How To Prepare Driftwood For An Aquarium: Everything You Need to Know

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People often want to add driftwood to their aquariums, but they don’t know how to do it correctly, and they end up hurting their fish or damaging the tank.

Adding driftwood to your aquarium can be a beautiful addition, but it’s essential to do it correctly, so you don’t hurt your fish or damage the tank.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using driftwood in your aquarium, from where to find it to how to prepare it for use. We’ll also discuss the benefits of using driftwood and some of the best ways to incorporate it into your tank.

What Is Driftwood, And Where Does It Come From?

Driftwood is wood that washes up on shore or ends up in the water after natural disasters.

Driftwood is typically submerged underwater for months or even years before it’s collected. During this time, it absorbs nutrients and releases tannins into the water.

This can cause discoloration cloudiness and sometimes smells bad. So it’s important to know how to use driftwood safely in your aquarium.

How Do I Know Driftwood Is Safe To Use?

You’ll want to make sure your driftwood doesn’t smell like rotten eggs (or sulfur) before you put it in your tank because this means there are sulfates or other toxins in the wood.

If your driftwood does smell like rotten eggs, don’t worry!

There are ways you can remove the toxins so you can still use them in your tank.

Preparing Your Driftwood For Use In An Aquarium

To ensure your driftwood is safe for aquarium use, there are a few things you can do before adding it to your tank.

Buy From A Local Fish Store

First and foremost, buy your driftwood instead of using natural pieces found outdoors.

Driftwood that you buy at your local fish store will still need to be cleaned and prepped before adding it to your tank, but you can be assured it is likely safe to use compared to something you found down by the river.

That said, finding your driftwood is a fun and rewarding experience. Just be sure to clean the driftwood before using it in your aquarium thoroughly.


Before adding any piece of driftwood to an aquarium, you must clean it.

The reason for this is you don’t want any dirt or debris from where the wood came from getting into your tank and causing a mess.

To clean driftwood before adding it to an aquarium, simply scrub it with a toothbrush under running water. After this, rinse it off with tap water until the water.


Before you put any driftwood in your tank, you should cure it to remove tannins and other impurities from wood.

Curing will also help your driftwood sink faster, so it doesn’t float when you add it to your aquarium.

To cure the driftwood;

  1. First, soak it in water that has been dechlorinated overnight or up to three days (never use tap water as it contains chlorine and other minerals that can damage your tank).
  2. (Optional) After soaking the driftwood, you can fill a bucket with dechlorinated water and place the piece of driftwood inside.
  3. Add some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to make sure all those impurities are removed from the wood (you only need around 1/4 cup of baking soda for this).
  4. The baking soda will interact with the tannins in the wood, pulling them out, so they aren’t released into your tank.
  5. After 24 hours, drain the water and rinse off any remaining debris or residue that has been pulled from the driftwood.

Note: Tannins are not always a bad thing. For example; if you go for a dark water aquarium. Tannins can also provide benefits for the fish in your aquarium.

Boiling water

Some types of driftwood do not need to be cured because they are already free from tannins and other impurities.

However, if it is filthy, you can boil it to cleanse it (this will also help remove oils and dirt from the wood).

  1. Fill a pot with water that has been dechlorinated and bring it to a boil.
  2. Submerge your piece of driftwood into the boiling water for around 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the piece of driftwood from the pot.
  4. Rinse off any debris or dust leftover from boiling with running water until clear. Then put it in a bucket filled with freshly dechlorinated water overnight so no tannins will leach into the water.

The Benefits Of Using Driftwood In An Aquarium

Adding driftwood in an aquarium has many benefits, including acting as a natural filter and providing hiding places for fish.

However, there are also some drawbacks; for example, if the wood isn’t prepared correctly before use in the tank, it will release tannins, making water discolored and acidic.

When adding any decoration to an aquarium, you must research what types of materials are safe for use with different types of tanks (e.g., acrylic vs. glass).


  • Driftwood acts as a natural filter when submerged in water. It breaks down and serves as a place for beneficial bacteria to grow. These bacteria help reduce toxins in the water, making it a safe environment for your fish.
  • Driftwood provides hiding places for fish. It’s an excellent place for your fish to go when they’re in danger or need to rest.
  • Driftwood has a natural appearance that blends well with aquarium décor. It can cover up equipment or decorations that you don’t want visible in the tank.
  • Using driftwood in your tank can add a unique aquascaping element to the scene, which is aesthetically pleasing to look at and does not require any special or expensive equipment to make it work (unlike live plants).
  • Some driftwood types release substances that stimulate plant growth when submerged underwater, making them ideal for planted tanks.


  • If you add driftwood that isn’t prepared correctly, it will release tannins into the water, making water discolored and acidic.
  • If placed on the bottom of an aquarium, some types of driftwood could potentially damage the sealant (even if it’s fully dry) or get stuck underneath objects like rocks or gravel. This could lead to leaks over time.
  • Not all types of fish can be housed with driftwood because it releases tannins into the water, especially nocturnal fish (e.g., loaches, catfish). However, most active fish can live with driftwood as long as you prepare it beforehand.
  • The weight of the driftwood could potentially break sand or gravel over time (particularly if it’s placed on the bottom)

How To Select The Right Piece Of Driftwood For Your Tank

When looking for driftwood to put in your aquarium, it is essential to find the right piece. You don’t want something too big or too small. You also don’t want something that has sharp edges or is covered in moss.

Instead, look for a smooth piece of driftwood with a natural shape. This will make it less likely to damage your fish if they brush up against it.

Keep in mind that the piece of driftwood will be sitting on the bottom of your tank, so you want to make sure it won’t damage the substrate when you put it down.


We’ve covered everything you need to know about using driftwood in your aquarium in this article.

We’ve talked about the benefits of adding driftwood and some of the best ways to use it in your tank.

We’ve also discussed the importance of preparing driftwood properly before adding it to your tank and how to select the right piece for your needs.

So, if you’re looking for a beautiful and natural way to decorate your aquarium, consider using driftwood!


Do I have to boil driftwood for the aquarium?

No, it isn’t necessary to boil driftwood for an aquarium.

However, many people prefer to do so anyway to ensure the driftwood is safe for use in their aquarium.

Boiling the driftwood will remove tannins, dirt, and toxins from the wood for a cleaner look.

If you choose to boil your driftwood before adding it to your tank, make sure that you follow the steps above.

Can I use driftwood from the beach in my aquarium?

It isn’t a good idea to use driftwood from the beach in an aquarium.

Beach driftwood could contain sand and salt, which is dangerous for your tank and fish.

It’s also challenging to identify if the driftwood has been treated with any chemicals that harm your tank or fish.

How long to boil driftwood to make it sink?

It can take a minimum of three days to boil and soak driftwood long enough for it to sink in all aquariums.

However, each piece is different; if it’s sinking in the bucket you are soaking it in, it should likely sink in your aquarium.

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