I can vividly remember my early experiences as a hobbyist. When I got my first saltwater tank I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of opinions about saltwater aquarium maintenance and everything involved. In this article, I hope to simplify matters for you the reader and share with you my experiences on what works.

Start with good saltwater

In order to be successful, you want to have saltwater that is appropriate in parameters and as sterile as possible. Reverse Osmosis\De-Ionized (RODI) water is ideal to use with a reputable salt mix such as Instant Ocean’s Reef Crystals. Here in Southern California, we are lucky to have companies that take water from our local beaches and process them into clean saltwater – we have had great luck with it. If you start with good saltwater you eliminate any unknowns and potential contaminants that are often present in tap water.

Keep the parameters ideal

Saltwater aquarium parameters is a topic that deserves its own article and has much detail. However, for this article, I would summarize the numbers below as ideal and my belief is that if you keep the water in these ranges you will have success. The numbers below are for FISH-ONLY aquariums and not for a living reef which is similar but needs to be covered separately.

Temperature 78-80
Salinity 1.019 – 1.026
PH 7.8-8.4
Ammonia – 0
Nitrate – 50 or lower *

* Fish can often live with much higher nitrate numbers but algae becomes an issue, sharks and rays have issues with it, and even if the fish live they often develop physical unattractive disfigurement.

Recommended Routine

The routine below is what we recommend for most saltwater aquariums, variations of this often are warranted but for the most part, this does the trick.

– Replace or clean any mechanical filters such as filter pads or filter socks. Keeping them dirty with water running through them will elevate nitrates in a matter of days so you want to keep them clean and weekly is easy to remember and most practical.
– Check your equipment and make sure everything is running as it should – this takes only a minute and is worth doing – you don’t want to lose your fish because your chiller was off for a week.
– Observe the fish for issues – this is something you are probably doing daily anyway but it’s worth paying attention to fish behavior and feeding habits in more detail.
– If you have a protein skimmer (which we feel is a must), clean the neck and the skimmer cup weekly – the skimmer will perform better.

– Do a 20% water change – this is a standard amount we use that is small enough not to stress the fish and big enough to make a difference in water quality. At times, water changes can be skipped if water parameters are ideal, but in our experience and given the number of fish most folks keep this works well.
– Clean any algae off the aquarium panels and off of any surfaces such as rocks and decorations. It’s easier to do a small cleanup every two weeks and keep the tank looking good vs. spending more time cleaning more algae every month+.

– Test the water. To some people, this may sound infrequent and if a problem occurs you want to test the water right away. But, if things are good and you followed the routine and use good saltwater there is no need to test more often.


Saltwater aquarium maintenance can be simple and even fun and therapeutic. If you follow a few simple rules and use the routine we recommend I think you will be happy with the results.
Enjoy your aquarium :)