Decorating Your Aquarium

Decorations are not a required component of a successful tank. However, they will add significantly to your tank’s aesthetic appeal and can provide a sense of security for your fish by creating hiding places. The choices are endless, including live or fake plants, real or fake rocks, and a huge variety of molded ornaments of structures like castles and treasure chests. Check with our staff to make sure any wood or rocks you use are safe for the type of tank you have and will not have negative effects on the tank.


Most fish do not require a substrate. It is more for aesthetic appeal than anything else, but many hobbyists choose to use it in their tanks. Gravel is the substrate most commonly used. It is available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Medium-sized gravel is generally best, although smaller gravel can look great in a planted tank. Large gravel can be disastrous, as it can leave spaces that will trap food, waste, and even small fish.

Decorative Aquarium Stones

Although many commercially-gathered stones are available for your aquarium, you can also collect them yourself. Among the stones safe for use in aquariums are natural lava rock, natural slate, natural quartz, natural river rock and petrified wood. Be sure to boil collected rocks for an hour before placing them in your tank.

Lace rock, which is available at Bob's Tropical Fish, is a wonderful choice as well. When used in the aquarium this natural looking rock, with its many crevasses and craters, really gives your tank a 3D appearance. The only problem with Lace Rock is that it's a bit sharp, and algea is hard to remove.

Other rocks you can use are glass and ice rock, river pebbles, pagoda rock, zebra rock, honey onyx, rainbow rock and red desert rock.


Natural driftwood is another decoration that can add character to an aquarium. You can  catch it on the bottom of the lake while fishing or find it along rivers and streams. Your local aquarium shop will have several types of exotic imported and artificial driftwood available.

Artificial Plants

Technology has made artifical plants more lifelike than many live plants ... and they are certainly easier to keep alive. When selecting artificial plants choose plants of varying heights, leaf shapes, and colors. Use tall plants to hide lift tubes and heaters. Place a couple of medium height plants in the middle of the tank, and and use the short ones for accenting rocks and driftwood. Image background plants clip to the top of your tank and cascade downward.


The suitability of ceramic objects as aquarium ornaments is sometimes debated amongst fish enthusiasts. The truth is that some ceramic ornaments are perfectly safe while others leach fish toxic heavy metals as the glaze dissolves.

Any object produced to be 'dinnerware safe' will be suited as an aquarium decoration. A dinnerware safe object is one which has been glazed and fired using techniques and substances which will not dissolve under acid conditions. Most developed countries have strict standards regarding the safety of dinnerware pieces. Non dinnerware objects do not have to meet the same safety standards.

To find out if a ceramic piece is safe, take some household acid such as vinegar. Dilute it to a pH that might be reasonably expected under the most extreme aquarium situation. A pH of 5 should be sufficient. Submerge part of the ornament in question and wait. After a month examine the glaze on the object and compare the acid treated portion to the remainder. If any of the shininess has deteriorated the decoration will be unsuitable for your aquarium.

Plain non glazed ceramic objects such as terracotta pots are universally suitable as aquarium decoration. Just examine carefully to ensure the object is indeed unglazed and not finished in a matte glaze or paint. When using broken pieces of pots be careful to avoid any sharp edges. These can injure both fish and owner. Jagged edges can be chipped away or covered in a bead of aquarium silicone to create a safe ornament.

Cleaning your Tank Decorations

Eventually you'll need to remove all of your decorations to clean them. Over time brown or green algae may grow on your aquarium decorations. Fine-leaved artificial plants seem to be a "catch all" for left over food particles and debris.

To clean your decorations, give them a pre-wash under running water. Then I the sink with very hot water and let them soak for a while. The hot water seems to dislodge a lot of the gunk. Then wash them again with warm water and they should look almost new. Never use any type of soap when cleaning aquarium decorations. Cleaning aquarium gunk off of the leaves of artificial plants is no easy chore. It just takes time and patience to clean them one leaf at a time.