What’s The Best Reef Salt Mix For Your Aquarium? (2019 Buyer’s Guide)

Red fire shrimp chilling on some corals

What’s the best reef salt mix?–Hands-down, this is the most debated question in the community.

 

Reefers live and die by which salt mix they use. But, with everyone claiming their choice is the number one, how do you determine which is the best for you?

 

Well, that’s exactly what you’re about to learn.

 

In this article, I’m going to explain exactly how you can determine which reef salt mix is the best for you.

Table of Contents

Scroll down to start reading, or jump to a specific section by clicking one of the links below:

 

Comparison table for aquarium salt mix

This is a table with an overview of all the reef salt I review in this guide.

 

How to pick reef salt mix

This is a long and detailed section explaining how to pick reef salt. It’s long, so if you’re just looking for quick answers I suggest you check out the table or click the link below to the individual reviews.

 

Best salt mixes for reef aquariums reviewed

Click this link to find the reviews for the different types available.

 

Conclusion: My top pick

This is where I share my top pick and why.

Quick Overview of The Aquarium Reef Salt Mixes Reviewed

Preview
Best For Fish Only Tanks
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt (200 gal)
Lowest Price (Our Pick)
Instant Ocean Sea Salt for Marine Aquariums, Nitrate & Phosphate-Free
Best For Heavily Stocked Tanks
Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE11230 Coral Pro Marine Salt for Aquarium, 175-Gallon
Kent Marine 02113 Reef Salt Mix, 58-Pound Box
Brightwell Aquatics ABANMAR150 Neomarine Marine Salt for Aquarium, 150-Gallon
Reef Salt, 600 L / 160 gal.
Title
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt (200 gal)
Instant Ocean Sea Salt for Marine Aquariums, Nitrate & Phosphate-Free
Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE11230 Coral Pro Marine Salt for Aquarium, 175-Gallon
Kent Marine 02113 Reef Salt Mix, 58-Pound Box
Brightwell Aquatics ABANMAR150 Neomarine Marine Salt for Aquarium, 150-Gallon
Reef Salt, 600 L / 160 gal.
Size
200 gallons
200 gallons
175 gallons
200 gallons
150 gallons
160 gallons
Calcium
400 ppm
490 ppm
465 ppm
550 ppm
420 ppm
442 ppm
Alkalinity
11 dKH
14 dKH
12 dKH
10 dKH
11 dKH
11 dKH
Magnesium
1320 ppm
1440 ppm
1390 ppm
1450 ppm
1380 ppm
1317 ppm
Price
from $8.39
from $6.79
from $92.73
from $52.36
$82.08
Currently not available
Prime
-
Best For Fish Only Tanks
Preview
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt (200 gal)
Title
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt (200 gal)
Size
200 gallons
Calcium
400 ppm
Alkalinity
11 dKH
Magnesium
1320 ppm
Price
from $8.39
Prime
Lowest Price (Our Pick)
Preview
Instant Ocean Sea Salt for Marine Aquariums, Nitrate & Phosphate-Free
Title
Instant Ocean Sea Salt for Marine Aquariums, Nitrate & Phosphate-Free
Size
200 gallons
Calcium
490 ppm
Alkalinity
14 dKH
Magnesium
1440 ppm
Price
from $6.79
Prime
Best For Heavily Stocked Tanks
Preview
Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE11230 Coral Pro Marine Salt for Aquarium, 175-Gallon
Title
Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE11230 Coral Pro Marine Salt for Aquarium, 175-Gallon
Size
175 gallons
Calcium
465 ppm
Alkalinity
12 dKH
Magnesium
1390 ppm
Price
from $92.73
Prime
Preview
Kent Marine 02113 Reef Salt Mix, 58-Pound Box
Title
Kent Marine 02113 Reef Salt Mix, 58-Pound Box
Size
200 gallons
Calcium
550 ppm
Alkalinity
10 dKH
Magnesium
1450 ppm
Price
from $52.36
Prime
Preview
Brightwell Aquatics ABANMAR150 Neomarine Marine Salt for Aquarium, 150-Gallon
Title
Brightwell Aquatics ABANMAR150 Neomarine Marine Salt for Aquarium, 150-Gallon
Size
150 gallons
Calcium
420 ppm
Alkalinity
11 dKH
Magnesium
1380 ppm
Price
$82.08
Prime
Preview
Reef Salt, 600 L / 160 gal.
Title
Reef Salt, 600 L / 160 gal.
Size
160 gallons
Calcium
442 ppm
Alkalinity
11 dKH
Magnesium
1317 ppm
Price
Currently not available
Prime
-

**Before reviewing the individual salt mixes, I’d like to talk about how you can effectively choose one for your current setup.

 

Otherwise, if you’re just here to get a detailed breakdown of your options, you can jump straight to the review section.

How to Pick The Best Reef Salt Mix for your Aquarium

Here’s the brutal truth when it comes to picking the best reef salt me:

 

Every brand is going to claim to have the best, the most pure salt mix, the best ratio of trace elements, and the best mixability etc.

 

Now, what you’ll find if you ask on any forum, is different hobbyists swear by different salt mixes.

 

It’s true, some salt mixes are superior to others. However, when it comes to high-quality mixes, the quality is debatable–there’s no one-size-fits-all.

 

Therefore, this is what you need to look at:

  • The big three: Calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium
  • Cost per gallon
  • What’s living in your aquarium?

The Big Three

These are the three most important components of your salt mix: calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium. The better salt mixes are going to have higher levels of each of these.

 

But, before we get into talking about the big three – calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium – what exactly is salt mix, and why do you need it in your reef tank?

 

The answer is that adding salt mix to your aquarium gives the tank water the less abundant chemicals found in natural seawater that will otherwise be missing from your aquarium.

 

Although seawater is known for its salt, it contains a lot more than just sodium chloride – standard table salt. There are a number of other salt crystals dissolved in as well, the most important of which are calcium and magnesium.

 

Seawater also contains a large amount of dissolved bicarbonate – the same stuff that’s in baking soda – in order to buffer the water against any sharp changes to its chemical composition that could endanger your fish and corals. Seawater mixes typically refer to bicarbonate as alkalinity.

 

As a result, the best salt mixes are going to have high levels of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium.

 

Calcium: Used by corals and invertebrates to help build their stony skeletons, the recommended concentration in a reef aquarium is 400 ppm (parts per million).

 

Alkalinity: Alkalinity is related to the amount of bicarbonate in your water and is important because unlike pure water, natural seawater has a pH somewhat higher than 7 – it’s somewhat basic.

 

Without alkalinity added in in the form of bicarbonate, your tank’s water will be acidic enough to dissolve corals’ skeletons and poison fish. The recommended range for alkalinity is 8-11 dKH.

 

Manufacturers typically measure alkalinity rather than bicarbonate for a reason.

 

Both calcium and magnesium add alkalinity to the water, so the amount of bicarbonate that you need in your salt mix can vary a lot based on how much of these other chemicals are in the mix. Measuring total alkalinity makes it easy to find a salt mix that will provide the right chemical conditions for your reef tank.

 

Magnesium: Magnesium is a trace mineral in natural seawater, meaning that it is found at extremely low abundances relative to chemicals like sodium, chloride, and calcium.

 

However, magnesium is extremely important for keeping alkalinity balanced – it interacts with bicarbonate to prevent it from precipitating as calcium carbonate, which would quickly remove much of the salt and alkalinity you added into the tank.

 

The recommended rage in a healthy reef tank is 1250-1400 ppm.

 

Most salt mixes come with calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium in the proper concentrations for a healthy reef tank, so you don’t need to purchase any salts separately.

Cost Per Pound

Once you’ve looked at the ‘big three’, the next point is to work out which is the best for your money.

 

You want to look further than just the cost per box.

 

Look at the cost per gallon.

 

You do this because all of the major brands tend to have the vital components covered.

 

Now, the standard box of salt could make anywhere from 150 to 200 gallons of saltwater, depending on the manufacturer. So it can be a bit tricky to determine which is the best for your money.

 

This is what you can do.

 

Take the price of the box and divide it by the number of gallons per bucket. Here’s an example:

 

Brand A costs $40 and can make 200 gallons of saltwater. 200 divided by 40 gives you a total cost of $0.20 per gallon of water.

 

Once you do this, it becomes much easier to work out how much you’re getting for your money.

What’s Living in Your Reef Aquarium?

Do you own a fish only tank? How demanding are your corals? These are the questions you need to consider.

 

And here’s why:

 

While reef salt mixes are largely similar, they contain slightly different amounts of calcium, magnesium, and alkalinity. Some reef mixes have higher concentrations of salts, while others have higher or lower alkalinity.

 

If your setup contains hard corals, you’re going to benefit from using a salt mix with higher levels of vitamins and trace elements.

 

Alternatively, if you’re using soft corals or a fish only tank, you may not require the extra benefits.

 

It’s also important to think about the total alkalinity that a reef salt provides. Hard corals will do better in higher alkalinity environments, while that added alkalinity may actually be worse for soft corals and fish.

 

Now, I’m not saying you definitely need the extra nutrients, as you can make up for it by dosing. It is possible to buy individual calcium and magnesium salts, as well as specific vitamin and trace element mixes that you can add to your reef water above and beyond the salt mix.

 

However, if you’re not the most experienced reef keeper it might be best to go with one that is designed for the type of corals you keep.

 

What’s the reasoning behind this?

 

Hard corals are constantly precipitating a calcium carbonate skeleton, which sucks out both calcium and alkalinity from your tank’s water. If the levels of nutrients in your tank are already low, the growth of coral skeletons can be enough to upset the chemical balance in your tank.

 

In addition, corals’ ability to grow depends a lot on the concentration of nutrients like calcium and bicarbonate. The lower the concentrations of these skeleton-forming chemicals are, the more difficult it becomes for corals to grow and remain healthy.

 

This is not nearly as much of an issue for soft corals as for hard corals since soft corals only produce a small coating of calcium carbonate skeleton to retain their shape.

 

In a tank that only contains fish, the balance of alkalinity is far more important than the exact concentrations of calcium and magnesium since fish can form calcium skeletons at much lower calcium concentrations than corals.

More Considerations

Beyond salt concentrations and alkalinity, there are a few things to think about when choosing a reef salt mix.

 

Some reef salt mixes are better at storing for long periods without going bad. If you have a small tank or only change the water infrequently, it may be necessary to purchase reef salt mix in smaller quantities to make sure it stays fresh.

 

In addition, watch out for different reef salt mixes that can alter the color of the water in your tank. While this won’t harm your fish and corals, it can make it difficult to see other pollutants in your tank and alter its aesthetics.

Best Salt Mixes For Reef Aquariums Reviewed

Now you understand what to look for when deciding which salt mix is best for you, you’ll be able to use the comparisons below to make a more informed buying decision about which one is right for you.

1. Instant Ocean Reef Sea Salt Mix

Features:

  • Calcium: 400 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 11 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1320 ppm
  • Size: 200 gallons

One of the most popular choices among hobbyist, due to it providing the required elements at an affordable price.

 

It is best used with fish only tanks or tanks using soft corals. You can still use this one with more demanding corals. However, it would require extra dosing.

Pros

  • Contains the required elements
  • Low cost per gallon
  • Consistent results
  • Ideal for fish only reef tanks

Cons

  • Slow to dissolve, may cloud your tank for a bit
  • Not ideal for demanding corals
Sale
Instant Ocean Reef Sea Salt Mix
A very popular choice amongst hobbyists, Instant Ocean Reef salt contains all the required elements for marine tanks.

2. Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt

Features:

  • Calcium: 490 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 14 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1440 ppm
  • Size: 200 gallons

The second from Instant Ocean, this one is an excellent option if you run a reef tank with more demanding hard corals.

 

It contains higher levels of calcium to help stony coral and coralline algae grow.

 

Extra trace elements will provide nutrients and vitamins to support the health and growth of your corals, anemones, and other invertebrates.

Pros

  • Contains the required elements to support demanding corals
  • Affordable
  • Dissolves quickly
  • Helps to neutralize trace heavy metals often found in tap water
  • Comes in a package of 4 separate bags which keeps the salt fresh and prevents it from clumping

Cons

  • A few users have reported a brown residue
Sale
Top Pick: Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Salt
Another popular choice, it's ideal for a reef tank with more demanding hard corals.

3. Red Sea Fish Pharm ARE11230 Coral Pro Salt Mix

Features:

  • Calcium: 465 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 12 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1390 ppm
  • Size: 175 gallons

Although nearly twice as much as the previous two, Red Sea Coral Pro gives you an excellent balance of the major elements needed for a healthy environment.

 

Containing no heavy metals or organic binders, this one is best if you’re keeping hard corals and invertebrates that will benefits from the extra trace nutrients provided.

 

If you’re keeping a heavily stocked aquarium, and you find yourself having to constantly replace nutrients, this is probably the salt mix for you.

Pros

  • Ideal for heavily stocked reef aquariums
  • Provides lots of nutrients
  • Fast dissolving

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Extra nutrients not necessary if you have low stock or fish only tank
  • Many reporting the box arriving damaged (no damage to salt)
Red Sea Fish Pharm Salt Mix
Offering an excellent balance of the major elemnets. It contains a lot of trace elements, so check this one out if you have hard corals and invertebrates that benefit from them.

4. Kent Marine Saltwater Aquarium Salt Mix

Features:

  • Calcium: 550 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 10 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1450 ppm
  • Size: 200 gallons

Popular because of how fast it dissolves in water without clouding it.

 

At a glance, it contains all of the elements needed to promote healthy coral. However, a number of users have reported having low calcium and magnesium once mixed.

 

One big positive is that this salt won’t affect the alkalinity or pH of your water.

 

Again, if you’re keeping hard corals and want them to grow fast, this is one you should consider as it uses Cora-Vite technology.

 

Kent Marine claims this gives your corals an unmatched marine environment.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Suitable for hard corals and fish only tanks
  • Fast dissolving
  • High growth rate for corals

Cons

  • May have inconsistent results regarding nutrient balance
  • Some users claim the salt arrived hard as a brick
Kent Marine Salt Mix
A fast dissolving mix, it contains all the elements you need for a healthy environment.

5. Brightwell Aquatics ABANMAR150 Neomarine Marine Salt

Features:

  • Calcium: 420 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 11 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1380 ppm
  • Size: 150 gallons

If you battle with magnesium levels, have pH issues, and/or run a ULNS (Ultra Low Nutrient System) and don’t want an Alk spike, you should consider this product.

 

It’s a very popular American brand with experienced reef hobbyists, with many reporting to have excellent results.

 

Brightwell have precision-formulated and extensively researched and tested over many years to attempt to replicate the natural ratios of the oceans major elements.

 

This mix provides consistent results and is suitable for hard and soft corals.

Pros

  • Provides an excellent balance of nutrients
  • Ideal if you struggle with magnesium levels or pH issues
  • Fast dissolving
  • Ideal if you run a low nutrient system

Cons

  • More expensive per gallon
  • Some report it having a bad smell
Brightwell Aquatics Neomarine Salt
An extremely popular American brand, Brightwell's precision-formulated mixture can produce excellent results.

6. Seachem Reef Salt

Features:

  • Calcium: 442 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 11 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1317 ppm
  • Size: 160 gallons

If you’re looking for a high-end salt mix that promotes the health, color, and growth of your corals–this might be the one you’re looking for.

 

Containing lots of calcium, magnesium, and strontium, it provides an ideal environment for promoting healthy, vibrant corals.

 

Although it’s been designed to not affect the pH or alkalinity levels, many have reported they’ve had to keep a close eye of the alkalinity in their aquariums.

 

Seachem Reef Salt contains high levels of boron, which can make traditional alkalinity/KH readings not very useful because you can’t tell how much of the KH is from carbonate (needed for coral growth) vs. borate (useful buffer, but not for coral growth).

 

Overall, the majority of users report their corals bursting into color after switching to Seachem Reef salt.

Pros

  • Use with fish only, soft corals, and hard corals
  • Dissolves well
  • Lots of trace elements
  • Reports of very bright corals

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Doesn’t dissolve as well as Instant Ocean
Seachem Reef Salt
A high-end salt mix that's known for promoting the health, color, and growth of corals.

My Top Pick

Lets be real.

 

None of these salt mixes are going to cause your reef tank any harm.

 

However, the truth is, every setup is different–it’s why many people love the hobby.

 

And guess what… even if you buy the most expensive salt mix, if you don’t keep on top of regular 20-25% water changes, you won’t get good results.

 

Therefore, this it what I recommend you do:

 

This is an expensive hobby, so give your wallet a break.

 

If you’re keeping a fish only tank or a mix with soft corals, use Instant Ocean Reef Sea Salt Mix. If you’re keeping hard corals or your aquarium is stocked heavily, use Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Reef Salt.

 

These are inexpensive investments, and huge numbers of hobbyists swear by Instant Ocean.

 

You can try them out, and if you don’t like the results, move on to a more expensive brand.

 

Happy reefing!

Sale
Top Pick: Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Salt
Another popular choice, it's ideal for a reef tank with more demanding hard corals.

Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher and I'm the creator and editor of this site. I've owned successful aquariums for the past 23 years. My mission is to educate, inform, and entertain on everything that's fish.

Last update on 2019-04-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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