Having the right equipment for your marine aquarium can mean the difference between having a successful reef tank and setting yourself up for failure. This guide will help to identify key equipment and accessories that will enable you to succeed in this hobby. We will identify the proper saltwater aquarium supplies, equipment, and accessories that are right for your tank and budget.
Best Salt Mix
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt is our recommended salt mix. It contains higher levels of calcium, magnesium, and trace elements which aids in coral growth and will help the formation of new coralline algae. The mix is processed to very strict tolerances so every batch will be uniform. It dissolves fast and clear. The high availability of this salt mix and low cost also help bring it in for the win, it can be found at most fish stores, pet chain stores, and Amazon. Available in 5 different sizes.
ARC Reef Tips: Always mix salt first before adding it to your tank. Use a refractometer to accurately measure the salinity. The natural seawater (NSW) at our reef has a specific gravity of 1.026 or 35 ppt, all our holding tanks also match this level and we recommend this level for your tank as well. Keeping your tank at a stable salinity is very important as swings over 0.01 can stress and even kill your tanks inhabitants. We recommend using RO/DI water or distilled water. Tap water can be used in a pinch but is never recommended and can cause undesirable effects such as ongoing battles with undesirable algae. Always make sure to have an extra salt mix on hand for future water changes and emergencies. 20% water-changes every other week will help keep your tank happy and healthy.
Retail Price: $8.99-$49.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Best Salinity Meter
The refractometer is the clear winner on how to measure the salinity of your tank. Nearly every person who gets into this hobby will originally buy a little plastic contraption that has a swing arm called a hydrometer. These devices are extremely inaccurate and unreliable if you have one of these please throw it out. The refractometer is king now! These devices are now mass produced and are finally available at just a couple dollars more than a hydrometer. They offer unparalleled advantages in accuracy and stability testing. If you’ve been using the swing arm device until now, we bet you’ll be shocked at what your tanks true salinity level is!
ARC Reef Tips: Remember to add back freshwater and not saltwater every week to account for evaporation. If you find that your tank’s salinity is too high or low, it is essential that you bring it back in line very slowly. Any abrupt changes in salinity are far worse than a stable but out of range level. Aquariums love stability and hate fast changes.
Retail Price: $20.94 Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Best Aquarium Heater & Controller
Finnex Titanium Heater Tube is the winner for best aquarium heater. What separates this heater from the countless others on the market is a simple fact that it is not glass. Glass heaters are notorious for cracking when heated unevenly and killing every fish in the tank, they also pose a very real risk for electrocution. The Finnex Titanium heater tube solves all these issues. It is virtually unbreakable and it’s heating element could never be exposed to saltwater. It is available in 300 watts (for aquariums up to 80 gallons), 500 watts (for aquariums up to 130 gallons), and 800 watts (for aquariums up to 275 gallons)
ARC Reef Tips: Just say no to glass heaters, in our opinion they have absolutely no place near an aquarium.
Retail Price: $47.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Ink bird Temperature Controller wins out above the competition (including Finnex’s own heater controller). While the controller offered with the Finnex heater tube is adequate, it also leaves much to be desired. The Inkbird ITC-308 offers much more bang for the buck. The feature that excited us the most is that it can control not just a heater but also a fan or chiller at the same time. With the Finnex controller, the temperature has to drop a full 1 degree below it’s set point before the unit turns on the heater, with the Inkbird unit, the temperature has to only drop just 0.5 degrees before the controller kicks on the heater, allowing for a much more stable temperature range for your aquarium. We tested 8 Inkbird units all at the same time, and each one was dead on accurate. Since stability is of great importance, we are delighted to have switched over all our heater controllers to the Inkbird 308.
ARC Reef Tips: While Fahrenheit is fine and all, Celsius is where it’s at in science, and switching this controller over to Celsius will also give you a nice little reward. It will allow you to get an even tighter temp. range of 0.1 degrees Celsius (or 0.3 instead of 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
Retail Price: $35.00 Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Best Protein Skimmer
Reef Octopus Hang on Protein Skimmer If you don’t have a sump then this skimmer is for you. We consider a protein skimmer as a mandatory piece of equipment, I can’t think of one single successful reef tank that doesn’t run one. The purpose of a protein skimmer is to remove excess nutrients from the tank. Besides water changes, this is the ONLY method of removal. Generally speaking most “hang on” style protein skimmers have been ineffective headaches… until the Reef Octopus BH Series Protein Skimmer came along! Fairly quiet and compact, these skimmers are real workhorses. Another excellent feature is that their pumps are located beneath the skimmer out of the water. This allows the heat from the pump to not be transferred into the tank. Available in 2 different sizes:
ARC Reef Tips: Protein skimmers make a low-level fizz sound. If your aquarium is located in your bedroom, you can always hook up a timer that turns the skimmer off each night. Skimmers have a break-in period of approximately 3 days before they start to work at pulling what is know as “skimmate” out from the water. If your aquarium is less than 30 gallons, you will most likely opt for doing numerous water changes as often as possible instead of having a skimmer.
Reef Octopus in-sump Protein Skimmer. If you have a sump then this is the skimmer for you. The Reef Octopus’s brand new classic 202 is not just beautiful but it really gets the job done! With it’s relatively small 10″x8″ footprint it will fit nicely in most sumps. This unit is quiet and produces tons of bubbles to get you some really high-quality skimmate. Reef Octopus is a great company that produces some extremely high-quality products:
ARC Reef Tips: Skimmers have a break-in period of approximately 3 days before they start to work at pulling what is know as “skimmate” out from the water.
Retail Price $259.99 Click here to purchase on Amazon.
Best Reverse Osmosis System (RO/DI Unit)
BRS 4 Stage Reverse Osmosis RO/DI System. A Reverse Osmosis System is designed to treat your tap water and remove all impurities. This unit is extremely effective and also very simple to use. The system comes already 100% assembled. There are many huge benefits to using a reverse osmosis deionization system or “RO/DI”. Basically, even though your tap water may look clean and clear, it contains tons of undesirable minerals and cleaning agents that can cause illness to your tanks inhabitants as well as increased amounts of unwanted algae in your aquarium. If you are serious about reef-keeping and don’t want to have ongoing battles with nuisance algae, then we strongly suggest picking up a reverse osmosis system. There are many options for different systems. We suggest the BRS system for its high quality, relatively low price tag, and the high availability for replacement parts. This unit is available in 3 different configurations starting at $149 for the basic unit, $199 with included pressure gauge, rinse valve, an electronic monitor that displays in parts per million just how pure the water coming out is, and at $239 it included those features plus an extra membrane that increases the output from 75 gallons per day up to 150 gallons per day, this extra membrane will also double the life before the membrane needs to be replaced. All the systems will get the job done but we recommend either of the systems that have the TDS monitor attached. This will show you just how impure your tap water is and will let you know when the system’s cartridges are in need of replacement:
ARC Reef Tips: If you don’t yet have an RO/DI system you can purchase distilled water from your local supermarket and use that in the meantime. Distilled water costs on average about 79 cents per gallon, but in the long run purchasing an RO/DI unit will be more cost effective, not to mention will be a lot less lugging around of heavy jugs.
Retail Price: $224.99+ Click here to purchase.
Best Wavemaker Powerhead
Jebao OW Series Wavemaker with Controller is a low priced wavemaker with even more options the top of the line units. It has nearly limitless combinations and speeds, features a night mode that will automatically turn the unit to its lowest setting once the lights go off in the tank. It features a feeding mode that will turn the flow off for 10 minutes while you feed your fish and offers a host of other features and wave patterns. You can even wirelessly link 2 units together and have them pulse at the same time or at alternating times. Offered in 4 different sizes and starting at only $45, the Jebao is the clear winner for the most bang for the buck.
ARC Reef Tips: The controller is not waterproof so you should make sure to mount it in an area where it won’t get wet. We also recommend cleaning the impeller every 6 months with vinegar and a soft brush to keep the unit going strong. Positioning your powerheads correctly is very important. Some corals like SPS like high flow but other soft corals will be torn apart if they receive direct flow. We also recommend have aiming one of the powerheads slightly upward towards the surface, this will break the water tension and result in increased off-gassing, which will help lower ammonia and nitrogen levels in your tank.
Retail Price: $59.99+ Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Best Algae Scraper
Flipper Aquarium Algae Cleaner is a new type of magnetic algae scraper that is just plain fun to use! Unlike other magnetic scrapers, the flipper has only 3 points of contact on the glass and is much less likely to trap a sand particle between the magnets meaning it is far less likely to scratch the glass. It comes with a metal blade for use with glass aquariums and a plastic blade for use with acrylic tanks.
ARC Reef Tips: For glass aquariums, use the metal blade on the tank walls, then flip the scrapper over to the soft scrubber side in order to finish up with gently cleaning the silicone seamed edges of the tank. The flipper is fun to use because it gets 100% of the algae input one single pass. The days of your arm getting tired are over!
Retail Price: $39.99 Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Best Media Reactor
BRS GFO & Carbon Deluxe Reactor w/ pump is the best of all media reactors that we have tested. If you are running carbon in a media bag inside your filter or sump, it’s not the most efficient way to run it. A reactor sends a steady flow of water directly through each particle. Using this media reactor is an easy way to make the best use of your carbon. It eliminates the need for messy filter bags and it ensures that every piece is used. This media reactor has the added benefit of being capable of running not just carbon but also GFO in the same unit.
ARC Reef Tips: If you don’t have a sump then you will need a little extra tubing. This unit makes use of mar-lok quick connect fittings. Regular soft vinyl tubing will not work correctly with these units. You may need to purchase some extra tubing as it only comes with two 2′ long pieces of tubing (only long enough for in-sump installations). Here is the link to the correct tubing that you may need for a regular aquarium that does not have a sump 1/2″ Mur-lok Polyethylene Tubing
Retail Price: $94.99 Click here to purchase.
Best Carbon & GFO
BRS’s ROX 0.8 Carbon is the best of all carbon options out there. Carbon comes in many grades as well as different shapes. Rox Carbon has pharmaceutical grade purity and has a variety of pore sizes. Each particle is very hard which reduces the amount of dust created when the particles collide. It will last twice as long as most other carbons so it’s higher initial cost will be recouped over time. It is more beneficial to your tank than other types of carbon such as Bituminous Carbon and Lignite.
ARC Reef Tips: Activated carbon is a chemical filtration media that is very well suited for removing dissolved organic compounds. The many benefits of its use include; crystal clear water, the elimination of foul odors, and the removal of toxins from the water that were released by tank inhabitants such as corals in their ongoing chemical warfare against their neighbors. Activated carbon does not have a major effect on trace elements, but we recommend dosing trace elements if running carbon. Replacement will be needed every 3-6 weeks depending on your tanks bioload.
Retail Price: $19.99+ Click here to purchase.
BRS’s GFO Granular Ferric Oxide Can be run along with Carbon media in the suggested media reactor above. The main purpose of GFO is to inhibit algae growth by removing phosphates from the aquarium. BRS makes a high capacity version also which may be useful when running GFO in a separate reactor, but for running GFO together in the same media reactor we recommend the standard GFO since it’s useful life is already longer than that of carbon. When the carbon needs to be replaced the standard capacity GFO will still have some life left in it.
ARC Reef Tips: The reactor that we suggest above can hold a maximum of 2 cups of carbon and 2 cups of GFO at the same time. These two should be well-stirred dry in a bowel first and then can be added to the reactor.
Retail Price: $21.99+ Click here to purchase.
Best Saltwater Aquarium Supplies
Remote Control Outlet Switches will make your life a whole lot simpler. Imagine with the press of a button you can turn on and off your skimmer, pumps, filters and more, heck you can even add your Christmas tree. Once you start using these, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. It comes with 2 remotes that work with RF, so they work about 100 ft away and you don’t need to point at the outlets in order to control them.
ARC Reef Tips:
Retail Price: $29.99 Click here to purchase.
Best Aquarium Aid
Seachem Purigen is an aid to helping you control ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. While there might not be magic at play here, it does work wonders! Purigen is similar to carbon in several ways, it will remove impurities and organic waste, but has the added benefits of being rechargeable and aids in polishing the water for even better clarity. It comes in its own media bag so the only thing you need to do is literally open the package and pop it in. It can be used in any size tank and will provide years and years of use. We rank Purigen as THE best product for your tank under $10.
ARC Reef Tips: We don’t recommend ditching your carbon for some Purigen, we recommend running them both simultaneously. Your bag of Purigen should last about 4 months on average. It will turn brown once exhausted. To recharge it, soak it in bleach for a few hours, then rinse really well. After rinsing we put the bag in a cup of water with a cupful of “Prime”. This will help ensure that all chlorine from the bleach is removed. Now pop that sucker back in your filter or sump and it’s good to go for another 4 months. The packaging states that it will treat up to 100 gallons. Our recommendation is to use 1 bag per 50 gallons.
Retail Price: $9.99 Click here to purchase.