How To Clean Aquarium Decorations [The Easy Way]

If you just bought a new aquarium, you’re probably wondering how you should clean the decorations when they get dirty.

Lucky for you, This article will give you detailed step-by-step information on how to clean your aquarium decorations easily so you can get back to watching your fish.

In this article, you’ll learn;

  • how to clean your decorations with and without chemicals.
  • how to clean algae off your decorations
  • how to use bleach to clean your decorations safely
  • and other tips I’m sure you’ll love.

Let’s begin


Aquarium Cleaning Tools

Aquarium decorations (rocks, plastic plants, ornaments, etc.) improve your tank’s appearance and provide a nice hiding place for fish.

But over time, these decorations usually get covered with dirt and algae that must be cleaned.

Keeping your aquarium clean not only affects its aesthetics but also affects water quality, which directly impacts your fish’s health and wellbeing.

To maintain good water quality and aesthetics, you need to clean your tank decorations regularly.

Here’s what to do.

How To Keep Your Aquarium Decorations Clean [Step by Step]

Below you’ll find a few straightforward steps to clean your aquarium decorations.

How you wash your decoration impacts the water quality and chemistry, directly affecting the fish’s health and wellbeing. Following a proper procedure for cleaning is crucial.

For instance, if you accidentally wash your tank decorations with soap and fail to rinse them well, the remaining soap residues could alter your tank’s conditions, which may harm your fish.

Therefore, you need to be very careful when cleaning your tank’s decorations.

Note: Never use any type of soaps or chemical to clean your aquarium equipment or decorations. In fact don’t even use soap on your hands if you know you’ll be cleaning your aquairum in the next few hours.

1. Get Prepared

Rinse Your Hands And Arms (Without Soap)

The first thing you need to do before cleaning your aquarium decorations is to give your hands and arms a quick rinse. Again ensure you don’t use any soap; this can kill your fish.

Dirty hands can carry oils, germs, or bacteria that can affect your water conditions.

Trim & Clean-Up Any Live Or Dead Plants

If your aquarium has live plants, it’s not wise to remove them. Removing live plants from the tank can damage their roots, and it is unnecessary because they naturally clean themselves.

However, to make cleaning easier and less stressful to the fish, you can trim any dead leaves and remove any dead floating plants.

2. Start With Cleaning Your Substrate

The substrate cleaning is the most tricky part of aquarium maintenance. A substrate is the bottom-bed material of a fish tank, and there are several types of it.

Gravel and sand types are the most common.

Vacuum Your Gravel

Most people prefer to decorate the bottom of their aquarium with gravel. If that is the case with your tank, you need to vacuum the gravel to remove any uneaten food, decaying organic matter that could cause an algae problem.

Special gravel vacuum cleaners are available to help sucks dirt and debris from the bottom. You have to move the suction around to take out as much grime as possible.

Cleaning Your Sand

Cleaning the sand bottom is a little challenging. It requires time and patience. You will need a similar type of gravel vacuum to clean it properly.

You can use a stick to stir the sandy bottom bed a little. Accumulated dirt will come out, and the vacuum will suck it up. But be sure to do this gently.

A vigorous cleaning should be avoided as the substrate is the residence of beneficial bacteria, and you want to limit destroying the colony.

3. Cleaning Aquarium Decorations Without Bleach And Other Chemicals

After you’re done with the substrate, you can shift your focus to cleaning the decorations. This includes things like;

  • Plastic plants
  • Rocks
  • Caves
  • Ornaments

The method you use to clean will depend on how dirty the decorations are.

For the aquarists who perform frequent and routine cleaning, a typical vacuum and hot water wash can be sufficient to clean their things.

But a more thorough cleaning might be required if you’ve gone a few weeks or even months between cleanings.

Gently Remove Your Decorations

Aquarium decorations can be fragile and should be removed carefully to avoid damaging them. Don’t remove all decorations at the same time. Instead, remove and clean one or two decorations at a time.

Although all decorations can be removed and cleaned at once, it is advisable that you only clean 25%-50% of decorations at a time.

Removing all decorations may stress the fish, especially those who are territorial.

There is no need to remove fish when cleaning the decorations. Just keep them in the tank and be careful not to scare them.

Clean Your Decorations With Hot Water

For plastic plants and ornaments, you can start by boiling water on a big container that can comfortably hold all your aquarium decorations.

Again don’t add any chemicals to the water (such as chlorine and soap).

Once the water has boiled, soak the decorations in the pot for about 5-10 minutes.

This process will kill the vast majority of algae and also make the cleaning process a little easier.

Please note: Not all your tank’s decorations can withstand boiling water temperature. If you have decorations that might become soft or deformed in boiling water then just use hot tap water.

Clean Algae Off Your Decorations Using A Soft Brush

The best way to remove algae and dirt from your decorations and equipment is by scrubbing them with a brush (it can be a toothbrush).

We recommend using a toothbrush because it effectively removes algae and other stubborn dirt, including those hidden in hard to reach places, without damaging your delicate decorations.

After the scrubbing, your decorations should be clean.

Rinse them with clean running water, then return them to the tank.

If you have some really stubborn stains, algae, or dirt that you can’t get off, try this next process.

4. How To Clean Aquarium Decorations With Bleach

If your decorations are still not sparkling clean, even after scrubbing them with a toothbrush, cleaning them with a bleaching solution may be the right move.

How To Make A Bleach Dip Solution

Make a 5% bleach solution by mixing four teaspoons per two gallons of water.

Gently pour the bleach solution over each decoration or dip them in a bucket filled with a bleach solution. Leave the things on the solution for about five minutes. The bleaching agent will remove any remaining algae and dirt from the decorations, leaving them sparkling clean.

One important thing to remember is, don’t use a bleaching agent to clean rocks and gravel because they absorb bleach, which will affect the tank’s health.

Bleach can be very harmful to fish, so it is vital to ensure no residual bleaching substance is present after you have done it.

While bleaching, ensure the room is well ventilated. Bleaching agents emit dangerous fumes that may burn your eyes. Also, avoid direct contact with the bleaching agent by wearing gloves.

Clean Algae Off Your Decorations By Scrubbing The Decorations

Once the decorations have soaked on the bleaching agent for five minutes, scrub them using the same toothbrush to remove stubborn residues and algae.

Scrub all parts, including corners and hard to reach places, to prevent algae build up in the future. Rinse the decoration with cold running water for about two minutes to remove algae residue and the bleach.

Soak The Decorations In De-Chlorinated Water

Fill another bucket with water, then treat it with a de-chlorinating agent. Dip your decorations in the de-chlorinated water and allow them to soak for about 20 minutes.

This process is crucial because it removes the bleach and chlorine (which are dangerous to fish) from the decorations.

Tip: I personally take one extra step and let the decorations dry for 24 hours to ensure all the bleach has been removed.

5. Putting Decorations Back In The Tank

Once the cleaning process is over, the next step is putting the decorations back on the tank. You can place them in their previous location or new location; it’s all up to you.

How Often Should You Clean Aquarium Decorations 

There are no strict guidelines on how often you should clean aquarium decorations. The rule is simple; if they are dirty, black, or full of algae, wash them.

Some other factors that determine how often you should clean decorations are how many fish you are keeping and your tank’s size.

Most experts recommend cleaning your decorations once a month. The frequency can be more, if needed, to keep everything looking neat and clean.

Tips For Choosing Good Decorations

Cleaning is somewhat unavoidable, but you can minimize the hassle if you follow the right steps for choosing decors.

Consider The Size Of Your Aquarium

When choosing a decoration for your aquarium, consider the size of your aquarium. The last thing you want is to clutter the fish tank. It is important to choose decorations that suit the size of your fish tank.

If you have a larger fish tank, you will have more options to choose from. In a congested aquarium, dirt can quickly accumulate in the gaps and require more frequent cleaning.

Consider The Type Of Fish You Have In Your Tank

The type of fish in your tank should also determine the decorations to put in your aquarium. Some fish species love to hide a lot while others don’t.

If your fish loves to hide in the tank’s bottom, a cave might be the perfect choice for your tank.

Selecting The Right Type Of Decorations

There are many types of decorations. However, not all decorations are suitable for a fish tank. When choosing decorations, check whether they have been specifically made for underwater use.

If it’s not, don’t use it. You could end up harming your fish.

Do You Have Saltwater Or Freshwater

Some decorations do well in freshwater, others in salty water, and some in both. This is true for the substrate also.

For instance, typically, in freshwater aquariums, gravel or rocks are used. On the other hand, if you have a saltwater tank, a sandy bottom is the right choice.

Choose Between Synthetic & Non-Synthetic Material

Both synthetic and organic tank decorations have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, artificial decorations are long-lasting, easy to clean, available in different sizes and varieties, and don’t affect the tank’s chemistry. Their downside is that they may look cheesy if they are not of good quality.

On the other hand, live plants can improve the condition of our tank. Their downside is that they are expensive to maintain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Fish Need Decorations?

You do not need to add decorations to your tank. But, it’s important to provide a natural environment to make your fish feel at home.

Decorations also provide hiding places if your fish feel threatened or stressed.

Lastly, decorations, especially live plants, improve your aquarium’s appearance and help enhance the health and well-being of fish. They also offer a conducive environment for good bacteria (which are essential for fish) to thrive.

What Decorations Can You Put In A Fish Tank?

The most recommended type of decorations to put in your fish tank include rocks, live plants, plastic plants, wood, glass, and ornaments.

However, there are many homemade options available as well. Check out our post on some homemade aquarium decorations.

Final thoughts

Cleaning our aquarium decorations is important and should be done as part of your regular maintenance schedule.

For the best results, try following the tips above. Avoid cleaning all decorations thoroughly at the same time to avoid stressing the fish and removing beneficial bacteria from the tank.

Take care.

Author’s Bio

Sujit Modak is the owner of the fishkeeping blog Aquarium Tales. He is an experienced aquarist. He successfully experimented with a complex ecosystem inside aquariums. Biotope aquariums and aquaponics are the fields of his interest. He shared his experience-based thoughts on how to clean aquarium decorations effectively with simple steps.

Jack Dempsey
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