Safe & Stylish: Choosing the Right Decorations for Fish Tanks

Hey there, DIY fans. It’s Hank here with some tips on how to deck out your fish tank with healthy and safe decorations for your aquatic pets. As an avid aquarist, I know how tempting it can be to get creative and throw all kinds of underwater knick-knacks into that glass box. But we must remember that a fish tank is a delicate environment, and our finned friends deserve only the best!

In this post, I’ll walk you through:

  • What factors to consider when selecting tank decor
  • Types of safe natural and artificial decorations
  • How to properly clean and disinfect items before adding them
  • Monitoring and maintaining decor long-term
  • And mistakes to avoid along the way!

I aim to educate and inspire you to create a living work of art that keeps your fish happy and healthy. So, let’s dive right in!

What Makes a Decoration “Safe”?

When setting up a new tank or refreshing your existing setup, you have many options for décor. But not all are well suited for an aquarium’s closed system. Before picking anything out, here are some key considerations:

What decorations are safe for fish tanks 1


Avoid any decorations made with materials that could leach chemicals into the water. Steer clear of painted resin or plastic, treated wood, and metals like copper or zinc. Opt for inert materials like smooth river rocks, untreated driftwood, and live or silk plants. Always research if something is genuinely aquarium-safe.

Edges and Surfaces

Sharp edges and rough surfaces can injure your fish and compromise their fins and scales. Inspect the decor thoroughly and smooth out any rough patches with sandpaper. Rounded gravel rocks and sanded driftwood provide a fish-friendly texture.

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Size and Weight

Oversized décor crowds the tank, while too small pieces pose ingestion risks. Heavy items could crush your fish if they fall over. Choose appropriately sized pieces your fish can swim around and under. Test stability and secure unstable decor to the tank floor.

Cleaning Needs

Some decor requires more maintenance to control algae and gunk buildup. Be prepared to scrub and disinfect artificial plants and resin ornaments more often than driftwood and rocks. Live plants help purify water but need occasional trimming.


Factor in the needs of your tank inhabitants. Do they need ample plants for hiding? Open swimming space? Consider their natural behaviors and preferences when selecting decorations.

Safe Natural Decorations

Natural elements lend an authentic biotope vibe. With proper prep, these options are fish-friendly:

How to Choose Safe Decorations for Your Fish Tank

Live Aquarium Plants

Live plants oxygenate the water, absorb fish waste, and provide shelter. Easy beginner species include:

  • Java Fern: Hardy and undemanding, they attach to rocks or driftwood.
  • Anubias: With hearty leaves and slow growth, they only require low light.
  • Java Moss: This versatile moss thrives attached to decor or the tank floor.

Introduce live plants gradually to allow beneficial bacteria to develop. Quarantine and disinfect new plants before adding to prevent hitchhikers!


Driftwood introduces tannins that create a natural, tea-colored water perfect for species like bettas and tetras. Look for rounded edges and complex shapes with hidey holes. Soak new wood in dechlorinated water for 1-2 weeks until it sinks. Then boil or bleach dip to kill bacteria before adding it in.

Rocks and Pebbles

Inert, smooth aquarium rocks provide zones for grazing fish to pick at algae. They also offer anchor points for plants. I like using river rocks in shades of gray and tan. Be sure to disinfect them after collection. Tumbled gems like amethyst or quartz make dazzling accent pieces.

Safe Artificial Options

Plastic and resin decorations are lower maintenance than their natural counterparts. When shopping, look for:

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Non-Toxic Resin Ornaments

Resin decor molded into whimsical shapes brings color and personality. Select fully cured, non-toxic resin specifically for aquarium use. Avoid cheap painted decorations that can flake or leach chemicals.

Silk Aquarium Plants

These convincing fabric plants are soft and pose no threat to fish. Go for quality over quantity when selecting silk plants. Plastic can tear fins, so silk is the safest artificial foliage.

Unglazed Ceramic Hides

Natural clay vessels create cozy caves. Check for aquarium-safe branding and avoid glossy glazes that can leach. Soak new ceramic pieces in dechlorinated water for a few days before introducing them.

Use Driftwood to Decorate Your Fish Tank

Properly Cleaning Decorations

Any items going into your tank need a good scrub first. Here are some best practices:

Boil hardy materials like driftwood, rocks, gravel, and ceramic to sterilize.

Bleach dip silk plants and softer plastics, using 1 part bleach to 20 parts water. Rinse extremely thoroughly afterward.

Vinegar soaks tough algae or hard water stains off decorations. Use a 50/50 vinegar and water solution.

Waterlogged prep makes driftwood sink. Soak for 1-2 weeks until saturated and weighted down. Replace the water daily.

For decorating with crevices or delicate areas, gently use a soft toothbrush, pipe cleaner, or dechlorinated water to clean every nook and cranny.

Never skip the disinfecting process—an ounce of prevention avoids introducing illnesses!

Decor Maintenance

The work doesn’t stop once your underwater landscape is fully decked out. Maintaining that decor is critical:

  • Every few months, thoroughly clean decorations during tank maintenance. Remove gunk buildup, scrub away algae, and disinfect.
  • Check for damage or signs of deterioration. Discard and replace any broken, chipping, or rotting decor.
  • Re-secure any shifting décor that could topple over and crush your fish.
  • Trim back overgrown live plants to keep them healthy and prevent tangled messes.
  • Swap out some decorations during annual deep cleans to refresh the look.

Staying on top of decor upkeep helps avoid water quality issues down the road.

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Decorate Your Fish Tank the Right Way

Decorating Don’ts to Avoid

While piecing together your tank decor puzzle, there are a few hazardous approaches to steer clear of:

Skipping Disinfection

It’s so tempting to plop pretty rocks or driftwood right into the tank after rinsing them off. But you risk hitchhiking snails, algae, parasites, and illness-causing bacteria. Always thoroughly disinfect new decor!

DIY Painting

Painted décor can leave toxic flakes in your aquarium if the paint isn’t aquarium-safe. It’s best not to DIY paint decorations unless you’re using special fish-friendly resin paints. Play it safe!


Jam-packing your tank with gaudy gravel, excessive ornaments, and forest-thick plants may look amazing in the store. But leaving room for your fish to swim and explore comfortably is crucial. Allow them some wide open spaces.

Neglecting Maintenance

Failing to clean grungy decor or replace damaged pieces compromises water quality. Don’t let your fantastic tank décor go to waste! Stay on top of inspections and upkeep.

Bring Your Fish Tank Vision to Life

Bring Your Vision to Life

As you can see, selecting safe and well-suited decorations takes research, care, and proper prep. But catching your fish happily exploring every nook and cranny of their newly decorated habitat is gratifying!

These tips give you the confidence to design your dream aquascape. Remember to choose fish-safe materials, thoroughly disinfect new decor, maintain cleanliness long-term, and avoid common pitfalls.

Outfitting your tank shouldn’t be intimidating. Take it slowly, do your homework, and prepare to bring your unique underwater vision to life! Your scaly swimming buddies will thank you for the fantastic pad.

Let me know if you have any other questions about fish tank decoration. And if you do deck out a tank, share pics with me on Instagram! I’d love to see your handiwork.