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Converting a freshwater tank into saltwater tank

Do you own a freshwater aquarium that you always wanted to convert into saltwater aquarium but worried that it costs more maintenance? Fact is every kind of aquarium, big or small, needs some level of care and maintenance to keep them healthy and clean. Saltwater tank is no such exception. If you are enthusiastic about turning your freshwater tank into saltwater, just go for it if you are ready to dedicate time and care to the nurturing. Adding some salt to the prevailing freshwater will do nothing but kill your fishes and invertebrates. The whole system has to be analyzed and started all over again like you would do to a new tank.

Some of the equipments that your freshwater tank had been using could be used and some needs replacement. Here we shall one by one consider each aspect that has to be taken into account for getting your new saltwater aquarium ready.

First thing to consider is the tank itself. There is technically do difference between the material, glass, acrylic or silicone adhesive used in making of the tank. The same tanks are set up as freshwater or saltwater. The only thing you will need to analyze is the size of the tank. While a 10 gallons tank is appropriate for freshwater, a larger tank is needed for saltwater setup. Not that you cannot use the smaller tank as saltwater tank but it is difficult to set up a smaller saltwater tank compared to a larger one. It is better to begin with a tank of more than 50 gallons. Mostly people turn their small freshwater tanks into quarantine for new corals and fishes or healing fishes.


While freshwater fishes thrive well in gravel substrate, for tropical fishes in saltwater aquariums, it is necessary that you convert the sand bed into live sand or crushed coral. Allow the nitrogen cycle to begin once you have added the new bed of sand. Test frequently for level of ammonia and nitrite. You can add scoops of older saltwater tank’s sand to fasten the process. Also get live rocks to allow more of biological filtration to start.


Since filters and filtrations plays a very important role in thriving of a saltwater tank, you old filters need to be replaced to prevent nitrite problems over the years. The small hang-on-tank biowheel and box, or in-tank corner type filters that are by and large used in freshwater tanks are more or less hopeless in saltwater tanks. The old undergravel filter (UGF) set ups throw in nuisance nitrate troubles as the tank matures. They have lost their recognition as superior filtration systems like wet-dry trickle and canister type filters with bio-media chambers have been introduced. You must research on the type of filtration apt for your tank depending on weather you want it to be a fish only tank or a reef tank.

4.Pumps and Powerheads

Your freshwater tank’s pumps and powerheads can be used in saltwater tanks too provided that they are rated safe for saltwater usage. If you are not sure about this factor, research a bit to be assured. However, most aquarist will advise on usage of more pumps and powerheads in a saltwater compared to the freshwater counterpart. For thriving of corals more water movement is needed and that can be achieved by adding some more pumps and powerheads.


The normal output florescent lights in freshwater tank will work fine if you are opting for a fish only tank. Along with the old lights you might also add another actinic blue bulb to enhance the looks of the tank and color of the fishes. The problem comes with light hoods which may not be able to withstand the corrosive nature of saltwater tanks. Opt for a more reliable lighting system and research well before getting one from a local store. If the tank has to contain corals, the entire lighting system has to undergo replacement. More stronger and high intensity lights are needed for thriving of corals that make use of lights in photosynthesis.


The heater for your freshwater tank will most probably meet the requirements for your saltwater tank, provided that it is working fine and rated safe to use in saltwater tanks. You will need to use a different test kit as the chemicals used in freshwater test kits are completely dissimilar from those found in saltwater test kits.
Well, that is all the changes you need to make to have a ready tank for saltwater set up. Was it that difficult? And yes, what you need to take care of is the setting up part. Make sure your tank has undergone the new tank syndrome and the level of ammonia and nitrites are zero before bringing in corals and fishes. Also research on the species you are going to bring in as the eating habits are likely to differ from freshwater fishes. Make sure you don’t add those plastic decorations in saltwater tank as marine fishes are gazers that will nibble them off and block their digestive system. Act now and transform your freshwater tank into a saltwater wonder that you always yearned for.