There are many different myths and misconceptions floating around the saltwater aquarium community lately.
One of the bigger ones being that saltwater tanks are difficult to keep. While that may have been true in the past, it’s not so much the case anymore.
If you have been keeping freshwater tanks for a while and looking to dabble into the saltwater world, you might hear things like “saltwater tanks are way too hard to keep” or “saltwater tanks are for experienced people only”.
There are many differences between keeping a saltwater tank versus a freshwater tank. But they are just differences. Not necessarily harder.
The truth is saltwater tanks are not hard to maintain. You need to be organized and perform regular maintenance duties just like any other tank. But saltwater tanks overall are not hard to keep.
Let’s look into this topic further.
How do you maintain a saltwater tank?
Maintaining a saltwater tank requires many of the same steps and routines required to maintain any other type of aquarium. But there are some differences between keeping a saltwater tank versus a freshwater tank. But they are just differences. Not necessarily harder.
Regular maintenance such as water changes and testing should be done on a schedule to help you detect and maintain water quality.
It’s a good idea to keep track of duties to perform on your tank on a given day, week, month, year.
For example, I like to keep a calendar or journal where I take note of everything I do with the tank. Each day will have certain tasks being tracked.
- Feed the fish.
There is no set rule to the amount of food or how many times per day to feed, there are too many variables involved. But I like to feed the fish 2 times each day. Of course, overfeeding is not a good thing to do and can cause water quality issues.
- Top up water evaporation.
Every day your water will evaporate from your tank. It’s important to replace that water with fresh RODI water to keep your salinity level within the proper range. You can do this manually or automatically by using an auto top off system like the Tunze Osmolator. This doesn’t take much time to do and is a simple task.
- Check your livestock to see if they are all accounted for and not sick.
If you have any sick or dead fish in the tank, make sure to remove them right away.
- Check temperature and other equipment to make sure everything is operating properly.
I have suffered a heater malfunction in one of my reef tanks which resulted in a complete loss of livestock and cost me thousands of dollars. I now use the Inkbird heater controller which is not expensive and works perfectly. I can quickly look at the display anytime I see the tank and it will tell me the exact temperature at all times. If you don’t have one of these, I highly recommend you consider getting one.
- Depending on the setup you have, you may need to clean the skimmer collection cup.
Not everyone needs to do this daily, but some do. I check mine every day and clean it as required. This task only takes a few minutes to do.
On top of your daily tasks, you should consider doing a few maintenance routines on a weekly basis.
- Water tests
I like to test my water parameters once per week. This might be the most time-consuming task on the list but depending on the number of tests and types of testers being used, it really doesn’t take long to do. Things to check include nitrate, phosphate, ammonia, salinity. If you are keeping corals in the tank, you should test for calcium, alkalinity, magnesium, PH, and any other tests you see fit for your tank. I recommend using the Hanna Instruments testers as they are very reliable and accurate. Don’t use any of the low-grade testing kits as they are not accurate enough to give you proper information about your water quality. You don’t want to end up making changes to your water-based on erroneous results.
- Aquarium cleaning
If this day falls on the same day as I am performing a water change, then I will clean the aquarium glass and remove any debris from the tank. Most times it is just a matter of using an algae magnet like the Flipper to wipe down the glass. I then wipe down the outside of the tank, stand, and equipment to remove salt creep or watermarks to keep it looking pristine.
- Remove/change filter media
Depending on your setup, you may have a refugium, media reactor, or sump that contains different types of filter media. Foam padding and filter socks should be cleaned and changed out every few days to a week. Other filter media types can wait longer before being changed but I always check and make adjustments to filter media on a weekly basis.
- Make fresh RODI water
I like to make fresh RODI water once per week. Depending on the unit you are using, the time will vary. My main tank will evaporate about 5 gallons of water per week, so once per week, I will make up a 5-gallon container of RODI water.
Biweekly and monthly tasks:
- Water changes
Every two weeks I perform a water change on my tank. Not everyone will do this, but I have found a routine that works for me and my tank. Some people prefer to perform monthly water changes. That’s fine. Every tank will be different. The important thing is to keep doing what works for your tank. If your water levels are testing fine and the livestock is healthy, then you are doing a great job. For me personally, I will complete a 20% water change bi-weekly. You may need to do water changes more often if your tank is heavily populated or you notice water parameters changing more frequently.
Also, perform your daily and weekly tasks while doing biweekly maintenance.
Every month on top of my other tasks, I will take apart my equipment for cleaning and inspection. Not everyone will do this but I am a bit of a clean freak with my tanks. I don’t like dirty or underperforming equipment. Keeping everything cleaned will help keep things working efficiently.
For example, I will remove the protein skimmer for a complete clean. Not just the skimmer cup but the whole unit will get cleaned. The same with wavemakers or powerheads, heaters, lights, filters, and hoses. Basically anything that can be removed and checked over plus a cleaning will get done once per month. I find it much easier to clean a wavemaker after a month’s use than waiting 3 months and have to work harder to clean the algae and gunk out of it. Some people will only do this task every few months and that is fine providing your tank stays healthy.
6 months to 1-year tasks
There are a few things you should do every 6 months or so. This includes replacing your bulbs if you are using T5 lighting. Depending on the bulbs you are using, they might need to get changed every 6 months or maybe 1 year. It’s also important to not change the bulbs all once if you have a multi-bulb unit. Change them out one or 2 at a time as this will allow your corals to acclimate to the light better.
- Restocking the tank.
Over the period of a year, you may have some casualties in your tank. This includes a cleanup crew. It’s common for any snails, shrimp, crabs to need replacing to keep your crew at the required amount. Generally, invertebrates don’t live as long as fish. So if you notice you are missing some livestock at the 1-year mark, you may want to replace them.
You may also need to move or arrange any corals that have grown over the year. Consider fragging or moving some to another tank if you are taking up too much space in your display. You can always sell frags and colonies to other hobbyists.
How much time does it take to maintain a saltwater tank?
When you are first starting out with a new saltwater tank, it will take you longer to perform your maintenance tasks.
But as your tank matures and you get used to a routine and getting to know your equipment, the time it takes to maintain the tank will be cut down.
My daily tasks will normally take me about 10-15 minutes. I ensure that my top up RODI water is pre-made with the weekly tasks and use an Auto top off. The rest of the items take just a few minutes to complete.
The weekly tasks will take about 1 hour. Of course, this will depend on your setup and how many of the tasks you need to do.
Biweekly tasks also take about 1 hour to complete. Water changes being the most time-consuming.
Monthly tasks will take me about 1.5 – 2 hours.
So overall, I spend about 2 hours per week maintaining my tank. That doesn’t include any things that might unexpectedly occur like equipment failures, but that rarely happens.
How much does it cost to maintain a saltwater tank?
The cost of saltwater aquariums, equipment, livestock, etc.. can be expensive. You can spend as much as you want on all the fancy gear but it is not necessary. If you check out this article, I will show you how to set up a 20-gallon saltwater tank for under $200.
The cost to set up a saltwater tank will cost you more than it will to maintain it. You daily, weekly, and monthly tasks don’t cost anything to perform. What does cost is the replacement of any equipment that fails, replacement of test kits, filter media, salt, RODI filters, the livestock you might need to replace.
Test kits will generally need to be replaced or replenished every 6 months and saltwater mix every 1-2 months but that can vary quite a bit depending on how much you need.
You can also check out this money savings guide for more info.
What is the easiest saltwater fish to care for?
Saltwater fish are like any other fish with respect to proper care. They will need a suitable home to live in with clean water and need to be fed properly. Some saltwater fish are not as hardy as others and do require special care with respect to water quality, tankmates, foods, etc.. many fish are not considered for beginners and can potentially end up costing you a bit more money as their needs are more advanced.
Some examples of easy saltwater fish to care for are the blue/green Chromis, Yellow tang, and Clownfish.
Saltwater vs freshwater aquariums – Pros and Cons
Sometimes I like to compare freshwater and saltwater tanks with respect to maintenance and proper care. Many of the routine items for both are the same and some are different.
Yes, saltwater tanks can be more demanding and have more requirements when it comes to keeping corals and certain livestock.
Here are some pros and cons of freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
- Hardier fish overall
- Cheaper setup cost
- Cheaper livestock prices
- Less demanding in the beginning stages
- Less equipment required – lighting for corals
- Less demanding water quality concerns – tap water
- More colorful and diverse species available
- Larger invertebrate selection
- Option to keep corals
- Visually more impressive
There are more pros and cons to each type of aquarium. I’ve kept both freshwater and saltwater tanks for many years and although my preference is saltwater, there are some amazing things you can do with freshwater tanks as well.
How much does it cost to maintain a saltwater tank?
The overall cost to maintain a saltwater tank can really vary. It depends on the size of the aquarium and equipment being used and many other factors. But this will give you a good idea of what to expect for a yearly cost.
Fish food can cost between $50-$250 per year. I great food to consider which is high in quality at a low cost is New Life Spectrum. Available in pellets and flake form.
Water testing kits and filter media can cost around $150 per year. Replacing RODI resin and other filter pads, media is important but not expensive.
Saltwater mix generally costs around $60 for a 200-gallon mix. Red Sea Coral Pro is my choice of salt. I will buy 3 of these per year. So $180 each year for salt.
Changing T5 light bulbs each year can cost around $100. Of course, if you do not use T5 lights, you won’t incur this cost.
Electricity cost to run equipment can vary as well depending on the type of gear being used. The national average power cost is $0.12/kWh, so if you were running a protein skimmer that uses 8 watts, expect to pay .70 cents per month or $8.41 per year. Every piece of equipment will have a cost of operating it.
Electricity costs will also depend on your location and energy provider. Having said that, you should expect to spend:
- $168/year on a 40-gallon tank
- $225/year on a 60-gallon tank
- $450/year on a 120-gallon tank
- $1000 on a 265-gallon tank
Use this aquarium electricity cost calculator to check the cost of operating your equipment.
Overall an approximate cost of running a saltwater tank will be $700-$800 per year.
Saltwater aquarium kits for beginners
There are some awesome saltwater kits on the market today that are great for beginners and are easy to maintain. The all in one kits come with pretty much everything you need and are plug and play systems.
My favorite aquarium kit is the Coralife Biocube 32. I love my Biocube and there are some great upgrades available for it if you really want to beef it up! Read more about that by clicking the link.
One of the many great things about the Biocube 32 system is it’s very easy to maintain. The filtration and lighting are built-in so everything stays neat and clean looking. It’s a very modern-looking show tank that is very affordable.
So if you are looking to start a saltwater tank that is easy to maintain, affordable, and energy-efficient, check out the Coralife Biocube. Check today’s price on Amazon here.
As you can see, maintaining a saltwater tank is not hard. If you plan ahead of time, stay organized, and perform regular maintenance, saltwater tanks are easy to care for. They are different from freshwater tanks in a few ways but not any more difficult to keep. If you are considering switching from freshwater tanks and are worried about the difficulty of care required, have no fear, you can do it!