How to Clean and Cure Live Rock

Fresh live rock is teaming with millions of fascinating reef species that have the potential to grow and thrive in a captive saltwater environment. "Curing" live rock refers to a period of normal die off of some of these organisms when the rock is moved from the ocean to a captive saltwater environment or from one location to another. When cured properly, live rock rebounds from the die off and many organisms begin to flourish once again. During the curing period the die off can cause a spike in ammonia and nitrite which can kill many of the organisms on the rock. Proper cleaning and curing helps live rock recover from shipping and handling and fosters new growth of macroalgae and other beautiful organisms.

Cleaning Live Rock
When uncured and even so-called "cured" live rock is first placed into an established saltwater system, or used to cycle a new aquarium, some die-off of the organisms that reside on and inside and outside of the the rock will occur. The build-up of this dead or dying organic matter can create an ammonia or nitrite spike in the aquarium. To help lessen the chances of a water quality problems, two procedures can be followed to pre-clean the rocks before using them.

Method 1

  1. Before you begin this method, you need to have something ready to put the rocks into once they are cleaned. This can be either a separate rock curing setup or an aquarium. A 32 gallon grey trash can can be used.
  2. Fill a large bucket or container with saltwater, take each piece of rock and swish it around in the water. This helps to get rid of some of the organisms that may be embedded inside the porous rock, break loose any organisms that may be dead or dying off, as well as remove sediment that may be present.


Method 2
Although the method above is a good one, taking the time to thoroughly pre-clean the rocks is much more beneficial. Here's how to do it with a great new product:

Items Needed:

  • Live rockLive Rock
  • Prepared rock curing set up
  • Clean, plastic spray bottle
  • Saltwater
  • A large piece of plastic, or newspaper
  • A pair of gloves
  • Protective Glasses
  • Tweezers, or other items for removing things from the rocks
  • Large bucket or plastic container
  • Rock Prep w/Brush Head

Wear goggles for eye protection and rubber gloves to protect sensitive skin.

  1. For first use, remove brush head from bottle, then remove insert from mouth of bottle, save for later use and replace brush head. Product is now ready for use.
  2. Invert bottle to allow cleaning solution to saturate bristle head.
  3. Use head to brush surfaces and in crevices removing obviously dead and/or decaying material. Avoid healthy organisms, because although this product will not negatively affect them, the action of being scrubbed may cause them physical damage.
  4. Re-saturate scrubbing head with solution as needed.
  5. When the rock has been cleaned to your satisfaction, rinse it well in a bucket or under a stream (preferable) of saltwater until no particulate material is seen coming out of or off of the rock. The live rock is now ready to be added to the aquarium.

Rock Prep by Kent Marine
Fresh-from-the-fish-store live rock is no fun for your tank, wreaking havoc on your water quality. Speed up the curing process with Rock Prep. Complete with a gentle scrubbing brush, this mild cleaning solution gets rid of decaying matter that died off due to loss of moisture or air exposure during transportation. Rock Prep will not harm living organisms on or within the rock when used as directed. Make sure your live rock is safe and ready for placement in your tank with Rock Prep.

How To Cure Live Rock in a Curing Set Up
The breakdown of the organisms that reside on uncured and even cured live rock contributes to the accumulation of excess organic matter in any saltwater aquarium system. In turn this will cause a build-up or spike in ammonia, which you do not want. To help avoid this and other problems that can arise, here is a standard method for curing live rock before placing it into an established aquarium for use. It's easy to do, beneficial, and takes just a few items to set it all up.

  1. Any type of plastic container, or an aquarium that is suitable in size to fit the amount of live rock you have to cure can be used for this project.
  2. Fill the curing container to a suitable level from the top with the saltwater. If you did not make-up and mix saltwater ahead of time in a separate container, you can do it right inside the curing container itself.
  3. Insert and run a heater set to the desired temperature.
  4. Hook up and run a water powerhead and or an air pump with airstone in the water for circulation and oxygenation.
  5. Allow the water to adjust to the set heater temperature, and check the pH level. Make adjustments if needed.
  6. Once the saltwater is ready, turn off the heater and water pump, remove and save approximately 1/2 of the water in the container. The water level will rise when the rocks are placed into the container.
  7. Before placing the live rock into the curing container , it is best to pre-clean the rocks first following the cleaning instructions above. Taking the time to do this, will help speed-up the curing time.
  8. After each piece of rock is cleaned, place it into the curing container.
  9. When all the rocks are in the curing container, refill it to a suitable level from the top using the saved saltwater, and then turn the heater and water pump and or air pump back on.
  10. Now it is "curing". This means doing nothing but occasionally siphoning out dead or dying organic matter that has settled on the bottom, and topping off the water when needed. There is no set time frame for this process. Because many variables apply here, such as the quality of the live rock, the amount of growth that may die off in the process, how uncured or cured it was when you started, and so on, it may take only a few days, or a month.
  11. The simplest way to tell if rock is cured is by smell. The curing process can be a very smelly one, so when the water no longer exudes an odor, it should be done. Use the test kits to insure it is.


  1. To help avoid unwanted algae blooms that may occur during the live rock curing process, lighting is not used. Better aquarium stores will have cured rocks under proper lighting helping you get better rock with coraline algae started. in addition the better stores will filter heavily this rock with carbon and biological filtration to keep as many beneficial organisms alive as possible.
  2. Because curing live rock can often be a rather smelly process, if at all possible cure it in an area where any odor that may result will not present a problem, such as in a garage or basement. However, be sure it is a place where the room temperature can be regulated, especially during winter.
  3. Whether you purchased cured or uncured live rock, it can be placed directly into the aquarium for use if you choose to do so. However, if you do this and opt to bypass the curing process, it is recommended to at least pre-clean the rocks first.

Items Needed:

  • Curing Container
  • Live Rocks
  • Saltwater
  • Heater
  • Water/Powerhead Pump and or Air Pump and Airstone
  • Gravel Cleaner for siphoning
  • Ammonia Test Kit
  • Nitrite Test Kit

How To Cure Live Rock in a New Saltwater Aquarium
Here is a simple way to cure live rock inside the aquarium and use it to cycle a new tank, before you add livestock, other than the live rock.

  1. If the aquarium already has saltwater in it, and/or the system is set up and running, first turn off all the equipment, remove any devices that may get in the way, and take out and save approximately 1/2 of the saltwater in the tank. The reason for this is that the water level will rise when the rocks are put into the tank.
  2. If the aquarium is empty, you can either fill it approximately 1/2 full with prepared saltwater, or mix the saltwater solution in the tank if you need to, then remove about 1/2 of the saltwater when it is ready for use.
  3. Pre-clean the rocks, if needed, place them into the aquarium, and top-off the water level if needed.
  4. Turn all the equipment back on.
  5. Let the rocks cure. This means you DO NOT add livestock, or anything else until the curing process is complete. So how do you know when it is "cured"? You can test for ammonia and nitrite, and when you get zero readings, the process has reached completion. Often you can also tell by smelling the water. If there is no odor to the water, it usually means the process is done.
  6. While the rocks are curing, periodically siphon out any accumulated organic matter off the bottom of the tank, top-off the water level when needed, and keep an eye out and remove any unwanted animals or organisms that may have been missed when the rocks where pre-cleaned.
  7. Once the curing process is complete, siphon out any debris from the bottom of the tank, and do a substantial water change.
  8. Now start aquascaping the tank and getting some livestock but go slowly and test the water regularly.

Better stores offer box lot pricing that saves money and is perfect for cycling a new aquarium. These stores also have rock that is already cured and has no odor. This speeds up the new tank cycling process. Rock holding tanks in stores that are filtered and have proper lighting to ensure the highest quality rock live organism growth, is even better. 

Items Needed:


  • A Set Up Saltwater Aquarium
  • Live Rock
  • Ammonia Test Kit
  • Nitrite Test Kit