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/The Conscientious Reef Aquarist

Buying Used Aquarium Gear 


By Bob Fenner

  New is better

    Other than the apparent cost savings there can be very little difference between buying gear second hand... Stipulated that you check it out thoroughly to assure "it's all there" and functional.

    Let's face it. Other than non-transferable warrantees, all such equipment IS used the minute you unwrap it. Herein are my suggestions and provisos for if/when buying used is a good idea.

Know What You're Buying

    The same as purchasing new, you've got to have done your research on what features, size, options you want, what your choices are in either case. What comes with the gear new? Printed instructions, inserts, express warrantees? Hopefully who ever is reselling you their gear has kept the original packaging and more.

Tanks A Lot (for not leaking)

    No matter what anyone says, the only way to assess whether a used (or new for that matter) aquarium will leak is to fill it up with water. To test, start with the tank cleaned of accumulated gunk and algae (these can temporarily plug small leaks). Also, scratches can only be detected with the tank clean.

    It's best to fill/test the tank on the stand/support it will be permanently  set upon. A good idea for leak detection? Place a sheet of newspaper under the tank. Even a small leak will show quickly.


    What technology are you looking at? Which manufacturer/distributor? How old are the lamps, ballasts? Unless obviously brand new I would assume the former to be near the end of their useful life span and plan on replacing them soon.

    For the fixtures, check for corrosion and remove it. If any of the connections show rust or breaking, plan on their needing immediate renewal.

    Simple salt creep and mineral accumulation shouldn't preclude a purchase if these accumulations can be easily washed off and scrubbed away.


    Resistant type heaters should be placed in a bottle or other container (non-submersible heaters can be tested in a sink by fitting their tubes through a hole in a small sheet of styrofoam), and allowed to set for about 10-15 minutes unplugged (to allow for thermostatic adjustment). Plug them in, turn them down (to make sure they will go off. and adjust them upward to make sure they will do so as well. Place your hand around the base underwater to determine if they are heating the water up. Turn down, unplug, let set for another 10-15 minutes (to prevent overheating, breakage from lifting into the air).

    Chillers can be a sink-hole bought used. Do your research here re brands, makes, models... with folks who actually use them... on the electronic bulletin boards and chatforums on the Internet (e.g.: http://talk.wetwebfotos.com/), and/or a local clubs membership... Opinions do vary... but many chillers have very short lifespans. Caveat emptor here.


    Should be examined set-up and running. Again, are all the parts there? Do the pumps have warrantees? Where were these purchased? Do the sellers have original receipts? Were any one-time purchase media supplied or bought otherwise? Ask the seller where they've been buying replacement filter media. They may have found the absolute lowest cost provider.

Used Substrates, Decor

    Can almost always be "recycled". Simple bleach washing, rinsing and dechlorination will restore most all gravels, plastic and natural aquascape items to new condition.

About "Used Livestock"

    Why not? You've got their home. Such organisms are well-adapted to aquarium care and are often "specific pathogen free". If you can't place such displaced livestock do the ethical thing and find them a proper home, or trade them in at a local fish shop.

About Pricing

    What's fair? Actually, about "what the market will bear"... i.e. what the buyer and seller settle on. Glass tanks and much of other gear often sell for about 1/2 of retail. Acrylic tanks and high end filtration equipment often hold their value better, selling for closer to 3/5's (or more) of retail.


    Is buying used a good idea? A qualified yes. IF you know what you're getting, it's all there & in good operating condition... and the price is relatively reasonable, why not?

    Each person must decide for themselves, on this as on any issue. For me, I give away old gear rather than sell it... Friendships are too valuable and used gear too unpredictable. For you?

Bibliography/Further Reading

Anon. 1978. Disease prevention and control; in order to create, to as great a degree as possible, the optimal initial environmental conditions in the fresh or marine system, it is necessary to properly prepare the substrate and all decorative and cover materials. FAMA 5/78.

Black, Tom & Alex Bielawski. 1976. Curing shells, corals and gorgonians. Marine Aquarist 7(1):76.

Dewey, Don. 1978. Decorative coral for the marine aquarium. FAMA 1/78.

Paletta, Mike. 1993. Moving a reef tank; definitely not fun, but it can be done. AFM 7/93.

Whorff, John & Lori. 1995. How to successfully move your reef tank. FAMA 6/95.

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