What is the best aquarium chiller for a saltwater reef tank?

What is the best aquarium chiller for a saltwater aquarium in 2019? Read on to find out more about how you can beat the heat this summer.

Two years ago, I had a major setback with my display tank. While working on my tank, I messed up the temperature my heater was set at…unfortunately at the same time I was leaving for vacation, which was also during a heat wave. Long story short (you can

While working on my tank, I messed up the temperature my heater was set at…unfortunately at the same time I was leaving for vacation, which was also during a heat wave. Long story short (you can read that story here), my tank heated up significantly and caused some of my corals to die.

Once that happened, I set out to figure out how to prevent that from happening again. What I realized is that the best insurance policy against your tank hitting unsafe elevated temperatures is to have an aquarium chiller. Until then, I had never considered one, let alone sort through all the different options to know what my best options were.

So I set out to find the one.

blue ribbon for the best

Which one is the best?

Criteria for selecting the best aquarium chiller

The best aquarium chiller is the one that is the right size for your aquarium, with the best performance and best reviews at the right price. It shouldn’t be too big or too small–it needs to be just right, or it won’t be able to properly cool your tank when needed.

In this article, I will describe:

  • how an aquarium chiller works
  • how do you know if you need one?
  • why is high temperature bad?
  • how much does it cost?
  • how do you set one up?
  • I will also provide product reviews for some of the best brands.

If you are interested in just jumping ahead to check out the products and prices for yourself, here are a few affiliate links where you can learn more about these products, including their price, on Amazon.com:

How does an aquarium chiller work?

An aquarium water chiller is like an air conditioner for your water. There is a thermostat, that monitors the temperature and switches the aquarium chiller on when the water temperature gets too high. When the chiller is on, a water pump (you need to install one of these into your aquarium setup too, for the chiller to work) pumps water from your tank (technically from your sump, if you have one).

The tank water is then pumped inside the chiller, where it gets cooled off by something called a heat exchanger before it gets returned by the pump to your aquarium.

best aquarium chiller a saltwater chiller

How do marine chillers make the aquarium cooler?

A marine chiller essentially works like an ‘air conditioner for your water’. Which doesn’t really make sense, I know, but there is cool stuff (literally), inside the machine that helps bring down the temperature of the water removed from your tank that is running through it. As a result of coming in contact (safely) with the cooling elements, the water that gets returned makes the aquarium cooler.

Do I need an aquarium chiller?

Technically, you may not need one. I’ve been keeping fish for almost 30 years now and never previously had an aquarium chiller. But very recently, I had an issue where my tank water heated up…and caused big problems. I don’t want risk it anymore, so I’m getting one–to protect against error and protect against loss. This piece of equipment is intended to help you in keeping your aquarium temperature stable, which is critically important to help you keep your aquarium inhabitants (corals, shrimp, fish, crabs, clams, etc.) happy.

high temperature is bad

Why is high water temperature in a reef aquarium bad?

  • Temperature changes, in general, are bad
  • Warm water holds less oxygen
  • May cause problem algae growth

Top aquarium chiller reviews: What are customers saying is the best brand?

When properly sized (large enough to lower the temperature of the tank sufficiently when just running for a few minutes each hour…not continuously) and installed,  an aquarium chiller is a great product that will keep your aquarium temperature from elevating into the danger zone. People who live in hot climates boast about these workhorses doing the job day in and day out without a hiccup. The top brands are quiet and should run without issue.

five star rating

Most common complaints

The most common complaints about aquarium water chillers are:

  1. Sometimes they break–there are reviews (in the minority) of products that failed after a short period of time
  2. Manufacturers are not always as responsive as hoped for in resolving any issues
  3. Can be loud–may sound like ‘an old refrigerator’ when running

Factors that can impact the performance of a saltwater chiller

To keep your saltwater chiller working properly, keep these things in mind:

  1. Avoid extreme temperatures–if the temperature in the room is in the mid-to-high 90’s, just about any chiller is going to have some trouble keeping up. If this is something you expect to happen in your home–you want to pick a significantly oversized model
  2. Don’t forget about the heat load contributed by your equipment. If you are running serious metal halide lights close to the water–you’re going to have a lot more heat to dissipate than your neighbor in the same town who is running cool LEDs
  3. Your chiller needs good ventilation to run properly–be sure to place it in a well-ventilated area.
  4. Just like an air conditioner, you need to keep the grill clean to avoid over-working the system
  5. Ensure you are equipping your aquarium chiller with a properly sized pump to enable the appropriate water flow for your particular model. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you have the right sized pump.

what is the best aquarium chiller

How much does it cost?

An aquarium water chiller will cost anywhere from about $260 to over $1,200, for the biggest and best models. One of the most commonly available sizes that should be large enough to handle an aquarium in the 125-150 gallon range or smaller is the 1/4 HP model, which benchmarks at about $600 for all but one manufacturer.

If even the least expensive models are out of your price range, you may want to consider an aquarium fan, like the Aquacool, which can help keep your tank water a bit cooler by facilitating evaporation.

How do I decide which model is the best for me?

Picking the right fish tank chiller model for you is about weighing a few considerations:

  1. How big is your tank?
  2. How much money are you willing to spend?
  3. How hot does it really get where you are?
  4. How good are the average product reviews?

The JBJ product website has a calculator that will help you figure out the right size for your particular aquarium. To pick the right size, you need to look at all the things warming up your tank…and while not the most intuitive tool, that is what the JBJ calculator helps you to do.

Best Aquarium Chiller–what are the options?

Here are a few of the most popular brands for you to choose from:

I will explore each of the brands in more detail below, to help you make the best choice.

JBJ Arctica Aquarium Chiller

marine chiller product review for one of the best marine chillers

The brand is relatively easy to set up, runs efficiently and runs quietly. It is the exclusive brand offered by at least one popular online store. A JBJ Arctica aquarium chiller will cost you around $400-$800, depending on the model you pick. Check out the current prices here.

JBJ offers 5 models in the JBJ Arctica Titanium Chiller line:

This chiller boasts nearly 160 reviews on a prominent online retailer and 4.5-star average and 5-star average out of 15 reviews on another and 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon.com.

Hamilton Technology Aqua Euro Max 

hamilton technology aqua euro max

The Hamilton Technology Aqua Euro Max also boasts a 4-star average review on Amazon.com, with less than 50 reviews at the time of this article. They range in price from about $399 for the smallest model upwards to $1,300 for the largest models, if you have a large tank. The 1/4 HP represents a reasonable value for the money at just under $600. Check out the current prices here.

If you are looking for the best aquarium chiller that is the perfect fit for your reef tank, the Aqua Euro Max should be your chiller of choice, with 5 models to choose from:

  • 1/13 HP for a  30-50 gallon aquarium
  • 1/10 HP for a 60-80 gallon aquarium
  • 1/4 HP for a 100-170 gallon aquarium
  • 1/2 HP for a 200-300 gallon aquarium
  • 1 HP for a 300-700 gallon aquarium

Coralife line

Coralife marine water chillerThe Coralife product line offers 5 sizes to help you find the right model for your tank. The smallest model runs at 1/10 HP and is suited for tanks up to 55 gallons in size, whereas the 1HP model (quite large) will work for tanks up to 500 gallons in size. Expect to pay about $400 for the smallest model and over $1,000 for the largest model. Check out the links below for the current prices.

  • 1/10 HP for tanks up to 55 gallons
  • 1/6 HP for tanks up to 90 gallons
  • 1/4 HP for tanks up to 125 gallons
  • 1/2 HP for tanks up to 250 gallons
  • 1 HP for tanks up to 500 gallons

Active Aqua Chiller

active aqua marine water chiller product review image


With over 175 reviews on Amazon at the time of this article and a 4-star review average (164 are verified purchases!), the Active Aqua is the most popular chiller model available. It is available in 3 sizes: small 1/10 HP, medium 1/4 HP, and large 1/2 HP. The price ranges from about $260- $630. The 1/4 HP model (workhorse model for most tanks) is only $378, making it the best value for the money.

It is no doubt that the low prices here are part of what’s driving the popularity on Amazon.com. Check out the reviews for yourself and decide.

Most relied upon brand

JBJ Arctica

JBJ Arctica saltwater aquarium chiller brand

Most relied upon brand

The good news here is that there is no shortage of options when it comes to selecting a popular brand. After searching the available information online, the JBJ Arctica Aquarium Chiller brand is the most consistently available and positively reviewed product available.

Best value for the money

In terms of the best value for the money–the obvious choice, in my estimation, is the Active Aqua line.

They are significantly less expensive than some of the other brands and boast a similar product review profile. I like it because it is inexpensive (relative to the other models), has a large number of strong reviews, which means a lot of people have used it and are happy with their purchases, and you get free shipping from Amazon.

Active Aqua

Active aqua is the best value for the money right now

Best value for the money

Ready to buy?

Check out prices on Amazon

Do you already have a favorite? If so, please leave a comment below and let us know what your experience has been.

Written by Albert B. Ulrich III

Which model do you think is the best aquarium chiller in 2019? Please leave a comment below.


  1. HI Al,
    While we are talking about water temps…what is the optimal range for a tank with a few corals, anemones, and a variety fish? What’s a reliable thermometer you recommend?

  2. I have a question : ) what is the average lifespan of these chillers? how many years will they last? I lived most of my life in NYC never used a chiller with no problems. I have been in South Florida now for 10 years, I’ve considered one on 2 occasions both times tank exceeded 92 degrees during summer heat wave, but I had no ill effects. I worked in a Exotic Pets and Marine shop here for 2 years, all the tanks stayed in the 89-92 degree range throughout the 2 hottest summer months July and August. My tank averages 79-82 range the majority of the year. House Temp/AC is set at 74 day , 76 night. Again I like to stress, I have not observed any bad effects, my current set up is 3 years old and still have all of my original fish from start only few nems, gorgonian and coral, but they seem to do well. The Ocean water here gets just as hot in the summer. I don’t think I need a chiller, but would like to possibly add one for those heatwave weeks, I am just wondering if they are built to last a few years.

    1. Author

      Hi Conrad and thank you for the comment and great questions. I’m glad you shared your experiences with temperature changes. Your tank fared much better than mine did with the large temperature swing. I have read reviews online that chillers do tend to last for several years–hobbyists sharing that it has lasted 6 years, 8 years, 5 years, etc. (here’s one reef central thread) It’s not that the chillers ‘died’ at those points but people weighed in that their chillers were running that long so far, so good, with no problems.

      In terms of needing one, I think you’re right, you may not need one if your tank has already demonstrated it can survive major temperature swings. No need to feel pressure to get one, they are expensive. Thanks for sharing your experiences and providing a little balance to what was otherwise a one-sided discussion about chillers.

  3. Thanks Albert , I suppose to some extent when things are working well I am hesitant to change them lol. Been doing this 35 years. I didn’t have anything fancy to start off with, back in day a rubbermaid tub was a sump, filled with rubble rock, plastic screen on top, filter pad, pumps for flow lol. I didn’t have skimmers, UV, lighting choices were T5 or Halide, no resins etc, etc.. somehow I had great success. Younger people don’t realize how many options they have now ( although it can be pricey) I’ve added things over the years.. switched to LEDS few years ago, but think I still prefer halide ( going to try combo soon) At the end of the day the Aquarium has become big business, like any business. I do believe sometimes they hype a product too much or lead people to believe something is required when it really isn’t. I love the FB groups, someone posts a pic of a beautiful minimalist reef tank and within 20 mins there are fifty post telling him/her they have to have more rock or require 2lbs per gallon lol. Of course rock filters water, but you can just maintain your tank well without it. Love this blog, thanks.

    1. Author

      Conrad, I think not changing things when they’re working well is probably one of the reasons you’ve been successful for 35 years. It might be one of the most important things anyone can do! Kudos to you. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

Leave a Comment