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How to Successfully Switch Aquarium Salt Mixes


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A trusted brand of quality synthetic salt mix is essential for a thriving saltwater aquarium. After all, it provides the foundation for a successful ecosystem capable of sustaining marine life. But how do you choose a brand that delivers the results you desire, and what do you do if your current brand is not meeting your expectations?

Which Salt Mix Is Right for Me?
There are many different salt mix brands, each with unique chemical compositions and attributes designed to address the specific needs of different marine aquarium systems. Though there are many variations, synthetic salt mixes can be generally grouped into two types - salt formulated for fish-only and Fish-Only-With-Live-Rock (FOWLR) aquariums and salt for reef aquariums.

Synthetic salt mixes made for Fish-Only and FOWLR aquariums contain major and minor elements in concentrations that mirror natural seawater. Salt mixes designed for reef aquariums expand upon this and incorporate higher levels of calcium, magnesium, and other select minerals required by corals and reef-building organisms. In general, choose the salt mix that best matches your marine aquarium setup type (i.e. use "reef" salts for reef aquariums and "standard" salts for fish-only and FOWLR aquariums).

Get to Know Your Salt Mix
Once you've selected a salt mix and used it for a while, you develop a keen relationship. You become aware of distinct quirks and characteristics unique to your particular experience and aquarium setup. Some of the "intimate details" you discover may be minor inconveniences whether it's the length of time it takes for the salt to mix into a clear solution or the undissolved residue it leaves behind. More serious concerns may include inconsistent parameters as well as a lack of coral growth.

When to Switch Your Current Salt Mix
Preference is often subjective, meaning different hobbyists may like or dislike the same salt for different personal reasons. However, performance is objective. If your current brand is not providing the results you desire or (more importantly) require, perhaps it's time to switch brands. While seemingly simple, switching salts is a delicate process - especially when caring for corals and other animals sensitive to changes in water parameters. Each salt mix brand has a unique chemical composition, meaning an abrupt change in salt mix use can result in a potential "shock" that can negatively affect the health of your aquarium inhabitants.

Acclimating Aquarium Inhabitants to a New Salt Mix
The process of switching your salt mix is comparable to the water chemistry acclimation process you perform before you introduce new arrivals to your aquarium. Switching your salt mix is, in essence, implementing this process on a larger scale and at a longer interval. The salt mix acclimation process involves removing old-salt-mix water and replacing it with new-salt-mix water. This must be done in very small increments until 100% of the old-salt-mix water is replaced by the new-salt-mix water.

Gradual Switch via Weekly Water Changes
After you prepare your new salt mix in your saltwater mixing container, perform weekly water changes using your new-salt-mix water. The volume to remove and replace depends on the type of inhabitants you keep in your marine aquarium. For coral reef aquariums or systems housing sensitive inhabitants, perform a 5-10% weekly water change. For Fish-Only or FOWLR systems, perform a 10-20% weekly water change.

It may take several months before you are completely switched over to the new-salt-mix water. Just like the water chemistry acclimation process, it is crucial not to rush this process. The slow and steady removal and replacement of your current saltwater with new saltwater ensures a stable transition and dramatically reduces potential shock due to changes in water chemistry.

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