Everyone knows that saltwater fish tanks are harder to handle than freshwater ones. Marine fish require stricter parameters for water quality. This is especially true for pH, salinity, and temperature. To keep everything in the right range, you need to establish a maintenance regimen.
Of course, this seems like a ton of work from the onset, but there are ways to make it easier for you. Make sure that you plan ahead and know what to do and when. Setting up the tank correctly when you get it makes a significant difference for your maintenance routine.
Once the tank is running and set up, add the fish, and get through that first cycling period. Most people can do this effortlessly and wonder how to keep things going smoothly. Primarily, the maintenance protocols are an essential tool to keep everything healthy.
It might be a good idea to have a separate calendar that’s just for the saltwater fish tank maintenance. We talk about all of the things to do and how often they need to be done. Write each one on the calendar as often as it should be there (daily, monthly, or weekly). Then, cross it off once you do it so that there is no confusion later.
Table of Contents
Routine Maintenance Tasks (Daily, Monthly, or Weekly)
Below, you can see a list of things to do. We mark whether they should be done each day, once a week, or once a month. Sometimes, you should do them as needed, depending on the situation at hand.
Check Salinity and Top Off (Daily)
Even if you have a tight-fitting lid, a heated saltwater tank is going to lose water from evaporation. When that happens, you could notice that the salinity of the water increases. This occurs because water leaves the tank, but the salt stays behind. With time, it becomes significantly more concentrated.
You can correct this, but you need to add some heated fresh water regularly. It could feel weird at first, but this keeps the salinity stable within the tank. Test the salinity range with a refractometer or hydrometer.
Water Changes (Weekly)
The first few months of owning a saltwater aquarium require a strict schedule for water changes. Once you set the tank up initially and cycle it, the trophic levels take time to balance out. You’re going to add new fish and invertebrates like shrimp or coral. There’s also biological filtration to consider.
When the tank fully cycles, you could still have hiccups during the first six to eight months. However, regular water changes can keep these minor issues from becoming significant problems. If you have live rock and fish or haven’t finished setting up the equipment, this is especially true for you.
It’s important to use a sand or gravel siphon to get deep into the substrate layers. This doesn’t hurt any bacteria living at the bottom of the tank. Consider moving the live rocks and décor to vacuum beneath them. You might just be astonished at how much debris sinks to the sand or gravel.
At this time, it is important that you don’t disturb the marine life that lives at the bottom. Make sure that you’re creating new substrate piles for the burrowing fish. Also, you shouldn’t squish them with the décor or suck them up with the vacuum.
Maintain the Filtration (Weekly)
Once a week, you should inspect the filter media on the tank. This should always be part of the water change regimen, so they go hand-in-hand. However, we include them as a separate thing so that you don’t forget. If you’re adding these items to a calendar, make sure that you note this on the same day as the water change.
It doesn’t matter what filter media you use. It should always allow the water to flow freely without collecting tons of debris. You never need to replace the filter media unless it’s completely falling apart.
When you’ve collected any wastewater from the water change, use this to rinse the filtration system. Don’t rinse the filter equipment with fresh water. Once you remove the large debris, wipe out your container, and put the media back inside.
It isn’t going to smell or look clean, but that is the whole point! The goal is to keep the biological bacteria inside the filtration unit so that it does its job. If you replace the filter media all the time, this cannot happen.
Make More Saltwater (When Needed)
When you’re keeping saltwater fish in a tank, you’ve got to find some way to make or collect saltwater. You can collect water from the beach if you live near one. Just ensure that you follow the rules of the local area and properly test it first.
Sometimes, beach water is called wild water. You should sterilize it with a UV sterilizer for 24 hours or more. That way, you don’t bring dangerous and nuisance-causing pathogens into your home or fish tank.
Most people who own saltwater fish tanks aren’t going to have access to seawater. However, you can make it yourself. It’s possible to use RO, well, and tap water. However, consider testing well and tap water before using it to make saltwater.
There are various salt mixes on the market, and they are specific to fish and corals or an all-fish aquarium. Generally, corals need more phosphate and carbonate to make those rocky homes, so they need a salt mix specifically designed for coral.
Many experts recommend you start with a fish-only aquarium. That way, you can get used to all the work involved and decide if corals are something you want to consider. As you add corals, you’re going to have different requirements for light, saltwater, water flow, and tanks.
If you’ve already jumped in without looking back and have corals and fish, you’ve probably researched the requirements. Just make sure you know how much saltwater you need and which product is best.
Scrub the Algae (Weekly)
Fish in water are sure to create algae, and there’s nothing you can do for it. Since corals require strong lights, the problem gets worse. It’s possible to scrub the acrylic or glass with the right tool regularly to help reduce buildup. Check water quality if you’ve got a severe problem with algae, as extra nitrates and phosphate could be the cause.
Check Water Quality (Monthly, Weekly, Daily)
Good water is essential for any aquarium type. The right plan ensures that your system has adequate filtration. When starting out, the tank is still cycling, so you should check quality daily, especially if you’ve got fish in there.
After the initial cycling phase, scale back the water checks weekly, as long as you’re not adding more equipment, fish, and invertebrates. If you’re still adding things, test daily while you do. Waiting too long between quality checks can be problematic because you can’t catch the problem early.
Saltwater fish are stricter about pH than freshwater ones. Therefore, you’ve got to maintain the right pH balance. While most salt mixes do this automatically, you should still check it.
Make sure you’re testing the temperature daily, too. Consider a submerged thermometer or a digital one for more accuracy.
Apart from feeding your fish and checking the marine life daily, there are things you should do for your saltwater fish tank. Cleaning it and maintaining it is the best way to enjoy the aquarium and what’s inside. It’s best to start these things when you set up the tank, but late is better than never!