Best Practice Guideline: How to Start a Saltwater Tank

Has your heart fallen for a marine fish family? Prepare a saltwater aquarium is probably an excellent idea for you to welcome a brand new type of fish to your house. Unlike freshwater fish tanks, a saltwater aquarium basics will have some different features that you need to pay more attention to it.

Do you want to know how to start a saltwater tank, which kind of saltwater fish will suitable for beginners, how to maintain a salt water fish tank, or how to make the best things for a marine tank in the easiest way? Just read the following guide.


How to Start a Saltwater Tank

Preparation With Saltwater Tank Setup Checklist

01. A saltwater aquarium

You can go with any sizes (should begin from 30 gallons and above), and any types of fish tanks to make it for a marine aquarium. Actually, the bigger the tank is, the easier the maintenance. Choose a short but wide tank is great for both maintaining and raising tasks.

02. The tank substrate

Grain substrate is one of the best materials for a saltwater fish tank. You should choose a fine grain or medium grain of sand, crushed coral, especially aragonite to make an at least 1-2 inches bed for the fish.

saltwater aquarium substrate

Different color sand substrate for the saltwater tank

03. Live rock for saltwater

Both shopping online and purchase in person is available. Better you should choose live rock yourself to find a rock that has high quality (no decay, no pest, has great coralline growth). It needs to suitable for your salt water aquarium decorations later.

04. Prepare salt water mix

You can choose any brands for the salt mix. Just make sure you follow the instruction: add the salt to a water vessel, mix well with the given proportion before pouring them into the fish tank.

05. Hydrometer or refractometer

These tools are used to make a salinity measurement for your aquarium water, but a refractometer is more accuracy compares to a hydrometer, so you can choose which equipment you already had or buy a new one.

saltwater aquarium refractometer

A handheld refractometer for saltwater aquarium

06. Get a protein skimmer

A protein skimmer will support you to remove organic compounds like fish waste or uneaten food, which means lower salt water aquarium water change frequency for the tank. You can choose hanger skimmer (for none sumps), in-tank type or in-sump one to cooperate with the salt water aquarium sumps.

07. A salt water aquarium pump

You should use salt water aquarium pumps (or powerheads) to duplicate the water movement in the tank to make sure its flow can get through any parts of the tank. It is also necessary for a nano reef tank setup.

 saltwater aquarium pump

A classic saltwater aquarium pump to increase the water movement

08. A suitable filter

The best filter for a saltwater aquarium is a biological filter (with live rocks), sump filter (the best but more expensive than others), canister filter (multi-purpose but need cleaning more frequently), and fluidized bed filter (using sand, push the good bacteria growth). You can choose any one of these, and two if you have a large saltwater fish tank.

09. Salt water aquarium heaters and a thermometer

10. Ammonia test kits

saltwater tank ammonia test

Prepare an ammonia test kit to check the saltwater tank quality

The saltwater aquarium starter kits should include an ammonia test kit for checking the ammonia, pH, nitrite and nitrates level in the saltwater tank. These test kits are available in any pet store.

11. Salt water fish tank lighting

The saltwater tank will need lighting to provide a good living condition for marine animals. You can use fluorescent lights to do this or a salt water fish tank lighting with LED lights to reduce the cost with less electric consumption.

12. Salt water aquarium sumps

As you can see above, salt water aquarium sumps can be a good place to put a protein skimmer, or turn into a water filter and provide more water for the tank. It is an optional choice and higher cost, so you can consider having a sump for better saltwater tank quality.

Choose the Right Salt Water Fish for Beginners

You shouldn’t buy the fish before preparing a perfect tank, but give the first thought about what you will raise in the upcoming saltwater tank will make things easier.


Colorful fish swimming in a saltwater aquarium

(+) As a beginner, you can choose fish that are:

  • Lusty and tranquil
  • Acclimate for environment changes
  • Unaggressive
  • Maybe have a lively and entertaining look
  • Not getting extra big or expensive

Suggestion: Clownfish, Blenny fish, Dummy fish, Firefish and Mollies, etc.
If you are in love with the dummies, this
saltwater tank setup for dummies can help you more.

  • Tangs: Susceptible to ich, parasite and other problem when stress
  • Seahorse: Need low-level water and grass, more water changing
  • Damsel: Quite aggressive, like to attach even bigger fish
  • Pipefish: Require live food, shallow water, and a specific tank
  • Mandarin dragonet: Easily to stress and die because of starving

Set Up a Saltwater Aquarium

Step 1: Imagine the whole picture of a saltwater tank

Before getting a preparation or setting up the tank, you should carefully think about how the tank will be:

saltwater aquarium equipment

Prepare the needed equipment to set up a new saltwater aquarium

  • Choose the saltwater fish you want to raise
  • Clarify the exact quantity of fish to know the tank size and type
  • Prepare the salt water aquarium decorations design to buy all the needed patterns
  • Other equipment that will help your type of fish to grow in the best living environment
Step 2: Find the right place for the saltwater aquarium
where to place a saltwater tank

Direct sunlight can cause more harm to the saltwater fish tank

  • Place a tank on a wide, firm, stable area. The tank should not shake if you pass by or put a gentle touch.
  • Choose a weight-bearable place (if you live in the higher floor) for the tank since a saltwater aquarium is usually bigger and heavier than others.
  • You can count the total weight of the tank by adding the empty tank, decoration, etc. and multiple of 4 (kilograms of water) with the tank gallons.
  • That place should be near an outlet, faucet and drain to plug the equipment as well as easier for water changes.
  • Don’t put the tank directly under the sunlight, the A.C or heat sources and the door.
  • Leave a space (nearly 5 inches or more) behind or under the tank to set up other fish tank equipment.
Read more:  Best 10 Gallon Fish Tanks to Serve Your Aquarium| Happy Pet Pets
Step 3: Add water and the salt water aquarium background
saltwater tank sand

Make a sand bed layer with 2-3 inches height

  • Use a sponge or cloth to wipe the tank. If you cannot get rid of the dirt, try again after soaking the tank in vinegar for a period (at least 30 minutes). You shouldn’t use the chemical cleaners since they can pollute the water and harm your fish.
  • Pour sand in to make a 2-3 inches bed (adjust this bed thinner or thicker depends on the aquascaping), which helps to create a friendly environment for the fish.
  • Prepare the salt mix water, or get mixed one available on the store and add it into the saltwater tank.
  • Infuse the water to reach about one-third of the tank height, then use your hands to check outside the tank to see if there is a water leak. If no, continue to fulfill the aquarium. Otherwise, you should take out everything and return the fish tank to get a new quality one.
  • Add the salt to get the required specific gravity. You can check with a hydrometer or refractometer. If the tank water gravity is too high, you should replace some saltwater with freshwater. In case the gravity is lower than needed, just add more salt into it.
  • Place salt water aquarium heaters, powerheads, and sumps filter (or other types you have prepared). Leave it for 1-2 days.
  • Later, check the gravity, and use a thermometer to find out whether the salt water aquarium temperature is fitting. If it hasn’t met the requirements yet, continue to modify the tank environment with salt or freshwater and heater. These tips for keeping the fish tank warm can also help if your heater is out of order.
  • After the water is ready, you can set the live rock with the right proportion relates to the tank size to push the water cycle.
  • Start checking the ammonia level in your saltwater fish tank with the ammonia test kits. You should know how to reduce the fish tank ammonia level to keep the nitrogen cycle working properly.
  • Now it’s time for the decoration. Design your salt water background to own a beautiful aquarium.

Step 4: Get your fish ready for the new saltwater tank
saltwater tank net

Gently transfer the fish from the bucket to your new saltwater tank

  • After buying the new saltwater fish, you should prepare a time for fish to adapt to their new environment.
  • Place a clean bucket lower than the tank then use a tube with a valve or you can tie some knots to control the water flow.
  • Put one tube end in the tank at a 13-15 cm depth, and the other end in the bucket.
  • Pour fish and some water in the bucket then start letting the water drop, when the water amount in the bucket is double than before, you can take out half of them and start dropping water one more time.
  • After it has twice the water again, you should check the basic factors like temperature, specific gravity, and ammonia level.
    If the result is identical with the tank condition, you now can transfer the fish in, or else, continue the water dropping step.
  • Move the fish in with a net carefully
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Step 5: Keep the saltwater aquarium maintenance
  • Feed the fish with several small feeding every day
  • Add the protein skimmer and clean it once a day
  • Make partial water change every week
  • Clean the tank and decoration once every one or two month
  • Replace the salt water fish tank lighting when needed


Marine life is attractive but also quite strange for many fish lovers to begin a new salt water fish tank. Regardless of that, you can easily have your own undersea space with this guide about how to start a saltwater tank, even if you are just a beginner.

A saltwater tank is not hard to set up. It just needs some different knowledge to maintain a great environment and fish growth. You can start your new saltwater tank right now.

And if you meet any problems, feel free to leave a comment or mail us, we will support you as fast as we can.

If you like this, don’t forget to react or share this post to your relative, we definitely can develop better thanks to your love.

FAQ about setting up a saltwater tank

1. Freshwater vs. saltwater aquariums: Which one is harder to set up?

2. How many types of the saltwater tank are there?

3. Is live rock necessary for a saltwater aquarium?

4. How much live rock per gallon is needed?

5. How much does the saltwater aquarium setup cost?

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