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How to Make Aquarium Decorations Safe?

How to Make Aquarium Decorations Safe?

Aquarium decorations are not mandatory for most tanks but why would you leave your aquarium empty when each store offers an abundance of decoration choices that would make it more vibrant and beautiful?

Not to mention that aquarium decorations are often necessary for specific fish species if you want to make their new environment more natural. 

Now, there is a lot to consider when choosing the decorations for your tank. People easily forget the small subtleties when they see a huge variety of fun structures and objects available in fish stores.

With this said, how can you make your aquarium decorations safe? 

What most suppliers often forget to tell you is what not to put in your aquarium. Decorations should be matched with the inhabitants of your tank and you should always consider the desires of your fish.

In addition, there are certain materials that should not be placed in water or in specific cases only. Whatever you choose in the end, remember to occasionally clean the decorations if you want to keep the environment clean and safe. 

In the following article, we will discuss how to choose all types of decorations, what materials you should avoid, and how to clean decorations. 

How to Choose the Perfect Substrate? 

A substrate is, in most cases, the first thing you purchase for your tank. Especially if you plan to have other decorations later, you need to get some type of substrate. 

Substrates come in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes but not all will be perfect for your fish. You should always consider your fish when choosing a substrate. Certain species prefer sand, others prefer gravel, and there are those that need soft substrates in order not to get hurt.

People often think that sand and stones collected from outside are safe for aquariums. On the contrary, in most cases, they would be polluted and highly dangerous for your tank inhabitants.

There are ways to clean and prepare natural substrates for an aquarium but we recommend getting your substrates from reputable stores only. 

If you end up choosing between the different types of gravel, consider medium or small-sized. These two types are most suitable for plants and tanks with more fish while large gravel can lead to a number of unpleasant issues like trapping leftover food or even small fish. 

Sand is another great option that will make your aquarium seem more natural. Moreover, many fish species live at the bottom and there are those that bury themselves in the substrate. If you plan to have similar species in your tank, consider giving them a sandy bottom. 

Just like there are advantages of having a sand substrate, we have to mention the obvious downsides. Occasionally, you would have to clean the substrate if you want to take good care of your tank. It’s no secret that sand substrates are more unpleasant to clean. Sand gets everywhere no matter if you attempt to clean it or you simply try to move something in the tank.

This means, that you would have to add more sand from time to time, which is usually unnecessary with any other type of substrate. In each case, remember to clean and rinse your new substrate thoroughly before you put it in your tank. Take your time, as you want it completely clean.

Also Read: How to Clean Aquarium Sand: A Definitive Guide

Plants: Real or Fake?

Plants have always been a subject of heated debates as both types have their supporters that would never consider getting the opposite. In general, we usually prefer live plants only but fake ones are often the more suitable choice. 

Fake plants are often the preferred choice for home aquariums because of their colors. Beginners often prefer to make their aquariums as colorful as possible while keeping the maintenance as low as possible.

Also Check: Can You Put Bamboo in Aquarium?

Moreover, the truth is, fake plants and decorations leave you with little to no work while real live plants require a lot of care. 

If you have plans to make your aquarium a hobby, you would most likely consider live plants. They bring a variety of benefits to any tank. For example, live plants improve the water conditions in the tank and help with keeping it clean. Not to mention all the positives they bring for your fish species. 

One additional disadvantage of fake plants is safety. Once again, you should consider the fish species before you make the decision for the decorations. Many species swim near the plants and often rub themselves.

This means that fake plants made out of plastic can harm them in numerous ways. Always consider the behavior and needs of the fish species when choosing plants and all other types of decorations.

Also Read: 14 Best Live Plants for Betta Fish Tank (Care Guide)

Which Materials are Safe for Aquariums?

It may surprise you but not all decorations you find in fish stores are suitable and safe for aquariums. As we mentioned, it is common for sellers to avoid the subtleties when speaking with customers. 


Not all plastic decorations are safe for aquariums. Simply said, you should look for a sign that the plastic has been graded food safe. In general, this is a good way to know if any type of decoration is suitable for a tank.

There is a simple rule that claims that if you cannot eat off the material, it is not good for an aquarium. Any other plastic object that has not been graded as food-safe could potentially release toxic chemicals that will endanger the inhabitants in your tank. 


Like plastic, certain items are safe for aquariums while others will most likely endanger your plants and fish. The concept is identical – if you can eat of the ceramics, they would be safe for your tank. 

In each case, you should make sure to find out whether the decorations are lead-free. Try to get enough information from your sellers but if you remain uncertain, you can purchase a test kit to check for lead and other dangerous materials.


Driftwood is incredibly popular among hobbyists and it is usually beneficial for most fish species. However, always check if your fish have special requirements. 

When it comes to wood, make sure to get all your ornaments and decorations from reputable stores. Wood requires specific treatment to be aquarium safe. Untreated wood will endanger your inhabitants with dangerous chemicals.

What is the Best Way to Clean Aquarium Decorations? 

In the end, no matter how much you postpone it, you will have to take all decorations out of the tank to give them a thorough clean. That is if you want to keep your aquarium clean and safe, of course. 

It is not enough to simply wash the decorations with water. Nevertheless, we recommend it as a start. Then, you can soak them in boiling water or directly go to rinsing them with suitable tools. 

What you want is to remove all of the algae stuck to your decorations. You can use scrub brushes and scrub pads or purchase an entire cleaning kit. If you use soap or some sort of cleaning chemicals, double-check that the decorations are completely cleaned before returning them to the tank.

Once you have all the decorations removed, we recommend giving your aquarium a big water change. In addition, clean the substrate if you have not cleaned it recently. It is a bit of work but totally worth it.

Also Read: How to Clean a Betta Fish Tank (Easy Guide)

Additional Questions:

Can I paint my aquarium decorations?

In general, you can paint your aquarium decorations but we do not generally recommend it. There are more than enough colorful decorations available in every store that have been sealed and treated the correct way. 

However, if you prefer to do it yourself, you need to give them a double coating and allow them to fully dry out. Then, you will need a sealant for the paint. Decorations that have not been sealed should not be put in aquariums.