Over 15 million families have a fish tank set up in their home, but out of that number, only 2.5 million own saltwater fish. 

Setting up a saltwater aquarium and caring for saltwater fish can seem daunting if you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s not as difficult as you might think. 

We’ve put together this quick guide to walk you through the process. 

So let’s dive in! 

1. Buy the Right Tank 

You can’t just go to the store and buy the first tank you see on the shelf. The size (and type) of the tank will limit what kinds of fish you can put inside. 

For example, saltwater tanks need filters, heaters, thermometers, and more. A fishbowl might be cheaper, but you’ll be stuck with getting a beta fish instead of saltwater fish, such as copepods

So think about the type of fish you want before you go shopping for a tank. Decide how many fish you’re going to buy, and make sure you get a tank that is big enough for all of them and has the right features. 

But don’t buy the fish yet! You shouldn’t do that until your tank is completely ready for them, which can take a few days. 

2. Find the Best “Tank Spot” in Your Home

Once you buy the right tank, you have to find the best spot to put it. This can take a bit more work than you might think. 

Don’t put your tank near any windows, exterior doors, air conditioning units, or heater vents. These can all change the temperature in your tank from hot to cold or cold to hot in a few quick moments. This type of temperature change can hurt your fish. 

You also have to think about how heavy your tank will be when filled up all the way. A saltwater fish tank will weigh about 8 pounds for every gallon of water. In other words, your tank can easily weigh hundreds of pounds. 

Make sure you put it on a floor, table, or stand that will be able to hold that amount of weight. 

You’ll also need to put your tank in a place close to at least one electrical outlet. Many of the features, such as the filter or heater, will need to be plugged into the wall. 

And finally, make sure you put your tank in a room you spend a lot of time in so you can enjoy the finished aquarium! 

3. Get Your Tank Ready 

Before you can fill your tank up with water and decorations, you have to get the tank ready first.

This process involves several steps, so make sure you give yourself a chunk of time to sit down and put it all together. 

Rinse It

To start, rinse out your tank with fresh water. This will remove any dust, dirt, or other debris that have gathered inside the glass. 

Make Sure It’s Level 

When you’re done rinsing the tank, set it in your chosen “tank spot.” 

If you have a carpenter’s level, use it to make sure the tank is level. If you don’t have the right tool, you can fill the bottom of the tank with two inches of water. The water will slant to one side if the tank isn’t level. 

Tanks that aren’t level are more likely to crack or leak over time. 

Hang the Background 

If you have a background for your tank, now is the time to hang it. Secure it to the outside of your tank rather than the inside. 

Check for Leaks 

Dry off the outside of your tank with a towel, then fill the tank up 1/3 of the way with fresh water. 

Check the edges of the tank for leaks. Look for any water beading at the bottom corners or small drips running down the sides. 

If your tank leaks, return it to the store and buy another one. You can try to fix it on your own, but the repair is difficult and may not hold for long. 

Dump It Out 

Once you’re sure there are no leaks, dump the freshwater back out of the tank. Then put the tank back into place. 

4. Install the Electrical Components 

Now that you know the tank doesn’t leak, it’s time to install the electrical components. The exact features you need might vary on the tank you get or the fish you buy, but most saltwater tanks will have the following components:

Filter 

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set up the filter.

For most tanks, this will hang off the back, so make sure there is enough space for it between the tank and the wall. 

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer removes things like extra food, waste particles, and other organic compounds from the water.

Again, you should follow the instructions for your specific model to ensure proper function. 

Heater 

To avoid overheating your tank, make sure you set up your heater properly and set it at the right temperature. Water that’s too hot or too cold can damage your fish. 

If you have a non-submersible heater, you should put it as close to the outflow of the filter as possible. If you have a submersible heater, you should place it as close to the inflow of the filter as possible. 

This will ensure the warm water spreads throughout the entire tank. 

Thermometer 

The thermometer will help you keep the water temperature at the right level.

Place the thermometer at the opposite end of the tank as the heater. This will ensure the entire tank is warm. 

Sump Pump 

Depending on the tank you buy, you might have a sump pump. 

A sump pump is made up of the protein skimmer, the heater, and the filter, but it sits in a separate pump below the tank. This gives your fish more space and makes your tank look open and clean. 

If you have a sump pump instead of individual features, read the instructions carefully before setting it up. 

Light 

Many aquarium hoods come with built-in lights. Plug in the hood and turn on the light to ensure it works the way it should. 

5. Add the Substrate and Decor 

Now that your tank is all set up, it’s time to add the substrate and decor.

Make sure you rinse everything off before you put it in the tank to remove any dust or dirt. 

6. Fill the Tank with Saltwater 

Once you have the tank decorated, you can add your saltwater. 

You can find pre-mixed saltwater at most pet stores, or you can make your own at home. But be careful. Putting in the wrong amount of salt can hurt your fish.  

7. Let the Tank Stabilize 

Let your tank sit for at least 24 to 48 hours before adding any fish. This gives the water a chance to stabilize. 

It will also allow the water to reach and stay at the right temperature. Any atmospheric gases in the water will dissipate during this time as well. 

Don’t be concerned if your water gets cloudy. That is normal. Wait until the water gets clear again before adding any fish. 

The Last Step in Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium 

Now you’re ready to add fish to your saltwater aquarium!

Make sure you keep your tank clean and feed your fish the right amount of food. If you take care of your aquarium, you can enjoy it for years to come. 

Want to learn some other tips and tricks about how to enjoy your summer? Make sure you check out the rest of our blog! 

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