Using driftwood for an aquarium is a super cheap and sustainable way of adding some extra minerals to an aquarium. But it’s not a good idea to pick it up from the shore and put it straight into the aquarium. Also,do not use Cedar…reptiles exposed to cedar may exhibit respiratory symptoms or develop skin lesions.

The driftwood will need some treatment first. This is because it will be pretty dirty. And could also be covered in debris and other things that you don’t want  floating around in clean aquarium water. 

If you picked up the driftwood from the beach, then it is very likely covered in salt. Which you definitely don’t want to put straight into an aquarium. Especially if you have freshwater fish. 

Even if you bought the driftwood online, it’s still a good idea to prepare it before placing it in the aquarium. Just in case. Here are the simple steps for preparing driftwood for an aquarium. 


1. Scrub the Wood

The first thing to do is to scrub the driftwood. Take a standard cleaning brush and scrub the wood until all of the debris comes off. Even if the wood looks pretty clean.

There is still a chance that it has some dirt on it. Even if it was delivered to you in a box, it could have small particles of dust and packing materials.

Try not to brush it too aggressively. As you don’t want to damage the wood itself. But it’s still important to make sure that you remove as much as possible.

When cleaning the driftwood, do not use any soap or chemicals. The wood will absorb these. Or the substances will leave small amounts on the wood.

When the wood is then placed into the aquarium, the substances will leak into the water. Which will be poisonous for any fish inside. 

2. Soak the Driftwood

This is also known as “curing” the wood. Driftwood will often float when placed in water. Which you definitely don’t want in an aquarium.

So it’s important to ensure that it has been saturated with water. This will cause it to sink to the bottom of the tank. 

Fill a bucket with water and place the driftwood inside. It’s best to leave the driftwood for at least a week or two.

This will give the wood enough time to fully absorb enough water to stop it being buoyant. It will be ready when the driftwood sinks to the bottom of the bucket.

Soaking the driftwood will remove any excess tannins. These tannins aren’t dangerous. Although they can gradually lower the pH of the aquarium water over time. But they will leak out into the water and cause it to discolor

It’s a good idea to regularly change the water in the bucket as you soak the wood. This will allow it to better soak up the water, As well as remove any of the tannins.

It will also allow you to see the wood better, So you will know when it is ready. It’s also a good idea to rinse the wood when changing the water.

3. Boil the Driftwood

Another way to help remove excess tannins is through boiling the driftwood. The hot water will speed up the process. And cause more tannins to be removed. 

Boiling the driftwood also sterilizes it. Which doesn’t really happen when it is soaked in cold water. Boiling the driftwood will kill any bacteria or algae clinging to the wood.

Bacteria and algae can be dangerous if they are placed in an aquarium. Especially if they are foreign or poisonous to the fish inside.

It’s a long process, but it’s best to soak the driftwood in water for around two weeks. And then boil it for around an hour or two.

This will ensure that it has absorbed enough water. But also that it has been completely cleaned of any potentially damaging and dangerous bacteria.

4. Place the Driftwood in the Aquarium

Once the driftwood has been cleaned, soaked, and boiled, it is ready to be placed into the aquarium. The best time to place it in the aquarium is when you are changing the water. It is good to replace older pieces with fresh ones when needed, this keeps the tank looking nice.

This also adds in some extra minerals to the tank water. It can also allow fish to hide and rest inside or behind it.

Some fish prefer to keep themselves hidden. So will be distressed if left exposed inside an empty aquarium.

Other critters in the tank can also benefit from having driftwood to climb and sometimes plant eggs. Crabs, chameleons, snails and frogs make good use of Driftwood in the tank.

Top Tips

  • Collect driftwood from the natural habitat, or similar habitats, of your fish. This will provide them with the most natural aquarium habitat. This is not as important as ensuring that your fish have freshwater ,but is still useful and can help fish to thrive.
  • Be specific about the type of wood you choose. If you are picking up driftwood from the beach, then it’s a good idea to learn how to identify different types of wood. Not all wood will be suitable for aquariums. Even wood that has been soaked and boiled. This is because some wood is too soft or absorbent to be kept in water for long periods of time. Also some wood is toxic or harmful to certain species, like Cedar to chameleons, they don’t mix.
  • Change the wood once it begins to deteriorate. You won’t need to do this too often. But it’s a good idea to change out the wood. Even if it has been soaked and boiled, it will still break down inside the aquarium. This can cause the water to become dirty. The wood will begin to break down after around 2 years.