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What Types of Wood are Safe for Aquariums?

As an aquarium hobbyist, you likely have some type of wood in your tank. Wood in aquariums not only adds a unique aesthetic element but it’s also functional as well. Wood provides a hiding place for fish as well as an area to spawn or lay eggs. But what types of wood are safe aquariums?

There are several types of wood that are safe for aquarium use. These include alder, apple, beech, birch, cherry, hawthorn, heather, oak, pear, and sycamore. Please note that not all types of natural wood are safe for freshwater tanks which is why it’s best to purchase it directly from a pet/fish store.

Now that you know which types of wood are okay to use in aquariums, let’s explore this topic further. In this article, I’ll explain whether you can use tree branches in your tank, if driftwood rots over time, and how to make wood safe for your tank and its inhabitants.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about using wood in aquariums, then please read onward…

Can You Use Any Wood in an Aquarium?

While wood is widely used in freshwater aquariums, not all types are safe. Certain types can leach toxins into the water, making it dangerous for fish. For this reason alone, it’s recommended you buy specially treated wood for your aquarium from your local fish store or online pet retailer.

Can I Put Tree Branches in My Aquarium?

You can use tree branches from your yard in your aquarium, provided they’re not made of pine, cedar, or fir. These ‘aromatic’ woods contain toxic phenols (tannins) that can kill fish if they leech into the water. Any wood collected must be ‘dry’ or sap-free and from ‘safe’ trees like birch, oak, and sycamore.

Is Wood from Fruit Trees Safe for Aquariums?

The wood from fruit-bearing tress such as apple, cherry, and pear are safe for aquarium use. That said, there are some conditions applied. For example, the wood from these trees must be dry and not bendy as this often signifies the presence of sap. Sap can be poisonous for fish and other tank inhabitants.

Will Driftwood Rot in an Aquarium?

Over time, driftwood will (unfortunately) rot in an aquarium. On the plus side, however, it’s a slow process. Wood sold at a fish store can last for many years with only minimal decay which is why I personally recommend you buy your aquarium wood directly from a professional retailer.

Can Any Wood be Used for Driftwood?

As mentioned above, you can’t use just any type of wood in your aquarium. On the other hand, not all wood has to be real driftwood to be considered safe. Wood specially treated from alder, apple, beech, birch, cherry, hawthorn, heather, oak, pear, and sycamore trees are considered safe for aquarium use.

natural driftwood

How Do You Turn Regular Wood into Driftwood?

To turn regular wood into driftwood for use in your aquarium, you need the following materials:

  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • Protective eye wear
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic container
  • Dried tree branches
  • Hammer or distressing tool
  • Wire brush
  • Sandpaper or power sanding tool

The steps to creating your own aquarium driftwood include the following:

  1. Collect dried tree branches or small logs.
  2. Use your hammer or chisel and ‘beat’ the wood to make it look distressed – remember to wear your protective googles and work gloves for this part!
  3. Fill a plastic container with hot water and add the washing soda – stir until dissolved. Note: this solution is corrosive and will burn your skin and/or eyes so use extreme caution!
  4. Place the wood in the container and let it soak in the solution for 24 hours.
  5. Every 8 hours while the wood is soaking, take out the pieces and scrub off the softened layers with your wire brush. Again, use protective eyewear and gloves to prevent injury.
  6. After the 24-hour period, remove the wood from the solution and rinse it well with water.
  7. Place the wood in the sun to dry out completely.
  8. Once dry, take your sander (or sandpaper) and round out the edges of the wood to make the pieces look ocean-wave-worn.

And voila, now you have driftwood! Be sure to sand down any rough parts on the wood as sharp edges can seriously injure your fish and other tank inhabitants. Once smooth, you can safely place these pieces into your aquarium. Consider adding other decorations like seashells and rocks to complete the look.

Where to Get Wood for Aquariums?

The easiest and safest way to get wood for your aquarium is to purchase it directly from your local pet shop. Online retailers who specialize in aquariums are also a good place. As well, you can visit a nearby beach in search of driftwood. Lakes, river, and creeks with surrounding vegetation are good places too.

How to Make Wood Safe for Aquariums?

To make wood safe for your aquarium, you must do the following:

  1. Remove debris and knock out any bugs that may be clinging to the wood or hiding inside it by tapping it against a solid object.
  2. Use a wire brush to scrub away any lingering debris – work your way all around the wood to ensure you get everything off.
  3. Take an air compressor and blast the wood as a final measure.
  4. Grab a piece of sandpaper and rub it across the surface of the wood to remove any rough/sharp edges.
  5. Place the wood in a plastic bag and seal it tight. Leave it for a few days at room temperature to ensure no bugs remain.
  6. Remove the wood from the plastic bag and place it under warm running water until the flow appears clear.
  7. Cure the wood by submerging it in a container of hot water. Leave it soak for a week before removing.
  8. Allow the wood to dry completely in a cool, dark spot.
  9. Sterilize the wood buy boiling it in water on the stove for at least an hour.
  10. Let the sterilized wood cool down for several hours before placing inside your aquarium.

*You can also seal the wood to prevent it from rotting it and as an extra line of defense against any fungal spores that could leech out when submersed in water. For more information, please see below under the subheading entitled: How Do You Seal Aquarium Wood?

How Long Should I Boil Wood for an Aquarium?

Boiling wood is a good way to ensure it’s safe for use in your aquarium. To do this, simply place the wood in a pot full of water and boil it over high heat for 1 to 2 hours. Continue to top up the water as it evaporates. Drain and repeat.

By doing this twice, you increase the chances of killing off any pathogens that could be dangerous – even deadly – for your aquatic pets. As a note of caution: never place wood that’s been boiled and still hot directly into your aquarium. It must cool off completely first.

How Do You Seal Aquarium Wood?

If you want to seal a piece of wood before placing in your tank, you must use an aquarium-safe epoxy paint, liquid rubber sealant or concrete pond sealant which is both plant- and animal-friendly.

Check out the following options available online through Amazon.


To conclude, the best wood to use in your aquarium comes from alder, apple, beech, birch, cherry, hawthorn, heather, oak, pear, and sycamore trees. Not all types of natural wood are safe for fish or other aquatic creatures which is why you take caution when adding it to your freshwater tank.

I hope this article has been of help to you. Thanks for reading and good luck with your aquarium hobby!

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