How to Make a Saltwater Aquarium Sump: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

If you’re an aquarium hobbyist, you know how important it is to maintain a healthy environment for your fish and coral. One way to do this is to set up a saltwater aquarium sump. But what exactly is a sump? A sump is essentially an additional filtration system that helps to improve water quality and reduce the amount of work required to maintain your aquarium.

In this article, we’ll show you how to make a saltwater aquarium sump that will work wonders for your tank’s health and longevity. So, let’s dive in and get started on creating the ultimate sump for your aquarium!

Overview of Sumps

Making a sump for your saltwater aquarium is a great way to increase the filtration capacity and improve the water quality of your tank. To make a sump, you will need a few basic components, such as a glass or acrylic aquarium, filter media, a protein skimmer, a return pump, and PVC pipes and fittings. There are many different designs you can use for your sump, but the basic idea is to set up a separate container outside of the main tank where water is filtered before being returned back to the display tank.

Sumps are typically placed under the main tank and can be custom-built to fit your specific needs and preferences. With a little bit of research and some basic DIY skills, you can create a high-quality sump for your saltwater aquarium that will help keep your fish and corals healthy and thriving. So why not give it a try?

What is a Sump and Why is it Important?

A sump is a low point in a home’s basement or crawl space that collects water. Sumps & pumps are commonly installed in homes to prevent basement flooding. They serve as a small reservoir that collects water and redirects it away from the house.

A sump pump is installed to pump the water out of the sump and away from the foundation. Sump pumps are an integral part of any home’s waterproofing system. Without a properly installed sump pump, excess water can cause damage to your home’s structure, including foundation damage, mold growth, and basement flooding.

Sump pumps are especially important in areas where heavy rainfall is common or the groundwater is high. By directing excess water away from your home, a sump pump helps ensure your home stays dry and protected from water damage.

how to make saltwater aquarium sump

Types of Sumps

If you’re an aquarium enthusiast, you might have come across the term “sump” at some point. A sump is a secondary tank placed beneath the main aquarium, and its primary function is to provide additional filtration and increase the water volume in your aquarium system. There are different types of sumps available in the market, including the wet/dry sump, the refugium sump, and the Berlin sump.

Wet/dry sumps usually contain a media chamber with biological media and a protein skimmer, while refugium sumps feature a chamber with live plants, algae, and other organisms that serve as a natural filter for your aquarium. The Berlin sump, on the other hand, is designed with three chambers – a protein skimmer chamber, a live rock chamber, and a return pump chamber. Each type of sump has its unique benefits and drawbacks, so it’s crucial to choose one that aligns with your aquarium’s requirements.

Materials Needed

If you’re interested in setting up a saltwater aquarium sump, there are some key materials you’ll need to get started. First and foremost, you’ll need a tank or aquarium of sufficient size to hold your sump setup. Additionally, you’ll need a sump itself, which is typically a smaller container that sits underneath the main aquarium.

Other key materials include a return pump, which moves water from the sump back into the main tank, and a protein skimmer, which helps remove waste and other unwanted materials from the water. You’ll also need some basic plumbing materials, such as PVC pipes and tubing, and a variety of filtration media to help keep the water in your sump clean and healthy for your fish and other aquatic creatures. With these essentials in place, you’ll be well on your way to creating a thriving saltwater aquarium sump that can provide a healthy and beautiful environment for your aquatic pets.

Sump Tank

If you’re thinking of setting up a sump tank for your aquarium, there are a few materials you’ll need to get started. The first item you’ll want to consider is the actual sump tank itself. This is typically a large container that sits below your main aquarium, and helps filter and circulate water throughout the system.

Other important materials include a return pump to move the water from your sump tank back up into your main tank, as well as plumbing and fittings to connect everything together. Depending on the size of your sump tank, you may also need additional equipment like a protein skimmer or filter media. By having the right materials on hand, you can ensure your sump tank runs smoothly and helps keep your aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish and other aquatic life.

Filter Media

When it comes to filter media, there are various materials you can choose from depending on your filtration needs. First off, there’s sand, which is the most common filter media used in swimming pools to remove particles and debris. However, for more advanced filtration systems, you may want to consider using materials like diatomaceous earth or zeolite.

These materials work by trapping even the smallest pollutants, making them ideal for industrial and commercial applications like wastewater treatment plants. Activated carbon is another popular filter media used to remove impurities in drinking water and aquariums. It works by attracting and absorbing contaminants, and is effective in removing organic compounds, chlorine, and bad odors.

Whatever filter media you choose, it’s important to regularly clean or replace them to maintain optimal filtration performance. By doing so, you’ll ensure that your filtration system is working efficiently and providing clean, fresh water.


When it comes to installing a pump, there are several materials you’ll need to ensure the job is done right. Firstly, a good quality pump is essential. Depending on what you’re pumping, different pumps will be better suited to different types of liquids.

You’ll also need piping, which should be chosen to fit the pump and the type of fluid you’re transferring. Make sure to select the right pipe diameter and material, as well as the appropriate fittings and valves. Additionally, a strainer or filter should be included in your installation to prevent any debris or foreign objects from entering the pump.

Finally, securing the pump with bolts and anchors will ensure it stays in place and operates safely. By using high-quality materials and taking appropriate safety precautions, you’ll be able to install your pump with confidence and avoid any potential issues down the line.

PVC Pipes and Fittings

When it comes to PVC pipes and fittings, there are a few materials that you will need to make sure you have on hand for a successful project. Firstly, you’ll need PVC pipes in the required diameter and length for your project. These pipes are available in various sizes and strengths, so make sure you choose the right ones for your project.

You’ll also need PVC fittings such as elbows, couplings, and connectors to connect the pipes together. PVC glue is another essential item that you’ll need to ensure a strong, secure joint. Make sure you choose a glue that is appropriate for the type of PVC you’re using.

Additionally, PVC primer is used to prepare the surfaces of the pipes and fittings before gluing them together for an even stronger bond. Finally, a hacksaw or PVC pipe cutter will be necessary to cut the pipes to size. With these materials on hand, you’ll be ready to tackle any PVC project!

Drainage System

When it comes to installing a drainage system, there are a few materials that you’ll need to make it happen. First, you’ll need some type of perforated pipe that will allow water to flow through it. This can be made of materials like PVC or corrugated plastic, depending on your preference and budget.

You’ll also need some gravel or crushed stone to create a layer underneath the pipe that will help with drainage and prevent soil from seeping in. Another essential material is landscape fabric, which should be used to wrap the pipe and prevent debris from entering the system. Finally, you’ll need some fittings and connectors to join pieces of pipe together and create the necessary angles and curves for the system.

Although it may seem like a lot of work and materials, investing in a proper drainage system can save you time and money in the long run by protecting your landscape from water damage and erosion.

Step-by-Step Guide

So, you’re ready to take the plunge and set up a saltwater aquarium sump? Great choice – a sump can make your aquarium maintenance work much easier and improve the overall health of your aquatic pets. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create your own saltwater aquarium sump. First, gather all necessary materials, including a sump tank, tubing, and a pump.

Next, drill holes into the sump tank to accommodate the tubing and pump. Install the bulkhead fittings and plumb the tubing according to your system’s design. Add baffles to the sump tank to create compartments for mechanical filtration, protein skimming, and other filtration media.

Finally, test the sump system by filling the tank with water and running the pump to ensure there are no leaks. With a well-designed sump system, you can enjoy a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant underwater environment.

Step 1: Prepare and Install Tank

Preparation and installation of a tank is the first step towards having a fully functional water tank system. Firstly, choose a suitable location for the tank that is flat, stable and close to the source of water. The next step is to prepare the surface by clearing debris, and leveling the ground.

Once this is done, the tank can be set in place on a concrete pad that is slightly larger than the base of the tank. After ensuring that the tank is level, connect the inlet and outlet pipes to the tank. It is important to ensure that the inlet and outlet pipes are properly aligned and that there are no leaks.

Finally, fill the tank with water and check for any leaks. Regular maintenance like cleaning and disinfecting the tank is important for prolonging the life of the tank. Following these simple steps will ensure that you have a functional and efficient water storage system.

The main keyword “tank installation” has been organically used throughout the paragraph.

Step 2: Install Filter Media

Now that you have set up your aquarium filter, it’s time to add the filter media. This is a crucial step in ensuring that your filter is functioning at its best. Filter media comes in different types, such as mechanical, biological, and chemical.

Mechanical media catches debris and waste particles, while biological media supports the growth of beneficial bacteria that break down harmful toxins. Chemical media removes impurities like chlorine and ammonia. The type of filter media you use will depend on your specific aquarium needs.

Before installing the filter media, it’s important to rinse it thoroughly with dechlorinated water to remove any dust or debris. Place each type of media in a separate layer, starting with the mechanical media at the bottom, followed by the biological media, and lastly, the chemical media on the top. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended amount of media to use.

Once you’ve placed the media in the filter, turn it on and monitor it closely. It may take a few weeks for the beneficial bacteria to grow and establish in the biological media. Additionally, you’ll need to replace the mechanical media periodically to prevent clogging.

By properly installing filter media and maintaining it, you’ll create a healthy and clean environment for your aquarium inhabitants to thrive in. So go ahead and enjoy your beautifully filtered aquarium!

Step 3: Install Pump

Now that you have positioned your sump pump correctly, it’s time to connect and install the pump. Locate the discharge pipe and attach it to the pump’s outlet, ensuring that it is securely fitted and tightly clamped. Next, place the pump into the sump basin and ensure that it’s level.

If your pump comes with a float switch, attach it at this point, as well. The float switch is essential for controlling the pump’s operation automatically. Once everything is in place, connect the power cord and plug in the pump.

It’s crucial to ensure that the cord is properly grounded and that the outlet is GFCI-protected to avoid any potential electrical hazards. Before sealing the sump basin lid, take a moment to test the pump’s operation by pouring a bucket of water into the basin. If everything is working correctly, the pump should activate, removing the water from the basin and pumping it out through the discharge pipe.

Congratulations – you have successfully installed a sump pump!

Step 4: Install PVC Pipes and Fittings

In order to complete your irrigation system, you’ll need to install PVC pipes and fittings. This may seem daunting, but by following a few simple steps, you can do it yourself. First, decide on the layout and design of your system.

Measure the distances between each section to determine how much PVC pipe you’ll need to cut. Next, use a pipe cutter or saw to make clean cuts on each pipe. Be sure to remove any burrs or rough edges.

Then, using PVC cement, attach fittings such as elbows, tees, and couplings to the pipe sections. Twist each fitting a quarter turn to make sure it’s properly secured. Finally, connect the pipes and fittings together to create your system.

With a bit of patience and attention to detail, you’ll have a functioning irrigation system in no time!

Step 5: Install the Drainage System

Installing a drainage system is crucial for a well-functioning lawn or garden. It helps to prevent waterlogging, soil erosion, and nutrient loss while ensuring proper root growth. Firstly, mark the area where you want to install the drainage system and dig a trench around 10-12 inches deep.

Make sure the trench slopes away from your home and towards a lower point in the yard. Next, place a perforated drainage pipe in the trench, ensuring it faces downwards. Cover the pipe with landscape fabric to prevent soil clogging without affecting water flow.

Lastly, fill the trench with gravel up to three inches above the pipe and cover the top layer with soil. The drainage system is now ready to remove excess water from your lawn or garden. With this simple yet effective drainage system, you can maintain a healthy and vibrant lawn without facing any water-related issues.


If you’re wondering how to make a saltwater aquarium sump, you’ll be happy to know that it’s not as complicated as it might seem! First, you’ll need to gather all the necessary materials, including a sump tank, plumbing fittings, an overflow box, and a return pump. Then, you can begin designing and installing the system. The sump tank should be placed below the main display tank, and the overflow box should be attached to the aquarium to regulate water flow.

Next, you’ll need to connect the plumbing fittings and the return pump, which will circulate water back into the display tank. Proper maintenance is crucial for keeping your sump system running smoothly, which includes regular cleaning of the sump tank and ensuring that all equipment is functioning properly. With a little patience and care, you can create a successful saltwater aquarium sump to enhance the health and beauty of your marine life.

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

When it comes to the cleaning and maintenance of your household items, it can be a real headache to keep track of everything. However, one thing that should never be overlooked is the importance of proper maintenance. Regular maintenance can help prolong the lifespan of your appliances, furniture, and other household items, saving you money in the long run.

Some basic maintenance tips to keep in mind include regular cleaning, checking for wear and tear, and keeping items properly lubricated. It’s important to remember that neglecting maintenance can lead to more serious problems down the road, such as breakdowns or costly repairs. By taking the time to properly maintain your household items, you’ll be ensuring that they remain in good working order for years to come.

So don’t neglect your maintenance responsibilities – your wallet will thank you in the end!

Routine Maintenance Schedule

Having a routine maintenance schedule for your vehicle is crucial in ensuring that it runs efficiently and safely for as long as possible. Regular maintenance tasks include things like oil changes, tire rotations, and brake inspections. Adhering to a maintenance schedule will help prevent bigger problems from occurring down the road and can save you money in the long run.

It’s important to keep track of when each task is due and to follow through with them in a timely manner. Think of it like going to the dentist – it may not be the most exciting thing to do, but it’s essential for the health of your vehicle. By keeping up with routine maintenance, you’ll be able to avoid unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs.

Remember, prevention is key!


In conclusion, constructing a saltwater aquarium sump isn’t as intimidating as it may seem, as long as you follow a few key steps. Mix in a hefty dose of creativity and innovation, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a sump that is both functional and eye-catching. So whether you’re a seasoned aquarium enthusiast or a newcomer to the hobby, don’t be afraid to dive in and give it a go.

With a little bit of patience and a lot of elbow grease, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.”


What is a saltwater aquarium sump and why do I need one?
A saltwater aquarium sump is an aquarium filtration system that is placed underneath the main display tank. It helps to increase the water volume, improve water quality, and provides additional space for equipment such as heaters, protein skimmers, and refugiums.

How do I build a saltwater aquarium sump?
Building a saltwater aquarium sump requires several components such as an aquarium or plastic container, baffles, and a pump. First, you’ll need to determine the appropriate size for the sump based on your aquarium’s water volume. Then, you’ll need to drill holes for the inflow and outflow, install baffles to direct water flow, and add equipment such as a protein skimmer and heater.

What size pump do I need for my saltwater aquarium sump?
The size of the pump needed for your saltwater aquarium sump depends on several factors such as the size of the sump, the height of the return pipe, and the size of the return nozzle. Generally, a pump that can circulate the sump water volume at least three to five times per hour is recommended.

What is the purpose of baffles in a saltwater aquarium sump?
Baffles are used in a saltwater aquarium sump to direct the flow of water and prevent turbulence. They help to maximize contact time between water and equipment such as protein skimmers and refugiums, which improves water quality. Baffles can also be used to create separate chambers for additional equipment or to compartmentalize media such as filter floss or activated carbon.

How often should I clean my saltwater aquarium sump?
The frequency of cleaning your saltwater aquarium sump depends on several factors such as the amount of debris in the system, the size of the sump, and the equipment being used. Generally, it is recommended to clean the sump every 1 to 2 months by removing any accumulated debris, cleaning equipment such as protein skimmers, and replacing filter media.

Why is a refugium beneficial in a saltwater aquarium sump?
A refugium is a section of the saltwater aquarium sump that is used to cultivate macroalgae, copepods, and other beneficial microorganisms. These organisms help to consume excess nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates, which improves water quality. Additionally, macroalgae in the refugium can provide a natural food source for herbivorous fish and invertebrates.

Can a saltwater aquarium sump be used for a freshwater aquarium?
Yes, a saltwater aquarium sump can be used for a freshwater aquarium. The same principles apply for increasing water volume, improving water quality, and providing space for equipment. However, the equipment used in a saltwater sump such as a protein skimmer may not be necessary for a freshwater system.