Instant Ocean Sea Salt vs Reef Crystals: Similarities & Differences

Posted by Miles Harrison on 1/11/2023

We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

If you’re looking to create saltwater at home, you’ll need a few things, a mixing bucket, RO/DI water, a heater, and the most important part - reef salt.

Two of the most popular options are Instant Ocean’s Reef Crystals and Sea Salt. In this post, we’ll compare the similarities and differences between these two products and provide guidance on which option is best for reef tanks, newly established aquariums, and more.

Instant Ocean: Who are they?

Spectrum Brands, a Wisconsin-based company with over 5 billion in revenue, owns the subsidiary Instant Ocean, a Blacksburg, VA-based business that specializes in sea salt, protein skimmers, and other aquarium-related accessories.

Instant Ocean has been around since the 1960s, when William Kelley, the former director of the Cleveland aquarium founded the business. Its first product was Instant Ocean, and it’s been used in large-scale hatcheries and aquariums ever since.

Image of Instant Ocean
Instant Ocean Sea Salt

Differences between Instant Ocean Sea Salt and Reef Crystals

The main difference between Instant Ocean Sea Salt and Reef Crystals is that Reef Crystals contain higher levels of magnesium and calcium.

Hobbyists may prefer Reef Crystals if they’re keeping stony corals, such as Brain Corals or Chalices since they will benefit from the additional calcium.

Similarities between Instant Ocean Sea Salt and Reef Crystals

Both Instant Ocean Sea Salt and Reef Crystals are designed for marine aquariums and are free of nitrates and phosphates.

When used correctly, Instant Ocean Sea Salt and Reef Crystals will set the pH of a tank between 8.0 to 8.3, and kH levels between 7-10 dKH.

Best Option for Newly Set Up Tanks

If you plan on using these salts to set up a new aquarium, go with Instant Ocean Sea Salt . This salt has been trusted in some of the world’s largest public aquariums and will serve as an excellent foundation for your tank.

Best Option for Mature Aquariums

If your aquarium has been up and running for at least 6 months, we recommend Instant Ocean Sea Salt .

This salt doesn’t contain any additional calcium and magnesium, and the last thing you’ll want to do is experience a sudden change in water chemistry. Always keep in mind that stability is one of the most important parts of the aquarium hobby.

Image of Reef Crystals
Instant Ocean Reef Crystals

Best Option for Reef Tanks

Saltwater aquarium hobbyists who plan on keeping corals, especially stony corals, will benefit from the added Magnesium and Calcium seen in Reef Crystals .

Keep in mind that you should test the levels of magnesium and calcium in your display tank and in the water that you have mixed with reef crystals. Maintaining consistency in dKH, magnesium, and calcium levels is very important, and you should factor in the additional magnesium and calcium found in reef crystals.

Saltwater Fish

Buy clownfish, angelfish, tangs, and more from saltwater enthusiasts

Best Option for Hobbyists on a Budget

If you’re shopping on a budget, go with Instant Ocean Sea Salt . While it doesn’t have the additional magnesium and calcium, it’s much more affordable, and you won’t have to worry about a compromise in quality.

Plus, it tends to be a bit more popular, so it’s often easier to find locally which can save you a few extra bucks in shipping costs.

Price Comparison

Typically, a bucket of Instant Ocean Reef Crystals capable of creating 200 gallons of saltwater will run you around $60 , while the same amount of Instant Ocean Sea Salt will be a bit cheaper at around $50 Both products go on sale frequently, which is great for those of us looking to snag a good deal.

Prices may vary slightly depending on the retailer, but both salts are usually available in 10-gallon, 50-gallon, 160-gallon, and 200-gallon options.


As you can see, the main difference between these two products is that Reef Crystals contain additional calcium and magnesium and Instant Ocean Sea Salt does not.

Both products have received positive feedback from hobbyists and ultimately, the choice between them comes down to personal preference.

You can be confident that whichever option you choose, you're getting a product that has been a favorite among hobbyists for many years. If you have any thoughts or opinions about these products, feel free to share them in the comments section, and don't forget to check out our marketplace and community forum.

Image of Miles Harrison

Miles Harrison

With over a decade of aquarium experience, Miles can be found writing about saltwater and freshwater aquariums. When he’s not writing about fish, you can find him going for a run or building websites, such as this one!