Dried reef rock is a great way to start your marine aquarium, it reduces the chance of introducing any nasties into your aquarium and gives you a great starting point for your reefing adventure.
When your rock arrives it’s natural to start looking at the shapes, maybe even planning your aquascape but it is vital that you process your new rock before adding it to your aquarium.
By its very nature, your dried reef rock will be all sorts of colours, it may even have some dried out algae and other organics attached to it. If these were introduced to your aquarium without some pre-processing then all of these organisms will begin to release pollutants into your aquarium.
If you’ve had your dried reef rock from us here at iQuatics then, we have started this process for you, we remove as much of the sand/algae/organics that we can, the next stage is over to you to decide what works best for you.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the methods you can use to prepare your rock for use.
Method 1 – Natural Cure
This method does exactly what it says on the tin and is by far the easiest method, however, it is probably the one that will take the longest.
It’s straight forward enough, simply drop you new rock into a suitable container filled with saltwater, light is not needed. This is a method that requires patience, whilst you wait for the organic material to decay, over time the organics will fall off naturally leaving behind rock that is pretty clean. This method can help to speed up your cycle time as you are not dealing with lots of die-off when the rock eventually goes into the tank.
This type of cure can be carried out in any reef safe container, the important part to consider is ideally you need the ability to stop any night getting into your rock – light = photosynthesis = your rock not curing. The lid/cover needs to not be airtight to allow the gaseous exchange to take place.
This method will typically take from between 9-12 weeks to complete, you can speed this process up by adding flow (powerhead), heat (heater) and any of the myriad of bacterial boosters available to aquarists today.
The best way to tell when the rock is done curing is by performing several tests for nitrate and phosphate. In the first instance, these parameters will spike high and then level off. Once they stop rising and hit this level, the rock is cured.
If you want to be certain, do a 100% water change and test again; the phosphate and nitrate should be zero after the water change.
Method 2 – Bleach Cure
First things first here, do not even attempt this method unless you are willing to take the proper safety precautions, Bleach is a chemical and although it is used within the household, curing rock is not it’s intended purpose.
Bleach can give off some pretty toxic gasses and as such you MUST take precautions and take them seriously. NEVER do this method indoors, you must always use PPE, at a minimum you are going to need a ventilator mask, eye protection, protective clothing and arm-length gloves. You must never, ever, under any circumstance mix bleach with any other chemical!
We can not stress enough how seriously you must take these precautions, the process is fairly straight forward and will be quicker than a natural cure but that is no use if it puts you in the hospital or worse. We strongly advise that you research this method until you are comfortable in its application, iQuatics can not be held responsible for any injury or illness that may occur from this method, we are discussing it as a tried and tested method for curing dried reef rock, this is not a recommendation or a must-do, if you are unsure, uncomfortable with the process or don’t have the correct protective equipment please use the natural cure method.
This method involves soaking the dried reef rock in a diluted bleach solution, The solution will very quickly oxidise and break down any organic material on the surface of the rock, this method rapidly increases the cure time, often completing in around 7 days.
This method appeals to many reefers as it will effectively kill off anything living on the rock, from algae to undesirable bacteria, this gives you a totally inert starting point, often a bleach cure will work that well that a natural cure afterwards isn’t required.
We can hear you all now….. Is bleach safe to use in a reef tank?
When used in this way it is perfectly safe, you must let the rock dry out completely after a bleach cure, during this time the bleach will evaporate making the rock reef safe again. To be double sure, once you’ve completed the bleach cure, you can soak the rock in a de-chlorinator and test with some basic chlorine test strips.
How do you perform a bleach cure?
There are no hard and fast rules here, this is the way we do it here at iQuatics for our own personal aquaria, we strongly advise you to do some research before starting & remember unless you are prepared to follow the safety guidelines you should stop reading here!
1 – You’ll need a large container to hold all of your rock, this needs go outside and be filled with water, we would always recommend the use of RODI water, some will say tap water is suitable but if you have your own RO system it’s better to be safe than sorry.
2 – Put on all of your PPE/safety equipment, if you don’t have any stop right here and go and get it before going any further!
3 – Add the bleach to the water (ALWAYS ADD BLEACH TO WATER AND NOT WATER TO BLEACH, THIS REDUCES THE RISK OF SPLASHES, AND AS ABOVE – NEVER ADD ANY OTHER CHEMICALS) we have found that around 600-700ml of bleach works well in per 10l of water, you must always use unscented bleach that does not contain soap or additives.
4- Carefully add the rock to your solution, try and avoid splashing the solution around during this stage, once it’s in leave it for around 7 days, at the end of the week it’s likely most if not all of the organics will have broken down, if not simply repeat the process for another 7 days. You will notice your rock now looks clean and white!
5 – Once you’ve completed stage 4, remove it from your container, give it a rinse off (RODI again) and then leave it dry thoroughly! In theory, after the rock is dry, the bleach will have evaporated and is now safe to add to your tank, but we like to be a little more cautious so we’d advise re-filling your container with RODI and soaking your nice clean rock in a good dose of de-chlorinator, let this soak for another day or two then test using your chlorine strips. Remember chlorine is deadly to fish and inverts, so it’s imperative you’ve checked it before adding to the tank.
6 – Once you are happy that your rock is chlorine-free, give everything another rinse off in some RODI water and you are good to start the cycling process, in a new tank it’s ok to do this in the aquarium if you are adding to an existing tank we would advise performing the cycle in a separate container.
Method 3 – Vinegar Cure
For us, this is the middle of the road method, which is why it’s included on your “preparing your dried reef rock” flyer included with your purchase.
We all know Vinegar is an acid, however, household vinegar has a very low concentration of the ingredient we are looking for here – muriatic acid.
Because the concentration of muriatic acid in household vinegar is low, this process will take longer, but it is safer than using bleach or neat muriatic acid.
The method is similar to the bleach soak but will take longer, you can expect to see noticeable results in 4-6 weeks with this method.
1 – Use a container large enough to hold all of your rock and fill with RODI water.
2 – Add your vinegar, it’s important to note here that you need to use white vinegar, for best results you ideally need to add vinegar to your RODI at a ration of 1:1, we’d also recommend wearing some eye protection here, although not as dangerous as bleach, vinegar in your eye is not a pleasant experience!
3 – Leave you rock to soak for 4-6 weeks, check how it’s progressing at this point, you should see a noticeable difference in the colour and the number of organics left on the rock.
4 – If you are happy the organics have been removed, it’s now time to soak the rock in some RODI, we would advise soaking for at least a week, with a partial water change mid-way through, it’s important at this stage to perform some regular tests to ensure that there is nothing unwanted coming from your rock, if there is soak for longer, with regular partial water changes until you are happy.
5 – Alow your rock to dry thoroughly, you are now ready to start the cycling process
We’ve covered three methods here, there are more so we advise you to find the best method for you and remember if you are using any chemicals you must use the correct protective equipment.
We can not stress enough how important it is to cure dried reef rock before adding it to your aquarium, failure to do this will 100% result in major complications further down the line in your aquarium.