I’m a big fan of the “natural” aquarium look with a lot of plants, rocks, driftwood, moss, etc. Anything plastic makes your tank look tacky and Walmart-like, so driftwood is one step in the right direction. It is not only a food source for animals like plecos and shrimp, but it makes the tank look ten times prettier. Following these simple guidelines will ensure that your driftwood will be added to your aquarium safely in a way that will not disturb the water chemistry or your fish.
1. Buy Your Driftwood
When choosing your driftwood to use in your tank, never go to an ocean, river, lake, or pond and take random wood from there. Obviously, taking driftwood from the ocean means that it will have salt embedded in the wood. When you place the wood in a freshwater tank, you will be introducing the salt to the freshwater which won’t harm fish (in small amounts), but it will kill freshwater plants. Even if you take wood from a freshwater river or lake, it could contain parasites that could be deadly to your tank inhabitants.
I always buy my driftwood from a reputable seller. I have bought a nice piece of Malaysian driftwood (shown above) from my local fish store for $12 and a smaller piece from Drs. Foster and Smith for $6 or so. Another great place to look online is eBay since most sellers have a “What You See Is What You Get” system, but eBay is considerably more expensive than most fish stores and other websites.
Another thing you want to notice is if they list the driftwood as “aquarium safe”. Some wood sold for lizards and other reptiles may be covered in chemicals that benefit the lizards, but will hurt fish. This is just one more reason to buy from a reputable source.
2. Boil for 1-2 Hours (Optional, but Recommended)
If your driftwood is small enough to fit into some kind of pot, boil it on your stove for an hour or two. This will encourage bad toxins, parasites, and tannins out of the wood. You will want to change the water every 30 minutes. If your wood is too large to fit into any normal sized kitchen pot, then you can skip this step and move onto the next one.
3. Soak The Wood For a Couple of Days
Now you will want to add your driftwood to a large bucket and soak it for 5-7 days. This will allow the water to saturate the wood (making it sink when you add it to the tank), encourage more tannins out of the wood, and ensure us that it is 100% safe to add to your tank. When I soak my driftwood, I normally put it in a large bucket in the garage and change the water every 1 or 2 days.
4. Add Driftwood To Tank
After you have boiled and/or soaked your driftwood for the proper amount of time, you can add it to your aquarium. I always suggest thinking about abstract ways to place it in beyond the normal horizontal position. The piece I have pictured above was originally intended to be an aquascape tree with Java Moss on top, but it was too large to stand vertically in my 10 gallon tank. Be creative and be unique! Always remember that you can add plants like mosses, and Java Fern to the wood to give it an even more natural look.