Keeping your aquarium clean and maintained is a very important part of owning a saltwater aquarium. It can be a laborious job to many owners and over time the maintenance routine begins to become less and less.
The key to a successful and healthy aquarium is regular maintenance and having the right supplies and tools available will make it so much easier.
For cleaning and maintaining a saltwater aquarium, you will need an algae scraper, substrate vacuum, replacement filter media, aquarium salt granules, clean freshwater, and some buckets, powerheads, and a heater for mixing your new saltwater. Weekly, cleaning and maintenance is most common among aquarists.
Below are the following items that I recommend and use myself to keep my aquarium pristine and all my livestock fat and happy!
I have broken down the items you will be needing to keep your saltwater aquarium clean into the following sections:-
- Replacement Filters
- Replacement Parts
Depending on how old or big your aquarium is, you may or may not need some of these items:
Depending on how often you do your water change will depend on how fast you go through your salt supply. I change about 8 gallons every week in my aquarium.
I find it is always better to buy my salt in larger buckets or boxes as it works out cheaper. Just be sure to use your salt fast enough or it can turn rock hard due to moisture in the air.
Once the salt granules have turned solid it is unusable. Each home is different and it may take some time before you find out if you are using it fast enough.
(And with free shipping it’s easier to order your salt to be delivered to your door if your local fish store does not carry the brand you wish to use!)
Carbon or Activated Carbon are sticks or granules made from high-quality, high porosity Bituminous Coal.
The main purpose of Activated Carbon is to absorb organic pollutants and heavy metals from the water.
The other benefit of using Carbon is that it will polish your water and make it sparkle. If you look at your tank and you see the water has a yellow tinge to it, then its time to replace the Carbon.
An easy way to test this is to take two white buckets or containers. Fill one with a small amount of aquarium water and one with new water. You will be able to see the color difference immediately when all the Carbon has been used.
Running Carbon will also be very important when you start to get a lot of coral in your tank. When corals grow into close proximity to one another they begin a chemical attack on their neighbors if they do not ‘Get Along’.
Most Carbon will require changing every 3-6 weeks.
Granular Ferric Oxide – GFO
This granular filter media is specifically aimed at removing Phosphates from the water. Phosphates are one of the building blocks needed for algae to grow. The others are light and Nitrates.
By running GFO you will help to reduce the amount of Phosphate in your water and reduce the possibility of an algae outbreak. GFO is used more of a prevention than a cure but it will help if you add it to an algae-covered aquarium, it will just take time.
GFO will typically last 4-6 weeks in most aquariums.
These are synthetic pellets made of PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates) that are like steroids to Nitrate consuming bacteria! The bio pellets create a large surface area to live on and feed the bacteria, thus growing the number of bacteria that feed purely on Nitrates within your water.
As the bacteria multiply and consume the bio pellets, the quantity you see decreases. To replenish the supply, open the lid of the reactor and pour in some more pellets. Easy!
This is a manufactured mix of Activated Carbon and a ‘Purigen’ type of ion-removing compound that helps to remove organic waste and absorb the harmful Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrate compounds.
It comes in a bag which can be placed in the sump or rear compartment of an All-In-One aquarium and will have to be disposed of off once it is exhausted.
The manufacturer recommends you change this out every 4-6 months provided you have sized the amount of ChemiPure correctly. Once your aquarium begins to get cloudy, it’s time to change the media.
You can now also get ChemiPure Elite which adds a Ferric Oxide material to the media to help reduce Phosphates and Silicates at the same time, but only lasts 4 months.
This is a synthetic filter media that is designed to absorb Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate compounds. It also has an added benefit of polishing the water similar to what Activated Carbon does.
As the Purigen becomes exhausted it changes its color to dark blue and eventually black. The great benefit to this product is that you can recharge the media by removing it and washing it in a bleach and water solution.
Purigen can also be run in a mesh bag or a media reactor.
When you begin your journey into keeping corals there will become a time when your weekly water changes are not enough to keep up with the coral’s demand for Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium.
It is at this point when you will have to start manually dosing these 3 solutions to allow your corals to grow and thrive.
I began my dosing many years ago with one of the superb kits from Bulk Reef Supply. They have everything you need to get started and keep dosing!
2. Replacement Filters
Filter Floss & Socks
Your mechanical filter media is one that needs regular changing to prevent the detritus caught in it from breaking down and releasing Nitrates and Phosphates.
I run a combination of filter socks and floss in my aquarium. My floss gets changed weekly or more with new. My socks get removed and washed.
It is always good to have half a dozen socks to rotate through.
A new product is the Roller Mats (Amazon.com Link) which are rapidly becoming popular.
Click Below to check out the following types of filter media at Amazon.com:
The filter elements in your RO/DI unit are just as important as the filters in your aquarium. Providing the highest source water to your aquarium you are ensuring the healthiest inhabitants.
Most RO filters will contain one or more sediment and carbon filters which much be replaced regularly.
The rate at which you need to change these filters will greatly depend on the water in your area.
Some experimentation over your first year or two will be needed to fine-tune your replacement schedule.
If you would like to know all about an RO/DI water system for your aquarium check out my article HERE.
DI or De-Ionised resins give the final polishing and filtration to your RO/DI water filter.
As these tiny beads remove polluting ions from your source water they slowly begin to turn brown, making it very easy to see when it is time to change them.
You can buy them already in replacement cartridges or you can buy them in packets for your own cartridge.
3. Replacement Parts
T5 light fixtures grow some of the nicest coral aquariums I have ever seen! The selection of bulb colors on the market today makes it possible for you to get just the right spectrum to your liking.
Adding T5 to an LED array like this one also provides a great improvement to using just one of the lighting technologies on its own.
ATI and Giesemann manufacture the best bulbs on the market and they are the bulbs I use on my own LED/T5 array.
8-12 hours per day will require you to replace your bulbs after 8-9 months. I stagger mine so I don’t have them all fading at the same time.
Metal Halide Bulbs
The once popular MH bulb was the only light of choice for many aquarists. The advent of the LED fixtures MH’s have seen a drop in their popularity, but they still grow coral like nothing else!
Another type of array where T5 is added to help tune the coloration to perfection, the Metal Halide lights are a fantastic light if you can deal with the heat they produce.
8-12 hours per day will require you to replace your bulbs each year.
Having replacement o-rings for your equipment is such a stress-saver! Each time you place an order for supplies, add an o-ring for one of your items and slowly build up a set. They are cheap!
I once split an o-ring on my RO/DI unit and my local LFS did not carry the spares. I had to wait a week for it to arrive at my door! Luckily I had a bin full of RO/DI water made up but it made me get a set made up!
Weekly testing is one of the most important ways of understanding the health of your aquarium. Being able to see any problems arising quickly will allow you to deal with them sooner rather than later.
After your cycle has completed, PH and Nitrate will be the main parameters to monitor until you get into adding corals. At this point, you will also need to start testing weekly for Alkalinity, Calcium, and Magnesium.
I only use and recommend the Salifert range of test kits. Inexpensive, readily available and easy to use.
You can read my article Here on why I recommend these kits.
Just like vacuuming your carpet in your home, weekly vacuuming of your sand bed helps to keep it clean.
By sucking up the dirt and detritus trapped in your sand bed you will help eliminate Nitrates, Phosphates and the algae that feed off them.
Once you begin to vacuum your sand while doing water changes you will start to see a dramatic increase in the health of your livestock. In my opinion, it is a must for every aquarium.
If you would like more information on keeping your sandbed clean please check out this article:
Magnetic Algae Scraper
My life changed when I found the magnetic algae scraper! One half goes on the glass in the tank, the other stays on the outside of the glass, and the algae just comes straight off!
Because of this, it takes me two minutes to clean my entire aquarium, so I clean it every two days to keep it sparkling. The addition of the razor blade makes the algae come off so easy!
Never own an aquarium without owning a magnetic scraper! Many sizes and brands to suit every aquarium. Acrylic too!
My personal favorites are the Flipper and Mag-Float Series.
Be sure to get the correct scrapers and pads if you have an acrylic aquarium!
Scrubbers & Scrapers
The only downside to the magnetic scrapers is that you have to stay away from the tank’s silicone seams. Because of this, I have one of these scrubbing pads on a long handle to clean the corners.
They also work great for cleaning up the overflows, return nozzles, and giving the powerheads a quick clean while I’m in there each week.
Toothbrushes and hand-held scrapers are also good for reaching hard or intricate places.
I find a good selection of cleaning tools keeps your aquarium looking pristine.
Be sure to get the correct scrapers and pads if you have an acrylic aquarium!
Nets – A good variety of sized fishnets are a good investment. Ensure you have a net sized to safely cradle your largest fish. Small nets are good for corralling fish into the bigger net.
Turkey Baster – Great for blasting the detritus off the rocks before doing your water change. You will be surprised how much junk comes out of the nooks and crannies! Just don’t steal your partners from the kitchen! You will get yelled at – I did!
White Vinegar – Every month I remove one of my powerheads and run it in a bucket with warm water and white vinegar to remove Coralline Algae and crusting dirt. Let it soak/run for 10 to 15 minutes then get a toothbrush and scrub it and rinse it under a warm tap. Your powerheads/equipment will look like new again! Just thoroughly rinse before adding back to the aquarium!
Like every toolbox, having the right equipment and supplies will make your job so much easier. When maintenance is easy there will be less chance of procrastinating.
Procrastination is one of the biggest downfalls in this hobby and I have seen many a beautiful tank dwindle because ‘Life Got Busy’.
Build your stock and tools up over time and you should enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor as your tank looks pristine all the time. Try and set a regular time for doing your weekly, daily maintenance and you will not regret it!
To help you establish a regular maintenance schedule be sure to download our super helpful Maintenance Guide: