20 Gallon Saltwater Tank: The Basics of Setting Up!

20 Gallon Saltwater Tank

20-gallon saltwater tank – So you’ve decided to venture into the world of saltwater aquariums and are ready to set up your 20-gallon tank?

Excellent choice!

In this article, we will guide you through the basics of setting up your very own saltwater tank, providing you with all the essential information you need to create a thriving aquatic ecosystem.

From selecting the right equipment to understanding the key components of the nitrogen cycle, we’ve got you covered.

By the end of this article, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful saltwater tank owner!

20 Gallon Saltwater Tank: The Basics of Setting Up!

Choosing the Right Tank

When it comes to choosing the right tank for your saltwater adventure, there are a few factors to consider.

First and foremost, think about the tank size.

A 20-gallon tank is a popular choice for beginners due to its manageable size and affordability.

However, if you have the space and budget, you can opt for a larger tank that will allow for more fish and coral options.

Next, decide on the tank shape.

There are various options available, including rectangular, cube, and bow-front tanks.

Each shape has its own aesthetic appeal, so it’s important to consider what will look best in your space.

Additionally, keep in mind that certain shapes may offer better viewing angles for your aquatic inhabitants.

Durability and thickness are important factors to check when selecting a tank.

You want to ensure that the tank is made of high-quality materials and is sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the water and the equipment you will be adding.

Thicker glass or acrylic tanks tend to be more durable and less prone to cracking or leaking.

Finally, look for tanks that come with built-in filtration systems.

These systems can save you time and effort in setting up external filters.

However, if you prefer to have more control over your filtration system, opt for a tank without built-in filtration and invest in a separate system.

20 gallon saltwater tank Selecting the Right Location

Once you have chosen the perfect tank, it’s time to find the right location for it in your home.

Stability and support are crucial aspects to consider.

Make sure you place your tank on a sturdy and level surface that can withstand the weight.

Avoid placing it on flimsy furniture or uneven surfaces that may cause the tank to topple.

While natural light may seem appealing, it’s important to avoid direct sunlight when selecting a location for your tank.

Sunlight can promote excessive algae growth and cause temperature fluctuations.

Instead, opt for a spot away from windows or use curtains or blinds to block out direct sunlight.

Proximity to electrical outlets is another factor to consider.

Your tank will require various equipment such as heaters, filters, and lighting, all of which will need to be plugged in.

Make sure there are electrical outlets nearby to avoid any inconvenience or the need for unsightly extension cords.

In addition to stability and convenience, it’s essential to maintain access to your tank for regular maintenance.

Choose a location that allows easy access to the top of the tank for feeding, water changes, and general maintenance.

You don’t want to struggle with cramped spaces or have to move furniture every time you need to tend to your tank.

20 Gallon Saltwater Tank


Purchasing Essential Equipment

Now that you have your tank and its location, it’s time to gather the essential equipment to ensure a successful saltwater aquarium setup.

A quality protein skimmer is a must-have for maintaining optimal water conditions.

It helps remove organic waste and pollutants, preventing the buildup of harmful substances in the tank.

Investing in a reliable heater and thermometer is crucial for maintaining a stable temperature in your tank.

Saltwater aquariums require specific temperature ranges, and fluctuations can be detrimental to the health of your fish and coral.

A good thermometer will help you keep a close eye on the water temperature.

Proper water circulation is vital for your tank’s health, and a circulation pump can help achieve this.

Look for an efficient pump that can provide adequate flow throughout the tank, creating a healthy environment for your aquatic creatures.

Consider investing in an automatic top-off system as well.

This handy device helps maintain consistent water levels by automatically adding freshwater when it evaporates from the tank.

It saves you from having to manually top off the tank multiple times a day, especially in saltwater aquariums where evaporation rates can be high.

Do your homework on lighting options and choose a system that suits your tank size and the needs of your coral.

Lighting plays a crucial role in the growth and coloration of coral, so it’s important to select the appropriate lighting system to ensure their well-being.

Preparing the Tank

Preparing the Tank

Now that you have all the necessary equipment, it’s time to prepare your tank for its new inhabitants.

Start by cleaning the tank thoroughly.

Remove any stickers or residue on the glass or acrylic and rinse the tank with warm water.

Avoid using any cleaning agents or chemicals that may be harmful to your fish and coral.

Next, add a layer of substrate to the tank.

Choose a substrate specifically designed for saltwater aquariums, such as live sand or crushed coral.

The substrate not only enhances the aesthetics of your tank but also provides a home for beneficial bacteria, which play a vital role in the nitrogen cycle.

Set up the filtration system according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This may involve installing an internal or external filter, or using the built-in filtration system if your tank has one.

Proper filtration is crucial for maintaining water quality and ensuring the well-being of your fish and coral.

Once the filtration system is in place, fill the tank with a saltwater mix.

You can either purchase pre-mixed saltwater or mix your own using a high-quality salt mix and freshwater.

Be sure to follow the recommended salinity level, usually measured in specific gravity or parts per thousand (ppt).

Cycling the tank is the next step in preparing your saltwater aquarium.

This process involves establishing beneficial bacteria in the tank that help convert toxic ammonia and nitrite into less harmful nitrate.

You can cycle the tank using a bacterial supplement or by adding a small amount of ammonia to kickstart the process.

Monitor water parameters throughout the cycling process to ensure optimal conditions for the bacteria to thrive.

20 gallon saltwater tank

Choosing Corals and Fish

Now that your tank is up and running, it’s time to bring some life into it by choosing corals and fish.

Before making any purchases, it’s important to research compatible fish species.

Consider factors such as size, temperament, and dietary requirements to ensure harmony in your tank.

When selecting fish, also consider the needs of each individual species.

Some fish require specific water conditions or tank setups, so make sure your tank can accommodate their needs.

It’s also important to consider the size the fish will grow into, as overcrowding can lead to poor water quality and stressed fish.

For beginner reefkeepers, it’s advisable to select corals that are known to be hardy and suitable for beginners.

Look for corals such as soft corals, mushrooms, and certain types of LPS (Large Polyp Stony) corals, which tend to be more forgiving and can thrive in a variety of tank conditions.

Ensure you understand the lighting requirements of the corals you choose.

Different corals require varying intensities and spectrums of light, so make sure your chosen lighting system can provide the necessary conditions for their growth and coloration.

20 gallon saltwater tank

Maintaining Water Quality

Maintaining water quality is crucial for the health and well-being of your tank inhabitants.

Regular monitoring of temperature and salinity levels is essential.

Fluctuations in these parameters can stress and harm your fish and coral.

Use reliable thermometers and refractometers to ensure accurate readings.

Test water parameters regularly to ensure that ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and other parameters are within the appropriate ranges.

Test kits are readily available and will help you keep a close eye on the water quality of your tank.

Regular testing allows you to spot any issues early on and take appropriate action.

Performing regular water changes is an important aspect of maintaining water quality.

Regular water changes help remove excess nutrients, replenish trace elements, and improve overall water parameters.

Aim for a water change schedule of 10-20% every two weeks, but adjust as needed based on your specific tank requirements.

Cleaning the tank and equipment is another vital part of water quality maintenance.

Regularly remove any detritus or debris from the tank using a gravel vacuum or siphon.

Clean the glass or acrylic surfaces to maintain maximum visibility and prevent algae growth.

It’s also important to clean or replace filter media regularly to ensure proper function.

Algae growth is a common issue in saltwater tanks.

To prevent excessive algae, take steps to minimize nutrient levels in the water, such as avoiding overfeeding and performing regular water changes.

Additionally, consider utilizing algae-eating fish or invertebrates as a natural means of algae control.

20 gallon saltwater tank

Feeding and Caring for the Livestock

Proper feeding is essential for the health and vitality of your fish and coral.

Offer a varied and balanced diet that includes a combination of high-quality flakes, pellets, frozen foods, and live foods.

Different species have different dietary requirements, so ensure you are providing the appropriate food for each fish.

One common mistake is overfeeding.

Overfeeding leads to excess waste and nutrient buildup in the tank, which can result in poor water quality and potential health issues for your fish and coral.

Feed your livestock only what they can consume within a few minutes and remove any uneaten food from the tank.

Observing fish behavior is crucial for identifying signs of illness.

Monitor your fish for any changes in appetite, swimming patterns, or unusual behavior.

If you notice any abnormalities, take immediate action to diagnose and treat the problem to prevent it from spreading to other inhabitants.

Monitor the growth and coloration of your coral on a regular basis.

Changes in growth rate, color loss, or tissue recession could indicate potential issues.

Adjust lighting, nutrient levels, or water parameters as needed to ensure the optimal health and vibrancy of your coral.

Provide appropriate hiding spots for your fish to reduce stress and promote a sense of security.

Rocks, caves, or coral structures can provide ideal hiding places for shy or territorial fish.

Creating a well-structured and natural-looking environment will also enhance the overall aesthetics of your tank.

20 gallon saltwater tank

Dealing with Potential Challenges

Saltwater aquariums can pose challenges, but with proper care and attention, they can be overcome.

High levels of ammonia or nitrite can be toxic to your fish.

Regular water testing and performing proper tank maintenance, such as water changes, will help prevent or address these issues.

Consider using bacterial supplements to further support the nitrogen cycle.

Fish aggression is another challenge that may arise in your tank.

Introduce new fish slowly and monitor their behavior closely.

Provide adequate hiding places to reduce territorial disputes and aggression.

If fish aggression becomes an issue, consider rehoming or separating the aggressive fish to maintain harmony in your tank.

Diseases and parasites can affect your fish and coral if not addressed promptly.

The best defense against diseases is a clean and well-maintained tank.

However, when issues arise, it’s important to identify and treat them early to prevent further spread.

Research common diseases and parasites in saltwater aquariums and have appropriate treatments on hand.

Calcium and alkalinity levels are crucial for the growth and health of coral and other invertebrates.

Regularly test these parameters and make adjustments as needed.

Supplements and additives can help maintain optimal levels, but proper dosing and monitoring are essential to prevent imbalances that can harm your reef inhabitants.

20 gallon saltwater tank

Expanding and Upgrading

As you gain experience and confidence in saltwater aquarium keeping, you may find yourself wanting to expand or upgrade your tank.

Research larger tank options and consider the space and resources available to accommodate a larger tank.

Upgrading filtration and lighting systems can greatly enhance the health and aesthetics of your tank.

Advanced filtration methods, such as a sump or refugium, can provide additional water volume and increased biological filtration.

Upgrading lighting systems can offer greater control over the light spectrum and intensity, allowing for further customization of the tank environment.

Consider adding more diverse coral species as you become more experienced.

Research the specific conditions and requirements of different corals to ensure they will thrive in your tank.

Adding a variety of corals can create a stunning and vibrant display, showcasing the true beauty of a saltwater reef.

If you plan to keep larger fish in the future, it’s important to consider their needs from the beginning.

Research their space requirements, diet, and compatibility with other tank inhabitants.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that your tank will be ready to accommodate the larger fish when the time comes.


Setting up a saltwater tank is an exciting journey that requires careful consideration and planning.

By choosing the right tank, selecting the appropriate equipment, and maintaining water quality, you can create a thriving and beautiful saltwater ecosystem.

Remember to research and educate yourself on the specific needs of your chosen fish and coral, and be prepared to address any challenges that may arise along the way.

With dedication and proper care, your saltwater tank will become a mesmerizing centerpiece in your home that will bring you joy for years to come.

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