How to Set Up a Cheap Salt Water Tank


A saltwater aquarium can be a gorgeous addition to any home or apartment, but they are notoriously difficult to maintain and expensive compared to fresh water tanks. A small, simple saltwater tank is easier to set up and less costly than an elaborate one with a high tech filtration system. Nonetheless, creating a habitable home for your fish to thrive in requires patience and careful planning, regardless of the tank size and sophistication of the equipment.

Things You'll Need

  • Tank
  • Cover
  • Light
  • Aeration system
  • Marine salt mix
  • Hydrometer
  • Power filter
  • Heater
  • Thermometer
  • Gravel
  • Rocks and coral

Setting Up Your Tank

Wash gravel thoroughly. Do this by pouring the gravel into a large bucket, then add water and stir until the rinse water is clear. Place the gravel in the tank.

Fill the aquarium with water. Use city water if possible because well water can be more difficult for some fish to acclimate to. Fill to roughly three inches from the top.

Install the air system and power filter. Both of these are placed on the top edge of the aquarium. Make sure the aquarium is close a wall outlet but not right next to one, and plug everything into a surge protector. Carefully follow the assembly instructions on the boxes of these two apparatuses.

Install the lighting unit and mount the heater. Attach the light to the tank cover and hang the heater on the back of the tank. Do not plug in or turn on the heater or light just yet. Attach the thermometer on the aquarium glass as well.

Decorate your tank with rocks and artificial plants. Hide the airstone in the gravel or behind a rock. Do not add any live plants or fish at this stage. Top off the water.

Turn on heater, air pump, and light. Adjust the heat according to the instructions on the box. The heater should be set between 75 and 80 degrees. Adjust the air volume by slowly closing the bleeder valve on the air filter. There should be a steady flow of bubbles but no splashing.

Add one cup of marine salt mix for every five gallons and use the hydrometer to measure the precise gravity. This reading should be between 1.023 and 1.025.

Wait at least 72 hours before adding the fish and live plant life. Initially stock the tank with a few hardy and disease resistant fish and look after them for about four to six weeks. This will establish a healthy bacteria culture in which other fish you add later can thrive.

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep your tank small and simple. Often the fish that survive the best are also the cheapest.
  • Keep the tank out of direct sunlight, as this will result in unhealthy and unsightly algae growth.
  • Be careful when choosing fish. Not all fish are compatible with each other, so consult your pet store owner on which fish will coexist in harmony.

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