The Best Driftwood for Your Aquarium
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Driftwood is a piece of wood broken off a mature plant by tides, waves or winds and washed up to the beach of a lake, sea, or river. Even so, in the aquarium trade, there also exist artificial and even DIY driftwoods that are all used to accentuate both freshwater and marine aquariums.
Since a large part of keeping fish in aquariums is to create a visual spectacle, aesthetically adding driftwood will spruce you aquarium facade making it a centerpiece of your living area.
That said, there are many aquarium driftwood types in the market, with bonsai, manzanita, Malaysian driftwood, and African Mopani driftwood being arguably the best for all types of aquariums.
Branchy driftwood varieties such as manzanita, rhododendron, mesquite, Azalea, and corkscrew willow are also especially popular and offer unusually beautiful layout.
If not sure whether driftwood is good and safe for your fish tank!
Well, for the most part, driftwood is safe and good, especially in freshwater aquariums.
However, you’ll need to be careful with the driftwood you use, be sure to match it to the fish you are keeping.
Softwoods rot rapidly, and the debris can alter your aquarium water chemistry, while Malaysian and African driftwoods are known to leach large amounts of tannic acid in fish tanks thus only compatible with fish that prefer blackened water with a low ph.
Leaching woods are particularly not suitable choices when keeping dwarf shrimp, snails, crabs, and crayfish.
Read on for more insight on aquarium driftwood. We’ll delve into the best types, benefits, problems, and how to find and prepare driftwood for your fish tank.
10 Best Aquarium Driftwood Types
Once most aquarists find out what driftwood is (as explained above), the other common question is…
What driftwood type do I put in my fish tank?
For this reason, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best aquarium driftwood types that are popular and widely available in the aquarium trade.
#1— Malaysian Driftwood
Malaysian driftwood (see product) is one of the most popular aquarium wood types. It’s priced for its natural color, density, and an overall rugged appearance that is especially handsome in planted aquariums.
It also gives an organic boost to acidic ph and drops water hardness hence good for keeping fish that prefer softer, slightly acidic environments.
Malaysian driftwood can be used in shrimp tank and community aquariums as it sinks readily hence provide better cover and shelter for skittish aquarium inhabitants.
It will also create space for your shrimp, snails and other algae eaters to graze, hide and sit on while adding visual splendor to your fish tank with an interesting dark shade.
As opposed to many driftwoods, you don’t have to wait for this type to waterlog or also don’t have to anchor it in a substrate, Malaysian driftwood will sink instantly.
Moreover, Malaysian driftwood will leach tannins into the water, which although undesirable to some hobbyists, carry a multitude of antifungal and antibacterial properties.
If you prefer clear water, avoid discoloration by soaking your wood for as long as possible before placement. Total submersion for 1 to 2 weeks is recommended because tannic acid takes long to leach out of dense woods.
On the flip side, if you decide to let the wood leach in your fish tank, and darken your water, consider this fish species as they appreciate blackened environments: tetras, discus, angelfish, blue ram cichlids, and cory catfish.
#2 — African Mopani Driftwood
Mopani driftwood (See product), which is also commonly called African driftwood is in many ways similar to Malaysian wood, though it doesn’t contain as many tannins as the Malaysian type.
Still it will lower your aquarium ph, plus darken and soften the water.
African driftwood also creates a stunning appearance with its hollow aesthetics that also allow water to go through it easily and sink perfectly.
Because of this, Mopani driftwood can be used to attach plants such as anuabiaa nana, Java moss, and water sprite.
Tie the roots or rhizomes of your plant with fine cotton threads or staple them on the driftwood for them to slowly develop and attach to the wood on their own.
Regarding aesthetics, this African hardwood species will create a dramatic two-toned look, with a deep chocolate brown or light yellow with striking shapes and textures.
You can use tannic acid from Mopani to create a blackwater aquarium that is mostly tea-colored and though to be preferred by Amazonian fish like tetra:neons, cardinals, rummy nose, and bleeding hearts.
If you want a dark water aquarium, only short soak and scrub your wood before adding it in your tank. But for a clear aquarium, soak your African driftwood for 1 to 2 weeks before using it.
#3 — Manzanita Driftwood
Manzanita (see product) is a common name for a couple of species of evergreen shrubs and small trees native to North America, with live plants characterized by smooth orange or red bark and stiff twisting twigs.
In aquariums, mostly sandblasted manzanita driftwood is used especially in planted tanks because of its attractive forking growth and chemical neutrality.
As opposed to Malaysian and Mopani driftwood, manzanita is resistant to leaching tannins in the aquarium water column hence keeps the tank remain clear.
The only issue with using this driftwood is that it floats, so you’ll need to weigh it down or soak it first to counteract the woods natural buoyancy when dried and cured.
However, if properly cleaned and cured, it holds up well over extended periods of submersion and can be used to anchor plants, albeit less effective compared to the African and Malaysian hardwoods.
Please note that some aquarist and pet stores refer to manzanita as American driftwood.
#4 — Bogwood
Bogwood (see product) is not exactly a type of driftwood but a very similar alternative, though this wood is more scarce in aquarium shops and is pretty expensive.
Generally, bogwoods are preserved in a bog under aerobic conditions, and usually stained brown by organic matter present in a wetland, whereas driftwood is submerged in open waters for months or years mostly in rivers, streams or ponds.
Bogwood is considered in the same way as driftwood by aquarists.
If you choose to use bogwood in your aquarium, it is important to note that like most hardwoods, it does leach out tannins which slowly turn the water brown, though this effect reduces with age.
The tannins (as mentioned before), will alter your water ph, making it more acidic and soften it in a similar way that peat does.
Also, when adding fresher bogwood in your tank, often a light white coating appears for a couple of months, but its only harmless fungus that should disappear with time.
Besides, algae eater often feed on the fungus.
Bogwood is good because it provides live food in the form of infusoria for fry, small fish and inverts, and essential fiber in the diet for catfishes like bristlenose pleco and otocinclus.
Moreover, adding bogwood reduces fungus and bacterial diseases in your aquarium fish, provides hiding places, provides essential minerals for all life in the tanks, and it looks nice.
#5 — Bonsai Driftwood
Bonsai aquarium trees (see product) are made by hand from natural driftwood or non-toxic resin that is aquarium safe. Artisans create the trees in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to fit almost all fish tank.
They are easy to work with than natural driftwood pieces and are perfect for large, small, planted, community and even nano tanks.
Still, like natural wood, bonsai trees create perfect homes for shrimp, fishes, and other inhabitants and add a natural green aquarium environment.
This driftwood may contain tannic acid from the naturally crafted wood and will soften your water. However, if you don’t desire the tannins to leach, soak your bonsai wood for a few days to allow excess tannic acid to dissipate.
Bonsai driftwood decorations can come in different shapes, including tree and rooting styles. Underwater trees pair well with aquatic plant species such as anubias, Bucephalandra, ferns, and aquatic moss species.
You can even use the plants to mimic the foliage on natural bonsai trees.
Like manzanita, most bonsai aquarium driftwoods are buoyant, so soak before adding them to your aquarium.
#6 — Spider Wood
Spider wood (see product) is another driftwood type used in the aquarium hobby that has a lot of extensions giving it a tree-like appearance. It is often used to attach plants and form branches almost akin to bonsai or manzanita.
Usually, spider wood differs from other woods in that it is dried out to be lightweight for shipping purposes, though this also means it will not sink immediately and will require you to weigh it down for about a week until it is fully saturated.
Even so, the amount of tannins released by spider wood is much lesser than Mopani and Malaysian driftwoods.
Spider wood can be used for shrimp breeding, to create surface area for biofilm and bacterial growth, and provide natural feeding grounds for fish and inverts.
Noe that like bogwood, spider driftwood will produce a non-toxic white film for a few weeks after adding it in the aquarium. Plus some plecos will enjoy feeding on this driftwood because it is soft compared to other common types.
#7 — Cholla Wood
Cholla (see product) is a beautifully patterned wood that is the skeleton of a cholla plant after it dies. The wood is priced for the tons of holes on the surface and a hollow center part which provides a unique refuge for smaller aquarium inhabitants.
Cholla wood is also useful to fry, shrimp, and catfish as it grows biofilm, which is a good source of food. Still, it releases tannins in the water same as Indian almond leaves and other natural products hence can be used to create a blackwater aquarium.
The aspect is desired by some aquarist, especially those keeping fish native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America.
When added directly in the fish tank, cholla wood will float and usually takes 24 to 48 hours to sink. Therefore, to make sure it sinks immediately and completely, boil the wood for 2 to 5 minutes and cool it before placing inside the aquarium.
Another thing to note is that cholla is a softwood and will gradually breakdown in your fish tank and cause major water chemistry issues, so keep an eye out for when your driftwood start to rot.
#8 — Mesquite Driftwood
Mesquite is beautiful branching driftwood that can make a stunning addition to your fish tank albeit being fairly expensive and mostly large hence best for bigger fish tanks.
However, larger pieces of mesquite can be broken down and used in smaller fish tanks, which normally nets the highest returns for the seller anyway.
Please note that mesquite fall under a category commonly called found woods, which means you are not likely to find them on the beach unless you happen to live in areas where the tree grows.
Also, it’s not always safe for use in aquariums because it’s an oily tree and may be toxic to both fish and amphibians. Mesquite only works because it is a hardwood, so add it with a lot of caution and only when you have some aquascaping experience.
#9 — Tiger Driftood
Tiger wood is unique driftwood that features tree-like growth with one centralized stump and many branches. For this reason, it will allow you a variety of ways to aquascape including nature style, bonsai-type style, jungle style, and more.
Tiger driftwood can also be used as a central piece in an aquarium with no plants.
Having said that, tigerwood will float for 1 to 3 week until it becomes waterlogged, so I recommend pre-soaking it until before placing the wood in your aquarium.
Alternatively, try attaching it to a flat rock at the base of your tank, and make sure your anchor it from the bottom.
#10 — Grape Wood
A piece of grape wood (see product) will make a piece for your aquarium as driftwood is beautiful, though it supports mold growth, will rot over time, and can be a pain in the back to sink.
However, you can buy sandblasted grape wood or spray it with polyurethane to keep it rotting rapidly and stay longer.
Sandblasting removes material from the surface of the object without adding anything to the surface hence not toxic to fish. Polyurethane is fish safe once dry, but finding any that’s rated for underwater usage can be troublesome.
Try to way you grape driftwood down with something in your tank until it is waterlogged or attach it to rocks because even it’s soaked, it might not stay sunk for long.
Boiling your grape wood is another fairly effective alternative.
That said, grape wood when properly cured and soaked, it makes a good shelter for shrimp and fish and also provides a ready food source for algae eaters since organisms readily grow on the surface.
Please note all evergreens (softwoods) are not suitable for most aquaria due to the high amount of resin in the wood, which incidentally is often toxic to animals. Plus they rot quickly..
They function best in biotope and planted aquariums as opposed to a conventional fish tank.
That said, below is a list of other driftwood (mostly softwoods) you are likely to find at your local fish store or used in a fish tank. Usually, they are imported and cured by the seller, therefore make sure the processing methods are ethical and safe for your fish and inverts.
- Ghost wood
- Cork screw willow
- Corcovado wood
- Pine wood
- Cedar wood
- Beef wood
Can You Make Driftwood You Aquarium
You can make your own driftwood from pieces collected from nearby lakes and streams or larger dead trees that have fallen. However, you need to be careful not to introduce unsafe elements into your aquarium.
Also, beware that some tree species are poisonous and you’ll need some level of experience and a lot of research before you can successfully make your driftwood.
Usually, ‘DIY driftwood for aquarium’ is the common phrase used to refer to the process of establishing handmade woods even though it might not be entirely handmade.
That said, driftwood from oceans is not readily available to everyone because many fish keepers live away from the coast. So, to make your driftwood, consider using pieces of wood from your local area streams and rivers or even lakes.
Large pieces of dead trees that have fallen in water are mostly better used somewhere else around the house, while smaller pieces are good for use in aquariums.
Usually, the process takes about two weeks on average considering you’ll need to collect your piece of wood, bake it, remove the rot and debris with a stiff brush and finally soak it before you install it in your fish tank.
The process then brings us to another common question:
Can You Use Found Driftwood in Your Aquarium
The simple answer is Yes!
But first, know that not all found driftwood is good for use in aquariums, plus most of the recommended species may not be available in your local area.
Having said that, it is important to realize that hardwood is always better than softwood. Plus you are more likely to find suitable driftwood on oceans shores or rivers, lakes and stream banks.
What you should be looking for are pieces of wood broken off from mature trees, shrubs, or hedges. Hardwoods are notably broad-leafed trees, while softwoods are mostly conifers and have a lot of sap.
Assuming you manage to find a nice piece of driftwood for your fish tank, make sure you prepare it before using it. It should include all processes from brushing the wood with a stiff brush to baking it both in the sun and on an open fire, curing it and soaking the wood.
Preparing the found wood will ensure you eliminate any parasites, bacteria, fungus, and other hitchhikers that you’ll otherwise introduce to your tank.
Moreover, (as I have mentioned a couple of time before) know that many plants are toxic. For instance, walnut and other trees in the same family like pecan release a toxin called juglone that poisons the ground and can also affect your lungs if you inhale the wood dust.
No greenwood is safe for use in an aquarium until it’s dry which might take a while.
Conifers trees have a lot of tough resin in them which does not necessarily leach out with weathering, but pine branches can remain sticky long after they have fallen.
Weeping willow is not exactly toxic and has no resin to the extent that conifers do, but the tree branches rot rather quickly and create a red mess in fish tanks.
Grapevine driftwood is a good choice of driftwood especially in reptile aquariums, but it will take you a pretty long to sink it, same as ghost wood.
Overall, most found hardwoods are safe to use in aquariums as long as they are suitably weathered.
Maple is particularly a good choice because it doesn’t have any tannins, and beech and oak should be fine too. However, beware that oak branches leach their color.
Where to Get Driftwood for Your Aquarium
Usually, driftwood is found around water bodies such as banks of lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans. Even so, it does depend on the kind of wood you want, considering that some of the most popular types like Malaysian and African-Mopani driftwood are only naturally available in their native environment.
For this reason, you’ll have to decide whether you want to use found or purchased driftwood.
Regardless, these are the four main places to get or collect wood for your fish tank.
Beach and Ocean Front
Driftwood that has been washed onto the shore or beach of a sea by the action of winds, tides or waves is mostly the best to get or collect for aquarium use.
This is especially easy and hassle-free to collect considering most woods are remains of trees that otherwise cause major nuisance after a storm, flooding and high winds.
Mostly, going out to the beach to look for driftwood is a good option if you have a big aquarium since bought wood will cost more when it’s a large piece.
Endeavour to go looking for your driftwood after a storm or flooding situation because this is when most debris is washed up to the shore.
Rivers and Streams
It’s undeniable that many aquarium owners live inland away from beaches and the blue water of the seas. In which case, it’s best to look for driftwood along the banks of local area rivers and streams.
From my experience, driftwood suitable for aquariums tend to be more concentrated in areas of the river that have a lot of vegetation around the banks as opposed to stretches that are in the low land flat areas.
Its also easier to get driftwood during the summer when the water level is lower. This way, you will even find pieces of wood halfway submerged, which would otherwise not be visible during the water seasons.
Lakes and Dams
There are two major sources of driftwood around lakes and reservoirs, from the trees growing around the water body and wood pieces that have been washed up by rivers flowing into the lake.
For this reason, concentrate your search on the banks of the lake, but also look in areas where a river joins the lake.
Even so, it is imperative to determine the type of trees and shrubs growing around the water body because it is not uncommon to find more softwood species than hardwood.
But if you can find hardwood around the lake, there is a chance that all (or most) driftwoods from that area are from a hardwood species.
Buy Driftwood from Your Local Pet Store or Online
Buying driftwood from a local fish store or online is probably the most hassle-free way to source for aquarium wood. Moreover, you are more likely to get driftwood types that are not native to your local area, but better for use in fish tanks.
Buying online versus from a local store; it’s more convenient to go the e-commerce way. Plus you will have a wider variety to choose from, though you have a better chance to inspect your wood in a brick and mortar shop than online.
Also, if you buy online and fail to like the products, you will have to ship it back to the seller, sometimes at your own expense.
Nonetheless, most online pet stores have a return policy if you are not satisfied with the purchase and a number of the have both walk-in stores and online shops.
That said, when buying driftwood, make sure it’s marked for aquarium use because some reptile woods are sprayed with preservatives and chemicals that may be harmful to fish.
How to Prepare Driftwood for Aquarium
Considering your aquarium is an ecosystem that is sensitive to change, you will need to prepare your driftwood for safe use and to ensure it causes a minimal change in the tank.
As mentioned before, stick to hardwoods because they take longer to break down and will not destroy water quality like softwood. If you must use softwood, go for dry pieces.
Removing Solid Debris from You Driftwood
Removing solid debris from your driftwood is especially useful for wood sourced outside in lakes, rivers, and seashore as opposed to those bought online or from a local fish store.
The process helps remove any grime like sand and silt particles that may be stuck on the driftwood surface and even in small crevices.
To start with, give the piece of wood a good shake and perhaps tap it gently on hard ground or your palm to dislodge any dirt stuck in it
Second, you will need to scrub your wood with a brush. Go over the surface as much as you can, and maybe repeat the process after soaking the driftwood.
You can either use a wire brush or a soft brush to scrub the wood. However, note that a soft brush is not as effective when removing tough grime, whereas a wire brush is effective but will leave marks behind.
Consider using a screwdriver or knife to reach dirt lodged in the tiny areas within the driftwood surface. A slightly damp toothbrush is helpful when removing sand particles.
Lastly, you can also use sandpaper to improve the beauty of your driftwood. Sealing your piece of wood in a plastic bag for a couple of days will kill any bugs that remain in the wood after shaking it.
Cleaning Driftwood with Water
Once you are done removing loose debris from you driftwood, wash it under a power or pressure wash with a steady stream of water until its visibly clean.
At this point, you should be able to remove any leftover bark as well as clean the freshly exposed wood.
However, make your water pressure is not too much to the extent it starts stripping away your wood. Also, try not to use any soap or detergent because particles which may be toxic to fish linger or stick to the surface.
Sterilizing Driftwood for You Aquarium
Whether store bought or found, driftwood needs to be sterilized before being added toan aquarium, The process is done to remove any toxins, bacteria, or spores that maybe present.
You can either boil, bake or bleach your wood depending on the size.
Boiling Driftwood for Aquarium
Boiling your driftwood is arguarbly the best way to ensure no nasties find their way into the fish tank.
However, its often a challange to find a pot that’ll fit all pieces of wood even when working with small chunks.
So, assuming you can find a pot that is large enough, boil your driftwood for at least 2 hours or more if your wood is still visibly unclean.
Apart from removing toxins, boiling will also encourage tannis to leach out thus shortening the curing process if you need to.
Beware there is chance when you boil your wood it will produce a smell, especially if its a fresh piece, although the odor won’t be particularly unpleasant; just that it will be present.
Bleaching Your Driftwood
In case you piece of wood is too big, and you cant find a pot large enough to boil it, you can choose to submerge it in a bucket with a 5-percent bleach solution for 24 hours.
However, be sure to rinse the driftwood properly by letting it soak in bleach-free water for at least a day or more to remove all remnants.
It’s also common for some hobbyist touse vinegar on driftwood or even hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach, which often have specific targets like snails.
Usually, the recommended solution is 3-percent hydrogen peroxide mix to soak a piece of driftwood for an hours.
Baking Driftwood for Aquarium
For larger pieces of wood that you don’t want to bleach, you can bake them for several hours (2to 4 hours) at 200 to 215. This will dry out the wood making it harder and also remove any toxins or insects stuck inside small cracks.
When baking, place the driftwood on the cooking sheet and cover it with foil then place in the oven making sure there are no overlapping portions.
You will also want to closely monitor the process to ensure the wood does not burn.
Curing Your Driftwood for Aquarium Use
The curing process serve either of two purposes depending on the driftwood you have.
First, its ment to allow access tannins that darken aquarium water to leach out. The discoloration does not exactly harm your fish, but will lower the ph and soften your water overtime. Tannins turn aquarim water to a weak-tea shade.
Second, the curing (soaking) process is ment to help with the driftwood buoyancy; soaked wood pieces sink faster once you place them in the tank.
Usually, it recommended you soak driftwood competely for a minimum period of 1 to 2 weeks to allow proper saturation. However, if you purchase Malaysian or African driftwood that sink naturally, you can avoid soaking and take advantage of the tannic acid to lower you aquarium ph or create a dark water aquarium.
When soaking your driftwood, you’ll want to monitor the water regularly to see if it need changing. If the water darken, empty all of it and gently rinse your driftwood the fill the bucket with clean dechlorinated or RO water and continue soaking the wood.
As you repeat the process, your water will gradually stain less and water changes interval will become longer until you no longer have to do any replacements.
Usually, these will take a couple of days to a few weeks.
How to Anchor Driftwood in The Aquarium
To keep your driftwood from floating in your tank, there are several ways you can anchor it. Usually, most hobbyists tie it down, but you can also glue it, soak it, or even weight it down with rocks.
To tie your wood down, look for anchor point around the aquarium such as rocks or other heavy decorations then position in such a way it stays submerged under the weight of the anchor.
Use aquarium netting to tie your driftwood. Many types of aquarium treads exist with some nearly transparent so you need not be worried about aesthetics.
This options is however tricky especially in small aquariums that don’t have many heavy decor objects.
Depending on the depth of your substrate, you can glue your driftwood to the bottom of the aquarium or on larger rocks as an alternative to using aquarium thread.
However, keep in mind gluing will cause problems when it come to cleaning the tank and rocks. Moreover, you have to make sure you only use fish-friendly aquarium glue.
The last and arguably the most popular solution is to soak your driftwood (as explained), though this is only possible with untreated or unsealed wood that will absorb water.
Normally, it takes a couple of days, sometime weeks, for driftwood to be waterlogged and heavy enough to stay sunken.
Enjoy your aquarium.