Is Driftwood Good For Aquarium? (Is It Safe To Use?)

Image of driftwood kept in an aquarium

Driftwood is good for an aquarium as it enhances the looks, provides a hiding place for fish, assists in beneficial bacteria growth, is a food source for some fish, and helps improve the fish’s immune system. Certain driftwood like manzanita, cholla wood, saba wood, etc., are safe for aquarium use.

Aquascaping with driftwood is a challenge because of the unlimited decoration possibilities. So, let’s understand the advantages of driftwood and how to make it safe for aquariums.

Advantages Of Keeping Driftwood In An Aquarium

Apart from being a decorative item, driftwood is beneficial for fish in many ways.

Given below are the advantages of keeping driftwood in an aquarium:

  • Enhances aesthetics: Driftwood is primarily used in an aquarium to enhance its beauty. However, it also helps create the natural habitat of the fish. Additionally, the tannins released from some driftwood darken the water and make it look reddish, similar to the fish’s natural habitat.
  • Provides hiding places: A bare aquarium is a bleak place for fish to live. Many fish prefer hiding places to feel secure. Along with enhancing the tank looks, driftwood also creates a secluded place for fish to hide when they are sick or threatened.
  • Acts as a food source: Driftwood is be a source of food for some fish species. For example, certain pleco catfish have a mouth that can scrape off and eat pieces of driftwood. This provides nutrients like cellulose and lignin to fish, which improves their digestive system. Various plecos eat a varying amount of driftwood. However, they don’t eat so much that it damages the driftwood.
  • Assists in maintaining the water quality: Driftwood not only enhances the aquarium looks but also stimulates the ecosystem within it. It assists in the growth of beneficial bacteria, which help clean the water by breaking down fish waste into less toxic compounds.
  • Enhances the health of fish: Driftwood helps boost the immune system of the fish. Natural tannins are released in the aquarium water when driftwood is submerged. These tannins create a slightly acidic environment that helps keep the bacteria and viruses at bay. Additionally, the released tannins also increase the oxygen in the tank water. This helps keep the fish healthy.

How To Tell If Driftwood Is Safe For An Aquarium?

Driftwood purchased from a reputable pet store is usually safe as it’s specifically designed for aquariums.

However, if you create driftwood from a piece of wood found outdoors, it will not be safe in most cases.

You will need to cure the driftwood to make it aquarium safe.

Given below are various ways to find out if driftwood is safe for an aquarium:

  • The wood is hard, not soft. Softwoods contain a lot of resins and sap. On the other hand, hardwoods are safe and more durable.
  • The driftwood isn’t rotten.
  • The driftwood is completely dry. You shouldn’t use fresh wood filled with sap.
  • No wood is safe when it’s green. Greenwood contains sap and resins that foul the aquarium water. Weathering the greenwood leaches out sap and resins once it dries out.
  • The driftwood is clean. It shouldn’t contain any dirt, debris, ants, or bugs on it.
  • Natural woods are safe and can be used in an aquarium. However, some woods are treated with chemicals and look similar to natural wood. If you find such wood that was used earlier for other purposes, you should avoid it.
  • Woods that contain fewer tannins are safe for aquariums. Tannins are compounds that are found in all woods. The tannins are not harmful to the aquarium water but slightly lower the pH and discolor the water. However, if the driftwood has been in the water for long, most of the tannins should have got leached out, making it safe for aquarium use. Otherwise, you can always cure the driftwood by soaking and boiling it.

What Does Driftwood Do To Aquarium Water?

Driftwood can alter the water chemistry. It contains naturally occurring tannins that lower the pH of the water slightly.

Therefore, it’s particularly beneficial to the fish that prefer slightly acidic water as it mimics their natural habitat.

On the contrary, you should avoid driftwood for fish like cichlids that prefer hard, alkaline water.

Also, you should avoid driftwood for fish that are pH-sensitive.

But if you still want to add driftwood, the water needs to be tested frequently.

Moreover, the tannins in driftwood alter the aquarium’s water color, making it appear tea-stained.

Such water appearance is ideal for aquariums that mimic the Amazon’s blackwater regions.

Further, to avoid discoloration and chemical alterations, you can soak or boil driftwood before using it in the aquarium.

You should appropriately rinse driftwood before it is added to aquarium water to avoid contamination.

What Kind Of Driftwood Is Safe For Aquariums?

Hardwood driftwood is safe for aquariums. Softwoods are not suitable for aquariums as they contain a lot of resins.

The resins can leach out from the wood and pollute the tank water. They can make the water hazardous for the fish.

Many aquarists find it challenging to distinguish between hardwood and softwood.

However, it’s pretty simple to distinguish between the two.

You can dig your fingernail into the piece of wood.

If your fingernail pierces the wood, it’s softwood. Otherwise, it’s hardwood.

Manzanita is one such driftwood that is safe and widely used in aquariums as it contains fewer tannins that discolor the water.

The other safe driftwood is Malaysian driftwood, as it is self-sinking and doesn’t need to be weighed down.

Sumatran driftwood is also suitable for aquariums as it is long-lasting.

Moreover, wood-eating fish find this driftwood appetizing.

Some of the other aquarium-safe driftwood include:

  • Cholla wood,
  • Mopani wood,
  • Marsh root,
  • Spider wood,
  • Bonsai driftwood,
  • Bogwood,
  • Jangle wood,
  • Tree root driftwood,
  • Pacific wood, and
  • Saba wood.

How To Make Driftwood Safe For An Aquarium?

Driftwood is widely used for decorating aquariums. However, you need to cure the driftwood to make it safe for the fish.

Follow the below steps to ensure the driftwood is safe for aquarium use.

1. Remove the solid debris.

If you purchase the driftwood from a reputed store or dealer, it will usually be clean.

However, if you plan to use the wood found outdoors, cleaning the debris is necessary.

You need to remove the bugs or ants on the wood or inside the wood.

Even dirt, barks, and rocks that get stuck on the wood need to be removed.

You can use a brush to scrub the wood or a pointed object like a knife to dig out and scrape off the debris.

2. Quarantine the wood.

You can place the wood in a sealed plastic bag for a few days. The plastic bag needs to be kept at room temperature.

After a few days, you can check the wood to see if it has any dead bugs on it.

Never use a pesticide or a spray to get rid of the bugs on the wood.

This is hazardous to the fish. Instead, quarantine the wood for a few more days.

3. Wash the wood.

The next step is to wash the wood under running water.

Any remaining dirt that is not removed by scrubbing gets washed away under a steady stream of water.

Once you are sure that the wood is clean, you can move to the next step.

4. Cure the wood by soaking it.

Most driftwood submerge underwater in the aquarium.

However, some driftwood remain slightly buoyant until they are fully saturated and waterlogged.

Soaking is crucial to make the driftwood safe.

You can soak the driftwood in a large container to ensure that it is entirely underwater.

A minimum of 1 to 2 weeks is recommended to allow total saturation.

Meanwhile, you need to constantly monitor the water to check if it needs to be changed.

As the water darkens, you need to empty the water and rinse the driftwood.

Then fill the container with RO water or clean dechlorinated water and continue to soak the driftwood.

You need to keep the driftwood soaked until the water becomes tea-stained.

When you no longer notice any significant discoloration of the water for several days in a row, your driftwood is safe to keep in the aquarium.

Soaking is vital as it allows the excess tannins to leach out.

5. Boil the driftwood.

Boiling the driftwood has several benefits.

First, it’s a much faster way to leach out the tannins from the driftwood, thereby shortening the curing process.

Another significant advantage of boiling driftwood is that it helps kill all kinds of bacteria from the surface of the wood.

This includes harmful algae bloom which causes severe damage to the coral reef ecosystem.

However, certain precautions should be taken while boiling the driftwood.

First, make sure that the driftwood is fully immersed while boiling it. Second, you need to top up the water as it evaporates.

Boiling the driftwood for a couple of hours will sterilize it and make it safe for aquarium use.

Related Questions

Which woods need to be avoided in an aquarium?

According to INJAF, the woods unsafe for aquarium use are Cedar, Ivy, Lilac, Pine, Cypress, Horse Chestnut, Spruce, Walnut, Yew, and Grapevine.

These woods are unsafe as some of them are toxic, while others rot very quickly.

Is driftwood safe for both freshwater and saltwater tanks?

Driftwood is safe for freshwater tanks. However, for saltwater tanks, you need to be a bit careful.

The tannins that leach from driftwood lower the pH of the water.

This causes problems in saltwater tanks as it’s more difficult to maintain the pH in marine tanks than in freshwater tanks.

However, if you maintain the pH, driftwood is safe in saltwater tanks as well.

Also, you should avoid using the driftwood from the sea in a freshwater tank as it introduces salt into your tank.

If you soak and boil the wood for long, you can use it.

But again, it’s best to avoid it as there are numerous driftwood available that are safe for a freshwater tank.


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