Reef keeping is a very gratifying hobby but it does take a lot of work to successfully maintain a thriving reef tank. Weekly and monthly maintenance chores such as water changes, re-calibrating pH probes, testing parameters, swapping out carbon or kalkwasser all help to keep a captive reef firing on all cylinders.


My Reef Creations Nilsen (Kalk) Reactor


In addition to these “light” chores, it is critical to have a plan in place for some major maintenance tasks. Below is my list. At the very least, I recommend doing these on an annual basis.

  • Replace 1/4″ flexible tubing from kalkwasser reactor to sump. This is for my top-off water and I do this to prevent clogs.
  • Replace all 1/4″ tubing connected to calcium reactor. Again, this is done to prevent clogs from residue that might build up over time.
  • Clean all probes in sump. The primary precipitate that can coat probes is calcium carbonate. Give these a good scrubbing and soak in a 1 part water/1 part vinegar solution if necessary.
  • Thoroughly clean out return pumps. I do dread this chore but it is extremely important since calcium carbonate build up will impact pump performance. I take my pumps apart and soak all parts in water/vinegar for approximately 1/2 hour.
  • Clean skimmer pump and perform light maintenance on skimmer. Stuff can build-up inside the skimmer cylinder/cone at the bottom so I do clean it out. However, I am careful not to thoroughly clean the upper-half of the cylinder/cone since it could remove the slime coat. Why is this important? Well, new skimmers need to be broken in and typically won’t start producing foam in the collection cup for a week or two until a slime coat builds up inside the cylinder/cone. A good scrubbing can remove this substance so one does have to be careful.
  • Clean out the sump. An even bigger pain in the you know what! A LOT of detritus and other things can collect in the sump so I typically drain it and use a shop vac to suck out all of the undesirables. You don’t want a detritus trap on your hands and allow nitrates to get out of control.
  • Clean out the salt water make-up reservoir used for water changes. I use a 55 gallon drum and certain residues can settle on the sides and bottom of the drum. My drum is plumbed into my system but it is easily detachable, making it easy to clean.
  • Clean heater. Calcium carbonate also collects on heaters so they also needed to be cleaned thoroughly to ensure optimum performance.

55 Gallon RODI Drum


One key note….don’t do all of this at once. I like to stagger it over a week or so to avoid shutting the tank down for a while and stressing out the tank’s inhabitants.


Major maintenance is super important and I do sort of cringe when I see it coming up on my reef keeping calendar. However, I do get a gratifying feeling when it is all over and I know my critters really appreciate all of the hard and necessary work!


Acanthophyllia Deshayesiana



If you are looking for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my book, A ReefBum’s Guide To Keeping an SPS Reef Tank: A Blueprint For Success. And you can see all of my reef tank videos online now as well as my Live HD Webcam.


Happy reef keeping!