Having a successful saltwater aquarium is no small feat. Even having a small aquarium takes time and effort to look after it, but there are some things we can use to REALLY help make our lives easier and protect our aquarium!
These products were absolute game-changers when I first discovered them and no matter what, I will ALWAYS have them for as long as I have an aquarium! Some of them are not cheap, but the time, anxiety, stress, and long-term cost savings they give far outweigh their initial cost!
My Top 10 Things I Could Not Live Without:
1. Automatic Top Off System
Our aquariums are warm and no matter how much we try, the aquarium will evaporate water. As the water evaporates it leaves the salt behind.
The more water that evaporates, the saltier our tank becomes.
To maintain water stability we need to replace this water loss every day. You can either do this by hand or get an Automatic Top Off System (ATO) to do it for you. An ATO is truly Set-&-Forget, just keep its freshwater reservoir filled once a week and this daily chore has now gone!
You can now get away on vacation!
There are many ATO systems for every size tank and budget starting at $80. It will not be difficult to find one the perfectly suits your tank!
2. Flood Guardian – AKA: The Marriage Saver
If you have spent enough time reading over the numerous aquarium forums you will have undoubtedly heard of someone flooding their home when making water for a water change!
How? By filling up their water reservoir and forgetting to turn it off!
Many aquarium owners are not lucky enough to have a sink and drain system right next to their aquarium, so they have to fill up their water change reservoirs and buckets by using a hose or taking the container close to the faucet.
When using an RO/DI water filter (more on this later), the rate at which the container fills can be painfully slow and take hours – So, you guessed it, people leave to do other things until they suddenly remember or they find water under their feet!
This simple, inexpensive device easily shuts off the water supply when the container is full.
For $70, this Flood Guardian will not only save your marriage, but expensive flood repair bills!
3. Algae Magnet
There is no point having a beautiful part of the world’s coral reef in your living room or office for it to be hidden behind a wall of green.
Keeping your aquarium glass clean of algae requires daily or weekly cleaning, depending on how quickly the algae grows.
You can either get your arms wet and use a scrubbing pad or you could invest in an algae magnet that will clean the entire tank in under 2 minutes!
One half goes on the inside of the glass, the other stays outside. The magnets keep the two halves together as you effortlessly scrape off the algae. Add a razor blade attachment and it cleans even faster!
Because of this great little device, I clean my glass every day and my aquarium ALWAYS looks pristine!
There is a vast range of different sized algae magnets for every size of tank starting from $13
4. Digital Thermometer
You would not believe how many times a simple little device like this has saved an aquarium from certain death.
When the water in a reef tank begins to get too hot or cold it does not take long for a chain reaction of death to begin.
Purchasing a cheap digital thermometer and placing its little readout screen on the side of your tank gives you a quick check of your water every time you walk by. If you also get in the habit of touching the glass too, you will soon see and feel when it’s not at the correct temperature.
By getting a thermometer with high and low-temperature alarms you can be easily alerted to a problem before it gets past the point of no return.
Failed heaters or problematic home air conditioners have killed more reef tanks than owner’s silly mistakes!
Starting at $10, this is a device that EVERY tank should have installed! It may just save your aquarium one day!
Being able to Accurately measure the salt concentration of your water is paramount for the long-term health of your fish, inverts, and corals.
Making new saltwater or daily, weekly testing ensures your water remains stable – The Key To Reef Tanks!
There are a few types of salinity measuring devices on the market but by far the most used and trusted throughout this hobby is the inexpensive Refractometer. It is super easy and quick to use (10 Seconds) allowing you to efficiently test your water every day if you wish – I do!
The other bonus is that it can be calibrated to ensure your water is exactly where it should be. Inaccurate testing can result in a tank crash – A Refractometer helps prevent that!
A Refractometer is something you will use every week of your tanks life. For $40 this device should be top of your purchase list!
6. Wi-Fi Camera
This nifty device came to light when I was watching my newborn baby on a Baby-Cam. Why couldn’t I watch my fish with it while I was away!?
This was one of those A-HA! moments we have in this hobby! By fitting a cheap Wi-Fi camera to the side of my tank was a real life-changer
Having a simple camera looking into your aquarium and being able to view it on an app that you can access from any internet connection in the world, can relieve so much anxiety and stress while you are on vacation! Even while you are at work, you can log in and see what your finned family members are up to!
You can find a great selection of cameras from many brands starting from only $20!
7. Reverse Osmosis / De-Ionized (RO/DI) Water Filter
Problems with algae, heavy metals, nitrates, phosphates, sililcates & Chloromines can all be traced back to one area – Poort Source Water.
Wether you pull your water for your reef tank from the city water supply or your home well, a poor source of water will cause you so many problems that will make you pull your hair out!
By purchasing and installing an RO/DI water filter before you ever fill your aquarium you can ensure that nothing but the purest water enters your aquarium. Use it to fill your containers for water changes and evaporation top off and you will never be plagued by endless months of problems caused by poor water!
RO/DI units can be tailored to suit any type of water source because they are modular. Find Your Perfect One Today!
8. Automatic Feeder
If you ever want to take a trip away from your reef tank for more than a night, you will need an automatic feeder.
These simple devices allow you to fill the hopper with your favorite foods (A mix of pellets and flakes work best) and setting it up above the tank, your fish will be fed for weeks!
Not only are these great for vacations but they work well permanently set up to feed your fish multiple times each day. Fish like Anthias, have high metabolisms and usually die from starvation. An automatic feeder solves so many nutrition problems!
There are many brands and sizes of automatic feeder. They are easy to install, configure & clean. Starting around $30.
9. Battery Backup System
When my neighbors’ house caught fire and the power company shut down the electricity to our street I nearly lost my reef. The next day I made sure I was prepared!
It is crazy to think how much our aquariums rely on electricity and when it is not there, our tanks can soon die.
Having a battery backup system and/or a generator helps to run pumps to maintain water movement and aid gas exchange to keep our aquariums alive. These universal systems can be installed on any DC pump or you can use manufacturer-specific batteries. These systems sit and monitor the power and automatically come on to keep your water moving.
For long-term power outages, you will need a generator to keep the lights, heater/chiller, and pumps working, but these battery backup systems provide you time to get an alternative power source hooked up, especially if it’s 3am!
Starting from $130 you can bet you will look at these after your first power outage! Be ready before the worst happens!
10. Aquarium Controller
I will never own an aquarium without an aquarium controller – Simple! After having built my own DIY controller I have found just how life-saving these are.
They can be simple, stand-alone, inexpensive units, up to fully integrated aquarium computers. Your desire and budget is the only thing holding you back!
An aquarium controller is like child-care for your aquarium! They will sit and monitor, control, prevent disasters, alert you to problems, automate tasks & chores, feed your fish, re-create natural ocean lighting and water motions, the list is endless!
The main thing I love about aquarium controllers is that they monitor and control! An aquarium controller can pay for itself in one disaster prevention! A stuck heater, a flood, a rising water parameter can all be dealt with without you even needing to know or being there!
Many of the systems are modular so you can add to them as your needs grow, but once you have one and you see what it does for you, you will be just like me and never own another aquarium without one!
There are many systems and modules available to suit any size aquarium setup. Start simple and go from there! From $30 & up.
I could go on and on about so many other things I find indispensable for my reef tank, but these are definite Essentials. They can be accumulated over time as your aquarium matures, but when you are first starting out the Two Items I Highly Recommend you get before even filling your tank should be:
- An RO/DI Water Filter
- A Refractometer
If you are looking to get a new aquarium and you wish to see some typical Aquarium setup examples in multiple gallon ranges, please check out my guides below: