Marine Fish & Coral Reef Tank FAQ’s

Getting Started

Just What Is A Reef Tank?

Basically, a reef tank is a mini ecosystem that is enclosed, and looks just like a micro tropical reef.  Each of the life forms inside correspond to one another just as they would in the wild.  It gets technical but each creature, whether fish on down to microorganisms, complete a series of cycles that accommodate each other.  Fish, shrimp, bacteria found in the food and rocks, the lighting system, oxygenation systems, the reef that aids for filtration and shelter, all correspond in an equilibrium like one would find in a real reef.

How Big A Tank Should I Purchase?

To answer this requires realizing that the bigger the container, the less impact errors will have on the ecosystem itself.  Only one mistake could upset the entire apple cart with a small tank, so it’s good to consider a larger one just to be on the safe side. You need room for the life forms, support materials like reef and coral, equipment for oxygenation, and of course for display.  The creatures need that room to move about and not get bored and not bump into one another.  The method most recommended in regard to this is the “Berlin Method”.  This process entails a protein skimming, lots of strong lighting and rock.  However, freshwater filtration and biological filtration like trickle filters and canister filters.  In addition, HOB or Hang On Back filters should not be used in the marine aquarium. The reason being is because they can clog up with materials and send dangerous nitrates back into the ecosystem which can harm the life forms in the environment.

How Much Maintenance Is Required?

Maintaining this type of aquarium calls for adapting to size and volume. Primarily, changing the water is the biggest issue.  Ignoring this can lead to disaster.  You should test your water often, and this cannot be understated.  If you’ve got a large amount of creatures in your aquarium, you’ll have to change the water more often than the recommended 4 weeks.  Two weeks is the best bet here.  At least 20% of the water every 2 weeks should do it.  In addition there is checking all equipment, making sure nothing is dirty, clogged, tangled up.  Keep the outside glass clean without debris on it, and check for any vermin that might have been curious enough to get caught in something, like ants and such.

The Kind Of Test Kits You’ll Need

Testing the water parameters of your tank regularly will be the difference between success or failure of your reef aquarium.  Below is a list of recommended test kits for the specific functions, as well as to the time schedule you’ll need to follow.  It’s adaptable, so it’s not written in stone, but a good foundation guideline to follow.

  • Alkalinity (Check 2/4 weeks)
  • Ammonia (Check during cycling)
  • Calcium (Check 2/4 weeks)
  • Magnesium (Check 2/4 weeks)
  • Nitrite (Check during cycling)
  • Nitrate (Check during cycling)
  • Phosphate (Check every 1/2 months or when algae issues occur)
  • pH (Check every 4 weeks or after a large water change)
  • Salinity(Check every 4 weeks or after a large water change)

These test kits are the standard and should be used.  Check the expiration dates of each of these.  Of additional note, some or actually the majority of phosphate kits aren’t efficient enough to detect the levels you need for a precise reading.

How Much Does A Reef Aquarium Cost?

Depending on the size of the aquarium, the equipment needed, the type of fish, and other life forms, the cost of a reef aquarium varies to a good degree.  The average run of the mill size tank is not going to be cheap.  You will find that some aquariums can range for a few hundred dollars, to thousands, to upwards of a hundred thousand dollars and more.  Some people just go all out for these aquariums, and some fish are very expensive.  Same with some coral and other creatures.  The materials the aquarium and equipment are made out of counts too. Take a look at our 55 Gallon and 75 Gallon Aquarium guides to find a reef aquarium that suits both your budget and aquatic needs.

Take into account, that you’ll be spending money up front.  Things like the cost of the tank, heating, lighting, power heads, cooling, reactors, and more.  You’ll be using artificial saltwater, or even natural seawater.  The continued maintenance costs involve test kits, replacement bulbs, additives, energy bills.  To cut costs, educating yourself is paramount.  There’s a plethora of information on the web alone.  Message board forums, Facebook pages, and even clubs that may be found locally.  You’ve got to really dig in deep here.  You’re going to be managing an entire min I ecosystem and the creatures inside.  Their lives depend on your continued attention and care.  Just like a real ecosystem, should one thing go wrong, you could collapse the entire thing.  This is why reading and asking questions is not only essential, but mandatory.  Networking with other aficionados may gain you discounts on equipment as well.  Talk to the manufacturers to look for any breaks and discounts and freebies as you can get your hands on.  Check reviews of materials and services.  Don’t leave one stone unturned and you’ll save money from the start and in the long term.

Essential aquatic knowledge

Just What Does Cycling Mean?

One of the most important duties with a reef aquarium, outside of putting water into it, is cycling.  Cycling is the bio filtration process that lets your tank mature to a level to allow for enough bacteria volume to bring about the breakdown of toxic ammonia into nitrite and then into nitrate.  You can not have a reading for ammonia higher than 0. It will take somewhere between 2-4 weeks to achieve this but you should have a 0 reading for nitrite alone, usually taking 4-6 weeks, before even putting any creatures into the tank.  It will take about 90 days for the cycling process to be complete.  The only way to hasten the process is with very high quality live rock.  Make sure to read every detail about cycling.  It is the fundamental process whereby your aquarium will be built upon.  Make a mistake at this step and you’ll be in for a world of hurt.

What Is Meant By Live Rock?

When you hear the term “live rock” in regard to an aquarium, it basically means corals that are inhabited by bacteria that are beneficial to the ecosystem of the aquarium.  These corals are Aragonite, the left over coral skeletons.  It’s  a porus rock where the anaerobic bacteria and other creatures inhabit.  The live rock serves as a source of free nitrogen gas, created by the anaerobic activity of the bacteria within.  This process performs a natural bio filtration.

What Is Meant By Base Rock?

When someone refers to “base rock”, it’s actually the same as “live rock”, made from Aragonite, but doesn’t have the bio organisms dwelling in it.  If necessary, the base rock can be converted to live rock.

What Does A Calcium Reactor Do?

A calcium reactor is a chamber that contains calcium carbonate media.  Using a bubble counter, the chamber is injected with CO2 gas, which serves to increase or decrease acidity, thus making the media to breakdown. Using a continuous calcium supplement to your coral, the carbonate is drip fed into the tank. Find out more about CO2 in your reef tank on our detailed FAQ here.

What Is A Protein Skimmer?

To remove excess waste from the aquarium, a skimmer is used.  Foam Fractionation is the term used for Protein Skimming, the two are interchangeable terms, using a device that creates very fine bubbles that express as foam and the organic impurities get attached to it.  Then the foam is removed from the device to a collection cup that is later thrown away.  This device is of utmost importance and thorough study in how it operates is recommended.  Further detail on protein skimmers is available at the reef keeping website here.

What Is A Chiller?

Just as it sounds, a chiller is a device to cool down the water of the aquarium. If yo live in an area where the room is cool enough, you r lighting may be sufficient in keeping things at the right temperature, however, if not, you need to keep the temperature low enough to keep things from heating up in your tank.  Some lighting can be too much and heat things up.  The best target for temperature should be about 77 degrees Fahrenheit, or 25 Celsius.  You should be concerned if your tank’s temperatures rise above 81 degrees or 27.5 celsius at that level of temperature, you will definitely need a chiller.

What Is Kalwasser / Limewater?

From the German language, the word, kalwasser is basically the word, limewater. This is saturated calcium hydroxide.  It has a high pH between 12-12.5.  Using top off water, it is dissolved in a slow drip feed.  This helps to maintain pH and alkalinity as well as add important inorganic calcium to the tank.  You’ll need to add 1 teaspoon of the kalwasser powder to about 1.3 gallons or 5 liters, of water, mix it up good and add slowly, 1-2 drips per second, is best done.  Use your own discretion here depending on water volume etc..

What is activated Carbon?

To purify the water, activated carbon is used.  It will eliminate that yellowy tinge or film, that is seen in an aquarium.  The water clarity is important to your aquarium in several ways, allowing light to do its job for plants and allows you to see what’s going on, as well as prevent disease.  Basically the simple route is using a filter sock and putting it in an are where the flow is slow to moderate. The carbon media is porous and thus attracts and eliminates metabolic waste.  Just use 1 cup for every 50 gallons or 190 liters of water.  Of note, use the best activated charcoal.  It will server you better in the short and long term.

What Is Reverse Osmosis?

To separate solids from water, the process of reverse osmosis or RO is done.  It is a purification procedure that has the water under pressure and forces its way through the RO membrane.  On one side of the membrane, there is a s solute where pure water passes out the opposite side.  Done correctly it will reduce impurities in the water by 95%.  It is also used in accordance with DI, aka, Dionization, to create the water of the highest purity.

What Is Deionization?

The process of water purification known as deionization, where water is slowly passed over some ion exchange resin, often, small beads, that attract ions such as copper, iron, chloride from water.  Combined with RO, the process creates highly purified water that is used to replace water from evaporation.  It doesn’t create any nutrients to the ecosystem and won’t create algae growth.  It can achieve 99% of water purity.

What are Phytoplankton?

The microscopic gloating plants like algae and diatoms are classified as phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is subject to motion and are not mobile in themselves.  You can’t see them other than by microscope.  They are eaten by zooplankton like amphipods and copeods.

What are Zooplankton?

The tiny creatures that swim about in the water column are known as zooplankton. They’re tiny invertebrates and are mostly categorized as cladocerans, rotifers, copegods.  They’re at the bottom of the food chain and eat phytoplankton.  They in turn are fed upon by fish and larger creatures.

Water Chemistry


Also known as “buffering capacity”, alkalinity is the measurement of the amount of water used to neutralize acids without compromising the pH.  Due primarily to natural amounts of carbonate, bicarbone, and hydroxiide ions found in the water. The measuring of alkalinity is in kH, mEq/L, ppm.  The proper measurement should be between 7-11kH (2.5-4.Omeq/1 or 125-200ppm CaC03).  It is generally maintained by using baking soda in 1 tspn per 45 gallons by approximately 1kH), the use of a Calcium Reactor or a drip feeding Kalkwasser.


The importance of calcium cannot be understated here.  It is an essential element of a reef tank.  The corals themselves use calcium to build their skeletal structures from the calcium carbonate that is extracted from the water. Calcium measurements come in ppm and are maintained between 380-450 ppm calcium ion (950-1125 ppm CaC0 equivalents).  The levels of the calcium should be maintains by using a Calcium Reactor and dosing is in the amount of calcium chloride dehydrate (CaC12), kalkwasser, (limewater) or other alternatives.  If you’re mixing CaC12, its solubility in the water at 20 degrees Celsius is approximately 75g per 100 ml.


The third most essential element that is dissolved in seawater is magnesium.  It is in an abundance about five times more than calcium.  It’s important for the biological processes of every known living organism.  It is measured in ppm and must be maintained between 1250-1350 ppm.  The levels of magnesium should be maintained by dosing magnesium chips to a Calcium Reactor or by the mandatory amount of magnesium chloride hexahydrate (MgC12) aka “magflake”.  There are other alternative names.  If you mix MgC12, its solubility in seawater at 20 degrees Celsius is approximately 170g per 100 ml of seawater.


NO3 aka nitrate, is an oxidized ion of the gas nitrogen, and in regard to bacteria that convert nitrate aka NO2, to nitrate, this is known as the nitrogen cycle.  To fight off detrimental buildups of algae from accumulating nitrate, it is mandatory that you maintain as low a nitrate level as possible.  The nitrate is found in measurements of ppm and the right level is between 0-5 ppm in a reef tank. If you have just fish in an aquarium, you can allow for higher levels.


PO4 aka phosphate is a compound of phosphorus which is a trace element that occurs naturally in seawater but at very low increments.  Usually about 0.002 ppm of phosphate is found in the seawater.  Known as an algae fertilizer, it is essential for the growth of algae that is undesirable in a reef tank.  There are several factors by which phosphate levels rise are unfiltered tap water, calcium additives, some salt mixes, activated carbon and kH buffers.  To alleviate the problem, using Kalkwasser can aid in reducing phosphate levels.  It is measured in ppm and is best to be kept at 0.03 and lower.


When we talk about pH, we’re talking about a measurement regarding the acidity aka alkalinity of a solution.  PH is measured on a level of 95 which is the most acidic upwards to 14, the most alkaline with the number 7 being neutral.  That means the solution is neither alkaline nor acidic.  In regards to a reef tank, pH should be maintained at a level of 7.7 to 8.5, or better yet, between 8.1 to 8.3.  To stabilize the pH, make sureyour tank is located in a well-ventilated area, perhaps with some windows open, and the tank has enough water movement.  Reverse lighting can be used if you have a refugium.


The measure of the amount of salt in the water is known as salinity.  It is measured in ppt, seawater has 35 ppt, and is based on the idea of what is referred to as “dry weight” of the salt content in relationship of pure water.  Using what is known as “specific gravity”, we’re able to measure the salinity as no other means other than boiling away the water and measuring what’s left will get the level and that’s not a good idea.  It calculates by measuring the relative density of the saltwater to the equivalent volume of the pure water.  Of extra note is that liquids do expand with changes in temperature so the specific gravity is then expressed at a specific measured temp.  Specific gravity should then be maintained to about 1.025 at a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit aka 25 degrees Celsius.  It is of great importance that you use a refractometer to measure the specific gravity as hydrometers are not reliable.

Troubleshooting your Marine / Reef Aquarium

The water in my reef tank is evaporating, what to do?

It’s natural for the water to evaporate.  The trick to remedying the situation is of great importance.  Do not top off the water with more saltwater or seawater.  Instead, use fresh water so as not to alter the pH balance too much.  Evaporation depends mostly on the lighting you use and room temperature as well as sunlight that hits the tank.

The pH levels in my reef tank aquarium keeps dropping, what to do?

Relying mostly on CO2 and alkalinity, the pH levels of your tank can be affected by several factors.  Think of it as a balanced yet delicate biosphere.  When one thing happens to one thing, it has a direct effect on all the other things.  Mostly, the coral in your tank are still growing and building, the little busy bodies they are will use up the calcium thus reducing the alkalinity of the tank’s water.  This can be handled with simple attention to aeration.  Making sure that good ventilation in the room as well as having an overflow chamber whereby the water overflow enters a sump.  It houses the filtration equipment of the tank and the water that pours into it, is then pumped back into the tank.  This helps considerably with gas exchanges needed to keep the pH balance.  Just keep the aquarium aerated well as well as the kH, and the pH won’t be compromised.

Coral problems, how to handle them?

Trying to diagnose why the coral in your reef tank aquarium is suffering to one degree or another, depends on several factors.  Remember, you’re working with an isolated aquatic biosphere, where multiple systems are going on all the time and the imbalance of one can throw off thing for another or all.  There are, however, fundamental things that you can check on to see what might be affecting the coral.

  • The first thing to heck is the salinity. If it’s out of balance by being too high or too low, it will cause your coral to melt.  Generally this is the most regular problem for the newbie.  To handle this a refractometer is the tool of choice for testing  the water. Keep the salinity at 1.025 (+/- 0.002 is the standard ).
  • Alkalinity and calcium are the next on the checklist. Coral use these for building their structures.  There is a small range where this is optimum and should be kept with calcium at 380-450, and alkalinity at 7-11.
  • Next is the flow. In order to thrive, coral need a good flow of water movement.  They use this movement of water to flush out metabolic waste and in respiration and photosynthesis.  Since this important factor is often overlooked, it is the downfall of many a newbie aquarium owner.  Look for a minimum of 10 times the turnover in your aquarium with 20 being much better.
  • Coral placement is next. One might not believe it, but coral are some feisty creatures. They battle for dominance in the tank and will sting one another.  Their aggressive behavior might include them sending out what are known as ‘sweepers’ that can reach 6 inches in length or even longer.  With this battle format, it’s best to make sure your coral has enough room in the tank and enough room away from one another.
  • Lighting is important. You have to have adequate lighting for the process of hermatypic  Or specifically the zooxanthellae that is inside the coral so that photosynthesis is at optimum levels.  Not all coral are the same, so check each of the coral you have to see what their lighting requirements are for safe and efficient maintenance.
  • The variety of life forms in your tank need to be the kinds that are able to interact with one another and the coral. Some fish can damage coral.  They also might cause problems to mollusks too.  Make sure you do the due diligence so that you’ll be populating your reef tank with the right balance of life.
  • There is coral disease Check out the Coral Disease FAQ later for further details.

Finally, there are a number of other reasons that cause coral to become compromised in structure and vitality.  If things are out of your hands, it’s a good idea to use online forums to ask around such on as Reef Keeping.  There are plenty of experts and professionals around who will be happy to help.

The algae is bad and out of control, what to do?

As your reef tank reaches maturity it’s common for algae to go haywire and end up with unwanted algea,  it usually happens during cycling.  It will continue until the live rock is totally devoid of any detritus stored within it.  The live rock will leach and cause nitrates and phosphates that are the fuel for bad algae.  The solution here is to support the war against bad algae with the factors that produce good algae, for example Coralline, the pink calcareous algae and coral.  They’ll beat down the bad algae for the nutrients that are in your tank.  You’ll need good nutrient export, because coal and corraline don’t uptake nutrients so much.  To fight this, use phosphate removers and change the water regularly. The best solution is using a top notch protein skimmer.  Don’t overfeed, or overstock your tank, and do not use tap water to top off your tank after evaporation.  Use the right lighting to best optimize coral growth and not promote bad algae growth.

Don’t panic if you see green hair algae aka bryopsis, cyanobactira, and diatoms before the tank reaches maturity and equilibrium It does take time so patience is a virtue here. Just be professional and consistent with your maintenance.  In addition, activated charcoal can help fight off hair algae.

The coral growth in my reef aquarium is poor, why?

The culprit here is low calcium levels, pH being compromised, and alkalinity.  As mentioned earlier, there is a balance of these factors that must be maintained or one will compromise one or more other factors thus leading to problems like low coral growth.  Do what you can to maintain the proper stable parameters.  Try dosing the tank with small amounts on a more regular basis instead of large amounts.  Phosphate is also a corporate in the cause of slow coral growth and can contribute to bad algae.

What is the cause of the gold and brown colored stuff on my rocks and glass?

Enter, the diatoms.  When diatoms gain ground after the tank has finished cycling or when new animals or rock are added to the tank, diatoms might arise.  They feed of nutrients so it’s best to do what’s possible to minimize nitrates, DOC’s, and phosphates. Silicate is a major reason for diatom growth and it comes from tap water.  Use filtered water instead to top off your tank.

What is the red slime like coating that is on my substrate and rocks?

Cyanobacteria is the probable culprit here, aka Red Slime Algae.  If the slime has bubbles in it, it’s a clear indication of cyano.  Cyano feed off nitrates, phosphates, and DOCs.  Try reducing these factors and make sure the tank has sufficient ventilation. CO2 is another source of food for the Red Slime.  Proper lighting helps to fight this too.

Coral Disease

Bleaching, what does that mean in regard to coral?

When coral turns white from the tips downward, it means excessive lighting is at the root of the problem.  The coral is white but it’s still alive.  Try dimming the lighting and let the coral repair itself.

Just what is STN/RTN?

The definition for STN/RTN is Slow/Rapid Tissue Necrosis.  The prefix defines just how quickly the process of necrosis occurs.  STN/RTN occurs when coral starts to bleach from the base of the coral upwards.  STN is generally caused by the intro of a new colony that suffers from stress.  The coral that is stressed produces chemicals that produces extreme reactions in the other coral.  It’s time to get rid of the bad coral colonies to a tank where you can quarantine them.  Changing the water and carbon will assist in the removal of chemical messengers from the water.  RTN is generally caused by a sudden and abundant change in the parameters of the water.  It is advisable to double check before adding any additives.


The field of reef tank aquariums is so specialized it has its own nomenclature, thus a series of acronyms that are part and parcel to everything.  Below is a list of acronyms that should assist you in understanding the hobby and industry.

  • ASW = Artificial Salt Water
  • BB = Barebottom (no substrate)
  • BR = Base Rock
  • BS = Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • CC = Crushed Coral
  • CL = Closed Loop
  • CUC = Cleanup Crew
  • DI = Deionization
  • DOC = Dissolved Organic Carbon
  • DSB = Deep Sand Bed
  • EC = End Cap (light)
  • FO = Fish Only
  • FOWLR = Fish Only With Live Rock
  • FFS = Favourite Fish Store
  • FTS = Full Tank Shot (photography)
  • HO = High Output (light)
  • HOB = Hang On Back
  • HOT = Hang On Tank
  • LFS = Local Fish Store
  • LNS = Low Nutrient System
  • LPS = Large Polyp Stony (coral)
  • LR = Live Rock
  • LS = Live Sand
  • MH = Metal Halide
  • NSW = Natural Salt Water
  • NO = Normal Output (light)
  • ORP = Oxygen Reduction Potential
  • PAR = Photosynthetically Active Radiation
  • PC = Power Compact (light)
  • PH = Powerhead
  • RSM = Red Sea Max (aquarium)
  • QT = Quarantine Tank
  • REDOX = Reduction / Oxidation
  • RO = Reverse Osmosis
  • RODI = Reverse Osmosis / Deionization
  • RTN = Rapid Tissue Necrosis (coral)
  • SB = Sandbed
  • SG = Specific Gravity
  • SPS = Small Polyp Stony (coral)
  • SSB = Shallow Sand Bed
  • STN = Slow Tissue Necrosis (coral)
  • TDS = Total Dissolved Solids
  • ULN = Ultra Low Nutrients
  • ULNS = Ultra Low Nutrient System
  • UV = Ultra Violet (light)
  • VHO = Very High Output (light)
  • WH = Wiring Harness (light)
  • WC = Water Change

Chemical Acronyms

  • AC = Activated Carbon
  • KH = Akalinity
  • CA = Calcium
  • GAC = Granular Activated Carbon
  • MG = Magnesium
  • PH = Acidity/Alkalinity measurement
  • PO4 = Phosphate
  • NH3 = Ammonia
  • NO2 = Nitrite
  • NO3 = Nitrate
  • Livestock Acronyms
  • BS = Brittlestar
  • BTA = Bubgle Tip Anemone
  • CB = Coral Beauty
  • CBB = Copper Band Butterfly
  • CBS = Coral Banded Shrimp
  • GBTA = Green Bubble Tip Anemone
  • GSP = Green Star Polyps
  • LMB = Lawn Mower Blenny
  • LTA = Long Tentacle Anemone
  • PBT = Powder Blue Tang
  • RBTA = Rose Bulb Tip Anemone

I hope you find the information and advice MyAquarium has given you useful, if you are looking to buy a 75 Gallon or a 55 Gallon reef tank, please take a look through our guides. Failing that if you would like further advice on setting up an aquarium, choosing an acrylic or a glass aquarium or even just want more information on your fish tank’s manufacturer delve a little further in to the MyAquarium guides to find out more.

Cleaning and Maintaining a Large Aquarium – Essential Guide

Taking care of your fish tank requires a bit of regular work, but your fish will thank you for providing them with a clean and happy home. This guide will walk you through all of the steps of a thorough cleaning. Your tank may not require all of these steps at the moment, but this thorough cleaning guide can be followed seasonally to ensure your tank remains grime free.

Although some of these steps (such as plant cleaning) don’t have to be performed often, it helps to know how to when the time comes. We’ll also cover more basic steps, like gravel vacuuming, that you’ll want to perform on a regular basis.

The Basics

Before you begin, let’s cover a couple of points that will help maintain the health of your tank.

When cleaning your aquarium, it’s best to leave the fish in place rather than removing them. Pulling fish from the tank puts unnecessary stress on them and runs the risk of injuring them during transit. You shouldn’t need to pull them during water changes, because you’ll be removing at most 25% of the water.

It shouldn’t be necessary at any point to fully drain your tank – in fact, it’s strongly discouraged. Completely fresh water will remove the beneficial bacteria and reset your nitrogen cycle from scratch, which is something that could kill your fish. Adequate cleaning and a partial water change should be plenty to remedy even the dirtiest of tanks.

For regular cleaning, you can also leave any plants or decorations in place. Only when they become visibly dirty or covered in algae should they be removed, and even then they need to be cleaned using a specific process (something we’ll cover later in this guide).

Finally, never use any type of soap to clean any part of the tank, even if it’s thoroughly rinsed off. The residue left behind (even if it’s not enough to see) can kill your fish.

Regular Cleaning

To perform regular cleaning, you’ll want to start by scraping algae off the sides of the tank. An algae scraper is the best tool for this job, and you’ll want to use a plastic (rather than metal) scraper if your tank is acrylic.

With the sides scraped clean, it’s time to move to the gravel. You’ll want to use a siphon to vacuum the gravel clean. This takes care of two tasks at once, as you can use the siphon to remove water as you clean in preparation for your partial water change.

With the gravel clean, continue using the siphon until the desired amount of water is removed. For weekly cleanings, you’ll be aiming for 10% to 15% of the water – for more thorough cleanings, you’ll want 25% to 30% of it gone. Remember to keep at least half of the water in order to maintain adequate beneficial bacteria levels.

When done, simply top the tank off with fresh water that has already had the chlorine removed using a conditioning treatment. This is the only time you should add water to the tank. Resist the urge to refill water lost due to evaporation between cleanings. It may seem like a good idea, but topping off without removing a portion of the old water will increase the dissolved mineral content of your solution. Over time, this can create an environment that will eventually be unsuitable for aquatic life.

Cleaning Plants, Rocks, and Decorations

Occasionally, you may wish to clean the (non-fish) contents of your tank. Remove them from the tank and scrub under running water. You can use your algae scraper if that makes the process easier. Never use any type of soap.

If the residue is more stubborn, mix a solution of 5% bleach and 95% water in a new bucket that has never been used for any other task (to prevent contamination). Let it soak for 5 minutes, then thoroughly rinse off and allow to air dry before returning to the tank. You can even use this solution to clean living plants, if necessary.

Cleaning the Glass

If you need to clean the glass or any other clear components, such as lights, make sure not to use any commercial or household glass cleaners. These products contain strong chemicals that are highly toxic to fish.

Instead, use a straight vinegar solution, which will remove deposits without introducing harmful chemicals to your tank.


If you follow this guide, you will greatly reduce the odds of harming your fish in the process of cleaning their tank. Remember not to use any cleaners unless they are specifically listed as safe for aquarium use. With ongoing maintenance, you shouldn’t need to thoroughly clean your tank very often. A weekly cleaning can go a long way towards eliminating residue build-up.

The Aquarium Water Care Guide

Taking care of a large (75 gallon or more) fish tank may seem like a daunting task, but the basic steps are the same as a smaller tank. Some steps, such as maintaining ideal chemical levels, can actually be easier with a large tank – the added water volume can be more forgiving.

Here are the basic steps required to maintain your fish tank. Follow these to keep your fish happy and healthy.

Water Changes

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to keep your fish healthy (besides remembering to feed them!) is performing regular water changes. These don’t entail draining all of the water – rather, portions of the water are drained and replaced on a regular basis.

This is an essential step to keeping harmful chemicals at a minimum. Left unchecked, substances such as ammonia and nitrate will build up in the water. By draining off a portion of it on a regular basis, you constantly dilute the water with fresh, uncontaminated fluid, avoiding this problem.

On a weekly basis, drain at least 10% to 15% of the total water, and replace it with fresh water. Tap is fine, just make sure to first remove any chlorine with a treatment chemical. Once a month, your flush should be more intense – roughly 25% to 30% of the total water volume.

These flushes are vital, so make sure to keep track of them.


A clean home is a happy home. Cleaning is usually done at the same time as a water change. You’ll want to vacuum the gravel at the bottom of the fish tank, as random particles (such as uneaten food) can settle in the substrate and contaminate the water over time.

During these cleanings, you may also wish to clean algae buildup from the sides of the tank. This will help provide a clear view and keep algae contamination to a minimum. While cleaning, also take the time to check the filter, which is necessary to ensure the water remains clear between water changes. Replace the filter’s carbon when necessary.

Chemical Checks

You should keep a variety of aquarium test strips on hand to keep up on various levels. Water pH, softness, and ammonia and nitrogen levels should all be checked routinely. Although these will usually stabilize after the fish have been in the tank for some time, it’s a good idea to check these at least once per month. If adjustments are required, use the appropriate additive to remedy the problem (low pH, for example, would be corrected with a pH+ chemical).

Fish Tank Maintenance Schedule

Here’s a sample to use as a cheat sheet. Follow these steps (based on the more detailed instructions listed above) at the recommended intervals for an easy schedule to keeping your aquarium thriving.

On a Daily Basis

  • Ensure the pump is active and circulating water
  • Check the water temperature to ensure it is within recommended levels
  • Make sure the lights are all on

On a Weekly Basis

  • Take a head count of your fish. If any have passed away, remove them from the tank
  • Perform a 10% to 15% water change
  • Vacuum the gravel and clean the sides of the tank
  • Check the filters
  • Make sure the electrical cords are securely plugged in and show no signs of damage

On a Monthly Basis

  • Check the tank for any small cracks or leaks. Catching these early can prevent a bigger problem down the road.
  • Perform a 25% to 30% water change
  • Use your test strips to ensure there aren’t any drastic chemical fluctuations
  • Replace carbon in the filter(s)
  • Check all lighting bulbs and clean the cover to ensure adequate light output
  • Check tubing to make sure it’s intact

In addition to this regular schedule, it’s a good idea to do an annual checkup on issues that don’t necessitate monthly maintenance.  Check the expiration dates on foods, chemicals, and testing products, and immediately throw out anything that has expired. This is also a good time to disassemble the water pump, clean the impeller, and oil if necessary. All pumps are different, so check your manual to see if there are any specific instructions in regards to pump maintenance.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, but most of these tasks take very little time, and can help avoid major problems down the road.

Your complete guide to 75 Gallon Aquariums, from Equipment to Maintenance

A s you probably know, owning fish can be a rewarding and interesting experience, and when you upgrade to a larger tank size, you can have even more of the same, although on a larger scale or with more fish. Keeping fish in an aquarium, while not the easiest thing in the world, is one of the most fun hobbies, because there are so many different types of fish, and different aquariums and environments to go along with them.

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Freshwater versus Saltwater Environments

You can create either a freshwater or a saltwater environment in your aquarium, but freshwater is probably going to be your best option. There are more things to keep track of in a saltwater environment like the salinity levels, and so a freshwater tank is a little less complicated. If you want to keep saltwater or marine fish, we’ll cover some of those basics a little later in this guide. For now, let’s stick with freshwater environments.

If you want to be successful at raising and keeping fish there are some things to keep in mind when setting up. Once you have acquired the proper setup, you simply need to make taking care of your fish a habit. We’ll get to the habits that you need to have a little later, but first, lets go over what you need to know to upgrade your fish keeping to suit a 75 gallon or larger aquarium.

Choosing a Location

If you are upgrading to a larger tank, the first thing that you need to worry about is location. You want to choose somewhere permanent, because unlike your small tank, you aren’t going to be able to move this one around when you want to. Remember that a gallon of water is about 8 pounds, so a 75 gallon tank will weight around 500 pounds. Unless you want to empty the water from your tank, or risk destroying your tank, you don’t want to move it. Because of the weight, you also need to choose the right cabinet for it, and that means something commercially manufactured to hold an aquarium that size. Don’t use your mom’s old dresser with the side propped up with old textbooks or something you bought at your local thrift store.

Here are a few other tips that you probably know, but they are worth mentioning for new fish owners who happen to be reading this article. All of these apply to both saltwater and freshwater environments.

  • Don’t put your aquarium in direct sunlight because it will make algae grow faster. Also, don’t put it in a drafty area. Both things – too much sunlight and too much cold air can cause drastic temperature changes that can be harmful to your fish.
  • Try to put your aquarium away from the most traveled paths in your home. Having people constantly walking past your fish tank will cause your fish to get stressed out unnecessarily.
  • Don’t put your tank too high or too low for you to be able to do maintenance. You might think it looks great way up there on the shelf, but if you have to get a ladder to do maintenance every time you are probably going to do it less often and your fish will suffer.

Essential Equipment Needed for Large Aquariums

Aquarium Filtration:

The first thing that you are going to need for a freshwater environment is an aquarium filter, and you’re going to need it to have a GPH or Gallons Per Hour rating that is the proper one for the tank size that you have. For example, if you have a 10 gallon tank, you’re going to need a filtration system with a GPH of 40 or higher. For a 75 gallon tank, you’re going to need at least a 300. You should always go a little higher to be safe.

Many people employ a sump tank for their aquarium, particularly marine aquariums, because there is extra equipment that can be placed into a sump tank. A sump tank is simply an extra tank that will allow you to place extra equipment and grow bacteria for biological filtration. As far as the actual filtration system itself, you can use similar setups to the freshwater filtration systems, such as a combination of biological and mechanical filtration.

You also have the choice of using chemical filtration along with the rest of your filtration system, but be careful that you know what you are doing, because too much of the chemical can be harmful to your fish. You also have the choice of using protein skimmers for marine environments, which are devices that create bubbles that the harmful substances can cling to and be removed. Also, with saltwater environments, you are going to need something to move the water like a power head.

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Tank Lighting:

The lighting equipment differs between marine and freshwater aquariums. Freshwater aquariums should be a little warmer than those used for marine lightning, and the lights should be high enough to discourage algae growth. For freshwater, the recommended rating is 5500-6500 Kelvin. A few larger tanks come with lighting, others you’ll have to buy lighting separately for. You’ll want to keep your saltwater tank lighting a little warmer, but on both, you should base it on the type of fish that you are keeping. The recommended measurement for marine lighting should be around 10,000 Kelvins.

Heating System:

Your going to need to keep water warmer, stable temperature for freshwater aquarium fish. That means that you don’t want temperature that fluctuates rapidly. You’ll need to keep an eye on the temperature with a thermometer and make adjustments when necessary. With a larger tank, you’ll want to have a backup heater as well as your primary heater in case of an outage, because you’ll be much more likely to have either larger, or more fish in the aquarium, which probably means more expensive to replace.


Use aquarium safe substrates like sand and gravel or choose live plant substrate. The sand and gravel will allow beneficial bacteria to grow. Freshwater environments should have gravel substrate, and marine aquariums should employ sand or mud substrate. You can use live plants along with whichever type of substrate you are using.

Backgrounds & Decor:

The purpose of a background is to make your tank look nicer and hide the equipment that is sitting behind your tank. Decor like castles and tunnels are also useful as it keeps the fish from getting bored.

Water Conditioners:

You need water conditioners to clean your tap water so that it is not harmful to your aquarium. A water condition neutralizes the chlorine in your water, rids it of any heavy metals and  then ages it to create less of a shock to your fish when you introduce it into the tank.

Testing Kits:

If you have kept fish before, you should already have these: a pH kit, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate test kits so that when you cycle your tank you’ll be able to make sure everything is properly balanced. For saltwater aquariums, you are also going to need to test the salinity (or saltiness) of the water to make sure that it is the right amount for your marine environment fish.

Maintenance of Your 75 Gallon Aquarium


Cycling is the process of bacterial growth in the substrates and filters – good, healthy bacteria that is. The bacteria turns ammonia from decaying food and fish waste into nitrite and nitrate. This is your nitrogen cycle or “cycling.” So, how do you remove nitrites and nitrates? By changing your water regularly. You also can use live plants to help the cycling process.

You should already be familiar with cycling if you have owned fish before. If not, it is a good idea to test out your cycling process by adding ammonia manually. Start with about 5 ppm (test after 30 minutes or so) with the fish tank set up but the lights off. Wait a week after adding ammonia and then test nitrites, which should rise as your ammonia levels fall. A few weeks after that, nitrate levels will rise and nitrite levels will fall. Then, you can change out your water as practice and once you have figured out the process of cycling properly, you can add your fish.


You should clean the parts of your filter, and the rest of your equipment every few months, but only remove part of your substrate or equipment at a time, because you don’t want to upset the delicate balance of your fish tank. Remember, you need the bacteria that is growing inside your tank, and if you remove it, you need to replace it quickly with new bacteria.


As mentioned, you need to test the pH, the ammonia levels, the nitrite and nitrate levels and keep careful track of your fish tank. For saltwater tanks, you also need to test the salinity, so you are going to need those test kits as well.

Optional Maintenance Equipment:

If you want to make it easier to care for your fish, you might want to get some gravel vacuum units that can help you remove waste from your substrate. You will also need a couple of buckets for changing out your water – you don’t want to use your dishes – and you should also have a toothbrush for cleaning your equipment – again, don’t mix it up with your real toothbrush. Nets are also extremely useful if you need to remove your fish from the water. In fact, it might be almost impossible to catch your fish otherwise.

A Quarantine Tank:

You really do need a quarantine tank if you want to be a successful fish keeper. It only takes one instance of a sick fish wiping out your entire population to make you desperately wish that you would have gotten one, so get one before it even becomes an issue. You want your quarantine tank to be outfitted with a heater and a sponge filter, and it should be cycled with some of the gravel from your main fish tank. Anytime you get a new fish, you want to keep them in the quarantine tank for up to six weeks (even if they appear healthy and are compatible with the rest of your fish) to ensure that they will not kill the rest of your population.

Lighting Timers:

Lighting timers can help your fish feel more at home and less stressed since they need darkness at night and you may forget to shut down your lamps. Having a light on at night will cause them serious stress.

Automatic Feeders:

This should go without saying. If for some reason you forget to feed your fish, you automatic feeder will take over and you fish will get fed anyway.