You are currently viewing In 12 Step Build Saltwater Aquarium | In-depth guide for Beginners

In 12 Step Build Saltwater Aquarium | In-depth guide for Beginners

A saltwater aquarium can serve as a beautiful friend and an appealing décor for your home. Watching the fish swim and the pleasing quiet sound that you would love to watch till almost forever is a means of relaxing the mind.

However, if you want to set up a saltwater aquarium and look for the best guide that will help you achieve this, then take a halt and read through this article, I will explore all the details required throughout your journey.

Yes, several steps are taken while setting up a saltwater aquarium, although it is not an over-skill task and not time-consuming. Grab all you need to know right here.

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How Do I Start a Saltwater Aquarium?

If that is the question on your mind, you will be exposed to 11 informative steps to help you go about starting up your aquarium. Before any other thing, you should consider your tank size. As a beginner, you may want to give a small tank size a trial before thinking of expanding later, but that is entirely your choice to make. That is important because you need to choose the right tank size suitable for your fish.

Few things you should put into consideration include; the tank size, maintenance budget, and the type of fish you want to accommodate.

Step by step, In-depth guide to Saltwater Aquarium Setup

which is better saltwater or freshwater aquarium

A saltwater aquarium is a bit complex to set up when compared with freshwater. If you want a lasting and appealing saltwater aquarium like a reef tank or some other marine aquarium type, you will need to take some essential steps to achieve that.

All you need to do is follow the steps which have already been outlined below, and you will be looking forward to having a new saltwater aquarium to yourself and in the comfort of your home. These steps include;


This step is the first and most important step to take while setting up your aquarium. You have to choose the right spot suitable for your tank; a saltwater aquarium does not need an area directly facing the sun or direct UV rays. This is one of the head points to keep in mind while thinking of where to place your tank.

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Allowing too much sunlight on a saltwater aquarium tank promotes the growth of algae, causing severe damage to the overall well being of your fish and their environment. Algae growth is also very changeling to control.

However, you should select a room where the average temperature does not exceed 26 degrees (Celsius) for your saltwater aquarium. Don’t forget that an aquarium is supposed to be as cool as the natural ocean for your fish to have a delightful swim, so you will have to provide that.

Your selected location should be well ventilated. Also, ensure you provide electric outlets in the area chosen because you will need to plug in some electrical appliances such as filters, heaters, pumps, and other vital equipment.


Choosing The Right Tank

which is better saltwater or freshwater aquarium

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You can’t think of adding water or your new fish when there is no tank yet, so a fish tank is essential and should come before even buying your fish. However, your tank size should be what you prefer and what you think you can handle. It is okay if you decide to go for a small tank, what is essential is that it can accommodate the inhabitants well enough.

However, when it comes to a saltwater aquarium, a bigger tank comes with its advantages. But if you have plans of having few fish, not much plant, you should probably go for smaller tank size.

Reversely, if you want to stock your aquarium with a lot of big fish, you will surely need a large tank so your inhabitants will be comfortable and will not have to compete for space.

Many people buy small fish without considering that these little fish tend to grow bigger in just weeks. Before you purchase a tank, it is vital to consider the type of fish you want to keep and how many of them you want to keep.

Beginners make the mistake of setting up with small tank sizes and having plans of migrating to a bigger tank once they get acquainted with fish and aquarium. This can make things complicated; the reason is that it takes a long time for healthy bacteria to grow, for the plants to bloom and for the fish to get acclimated to the aquarium.

So if you want to set up a smaller tank and move to a bigger tank later, you will interfere with plant growth and water cycle and stress out your fish. It will be an excellent choice to make by starting up with a big tank if you have plans to switch to a large tank.

Other mistakes beginners make regarding tank sizes are overstocking the tank, allowing microorganisms like nitrites to build up, which will increase the water hardness. The above mistakes are prone to affect a small-sized aquarium, but if your tank is more extensive, your tank’s chances of getting infected are slim.

It is much easier to detect issues that may have gone wrong and tackle those issues if dealing with a larger tank.

If you are interested you can check Amazon or Marine Depot to choose the desired tank you need.

The Right Aquarium Stand

The third step in this guide to setting up a saltwater aquarium is to choose the right aquarium stand.

It will not be pleasant if you change your aquarium water or plants and find the entire place wet, the furniture or some home décor may get soak or damage while you are doing the usual routine check. An ideal option is to set up an aquarium stand. Ensure the aquarium stand’s weight will be strong enough to carry the weight and size of the saltwater aquarium.

The aquarium stand should also be placed in a ventilated spot to avoid direct sunlight and provide enough space for other equipment you will need.

Cleaning the Tank

The first thing to do before putting in your new fish is to clean the new tank. Cleaning the tank will help eradicate debris and dirt that have accumulated.

When you purchase an aquarium tank, even if it comes well packaged, it will be full of settled dust, if you don’t clean this off, they can affect your new fish. They can affect the peaceful ecosystem which you are trying to create.

For guidance on cleaning your tank, follow these procedures; use a clean cloth and warm water to clean outside and inside your new tank. Don’t add any chemicals to the water you are using to clean your tank. This might leave some residue and your new fish will get infected. These chemicals are poisonous and can kill or damage your fish and plants. - For all your creative needs!

The Substrate

After cleaning your tank, the next step is to add the substrate to your new saltwater tank. A substrate is known as the gravel or soil at the bottom of the tank; this soil or gravel will serve as your seabed. Gravel is an ideal choice and more preferred than sand because it is not exposed to bacteria or nitrate infection like sand however, you have to look for excellent gravel to fit the saltwater tank perfectly.

You could try out something attractive and colorful like blue color gravel while buying your gravel ensure you are purchasing natural gravel, even if you are to buy a dyed one, make sure it was dyed out of non-toxic or chemical substances. Whatever the case, you will want to look for good saltwater aquarium gravel.

Clean your new gravel before introducing it into your aquarium, there may be dirt or dust on the new gravel, take off this dirt by using a sieve and washing with mild warm water. Wash gently and make sure you take off all the dust out of it.

It is important to note that you need plenty of gravel to cover the ground of the tank. You will need at least a pound of gravel for each gallon of water you introduce to your tank.

Introduce the Saltwater

Now that your tank is set and your gravel is intact, you will need to introduce saltwater from an old source. Try to make the salinity level right though it may be challenging but since your fish is not in the tank; you don’t need to worry a lot.

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If you had introduced a little amount of salt or the water you had put in is not much. You have the time to balance it even as long as your plants and fish are absent.

A great alternative I have here for you is to buy premixed saltwater, and this is an excellent alternative because you are assured that the water and salt levels are the same. There will be an absence of bacteria or other infections. It is okay if you want to mix the saltwater yourself. However, be careful while you are doing that.

Purchase a high-quality sea salt blend from a pet store. Please never use the regular table salt which you use for cooking in the kitchen; this is not what your new fish will need to thrive.

The sea salt given to you by the pet store will contain informative guidelines that will help you get the right salinity level while mixing. It is mostly indicated per quantity of water, and the instructions will go a long way to help you get it right.

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Also, do not use fresh water from your kitchen; this water will contain some contaminants such as some trace of minerals; they are contaminated in this case because it is favorable for your fish.

Allow the water to stay out through the night to get rid of chlorine. You can also purchase water treatments from a pet store. It will help eradicate contaminants and traces of other unwanted contaminants. Once your saltwater is set and ready to go, you can now introduce it to your tank.


The Equipment

You don’t need to get different kinds of tools and equipment for your saltwater tank. However, you need a sound saltwater filtration system with three stages of filtration: biological, chemical, and mechanical. You will also need a high-quality lighting system, a protein skimmer, a water heater, and a water pump.

The strength, size, and type of this equipment you will need all depends on your tank’s size and your fish. After collecting all these, set them up properly in your already loaded saltwater aquarium.

Leave everything working overnight to ensure proper functioning, re-test the salt water’s salinity to make sure it is still stable.


Saltwater tank requires a suitable lighting system for a better viewing experience. It varies from freshwater tanks. Different tanks require different lighting based on size. As the fishes live deep in the ocean there is little to no light. So if your planning on going for Fish Only (FO) tank you can use less lighting add save some money. But if you looking to have Fish Only with Live Rocks (FOWLR) you need some higher intensity lighting. For example Macroalgae, coralline, etc require lighting to grow and maintain themselves. The main lighting system in tanks comes in three types. LEDs, Metal halide, and Fluorescent.


LEDs are the most common and efficient form of lighting you can see in aquarium tanks whether it is saltwater or freshwater. They provide a good form of lighting and available in different colors which gives an aesthetic look for the saltwater aquarium tank.

Metal Halide

Metal Halide is the best lighting suited for reef tanks. Metal Halide provides intense lighting. It is more recommended and preferred by reef hobbyists due to its color spectrum. The lighting from the Meta Halide changes the way of the viewing of the saltwater aquarium.


Fluorescent are regular lighting that you get in every saltwater aquarium kit. They don’t provide low to medium lighting. This is best suited for a Fish Only (FO) tank. For beginners starting with Fish Only (FO) tank, this is sufficient. You can always upgrade to better lighting if you ever plan to add live rocks in the future. Also, make sure the Fluorescent bulb in the aquarium kit are good enough to provide lighting just for the viewing cause.


The main process of the filter is to clean the impurities of the water and keep it clean for the fish and other living creatures to survive. As a beginner, it will be pretty hard to select the right type of filter for the first time. As different fish and different living creatures require different needs. The mostly filter is to go with a mechanical filter for the saltwater aquarium in the beginning. If you are serious about the saltwater aquarium you better go for the best that is Biological Aquarium Filter. It is quite expensive but it serves right.


Skimmers are required to remove waste and other unwanted substances from the water to make it clean. Skimmers are also called a protein skimmer. They are commonly used by public aquariums, water treatment, and other aquarium enthusiasts use them. The reason why it is called protein skimmers is that a large portion of skimmer remover is made up of proteins and amino acids.


A heater is essential to maintain the temperature of the tank for the fishes to survive. The heater maintains the environmental balance inside the tank for the fish. The temperature of the heater and the length of the heater will vary from tank to tank based on gallons. It is also to be noted that the heater must be a shatterproof glass so the fish inside the tank are completely safe.

This data may vary as it depends on the temperature required for the fish.

  • 50 watts and the 9-inch heater is suitable for 7–16 gallons
  • 75 watts and the 10-inch heater is suitable for 16–26 gallons
  • 100 watts and the 12-inch heater is suitable for 26–40 gallons
  • 125 watt and the 12-inch heater is suitable for 40–53 gallons
  • 150 watts and the 13-inch heater is suitable for 53–79 gallons
  • 200 watt and the 15-inch heater is suitable for 79–106 gallons
  • 250 watts and the 17.3-inch heater is suitable for 106–159 gallons
  • 300 watt and the 19.6-inch heater is suitable for 159-264 gallons


In this step, you can now start putting in your live plants, pebbles, and coral in the saltwater mix, As you know, all these are going to live and grow together with your fish. This step is fun and exciting!

However, what type of live plants, rocks, and corals do you want to add to your aquarium? Well, that is your choice to make. You must conduct some research on the safe and suitable plants to add that will be beneficial to your fish and not harsh.

If you are introducing live rocks, ensure they have already been cured and adequately treated to avoid pollutants and toxins that will damage your saltwater aquarium.

Cycling The Aquarium

Cycling is the procedure taken to build up the natural filter process through the form of valuable bacteria. This is the next step to take. The formed bacteria will break into nitrates, and ammonia inside the saltwater will help keep unwanted company growth, such as some natural compounds to a limit.

The cycling process can last up to 6months, so you will need to be patient as this step is important for your set- up before you introduce your fish.


Choosing your Fish

saltwater tanks or freshwater tanks

This is now the perfect time to welcome your fish into their new home. You should add the fish suitable for your tank size and, most importantly, a saltwater aquarium fish. Ensure you select a group of healthy fish.

If you introduce an infected fish, it will contaminate your aquarium and will only damage everything there. An ideal option is to consult an aquarium specialist to cross-check all your fish to make sure they are healthy.

These are a few points to note:

  • Don’t purchase from a fish tank that has a dead fish already in it.
  • Watch the fish make sure all of them are active and swimming before buying.
  • Don’t get too much fish that will be overload for your tank.

Adding your New Fish & Adaptation

A fish can get shocked, stressed, and eventually die. An adjustment to their new environment is essential; don’t put in the fish directly into the tank as soon as you bring them home. Once you get home, allow about half of the water out, then tighten the bag while the fish inside the water, be careful so that the water inside the bag and the tank’s water do not end up in the mix.

You may use an air stone to make sure your fish gets sufficient oxygen during this process.

Watch for about 15minutes, repeating the process. Inspect to see if the pH level, salinity, and temperature of the bag and your tank are balanced. Finally, use a net to carefully introduce the fish into the tank and dispose of the water bag.


Now you have your saltwater aquarium all set, and your fish are already exploring their new home. An aquarium is beautiful to have and fun to keep; it is also a good source of revenue to hold on to.

You may choose to go to a small aquarium that will not cost a lot, and you can decide to go big, that is your own choice to make. However, if you heed my step to step guide, you will have yourself a beautiful aquarium setup!