There are many benefits to using a nice piece of aquarium wood to complement your aquarium. There are also a few draw backs that come with using natural driftwood as well. In this article we will be looking at the pros and cons to using various aquarium woods, as well as a step by step guide on preparing and installing your newly bought decor.
Things to Consider
When looking at any new addition to your aquarium. You need to consider its practicality and compatibility with your existing setup. If it is a new setup you are looking at. Then building your aquarium around a nice piece of driftwood is much easier to do, as natural driftwood can come in any manner of shape and size.
Having an aquarium that is full to the brim with solid structures. May provide your fishy friends with great places to play, hide and rest. It also makes cleaning your tank harder to do, as there will be more things that will need to be taken out and cleaned. As well as making it harder to clean the glass if there is a big piece of driftwood blocking your access.
Here are some pointers to consider when it comes to the general maintenance and cleaning of your aquarium:
- The more objects you have in the tank, means the more objects things are to clean
- Basic maintenance such as clipping the plants or cleaning the glass can be more difficult if access is blocked
- More frequent water changes may be required as some driftwood can cause the water to turn murky
- Driftwood can also contain mold or algae spores, that may require continual treatment to maintain their growth
2) The Size of Your Tank and the Wood
It goes without saying that if your tank is too small to house the driftwood you want, then the that piece will not fit. You can consider having the driftwood sticking up out of the tank or have it cut size.
The following pointers will need to be considered. When picking your piece of wood.
- Ensure that when dry, the driftwood is only able to touch one end of the tank, not both ends. Driftwood can swell up when it is waterlogged, which may apply pressure to the glass if it needs to be wedged into place while it is dry
- If you are going to have the driftwood sticking up out of the tank. Ensure that there is enough clearance for the wood to stick out
- If there will be no lid/cover. Keep the water level low enough, as to prevent fish from jumping out
- The wood will take up space and reduce the overall volume of water that will be in the tank
3) Environmental Spacing
Betta fish like to swim among the reeds and roots of plants, so having smooth cage like driftwood, or wood that can provide a hole to hide in would be ideal. Other things to look at would be:
- Make sure that there is enough room to your fish to comfortably swim around in
- Fish that have large delicate fins like the betta, can easily tear them. So avoid using driftwood with jagged edges or sharp points
4) The Type of Aquarium Wood
You might be able to find driftwood that is found in your fish’s natural habitat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be used in your aquarium. So here are some pointers to consider when looking for the right piece of wood:
- All natural wood will eventually rot. This causes the the tank water to turn murky, which can easily be addressed with a good filtration system and regular water changes
- Some driftwood release toxins and tannic acids as it rots. This can become toxic within the limited water volume found in most aquariums. In the wild these toxins would be removed by the current or they would be diluted by the increased water levels
- Aromatic woods, and some pine and yew wood can be poisonous for fish. They might leach out phenols and saps into the water, making your fish sick if not killing them
- Soft woods rot rather quickly, so even though a piece may look nice. It may not last for very long, and could increase the maintenance requirements for your aquarium
- Hard woods are slower to rot, but are also harder to find with the stylistic appearances
- Some woods like cork bark, need to be anchored at all times otherwise they’ll float up due to their buoyancy
- Using wood found in the wild does have some risk factors with it
- The wood may contain chemicals such as oils, pesticides, and other pollutants found in the area you took the wood from
- There could also be parasites and fungus that is hiding dormant inside the wood
5) The Intended Use For the Wood
One of the last elements that must be considered. Is what do you intend to do with your piece of aquarium wood?
- If it is to provide your fish with somewhere to hide. Then shape and size are important
- If it needs to act as a perch or to hold/support another object. Then again shape is important as well as function
- Or if you are looking to build an aquascape around the wood. Then you need to find the shape and style that will provide you with the desired outcome
How To Prepare Your Aquarium Wood
So you have found the ideal piece of wood that will complement your aquarium and serve the desired function. What now?
Well first things first, you need to make sure that the wood is safe to be introduced into your aquarium. This requires cleaning, sterilizing and quarantining of the piece of wood.
Here is an easy to follow step by step guide for preparing your driftwood, both found and bought from a dealer.
- If you trust your supplier, and are happy with the condition of the wood. You can jump straight to Step 6) or Step 8)
Step 1) Remove Solid Debris
You may not need to do this when buying driftwood from a pet store or another reputable dealer. It is a must for found pieces of wood however.
Hold the piece by one end and give it a shake, and tap the wood against a solid object. The size of the wood would indicate how much force to put into the tap and if it can be held by the other end and tapped again. If you are doing this inside, tap the wood against the inside edge of a bowl, bucket or bin.
We need to do this to help remove:
- Pests such as ants and bugs that may be holding onto the wood or inside of it
- There could be clumps of dirt or rocks stuck to the wood, which can make later cleaning more time consuming
Step 2) Dry Scrub The Wood
Using a coarse stiff brush, scrub and brush the surface of the wood. Make sure to work over the entire surface of the wood and around any joints and nooks that it may have.
- You may need to use a flicking motion for the hard to reach areas
- Make sure that visible debris such as dirt, bark and rocks are removed as much as possible
Step 3) Pick At It
If there is anything that still needs to be removed after the scrubbing. Use a pick, knife or pointed object, to dig out and scrap off the remaining debris.
- If you are going to use a sharp knife, make sure to wear the appropriate gloves to avoid cutting yourself
- Do not use too much force as you could either slip and hurt yourself or break the wood
- An alternative method is to use an air compressor and blast the wood with air
Step 4) Sanding
Using sandpaper, rub the surface of the wood and remove any rough or sharp edges.
- If you need to remove large clumps of rough wood, use a medium – heavy grade sandpaper
- Coarser sandpaper removes more wood but also leaves scratches
- For a smooth finish, use a light grade fine sandpaper
Step 5) Basic Quarantine
Place the wood into a sealed plastic bag, and leave it for a few days. Make sure that it is kept at room temperature and check back in to see if there is any evidence of dead bugs.
- It may be tempting to use a bug spray or pesticide to kill off any bugs, but that is highly inadvisable
- Pesticide is toxic for your fish and we do not want the wood to be contaminated with it
- If bugs are found leave the wood in the bag for a few more days. The wood will be boiled later which should help remove any remaining bugs
Step 6) Wash The Wood Under Running Water
Hold the wood under a steady stream of water until the water flowing off looks to be running clear.
- Inspect the wood for any dirt that may have been missed during the scrubbing process and rub it away
Step 7) Soak The Wood In Water
Known as ‘curing’. Place the wood inside a large container. Slowly pour distilled water into the wood until it is completely submerged. Leave the wood to soak for one to two weeks. Remove the wood and leave it in a cool location to dry out.
- If you are concerned about potential pest escaping from the wood. Use a container that has lid and fill it to the top
- Over time, the water will begin to darken. This is a result of the tannins being released
- To help keep your aquarium water clear. Replace the soaking water if it begins to take on a tea-color
- For large pieces of wood a small amount of bleach may be used. This can lead to bleach being trapped inside the wood which can leach into your tank water once the wood has been placed inside your aquarium
- If bleach is being used, the wood will need to be purged several times to ensure the safety of your fish
Step 8) Sterilizing The Wood
There are two methods to boiling your wood. One is to have the wood submerged in boiling water over a heat source. The other, you pour boiled water over your wood, submerging it in an insulated container.
If boiling the water with the wood in it. You will need to top up the water as it evaporates, and keep the process going for 1-2 hours. At which point you drain the water and repeat the process 1-2 more times.
If you are submerging the wood in boiled water. The water will need to be changed often and may take several hours to fully complete.
- After you have finished soaking the wood in boiled/boiling water for several hours. Set it aside to cool
- Boiling your wood is a good way to kill off any pest and fungal spores that may be inside your wood
- Exposing the wood to boiled water also helps to reduce buoyancy as the water is able to penetrate deeper into the wood more easily
Installing Your Aquarium Wood
Once you have finished preparing and sterilizing your driftwood, its time to start decorating your aquarium.
A New Addition to an Existing Aquarium
With the driftwood cooled down you can introduce it an existing aquarium. As long as you complete Step 8) above, it should sink rather easily. Position the new decoration as you see fit, and if there’s still some buoyancy left in the wood. Weight it down by either burying it into the substrate, or by using rocks from the tank, or a combination of the two.
As mentioned before, woods like cork wood will remain buoyant and must be either anchored or attached to the surface of the tank or an object, to prevent it from floating up.
Setting Up a New Tank
When setting up a tank from scratch, you can take several approaches to adding your new driftwood as decor.
- If the wood is still waterlogged following Step 8) you can either fill the tank with the driftwood already in position or position the wood once the tank is full. If it still floats, weigh it down as if introducing it to an already existing aquarium
- If you are planning to incorporate the driftwood into an aquascape. You can consider affixing it to the tanks surface before adding the substrate
- Fill the tank 2/3’s full and add the rest of the plants and other decorations before filling the tank all the way
- Take note of how much water is used to fill the tank as large objects will reduce the water volume. This will mean that any treatments added at later dates, will need to be based on the actual volume of water and not the tank size
- For more information on how to setup a tank, see our article on Nitrogen Cycle
Aquascaping With Aquarium Wood
Your driftwood can be used as an anchor for floating plants. It can also have moss attached to its surface and at its ends. Aquascaping with your driftwood is limited only by your imagination. You can turn your driftwood into an overgrown relic or even a lush grove of trees. Experiment with some different ideas and you just might surprise yourself.
- For more information and ideas on aquascaping, see our article How To Setup an Aquatic Plant Environment
- For more information on plants that can be used for aquascaping see our article Live Aquarium Plants for Your Betta Fish
How to Treat Mold and Algae Growth
If your driftwood starts to grow mold or algae once it is in your aquarium, fear not. It is a very common problem that is easily treated. The growth is caused by fungal spores that were laying dormant in the wood and became active after being exposed to water.
The reason that the growth may not have been seen while the wood was soaking in Step 7), could be due to lack of nutrients in the soaking water. Now that the wood is being kept in the nutrient rich water of your aquarium, the fungus begins to thrive.
1) Manual Cleaning
You can physically remove the fungal growth by cleaning it off in fresh water.
- Rinse the wood under fresh running water
- Wipe the wood dry with paper towels
- Submerge the wood in clean water and scrub the remaining fungus off of the wood
- Rinse the wood under running water again
- Return the wood to the aquarium
Lightly soapy water can be used. Just ensure to give it a thorough rinse before returning the wood to the aquarium.
This does not guarantee that the growth will not return. As the spores are growing from deep within the wood itself.
2) Passive Cleaning
Consider incorporating bottom feeders like catfish and shrimp into your aquarium. They will feed on any mold or algae that grows in your aquarium. Which goes a long way towards helping to maintain a clean and healthy environment
Repeat Step 8) above. The heated water will kill off most if not all of the spores. Depending on the resilience of the spores and how deep they are in the wood. This process may be needed to be done a few more times, but it will eventually get the growths under control.
If your aquarium does not have any moss or algae plants as part of its layout. Then consider using a algae killer. They can help to kill off and reduce algae growths. This also applies to all algae based plants and some mosses however. So use of an algae control chemical should be avoided if it could affect the plants you actually want in your aquarium.
Where to Buy Aquarium Wood
Here are a few helpful links for buying your next piece of aquarium wood. To learn more on the aquarium wood types, read our article on the different types of aquarium wood.
1) Bonsai Driftwood
2) Malaysian Driftwood
3) Mopani Wood
4) Spider Wood
5) Cholla Wood
6) Manzanita Wood
7) Fake Driftwood