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Essential Aquarium Equipment

by Brian Dunleavy
Essential Aquarium Equipment

Whether you are setting up your first saltwater tank or you are adding another aquarium to your home, you will need the essential equipment for it to function. 

If you have walked into your local fish store (LFS) or spent hours browsing the internet, then you will know the extensive amount of aquarium equipment available for hobbyists. Many pieces of aquarium equipment are expensive and unnecessary, so we have listed the essentials in this article to help you out. Let’s dive straight in!

What Equipment Is Essential For Saltwater Aquariums?

List of contents:

  • Aquarium
  • Aquarium Stand
  • Aquarium Lid/Hood
  • Protein Skimmer
  • Powerheads
  • Return Pump
  • Heater 
  • Thermometer
  • Lighting
  • Substrate
  • Fish Nets

  • Aquarium

    Your budget and the type of tank inhabitants you plan on keeping inside your saltwater aquarium will determine the size of the tank you need. We always believe the bigger, the better! While nano aquariums are great, there is nothing more aesthetically appealing than a large mini-ocean in your home. 


    Aquarium Stand

    If you have ever tried to move an aquarium, you will know how heavy they are! Aquariums are heavy on their own, add water into the mix, and you have a heavy home display. 

    Placing your reef aquarium (particularly a larger display) on top of a bookcase or desk may not be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the aquarium tank and water. We always recommend a stand designed to hold the weight of an aquarium, and the good news is that many aquariums come with a specific stand included in the price. 

    Another thing that is worth mentioning is your warranty. Why? Well, most aquarium warranties immediately become void when they are not placed on an appropriate aquarium stand. Aquarium stands come in different materials and colors, so that they fit in with your current home furnishings. 

    Aquarium Lid/Hood

    Lids cover the top of the aquarium to prevent fish from jumping out of the water, protect the lighting fixture, and they aim to reduce evaporation. 

    Aquarium lids are separate from the lighting, and an aquarium hood has the light fixture connected to the lid. Lids that have lighting fixtures attached are typically made from plastic, therefore they are the cheaper option. Glass lids and hoods are more expensive, but they are easier to clean, and they provide a tighter cover. 

    Protein Skimmer (Filter)

    We could write a whole article on protein skimmers, but we will keep this short and sweet. Protein skimmers are the main filtration systems in saltwater aquariums. 

    We always recommend purchasing the largest protein skimmer that will fit into your aquarium sump to keep your aquarium squeaky clean and prevent system failures. 

    There are many different types, but we like the Bubble Magnus Curve for larger aquariums and the Eshopps Nano Skimmer for nano aquariums. 


    Powerheads are necessary to create a strong water flow inside your aquarium. Water movement is important for gas exchange, removing CO2 from the water and providing your fish with enough oxygen to breathe. 

    Powerheads also help in removing detritus and other waste like coral mucus from the aquarium by dispersing it into the water, so it can be filtered by the protein skimmer and sump. We love the Nero 5 Powerhead as it is small, powerful, and smart!

    Return Pump

    Another critical component for your saltwater aquarium is the return pump. Your sump is not only a place to store unsightly equipment such as protein skimmers, calcium reactors, and heaters in place, but they are also in charge of cleaning the aquarium water, so you need something to send the water back into the aquarium.

    This is why we hobbyists refer to return pumps as the heart of aquarium plumbing, and the artery of an aquarium.

    If you have a large setup, something like the Ecotech Vectra will suit your needs, but if it’s your first time you may find them too complex, so something like the Neptune COR may be a better choice. 


    Aquarium heaters are fully submersible, and to point out the obvious, they are used to increase the water temperature when needed. Many fish and tropical fish require warmer water to stay happy and healthy, therefore, heaters are an essential piece of equipment for reef aquariums. 

    Heaters need to be plugged outside the aquarium and must only be switched on when it is fully submerged in the water to prevent damaging the heating element. 

    When selecting an aquarium heater, consider the type of control, the wattage, and the number of heaters your aquarium requires. Aquarium heaters are either made out of plastic, glass, or titanium. We recommend titanium heaters, like the Finnex 500 Watt Heater because if they were to hit anything inside the aquarium, they will not shatter and cause electrocution inside your aquarium.

    However, titanium heaters can be expensive, so if you are on a budget then the plastic Tetra HT30 Heater or glass Eheim JAGER TruTemp Aquarium Heater may be a better choice. 


    Aquarium heaters will keep running until you turn them off, frying your fish if the temperature increases past their optimal range. So, if your heater doesn’t have a built-in thermostat, then you will need an aquarium thermometer to continuously measure the water temperature. 

    When installing a thermometer, make sure they are as far away from the heater as possible. Something like the Marine Floating Thermometer is cheap and easy to read, while providing you with accurate readings.

    If you have a larger budget, the AQUANEAT Aquarium Thermometer or the VIVOSUN LCD Digital Thermometer are two of the best on the market. 


    If you have corals or aquatic plants, lighting is a must. Some fish require light too, but not all the time. 

    Most of the time, aquarium lighting comes included with the lid, but you also have the option to buy aquarium lighting separately. We really like the EcoTech Marine RADION or the Aqua Illumination Prime 15 Fuge Light

    Rather than going into detail on the different types of lighting, check out our guide to aquarium lighting. This article goes into detail on the different lighting options for saltwater aquariums, including the pros and cons of each.


    Even if you don’t have aquatic plants or corals, keeping a naked glass bottom is not a nice environment for fish. Adding a substrate will make your fish feel at home, and later on, if you wish to add corals and plants, you will have somewhere to place them. 

    Smooth, dark-colored gravel is best, but you can also use aqua sand or aquarium soil. Gravel is also a great option as it adds beneficial bacteria to your aquarium water. Always ensure the gravel is smooth, to prevent damaging bottom-dwelling fish’s fins. 

    Fish Net

    There will be times when you need to catch your aquarium fish. Whether it be removing a sick or injured fish, or relocating them during a necessary deep clean of the aquarium, fish nets are the most common way to catch fish.

    Maintenance Equipment For Aquariums

    In addition to the obvious aquarium equipment above, you also need essential maintenance equipment to keep your aquarium healthy!

    Equipment For Maintaining Saltwater Aquariums:

  • Water conditioner
  • Test kits
  • Siphon 
  • Algae scrubber
  • Water buckets
  • Reference books or online care guides 

  • Summary

    It’s safe to say that there is no shortage of saltwater aquarium equipment to choose from. Setting up a new aquarium is challenging enough, so trying to figure out what you need and what you don’t can soon become very overwhelming. 

    We hope we have helped you swim in the right direction (pun intended!) with this article, but should you have any questions about aquarium equipment, or what equipment we have to offer, please do not hesitate to contact the Reefco Team.

    by Brian Dunleavy