Aquarium driftwood

Last Updated May 3, 2021
aquarium driftwood

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Adding driftwood to your aquarium is a great way to get a natural look and imitate the habitat of some fish species. Aquarium suitable wood can be found in many shapes and forms and there is a type for almost any biotope! Although adding it can really make your aquascape, there are a few things to consider before running out to the store (or the forest).

Keep reading to find out the do’s and don’ts of driftwood in your aquarium and a of list the most common types of driftwood found in pet- and aquarium stores.


Using driftwood in your aquarium

If you’ve found a piece of driftwood for your aquascape (or bought it online), it can be very tempting to try to add it right away. Unfortunately, though, you’ll usually quickly find the wood floating at the top of the tank! Driftwood can’t be added to an aquarium without a bit of preparation.

Because even pre-washed pieces of wood can still contain dirt or loose pieces, a thorough scrub is a good plan. An old dish brush and hot water will work great for this! I also always rinse the wood with some boiling water to make sure anything harmful I missed while cleaning is also gone.

After washing the wood, it’s time to solve the floating problem. New driftwood is almost always buoyant until it has been submerged for a while, so if you don’t want it floating around the aquarium you can put it in a bucket with water for a few days until it’s waterlogged. If you don’t want any tannins from the wood to leach into your aquarium water, try soaking it a bit longer and changing the water whenever it gets dark. This is not a must though, as tannins usually aren’t harmful and just discolor and soften the water a bit!

Once your driftwood is clean, waterlogged and, if preferred, tannin free you can incorporate it into your aquascape without any floating problems or tea colored water. Shrimp and plecostomus species will especially appreciate this addition to the aquarium, as they use it to forage on.

Aquarium driftwood: Do’s

  • Research which types of wood fit the natural habitat of your fish if you’re interested in recreating a biotope. Use mangrove roots for a crab paludarium and Savanna root for a killifish setup!
  • If cleaning and soaking driftwood is too much work for you, try finding a realistic looking piece of faux driftwood.
  • If a mold-like, usually transparent fuzz appears on your driftwood after a few weeks or months in the aquarium, just try brushing it off. It’s harmless and should stop coming back after a while!


Aquarium driftwood: Don’ts

  • Don’t just use any wood in your aquarium. If you pick up a piece of wood from the forest or even a reptile suitable wood, it may not be dried out properly and it will start to rot. This could lead to dangerous situations for your fish!
  • Don’t be afraid of tannins! It may be a bit of a shock when your aquarium water turns tea colored after adding your driftwood, but it’s no reason to avoid or remove it. If you keep fish that like soft water and come from areas with naturally dark colored water (such as bettas!), the tannins are actually good for them. If you’re worried the tannins will block out light for your plants or if you keep fish that prefer hard water, pre-soak your driftwood until most has leached out, do some extra water changes and try temporarily using a bit of activated carbon in your filter to quickly remove the color.
  • Don’t buy driftwood before figuring out what you want your aquascape to look like. You don’t want to end up with a beautiful but useless piece of wood that doesn’t have the required shape or size!
  • Don’t use softwood such as cedar in your aquarium. All driftwood should be hardwood to prevent rot and leaching of resin, as this can potentially be very harmful.

Be sure to think about your aquascape beforehand! IMG_8543 by gergelyhideg

Types of driftwood

There are many kinds of driftwood for sale, often under varying names. The list below contains a few of the more commonly available types!

Malaysian driftwood – One of the most common types of aquarium driftwood. It’s usually quite pointy with sharp edges and leaks a lot of tannins! You can order Malaysian driftwood online.

Savanna root – Savanna root has rounder edges and a lighter color. It leaks less tannins and usually sinks quite easily.

107/365 Gnarled

Savanna root closeup. 107/365 by Jellaluna.

Mopani wood – Mopani wood looks similar to Savanna root but often has more elongated branches. It has round, mostly smooth edges. You can buy Mopani wood online.

Spider wood – Spider wood has a rather spidery appearance with longer, twisted branches. It leaks less tannins but can take a while to sink! You can buy spider wood online.

Cholla wood – Cholla wood is actually cactus wood. It will decay in the aquarium after a while, but this is not harmful. Cholla wood is often recommended for shrimp tanks as it offers a hiding and foraging place. Cholla wood can be bought online.

Manzanita wood – Manzanita wood is naturally found in the United States and usually has long, thin branches. It leaks tannins for a while and takes an average time to sink.

If you have any more questions about using driftwood in your aquarium or if you have additional tips, feel free to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

Cover photo: FABULOUS_FULL FRONTAL by Gergely Hideg

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  • Reply Bella Smith October 28, 2020 at 2:54 am

    Thank you so much for your answer!

  • Reply Bella Smith October 26, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Do I need to boil or soak driftwood before placing in the tank?

    • Reply Jennifer Doll October 26, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      Hi again!
      Some people boil/soak their driftwood in order to lessen the number of tannins that are released once you put it in your main display; it should be noted that boiling may cause the driftwood to deteriorate faster over time. I personally like the appearance and added benefits that tannins provide, and if you ever change your mind about it you could always just do a water change.
      That being said, some hobbyists like to prepare their driftwood by thoroughly washing the pieces off and even leaving them in the sun to kill any pathogens. Some driftwood will also try to float for a few weeks, but this can be solved by just weighing it down with a rock. Otherwise, a quick rinse and something heavy, and you can put the driftwood right in the tank without soaking/boiling.

  • Reply Warren December 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Where to buy red moorwood for the aquarium
    Online, stores in the US

    • Reply Mari December 17, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      I’m not from the US so I don’t know, sorry! Any other readers that do know feel free to chime in.

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