Whether you’re a seasoned saltwater aquarist or looking to get started in the marine tank hobby, we’ve got everything you need to get up and running fast.
With more than 10 years of experience as a veterinarian specializing in fish care, I have first-hand experience with the best tanks, lights, skimmers, filters, powerheads, substrates, and other saltwater aquarium essentials. We have assembled everything you need to put together and maintain a basic saltwater aquarium, which can serve as a product guide for seasoned saltwater aquarists looking for a new component, or comprehensive checklist for those brand new to the marine tank hobby.
Interested in learning more about setting up a saltwater aquarium? Then check out The Spruce Pets guide, or scroll down to the “What To Look For” section for a review of some of the basics.
Here are the best saltwater aquarium products.
Best Saltwater Tank
Aqueon Standard Glass Aquarium Tank 40 Gallon
Can be used for a versatile range of aquarium types
Easy to setup
Glass provides exceptional clarity
Every other component is sold separately
When you first start with a saltwater tank, you need to make sure it is large enough to buffer a few beginner mistakes. We recommend starting with at least 30-40 gallons to ensure your vision has room to get started. Once you get rolling in saltwater, we know you’ll be adding more features before long, so this gives you some room to grow.
Avoid tanks with covered tops in order to have ready access to cleaning. The Aqueon Standard Glass Aquarium Tank has the right dimensions to enable full light penetration, ensuring the health of corals and fish at the bottom of your tank. It has clean silicone edges for a tight seal and maximum visibility across the front.
The Aqueon Standard Glass Aquarium Tank is the perfect basic starter tank. The only downside is that you’ll be buying every other component separately.
Price at time of publish: $110
Best Budget Tank
Coralife LED BioCube Aquarium Fish Tank Kit 32 Gallon
Very easy setup
Includes most major components
Limited options for occupants
Requires purchase of a heater (and protein skimmer if necessary)
If you are limited on space, you can certainly get away with a smaller system between 20-30 gallons. This great all-inclusive option includes a 32 gallon tank, filter and lights—all you need to do is add your décor, fish and/or invertebrates. You will also need a heater, which is a critical component not included in this kit (see our recommendation below).
The Coralife LED BioCube comes with a hood that has built-in LED lighting with useful features like a day-night cycle (including blue “Moon Glow” lighting overnight), and color-enhancing LED settings for maximizing daytime visibility. The lighting is controlled by a 24-hour timer integrated into the unit, allowing you to set three different configurations. The lid opens on a hinge, allowing for easy to access to the complete top surface of the tank’s water.
Many of the BioCube’s integrated features are built into the back wall, including a filtration chamber where you can insert your choice of filtering media, plus dual intakes for a submerged pump, which has an adjustable nozzle for circulating water.
Due to its small size and self-contained nature, it is highly recommended to keep the bioload of this tank very low. Stick to just a few small fish and easy-to-care-for corals without strenuous lighting requirements.
Price at time of publish: $427
Best Nano Tank
Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank Aquarium Kit
Includes most components
Easy to assemble
Easy to use LED lighting
Very limited space for occupants
Requires purchase of a heater (and protein skimmer if necessary)
Not suitable for anything other than the smallest fish
The Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank Aquarium Kit is a great starter model for a nano fish tank. It includes the tank, filtration and an adjustable light. At 13.5 gallons, it is just large enough for beginners looking to dip a tiny toe into the saltwater aquarium hobby.
“Nano” fish tanks are considered to be fish tanks less than 30 gallons of water. They can be very finicky and it is critical that you keep your bioload low so as not to overwhelm your inhabitants or your filtration. Be sure that all the species you keep in your tank are okay with small spaces and do not require individual territories.
The Fluval Evo Saltwater Aquarium Kit has much of its operating components integrated into the side of the tank, including its 3-stage filtration system. It also has built-in LED lighting, with a spectrum that’s meant to be optimal for the health of some basic coral species. Plus, a single button lets you swap between day and night-time lighting modes.
Other conveniences include a separate lid just for accessing the filter chamber without disturbing the water tank lid and your aquarium’s inhabitants. There’s a sliding port for easy feeding and dual output nozzles, so you can customize the flow of water within the tank.
There’s also an even smaller, 5-gallon version of the Fluval Sea Evo, but we’d recommend against it—it’s just too small for almost any saltwater tank configuration.
Price at time of publish: $190
Best Light for Corals
Kessil A160WE Controllable LED Aquarium Light
Great for coral growth
Wide spectrum coverage
Large configurations will require multiple lights
Coral growth and breeding is best left to saltwater tank experts, but if you’re ready to take the plunge and start growing coral, then you can’t skimp on full spectrum lights. While the coral organism itself doesn’t use light, it lives in a symbiotic relationship with algae that photosynthesizes. Although it is a considerable splurge, the Kessil A160WE Controllable LED Aquarium Light is well suited to the lighting needs of a wide variety of coral species.
For larger systems, you will need more than one, such as by combining blue and “sun” lights to provide a mix between dusk and day. By utilizing both of the color spectrums, you will have a completely customizable setup that can be tailored to suit each species of coral in your saltwater tank.
Price at time of publish: $259
Best Light for Marine Fish
Current USA Orbit Marine LED Light
Options can be overwhelming
Not suitable for rare coral breeding
You could spend hours playing around with the settings on the Current USA Orbit Marine LED Aquarium Light setup. This plug-and-play model comes with every setting imaginable, including dusk, dawn and various storm settings. Your fish will come to enjoy the variety of environments with this all-in-one setup.
Along with an easy installation, this model is moderately priced and can be customized to suit a variety of fish requirements. It can be used for both bright, shallow reef species and lower light environment fish species. It also has Bluetooth controls that be integrated with other Current USA accessories, such as water pumps.
Price at time of publish: $60 (18-24 inch)
Best Protein Skimmer
RUIYUXIN USB AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Protein Skimmer
Suitable for wide range of tank sizes and varying bioloads
Easy to incorporate into established system
Rated for up to 90 gallons with a light bioload or 60 gallons with a heavy bioload, the RUIYUXIN AquaMaxx Protein Skimmer is a good choice for most saltwater setups. This skimmer is easily customizable and can be added onto any tank as a hang-on-the-back filter. Currently listed at about $300, this is a considerable investment for your system, but once you reach the point that you actually need a protein skimmer, this will be a small price to pay to protect your investment.
Depending on the bioload and inhabitants of your tank, you may or may not need a protein skimmers. Protein skimmers work by introducing tiny bubbles into your tank water, allowing protein solids to rise to the surface to be collected. If left untreated, these protein solids can build up and cause problems for your fish and invertebrates by contaminating your water clarity.
Price at time of publish: $300
Best Saltwater Filter
AquaClear Tank Filter
Easy to clean
Customizable filter media
High flow unsuitable for delicate plants
When it comes to selecting a filter for your saltwater tank, you do not have to go fancy. The AquaClear Tank Filter is perfectly suited for all types of tanks, is very reliable, easy to clean and customizable. With a wide arrange of sizes, there’s an AquaClear Fish Tank Filter that’s ready for installation your tank.
When selecting a filter for your tank, unless you have very delicate corals or fish who are adverse to high flow, select the next size up for your tank. A little extra filtration is always a good insurance policy. Be sure to clean it regularly and despite the packaging, NEVER throw your sponges away! Rinse them in a little tank water after your cleaning and they’ll last you for years!
Price at time of publish: $32 (20-50 gallons)
Hydor Koralia Nano Aquarium Circulation Pump
Multiple flow rate options
Adjustable flow direction
Attaches by suction cups, which are prone to detach
The fully submersible Hydor Koralia Nano circulates water around your tank, allowing you to better distribute water to eliminate cold spots and ensure flow around plants and other obstructions. A good power head is especially important in reef tanks, since coral needs circulating water in order to feed. But even in non-reef tanks, power heads are useful for maintaining water quality.
The Hydor Koralia Nano power head doesn’t have a lot of features, like reversible flows, or the ability to circulate water from underneath your gravel substrate. If you need more flexible features, we recommend the Marineland Penguin Submersible Power Head Pump instead. But the Hydor Koralia excels at reliable and quiet performance.
The Hydor Koralia Nano comes in three different flow rates: 240, 425, and 565 gallons per hour. The 425 is best suited for 15 to 30 gallon saltwater tanks. However, coral tanks and other configurations with lots of objects in the way of waterflow may want to opt for a higher output, or install two power heads to ensure complete circulation.
Price at time of publish: $32
Best Live Rock
CaribSea South Seas Base Rock 40 Pounds
Neutral background color
Variety of sizes (by weight)
No shapes or arches
More than deocrations, live rock contains beneficial bacteria and other organisms that can help retain your tank’s water quality. Like the live sand substrate listed below, these are living decorations, and have to be properly shipped in order to make sure they arrive at your tank in good form. A piece of live rock that has been improperly shipped or left for too long without any nutrients can die and lose its benefits to your system.
The CaribSea South Seas Base Rock has high porosity, enabling water circulation through the rock. This encourages healthy bacteria growth. It also allows for the release of the limestone’s calcium carbonate into your tank’s water, enabling a healthy pH balance.
CaribSea South Seas Rock Base is a good choice because its pale, neutral color work for a wide variety of saltwater tank setups. It can serve as an excellent attachment point for corals. Or it can serve as a base for stacking additional water features.
The CaribSea live rocks can typically be purchased online in 40-pound units, containing multiple 6-14 inch rocks.
Price at time of publish: $72
Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Saltwater Aquarium Sand
Heavy enough to not get kicked up by filtration/powerheads
Can vary in color and size slightly
Not a reliable source for instant bacteria
When it comes to substrate in marine tanks, live sand is the best choice. Similarly to live rocks, live sand contributes to the health of your water with a natural marine bacterial biofilm, introducing organisms that will help reduce the toxic elements found in your fish’s waste, like nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia.
You can choose from a wide variety of colors and textures, but a middle-of-the-road grain in a basic white/natural color is the best for most setups. You will need enough to have a few inches of coverage on the bottom of your tank.
Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Reef Sand is collected from natural environments instead of cultured, for a more natural bioload.
As with any live substrate, be sure to choose a package with a printed expiration date. Since it contains live bacteria, if the product expires, it will no longer be a live colony and only dump lots of dead bacteria into your tank. Do not rely on your live substrate to do all the heavy lifting for your nitrogen cycle. It may help get things started, but it will take 4-6 weeks for complete conversion, so pay close attention to your nitrogen parameters!
Price at time of publish: $20 (20 gallons)
Best Salt Mixture for Corals
Red Sea Coral Pro Salt
Formulated specifically for corals
Easy to add into any existing coral tank
Not recommended for use with fish only tanks
Only comes in 55-gallon bucket
Red Sea Coral Pro Salt incorporates everything that reef tank coral requires. This specifically tailored salt mix includes all the calcium and magnesium your corals depend on to grow and thrive.
It is critical when selecting a coral-specific salt mix that you understand the various additives. While Red Sea Coral Pro Salt offers a comprehensive blend for a wide range of configurations, you may need to provide your own additives at some point, which underscores the need to frequently test your water.
While this Coral Pro Salt is excellent for reef tanks, it’s less suited to tanks containing only fish, since it can cause algae overgrowth.
Price at time of publish: $56
Best Salt Mixture for Marine Fish
Instant Ocean Sea Salt for Marine Aquariums
Formulated for non-coral tanks
Contains trace elements
Nitrate and phosphate free
Not recommended for use in reef tanks
Instant Ocean Sea Salt has been the industry standard sea salt for decades, used in major aquariums worldwide. Instant Ocean Sea Salt contains a reliable blend of trace elements necessary for supporting marine life, while excluding nitrate and phosphate, making it easier to maintain healthy water.
Price at time of publish: $13 (50 gallon)
Aichose Aquarium Salinity Refractometer
Has to be calibrated occasionally
Results can be difficult to read
Saltwater systems occasionally need the addition of heated freshwater, because only adding salt water will result in higher salinity as the water evaporates from your tank. Both hydrometers and refractometers serve similar purposes—allowing you to test salinity in order to maintain your water’s balance of salt—but a refractometer will generally provide more reliably accurate results.
While you will see largely similar refractometers sold under a variety of brand names, we’d recommend the refractometer from Bulk Reef Supply, which comes with a calibration fluid that will help you make the most accurate readings of your water’s salinity (refractometers from other retailers may be an identical device, but are often packaged for microbrewers).
Refractometers take a sample of water and allow you to view it through an eyepiece, evaluating by sight the refractive index, which indicates the density of a solution, providing you an accurate gauge of your water’s salinity.
Price at time of publish: $37
Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater, 500W
Easy to install
Adjustment knob on top for easy access
Requires purchase of a thermometer for confirmation
The Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater comes in a wide variety of wattages to fit any aquarium tank capacity. For 30 gallon tanks, we recommend the 200 watt model.
The Orlushy heater has a temperature control knob on top, making it easy to adjust without having to remove the heater from the water. It’s also highly durable, with 2-millimeter quartz glass.
With any heating element, it is critical to keep a close eye on its functionality. Having a small thermometer in your tank—like this one—and checking it regularly is the best way to ensure a happy marine environment.
Price at time of publish: $23 (200 watt)
Best Saltwater Water Quality Test Kit
API MASTER TEST KIT Aquarium Water Test Kit
Easy to use
Coral growers will need supplemental tests
Bright light need to make accurate readings
The API Saltwater Master Test Kit provides accurate measures of the pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in your tank. Marine tanks especially are very fickle about their water chemistry, especially for the first few months after set up.
The water test kit from API is widely available, making it an excellent choice for comparative readings. Each test kit comes with more than 550 tests, which encourages you to approach water testing as a consistent weekly practice, rather than only testing when something goes wrong.
Although this kit will get you the basics, you may have to add on additional parameters including calcium, phosphate, and magnesium testing for more advanced coral tanks. These minerals are important for building strong coral structures and need to be supplemented if they do not come in your saltwater mix.
Price at time of publish: $27
If you’re looking to get into saltwater aquariums, our budget pick includes almost everything you need to get started. The Coralife LED BioCube Aquarium Fish Tank Kit, (32 Gallon) can be a great starter system and can be manipulated to suit both fish and community-minded corals.
Looking for something even smaller? Then we recommend our top nano tank pick, the Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank Aquarium Kit. Just remember to stick with species that are suited to small spaces or you’ll be looking at a size upgrade before long!
What To Look For
Once you know how much space you have, you’ll know how many gallons of water you have to work with. From this, you can create your inhabitant wish list. Will it be only fish? What about invertebrates like shrimp or shellfish? Do you want to invest in corals or save those for the next project? Write out your wish list and then do your research! Make sure all of your fish and even corals have enough space to be happy.
Time for Maintenance
Saltwater setups can be a little bit more challenging than freshwater systems given their more involved filtration components and finicky inhabitants. If you know you won’t have a ton of time for maintenance, cut back on your bioload or tank inhabitants. With more water to dilute out your waste products, you can buy yourself less time cleaning.
How do I set up a saltwater aquarium?
When you are preparing to set up a saltwater aquarium, advance planning is your best bet at ensuring everything goes smoothly. Start with the space you have available, your desired species list and how much time you want to devote to maintenance on a regular basis. This will determine the size of your system, then you can go through the above checklist to ensure you have everything on site before you begin setup. It is recommended to get everything setup and flowing before you even think about ordering stock. This will ensure you can get all the kinks worked out of your system before it has to support life. Here is more information on setting up a saltwater tank.
What temperature should the water be in my saltwater aquarium?
The temperature of your saltwater aquarium will be around 80-85F (26-29C), but this will depend entirely on the fish and invertebrates you have in your system. Some species may have a very narrow temperature range, while others are more forgiving. Before you order any individuals, ensure that all of their water quality parameters match as closely as possible in order to limit stress from incompatible water requirements.
How do I adjust the pH in a saltwater aquarium?
In all aquariums, your pH is maintained by your KH, or carbonate hardness. Your salt mix should be providing enough KH to maintain your pH around 8.0-8.2. If you are mixing your salt from scratch yourself, you will need to ensure your KH is adequate in order to maintain your pH. If you must manipulate your pH, do it very slowly and try to manipulate your KH levels first.
How much salt per gallon is needed for a saltwater aquarium?
Most saltwater tanks are looking for a salinity around 35ppt or grams per liter. To convert this to gallons, we multiple by 3.8 liters per gallon, for 133 grams of salt per gallon. Your salt mix will give instructions how much salt to add in order to maintain your ideal salinity. Not all species like their water at 35ppt, so be sure to check your inhabitants requirements before you purchase them.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
With 10 years’ experience working with pet fish owners to streamline their saltwater systems and involvement handling major aquarium saltwater tanks, I have seen all of the disasters that come with setting in saltwater tanks. All of the products listed above I have personal experience with my own tanks or have thoroughly vetted them through hours of online research. I know there is a lot of information here, but I firmly believe that success in fish keeping comes with a solid plan and diligent execution. All of the products discussed in this article I have selected in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of all your saltwater inhabitants.
For additional background information about saltwater aquarium products, we talked to Nic Tiemens, co-founder of Infinity Aquarium Design, who spoke about filters, substrates and water testing kits.