It All Starts With Water
ďGood aquarists donít maintain aquariums. They maintain water.Ē
ó A Wise Aquarist

Over time, aquarium water gets dirtier and depleted of essential elements, and it will never improve on its own. Because water quality is so important, and it always gets worse over time, starting out with proper water is crucial to aquarium success. This is true when starting a new tank, doing water changes, and topping off your aquarium when water evaporates.

Here are instructions for how to prepare water for the four main types of aquariums: Freshwater Fish Tanks, Planted Aquariums, Saltwater Fish Tanks, and Reef Aquariums.

Freshwater Fish Tanks (no plants)
In most freshwater aquariums, the best way to prepare water for the aquarium is to use tap water with a water conditioner. Tap water contains chlorine and ammonia, and a high quality water conditioner will remove both of these toxic compounds and make the water safe for fish. Our favorite water conditioner is Seachem Prime. You should add the water conditioner to all water change water and top off water that you use.

There are also many other undesirable compounds in tap water that are not toxic to fish but will cause excessive algae. With the low light levels that most fish only tanks receive, this is not a problem. If you are experiencing algae problems it may be worth switching to reverse osmosis (RO) water to help solve these issues.

Planted Aquariums
In planted aquariums the emphasis is on keeping live plants. In planted aquariums there is more light than in fish only tanks and the plants use minerals in the water to grow. These things combined together make reverse osmosis water combined with a remineralizer the best choice for planted tanks.

Tap water often has extra nutrients such as phosphate and silica that can cause algae blooms, and it often doesnít have all of the calcium, magnesium and other elements that plants need to grow. This is not to say that tap water canít work, only that the quality of tap water varies widely and without knowing exactly what is in your tap water the path with the greatest chance of success is RO water with a remineralizer.

You can make your own RO water with an RO system such as the AquaticLife Twist-In Compact 4-Stage RO Unit, or you can purchase RO water from your local fish store or grocery store. RO water is extremely pure and doesnít have all of the minerals that plants need. You can add minerals to RO water using Brightwell Aquatics Remineraliz, or a more natural solution such as Sera Alder Cones.

You only need to add remineralizer when you start an aquarium or do a water change, and not when you top off the tank. This is because only the water leaves the aquarium through evaporation and the minerals stay in the water. Top offs with pure RO water are ideal.

Saltwater Fish Tanks
Saltwater fish tanks are aquariums with saltwater fish but no corals and at most a few invertebrates. In saltwater fish tanks, tap water can work but most aquarists will experience a significant improvement in the amount of nuisance algae if they use RO/DI (deionized RO) water. RO/DI water is more pure than RO water because the water goes through an extra filter stage to make the RO water even cleaner. You can use an AquaticLife Twist-In Compact 4-Stage RO/DI Unit to make RO/DI water or purchase the water from your local fish store.

In saltwater aquariums you will need to mix salt in with your water before starting your tank or performing a water change. When topping off you do not want to add saltwater. This is because the water in the aquarium evaporates, but the salt stays. Topping off with saltwater will slowly raise your tankís salinity while topping off with RO/DI water will keep your salinity stable.

When selecting a salt for your saltwater fish tank simply choose the most affordable salt. The extra minerals in expensive salts are important for reef aquariums but do not matter for fish. Our favorite fish salt is Instant Ocean.

Reef Aquariums
A reef aquarium has both saltwater fish and corals, and for reef aquariums you want to use RO/DI water and high quality salt with trace elements.

There are two important reasons why you want to use RO/DI water with all reef aquariums.
1. Reef aquariums have very intense lights, and the more light you have the more algae you will have. RO/DI water is so clean that nuisance algae canít thrive in itóeven under intense light.
2. Corals are very sensitive to many pollutants in the water supply. An RO/DI will get you water as pure as possible.

Corals rely heavily on trace elements in the water. A high quality salt mix will have these trace elements.

When selecting a salt for your reef aquarium there are many good options. Our favorite options are Instant Ocean Reef Crystals and Two Little Fishies AccuraSea1. Reef Crystals is affordable and has some of the highest concentrations of calcium, alkalinity and other trace elements. AccuraSea1 is a bit more expensive, and we believe it is the highest quality salt on the market.

We also recommend Two Little Fishies AccuraSea1 salt because of the way it is packaged. The 50 gallon box has 10 individually packaged 5 gallon salt mixes that solve the problem that many aquarists run into when they do not use all the salt in a container. When an entire container of salt is not all used at once you run the risk of making salt with either too much or too little trace elements. When a bucket of salt sits for a long time, the heavy elements in the salt mix tend to settle at the bottom of the bucket while the lighter elements end up on the top (a process known as stratification). As a result of this, the parameters of your saltwater vary from water change to water change.

Two Little Fishies puts their salt in 5 gallon packets so that you can use all of the salt in the packet at once and stratification is not an issue. The small 5 gallon packets also make mixing salt in 5 gallon buckets extremely easy.

For a basic RO/DI system the AquaticLife Twist-In Compact 4-Stage RO/DI Unit, 100 GPD works well. For a top of the line unit we recommend the SpectraPure MaxCap RO/DI System. Or, you can purchase water from your local fish store. Just like with saltwater fish tanks, you only want to use saltwater when starting an aquarium or doing water changes. Top off water should be pure RO/DI water.