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Old 04/01/2012, 10:42 AM   #1
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Dirt-simple chemistry MUST-knows for tank health

I'm going to start very slow, very basic, and work toward the lesser known things.

1. your salt mix is not just salt. It's dry seawater. And that means not only salt, it's calcium, magnesium, iodine, selenium, boron---read the label on your salt mix.

2. evaporation never evaporates the minerals. It only evaporates the water.

3. animals and plants suck up part of the minerals. So TWO actions unbalance your tank---evaporation increases the mineral concentration---and animals and plants take the minerals they need and leave what they don't. This means certain minerals run lower and lower and certain ones don't---they just pile up. As you add more fresh ro/di (water that's ONLY hydrogen and oxygen, with NO minerals) your tank gets no more minerals. And your shortage of what the animals and plants are using most gets bigger and bigger. Water changes, 20% a month, replenish the missing minerals, but they're alway playing catchup.

4. Salt mixes are NOT all the same. Reef salt contains a high amount of what corals need AND what fish need. Marine salt for fish-onlies is lower in calcium and other minerals. That's why the price difference.

5. Now---the nitty gritty of chemical balance in your tank. First, the balance is set by your salt brand. The more you mess with that, the worse your water. Translation: don't go dumping supplements into your tank unless you've got the corresponding test. They don't sell these things together because they don't run out at the same rate, but your lfs should stress, with every supplement---you need a test. And you need a logbook. If you turn up a shortage, you dose until you put the RIGHT amount into your tank, with a little leeway; and you test again next week to figure out how fast that's running low. And you dose to stay in the 'good zone', NOT as make-up after your water's gone wonky. Dose to the TREND of the numbers, the way when you're balancing something in your hands, you don't let it swing way to one side before you correct it back to center. There is NO one answer to these things. Every tank is different. And staying in the center of a 'good numbers' zone is best: that gives you a little leeway in either direction.

6. THREE readings go in 'lock' to keep your water good. These three are: the alkalinity of your water, the amount of calcium in your water, and the amount of magnesium in your water. Those of you with freshwater experience are used to tracking PH. Alkalinity is the thing most reefers track. Get it between 8.3 and 9.3 on the KH scale, and don't angst over the ph.
The second reading is your Calcium level. It should be between 420 and 500. Below that---your snails' shells start dissolving. And your fish's bone and muscle suffer. The third reading is Magnesium. All you people who want coralline to grow---just keep this one at 1300. But it does a lot more than supply coralline. It LOCKS the other two readings in a 3-way balance. Keeping everything in that relationship will make everything happy.

7. Remember that business about plants and animals using up minerals? Calcium and magnesium are the ones animals use bigtime. Plants---use phosphate and nitrate. Yes, even those chemicals are useful. Plants grow like mad with phosphate. Grow them in your sump, divide the mass in half periodically and get rid of it, and you've just tossed a lot of phosphate and nitrate. That's what a fuge does. And the reason not to use conditioned tapwater? City water grows plants. Algae. A lot of it. The conditioners don't remove phosphate.

8. Dosing: you must dose to keep your calcium supply up if you have stony coral OR clams. Hand-dosing is just fine if you don't. You should be able to keep up with the mineral consumption problem if you have fish and softies, including anemones. Just stay in the target range, and do your water changes.

If you have, or want to have, stony coral, you need to get onto that calcium situation the minute you put them in the tank. They come in 'asleep'. Given good lighting (a requirement for stony coral) and correct chemistry---they'll put out a finger to feel the water. And they'll start waking up. Hungry---because they've not eaten in a while. And what they want is calcium. A lot of it. They'll suck it right out of your salt mix, until your snail shells start dissolving. So you have to put it in. 3 little coral frags can take heaping teaspoons worth of calcium supplement---daily---and at nearly twenty dollars a jar, this could get ruinously expensive. But there ARE cheap ways to give them what they need. Kalk drips are the cheapest. They can fully supply a 50-60 gallon packed reef. Above that you get into calcium reactors, which can supply much larger reefs. There is also the Balling method. And the 2-Part. Tank size and coral load will determine what you need.

9. aging tank: reading all this should tell you that the older a tank gets, the more little imbalances and shortages it accumulates. Age has benefits, but it also has problems. I recommend, at least every couple of years, an aggressive program of semi-weekly 20% water changes, so you can sort of re-set the balance. It's my own notion, but I think it does a bit to replenish the things far down the list of reef-salt ingredients.


Salinity 1.024-6; alkalinity 8.3-9.3 on KH scale; calcium 420; magnesium 1300, temp 78-80, nitrate .2. Ammonia 0. No filters: lps tank. Alk and cal won't rise if mg is low.

Current Tank Info: 105g AquaVim wedge, chromis, royal gramma basslet, tailspot blenny, ocellaris clown, yellow watchman, chestnut turbo snails, bristleworms, couple of hermits.

Last edited by Sk8r; 05/02/2012 at 04:16 PM.
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Old 04/01/2012, 11:01 AM   #2
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Very good information. Thanks for taking the time to write it all down

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Old 04/01/2012, 11:31 AM   #3
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Well said

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Old 04/01/2012, 08:17 PM   #4
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Very nice write up sk8r. Lot's of good info in there.

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Old 04/01/2012, 08:28 PM   #5
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Good read for beginners. Wish I would have read this when I first stred years back. Any way this can be "stickied" on the new to the hobby forum?

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Old 04/01/2012, 10:37 PM   #6
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I could duplicate it over there. THank you.


Salinity 1.024-6; alkalinity 8.3-9.3 on KH scale; calcium 420; magnesium 1300, temp 78-80, nitrate .2. Ammonia 0. No filters: lps tank. Alk and cal won't rise if mg is low.

Current Tank Info: 105g AquaVim wedge, chromis, royal gramma basslet, tailspot blenny, ocellaris clown, yellow watchman, chestnut turbo snails, bristleworms, couple of hermits.
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Old 04/03/2012, 07:47 PM   #7
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Thank You,

I am new and you put it in such a way that it makes since. I was testing my water dayly for the first few months and now 8 months later i have not tested in 6 weeks. On my way to test now.
Thanks again. Joe

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Old 04/04/2012, 09:56 AM   #8
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very nice write-up. I like the emphasis on Ca. well done.

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Old 04/07/2012, 09:17 PM   #9
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what salt mix do you recommend. I use Salinity and seem to get very good results from it.

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Old 04/08/2012, 12:15 AM   #10
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Personally I use Oceanic, a reef salt. There are many good ones. Just know whether it supports corals and fish or fish-only.


Salinity 1.024-6; alkalinity 8.3-9.3 on KH scale; calcium 420; magnesium 1300, temp 78-80, nitrate .2. Ammonia 0. No filters: lps tank. Alk and cal won't rise if mg is low.

Current Tank Info: 105g AquaVim wedge, chromis, royal gramma basslet, tailspot blenny, ocellaris clown, yellow watchman, chestnut turbo snails, bristleworms, couple of hermits.
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Old 04/08/2012, 10:18 AM   #11
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I use the salinity. It seems to test to the parameters that is on the label almost everytime I mix a batch. I put the salinity at 26 and let it mix for 24 hours minnimum, check the levels, adjust to hit my parameters and it is ready to go.

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Old 04/13/2012, 11:53 AM   #12
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Thank you Sk8r!

I'm just getting back into all this and wanted to start back with the basics. This puts it to where even I can understand. Thanks so much!

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Old 04/14/2012, 04:35 PM   #13
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Nice post! This is important stuff!

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Old 04/22/2012, 04:09 PM   #14
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Great dosing products from bulk reef supply. I use those to doe the Big 3. If you. Uh the big kit, you get gallon jugs with pump spouts, dosing cups, and enough minerals to last 6 months to a year!

Great write up!

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Old 04/22/2012, 09:00 PM   #15
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Old 04/25/2012, 02:45 PM   #16
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I feel smarter from reading that. But then again I get smarter every time I read a stop sign. But someone finally answered a question I've been asking for 2 months. And that was the question about calcium reactors and such. Thank you sk8er. I'm about to embark on a 125 gallon reef build after a 10 year break. A lot has changed in 10 years

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Old 04/25/2012, 04:07 PM   #17
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Old 05/01/2012, 11:00 PM   #18
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thanks for the refresher course..

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Old 05/02/2012, 10:22 AM   #19
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Wish I would have had something like this years ago. My LFS said all I needed was an under gravel filter and some salt mix (tap water was fine also). If it hadn't been for this place and I would have given up years ago due to failure.

Ordinary people are the ones scared to be themselves.
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Old 05/02/2012, 03:16 PM   #20
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Well put. I wish I read this 12 years ago. I've learned things the hard way during this addiction, I mean hobby.


Current Tank Info: 120 gallon reef/ 40 gal sump. Born on 5/30/13.
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Old 05/23/2012, 08:52 AM   #21
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Great write up and a good refresher of why I do the things I do for my tank.


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Old 05/25/2012, 11:37 AM   #22
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I'll be taping this to my tank

Thanks for the advice, i'm about to jump in after 3 year absence and this is very helpful. I always wondered why my tank never looked like the beautiful tanks on this site, and its probably because i only tracked Nitrate, Nitrite, Phosphate and pH.

Thanks for the tips.

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Old 06/05/2012, 10:52 AM   #23
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Very informative and helpful write-up. Thank you, sk8r.

Warmest Regards,

Marty, Amery and Seth :)

Current Tank Info: 100gal Low-tech, Low-cost Mixed Reef
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Old 06/08/2012, 07:45 AM   #24
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As others have mentioned, thank you for this. Great to see it all together for a refresher down the road too, going up in fish room!


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Current Tank Info: 90 Gal drilled Starfire Display from Miracles / Vertex Illumina SR1200 / 70 Gal Sump / Vertex Illumina SR600 / Vertex Alpha 250 / Vertex CA Reactor RX4 / Vertex Biopellets / 2 Vertex UF20's / I Might need to rename it the "Vertex Project"...
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Old 06/13/2012, 05:05 AM   #25
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Good article, well explained and easy to follow/understand. Have you written any others? If you have, do you have links to them?

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