Saltwater Tank Care for Beginners

Pic by zho from Pixabay
Pic by zho from Pixabay

Saltwater Tank Care for Beginners


Setting up a saltwater aquarium is more than just an aesthetic venture. You are recreating a symbiotic ecosphere, full of species that many people will never see within their lifetime. Saltwater aquariums can be a vibrant sample of what life on this earth has to offer.

If you’ve taken the leap into this new hobby, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy it takes to set up and maintain your tank. But have no fear! A little care and patience can go a long way in ensuring your tank’s success. And the reward? A stunning, vibrant ecosystem in your very own living room (or office, or bedroom, or wherever you decide to place it).

In this article, I provide everything you need to know to maintain your tank, with a step-by-step guide on one of the more demanding tasks; performing biweekly water changes.

Just remember – you got this.

Tank Care Essentials

Daily maintenance

You should perform these tasks daily in order to maintain your tank. The good news is that they  are often fun! This is your chance to spend time with and interact with your reef.

  1. Check the temperature of your aquarium:
    Do not rely on thermometers that stick to the outside of your tank. Instead, invest in a submerged or digital thermometer. Checking your tank’s temperature frequently helps keep an eye on temperature fluctuations that may cause your fish to get sick.
  2. Feed your fish:
    Feed your fish with saltwater or marine geared food. As a rule of thumb, only feed the amount of food your finish can eat within three minutes. If three minutes has passed and all the food has not been eaten, remove all excess food from the tank, and try to feed your fish less next time. You can always invest in a ‘cleanup crew,’ such as hermit crabs, snails, or serpent starfish. These guys help clean up any excess food that may have sunk to the bottom of the tank.

Weekly Maintenance

Once a week, you should perform water quality checks and top off your aquarium water. Over time, you may even start to notice observable trends in water quality changes. This is all a part of taking care of a thriving, living ecosystem!

  1. Perform water quality checks
    Perform a weekly test to reveal nitrate, nitrite, or pH levels to make sure the water is stable and healthy. If the test reveals abnormal nitrate, nitrite or pH levels, perform a water change immediately!
  2. Top off your aquarium water
    You’ll notice that there will be a bit of evaporation throughout the week. Even with a hood, water levels will drop as water evaporates out through the top of the tank.

Tip:  With salt water aquariums, you never top off the water using salt water. When water evaporates, the salt stays in the aquarium. This means that as water evaporates, the concentration of salt goes up. Instead, use fresh water from your RO/DI system, or tap water mixed with a water conditioner (just make sure to test your tap water! We’ll learn more about that later).

Inexpensive RO/DI

Biweekly Maintenance

Biweekly tasks can be a little more demanding. It is not uncommon for beginners to feel intimidated by the process of changing out their tank water. Once you get the hang of it, though, these tasks can be a wonderful opportunity to give your tank a little TLC.

  1. Scrub any algae on the sides of your tank:
    Algae is the number one cause of tank failure in the first year! To prevent buildup, use an appropriate scrubber to regularly clean the sides of your tank. If you’re struggling with an ongoing or severe algae problem, check your water quality. High levels of phosphate and nitrate often cause algae growth.
  2. Perform a water change:
    For the first few months, you may want to consider doing this weekly. This is because it may take some time for all your ecosystem to stabilize. Even after your tank is fully cycled, you’ll want to keep an eye on water quality and perform frequent water changes to ensure that you don’t run into any serious problems.

After a few months of frequent water changes, you can cut back to changing the water every two weeks, or as often as necessary based on tests.

Intimidated by the process of changing out your water? It’s simpler than it seems!

Let’s dive into a step-by-step guide on how to do this!

    1. Mix up some perfect saltwater:
      Steps for mixing salt are included at the end of this article. Because well-mixed saltwater can be stored for weeks, even months, this is a task you may only have to perform as needed.
    2. Unplug your equipment:
      You don’t want to run the risk of damaging your tank equipment by exposing it to oxygen while turned on.>
    3. Grab your sponge:
      Clean the inside of the glass.
    4. Get your two buckets:
      Grab your bucket of pre-mixed saltwater, as well as an empty bucket to syphon water into.

Tip: Place the bucket of your mixed salt water next to your empty bucket. This way, you can make sure you aren’t taking out more water than you have available to put back in! If you need to, you can always mix up some more salt water afterwards.

    1. Get your gravel or sand siphon:
      These tools will help you clean up debris, penetrating deeper layers of the substrate. Do your best to thoroughly remove all debris, removing any rocks and decor that may get in the way of your siphon. And, of course, watch out for any bottom dwellers! You don’t want to suck up or harm any fish.
    2. Siphon away detritus
      As you’re using your siphon, you’ll notice that as the gravel is tossed about. A cloud of debris will rise up through the bell of the siphon. Once the water starts to run clear, kink the tubing and move on to the next spot.
    3. Repeat:
      Repeat this step over the entire aquarium. Do your best to get all the debris out of the tank.

Tip: To make sure you have enough water to do the entire aquarium, it’s helpful to kink the tubing so you have a little control with the rate that water is coming out. This way, you can ensure that you don’t waste too much water while trying to clean the bottom of the tank

    1. Remove the remaining percentage of water:
      Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the bottom of your tank, use the siphon to pull out the rest of the water. For a routine water change, you want to replace approximately 25% of the tank’s water. For emergency water changes (high nitrates, nitrates or ammonia), replace up to 50%.
    2. Refill your tank:
      You may notice that the tank is a little cloudy. No worries! Once the filter is plugged back in it will remove up any unsettled debris. If you want to achieve that crystal clear quality without the wait, you can add some extra Biomagenet clarifier.

Tip: Wipe off saltwater splashes as they happen. Salt water is extremely corrosive – you don’t want it sitting on your wooden furniture or floor!

  1. Rinse your equipment:
    Finally, make sure to RINSE your equipment.You don’t want saltwater drying on and damaging your equipment.

Tasks as Needed – Make the perfect saltwater!

Maintaining high-quality, stable water is essential for supporting a healthy reef tank.

  • For this, you can use tap water, well water, or RO/DI systems. RO/DI, or Reverse Osmosis Deionization systems, filter the water to lab quality levels.
  • While it’s possible to use tap water (so long as you test it’s water quality), most tap water contains impurities such as chlorine, ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, silica, copper, and other metals from things like groundwater pollutants and aging pipes. These pollutants are not safe for your fish, and will cause significant problems down the line!
  • You can store fully mixed salt water for weeks to months by putting a lid on your bucket to prevent evaporation.

Inexpensive Sea Salt

Bonus Tip! Set your tank up with utilitarian fish.

As a beginner, finding ways to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that requires as little effort as possible is immensely important! One way to do this is to introduce some helpful fish, such as the ones listed below.

  • Yellow Tang
    Yellow Tang are awesome little cleaners! They eat algae for a living, and are very beneficial in keeping the tank clean and attractive.
  • Bristletooth Tang
    These guys have mouths specialized for other types of algae, and do well in most common size tanks.
  • Lawnmower Blenny
    You guessed it… Lawnmower Blennies also eat algae, aiding in maintaining a safe and clean tank.
  • Six Line Wrasse
    These fish search the tank for small pests, keeping populations of common bugs and pests low.


And that’s all. While it may seem like a lot of information, it becomes much easier with practice and implementation. Like any new hobby, there is always a learning curve, and saltwater tanks are no exception!

With a little care, energy, and effort, you can create and maintain a thriving reef. Be proud of the process, and keep on learning!

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