Putting together an aquarium involves much more than purchasing a tank and filling it with water.
Before you bring home any new aquatic animals, you should ensure that the environment is as comfortable and natural as possible.
This often involves introducing plant matter to the aquarium, and driftwood is one of the most recommended plant-based materials for freshwater aquariums.
Driftwood, by definition, is any type of wood that has been washed up onto the shore from a body of freshwater or saltwater.
While some species of driftwood are not safe for aquarium use (see FAQs below), others can be extremely beneficial.
Putting driftwood in your freshwater aquarium makes the environment feel more natural and can give the more solitary inhabitants of the aquarium a place to hide or take shelter.
Additionally, the tannins in driftwood can help to maintain an acidic pH, which reduces the presence of harmful bacteria while promoting beneficial bacterial growth.
With that being said, you should never introduce driftwood directly into an aquarium without preparing it first.
If you’re not sure how to do this, don’t worry – that’s what this article is all about!
Read on to find out how to clean and prepare driftwood for an aquarium!
Which Types Of Driftwood Are Aquarium-Friendly?
The general rule when determining whether a piece of driftwood is aquarium-friendly is that hardwoods are safe to use, while softwoods are not.
Softwoods are prone to rotting more quickly, and you certainly don’t want any rotting plant matter in your aquarium. Plus, they can release resin or sap into the water.
If you’re not a botanist, it can be difficult to tell one type of driftwood from another. However, a useful test is to try and dig a fingernail into any piece of driftwood you find.
If you can’t do it, chances are, it’s hardwood.
If you can, it’s probably softwood and you shouldn’t use it.
Some hardwoods are superior to others when it comes to aquarium use.
Many aquarium owners like to use Manzanita because the tannin content isn’t too high so the risk of water discoloration is lower.
African and Malaysian driftwood is also sometimes favored over other types because it is less likely to float around in the water.
How To Find Driftwood For An Aquarium
If you don’t want to go out and find driftwood in nature, you can purchase aquarium-safe driftwood through online retailers.
However, if you want to source the wood yourself, you should look near bodies of fresh or saltwater that you know to be clean and unpolluted.
How To Clean Driftwood For An Aquarium
The problem with collecting driftwood yourself is that you don’t know what it might have been exposed to.
Therefore, you’ll need to prepare your driftwood by thoroughly cleaning and sterilizing it before putting it in the aquarium.
You have the choice of 2 different methods for preparing aquarium driftwood.
Method 1: Boiling
The first method involves boiling the driftwood to kill any bacteria.
Before you do this, though, you should examine the driftwood carefully, keeping an eye out for any insects, parasites, fungi, or sharp points.
Sharp edges should be filed down with sandpaper to prevent injury.
Next, using a brush, scrub down the driftwood to give it a surface-level clean.
This will remove some of the dirt and debris.
Now it’s time to boil your driftwood, which you should do for 30 minutes to get rid of bacteria that isn’t visible to the naked eye.
Let the driftwood cool down completely and examine it thoroughly once again before introducing it to the aquarium.
If the wood floats upwards when you put it in the tan, you may need to boil it and let it cool again.
Method 2: Soaking
This method starts similarly to the first, with an examination of the wood and sanding down of any sharp edges.
You will also need to scrub the wood for this method, but because you’ll be soaking the wood instead of boiling, you should scrub more thoroughly.
Scrub the wood twice with clean water, without any cleaning products.
Make sure to use a fresh scrubbing brush so you don’t transfer any chemicals from previous cleaning tasks onto the wood.
Next, take a bucket of clean water and allow the wood to soak.
You should soak the wood until it sinks to the bottom of the container, which could take several days.
Remember to change the water every 1-2 days to keep it clean and insect-free.
After another examination, it’s time to put your clean driftwood in the tank!
It shouldn’t float at this point, but if it does, put it back in a bucket of clean water to soak.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Types Of Driftwood Should You Not Put In An Aquarium?
We’ve discussed which types of driftwood are safe for aquarium use, but there are also some species of driftwood that you should absolutely avoid when collecting wood for your aquarium.
There are various factors that might make a particular species of driftwood unsafe for your aquarium, from the presence of harmful and toxic substances to premature rotting.
You should never introduce lilac, yew, walnut, spruce, horse chestnut, ivy, pine, grapevine, cedar, or cypress driftwood to any aquarium.
Instead, stick to the safe species we recommended earlier.
Is Driftwood Safe In Saltwater And Freshwater Aquariums?
Generally speaking, driftwood fares better in freshwater than saltwater aquariums.
The reason for this is that adding driftwood to an aquarium can lower its pH level due to the tannins in the wood.
Saltwater aquariums are much more difficult to regulate in terms of acidity than freshwater aquariums, and failing to keep your saltwater’s pH high enough can easily impact the health of your fish.
Therefore, unless you are confident that you can keep your aquarium’s pH within the recommended range, we wouldn’t recommend introducing driftwood to a saltwater aquarium.
Can I Use Cleaning Products To Prepare Driftwood For Aquarium Use?
It’s very important that you do NOT use any cleaning products, including detergents and soaps, to clean driftwood before putting it in your aquarium.
Trying to prepare your aquarium driftwood using cleaning products such as these will probably damage the wood and may introduce harsh chemicals into your aquarium, which could harm your fish.
The steps outlined in methods 1 and 2 for cleaning and sterilizing aquarium driftwood will be sufficient to ensure their safety in your fish tank, so please don’t use any additional chemicals.