Best Aquarium Decorations: Natural & Artificial

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Some of the most beautiful aquarium setups have the most simple decorations. While these displays might seem easy to recreate, you will soon find out that achieving this effortlessness takes years of experience and a considerable amount of money. There are a few ways to work towards having your own show-stopping aquascape by using the best natural and artificial aquarium decorations and knowing how to work with the space you have available. 

Keep reading to find out the woods, rocks, plants, and other aquarium decorations that can be used to take your aquascape to the next level!

What decorations are safe for fish tanks?

Truth be told, aquarium-specific decorations are expensive for what they are. But putting an unsafe object into a fully established aquarium will end up costing more than the initial price of guaranteed safety. There are plenty of natural and artificial options available at all price ranges that can help bring life and excitement to your aquarium. 

Some of our top recommended decorations for aquariums are types of natural wood, rocks and slate, and artificial castles and volcanos. 

Can you put regular toys in a fish tank?

More often than not, you cannot put regular toys into a fish tank. Aquarium-safe accessories are assembled, painted, and packaged for specific aquarium use.

Regular toys often have metal parts that can easily rust, which can eventually cause problems with water parameters and usually cause immediate injury or death to any present corals. Aquarium-safe decorations are also coated and sealed with long-term paint that can withstand water, helping to preserve the intensity of colors and keeping fish safe. Some toys may also come packaged with stickers or other adhesives that can also be detrimental to an aquatic ecosystem even if in small amounts. 

The biggest problem you will probably run into most times is making the object sink. Anything made from plastics will float and will need to be weighed down one way or another! In general, it’s always best to use already aquarium-safe decorations or to thoroughly research preparing toys for aquarium use.  

Natural types of wood

Wood is a good natural addition to most aquarium setups; carefully selected pieces can add structure, shading, and protection for fish. However, most types of aquarium wood, like driftwoods and spiderwoods, need to be fully treated before they are placed in the tank as they can cause tannin-stained water and fungus growth.

What is driftwood?

Simply, driftwood is considered any logs or branches from trees that have been washed onto the shores of oceans, lakes, and rivers. Driftwood serves as an important part of aquatic ecosystems, offering shelter and food to many species. 

Can you put any type of wood into the aquarium? 

While some hobbyists have success harvesting and treating their own driftwoods for their aquariums, it is much safer, and much more feasible for most people to just go to the local pet store and pick out wood from a whole assortment of species, shapes, and sizes.

The problem with harvesting wood on your own is that some species can leak unwanted chemicals (both from human treatment and natural causes), some can unknowingly carry a fungus or other disease, and others might carry hitchhikers into the aquarium if it has been in or near water for any amount of time.  

If you are planning to collect wood for your aquarium, then it is generally accepted that hardwood species are best to use; coniferous species should be avoided due to sap. It is then best to boil the pieces several times to help remove impurities, release tannins, and waterlog the wood; additional steps may be needed given the place of collection and/or type of wood.  

PIVBY Natural Aquarium Driftwood Assorted Branches Reptile Ornament for Fish Tank Decoration Pack of 3

The PIVBY Natural Aquarium Driftwood Assortment is ideal for hobbyists with smaller tanks that don’t care too much about structure. This package includes three pieces of driftwood, varying in size from 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) to 9.5 inches (24.1 cm), that can be used for reptile, aquarium, or garden purposes.

This wood needs some treatment and it is recommended to boil it in water for a couple of hours. This process should then be repeated another two or more times until the water runs clear; this means that most of the tannins have been released from the wood and should not leak into your aquarium as much. At the very least, boiling this wood will help kill potential parasites.

Many hobbyists have found that the three pieces selected usually lack interest in shape and are much smaller than what was expected. Customers have also found they still tend to float and release tannins even after several weeks of being treated. It is likely that a white fungus will show up on the driftwood, but this bacterial growth is usually nothing to worry about and won’t affect livestock. It may be just a little ugly to look at for a few weeks!

What we like:

  • Three sturdy driftwood pieces for forming various structures
  • Natural coloration and addition of tannins if desired

What could be better:

  • Long treatment period needed
  • High chance to get uninteresting and/or small pieces
  • Relatively average price

Pisces AM-GOLD018 14″-18″ Medium Spiderwood, (Natural item)

Another option for natural aquarium wood is Pisces AM-GOLD018 14″-18″ Medium Spiderwood. Spiderwood is different from regular driftwood as its branches are very skinny and jagged, making for beautiful shapes and intricate passages. Only one piece of spiderwood is included in this package. 

Like driftwoods, spiderwood needs to be cured and it’s recommended to boil and soak the piece several times before placing it in the aquarium. On average, it takes 7-10 days for the piece to become waterlogged and sink. Once fully waterlogged, the spiderwood will take on a rich mahogany color.

While these pieces of spiderwood are advertised beautifully, many customers have found their piece to arrive with broken branches that take away from the overall effect meant to be given with this type of wood. Many hobbyists have also received uninteresting pieces that barely have any branches at all. In all, the pieces received tend to be undersized given the 14-18 inch (35.6-45.7 cm) estimate and usually become coated in fungus after the first few days in the tank.

What we like:

  • Interesting spiderwood contour and rich mahogany coloring
  • Good dimensions for a showpiece item in larger tanks

What could be better:

  • Only one piece included
  • Long treatment time and likely to develop fungus
  • Often ships with broken or chopped off branches and very likely to receive an uninteresting, undersized piece

Rocks & slate

Next to wood is rocks and slate as far as natural elements to place in aquariums; rocks can quickly fill up aquariums, bringing depth and added hiding areas for fish and invertebrates. 

It should be noted that not all rocks are aquarium-safe and you should never add rocks from a garden or wild habitat directly to your tanks. Many rocks have been known to alter important water parameters, like pH, and even leak out toxins over time. 

Pisces 17lb Seiryu Rock for Aquascaping, Aquariums, Terrariums, Vivariums

The Pisces 17lb Seiryu Rock For Aquascaping package is a favorite for many hobbyists that aren’t able to get to their local pet stores to pick out rock. In general, the smallest option on Amazon includes 17 lbs (7.8 kg) of rock with an average of one large piece, two medium pieces, and three to four small pieces. It should be noted that these rocks are not inert and can cause pH and alkalinity swings in aquariums. 

For the number of rocks that you get, the price is much better than in-store. However, this means that you cannot personally pick out the rocks you want, and many hobbyists have received shipments under the listed weight with many varying sizes of rock, and often more than three to four small pieces as advertised. It is recommended to get more than one package if planning on aquascaping 20+ gallons (75.7 L). 

What we like:

  • Generally a good selection of rocks with interesting shapes and features
  • Solid rock with grey, brown, and white striation 
  • Below average price

What could be better:

  • Can cause pH and alkalinity swings if not treated first
  • Some packages end up with too many small rocks and don’t offer an assortment in size
  • Sometimes the package is underweight
  • Often need to purchase several packages for larger aquariums 

Natural Slate Stone -1 to 3 inch Rocks for Miniature or Fairy Garden, Aquarium, Model Railroad & Wargaming (2)

Natural Slate Stone -1 to 3 inch Rocks for Miniature or Fairy Garden, Aquarium, Model Railroad &…

  • NATURAL SLATE – 100% real Slate stone will add beauty and realism to your creations. Because these are natural stones, each bag is a mix of stones from 1 to 3 inches. Product of the USA
  • PERFECT for creating walkways, benches, steps, archways, caverns, ground cover and much, much more in miniature or fairy gardens, model railways and doll houses.
  • EXCELLENT for Aquascaping aquariums, terrariums, vivariums and other pet enclosures. These stones naturally hold heat for reptiles or other heat loving pets. They can be glued together with aquarium…

If you want a more subtle rockscape than one based around Seiryu rock, then Natural Slate Stone might give the more nuanced look you’re going for. These natural grey pieces of slate come in 2.0 or 5.0 lb (0.9/2.3 kg) options with stones measuring 1.0 to 3.0 inches (2.5/7.6 cm); some pieces might have striations of quartz or brown hues.  

Slate can easily be used to construct caves, rock walls, and other dimensional features that can give fish tanks depth and personality. It is strongly recommended to use superglue or another adhesive to make sure the structure is secure; it should also be noted that slate can have sharp edges, which could be damaging to more ornate and long-finned types of fish. 

Fish owners have found these packages to be very cost-efficient, with receiving more rock than expected for the price. However, some hobbyists have also found that the pieces are on the smaller side of the average and resemble chips rather than full rocks. There is also a chance for cloudy water even if washed properly beforehand. 

What we like:

  • Natural appearance for easy construction of more subtle rock features
  • Easily treated before being placed in the tank
  • Good price for the number of rocks received

What could be better:

  • Some pieces can be jagged which can injure some fish
  • Slate pieces often come broken and chipped
  • The average size of each rock is small

Artificial decorations

While natural decorations help replicate the natural environments and conditions that wild fish are used to, the truth of the matter is that most aquarium fish have been bred in the hobby for years and have no idea of natural conditions. This means that they won’t be able to tell the difference between natural and fake caves or plants; they just know they need somewhere to hide! If it works, it works.

That being said, it’s still important to ensure that all decorations are properly treated for aquarium use and won’t scare the fish. 

Penn-Plax Wizard’s Castle Aquarium Decoration Hand Painted with Realistic Details Over 10 Inches High, Multi-Color (RRW8)

Penn-Plax Wizard’s Castle Aquarium Decoration Hand Painted with Realistic Details Over 10 Inches…

  • This aquarium decoration features a large grey castle perched upon a rocky hill. The cone shaped roof, archways, and stone details give a realistic feel
  • This castle provides visual interest for you and your fish. Holes provide hideaways for your fish to rest and passageways to reduce boredom
  • This aquarium ornament is 8 inches wide by 10.2 inches high by 6.2 inches deep. Castle is doubled sided and can be placed anywhere in your fish tank

One of the most popular artificial decorations you’re bound to come across at your local pet store is a castle. These castles are usually very big and can be quite expensive, so it’s important to know that they will maintain their vibrancy and remain non-toxic to fish and invertebrates. If considering a fortress for your tank, we recommend the hand-painted, durable resin Penn-Plax Wizard’s Castle Aquarium Decoration

This castle measures 8.00 L x 6.25 W x 10.25 H inches (20.32 L x 15.88 W x 26.04 H cm), and also comes in a 14 inch (35.56 cm) model as well. The design allows for two main angles of viewing in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Hobbyists agree that this smaller castle does best in aquariums between 10 to 55 gallons (37.9/208.2 L), though it looks best in setups in the middle of that range.

Many hobbyists have found that this Wizard’s Castle is smaller than they were expecting, and larger fish might not be able to fit through the archways. It is also strongly recommended to sand down or otherwise soften the edges of these archways and other sharp corners as they can easily injure fish. On rare occasions, a surface film and paint chipping have been reported coming from this fish tank ornament. 

What we like:

  • Durable materials and craftsman painting
  • Interactive for smaller fish 
  • Multiple models to choose from given the size of the aquarium

What could be better:

  • Much smaller than most hobbyists expect upon delivery
  • Archways can be too small for larger kinds of fish
  • Archways and other corners can be sharp for fish
  • Rare reports of surface films and peeling paint

Uniclife Aquarium Volcano Ornament Kit with Air Stone Bubbler Fish Tank Decorations

Uniclife Aquarium Volcano Ornament Kit with Air Stone Bubbler Fish Tank Decorations

  • Creating an “underwater volcano eruption” effect to make a wonderful landscape view for your aquariums up to 60 gallons
  • Hand-painted vivid volcano is made of resin which is safe, non-toxic, eco-friendly and totally harmless to your fish. Volcano Size: 6.7 x 4 inch (D*H)
  • Waterproof red LED spotlight can add a beautiful extra effect of erupting volcano especially at night

One of the most classic aquarium decorations–besides a shipwreck–that you could have for your aquarium is a bubbler volcano. At some point in your life, you most likely wanted one of these and there’s no time like the present! We recommend the Uniclife Aquarium Volcano Ornament Kit to finally live out your dreams. 

This hand-painted, resin volcano measures 6.7 inches (17.0 cm) in diameter and only 4 inches (10.2 cm) tall. They come with a waterproof red LED spotlight, power adapter, and one air stone; the air pump and airline tubing need to be purchased separately. It is best to get a controllable air pump as sometimes the bubbles can be too overpowering. These bubbles will help add oxygen to the water column and facilitate gas exchange through surface agitation.

Overall, hobbyists love this decoration when they get it! However, this volcano does seem to be of lower quality and tends to break within the first couple of months; the LED lights burn out, the paint begins to fade, and the overall suction cup design makes reliability an issue. Even more so, the lights can be difficult to control as you need to manually unplug it if you want to shut it off, and the electrical cord is usually too short. For those that don’t break, this volcano looks great in smaller tanks, preferably under 20 gallons (75.7 L). 

What we like:

  • Vibrant, hand-painted resin design with bright red LED light centerpiece
  • Included LED light, power adapter, and air stone
  • Beneficial water oxygenation and surface agitation for added gas exchange

What could be better:

  • Air pump and airline tubing not included
  • The overall design is poor and the paint tends to fade/chip over time
  • The LED light is likely to break within the first few months of use

Conclusion

Filling your aquarium with aquatic plants, rocks, and other decorations is almost half the fun of picking out your first fish! These objects give your fish something to interact with within the tank and can create a landscape within the aquarium that makes your fish feel more comfortable. There are many natural and artificial options available, but always make sure to prepare and treat any new pieces accordingly. 

If you have any questions about artificial versus natural decorations, filling your freshwater tank up with live plants, or have had experience creating an especially elaborate aquascape, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 

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