Are you setting up your fish tank for the first time or just looking to add some character to your setup? Whichever it is, adding driftwood to your aquarium is one of the best ways to mimic a natural environment in your aqua space. Driftwood adds an aesthetic quality to your tank that can only be matched by all the other benefits it provides your fish.
Driftwood primarily serves as aquarium décor. However, it can take up a relatively large portion of your tank, alter its aquatic environment, or cause significant stress to your fish. To prevent this, you will need to make proper plans for a smooth transition.
In this post, I’ll go over every detail you need to know about how to prepare driftwood for aquarium.
What is driftwood for aquariums?
Driftwood is a broad description that does not refer to anyone type of wood. It is more of a nod to where the wood was obtained from, regardless of its species. Generally speaking, any piece of wood that has been in the water and then washed up on the shore can be referred to as driftwood.
That said, driftwood for aquariums is wood that has been specifically prepared for use as décor in a fish tank. It could be store-bought or locally sourced and prepared at home. Either way, you want a piece of wood that both aesthetically pleasing and safe for your fish.
How is driftwood beneficial for an aquarium?
The benefits of driftwood go beyond the aesthetic appeal. When you add this natural structure to your tank, the entire ecosystem changes with it for the better. Here is how:
Promotes Bacteria Growth
Driftwood acts much like the substrate in your tank to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria play a vital role in breaking down fish by-products to reduce toxicity levels in the water and keep your fish healthy.
What’s more, the presence of driftwood in your tank serves as a guarantee that the bacteria will always be present in your tank.
Creates Healthy Environment
Driftwood contains tannins, which slowly leach into your tank water to create a slightly acidic environment. This, in turn, works to prevent the survival of disease-causing bacteria and viruses in the aquarium.
Promotes Natural Behavior
In their natural habitat, fish use driftwood as a breeding ground or hiding place. This natural behavior, which driftwood promotes, will prevent agitation and keep your fish happy and stress-free.
When tannins from your driftwood leach into the water, they lower its PH. This can be highly beneficial for fish that thrive in a slightly acidic environment.
Ten major types of driftwoods
There are many types of driftwood available in stores and in nature. The following are the top ten that are ideal for aquarium use:
1. Malaysian Driftwood
Malaysian driftwood has a naturally darker hue and branches that form distinct linear shapes. It also has a high tannin content that could significantly lower PH levels in your aquarium as well as turn the water slightly brown. When introduced into a tank, Malaysian driftwood tends to sink on its own.
2. Sumatran Driftwood
Sumatran Driftwood tends to come in large chunks with thick roots and visibly flowing grain. It has a medium to dark brown color and can blend into any aquatic environment. Due to its size, Sumatran Driftwood can be fairly costly.
3. African Mopani Driftwood
Mopani driftwood is lightly colored but will darken when submerged into the tank. It has gnarly branches and sinks without anchorage.
4. Manzanita Driftwood
Manzanita driftwood is popular in the aquarist world due to its wide variety of unique shapes. The pieces can be anything from fine and intricate to large and twisting.
The term bogwood refers to driftwood that is dug up from peat bogs. Thanks to its natural habitat, bogwood tends to be semi-preserved, waterlogged, and therefore a natural sinker.
6. Bonsai Tree Driftwood
Bonsai Driftwoods are handcrafted pieces containing small branches fused with larger pieces to mimic roots, trees, and other structures. Since the pieces vary in design, they provide a wide range of possibilities.
7. Tree Root Driftwood
The Tree Root Driftwood is a completely natural piece with spokes coming out of its trunk-like body. It is tan-colored, smooth, and has an open layout.
8. Spider Driftwood
Spider Driftwood is known for its smooth surface and intricate branching. It also has a low tannin content and turns deep mahogany when submerged.
9. Cholla Wood
This driftwood has a hole-like structure with beautifully patterned graining. Despite its beauty, however, Cholla Wood tends to wear away fast when submerged.
10. Marsh Root Driftwood
Marsh roots are obtained from the trunk and root pieces and tend to be less elegant than other types of driftwood. However, they are natural sinkers.
Where to collect driftwood from nature?
Some aquarists obtain their driftwood from established shops and online stores. Others, on the other hand, prefer to collect their wood from nature. If you belong to the last lot, there are specific places you can look for the best chances of success. They are:
Ocean and Beaches
Driftwood can be found within a few minutes’ walk on all beaches, including rocky ones. Try to time your visit to early in the morning, late in the afternoon, during low tide, or after a storm, as this is when most debris washes up onto the shore. Before you begin your exploration, remember to wear protective shoes and gloves.
Lakes and Dams
Lakes and water reservoirs like dams can be an excellent source of driftwood. All you will need to do is visit the lake or dam nearest to you and explore its shores. Remember, you want to avoid softwoods such as pine and freshly-fallen pieces at all costs.
Rivers and Streams
As lakes, rivers can also be a treasure trove of viable driftwood, though you are more likely to discover wood inside the water than on the shore. The trick is to visit the stream or river during low tide or the summer months when the water levels are at their lowest.
My three best aquarium driftwood to buy online
1. Fluval Mopani Driftwood
Fluval is known for its high-quality driftwood specimens. Their Mopani Driftwood pieces are carefully selected and prepared to make them aquarium-ready and safe. What’s more, they come in a wide variety of sizes to cover all aquarium owners.
Overall, the only downside to this option is Mopani’s tannin leaching, which Fluval compensates for with their highly affordable prices.
- Fluval name
- Affordable price
- Carefully selected specimens
- Sandblasted finish preventing tank contamination
- Mopani is prone to tannin leaching.
2. EmoursTM Aquarium Sinkable Driftwood
On this list, the second is the EmoursTM Aquarium Sinkable Driftwood. This driftwood is durable, high-grade, and well-adapted to both wet and arid environments. In terms of design, the pieces boast a solidly compact body with uniquely shaped branches that provide endless decorative opportunities for your aquarium. No two driftwood pieces are alike.
EmoursTM Aquarium Sinkable Driftwoods are carefully selected and prepared. They also come in a wide range of sizes, which you can choose depending on the size of your aquarium.
- Variety in design
- Solid and long-lasting
- Requires prolonged boiling due to high tannin concentration
- Needs to be anchored for a while until it sinks
3. Pisces AM-GHOST024 24″ Ghost Wood Sandblasted Branchy
Ghost wood, which is native to California, has a distinct weathered and aged look that provides endless aesthetic opportunities for your aquarium. It is durable, long-lasting, and well adapted to different aquarium environments.
When submerged, the Ghost Wood Sandblasted Branchy’s textures and grains are emphasized.
- Pieces come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
- Aquarium safe
- Relatively low tannin leaching levels
- Reptile safe
- Requires prolonged boiling to cure the piece
- May need to be anchored until it can sink on its own
Preparing driftwood for the aquarium
Whether you are obtaining your driftwood naturally or purchasing it from a store, it is not advisable to place it directly into your aquarium. You need to prepare it to make it safe for aquarium use so that it doesn’t end up harming the ecosystem.
The first step in how to prepare driftwood for aquariums is to ascertain the viability of your wood. Make sure it is durable, compatible with your fish, and completely dry. You can then proceed to the following preparation stages:
Removing Dry Solid Debris
Getting rid of solid debris is an important step, especially if you sourced your driftwood from a river, beach, or lake. The aim is to remove grime such as silt and sand particles from the wood, concentrating on both the surface and crevices. To do this, you will need to:
- Shake the piece of wood or tap it gently on the ground to dislodge loose dirt
- Scrub the wood surface with a soft or wire brush
- Use a slightly damp toothbrush to get rid of sand particles.
- Use a screwdriver or knife to dislodge grime from tiny crevices.
- Sandpaper your wood to improve its beauty
Wash with Water
By this time, your piece of wood is free from loose debris. You can now wash it under a steady stream of water until it is visibly clean. Ensure the water’s pressure is not so low that it doesn’t clean the wood and not too high that it strips it away. You should also avoid using detergent or soap as they may be toxic to the aquatic life in your tank.
Sterilizing the Driftwood
Sterilizing your driftwood is a fairly easy process. Douse a piece of cloth in hydrogen peroxide of vinegar and use it to wipe over the wood piece, including the crevices. If your driftwood is snail-infested, this step will take care of that problem.
Some hobbyists will substitute boiling for sterilization. While this might fly for store-bought driftwood, it is crucial not to miss a single step for naturally-obtained pieces. Follow the following steps:
- Find a large pot, fill it with water, completely submerge your driftwood in it and boil.
- You will have to keep turning your piece of wood if the pot is too small.
- Keep the pot boiling for up to 2 hours or until the wood is visibly clean.
It is not uncommon for your driftwood to produce a smell while boiling, especially if it is fresh.
Bleaching helps eliminate any bacteria, toxins, or spores that might be present on your driftwood. Try not to skip this step, even if your piece of wood is store-bought. Essentially, all you need to do is soak the driftwood in a bath containing 5 percent bleach solution for 10 to 15 minutes. After this, rinse it, then soak it in clean water for at least 24 hours to clear any traces of bleach.
Baking is an excellent alternative for bleaching, especially if you are dealing with a large piece of driftwood. It eliminates toxins and tiny organisms present in the crevices without hardening the piece of wood. To bake, place your driftwood on a cooking lid, cover it with foil, and bake it in the oven for 2 to 4 hours at 200 to 215 degrees.
Curing the Driftwood
Curing is designed to leach out the tannins present in driftwood. It could also help your piece of wood sink faster when introduced into the tank. On average, the process could take a few days or weeks, during which time you will soak the piece of wood completely in de-chlorinated water. You will need to monitor the setup and change the water regularly when it darkens.
The curing process is complete when the water remains visibly clear for a few days.
How to anchor driftwood in the aquarium
Upthrust is the upward force exerted by any fluid on a body immersed in it. It is what makes light objects such as plastic balls float on a body of water. For your driftwood to sink in your tank, you will need to ensure that its weight is higher than the upthrust force in your aquarium. This can be achieved by anchoring the driftwood.
Floating driftwood can pose a danger to your fish. If you add enough extra weight to it, you can get it to sink and remain at the bottom of the tank. Here are three ways you could do that:
Drill a few holes into a piece of slate and use stainless steel screws to join it to the driftwood. Once this is done, you can slowly lower the slate and driftwood into the tank. They will sink to the bottom.
Using Fishing Weight
This method works much like the first one, but instead of a slate, you will drill inconspicuous holes on the driftwood then tie it to a fishing weight. The result is a weighted yet elegant setup.
Most freshwater aquarists will typically shun this solution. However, it can be ideal for smaller pieces of driftwood. All you need to do is glue the wood to weight, an anchor point in the aquarium, or the bottom of the tank.
Issues associated with driftwood
Your aquatic fish and plants are sensitive to changes, which means that even well-prepared driftwood can cause some issues in your tank. The top two problems you might have to deal with are:
Wood contains tannin, which can lower the PH levels in the water, harden it, and turn it brown. If this is something you would like to avoid, you will need to cure your driftwood for a length of time before introducing it into your tank.
You might notice a white or greyish layer of ‘fur’ forming on the surface of your driftwood, otherwise called white mold. Although you can remove the layer with a brush, it might keep coming back, especially if you did not boil and bleach your driftwood beforehand.
Is Driftwood Good for Fish Tanks?
Yes. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, driftwood promotes and maintains the ecosystem in your tank. It stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the aqua space, which are vital to breaking down fish by-products and lowering toxicity levels in the water.
Additionally, the addition of driftwood into your aquarium will encourage natural behavior in your fish. Your fish can use it as a breeding ground or as a hiding place.
Which Wood Is Best for Driftwood?
As already mentioned earlier, any piece of wood that has been in the water then drifted ashore can be considered driftwood. Nonetheless, the best wood for driftwood should be old and not freshly-fallen. The latter could pollute your aquarium. It must also be from a hardwood tree to prevent rapid breakdown, which could also tamper with your tank’s ecosystem.
How Long Do I Need to Soak Driftwood?
Soaking your driftwood in a large water bath will stimulate tannin leakage and prevent the discoloration of water in your aquarium. On average, the process should take one to two weeks. You can stop the clock if it has not been discolored for a few days after changing out the water regularly.
Your aquarium and all the life in it make up a fragile ecosystem that is sensitive to change. Because of this, it is vital that you make proper preparations before adding any structures, natural or otherwise, to your tank. Learning how to prepare driftwood for aquariums is an excellent first step towards this.
Always find out whether your driftwood is compatible with your tank environment before acquiring it. Next, begin the preparation process to make it safe for use by following the steps outlined in this article. Once this is done, your driftwood is now ready to join your fish in the tank!