7 Best Salt Mixes For Saltwater Aquariums

Best Saltwater Aquarium Salt

I guess it goes without saying that in order to have a saltwater tank, we need to have salt. Salt contains some of the necessary elements we need to have a thriving tank. But not all salts are the same. For example, certain salts are better to use if you have a reef tank versus a fish only tank. You can use any of the salts mentioned in this article for both fish only and reef tanks. The difference being the elements that they contain and which ones will be better for coral health. In this article, I will show you 7 of the best salt mixes for saltwater aquariums.

  • Red Sea
  • Red Sea Coral Pro
  • Instant Ocean
  • Instant Ocean Reef Crystals
  • Brightwell Aquatics
  • Tropic Marin
  • Aquaforest

What to look for when choosing salt

Here is a hot topic conversation among saltwater hobbyists. Is one salt better than another? Which one is better? I can guarantee you will see mixed results. Some people prefer a certain brand and others prefer something else. There are a few variables you need to look at when deciding on the right salt for your tank.

The main ones being does it contain the right elements that you need for your tank? How much does it cost? They are all different. How much do I need? How long does it take to mix? How is it packaged? Some come packaged in bags, some in buckets, some are in boxes. This does make a difference to some people. Also depending on the brand, the amount of salt mix used can make more saltwater than others. For example, a standard bucket of salt that weighs 60 pounds, might make 200 gallons of saltwater using one brand, but a separate brand of the same bucket size might only make 150 or 175 gallons of saltwater.

These are all things to consider when choosing your salt mix. You can also read the many reviews of each one to see the success others are getting.

How to mix salt/How much to use

Mixing salt can be done very easily. Depending on the amount of saltwater you need to make, a basic bucket or Rubbermaid container is all you need to start. Some people like to use a spare tank, if you are making a lot of saltwater at a time, you can use a large drum. The other things you will need is a powerhead or wavemaker to mix the salt and a heater.

It’s important to mix the salt with fresh RODI water using the directions given. If you use too much salt, you will end up with a high salinity reading that won’t match your main tank. If you don’t use enough salt, you will get a lower salinity reading.

A few things to keep in mind when mixing salt. Many salts will mix at 1/2 cup salt per 1 gallon of water to provide a reading of 35 ppt or 1.026 SG. But that is not set in stone. Always check the directions from the manufacturer to confirm the proper mix to use. Also, not all salts are the same when it comes to the levels of Ca, Alk, Mg. So make sure to test your water to ensure these are at the desired levels.

Some salts will also take longer to mix. Most people will mix their water for a full 24 hours, and use a rule of thumb that says if the water is clear, then the salt is fully mixed. This is also a general rule, as I have used salt which is mixed for a much shorter amount of time. The bottom line is the salt should be mixed to a reading of .35 ppt or 1.026 SG prior to using it. Here is a great article from Bulk Reef Supplies showing how long it takes to mix salt.

Determining salinity (SG and PPT)

As we know, it’s important to mix our saltwater correctly and maintaining a constant salinity level in our tank is crucial. There are a few ways that we can measure the salinity level. Most saltwater tanks are kept between 1.020 SG and 1.028 SG. As mentioned earlier, a good number to aim for is .35 PPT (parts per thousand) or 1.026 SG (specific gravity).

A really cheap way to measure saltwater is by using a basic hydrometer. Instant Ocean makes a hydrometer that is commonly used. The problem with these is they are not very accurate. They will give you a good idea of the salinity but most people want a more precise reading. I honestly don’t trust these hydrometers. A better way to measure salinity is by using a refractometer. They are more precise and will give you an accurate reading. They are affordable and do a great job. Another way to measure salinity is to use an aquarium controller like the Apex. If you have a salinity probe, it will tell you the exact readout of the salinity in your tank. Of course, an aquarium controller will be the most expensive option.

Importance of Calcium, Alkalinity- KH, MG

The 3 main elements that saltwater aquarium hobbyists need to keep an eye on are Calcium, Alkalinity- KH, and Magnesium. They are often dosed into the tank by using various supplements to maintain optimum levels for corals to thrive and stay healthy. The great thing about using a quality saltwater mix, is these important elements are included eliminating the need for constant dosing. You may need to continue a dosing schedule, but most reef quality salts will contain these nutrients to help corals maintain their colors and grow. The following levels of each should be maintained:

Calcium – 350-450 ppm

Alkalinity – 8-12 dkh

Magnesium – 1250-1350 ppm

Here is how the 7 brands mentioned in this article stand up against each other with respect to Ca, Alk, Mg.

saltwater nutrient comparison

Difference between Marine salt vs Reef salt

When you purchase a saltwater mix, you will have the option between regular marine salt and a reef quality salt. Both salts should have the main types of trace elements. The difference is that the reef salts will have higher levels of these elements. This is important if you are planning to have or currently have a reef tank as corals need these important nutrients to survive.

Determining the cost

When choosing the right salt mix for your tank, of course, you will look at the cost. Not only should you look at the cost of the bucket or box, but you should determine the cost per gallon to see which one is giving you the best bang for your buck. Then depending on the brand, you can decide if it’s worth paying extra to make the same amount of saltwater.

For example, let’s say brand #1 cost you $50 for a 200-gallon bucket which is .25 cents per gallon. Brand #2 cost you $60 for a 200-gallon bucket which is .30 cents per gallon. So obviously brand #1 is the better deal. If brand #1 was still $50 but for only a 160-gallon bucket, which one would you choose? Now brand #2 gives you a slightly lower cost per gallon.

Another example, brand #1 cost you $50 for a 175-gallon bucket which is .28 cents per gallon. Brand #2 cost you $40 for a 160-gallon bucket which is .25 cents per gallon. You are actually getting better value with the smaller bucket. The larger sized container is not always the best priced. So you may want to check the price per gallon, not price per bucket to get the best deal.

1. Red Sea Coral Pro Salt

Available in 55-gallon and 175-gallon buckets. The cost will vary around $28-$30 for the smaller bucket and $65-$75 for the larger. You can buy the Red Sea salt on Amazon.

2. Red Sea Salt Mix

Available in 55-gallon and 175-gallon buckets. They are very similar in price to the Coral Pro salt. Ideal for SPS coral tanks. Marine Depot online is a great place to buy the Red Sea salt mix.

3. Instant Ocean

Instant Ocean has been a trusted brand for years. It comes in many sizes of smaller bags for nano tanks, up to large 200-gallon buckets.  Instant Ocean is available on Amazon.

4. Instant Ocean Reef Crystals

As mentioned, Instant Ocean is a trusted brand. The difference with the reef crystals is it’s made more for a reef environment due to the added minerals. It is normally more expensive than regular salt. It comes in many sizes up to a 160-gallon bucket and 200-gallon box. Reef Crystals is available on Amazon.

5. Brightwell Aquatics

Brightwell Aquatics is another great brand of salt for reef tanks. It is reasonably priced and goes on sale quite often. You can buy in various sizes up to a 300-gallon box. Brightwell Aquatics salt is available on Amazon.

6. Tropic Marin

This new reef salt from Tropic Marin is getting many great reviews from its customers. It comes in various sizes. If there are any negatives with this brand, it is the lower concentration of calcium and higher price. But it is still a great salt mix for your reef tank. Tropic Marin is available on Amazon.

7. Aquaforest

All the salt brands mentioned here are great. But if I had to choose one as my favorite, it would be Aquaforest. This salt mixes very fast and easily, plus it has one of the highest levels of trace elements. It is available in a few different sizes and is affordable for high-quality salt. Aquaforest is available at Marine Depot.

As you can see, there are many options available for you when choosing a salt mix. For me, a huge bonus is to have a salt that mixes fast and clear. So I am willing to pay a bit extra for that. If you don’t have corals in your tank, any one of the mentioned brands will work well for you. If you have a reef tank, I recommend you stick with a brand like Aquaforest or Red Sea. All these brands have a great reputation for their salt mixes. If you decide to use a brand like Instant Ocean regular salt, keep in mind you may have to dose extra elements to maintain the proper levels for your corals. Enjoy your choice of saltwater mix!

Thanks for reading!

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