How to Cure Live Rock in a New Saltwater Aquarium

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92 gallon reef tank
Our 92g reef tank right after a simple substrate and rock cleaning

Curing live rock in a separate curing setup is the best way to handle it before placing it into a new saltwater aquarium. Unfortunately, this is not always practical for everyone, as you may not have the extra room or equipment to do so. If the only container you have to work with to cure live rock in is the tank you are setting up as your main aquarium, here is a simple way to cure it inside the aquarium, preferably before you add substrate and start aquascaping the rocks.

What You Need

For this project you will need the following:

  • A set-up saltwater aquarium
  • Live rocks
  • Ammonia test kit
  • Nitrite test kit

Steps to Cure Live Rock

Follow this procedure:

  1. If the aquarium already has saltwater in it, and/or the system is set up and running, first turn off all the equipment, remove any devices that may get in the way, and take out and save about half of the saltwater in the tank. (The reason for this is that the water level will rise when the rocks are put into the tank.)
  2. If the aquarium is empty, you can either fill it about half full with prepared saltwater or mix the saltwater solution in the tank if you need to, then remove about half of the saltwater when it is ready for use.
  3. Pre-clean the rocks by rinsing them in some salt water, and removing any unwanted algae or growths, if present. Place them into the aquarium, and then add the removed salt water to top-off the water level.
  4. Turn on the heater(s), and water filter/powerhead pump for oxygenation and water circulation.
  5. Let the rocks cure by going through the Nitrogen Cycle. This means you do not add live sand or another substrate, livestock, or anything else until the curing process is complete.
  6. Test for ammonia and nitrite. First the ammonia level will increase, then it will start to drop and the nitrite level will go up. The curing process is complete when the readings for both are zero. Often you can also tell by smelling the water. If there is no odor to the water, it usually means the process is completed.
  7. While the rocks are curing, periodically siphon any accumulated organic matter off the bottom of the tank, top-off the water level when needed, and keep an eye out and remove any unwanted animals or organisms that may have been missed when the rocks where precleaned.
  8. Once the curing process is complete, siphon any debris off the bottom of the tank, and do a substantial water change.
  9. Now start aquascaping the tank.

Elevate the Rocks

  • Raise the live rocks up off the bottom of the tank on platforms made of plastic tubes cut into rings for the curing process. It will provide more water circulation underneath and around the rocks and makes it much easier to siphon out the dead or dying organic matter that can build-up during the curing process.

Options and Alternatives

This procedure is best done using a bare tank. When die-off occurs, the dead or dying organic matter that creates ammonia can more easily be removed as it accumulates, which in turn helps to shorten the rock curing or cycling time. This also prevents excess organic matter from building up in the substrate, which can lead to high nitrate and problems with brown diatom and other algae blooms during and after the aquarium cycling process.

You can opt to bypass curing the live rock altogether, but it is suggested to consider allowing the rocks to cure for at least a few days in this way, before adding the substrate and aquascaping the rocks.

If you decide not to first cure the rocks, but intend to add the substrate and live rock to cycle the aquarium, it is recommended to at least take the time to preclean the rocks before using them. This will help to eliminate some of the build-up of organic matter that will result from die-off, and you can inspect the rocks for any undesirable critters that may be present and remove them.

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