Why Do Aquarium Decorations Turn Brown? (How To Prevent?)

Image of aquarium decorations turning brown

Aquarium decorations usually turn brown because of brown algae bloom in the tank. The brown algae diatoms form a coat on the aquarium decorations, turning them brown. You can prevent brown algae by frequent water changes, good filtration, usage of RO water, and avoiding silicates in the tank water.

Let’s now discuss the various reasons for brown algae bloom and steps to prevent their growth.

4 Reasons Why Aquarium Decorations Turn Brown

Aquarium decorations need proper maintenance to stay clean.

Otherwise, they turn brown and lose their shine due to the brown algae coating on them.

Brown algae commonly refer to diatoms of class Bacillariophyceae.

They find their way into newly set up freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

Diatoms are unicellular organisms that occur in colonies or as solitary cells.

These diatoms are non-motile as they are relatively heavy.

Hence, they sink to the bottom and form a coat on the aquarium’s gravel, decorations, or plants.

There are numerous reasons for their growth. Some of the most common reasons for brown algae growth are given below:

  1. The water chemistry of the tank water isn’t optimal.
  2. Build up of silica in the tank water. Silica builds up from tap water that is high in silicic acid.
  3. Increase in nitrate levels in the tank water. Diatoms feed on the nitrates that build up due to decaying matter and uneaten fish food.
  4. Inadequate filtration also leads to high nitrate levels in the tank water, resulting in a brown algae bloom.

How To Remove Brown Algae From Aquarium Decorations?

Brown algae are a common problem in many newly set up fish tanks.

Although they aren’t harmful to fish, they will turn your beautiful aquarium into a dirty and ugly one very quickly.

Brown algae not only coat the tank walls but also spread over the substrate, plants, and decorations.

Hence, they need to be cleaned regularly to avoid an algae bloom.

The good thing is that it’s pretty simple to clean brown algae. They are simple diatoms and so can be wiped out easily.

You can clean the brown algae resting on the aquarium decorations by removing them from the tank and scrubbing them with a soft brush or sponge. You can then rinse the aquarium decorations under flowing water and place them back into the aquarium.

However, if the brown algae coat the gravel, it becomes tedious to clean.

You need to vacuum the gravel with a siphon to get rid of the brown algae.

Vacuuming is crucial as it prevents the algae from growing back quickly.

Another way to remove brown algae from a freshwater aquarium is to introduce sucker-mouth fish that readily eat these algae.

For example, several otocinclus catfish, nerite snails, and amano shrimp are good at eating brown algae.

How To Prevent Brown Algae Growth In An Aquarium?

It’s always good to prevent anything rather than cure it afterward. The same goes for brown algae as well.

If you take adequate steps right from the beginning, you won’t have to deal with brown algae bloom later.

There are several ways to prevent brown algae growth in the aquarium. Some of the most prominent ways are listed below:

  • Silicates are the primary reason for a brown algae bloom. So avoid anything that contains silicates. Live sand, silica sand, and salt mix contribute toward silicate in the tank water. That’s why it’s better to check the ingredients before you add something new to the tank.
  • Regular water change prevents brown algae growth.
  • Regular testing of water quality is also essential. Water temperature, pH levels, ammonia, and nitrates need to be checked regularly to maintain a healthy aquarium.
  • A sound filtration system is another way to prevent brown algae growth.
  • Avoid overfeeding the fish. Overfeeding leads to leftover food that rots. Rotten food releases more nutrients in the tank water, which feed the brown algae.
  • Usage of reverse osmosis or distilled water is another way to control brown algae growth in aquariums. Regular tap water contains nitrates and phosphates. If their level becomes too high, it leads to algae growth in the tank water.

Are Brown Algae Good Or Bad For An Aquarium?

Brown algae are made up of tiny single-celled organisms called diatoms.

These brown algae diatoms don’t harm the fish in the tank until they are under control.

Fish don’t get bothered with brown algae and swim happily around them.

Interestingly, brown algae help fish thrive.

The diatoms that make up brown algae consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

This increases dissolved oxygen levels in the tank water.

Although brown algae aren’t harmful to fish, the same can’t be said for plants.

They block sunlight and compete for nutrients that plants need. This is fatal to plants.

Besides, brown algae aren’t desirable as they make the tank look unattractive.

How To Clean Aquarium Decorations?

Newly placed decorations look stunning in the aquarium.

However, over a period, they become discolored due to the accumulation of dirt particles on them.

This makes them appear dull and unappealing.

To eliminate this problem, you need to clean the aquarium decorations regularly to retain their original look.

You can clean the aquarium decorations by following the below steps.

1. Rinse your hands properly.

Wash your hands before taking out the decorations from the aquarium for cleaning.

You can rinse your hands properly as dirty hands carry germs or bacteria that affect the tank water conditions and prove fatal to your fish.

You should avoid using soap while rinsing your hands as soap contains chemicals that are harmful to aquatic creatures.

2. Gently remove the decorations.

After rinsing your hands thoroughly, remove the decorations gently.

Some decorations are fragile and need gentle care to avoid damage.

You shouldn’t remove all the decorations at once as it stresses the shy or territorial fish.

Instead, remove 25% to 50% aquarium decorations at a time.

3. Soak the decorations in hot water.

You can clean the artificial plants and ornaments in hot water.

For that, you can soak the aquarium decorations in hot water for about 10 minutes.

Soaking decorations in hot water helps remove the majority of the algae.

It will also reduce the scrubbing effort later on.

Please note that not all decorations can withstand hot water.

So you need to be careful before putting any fragile ornaments into hot water.

4. Scrape off the algae with a soft brush.

Once you remove the ornaments from the hot water, check for any leftover dirt or algae.

You can use an aquarium sponge or soft brush to scrape off any stubborn dirt or algae.

After scrubbing properly, your aquarium decoration becomes clean.

You can then rinse the decorations in running water and place them back in the aquarium.

Now, if your aquarium decorations are not cleaned properly, and you notice some unremoved stains or algae, the next step is to clean them with bleach.

5. Clean the aquarium decorations with bleach.

Regular scrubbing doesn’t remove the hard algae and stains on the aquarium decorations.

To clean these, you need a diluted solution of bleach with no additives.

The bleaching process should be carried out in a well-ventilated room. Bleaching agents emit fumes that can irritate your eyes.

Also, you need to wear gloves as a safety measure.

You can prepare a 5% bleach solution by mixing about four teaspoons of bleach per two gallons of water.

Then, you can soak your aquarium decorations in the bleach solution for about 10 to 15 minutes.

The bleaching agent will help remove the stains and algae from the decorations and make them sparkling clean.

You shouldn’t leave the decorations in bleach solution for longer as it may result in discoloration.

The amount of time depends on how dirty the decorations have become.

Avoid using bleach on rocks and gravel as they absorb bleach. This is detrimental to your fish.

Once you soak the decorations in the bleach solution for about 15 minutes, you can scrub them with a soft brush to remove the stubborn algae and residues.

You need to properly scrub all the corners of the decorations to prevent algae build-up in the future.

After scrubbing, rinse the decorations with cold water to remove the bleach.

After rinsing, the next step is to soak the decorations in a bucket full of clean water.

Treat the water with a de-chlorinating agent and soak your decorations in it for about 15 to 20 minutes.

This is important as it helps remove the bleach from the decorations.

You can then air dry the decorations, preferably in the sun, for a day and place them back in the aquarium.


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