Success in a Reef: Mixing Saltwater

Success in a Reef: Mixing Saltwater.

          When we setup our aquariums, maintain them, and enjoy them, most people probably assume they are taking care of the creatures within, and to an extent, they are of course correct. However, what they are really doing, is taking care of the water. If you pay close attention to your water quality, your fish and corals will be very happy. So, where do we begin with that? Well, by choosing an appropriate salt first and foremost, and then secondly, testing your current aquarium water. Together, we’ll go over a few of the most popular salt mixes, their unique differences, and how to mix saltwater properly.

How to mix Saltwater... Properly

Mixing saltwater properly is absolutely vital to the health and safety of both you, and your aquarium inhabitants. Luckily, mixing saltwater is very easy, and once you learn the steps, it becomes second nature. You can equate mixing saltwater to making coffee. You are only mixing two ingredients, but one of them can be very different. For most people, once they find the blend they like, they aren’t quick to change it. To begin, let’s start with the five cardinal rules:

  1. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS – Every salt brand is different and may contain instructions specific to that salt mix
  2. Measure twice, add carefully – Take care to measure the amount of salt needed for your container, and if you haven’t mixed that amount before, add half and then test the salinity level. Remember, you can always add more salt, but what will you do if you mix it too high and have no filtered freshwater left?
  3. ADD DRY SALT TO THE WATER, AND NEVER THE OTHER WAY AROUND – Doing so ensures a minimal amount of precipitation of vital minerals and elements, and a severe reduction in airborne salt particulates, which are not good to breathe in. Failure to mix this way could lead to serious parameter fluctuations, dangerous airborne particulates, and a dirty container!
  4. CHOOSE A SAFE, CLEAN CONTAINER. Never reuse an unfamiliar container, as most oils, perfumes, foods, dyes, etc. do not fully come out, and will leach out in large enough amounts to not be detected but be detrimental to your aquarium.
  5. USE A REFRACTOMETER MADE FOR TESTING SEAWATER, AND NOT A HYDROMETER. Refractometers should be rinsed and cleaned gently before and after each use, and should be calibrated regularly. Hydrometers should be avoided if possible as they are designed to be disposable and are generally not very accurate, and get further inaccurate as they are used.

And now, some simple instructions for mixing your saltwater. You’ll need a container, and a pump to circulate the water.

  1. Measure the amount of salt needed.
  2. Pour dry salt into container filled with filtered freshwater.
  3. Turn on circulation pump to ensure proper mixing.
  4. Turn on heater only if mixing water for a large water change and the temperature is significantly colder. Small water changes (15% and lower) don’t really need to be heated, but it will make things less stressful for the inhabitants to experience.
  5. Ensure salt has mixed for 6-24 hours after all of the salt has dissolved before using.
  6. Test with an accurate and calibrated refractometer. Do not use saltwater before you have tested the salinity contents.

Popular Salt Brands

The most important part in choosing a salt mix is consistent results that match the parameters you’re after. Salt mixes are different to make things easier for you.

Instant Ocean

  • Instant Ocean is an industry favorite, and for good reason. It is reliable, cheap (in some markets, the cheapest), and will work for any application. This salt is great for New Aquariums, Fish Only Aquariums, and Quarantine setups. It can be used with moderate to good success just about everywhere else.
  • Instant Ocean is a mined salt, and as such, contains the highest amounts of impurities, metal fragments, dirt, and other undesirables, making it less desirable for high end or specific reef aquaria.
  • Mixes high in alkalinity, at around 11-12dKH on average

Instant Ocean Reef Crystals

  • Instant Ocean Reef Crystals is identical in almost every way to its counterpart due to the fact that it is the base mix for this salt. The only differences are an increased amount of Calcium and Magnesium. This change makes this salt ideal for low maintenance reef environments.
  • Mixes high in alkalinity, at around 12 dKH+
Seachem AquaVitro Salinity (in-store only, cannot be sold on-line)
  • AquaVitro Salinity is a reliable, reputable salt mix made by one of the oldest and most reliable brands in the hobby. This means that Salinity is a synthetic salt. AquaVitro Salinity is regarded by many as the ideal top tier synthetic salt. Benefits of a synthetic salt include reliable, accurate and consistent parameters, clean, pharmaceutical grade components, and most importantly, is vigorously tested with batch numbers on every container, which you can use to look up internal AND third-party test results, provided by Seachem, for that particular batch.
  • Mixes up to a mid-range Alkalinity of 9-10 dKH.
  • Nominal differences in parameters between salts otherwise.
Red Sea (Standard, Blue Bucket)
  • Red Sea salt is regarded by many as the ideal top tier naturally sourced ocean salt, praised for its decade long high performance when used with high end and specific reef aquaria, as well as mixed reefs.
  • Red Sea salt is a natural salt made via evaporation, from water sourced from the hyper-saline lagoons and peninsulas of the Indian ocean, Dead Sea, and other local areas. The desalinated fresh water is donated to local communities, and the dry salt is sent to processing. This process of evaporation means your salt mix contains the elements that your corals and fish would encounter naturally in their environment.
  • During processing, dry salt is mixed in small batches with pharmaceutical grade additives, vigorously tested, and recorded in a database which can be viewed at home at any time using the specific code attached to every container of Red Sea Salt.
  • Evaporated salts are very clean, but contain very minor amounts of impurities and other harmless dirt from how it is obtained.
  • This salt mixes very close to Natural Sea Water, with an alkalinity level of 7.7-8.2 dKH on average. With this salt, it is ideal to run lower nutrients.
Red Sea Coral Pro (Black Bucket)
  • Coral Pro is identical in almost every way to its counterpart due to the fact that it is the base mix for this salt. The only differences are an increased amount of Calcium, Magnesium, and importantly, Alkalinity.
  • Mixes up to a high-range Alkalinity of 11-12 dKH.
  • Ideal for high end setups which make use of an elevated Alkalinity level.

Here at Blue Fish Aquarium, we recommend all of these salt mixes. They are well tested, both here and elsewhere, and produce consistent results. Our primary go-to salt mix for low end reefs, fish only aquariums, and quarantine aquariums is Instant Ocean. Our primary go-to salt mix for high end reefs, off-site clients, and store displays, is Red Sea. We also sell all of the equipment needed to mix, test and even store your newly mixed saltwater.

As you can see, mixing saltwater is a bit more involved than it appears, but is no more difficult than mixing coffee. Once you find the blend you like, it becomes second nature, and you won’t be quick accept it any other way. Salt mixes are the same way for seasoned reefers, and they can be pretty opinionated about it. The most important thing to remember is every salt can be used for every purpose, it’s just that some salts have unique differences that may make some situations easier than others.

Author: Sean L


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