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Freshwater or Saltwater: Which One is Best For You?

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Freshwater and saltwater aquariums are both great options for those who love fish! However, both have different pros and cons and have different requirements.

Freshwater tanks are less expensive to maintain with a less costly fish assortment. The fish are also more resilient. However, if you are looking for a scenic tank, salt water is the way to go. There is a variety of beautiful saltwater fish to choose from, but the setup will be more expensive.

Making an informed decision prior to purchasing any fish is crucial. There are many steps to take prior to even bringing fish home, such as cycling your tank. Read on to learn more!

Freshwater Aquariums

Planted tropical freshwater aquarium


Cost is a big factor in deciding what kind of aquarium you want to start. Although freshwater aquariums do have a cheaper start-up and maintenance cost as opposed to a saltwater system, there are a few things that you will need to invest in prior to starting your aquarium. 

The supplies and equipment that you will need to purchase for your freshwater tank, besides the tank, stand, and lid, include a water conditioner, fish filter system, an aquarium heater, lighting, substrate, and aquarium test strips

Water Conditioner

A water conditioner is very important because it introduces the right kind of bacteria into the aquarium water, which breaks down waste and takes care of ammonia from the waste inside your tank.

The water conditioner is essential in starting as well as maintaining your tank in order to give your pet fish a healthy habitat to live in. It also removes chlorine.

Filter and Heaters

Once you have decided on a tank to purchase it is very crucial to find and buy the right aquarium filter system. Where there are different sizes of power filter systems, it is important that you purchase one that is for the size tank you bought.

For example, if you have purchased a 20-gallon tank, you will use a power filter that is suitable for a 20-gallon tank. 

Having an aquarium heater is crucial in keeping your tank and fish at the right temperature.

There are different temperature requirements for different kinds of fish, so it is important to do research on the types of fish you would like so you can purchase the appropriate sort of heater.  Tropical fish need to be in a  tank that is between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 


There are many different lighting options that you can choose for your fish tank, and prices vary depending on the size and appearance that you want your tank to have.

You may also want to keep in mind the longevity of your purchase of lights for your tank. 

For example, LED lights are more expensive than Fluorescent bulbs, but they last longer and use a smaller amount of power as well. You may also choose to use lighting strips of varying colors for a more personalized tank.

Test Strips

Fish aquarium test strips are critical in starting and maintaining your tank water. It is very important to allow your tank to cycle through before adding in your fish.

A test kit can tell you the overall health of the water to make sure that your tank is ready for fish, as well as maintaining that healthy habitat by telling you if levels of nitrate or pH levels.


Substrates also have another important role in your tank as well. It gives your tank a surface for all the good bacteria needed in your tank to grow.

Although substrates come in a variety of choices, it is important to choose the right one for you and what will be in your tank.

If you choose to have growing plants inside of your tank then the appropriate substrate is needed if those roots need to be covered. 

Visual Appeal

The visual appeal of a freshwater tank includes the fact that it looks more natural like a creek or pond. In a freshwater tank, you can have plants that give it more of a natural look, but they do require more care than fake plants.

The variety of substrates (rocks, pebbles, sands) that you can choose from for your freshwater aquarium can give you pops of colors, or a more natural look if you choose sands.

Keep in mind most of these are neutrals and you may want to add fish with a variety of colors, such as a red swordtail or colorful guppies.


Not only are freshwater tanks cheaper to start and keep up, but they also tend to be a lot easier to maintain than saltwater tanks. It’s recommended to change 15%- 25% of your water weekly. 

This is done with regular tap water and conditioning treatment. The amount that you would need to do personally varies on the amount of fish and plants in your tank.

If you have a fairly full tank you will want to change more than that of a smaller less populous tank. 

Other tasks that you will need to do in order to maintain your freshwater tank include checking filters, heaters, and lights, to ensure they are working properly. You also need to clean up excess food and waste from the bottom of your tank.

Varieties of Fish

Although more limited in your choice of fish in a freshwater tank, there are still plenty of beautiful fish to choose from. Some of the types of fish include guppies, mollies, platys, plecos, cichlids, Glofish, angel fish, and many more!

Saltwater Aquariums 

Coral reef saltwater aquarium


The cost of a saltwater aquarium is more than that of a freshwater tank. There is additional equipment needed besides the basic setup of a freshwater tank listed above.

This makes a saltwater tank more expensive to set up and maintain. Additional equipment needed includes:

  • Salt Mix
  • Sump pump
  • Extra aquarium test kits
  • Hydrometer
  • Protein Skimmer
  • Powerheads


Maintaining a saltwater tank is more demanding than a freshwater tank. 

During the first few months of starting a saltwater tank, keeping up with a water change schedule is crucial. 

Saltwater tanks need to be done every 1-2 weeks, this is done with specialized salt and is best done using Reverse Osmosis filtered water as opposed to regular tap or well water. 

Also, if you have coral; they need more light, and you will end up with more algae inside your tank, making this a part of your 1-2 week maintenance. 

Visual Appeal

Saltwater tanks tend to be more colorful naturally as opposed to freshwater tanks. Adding live coral to your saltwater tank will give off the appearance of an actual coral reef.

There is also a larger variety of fish to choose from for a saltwater tank which makes the aquariums colorful and more exciting to see. 

Live coral comes in various shapes and sizes; it tends to be more visually appealing than store-bought decorations you commonly see in freshwater tanks.

However, with corals comes more work as mentioned above. Not to mention the price tag on larger corals can become very expensive. 

Aside from corals, there are a variety of live plants that can be added to the saltwater tank as well. The cost depends on your wants. 

Varieties of Fish 

As stated, there is a larger variety of fish for a saltwater aquarium. Some examples include clownfish, blue tangs, yellow tangs, royal grammas, and even seahorses!

Keep in mind that these fish are more expensive than their freshwater counterparts. On top of this, saltwater fish are not as resilient as freshwater fish. 

Therefore, if you do not have time to check parameters often and do regular maintenance, taking care of a saltwater tank may not be for you.