Top Five Beginner Saltwater Mixes

Updated 2024

With so many sea salt mix options available, it can be overwhelming for beginners. Let’s start with the basics: any sea salt mix designed for home aquariums will generally yield good results for saltwater fish.

However, when it comes to adding corals, things get a bit more complex. Thriving corals require careful consideration of factors like coloration, polyp extension, trace elements, calcium, and alkalinity.

Experienced reefers often have brand loyalties and swear by their preferred options. At this point I have tried most of them, and I’ve definitely seen some differences.

Price is an important factor to consider, especially since regular water changes can become costly with large aquariums. Keep this in mind when making your final decision.

It’s crucial not to change your salt mix too frequently once your tank inhabitants have acclimated to their environment. Sudden changes can cause stress, so I recommend choosing one of the options below and sticking with it.

Lastly, don’t forget to get a refractometer! The one below is my recommended choice. It will help you accurately measure salinity and ensure the success of your saltwater aquarium.

Which salt do I use?  I’ve been a Tropic Marin Pro Reef Salt user for several years now.  The primary reason for this is it mixes clear without any dirty residue, and since I store it in a 50 gallon barrel, that means I don’t have to clean out the barrel often. But honestly, they will all work just fine, so choose one and stick with it.

The exterior grey plastic case for a saltwater aquarium refractometer and a small bottle of calibration fluid sitting next to it.

5. BrightWell Aquatics NeoMarine Salt Mix

One of the standout features of this salt is its origin in the USA, making it a great choice for those who prefer to buy local products. While it doesn’t necessarily make it superior to others, it’s a nice option for American buyers.

Interestingly, a friend of mine with a massive 600-gallon tank swears by Brightwell Aquatics products for all his dosing and supplement needs.

You can easily find this salt in either 50 or 150-gallon sizes, and for those looking to buy in bulk, they offer an astonishing option of ordering up to 5,000 gallons of mix at a time! Well, that’s quite an impressive quantity, even for the biggest aquariums out there!

When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, this salt blend provides the following levels:

– Calcium: 413 ppm
– Alkalinity: 7.5 dKH
– Magnesium: 1290 ppm

For those based in the USA, it’s definitely worth checking out Brightwell Aquatics to see if this salt might be the perfect fit for your aquarium needs.

4.Tropic Marin Sea Salt Mix

product close up of white box of seawater mix from Tropic marin with an hand drawn image of a green coral with purple tips

Tropic Marin, a German company with a rich history dating back to the 1960s, was among the pioneers in manufacturing commercially available sea salt mixes. For beginners, this longevity translates to a trustworthy and reliable product.

They offer three different types of sea salt mix. If your focus is primarily on keeping fish, their Classic Sea Salt would suffice. However, it’s worth noting that this particular option is on the higher end in terms of cost. Therefore, unless you have specific reasons for choosing it, you might want to explore some of the other options.

Their Pro Reef Salt Mix is the one I use on all of my tanks, and when mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, here’s what it looks like:

– Calcium: 440 ppm
– Alkalinity: 7 dKH
– Magnesium: 1350 ppm

Overall, Tropic Marin’s reputation and long-standing presence in the industry make it a brand you can trust, especially for those looking for high-quality sea salt mixes.

And as a bonus, it doesn’t have any crazy mixing requirements, so you can just dump it in and let it mix.  Plus it’s clean, unlike some of the other salts on this list.

3. Red Sea Salt Mix

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’ve had several since.

I love this salt.  It is about $15 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

The only issue with any Red Sea salt is they have rather specific mixing requirements that you need to follow.  Not a deal breaker, but be aware.

2. Red Sea Coral Pro Salt Mix

At the #2 spot, we have what I consider to be an upgrade from the standard Red Sea Salt Mix. While it may be slightly pricier, many reefers view it as the best salt option available.

(Okay, I wrote that last paragraph years ago… and I’m not sure it’s true anymore.  While this is a good salt, I don’t know of many hobbyists who consider this the best option :-))

True to its name, this mix is specially formulated to promote robust coral growth, boasting higher levels of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium. When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025, you can expect the following levels:

– Calcium: 465 ppm
– Alkalinity: 12 dKH
– Magnesium: 1390 ppm

These numbers surpass those of any other sea salt mix on the list. For beginners, this means that by diligently conducting weekly water changes, you may never need to supplementally dose calcium, alkalinity, or magnesium—unless, of course, you have a large system (say, over 60 gallons) filled with demanding lps and sps corals!

In my household, I manage up to five saltwater tanks at once, totaling over 200 gallons of water. As water changes became quite costly, and only two of my tanks have coral, I made the switch to Instant Ocean Reef Crystals to save some money!

Again, you have to be careful how you mix this, and I’m not sure how well it stores.  I’ll put a link to a great BRStv video below all about storing salt.  

1. Instant Ocean Sea & Reef Salt

Instant Ocean, owned by Spectrum Brands (known for Black + Decker, Marineland, Iams, and more), is one of the most popular sea salt mixes in the hobby. It is widely available both at your local fish store and online.

They offer two types of sea salt mix. The Instant Ocean Sea Salt is perfect for fish-only systems or lightly stocked aquariums with corals. When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.026, expect the following parameters:

– Calcium: 400 ppm
– Magnesium: 1320 ppm

For a fish-only setup, this is an excellent choice. However, if you plan to incorporate corals, I recommend spending a bit more and opting for Instant Ocean Reef Crystals.

Reef Crystals is specially formulated with higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium, and at just $61 for 200 gallons, it is one of the most cost-effective options available.

Personally, I use Reef Crystals for all of my systems, and when mixed to a specific gravity of 1.026, the following parameters are typically observed:

– Calcium: 455 ppm
– Alkalinity: 8.0 dKH (based on my own testing)
– Magnesium: 1345 ppm

Ultimately, any salt from this list will work well, so choose one that suits your needs and stick with it!

The biggest downside of either Reef Crystal Salts?  They mix dirty.  Not a big deal if you make a fresh batch every week in a five gallon bucket, but if you store it like I do, it’s super annoying that every couple months you have to scrub out your barrel.  If you plan on storing salt and want a clean container, don’t go with Instant Ocean.

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