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Top Five Beginner Saltwater Mixes

So many different kinds of sea salt mix, where does a beginner begin?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.  If you buy a sea salt mix designed for the home aquarium, you will find success.  All the salt mixes are generally the same and are well suited for all types of saltwater fish.

Now, where it gets tricky is when you are considering adding corals.  Not only do you want your corals to survive, you want them to thrive. That means considering things such as coloration, polyp extension, trace elements, calcium, alkalinity, etc.

Reefers are often quite loyal to their brands, and swear by them.  I have personally used #’s 1-3 on my list, and know other hobbyists who swear by the other two.

A big consideration for me when deciding what to recommend to a beginner is price.  Since you will be doing a 10%-25% water change every week, you will be going through a lot of salt.  It can be an expensive maintenance chore, so keep that in mind before making your final choice.

One thing to consider, is to not change your salt mix too often.  Once your tank inhabitants are used to their environment, any sudden change could cause stress.  So I recommend choosing one below, and just going with it! 

And one last thing… Don’t forget to purchase a refractometer!  I recommend the one below!

5. BrightWell Aquatics NeoMarine Salt Mix ~$30-$74

One of my favorite things about this salt is it is manufactured in the good ol’ USA!  That doesn’t mean it’s any better than the others, just that, if you are American, you’ll be buying local.

A friend of mine has a 600 gallon tank in his house, and he exclusively uses Brightwell Aquatics products for all of his dosing and supplement needs.  

Easily available in either a 50 or 150 gallon size, if you want to buy in bulk, you can order up to 5,000 gallons of mix at a time!  Okay, that’s a bit much I think!

When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, expect the following:

  • Calcium 413
  • Alkalinity 7.5
  • Magnesium 1290

If you are USA based especially, check out Brightwell Aquatics to see if this might be the right salt for you.

4.Tropic Marin Sea Salt Mix ~$23-$106

Tropic Marin is a German company that started manufacturing sea salt mixes in the 1960s!  So they may have been the first commercially available saltwater mix ever available. All that means to you, the beginner, is you can trust this product.

They sell three different types of sea salt mix. If you are planning on primarily just having fish, just stick with their Classic Sea Salt.  This salt is expensive though, so unless you have a specific reason to use it, maybe consider #’s 1-3 on the list. Their Classic Sea Salt is their most affordable, and when mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025 you can expect:

  • Calcium 440
  • Alkalinity 7
  • Magnesium 1350

3. Red Sea Salt Mix ~ $27-$73

two red sea salt mix buckets side to side new in packaging

This is the first sea salt mix I ever used.  My LFS recommended it, and I have had no complaints.  As my system grew to more and more corals, I switched to their Coral Pro Mix instead.

Red Sea is a huge saltwater aquarium company, and probably best known for their high end (and expensive) marine aquariums.  They have recently started manufacturing their own LED Lights and Skimmers to boot!  My first tank was actually a Red Sea Reefer 170, and I still use their test kits to this day.

I love this salt.  It is about $20 cheaper than the Tropic Marin mixes, but in my opinion just as high of quality.  This salt is perfect for either a fish only tank or a tank with a small amount of corals. When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, you can expect the following:

  • Calcium 410
  • Alkalinity 7.7
  • Magnesium 1230

You won’t go wrong here.

2. Red Sea Coral Pro Salt Mix $28-$75

Coming in at #2 is what I consider an upgrade to the standard Red Sea Salt Mix.  It is slightly more expensive, but for many reefers, this is the best salt out there.

As the name states, it is formulated to encourage coral growth with higher levels of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium.  When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, expect the following:

  • Calcium 465
  • Alkalinity 12
  • Magnesium 1390

These numbers are significantly higher than any of the other sea salt mixes on the list.  What this means for a beginner is that as long as you stay up with your weekly water changes, you will likely never need to supplementally dose calcium, alkalinity, or magnesium. That is unless you get a large system (let’s say over 60 gallons) stocked with lps and sps corals!

In my household, I run up to five saltwater tanks at a time, with a total water volume of over 200 gallons.  Water changes were getting expensive, and only two of my five tanks have coral. So I made the switch to Instant Ocean Reef Crystals to save some money!

1. Instant Ocean Sea & Reef Salt ~$5-$62

Owned by Spectrum Brands (think Black + Decker, Marineland, Iams, etc), Instant Ocean is probably the most widely used sea salt mix in the hobby.  It is easily available at your LFS and online.  

They manufacture two types of sea salt mix.  Instant Ocean Sea Salt is perfect for a fish only system, or an aquarium only lightly stocked with corals.  When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.026, expect the following parameters:

  • Calcium 400
  • Magnesium 1320

If you plan to run a fish only system, this would be my go to.  But, if you want to add some corals, spend the few extra bucks and go with Instant Ocean Reef Crystals.

Reef Crystals is formulated to have higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium.  And at only $61 for 200 gallons, it is the most affordable option out there.

This is the salt I use on all of my systems, and when mixed to a specific gravity of 1.026, expect the following (Reef Crystals):

  • Calcium 455
  • Alkalinity 8.0 (from my own testing)
  • Magnesium 1345

Really though, you won’t go wrong with any of the salts on this list, so just choose one and stick with it!