Saltwater Aquarium Questions & Answers

Welcome to the Saltwater Aquarium Blog Questions & Answers page. This page is dedicated to providing quick answers to actual questions asked by Saltwater Aquarium Blog Community Newsletter subscribers and blog readers. Have your own questions? Here’s how to get them answered:

Here is a quick link to the most recently answered question:

Is drip acclimation necessary, or can I just use the old floating bag method I’ve used for years?

Here is a table of contents if you want to quickly scroll down to the specific question you’re looking for:

Does an all-in-one nano reef tank come with everything I need, or do I need to buy additional equipment?

The bare minimum equipment you will need to run any community reef tank will be good lights, a heater (assuming your house is usually around 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and a pump that creates water movement.

Not all of the all-in-one nano tanks have strong enough lights suitable for growing corals well or heaters, so I recommend you double-check that and upgrade or add.

Also, the return pump that powers the filtration unit may or may not be sufficiently sized to maintain a sufficiently vigorous water flow to support reef life. Therefore, you may want to add an additional powerhead-style pump to increase the water flow.

While technically not equipment necessary to run a nano aquarium, you should also get test kits or strips to monitor the most important water parameters and see how the changes affect your tank.
For more information about setting up a new saltwater tank, check out this guide here.
Depending on your long-term plans, you may want to explore getting a nano protein skimmer, too.

I am planning to clean out and reuse an old aquarium–how should I clean it out?

Two of the best cleaners you can use to clean out an old aquarium are freshwater and air. You read that right: Freshwater and air.
Use freshwater to clean out a saltwater tank

Flush old tubes and lines with water from a garden hose if you can manage to get outside easily (and don’t live in an urban setting, I suppose).

Most of the time, I will just use paper towels to wipe down the inside and outside of the glass, although, for tougher deposits, I have used a sponge.

If you have a lot of salt or calcium buildup on old pumps or other equipment, you can soak those in vinegar. The inexpensive white vinegar you can find at your grocery or big box store.

After the vinegar, you would rinse thoroughly again with fresh water.

After the freshwater bath, let it air dry.

You may be tempted to want to use detergents, bleach, or other things to purify it. Still, please consider this–the diseases and disease-transmitting things that live in saltwater are not typically tolerant of freshwater. In addition, the freshwater typically induces an osmotic shock–so even though it may seem like a weak cleaner…because it’s just water…compared to saltwater, it is not.

Letting things dry out before you fill it back up with saltwater adds another layer of protection because things that live in either freshwater or saltwater mostly tend to die when they dry up.
So don’t overthink it and don’t buy chemical detergents. Cleaning is best with water and air, and vinegar to break up mineral deposits.

Do I need to run a protein skimmer on my reef tank?

Protein skimmers are technically an optional piece of equipment. They work around the clock to pull waste out of the water column–waste that would otherwise pollute your tank water, fuel problem algae growth our worse, stress the animals in your tank. They can do a lot of good for you, but they are not required.
Reef Octopus brand protein skimmer
Is a protein skimmer required?

If you are just starting out and can afford it, I recommend adding one to your reef tank system.

If you can’t afford it or don’t want to spend the money right away until you know you’ve fallen in love with your reef tank, you can absolutely delay the purchase. If you choose not to run your tank with a protein skimmer, be extra-diligent in testing the aquarium water and stay on top of maintenance and partial water changes.

If your goal is to keep some of the most delicate animals available in this hobby, you probably shouldn’t debate this purchase and should just get the best protein skimmer you can afford.

Do I need to use a reverse osmosis unit to purify my water?

The decision about whether or not you need a reverse osmosis deionizing unit (sometimes called or abbreviated RODI unit) depends on the quality of the source water that comes from the tap in your house. If the tap water is free from phosphates, silicates, copper, and other things that would potentially cause problems in your tank, you probably won’t need a RODI unit.
Is RODI purification necessary?

If your tap water isn’t suitable to use, as is, you will need to purify it with RODI or purchase water from a local fish store.

One other factor to consider is the level of difficulty and/or complexity you plan for your tank. For example, if you hope to keep the most delicate invertebrates in your tank, it will be best to start with the purest water–which you can create using RODI.

Do I need to quarantine if I have cleaner shrimp or fish in the tank?

One of the things I personally enjoy the most in this hobby is watching some of the natural behaviors of the fish and invertebrates in our tanks. One of the coolest behaviors to watch is the cleaning behavior—when a cleaner shrimp or fish picks parasites off of another fish.

This week’s question is whether or not you still need to quarantine new arrivals if you plan to have a cleaner fish or shrimp in your tank.

The short answer is a resounding yes. You still need to quarantine. Whether you have cleaner fish, like the neon goby or cleaner wrasse, or a cleaner shrimp species, like the skunk cleaners, they are not going to be able to keep your tank parasite free. 

Saltwater ich, or whichever parasite you have in your tank, is probably going to be able to reproduce much faster than the cleaners can clean. So over time, the population of parasites will grow and overwhelm the fish in your tank.

Not to mention, the cleaner fish in your tank are not immune to the attacks of the parasites and may succumb to the parasites as well. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add those cleaners to your tank—it is a fascinating natural behavior to watch. Those cleaners eat parasites, but that’s not all. They also eat mucus and dead scales as well.

Just don’t count on them to completely replace the need for a good quarantine system.

Is drip acclimation necessary?  I’ve done the old ways of acclamation by just adding a little water, to the bag, over the course of an hour or so, and so far, so good. Is it wrong to stick to this method?

With respect to your acclimation procedure. I, too, used to acclimate the way you described, with the floating bag and gradually swapping water. 

The answer to your question is that it should still work fine. Here’s why. Whether you use the floating bag method you describe or the drip acclimation method, the entire process of acclimation is to avoid inducing shock in the amazing reef creature you brought home to your tank.

The method you describe will do just that, the vast majority of the time, because as you add tank water to the bag, the bag’s contents gradually adjust, thus preventing shock. The main difference between the floating bag method and the drip method is that the drip method ensures a constant, safe rate of acclimation. You may be a lot better than I was at the floating bag method, but when I personally would acclimate fish that way, I wasn’t controlling for the amount of water I would add at each interval. Also, sometimes I was not distracted and changed the water at consistent time intervals. Other times life was busier, and the water changes were more erratic.

So the method you’re advocating is time-tested and works well. However, it also carries a large amount of risk of human error because each time you add water, you risk doing it differently than the time before. On the other hand, the drip method reduces that risk because you set it once and forget it until the dripping is done.

In the end, acclimation is acclimation, and as long as you are gradual and delicate in the handling of your new tankmates, you should be fine. 

With all of this said, I do offer two substantial caveats. If you’re ordering from an online shop with a live guarantee. You should follow their methods exactly so that you don’t invalidate the warranty. Also, you may want to second-guess this ‘it should be fine’ conclusion with some of the most delicate creatures–like cleaner shrimp or other invertebrates–those creatures are some of the most susceptible to shock.

But, it sounds like you are committed to your methods, and I also presume you’re committed to doing it the right way–and as long as you’re caring for your new animals and ensuring the acclimation period meets their needs. Then, you are very likely to continue to see success.

With all of this said, I would be remiss if I didn’t also share that the drip acclimator from Innovative Marine changed my life! Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but this little gizmo makes it so easy to drip acclimate, it’s worth every penny. Acclimation is so much easier, and I don’t have to think or worry about anything.

You can read more about the drip acclimator here.

Have a question you want to be answered? Here is how you can submit yours. 

There are two ways to submit a question to be answered on this page:

  1. The best way is to join the Saltwater Aquarium Blog community by signing up for the newsletter here. It’s free to join, and I’ll send you an e-book and other useful resources when you sign up. Then you can email your question at any time.
  2. Leave a comment detailing your question in the space below. I’ll give first preference to newsletter subscribers whenever possible, but this is another great way to send me the questions on your mind.