Saltwater Aquarium Supplies Guide (2022)

Saltwater Aquarium Supplies Guide (1)Jul / 03

By ARCreefResearch7 Comments

Saltwater Aquarium Supplies Guide

Having the right saltwater aquarium equipment can mean the difference between having a successful reef tank and setting yourself up for failure. This guide will help to identify the best reef tank accessories and equipment that will enable you to succeed in this hobby. We will identify the proper saltwater aquarium supplies, equipment, and accessories that are right for your fish tank and budget.

Best Salt Mix

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Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt is our recommended salt mix. It contains higher levels of calcium, magnesium, and trace elements which aids in coral growth and will help the formation of new coralline algae. The mix is processedto very strict tolerances so every batch will be uniform. It dissolves fast and clear. The high availability of this salt mix and low cost also help bring it in for the win, it can be found at most fish stores, pet chain stores, and Amazon. Available in 5 different sizes.

ARC Reef Tips: Always mix salt first before adding it to your tank. Use a refractometer to accurately measure the salinity. The natural seawater (NSW) at our reef has a specific gravity of 1.026 or 35 ppt, all our holding tanks also match this level and we recommend this level for your tank as well. Keeping your tank at a stable salinity is very important as swings over 0.01 can stress and even kill your tanks inhabitants. We recommend using RO/DI water or distilled water. Tap water can be used in a pinch but is never recommended and can cause undesirable effects such as ongoing battles with undesirable algae. Always make sure to have an extra salt mix on hand for future water changes and emergencies. 20% water-changes every other week will help keep your tank happy and healthy.

Retail Price: $8.99-$49.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Best Salinity Meter

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The refractometeris the clear winner on how to measure the salinity of your tank. Nearly every person who gets into this hobby will originally buy a little plastic contraption that has a swing arm called a hydrometer. These devices are extremely inaccurate and unreliable if you have one of these please throw it out. The refractometer is king now! These devices are now mass produced and are finally available at just a couple dollars more than a hydrometer. They offer unparalleled advantages in accuracy and stability testing. If you’ve been using the swing arm device until now, we bet you’ll be shocked at what your tanks truesalinity level is!

ARC Reef Tips: Remember to add back freshwater and not saltwater every week to account for evaporation. If you find that your tank’s salinity is too high or low, it is essential that you bring it back in line very slowly. Any abrupt changes in salinity are far worse than a stable but out of range level. Aquariums love stability and hate fast changes.

Retail Price: $20.94 Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Best Aquarium Heater &Controller

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Finnex Titanium Heater Tubeis the winner for best aquarium heater. What separates this heater from the countless others on the market is a simple fact that it is not glass. Glass heaters are notoriousfor cracking when heated unevenlyand killing every fish in the tank, they also pose a very real risk forelectrocution. The Finnex Titanium heater tube solves all these issues. It is virtually unbreakable and it’s heating element could never be exposed to saltwater. It is available in 300 watts (for aquariums up to 80 gallons), 500 watts (for aquariums up to 130 gallons), and 800 watts (for aquariums up to275 gallons)

ARC Reef Tips: Just say no to glass heaters, in our opinion they have absolutely no place near an aquarium.

Retail Price: $47.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.

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Ink bird Temperature Controller wins out above the competition (including Finnex’s own heater controller). While the controller offered with the Finnex heater tube is adequate, it also leaves much to be desired. The Inkbird ITC-308 offers much more bang for the buck. The feature that excited us the most is that it can control not just a heater but also a fan or chiller at the same time. With the Finnex controller, the temperature has to drop a full 1 degree below it’s set point before the unit turns on the heater, with the Inkbird unit, the temperature has to only drop just 0.5 degrees before the controller kicks on the heater, allowing for a much more stable temperature range for your aquarium. We tested 8Inkbird units all at the same time, and each one was dead on accurate. Since stability is of great importance, we are delighted to have switched over all our heater controllers to the Inkbird 308.

ARC Reef Tips:While Fahrenheit is fine and all, Celsius is where it’s atin science, and switching this controller over to Celsius will also give you a nice little reward. It will allow you to get an even tighter temp. range of 0.1 degrees Celsius (or 0.3 instead of 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Retail Price: $35.00Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Best Protein Skimmer

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Reef Octopus Hang on Protein SkimmerIf you don’t have a sump then this skimmer is for you. We consider a protein skimmer as a mandatory piece of equipment, I can’t think of one single successful reef tank that doesn’t run one. The purpose of a protein skimmer is to remove excess nutrients from the tank. Besides water changes, this is the ONLY method of removal.Generally speaking most “hang on” style protein skimmers have been ineffective headaches… until the Reef Octopus BH Series Protein Skimmer came along! Fairly quiet and compact, these skimmers are realworkhorses. Another excellent feature is that their pumps are located beneath the skimmer out of the water. This allows the heat from the pump to not be transferred into the tank. Available in 2 different sizes:

ARC Reef Tips:Protein skimmers make a low-level fizz sound. If your aquarium is located in your bedroom, you can always hook up a timer that turns the skimmer off each night. Skimmers have a break-in period ofapproximately 3 days before they start to work at pulling what is know as “skimmate” out from the water. If your aquarium is less than30 gallons, you will most likely opt for doing numerous water changes as often as possible instead of having a skimmer.

Retail Price $189.99 Click here for 30-100 gallon tanks. Retail Price $229.99 Click here for 100+ gallon tanks.

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Reef Octopus in-sumpProtein Skimmer. If you have a sump then this is the skimmer for you. The Reef Octopus’s brand new classic 202 is not just beautiful but it really gets the job done! With it’s relatively small 10″x8″ footprint it will fit nicely in most sumps. This unit is quiet and produces tons of bubbles to get you some really high-quality skimmate. Reef Octopus is a great company that produces some extremely high-quality products:

ARC Reef Tips: Skimmers have a break-in period ofapproximately 3 days before they start to work at pulling what is know as “skimmate” out from the water.

Retail Price $259.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.

Best Reverse Osmosis System (RO/DI Unit)

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BRS 4 Stage Reverse Osmosis RO/DI System. A Reverse Osmosis System is designed to treat your tap water and remove all impurities. This unit is extremely effective and also very simple to use. The system comes already 100% assembled. There are many huge benefits to using a reverse osmosis deionization system or “RO/DI”. Basically, even though your tap water may look clean and clear, it contains tons of undesirable minerals and cleaning agents that can cause illness to your tanks inhabitants as well as increased amounts of unwanted algae in your aquarium. If you are serious about reef-keeping and don’t want to have ongoing battles with nuisance algae, then we strongly suggest picking up a reverse osmosis system. There are many options for different systems. We suggest the BRS system for its high quality, relatively low price tag, and the high availability for replacement parts. This unit is available in 3 different configurations starting at $149 for the basic unit, $199 with included pressure gauge, rinse valve, an electronic monitor that displays in parts per million just how pure the water coming out is, and at $239 it included those features plus an extra membrane that increases the output from 75 gallons per day up to 150 gallons per day, this extra membrane will also double the life before the membrane needs to be replaced. All the systems will get the job done but we recommend either of the systems that have the TDS monitor attached. This will show you just how impure your tapwater is and will let you know when the system’s cartridges are in need of replacement:

ARC Reef Tips: If you don’t yet havean RO/DI system you can purchase distilled water from your local supermarket and use that in the meantime. Distilled water costs on average about 79 cents per gallon, but in the long run purchasing an RO/DI unit will be more cost effective, not to mention will be a lot less lugging around of heavy jugs.

Retail Price: $224.99+ Click here to purchase.

BestWavemaker Powerhead

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Jebao OW Series Wavemaker with Controlleris a low priced wavemaker with even more options the top of the line units. It has nearly limitless combinations and speeds, features a night mode that will automatically turn the unit to its lowest setting once the lights go off in the tank. It features a feeding mode that will turn the flow off for 10 minutes while you feed your fish and offers a host of other features and wave patterns. You can even wirelessly link2 units together and have them pulse at the same time or at alternating times. Offered in 4 different sizes and starting at only $45, the Jebao is the clear winner for the most bang for the buck.

ARC Reef Tips: The controller is not waterproof so you should make sure to mount it in an area where it won’t get wet. We also recommendcleaning the impeller every 6 months with vinegar and a soft brush to keep the unit going strong. Positioning your powerheads correctly is very important. Some corals like SPS like high flow but other soft corals will be torn apart if they receive direct flow. We also recommend have aiming one of the powerheads slightly upward towards the surface, this will break the water tension and result in increased off-gassing, which will help lower ammonia and nitrogen levels in your tank.

Retail Price: $59.99+ Click here to purchase from Amazon.

BestAlgae Scraper

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Flipper Aquarium Algae Cleaneris a new type of magnetic algae scraper that is just plain fun to use! Unlike other magnetic scrapers, the flipper has only 3 points of contact on the glass and is much less likely to trap a sand particle between the magnets meaning it is far less likely to scratch the glass. It comes with a metal blade for use with glass aquariums and a plastic blade for use with acrylic tanks.

ARC Reef Tips: For glass aquariums, use the metal blade on the tank walls, then flip the scrapper over to the soft scrubber side in order to finish up with gently cleaning the silicone seamed edges of the tank. The flipper is fun to use because it gets 100% of the algae input one single pass. The days of your arm getting tired are over!

Retail Price: $39.99 Click here to purchase from Amazon.

BestMedia Reactor

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BRS GFO & Carbon Deluxe Reactor w/ pumpis the best of all media reactors that we have tested. If you are running carbon in a media bag inside your filter or sump, it’s not the most efficient way to run it. A reactor sends a steady flow of water directly through each particle. Using this media reactor is an easy way to make the best use of your carbon. It eliminates the need for messy filter bags and it ensures that every piece is used. This media reactor has the added benefit of being capable of running not just carbon but also GFO in the same unit.

ARC Reef Tips: If you don’t have a sump then you will need a little extra tubing. This unit makes use of mar-lok quick connect fittings. Regular soft vinyl tubing will not work correctly with these units. You mayneed to purchase some extra tubing as it only comes with two 2′ long pieces of tubing (only long enough for in-sump installations). Here is the link to the correct tubing that you may need for a regular aquarium that does not have a sump1/2″ Mur-lok Polyethylene Tubing

Retail Price: $94.99 Click here to purchase.

(Video) Answers to 10 Beginner Saltwater Aquarium Questions! EP: 1

BestCarbon & GFO

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BRS’s ROX 0.8 Carbonis the best of all carbon options out there. Carbon comes in many grades as well as different shapes. Rox Carbon has pharmaceutical gradepurity and has a variety of pore sizes. Each particle is very hard which reduces the amount of dust created when the particles collide. It will last twice as long as most other carbons so it’s higher initial cost will be recouped over time. It is more beneficial to your tank than other types of carbon such as Bituminous Carbon and Lignite.

ARC Reef Tips:Activated carbon is a chemical filtration media that is very well suited for removing dissolved organic compounds. The many benefits of its use include; crystal clear water, the eliminationof foul odors, and the removaloftoxins from the water that were released by tank inhabitants such as corals in their ongoing chemical warfare against their neighbors.Activated carbon does not have a major effect on trace elements, but we recommend dosing trace elements if running carbon. Replacement will be needed every 3-6weeks depending on your tanks bioload.

Retail Price: $19.99+Click here to purchase.

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BRS’s GFO Granular Ferric OxideCan be run along with Carbon media in the suggested media reactor above. The main purpose of GFO is to inhibit algae growth by removing phosphates from the aquarium. BRS makes a high capacity version also which may be useful when running GFO in a separate reactor, but for running GFO together in the same media reactor we recommend the standard GFO since it’s useful life is already longer than that of carbon. When the carbon needs to be replaced the standard capacity GFO will still have some life left in it.

ARC Reef Tips: The reactor that we suggest above canhold a maximum of 2 cups of carbon and 2 cups of GFO at the same time. These two should be well-stirreddry in a bowel first and then can be added to the reactor.

Retail Price: $21.99+ Click here to purchase.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Equipment

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Remote Control Outlet Switches willmake your life a whole lot simpler. Imagine with the press of a button you can turn on and off your skimmer, pumps, filters and more, heck you can even add your Christmas tree. Once you start using these, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. It comes with 2 remotes that work with RF, so they work about 100ft away and you don’t need to point at the outlets in order to control them.

ARC Reef Tips:

Retail Price: $29.99Click here to purchase.

Best AquariumAid

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Seachem Purigenis an aid to helping you control ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. While there might not be magic at play here, it does work wonders! Purigen is similar to carbon in several ways, it will remove impurities and organic waste, but has the added benefits of being rechargeable and aids in polishing the water for even better clarity. It comes in its own media bag so the only thing you need to do is literally open the package and pop it in. It can be used in any size tank and will provide years and years of use. We rank Purigen as THE best productfor your tank under $10.

ARC Reef Tips: We don’t recommend ditching your carbon for some Purigen, we recommend running them both simultaneously. Your bag of Purigen should last about 4 months on average. It will turn brown once exhausted. To recharge it, soak it in bleach for a few hours, then rinse really well. After rinsing we put the bag in a cup of water with a cupful of “Prime”. This will help ensure that all chlorine from the bleach is removed. Now pop that sucker back in your filter or sump and it’s good to go for another 4 months. The packaging states that it will treat up to 100 gallons. Our recommendation is to use 1 bag per 50 gallons.

Retail Price: $9.99Click here to purchase.




ARC Reef is a state and federally licensed aquaculture facility, working to bring positive change for our coral reefs. We are strong proponents of sustainable aquaculture and the elimination of wild harvested reef products. We offer 100% aquacultured live rock for sale to retailers and the public.

All stories by: ARCreef

  1. Brian Davis

    Apr, 30, 2018 11:33 PM

    I currently have a 17 gallon aquarium and was curious about what I needed for it? I have a HOB filter and not sure if I need it or not. I have some Caribsea live rock and sand. I have a Current USA LED PLUS PRO that I used to have lighting a planted tank but I have it programmed for 100 blue 25 white 15 green and 15 red. I have 2 clownfish 5 astrea snails 5 red legged hermit crabs and a green star polyp frag. I use water from my lfs and I test with my Seachem test kit and refractometer. What do you suggest I add or take away and what regimen do you suggest for maintaining everything? I’ve got some pics and video on Instagram “itisbriandavis” if you want a look see. I know that was a lot but thanks for your time.
    “The Noob”

  2. Jennifer

    Dec, 07, 2018 12:55 AM

    Question about protein skimmer

    1. Feb, 08, 2019 7:50 PM

      Hi Jennifer, Thank you for reaching out to us. We do not sell aquarium equipment for fish tanks. This is just a general guide. There are many different protein skimmers for in-sump and hang on back styles. You would be best helped by contacting the manufacturer of a certain model you are interested in or by going to to check out a wide selection of all the major manufacturers. Happy Reefing!

  3. Jorge

    Dec, 21, 2018 3:23 AM

    Hi. I have a 125 gallon aquarium with 40 gallon sump, nothing else. What do I need exactly? Thanks

  4. Coralline Algae - The Ultimate Guide - An in depth look at this marine algae

    Mar, 27, 2019 1:07 PM

    […] Getting an accurate heater with a separate temperature sensor is highly recommended. Visit our Aquarium Equipment Guide to see our top picks for heater controllers and salt […]

  5. Angel V

    Jan, 22, 2020 5:22 PM

    Hello, i am wanting to start my own aquarium. I have never really owned fish except when i was kid. I want to learn more about saltwater aquariums and would like to know exactly what is needed for a ln aquarium. Frankly, i get confused on the necessities of a saltwater tank and would like to know what is essential. Would a 55 gallon tank be a good start? Thank you!

  6. Dave Delvin

    Jan, 22, 2021 7:05 PM

    (Video) Overstocked or Just Right? Top 10 Beginner Saltwater Fish & Stocking Tips! - Ep: 31b

    Great help thanks guys. I use the salt mix you reccomend. Its a great deal and the Alk levels are nice and high.


How many Ppts are needed for a saltwater tank? ›

The most common measurement is specific gravity and should fall in the range of 1.023 to 1.028 for a reef tank. If measuring PPT or parts per thousand, it should fall in the range of 34-36. (35 PPT is the same as 1.026 specific gravity.) If salinity is low, add additional salt and mix until completely dissolved.

How much salt do I put in a 20 gallon saltwater tank? ›

Just slowly add enough salt to reach the desired salinity level. For example: Brightwell Aquatics NeoMarine salt mix calls for ½ cup per gallon of fresh water for a salinity of 1.025 specific gravity. If we want to mix 20 gallons of water, that means we need 10 total cups of salt mix to reach 1.025 SG.

What should my saltwater parameters be? ›

Levels around 30-40 ppm are generally tolerated by most saltwater aquarium fish (except for fragile species) and many soft corals that tend to come from nutrient rich waters.

How hard is it to take care of a salt water tank? ›

The reality is, a basic saltwater aquarium is really no more difficult than a freshwater aquarium. The only difference is your adding some synthetic sea salt into the water to make it saltwater. Even most of the equipment you are going to use is exactly the same as you would use on a freshwater tank!

Is 1.029 salinity too high? ›

Recommended salinity levels for a reef tank are 1.024 – 1.025 (32 – 33 ppt) and if you are slightly below or above that level (1.022 – 1.027), your tank will be just fine. Of course if your levels are out of the 1.024 – 1.025 range, I do recommend you bring them back in check.

What is salt creep? ›

Salt creep occurs when the water in a saltwater aquarium splashes out of the tank, gets things wet, and after the fresh portion of the water evaporates, leaves behind salt crystals.

How long should you mix salt water? ›

Use a submerged pump, and mix only for as long as it takes for the salt to completely dissolve. Do not mix for more than 2 hours and do not bubble air into the water, as both of these actions will cause unnecessary precipitation.

How long does it take for aquarium salt to work? ›

In order to treat ich with aquarium salt, use a tablespoon of salt for every 1-3 gallons of water. Start with the lowest concentration of salt, and gradually increase the concentration as needed. This should cure the fish in approximately 2 weeks. Severe cases of ich can take longer to cure.

How much salt do I put in a 55 gallon saltwater tank? ›

I use oceanic salt it uses 21/2 cups per 5 gallons so for a 55 gallon you would use 27.5 cups.

What should my nitrate level be saltwater? ›

Nitrate levels should not exceed 30-40 ppm. Be careful of high levels of nitrates, as it can be toxic to your aquatic life and can also lead to an out-of-control algae growth in your tank.

Is 20 ppm nitrate too high saltwater? ›

Although many aquarists run their tanks with extreme nitrate levels, the ideal is a maximum of 5 to 10 ppm. Levels of 20 to 50 ppm are too high.

What are the most important in reef tank? ›

Most important water parameters

The most important reef tank parameters to closely monitor are salinity, calcium, alkalinity, nitrate, pH, phosphate, temperature, and magnesium.

How many gallons does a clownfish need? ›

An Ocellaris Clownfish, which Nemo most closely resembles, requires an aquarium of at least 20 gallons, not to mention adequate filtration, pumps, water supplements, reef structure (live rock and sand), and required diets by species.

What is the best temperature for a saltwater aquarium? ›

Some aquarists feel that keeping your tank between 75-77 degrees is best, some say 75-80 degrees. Others feel that some corals and fishes, having come from warm tropical waters, do much better at temperatures of about 80-85 degrees, or higher. Some invertebrates will even do better at cooler water temperature.

What salinity is 34 ppt? ›

Salinity is a measure of the total amount of dissolved salts in seawater. It is measured in parts per thousand (ppt or 0/00). The average salinity of the ocean is around 34 to 37 ppt.

What do you need for a 55 gallon saltwater tank? ›

Things You'll Need
  1. 55-gallon glass aquarium.
  2. 110-gallon hanging filter (bio-wheel preferred)
  3. Gravel, sand or crushed coral.
  4. Protein skimmer (optional)
  5. Instant Ocean sea salt.
  6. Fluorescent light strip.
  7. Hydrometer.
  8. Saltwater pH test kit.

How many gallons do you need for a saltwater fish tank? ›

A 20 gallon tank is the smallest recommended size for a saltwater aquarium, but a 55-75 gallon tank is perfect for beginners as they allow for greater water stability, fewer parameter fluctuations, lots of room for fish and coral, and not too expensive to initially stock and maintain.

Do I need a doser for reef tank? ›

Supplemental dosing a reef aquarium is the process of adding trace elements like Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium to the water. As corals grow their consumption increases, once water changes cannot meet this demand, dosing is required. It can be done manually or via automated liquid dosing pumps.


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3. How To Setup A Saltwater Aquarium: Step By Step
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