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Easy Steps to Set up a Saltwater Aquarium

Last Updated: 01.12.23


If you’re interested in embellishing your place with a saltwater aquarium yet you’re new to this, this article might be of help. From installing the aquarium sump pump to how to set up a new tank with ease, we’ve got you covered. 

Building your aquarium is not only easy if you follow the below-mentioned steps but it can turn out to be a pleasant activity. If you’re really into this, you can even build a glass aquarium yourself yet if you don’t want to go that far, you can easily set it up once you’ve bought all the required parts and accessories. 

If the latter is your case, you might want to check out this post as we will go through all the steps you need to take to enjoy that aquarium you dream of and do all that at home. 



Things you need for a saltwater aquarium 

If you’ve decided that a saltwater aquarium is what you want, you will have to make sure that you get anything you need to create a pleasant environment where the fish can thrive. Think of the space you have at disposal and the fish you want your aquarium to host as these factors will help you decide what you buy.

Therefore, choose an aquarium size that will comfortably accommodate the fish you intend to get and shop for the proper light, filtration system, sump pump, and heater. The type of aquarium and the fish species you want will also help you decide what substrate and sea salts to go for. Finally, get the livestock, corals, and plants you want for your aquarium.


Getting the aquarium ready

Once you have purchased all the things an aquarium requires, you can go on with the first installation step. Make sure you place the aquarium stand safely and properly and leave enough room for the equipment and accessories you will install later. 

Use fresh water and a sponge or a soft cloth to clean the tank and then add the tank backing. You can either paint the back wall with your favorite color or you can simply apply a vinyl covering. Once you’ve taken care of that, it’s time to install the sump pump and the accessories it comes with in the stand or the cabinet. The sump pump should come with instructions. 

However, you should install the sump and the equipment it comes with as well as the plumbing under the aquarium. 

You should then place the tank on the stand you’ve installed. If you choose to use a power strip and/or a light timer, now is the time to install them. 


Installing the aquarium equipment

The next step is to install the filtration system. As part of this process, you will have to remove and wash the pads the filter comes with. After doing so, put them back in the filter and install it on the back wall of the tank. 

Keep in mind that the filter requires regular maintenance and thus needs to be removed from time to time. Make sure that you leave some space between the wall and the tank to remove it with ease. 

A part of the filtration system should be mounted on the tank or canister. Take care of that and then, if you choose to use a protein skimmer, make sure you also install it. Continue with the installation of the powerheads you’ve purchased and put them in the approximate position. 

You can install them in the final position only after you’ve installed the decorations and rocks you’ve selected. The heater should be installed now as well. Once everything is in place, it is recommended to run a wet test to see if the system works properly. Since this is a test and there are no fish and plants at this moment, you can use fresh water. 

Before doing that, check the system and tighten the hose connections again if needed. Use fresh water to fill the tank and the sump if you’ve chosen to add one to your aquarium. Employ a cloth to wipe the exterior of the tank. You can thus see if there are any leaks once you run the system. 

Plug the pumps into the power strip one at a time and then check the connections for leaks. Should you notice any leaks, turn off the system, empty the tank, make the necessary adjustments, and test the system again as you did the first time. 



Adding substrate, sea salts, and aquascaping

If everything went well with the previous steps and there are no leaks, you can go on with the next step and install the substrate and sea salts. Just make sure that you do your research before buying these items as they are more difficult to remove when the tank is full and the equipment is working. 

To add sea salts to your tank, you first need to remove a few gallons of water from the sump and the tank and unplug the system. In order to help them dissolve more quickly, it is recommended to pour them into the sump if you choose to use one and then turn on the return pump. 

In case you have chosen not to use a sump, you will have to turn on the powerheads and filter you’ve installed. You might need to add more sea salts until you reach the salinity level desired. Test the salinity and act accordingly. 

Now is the time to add the sand as well. If you have selected live sand, simply pour it into your tank, and turn on the filtration system for the water to clear as it might get cloudy. If you want to go for non-live sand, make sure you add it to the tank only after you’ve washed it with fresh water. By doing so, you will remove the small particles it might contain.

Adding plants, stones, and decor items to the tank is the next thing to do. After arranging them according to your preferences, you should turn on the filtration system, pump, and protein skimmer. It might take even a day for the water to clear. Once that happens, you can add the fish yet we will cover this step below. 


Adding the lighting system and the livestock

Since it may take a few hours or even more for the water to clear, you might want to seize this time interval to install the lighting system. The market now offers a variety of lighting systems for aquariums, which means that it shouldn’t be difficult for you to find the one that best meets your needs. 

To make it even easier for you to provide the fish with enough hours of light and darkness, you might want to get a light timer as well. You can thus rest assured that the fish will get the light or darkness needed as such devices are designed to turn the light on/off at a certain time of the day. 

You should also consider the content of your tank when choosing the lighting system. If you want to add corals, too, then you need a reef tank lighting system as such units are designed to meet the specific needs of corals which are different from those of tank fish. 

The lighting fixture can be mounted inside the hood of the tank or on top of it. Once you’ve installed it, you should plug it into the light timer. Make sure you set the timer according to your needs. 

Even if you’ve taken all these steps, you still need to be patient before adding fish and critters to your tank. The tank needs to be populated with beneficial bacteria to make the environment friendlier for your livestock. 

Consider the size of your tank before deciding how many fish to buy. Think of getting beginner fish to supply the ammonia needed for the bacteria to multiply and populate the filter. Don’t forget to make sure the fish you add to your tank are compatible. Getting snails is also a good idea as they will keep algae and waste under control. 

Adding fish and various critters gradually is also recommended. Always read any provided instructions or ask for a professional’s help whenever there’s something you’re not sure about. 



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