would be doing it manually. You would have to remember to dose every day, which adds the possibility of forgetting.
You can also use a dosing pump and a controller. This could be one of the more expensive ways to dose, but it requires little to no maintenance, aside from refilling the dosing containers.
You can also dose using an auto top off. Use something such as kalkwasser in the auto top off reservoir, and as the water in your tank evaporates it will dose the tank. This is the easiest and cheapest automated method but is less precise.
Any of these methods will work, but it depends on which one you want to use and how much work you want to have to do.
Keeping it Clean
Certainly, the most time-consuming part about how you maintain a Saltwater Aquarium is the cleaning, and there is no way around it.
You will have to clean your skimmer collection cup and filter sock or filter block the most. This is the type of cleaning you will have to do weekly. The best way to do it is to set a certain day of the week to be your tank cleaning day. Make sure that your weekly cleaning tasks are the first thing you do.
You will also need to clean the tank itself. The best way to do this is through a water change. Detritus will often build up on the bottom of the tank and on the rocks. By doing a water change you can suck up some of this waste and keep the tank clean. The number of water changes you have to do in a month will be determined by how good your filtration is. Once again, you should set a specific day or multiple days of the month when you do these water changes.
Eventually, all of your tank’s equipment will need to be cleaned. This includes the return pump, powerheads, the rest of the protein skimmer, media reactors, dosing pumps, auto top off, and any other in-tank equipment. This type of cleaning will not need to be done often. It may only be three times a year, but it may be more than that; simply use common sense when deciding if something needs to be cleaned or not.
This may seem like a lot of work, but doing it will ensure that your equipment lasts longer and works more efficiently for the tank. After getting into a strict maintenance schedule, it won’t seem so bad.
While there are some areas of maintenance that are impossible to avoid, you can get rid of some of the hassle through automation. With technology constantly evolving there are always new ways to make how you maintain a Saltwater Aquarium easier. The downside is that easier often times means more expensive. For example, it is much cheaper to manually add fresh water to your tank to keep the salinity stable, but it is much easier to use an auto top off. Although these automatic devices may be more expensive, they create more stability and result in a better reef tank.
When it comes down to it, it is completely up to you and your goals to determine how to maintain a salt water aquarium. More ambitious goals will require better maintenance. It is important to keep this in mind when comparing your tank to others and your maintenance to others.
That’s how to maintain a saltwater aquarium. Now go and clean your filter sock, change the carbon, and make your tank beautiful.
Sean Beaver says
Wonderful read. I need to implement some of the suggestions in my own life.
Donna L Holder says
great info man. thank you
N L says
regular maintenance is easier than less frequent but more involved maintenance. Stay connected to your tank, and it’s easier to keep up.
Chad Smith says
Excellent write up!
This is an awesome site
Nghia Le says
Happy new year
ya this is cool nice degree
Chris Whalen says
This is a great resource for beginners like myself.
This website is very convenient and has everything all in one site
Love the overview provided here on maintaining aquariums
Austin beach says
Gotta love water changes ! Its the best
Jerry Pearson says
This is good to know, as my tank is only a couple of months old.
Za Fish Guy says
Good read even though I am a year in.
Asad Khan says
Very helpful for understanding saltwater Aquariums
Ashley Zabel says
Saltwater aquariums are so expensive, but so worth it!
Christopher Gilley says
Darren Sung says
blas artiles says
Alex von Hochtritt says
Great advice here
Jennifer Lye says
Amber V says
Nothing on testing your water?
Don’t necessarily chase numbers as each tank will find its stability as it matures but I do think it’s important to know especially with dosing.
Jayda Patterson says
I’ve never heard of anyone doing the natural approach! I wonder if this was given enough time if it could be successful.
Garrett Wingo says
Kristen Maves says
Love the idea of better filtration for fewer water changes!
I plan on dosing with my new tank.
wynn huynh says
DANIEL SCHLAGMAN says
michael p says
Algae Barn has helped me keep it clean with happy pods and Ocean Magik
Gerot Melo says
Sean Simkins says
Living the dream
Chris Buswell says
A solid primer on maintenance needs.
Josh Stevens says
Thanks for this helpful information. Happy Holidays
Jarred Tachiera says
Adam Lyndaker says
Nice article thanks
Paul Cote says
Michael Hawco says
BRANDON Douglas STICKEL says
The basics are the most important
BRANDON Douglas STICKEL says
The basics are the most important and a great place to start
BRANDON Douglas STICKEL says
I love pods
Joey Gatlin says
The cleaner the better but it can be too clean
Dallas Tippie says
ANTHONY CANDELORA says
Gary Passwaters says
Derek Covatch says
Constant parameters checking (not chasing) and constant maintenance schedule. These will aid in a successful reef tank.
Paul Kachirsky says
Getting that stable system is where its at.
Felix Roeschert says
I don’t think maintenance is that hard
Leo Minegishi says
Maintenance can be as simple, or as difficult as you want it to be. I prefer the simple method, some might call “old school”.
Matt Traylor says
The best way to maintain a saltwater aquarium is to do as much research as you possibly can before setting your tank up. A lot of processes can be autonomous, making your job much easier.
Jacob T Wright says
Maintenance is key!
Josh Gay says
Very helpful for beginners
Brian Badge says
Testing parameters is a huge part of maintenance. Recently I had to adjust for alkalinity consumption that outpace my water changes. Not knowing could have been catastrophic. As it is I have one already stressed coral showing worse symptoms.
Good read stay on a schedule is key to stability
Great for a beginner like myself
honestly salt isnt really that much more work than fresh
Nicholas Nevins says
I will be going skimmer and refugium to eliminate excess nutrients and starting off with manual dosing but not for long
Julianne Morgan says
I want a ATO or a automatic doser. Ive heard horror stories of both malfunctioning. Which worries me if i spend that much money. I have SPS and soft corals. ?
jason frames says
Love the maintenance on my tank I always get super exited when it comes time to clean and maintain
Josha Mitchell says
Stability is key!!!
David Heath says
I want some!
Kyle hagger says
Good maintenance is a must for a healthy aquarium
Alan Rowland says
I try to keep it simple. I dont test everything and chase numbers. I have a fuge with chaeto, pods, a decent size CUC. And just watch my tank. Do 10% weekly water changes. The more I meddle, the more goes wrong. For every action, there is an equal reaction.
Great read. For some reason I find the maintenance piece to be one of the attractions to this hobby.
Christopher Burns says
David DeMarco says
Something everyone keeping an aquarium should read
Algae Barn, why don’t you look into captive raised bristle worms, mini stars…? They would fit well with your other offerings and really reduce detritus.
Always have a plan, there are applications out there that help with organizing and scheduling maintenance
Ashlee Smith says
Consistancy is key. Monitoring perameters and frequent water changes.
Joe car says
Test,test,test is the best way to keep up with your tank.
Sheila Beach says
Keith McMillan says
Hasan Sarsour says
Chris Tezak says
Brad ODonnell says
I always enjoy reading about saltwater care.
Jose Pacheco says
Nice info to beginners
Jeremy Rice says
I kind of enjoy water changes…
Dalbir Singh says
Very good info
John Moyles says
Rena Walter says
No, I didn’t know this either.
Very good read 🙂
Ryan Smith says
jose lozano says
Richard Varone says
Great information, keep a consistent schedule!
Shaun Small says
Just getting to the dosing stage of my tank. I will really need to get more information. I am not a newb, bur far from any expert
Donald Carney says
Natural is way to go. But definitely need good information
Perfect for beginners!!!!
Joshua Wheat says
Ill be reading this again and again
Frank Fodera says
A few hours of work a month can save so much headache and money.
Matthew Semonish says
A must read for new reefers!
Eric J Homan says
Ricky Dube says
Can’t beat some of those natural methods. I’m always scared I’ll add too much of something and I’ll screw up the tank, but some good old Chaeto will always get the job done
Water changes and refugiums are by far the best nutrient control. In my opinion they seem the most natural.
Ansu Abraham says
I was always afraid of doing a saltwater tank until I took the plunge last year. I am loving it now!
Casey Whittington says
Good post, I learned a few things reading this even after being in the hobby for over 10 yrs. Keep up the GOOD work
Religious about my water changes
Nicholas Hagstrom says
Another awesome read!
Jordan Sims says
This was great, you get what you put in for sure.
John Demanko (@jmdreef) says
Nice article. I like to run the KISS method lol
Omar Pardo says
I’ll be looking into the Dosing pumps
Drew Rollman says
I think keeping things stable and being patient and allowing the tank to mature are key. I’ve been in the hobby for 20+ yrs and you still learn things as you go. Automation has come a long way in helping keep things stable as well.
How to maintain a saltwater aquarium
Meghan Mulkerin says
I just love your articles. So informative
Meghan Mulkerin says
Wonderful information as ever!
Robert Donlon says
Finnian Sheehan says
conner stumpf says
simple maintenance goes a long way
Robert Paniagua says
Thanks for all the great information
Courtney Hoard says
I was always taught to go for 3-4x the filtration needed. So for one it doesn’t have to work overtime, and secondly if gives you more time in between cleanings.
Jean Pattison says
I have a softie tank, so I am ahead of how much work. Keeping clean is my priority, and keeping parameters stable. I am looking into a fuge for pods for my fish
Michael Quinones says
wish my pods grew that big
Fish with live rock is way easier than with corals… I’ve always thought tanks were easiest after a good
Population of pods have been established and some coralline has shown up (around 4-6 months).
My pods went crazy my mandarin is fat and full
Brian Dolphins says
I try to keep it as natural as possible.
Ashley M says
Mike Muzzone says
Proper maintenanceis key
Echo Rodetsky says
I love copepods and I use GFO in a reactor. Not enough room for a skimmer, too, but I do weekly water changes. I don’t need to dose that way, either. I imagine my maintenance will change if I get a bigger tank.
Alejandro Rodriguez says
With all the research I have done I have learned once a saltwater aquarium is cycled and up & running there is actually less maintenance involved than freshwater.
I definitely needed help maintaining my tank
Edward Raposo says
This post shamed me into doing a water change tonight.
Brandon Carothers says
Gotta start somewhere
Cody W Pressnell says
Erik Harrison says
Martin Waite says
A great addition to your nutrient removal is a filter roller it replaces the sock and saves you from changing the sock every 3 days. The roll of filter material will last anywhere from 1 to 3 months and it doesn’t give off any smell either. These are a great buy.
Cory Lakers says
Stability is key!
James Cato says
This covers a lot more than other articles I’ve read.
Elcain Chase says
This will help when i start a saltwater tank!
John Jones says
I need some mangrove root!
Bo Heath Kinsland. says
Cole Froerer says
Good info since I’m just getting started! Thanks!
Chris Roberts says
Cassia Carvalho says
My tanks have stayed surprisingly clean
I was looking into getting into saltwater so I’m glad I found this
Great info thanks!
Rudy A Garcia says
Great article. Wish I had read it before starting a reef tank as it would have made setup and preparation much better for long run stability. Oh well. Live and learn, as they say.
Saltwater seems so much more difficult!
Jaime Quintanilla says
Very useful info for a beginner such as myself
Anthony Sansone says
Mahamudul Hasan says
Patrick Stephens says
Personally run a 75g refugium on my Frag tanks! Does wonders!
Carrie Charles says
you guyz got all da best info!!!
Great information as usual
Steve S says
great info ty
Brent Grandidier says
Great it of info there. Seems like there’s always differ t methods and approaches that work great for some but not always others.
Tristan Smith says
Need to pin this one for later. Great advice to start with.
doug perry says
I wish ppl weren’t so scared to get into this Hobbie it’s really not that hard
I’ll be sure to use this in the future
I’ll be sure to use this in the future
Eivind Parnas Schage says
Erick Blais says
Definitely helpful for the beginner
Tian Sorg says
I learn so.erhing new everyday about this hobby! Very interesting read! Thanks!
Tian Sorg says
Very, very informative
Justin Bishop says
James walker says
Very well thought out article
Nadia Mohandessi says
Great info for getting into the hobby!
Barry Sylvia says
Would.love to hear from someone doing the natural approach!
Jeremy Lombardo says
Kyle kegley says
How to maintain a saltwater tank
Cammey lol says
very good read
Regina Delph says
I want so many how do I choose.
Krystal Whittington says
Very informative information
That’s good to know because I have a saltwater aquarium
Scott Busche says
always be honest
Bethany Souza says
Maintenance maintenance maintenance ….the golden rule
Matt Blefeld says
Great read. Stability is key
Great info for beginners. Keep it up.
Can I subscribe to these great articles
Jonah Schwarz says
Dont shop at Petco
Happy New Year’s.
Max Humbach says
stability is always key
Thanks for the details, we spend a lot of time working on developing /maintaining natural habitats.
Have learned so much
Melanie Tavarez says
Alice Lewellen says
I will be using this when I get a saltwater tank one day!
I need to convert!
very informative, especially for a beginner like me!
Do you recommend against using aluminum oxide for phosphate removal?
Great beginner info. Thank you.
Mike Mijarez says
This is great information for beginner hobbyists!
Great information, I love these blogs so much!
Terry Alcott says
Adam Gilbert says
This was very helpful. Thanks.
John Louis says
I have a 20 g nano with just an HOB and live rock/sand, I dose microbacter 7 every other day and do a 10% water change biweekly, I have found that adding that beneficial bacteria greatly helps to maintain the water clean, always keeps the nutrients in check and everything is thriving, there should be more information on this out there, you don’t really always need any fancy equipment.
Karie Mabus says
Water change, Water change, Water change. Did I say… Water Change!
Michael Gionta says
Awesome read for beginners
Good write up and intro
paul pomeroy says
Kim Eberhart says
Thanks for such thoughtful articles. I am reading them all as I am setting up my new tank now and this is very helpful.
Good info for a beginner like myself.
victoria casella says
victoria casella says
Lamar Seaman says
Lamar Seaman says
Great info to have before setting up my first reef tank. Thank you
Luis Cosme says
The most important thing to have healthy system!!
Reuben gunderson says
Eric Rosnick says
Great information, just getting started with salt water
Alisa Tejeda says
I hope I can get a huge aquarium and it becomes the center of my life
Tina R Rice says
Ive had many tank setupoverthe trs.
Current tank setup was 7 yrs ago.
Tami Rose says
The more you know 🙂
Again very useful article
Ugh, maintenance is so much harder than set up. Good job with this one guys!
Eric Dickey says
I need a SW tank
Mariana conde says
Lizeth Lara says
Good luck everyone
Edgar Alvarez says
The key to a beautiful tank is in the maintenance.
Victoria Brewer says
Very good read
chris peters says
Would you agree that adding gfo to my sump with marine pure, and a protein skimmer, and a refugium is to many nitrate exports?
i have to try natural ways since others are soo expensive
Someday I may have the multiple thousand dollars needed to purchase an apex and all the related probes, pumps and other stuff.
Paul Marvin says
I’m 4 years into this hobby and still always learning something new
Elizabeth Mack says
Bookmarked this for when I finally get my tank.
Craig Wood says
Zack Ford says
Randall Clawson says
Can use these in future
Will totally use this info when i start my first saltwater tank
thank you so much for this!
Gracie Scott says
do frequent water changes
Jason Blair says
Not so hard if set up properly.
Dan Melton says
always reading and finding new advice!!!
Great information!! I think it’s just getting a routine just like you do for everyday life! Enjoy 2020 everyone!!
Darrell Wheelis says
I learned a lot of important information from this one!!!
James Fields says
Chaz Henrich says
Jesse Richardson says
I definitely learned expensive lessons by overdosing no pox
I definitely learned expensive lessons by overdosing no pox
Cole Goracke says
My new years resolution is better maintenance, just got a RO/DI unit to help with that
Charles Brooks says
Wonderful info. Thank you for all the research that goes into these write ups.
Jonathan Dahl says
I love the idea of going natural method. Having cyano bloom issues after beating back dinos and I think these problems are do to not having a healthy enough microbiome before I started adding livestock.
Always something new to glean from every blog post. Thank you!
Paul Brown says
kathy pease says
I have always wanted to try having a salt water setup
josephine bylsma says
this is great info for someone like me whose learning about keeping saltwater aquariums
David Woolf says
Great read! Happy holidays!
abby baker says
Sharalyn Anderson says
Must know info.
I love the information here
It’s always nice having new information and just re-educating myself on tank maintenance and more efficient ways to maintain it. Only having an on the back filter can be a little challenging at times but it’s worth it in the end until I can finally upgrade, not sure when but it’s always nice to dream!
Julian Pillans says
My family thinks I’m crazy for the amount of time I spend with my tank. ??♂️
Water changes and stability
Amber Kolb says
We haven’t had a salt water tank yet, but we are really interested in one. Right now we have 150 gallon for the red-eared slider we rescued, however she eats almost anything put in the tank, so we’d like to get one strictly for fish. Thanks for all the tips!
Christopher Gomez says
Judi A Mitzel says
I am trying to tay as natural ad possible with my reef tank, (refuge, pods, skimmer, etc) thanks for the info
When in doubt research it out!
Bryan Tisdale says
Never thought of this stuff!
Carol Lanette Gatlin says