There’s no question that a saltwater aquarium requires a significant amount of maintenance if the fish and invertebrates it contains are to remain healthy and their life-support system is to continue functioning efficiently for the long term. But that doesn’t mean you should let all those routine chores overwhelm you! Ongoing upkeep becomes much more tolerable when it’s broken up into manageable chunks.
The following schedule will help you better organize your time and effort while tackling routine maintenance responsibilities. We think you’ll find it’s a good starting point that you can easily adjust over time to suit your needs and the unique demands of your aquarium system.
- Feed livestock (as appropriate for the species kept).
- Closely observe your specimens to ensure they’re all alive, healthy, uninjured, and interacting peacefully.
- Top off the tank/sump with purified fresh water to compensate for evaporation.
- Check the water temperature.
- Verify that all equipment is functioning properly.
- Check the tank and all hose, tube, or pipe connections for evidence of drips or leaks.
- Empty your protein skimmer collection cup. (Depending on skimmate production, the size of the cup, and whether or not the cup is equipped with a drain hose for remote skimmate collection, this could stretch to a weekly task.)
- Clean the algae film from your aquarium glass with an algae magnet, brush, or scraper. (Depending on the rate at which algae builds up on glass, this may be every other day or weekly.)
Weekly to biweekly:
- Test critical water parameters—specific gravity, pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and alkalinity. (Reefkeepers will also need to test calcium and possibly other parameters.)
- Wipe salt creep off the aquarium cover, tank edges, power cords, and other surfaces exposed to salt spray.
- Wipe clean the inside neck of your protein skimmer to eliminate gunk buildup and promote proper foam production.
- Thoroughly rinse any filter socks, foam blocks, sponge sleeves, bonded filter pads, or other mechanical filtration media to eliminate trapped particulate waste.
- Clean the algae film from your aquarium glass with an algae magnet, brush, or scraper.
- Perform at least a 10% water change weekly or a 20% change biweekly. Go larger if the nitrate level dictates!
Monthly to bimonthly:
- Clean calcium deposits from your tank cover and your light fixture cover glass (while the fixture is turned off and cool) using a cloth or paper towel dampened with white vinegar.
- Replace any activated carbon used in the system (monthly).
- Disassemble your protein skimmer and thoroughly clean all components.
- Soak powerheads, pumps, heaters, thermometers, and other removable submerged components in white vinegar or a 1:1 vinegar/water solution to dissolve coralline algae buildup.
Every six months to yearly:
- Replace the bulbs/tubes in your lighting fixture according to the manufacturer’s recommendations (except LEDs, which have a much longer functional life).
Again, this is just a sample schedule, and it’s certainly not “etched in stone.” As your experience and comfort level in the hobby increase, you’ll no doubt develop your own way of doing things and your own time frame for tackling routine maintenance chores.
As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below if you have a unique take on routine maintenance that might benefit your fellow salties!