Nano Reef: 10 Steps for a Quality Setup

Setting up a saltwater aquarium is expensive, so there is a miniature variant known as a nano aquarium that gives you the pleasure of observing ocean life in your home. Nano reef is a saltwater aquarium on a smaller scale.

Moreover, it requires minimal maintenance compared to a 125-gallon saltwater aquarium. But the number of fish you could have in it is lesser. Below are some examples of saltwater nano tank setup:

Steps To Setup Nano Reef

Here is a short guide on how to set up your nano tank in 10 steps:

Step 1: Choose A Fish Tank & Accessories

Depending on how many fish you want, the size of the tank is to be deterred accordingly. Three sizes are most common for a nano reef – 14, 29, and 40-gallon fish tanks. You can also read our guide on choosing the correct tank size.


Most common are Power Compacts, Fluorescent light tubes, and Metal Halides, which are superior to the other lighting systems due to the shimmering-like effect it creates in the water. Keep in mind that all light bulbs have separate Kelvins (measurement for the temperature of the color). You can use all of them for your nano reef, but 10 (actinic), 12 (actinic), and 20ks (actinic) are the most commonly used.

Nano Reef Aquarium

It all depends on what coloration you want to choose for your nano reef. Actinic lighting gives a strong and dark purple coloration that causes the corals and some fish to appear fluorescent. Depending on what type of nano reef you will create, you have to calculate how many watts per gallon you will need for the fish tank you are using-environment wise. 

You will need 4 watts per gallon for a soft coral nano reef. If you use stones and rocks for the coral nano reef, you’ll want to use 8+ watts per gallon.

Recommended Saltwater Aquarium Lighting:

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light

Related Review: Best Lighting for Coral Reef Aquariums


Heating for the nano reef is not a big issue unless your home is really cold. Sunlight and home heating help with most of the temperature build-up and balance, so you will need a small heater with 50w power or maybe even a 75w. Most people prefer the Ebo Jager heaters, as they have successfully used them for their nano reefs.

Because of the location of the tank, you may have more trouble keeping it cool throughout the hotter months of the year. In this instance, it is also beneficial to have an open-topped tank, as it allows for the attachment of cooling fans. If you are interested in nano reefs, you can even get a refrigerant cooler that is the size of a nano-sized particle.

Recommended Saltwater Aquarium Heater:

Eheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater


You’ll need a Powerhead that has a turnover rate of 20x gallons of the tank for circulation of the water. For example: for a 40-gallon tank, you will need an 800gph Powerhead.

You can use most filters for the nano reef. Still, it is recommended to use a submerged filter system with a protein skimmer to remove dissolving organic matter (food and waste) from the water, a mechanical and chemical filter. If you are creating a stony reef, you’ll need a calcium reactor because of the freshwater clamming, therefore needing a constant calcium supply.

Remember to plug all equipment into a ground fault before plugging it into an outlet. Also, use a grounding rod on the inside of the fish tank.

Recommended Saltwater Aquarium Filter:

MarineLand Penguin Power Filter

Step 2: Natural Filtration Method

If you want your system to succeed, get live sand and rocks. It’s best to choose your rocks curvy, so they can create the coral when they are placed together. Below is the recommended amount you will need per gallon: 

  • 1 pound of rocks per gallon tank
  • 5 pounds of sand per gallon tank

All of these tanks are equipped with an integrated filtration system, overflow and return pumps, and a modern appearance that will match any space in your home.

Nano Reef Tank Setup

Because phosphate promotes algae growth and inhibits coral growth, keeping phosphate levels under control in a reef aquarium is essential for a successful reef aquarium. Carbon and phosphate media should be changed once a month, and filthy filter floss should be thrown away and replaced as regularly as possible to keep the system running well. 

Nutrient export mechanisms like mechanical filtration and protein skimming are critical to operating a good reef tank. Mechanical filtration and protein skimming are two examples of such procedures.

Step 3: Location Of The Aquarium

All you need is a sturdy surface and well leveled that can withstand the full weight of the fish tank, which would be approximately 200+ pounds, depending on what type of fish tank you are using. Calculate carefully before placing.

Also, it is best to pick a spot for the tank where people walk by frequently because, in the first few weeks, the aquarium is stabilizing and needs supervision.

If you have a small amount of accessible space in your house, having a nano reef tank may be the ideal alternative for you. These compact tanks are meant to be transportable and easily found in several areas across the globe, including remote regions. When constructing a site for the Nano Reef Aquarium, it is essential to have a sturdy platform to operate with a flat surface.

An ideal aquarium site should, among other things, have a flat surface and be made of a material that is solid and durable enough to support the weight of the fish and the tank itself.

Step 4: Prep For Setup

You’ll need water with non-chloral water to fill your nano reef fish tank. It is best to get R.O. (reverse osmosis) water, which you can find in most pet shops in your area. High-quality synthetic salt for reefs is a must, accompanied by a hydrometer that can read the salt concentration in the water.

It would be best to use high-quality synthetic salt for your Reef to mimic seawater’s wetness and sensation accurately. At this time, a hydrometer would be pretty valuable to determine the concentration and amount of salt that has been added to the water in question.

Step 5: Filling The Tank

You are now ready to start by filling the aquarium with water, and when adding the salt, don’t forget to read the instructions by the salts manufacturer.

Nano Reef

As soon as you have finished all of the above processes and taken all essential precautions and safety measures, You are ready to fill the Nano Reef tank with water and add salt to the water.

Step 6: Salt Readiness

While adding salt, measure the gravity with your hydrometer. When it hits 1.023, place your Powerhead in the tank. It helps mix the salt.

1.023 will be displayed on the Hydrometer scale that you purchased, indicating that the water is ready to be combined with the salt in the container after passing the water through it. As shown in the photo, the water has reached this point after passing it through the Hydrometer that you purchased. 

You may also use the powerhead to mix it with the solution by plugging it into the solution while holding the powerhead in one position. Once the parts have been cut, it will be pretty easy for you to put them back together again.

Step 7: Inserting Proper Heater

Place the heater in and stabilize the water at 78 degrees. When the gravity is in balance with the water temperature, you can place the sand and rocks into the tank.

Then, once the temperature has stabilized and the tank has been appropriately balanced, it will be time to begin adding rocks and sand to the tank. The sand and rocks should be added after you have ensured that the gravity of the tank is suitably matched with the temperature of the water.

Step 8: Placing The Hardscape

Remember to place the rocks as widely as possible so that the fish can swim freely. Try not to worry about patterns. You can rearrange the rocks anytime you like. After the rock, pour the sand around them, and keep in mind that you must even out the thickness around the aquarium. Wait for the sand to settle in the water.

Reef Tank hardscape

After the rocks have been placed in the tank, you should pour the sand into the tank. It would be best if you evenly dispersed the sand throughout the tank to guarantee that the thickness of the aquarium surface is not unevenly thickened. 

Step 9: Cycling – Preparing The Tank For Fish

Before moving to their new home, you must prepare your fish for their new home. When you add your source of ammonia, don’t forget to check its level every 2 days. Repeat this process with the nitrites and nitrates.

 It’s safe for the fish only when all levels are down to 0 (except for the nitrates).

 You must supplement the water with ammonia every two days. You must monitor the rate or concentration of ammonia in the water daily until the ammonia level is zero.

It will follow the same technique to remove nitrites and nitrates for the removal of nitrates. When it comes to nitrites and ammonia, nitrates are non-toxic, and you may use them in amounts up to a maximum of 20 parts per million of the final product (ppm).

Step 10: Adding The Fish

When the cycling process is complete, you are ready to start adding the fish and coral that you want to keep to the nano reef. Do your research on what types of fish are compatible between them, what food they eat, what environment best suits them, what species of fish are most comfortable with the lighting you have, etc. Being informed will help you take care of your sea world in the nano reef.

Fishes in Reef Tank

You could notice that they get shaky and disturbed if you put in a significant number of fish simultaneously, and it is unlikely that they will have enough time to inspect the region surrounding the tank. Consequently, it is vital that you introduce fish to your tank one at a time and gradually increase the number of fish in your aquarium.

Make And Mix RODI Water

You should use only RODI water in your tank. Make use of a RODI filter that is specifically intended for nano-sized aquariums.

Because the impact on fish and invertebrates is so significant, applying additives directly in the tank is never a good idea because any dosage mistake might be fatal. Apart from managing calcium levels, alkalinity, and pH, it is best to avoid using additives and instead depend on a high-quality salt mix to keep the pH and alkalinity levels in balance.

Tap water is not advised since it contains contaminants that damage your tank. It’s best to use a RODI filter, such as the Aquatic Life RO Buddie, perfect for nano-sized tanks.

Keep in mind that water will gradually evaporate from your tank, so be sure to create enough for topping up. The use of an automated top-off system is popular among certain individuals since it is convenient and helps maintain your water’s parameters consistently.

Because water will gradually evaporate from your tank, it’s crucial to remember to give enough moisture for top-ups. Some people like to use an automatic top-off system, which is quite convenient and helps to keep your water parameters stable and constant.

Perform Routine Maintenance Of The Reef

Once your setup is ready, it is very important to perform routine maintenance on the Reef. It is to make sure the water is not harming any fish inside the tank. The most important thing you can do for your tank is to observe it daily.

It only takes a few minutes and is beneficial. The more familiar you are with your tank and its occupants, the quicker you will be able to recognize when something goes wrong.

Testing for calcium and phosphate and regularly monitoring your specific gravity/salinity and temperature are all recommended preventative measures.

Once your tank has been installed and is in operation, you will need to do periodic maintenance to ensure that everything stays healthy and continues to grow over time. It will be necessary in the future to do tasks such as water changes, equipment maintenance, and water testing, among others.


It is crucial which reef substrate you choose as it will impact your aquarium’s overall look and feel.

Reef Tank Substrate

Helpful bacteria live in the tank’s bottom substrate, enabling even non-living coral media to come to life and thrive quickly.

It is due to the coarser material interfering with the dispersion of fine sand into the water column, resulting in murky water and raining particles that might hurt corals and other aquatic organisms.

When it comes to setting up a reef tank, the depth of your sand bed is critical, and you don’t want to wind up with too much or too little sand.

Live Rock

Compared to larger tanks, nano tanks require less sand and rock to work correctly. Depending on the size and shape of the tank, you may only need 10 or 20 pounds of rock.

Make a mental note of how much live rock you may need before heading to your local fish store to save making a trip. It will help you restrict the amount of live rock you purchase. Excessive live rock might obstruct water flow and limit the space available for your fish and corals.

Bigger pieces are better suited for larger tanks, where you’ll have more options for designing the perfect aquascape. Nano reef aquariums benefit from smaller pieces more than bigger ones. The state of the aquarium will also have an impact on the result.

Two different sources are used to obtain the live rock: a local fish shop or an existing reef system. Choose a porous live rock of good quality to contain helpful bacteria and function as a filtration system. It’s critical to achieve a balance between over- and under-contribution.


A protein skimmer is an absolute must-have in every marine aquarium, if not the most important one. To achieve the objectives, they use foam fractionation in their work. In reality, there are different kinds of foam fractionators on the market advertised as such.

Skimmers are critical members of the filtration crew since they are responsible for actively managing trash levels. When it comes to nano tanks, waste management is vital, which makes it even more important to do it right.

It is advised that 10 percent to 20 percent of the water in the aquarium be changed every week to compensate for the lack of a protein skimmer in a nano reef aquarium.

Water Movement

Coral and fish are prone to health concerns and even death if the right flow rates are not maintained. For this reason, choosing the appropriate aquarium pump is so crucial.

All of these tanks are equipped with an integrated filtration system, overflow and return pumps, as well as a modern appearance that will match any space in your home. After the water has been cleaned, a high-grade charcoal filter and an absorbent polymer are employed to remove even more organics and polish them.

A diffusing powerhead with a flow rate of 620 gallons per hour (gph) should be utilized for primary water circulation. The skimmer contributes another 295 gph. To purify the water, you may use a hang-on filter with a flow rate of 280 gph. The mechanical filter enhances water to flow through the system and provides a location for a 100-micron filter pad to remove particulate matter.


A nano reef tank may be as primary as a conventional square tank with the addition of filters, heaters, and lights, or it can be purchased as an all-in-one solution with everything built into the tank.

To ensure that your natural filtration system works effectively and that your nano reef is appropriately set up, you must first get natural sand and rocks to improve the environment before installing a natural filtration system.

Change the filter material once a week to avoid nitrate introduction, which may quickly happen if these filters become dirt traps. The overall system circulation rate is roughly 1820 mph or 61 times the water volume per hour. However, this value is influenced by several factors.

An internal or hang-on power filter and an incandescent or mini-compact fluorescent lighting system are commonly included in these starter aquarium kits, which are typically smaller than 10 gallons in capacity. However, while these kits are designed primarily for freshwater setups with fish as the principal residents, more experienced hobbyists may use them to create modest biotopes.


One of the most typical ways for beginner aquarists to get started is with a 10-gallon aquarium or smaller one. This tank is not just the perfect size for a bedroom or office, but it is also a good size for individuals new to aquariums. Keep reading to learn about some of the best 10-gallon aquarium setups for various tank aims.

Remember that every colored bulb emits a specified color temperature. The bulb you choose has a specific temperature for the color it emits, known as the Kelvin temperature.

A basic aquarium LED light would suffice if you don’t want to keep corals and your tank doesn’t come with lighting. You may use a 10-gallon system to create a variety of tank landscapes, which we’ll go over in more depth later in this post.

Test/Observe Daily

Test your water throughout and after the cycle to ensure that everything is in working order and safe to introduce animals. When the ammonia level in your tank drops to zero, your tank is said to be cycled. Water changes, equipment maintenance, and water testing will be required shortly.

After you have added the water and equipment to your tank, you will need to be patient while waiting for the tank to complete its cycle. It might take anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks to complete.


The procedure for putting up a nano tank is simple. The following are some critical steps to ensure that you don’t neglect anything and are on the right track. You may choose from three different sizes to create a Nano Reef habitat, which is commonly accessible. To be successful, you must be able to take tiny, steady steps.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.