Building a saltwater aquarium today is easier than it has ever been before. With the right equipment and easy access to good information, you can have your tank set up in a matter of hours.

Keeping a couple of saltwater fish will be no more difficult than any freshwater tank or backyard pond. should you wish to step things up and keep live corals in the tank, that's within reach too, even for a first-timer. Corals simply require a bit more dedication and a few more pieces of equipment. 

New Saltwater Tank Shopping List

Your initial shopping list is quite short, especially if you are just planning to keep a few fish. A 20-gallon tank is a very common starter tank and is all you need for that iconic pair of clownfish.

1) Choose A Location

Pick a practical location in your home where the tank will be enjoyed by your entire family. You don't want to hide the tank away in a basement or somewhere where it can be forgotten.

  • Choose a place with regular foot traffic, hiding the tank away only increases the chances of neglect
  • Do not place the aquarium in direct sunlight to avoid excessive algae growth
  • Avoid the second floor or somewhere it might be more difficult to maintain
  • Be sure you have a power socket within reach to plug in your gear

2) Build And Level The Tank & Stand

The tank and supporting stand need to be perfectly level, front to back and side to side. This is important because trying to level it after the tank has water can be difficult because of the weight. It is best to level the tank immediately before you are ready to install the equipment and fill it up. 

  1. Place tank and stand in its final location.
  2. Use a level to check front to back, side to side, and across corners
  3. Use wooden or plastic shims as necessary

Smaller tanks can safely be placed on countertops, bookshelves, and sturdy cabinets/furniture. Larger tanks need to be on a purpose-built aquarium stand to support the weight. Saltwater weighs roughly 8.6 lbs per gallon of water so the final weight of your tank can stack up quickly.

3) Install Equipment

Be sure to use a surge protector and securely mount it up off of the ground onto the tank stand or on the wall; somewhere it won't get splashed with water.  Your tank will require at least one or two dedicated wall sockets. Do not plug in your equipment until the tank is full of water and ready to go. 

It's ok to take your time arranging the rocks, experiment with different formations or stacks to see what looks best. Adding some faux corals or decorations is a great way to add some flair to the tank and help create a more comfortable environment for your fish.

  1. Install rocks and sand
  2. Install pumps, filters, heaters, and lighting
  3. Organize and secure power cords so they are not dangerous or exposed

4) Mix Saltwater

It's best to mix saltwater in a separate container. A 5-gallon bucket works just fine and is manageable in terms of picking it up and carrying it. You can just as easily buy premixed saltwater from a local fish store too using 5-gallon plastic carboy style jugs. Be sure to keep the threaded caps for mess-free transport!  

  • Always use filtered RO/DI water to mix with the dry salt mix. You can buy RO/DI water if you do not have an RO/DI filter at home.
  • A small powerhead/pump in the bucket helps to thoroughly dissolve the salt mix and oxygenate the water.
  • A heater can be used in the bucket to bring the water up to the appropriate temperature of 76-78° F but is not mandatory.
  • Follow the mixing instructions for the salt mix you have; usually somewhere around 1/2 cup of salt mix per gallon of freshwater.
  • Check the salinity level using a refractometer or glass hydrometer. 
  • If you need to raise the salinity level, add a little more salt. If you need to lower the salinity, add a little more fresh filtered RO/DI water.

Learn More: Mixing Saltwater For An Aquarium - FAQs

5) Fill The Tank

When the time comes to fill the tank, go slowly. You want to avoid just dumping the water directly on the sand as that will just cause a mess. Pouring the water directly on the rocks can help diffuse the flow. You can also lay a plate down on the top of the sand then just pour the water onto the plate until you get enough water in the tank to safely fill it without stirring up the sand.

The next step is to begin your cycle which is the process of growing beneficial bacteria and making the aquarium safe for fish. Adding a bacteria additive will help jump-start this process and it will take some time (up to 4 weeks) for the cycle to complete. Check out the article below for more details about the cycle process and step-by-step instructions. 


Learn More: How to Cycle a Saltwater Tank: Tips To Help You Succeed with Your New Aquarium

Learn More: How Much Does It Cost To Build A Saltwater Aquarium?

Design Your Aquarium

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Prime 16 LED Fuge...

Aquarium Kit Contents

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Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Bundle

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Bulk Reef Supply

Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Bundle

The IM Nuvo 20 Tank Wizard Bundle has everything you need to start a successful 20 gallon reef tank:

  • 1x Innovative Marine 20 Gallon NUVO Fusion PRO 2 AIO Aquarium Bundle
  • 1x MightyJet 326 GPH Return Pump w/ Controller
  • 1x Removable 200 Micron Filter Sock
  • 1x Desktop CustomCaddy Media Basket w/ PurityPack Filter Media Including:
  • 1x Mechanical Fiber Ball
  • 1x Premium 0.8 ROX Carbon Pack
  • 1x High Capacity Coarse GFO Pack
  • 1x Preinstalled Rubber Leveling Mat
  • 1x Pre-Assembled SafeScreen Mesh Screen Lid
  • 1x MicroMag Glass Cleaner
  • 2x Nuvo Return Nozzles
  • 2x High Tide Water Risers
  • 1x Black IM Nuvo Fusin 20 APS Cabinet Aquarium Stand
  • 1x 100W AquaEL Ultra Heater
  • 1x Refractometer with Calibration Fluid
  • 55 Gallons RedSea Aquarium Salt Mix
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JBJ RF-25 Tank Wizard Bundle

JBJ RF-25 Bundle

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JBJ RF-25 Tank Wizard Bundle
Bulk Reef Supply

JBJ RF-25 Tank Wizard Bundle

The JBJ RF-25 Tank Wizard Bundle provides the perfect foundation for a simple & elegant reef system:

  • JBJ RF-25 Flat Panel 25 Gallon AIO Aquarium
  • 1x Return 198 GPH Pump
  • 1x 4" Micron Filter Sock w/ Removable Cradle
  • 1x Flare Return Nozzle
  • 1x Black JBJ RF-25 Aquarium Stand
  • 1x 100W AquaEL Ultra Heater
  • 1x Refractometer with Calibration Fluid
  • 55 Gallons RedSea Aquarium Salt Mix
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Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Peninsula Bundle

Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Peninsula Bundle

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Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Peninsula Bundle
Bulk Reef Supply

Innovative Marine Nuvo 20 Peninsula Bundle

The IM Nuvo 20 Peninsula Tank Wizard Bundle has everything you need to start a successful 20 gallon reef tank:

  • 1x Innovative Marine 20 Gallon Peninusula NUVO Fusion PRO 2 AIO Aquarium Bundle
  • 1x MightyJet 326 GPH Return Pump w/ Controller
  • 1x Removable 200 Micron Filter Sock
  • 1x Desktop CustomCaddy Media Basket w/ PurityPack Filter Media Including:
  • 1x Mechanical Fiber Ball
  • 1x Premium 0.8 ROX Carbon Pack
  • 1x High Capacity Coarse GFO Pack
  • 1x Preinstalled Rubber Leveling Mat
  • 1x Pre-Assembled SafeScreen Mesh Screen Lid
  • 1x MicroMag Glass Cleaner
  • 2x Nuvo Return Nozzles
  • 2x High Tide Water Risers
  • 1x Black IM Nuvo Fusin 20 Peninsula APS Cabinet Aquarium Stand
  • 1x 100W AquaEL Ultra Heater
  • 1x Refractometer with Calibration Fluid
  • 55 Gallons RedSea Aquarium Salt Mix
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$907.48

Lights

AI Prime w/ Gooseneck Bundle

AI Prime w/ Gooseneck Bundle

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AI Prime w/ Gooseneck Bundle
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AI Prime w/ Gooseneck Tank Wizard Bundle

The World’s Most Popular Reef LED

The newest innovation in the Prime line from AquaIllumination, the Prime 16 HD Series brings more power and color where you want it, plus the freedom to use your smartphone as a controller. No longer are you limited to using a fixed amount of power per channel, the Prime 16HD dynamically adjusts power available to each color, borrowing power from the colors you’re not utilizing. Giving you the most vivid spectrum your tank has ever seen. The Prime 16 HD Series is capable of producing a limitless number of spectral combinations to fit your tank’s exacting needs.

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Prism II LED Light Fixture 12-20 Inch - Marine

Prism II LED Light Fixture 12-20 Inch - Marine

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Prism II LED Light Fixture 12-20 Inch - Marine
AquaMaxx

Prism II LED Light Fixture 12-20 Inch - Marine

Thinner. Lighter. Smarter.

The new thinner and lighter AquaMaxx Prism II controllable full HD spectrum LED fixture is created from 100% recycled aluminum. Its brushed silver, ultra-slim profile design gives it an aesthetic edge over the competition, and its updated external smart controller includes 6 customizable set points of light intensity and can be used to control additional devices such as pumps, skimmers, cooling fans, and more!

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$119.99
Kessil A160 w/ Gooseneck

Kessil A160 w/ Gooseneck

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Kessil A160 w/ Gooseneck
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Kessil A160 w/ Gooseneck Bundle

The Kessil A160WE Tuna Blue is perfect for nano and pico saltwater aquariums. Emitting a spectrum range of 10,000K to 20,000K, it's the perfect light for fast growth and coloration of corals. Pair the A160WE up with a Kessil A-series gooseneck for an easy and quick mounting solution.

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Rocks

Reef Saver Aquarium Dry Live Rock

Reef Saver Aquarium Dry Live Rock

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Reef Saver Aquarium Dry Live Rock
MarcoRocks

Reef Saver Aquarium Dry Live Rock

MarcoRocks Reef Saver Live Rock is one of the most unique rocks that are available on the market today. Reef Saver is a sustainable product since it is not taken directly from the ocean and does not impact living coral reef structures in any form. Combined with their chemical-free cleaning process MarcoRocks is always 100% free of nuisance algae or any type of pests.

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LifeRock Nano Reef Kit

LifeRock Nano Reef Kit

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LifeRock Nano Reef Kit
CaribSea

LifeRock Nano Reef Kit

CaribSea's Nano Reef Kit includes 2 LifeRock Nano Arches plus 1 small Original LifeRock dry rock piece.

LifeRock is infused with spored bacteria to aid in biological performance, along with millions of micro and macro passage ways CaribSea's LifeRock Dry Rock is perfect for the environmentally friendly aquarist.

  • Creates a mature looking reef instantly
  • 100% safe for all marine animals
  • Unique pieces
  • Environmentally friendly
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Nano LifeRock Dry Live Rock - 10 lbs

Nano LifeRock Dry Live Rock - 10 lbs

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Nano LifeRock Dry Live Rock - 10 lbs
CaribSea

Nano LifeRock Dry Live Rock - 10 lbs

LifeRock is infused with spored bacteria to aid in biological performance, along with millions of micro and macro passage ways CaribSea's LifeRock Dry Rock is perfect for the environmentally friendly aquarist.

  • Creates a mature looking reef instantly
  • 100% safe for all marine animals
  • Unique pieces
  • Environmentally friendly
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Sand

20 lb. Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

20 lb. Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

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20 lb. Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Reef Sand
CaribSea

Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Live Reef Sand

Caribsea's Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Live Reef Sand is a great choice for new aquarists and new reef tank setups. Arag-Alive sands clear quickly and contain millions of live bacteria, speeding up your tanks cycle and leading to less nuisance algae.

Features

  • Contains live bacteria to assist with a faster cycle
  • Grain size: 0.25 - 3.5mm
  • High Surface Area for Bacteria

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20 lb. Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

20 lb. Special Grade Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

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20 lb. Hawaiian Black Arag-Alive! Reef Sand
CaribSea

20 lb. Special Grade Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

Why does BRS recommend this?

When we at Bulk Reef Supply set up a tank that we know will have large amounts of flow our instant choice for sand is the Arag-Alive Special Grade Sand from CaribSea. With its larger particle size, it does not get pushed around like most other smaller grain sand sizes available and is great for all tanks especially those with a lot of water movement.

Special Grage Arag-Alive! Live Aragonite Reef Sand contains millions of live bacteria to create a natural biological balance in your reef tank.

  • Contains live bacteria to assist with a faster cycle
  • Grain size: 1-2mm
  • High Surface Area for Bacteria
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20 lb. Fiji Pink Arag-Alive! Reef Sand

Fiji Pink Arag-Alive! Live Reef Sand

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20 lb. Fiji Pink Arag-Alive! Reef Sand
CaribSea

Fiji Pink Arag-Alive! Live Reef Sand

Why does BRS recommend this?

If we had to choose a single type of sand for any tank, it would be the Arag-Alive Fiji Pink sand. It is by far the most popular sand for its medium to large grain size, high amount of total available surface area, as well as just its overall beauty.

Caribsea's Arag-Alive! Live Reef Sand is a great choice for new aquarists and new reef tank setups. Arag-Alive sands clear quickly and contain millions of live bacteria, speeding up your tanks cycle and leading to less nuisance algae.

Features

  • live bacteria to assist with a faster cycle
  • Grain size: 0.5-1.5mm
  • Most popular size for reef sand
  • High Surface Area for Bacteria
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