In putting fish in captivity, it makes sense to give them an environment that’s closest to their home in the wild. Most natural aquatic habitats don’t have flat, even substrates with perfectly-lined plants; they contain entanglements of fallen tree branches, pebbles, and dead leaves. These ‘imperfections’ not only make rivers and streams more beautiful, but they also give fish and other freshwater creatures places to hide and forage.

While logically it makes sense to just grab some driftwood in a nearby lake and dump them into your tank, remember that your tank is a closed ecosystem that does not get fresh, new water every few seconds. It’s important to choose carefully the type of wood you put into your tank, lest you end up fouling up the water and killing all your precious fish.

What Type of Wood Should I Use?

There are two categories of wood you can choose from: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods often come from broadleaf trees whereas softwoods often come from cone-bearing trees. Softwoods decay much faster than hardwoods and may also release undesirable chemicals in your aquarium, which makes hardwood a clear winner in this battle.

How Can I Make Any Driftwood Aquarium-Ready?

In forests and other land-based natural landscapes, most dry wood you’d find will be ready to use in home aquaria. For types of wood in murky bodies of water, however, you’ll want to treat it. Here are the steps you need to take to make your driftwood aquarium-ready:

  1. Remove the bark and brush off any debris that are already decaying
  2. Brush off as much algae as you can
  3. Apply a lot of heat to the wood, whether through boiling or through baking. Just make sure not to allow it to get hot enough to catch fire.

How Do I Add Driftwood to My Tank?

Newly acquired aquarium driftwood should be soaked in water first before putting it on an aquarium in order to remove a lot of tannins and also allow it to sink. When the wood sinks, it should be ready to add to your tank. Observe your fish for any peculiar behavior, such as gasping at the surface, rapid breathing, and other signs of stress. If they do exhibit any peculiar signs or signs of stress, then take the driftwood out immediately and do a 50% water change.

Wouldn’t Driftwood Turn My Water Brown?

Most types of aquarium driftwood release tannins into the water, which results in a brown water, akin to what you’d find in most streams and rivers. While tannins are not inherently toxic, too much of them can change the pH of the water, making it too low for certain species of fish to survive in. That being said, Manzanita is a type of wood that releases less tannins than most types of wood.

If you also dislike the brown color tannins cause, you may simply add in high quality activated carbon to keep the water clear. If you don’t plan on using activated carbon but are concerned about water clarity, you can perform frequent water changes (20% biweekly) to remove a lot of tannin released.


Now that you know everything you need to know about driftwood, you can now start looking for the perfect driftwood for your tank! Remember that in aquascaping, there is no right or wrong, so feel free to move things around as you feel necessary.

Post by Khanh Bui


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