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Salt Use (Sodium Chloride) In Freshwater Aquariums

By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 40+ years experience

Aquarium Salt (Sodium chloride) in Freshwater Aquariums
Updated 10/24/20

Magnified sodium chloride crystalThe use of Sodium Chloride more commonly known as plain salt seems to be a constant source of controversy among aquarists, especially here on the internet. What is interesting to me and my colleagues in the professional aquarium maintenance, design and research business is that the way this controversy has “swung” from "you MUST use salt" to cure everything to the now current fad propagated by many forums and articles, to "RARELY or NEVER use salt".
Unfortunately, both views are based on misunderstandings of the term of what salt is and what fish need “salts” for, as well as a lack of understanding and reading of research about this subject.

Please read the article in full, including the myths/truths section.

What is “Salt”

I will start with some basic definitions of what “salts” are. Further reading beyond this article is needed here, so please follow links/resources/references.
Basically, a salt is a neutral compound composed of cations (positively charged ions) bound to anions (negatively charged ions).
A more in depth description is that “salts” are ionic compounds held together by electrostatic attraction of positively charged metal cations and the negatively charged anions. These Ions can be simple molecules, as in sodium chloride, or more complex groups such as calcium carbonate.
What I am driving at is that salts consist of more than just Sodium Chloride (what we generally refer to as salt is sodium chloride), and salts in general are IMPORTANT electrolytes necessary for biochemistry and osmoregulation in fish. Without salts fish and other biochemical processes would cease.

Please reference these two articles for further reader as to this subject:
*AQUARIUM CHEMISTRY; How to maintain a Proper KH & PH, why calcium and electrolytes are important.

Common salt-forming cations applicable to aquarium keeping include:

Common salt-forming anions applicable to aquarium keeping include:

Referenced/Sources from: What are Salts; Wikipedia


Sodium Chloride and other Salts in Aquariums

Salt, NaCl crystals This where the controversy begins in my opinion. The question is, should aquarium salt (sodium chloride) be used and if not, what will take its place for necessary electrolytes?
First, I will start off by stating again that ALL living organisms need certain electrolytes for biochemistry. The before mentioned resources help explain this fact).
I have read many scientific studies as well as performed many experiments over the years in the use of different salts including sodium chloride.
I will start by stating that a successful aquarium CAN be kept without sodium chloride HOWEVER, other "salts" MUST be present such as Calcium carbonate, otherwise your fish will have lower disease resistance and other physiological problems.

As a generalization when it comes to sodium chloride salts, I have found 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons works safely as a preventative for many community aquariums. However in most community aquariums, I have found in experiments in multiple aquariums, keeping almost no salt but then adding salt at a tablespoon per 5 gallons or higher when any possible issues arise or new fish are added works best (keeping in mind salt is not a cure all).
For therapeutic levels in aquariums or baths, 1 Teaspoon per one gallon is a good starting point (it can be higher in many cases).

Where this gets controversial is with freshwater Plants, Catfish, Elephant Nose, Tetras, Goldfish and Livebearers such as Mollies.

Starting with each of the above, let’s take a look them specifically:


Some Suggested Salt Sources for when salt is used in a freshwater aquarium:


Often salt amounts are given as mg/L, however milligrams is a measure of weight while most of us use dry measurements such as teaspoons or tablespoons which are measurements of volume. So the average weight of salt must be found before converting.
To convert 1000 mg of salt into a given volume (in this case, teaspoons), you would need to find the average weight per this volume, which in this example is .22 teaspoons per 1000 mg (approximately).
This means that if your treatment required 2000 mg/L you would need .44 teaspoons of salt per liter of water. Since 1 gallon= 3.785 liters, you would need 1.66 teaspoons per gallon of water.
Many salt treatments call for as much as 3000 mg/L which means you would need approximately 2-1/2 teaspoons per gallon.

A few more conversions:

SUMMARY; Further Information about Salt use, both Positive and Negative

I will sum this up by saying that those who say you should not use sodium chloride salt in your freshwater aquarium (including with Catfish, Tetras, etc.) and those who say you should always use salt (NaCl) are only HALF RIGHT!
I would certainly agree that there was (and still is) a segment of the aquarium keeping hobby that thinks sodium chloride is the cure all for everything all the while ignoring important other “salts” such as Calcium Chloride.

However the current “No Salt” fad propagated by many poorly researched articles/blogs/ocial Media posts that sadly come up in Google Searches also ignores certain facts not only about sodium chloride but about the other important electrolytes as well.
While many fish such as Tetras do well without any added salt but for occasional treatment levels or baths, other fish such as Goldfish have been proven to to be more disease resistant with small amounts salt present along with even more important positive mineral ions of elements such as calcium.
My own years of experience and tests along with research and many of my professional aquarium keeping colleagues bears this out.

When salt is used the use of iodized table salt that is often found in kitchen cupboard is not the best choice, however in a pinch it is not a terrible choice as is often described (another aquatic myth).
If the small amount of salt that is needed in a freshwater aquarium is used the iodine (which is also a necessary nutrient for fish in small quantities as in humans) is not likely to cause any problems (due to the trace amount of iodine present after dilution in water).

Common table salt also has anti-caking agents such as sodium alumino silicate which is main reason to avoid table salt as this ingredient may cause increases algae growth (other anti-caking ingredients include potassium ferrocyanide and calcium carbonate).
Table salt is usually fine for short duration dips or baths, I would simply not recommend using table salt long term in an aquarium due to build up over time of anti-caking agents & iodine (assuming iodized salt).

I prefer to use either plain rock salt (water softener salt), marine salt (of which the additional major and trace elements are actually beneficial to many freshwater fish), or products such as SeaChem Cichlid Salt which (similar to marine salt in concept) contains added minerals/electrolytes of which when used in the small amount of salt one should use sodium chloride are actually beneficial for the vast majority of freshwater fish.

Product Resource: SeaChem Cichlid Salt; All Freshwater Fish Safe However, I do want to clarify that I recommend the use of plain salt (such as regular aquarium salt, water softener salt, etc.) for use in salt and medicated baths over marine or Cichlid salt as the later two add other elements that although essential in the general environment, they could dramatically alter the difference in the bath water and display tank water so to cause osmotic stress/shock.

Another point as to the use SeaChem Cichlid Salt or Marine salt in freshwater aquariums is that these salts BOTH add carbonates/bicarbonates (for KH) and in general many freshwater aquariums need not or even should not be used with buffers that also increase carbonates/bicarbonates.
The use of these two salts is fine with products such as Wonder Shells as these mineral blocks tend to dissolve as minerals are depleted and combined use is highly unlikely to increase GH/mineral levels to anything remotely dangerous for ANY freshwater fish.
In African Cichlid tanks I have often combined buffers AND Cichlid Salt, however I recommend monitoring KH and pH so as to find the “sweet spot” as to the correct amount of each to add so as to keep correct parameters (again the use of Aquarium Mineral blocks such as Wonders Shells is not a concern and I in fact strongly recommend this!)

Other Related Resources/References:

*Freshwater Aquarium Basics
*Fish Osmoregulation
*Aquarium Redox

Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites/Videos

AAP Spectrogram
The most effective medication BAR NONE for the treatment of Columnaris in an aquarium when used as part of the four step program of Columnaris treatment.
A more synergistic combination than purchasing Kanamycin & Nitrofurazone separately.

AAP Spectrogram; Synergistic Kanamycin/Nitrofurazone

Fish Diseases, How to Treat Sick Fish
Fish Diseases | How to Treat Sick Fish

Columnaris in Fish Video
YouTube; How to: 4 Steps Columnaris Treatment Fish Bacterial Infection

This video goes over the basics of the full four step plan of properly treating Columnaris in aquarium fish and is a compliment to a FULL reading of this article.

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Complete information from fish food building blocks to sources and much more

Best Aquarium Fish Food

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TMC V2 RO Filter systems; the very best you can buy with TDS meter:

Reverse Osmosis Aquarium Water Filter, TDSReverse Osmosis Aquarium Water Filters; with TDS Meter

A good compliment to RO water or for any freshwater aquarium to add ESSENTIAL Mineral Ions:
*Wonder Shells, Mineral Block

Aquarium LED Lighting

AquaRay Ultra Premium Aquarium LED Lights

Highest in PUR, The ONLY LED with an IP67 rating or higher for water proofing along with a full 5 year warranty to back them up! Why purchase brands without this rating such as the Finnex, Current, or Fluval only to be essentially placing an electronic light emitting device over your humid aquarium with little or no guarantee? In the long term, you WILL PAY MORE!

*AAP Reliable Submersible Power Head Aquarium Water Circulation PumpAquarium Power Head Pumps
Superior to Hagen or Marineland, yet more economical.


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Betta Habitat; "Betta splendens" Wild Habitat

The Siamese fighting fish; scientific name, Betta splendens.

Betta Fish Care Guide Video

By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 40+ years experience

Updated 1/15/19

Natural Betta Habitat MapI am writing this Aquarium Answers post/article to hopefully help with all the controversies around the internet and elsewhere about wild Betta habitat and requirements.
I would like to qualify this and state that as with many popular aquarium fish (such as Angels and Discus), the domestic versions are often adapted to the environment that they have been bred for. In other words, many angelfish are originally from low pH waters but are now commonly bred in higher pH alkaline waters.

In the case of Bettas, these amazing fish come from a Tropical Habitat that is known for drastic swings in water availability, clarity, parameters, and even temperature. This makes for a fish that is naturally uniquely adaptable to a variety of aquarium environments and is in part a reason for their popularity.
This said, often Betas are forced to adapt to conditions that would better described as just surviving as many take advantage of this fish' amazing adaptation abilities to extremes that they rarely face in the wild.

River Drainage Basins and natural environment

The Chao Phraya River drainage is seen in the central Thailand area of the map while the Mekong River Drainage habitat is seen in Cambodia and Eastern Thailand

The Betta is a native freshwater fish from Thailand (formerly Siam) and Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea). Most native Bettas originate from the Mekong AND the Chao Phraya River drainage basins. These drainages are mountainous with agriculturally productive valleys found in the upper regions.
The lower region contains alluvial plains that are highly productive for agriculture. The Mekong and Chao Phraya Rivers drains from north to south.
Monsoon weather dominates, with a rainy season lasting from May to October and supplementary rain from occasional westward storm depressions originating in the Pacific.

Temperatures range from 15°C (59 F) in December to 40°C (104 F) in April except in high altitude locations. The basins can be classified as a tropical rainforest with high biodiversity. The lower parts have extensive irrigation networks and hence intensive rice paddy cultivation.
These rivers have a pH of 6.9 ranging to 8.2 and the nutrient level is low. In the Lower Mekong and Chao Phraya areas the river is turbid, especially during the rainy season.

With the very wide temperature swings it is easy to extrapolate that a betta can and will do well in a reasonable warm aquarium aquarium/large-bowl environment that does not exceed the temperature extremes found in the wild. This is not to say that a heated stable environment is not better for a healthy Betta (remember this IS a tropical fish).

The pH, GH, and KH also have wide swings, to which the Betta has adapted, however keep in mind that rapid changes in pH can still harm or even kill a Betta and should be avoided.
It is also note worthy that the pH scale is logarithmic, so a full point change in pH is tenfold increase or decrease in pH.

Please see this article for more about this subject:
“Aquarium Chemistry, GH, KH, Electrolytes, and pH in Aquariums”


The low water nutrient levels of these rivers lend themselves to a reducing Redox and lower nitrate levels, which means frequent partial water changes are important with bettas and if breeding on a large scale, a system in which the breeding sections are all linked to a large central system with a UV Sterilizer is also useful for both disease prevention and Redox (but not essential).

See this article for more about UV Sterilization:
How UV Sterilization Works in Aquariums and Ponds

Where to get: UV Sterilizer

Further Redox Info: Aquarium Redox

Being an anabantids, Bettas have a labyrinth organ in their heads that allows them to take oxygen directly from the atmosphere in addition to the oxygen taken from water via their gills which allows them to cope with the dry season in their monsoonal climate home.

All of the above environmental adaptation as well as breeding adaptation is why the Betta survives well in a small tank or even a reasonably sized bowl (with filtration), but also make no mistake about it the Betta merely survives the dry season and its harsh realities of water quality, so providing your domestic Betta a heated, stable, regularly maintained tank, with proper electrolyte levels (even if under 2 gallons) will go a long way in long term Betta health.

Wild BettaAlthough these beautiful fish were not seen in Europe until the 1800's, they have been cultured and kept in Thai households since the 1200's.
Bettas common aquariums have undergone centuries of selective breeding and have become far more aesthetically pleasing than the original Wild Betta, these “Domestic” bettas have also been adapted to the small aquarium environments in which they are often bred.
In the wild Bettas generally grow to 6.0 cm (2.3 in.), however many are now bred up to 8.0 cm (3.5 in.) in length.
A Bettas diet in the wild generally consists of insect larvae such as mosquito larvae. It is noteworthy that many of these insect larvae feed themselves on green organic matter, so a proper diet should consist of food that duplicates the digestive contents of these larvae as well.

Betta fish can live for up to 8 years in the wild, but this is rare with all the risks they also face in the wild. However, the average lifespan of a Betta fish is closer to 4 or 5 years in captivity under good care in a filtered tank with good nutrition, and proper chemistry (which includes positive mineral ions, which many Betta Keepers miss the scientifically proven importance of these electrolytes).

In Summary;
Take from this article which you as per the facts when it comes to how you house your Betta, however please keep in mind that even with smaller containers; utilizing an "under bowl/tank" ambient heater such as the Hydor Mini Bowl Heater is still needed to keep the Betta water temperature at least 60F (higher is better), partial water changes, maintaining ESSENTIAL positive mineral ions, limiting exposure to life threatening or lifespan shortening ammonia/nitrite levels by cycling your Bettas Aquarium Bowl are ALL still important as with any other fish regardless of aquarium size.

Product Source: Hydor Heater Designed Specifically for Bowls

What is more subjective is the size of the container you keep your Betta in assuming all the above objective/factual qualifications are met.
The argument is often made that a Betta is more happy in a larger aquarium, unfortunately unless you can speak to your Betta, this is simply an opinion.
From my observations with Bettas in 10 gallon or larger tanks versus Bettas I have kept in bowls (2 gallons plus, NOT Vases!), I have noticed often much more lively Bettas in the Bowls than in the larger aquariums where by they often hide in just one corner and not utilize all the "extra space", especially when other fish are present. But then others may have different observations, which then makes this only anecdotal evidence.

Back to facts, since I have performed so many controlled tests utilizing many of my large multi aquarium clients (both large and small aquarium), literally in the 100s going back to 1978, I can state categorically that lifespan and disease resistance were NOT any more lengthened by the Bettas kept in containers over 10 gallons versus those that were in aquariums under 5 gallons.
WHAT WAS A FACTOR in lifespan & disease resistance was the environment these fish were kept in as per water parameters and feeding, as well as actual filtration, not necessarily the size of the tank (this is not to say you should keep your Betta in 1/4 gallon vase either).

These included:

Patented Aquarium Sponge Filter best used for Bettas The points above are the FACTS, which includes in the controlled tests actually introducing diseases into their environment and those Bettas not kept in the optimum water parameters and fed the best diet much more often and quickly contracted the disease, even than those in larger aquariums that were of less than optimum water parameters.

The tests showed no differences in the 2 gallon bowls WITH sponge filtration versus the 10 gallon+ aquariums when water parameters and feeding were equal. AAP Hydro Sponge Filters work as well in bowl as they do in a larger aquarium and do to the large surface area, and soft patented surface area are 100% safe for Bettas.
You can then draw any subjective conclusions from there.

Sponge Filter Resource: AAP Premium Sponge Filters

More about Sponge Filtration:
Sponge Filter Use Information

Orchid Male Half Moon BettaPlaket BettaSuzie Qs, Thai Half moon Betta


*Mekong/Lancang River
*Betta Care; Veiltail (VT), Plakat, Crowntail (CT), Halfmoon (HM)

Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites

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Freshwater Aquarium Care; including bettas

AAP Spectrogram
The most effective medication BAR NONE for the treatment of Columnaris in an aquarium when used as part of the four step program of Columnaris treatment.
A more synergistic combination than purchasing Kanamycin & Nitrofurazone separately.

AAP Spectrogram; Synergistic Kanamycin/Nitrofurazone

AAP Bettamax; Synergistic Nitrofurazone/Methylene Blue/Sulfas Full Spectrum Treatment for Bettas

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Everything you need to know about Sponge Filtration

Betta Spa Indian Almond Leaf Extract

Atison's Spa Clear; Indian Almond Leaf Conditioner

Clear Betta Spa contains wild almond leaf extract to simulate the natural environment of the native soft water fish.
Other natural botanicals, including Yucca extract, help control ammonia, reduce stress and maintain cleaner water.

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Fish as Pets, Aquarium Keeping News, Reviews

Fish as Pets with articles & commentary of Interest to the Aquarium Hobby

A great forum for all your fish questions

Betta Hammock
ZooMed Betta Hammock

Allows your Betta to rest near the surface of the water just like they do in nature.

AAP Wonder Shells
Wonder Shells; Regular & Medicated

Provides a constant supply of ESSENTIAL mineral ions for Bettas and other fish.
These unique Wonder Shell Mineral Supplements are sold EXCLUSIVELY at American Aquarium Products

Betta Pellet Food

Sanyu Betta Gold Premium Betta Pellets

* To reinforce the color combination of bettas by high percentage of natural color pigment.
* Strongly outline the original color combination of bettas
* It contains all the nutrition to keep the betta in good health
* Extremely stable vitamin C helps promote effective growth by reducing stress and reinforcing resistance
* A quality Betta food at a better value.


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In Chronological order of writing with the newest at the top

  1. How to Treat Sick Fish
  2. Whirling Disease in Fish
  3. Reef Aquarium Chemistry Maintenance
  4. Use of RO, DI, Softwater in Aquariums
  5. Lighting Theory of a Planted Aquarium- RQE, PFY, PAS, & PUR
  6. Aquarium or Pond Bio Load
  7. Tuberculosis in Fish
  8. PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting
  9. Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Pumps
  10. Fin/Tail Rot For Betta & ALL Fish
  11. Angelfish Virus/Aids
  12. Activated Carbon
  13. Fish Baths/Dips as an aid to treatment
  14. Streptococcus gram positive bacterium in aquariums, Eye Infections
  15. Hydrogen Sulfide
    production in anaerobic De-Nitrification for Aquarium/Ponds
  16. Fish Shipping
  17. Aquarium Size, Fish Stunting
  18. Aquarium Algae,
    BBA & Brown Algae in particular
  19. Aquarium Salt (Sodium chloride) in Freshwater Aquariums
  20. Betta Habitat; Wild Bettas to Domestic Betta environment parameters
  21. HITH; Hole in the Head Disease
  22. Aquarium Protein Skimmers, Ozonizers
  23. Power Head/ Water Pump Review
  24. Molly Disease/ Mollies in an Aquarium
  25. Basic Fish Anatomy, Fin Identification
  26. Aquarium Moving/ Power Failures
  27. Octopus as Aquarium Pets
  28. Aquarium Nitrates
  29. Ichthyophonus protists, fungus in fish
  30. Aquarium and Pond Filter Media
    Types; Mechanical, Bio, Chemical
  31. Aquarium Water Conditioners (also Pond)
  32. Fish Parasites; Trematodes & Monogeneans; Annelids and Nematodes;
    Flukes, internal worms, Detritus Worms (often confused with Planaria), Micro Worms
  33. Aquarium Silicone Application;
    DIY Aquarium Repair & Glass thickness
  34. Pond Veggie Filters; DIY Bog Filter
  35. The difference between Plaster of Paris and Aquarium Products such a Wonder Shells:
    Identification, prevention & Treatment
  37. AQUARIUM TEST KITS; Use & Importance
  38. SEXING FISH; Basics
  39. Chocolate Chip, Knobby and Fromia Starfish
  40. Freshwater Velvet & Costia
  41. Usnic Acid as a Fish Remedy
  42. Aquarium Heaters; Types, information
  43. The Lateral Line in Fish, Lateral Line Disease
    or Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)
  44. Tap Water use in Aquarium; Chloramines, Chlorine
  45. Can Black Ghost Knife fish give an electric shock?
  46. Bio Wheel Review; Do Bio-Wheels really work?
  47. How do Fish Drink?
    Use of RO Water
  48. Cyclops, and Predatory Damselfly larvae
  49. Betta with Dropsy;
    Treatment and Prevention of DROPSY in all fish
  50. pH and KH problems in African Cichlid Aquarium
  51. Aquarium Gravel, which size?
  52. Blue green algae, Cyanobacteria in Ponds/Aquariums

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