Utilizing fish tank ornaments

Ornaments can be a great addition to a new or existing fish tank, breathing new life into it or changing the current theme. But it can be easy to forget some of the preparation and maintenance when handling ornaments for your tank. Let’s review some of the more common topics involving fish tank ornaments.

What is an ornament?

An ornament can be any non-living, non-substrate related item added to your fish tank. There is a large variety of ornaments, from natural rocks and stones, to artificial plants and sea creatures. You can also add in a few princess castles or pirate chests if you wish.

Ornaments can provide accents and contrasting colors to your fish tanks for a more pleasing look. They can also provide hiding places and caves for your tanks living creatures. Even if you have a natural looking planted tank, an ornament or two can really add that finishing touch you may have been searching for.

With everything you add to your tank, you should make sure that it fits not only your needs, but your tank’s needs as well.

Only use objects made for fish tank use

Some objects placed in water can leech out chemicals over time. Even natural items such as driftwood can release tannins into your water, which is not always detrimental, but can darken your water and lower your pH. Only use objects and ornaments that are made for fish tanks. These are easily found in your local fish store or online stores that specialize in these components. If your child wants his favorite action figure in the tank, make 100% certain that it will not be detrimental, or avoid the risk entirely.

If you’re using driftwood, stones, or other natural components, it’s good to read up on them to ensure that you are aware of its potential effects on your tank. Not all natural materials belong in a fish tank. Even the glue you may use during your aquascaping phase should be reviewed to ensure that it belongs in a fish tank.

Clean all items before placing them in your tank

Items sitting on store shelves can develop bacteria, dust, and other unwanted components for your fish tank. Before putting them in your tank, you should thoroughly rinse any ornaments. No soap or other chemical is needed. An old toothbrush can scrub the surfaces and get into the hollow areas as needed.

For used ornaments that came out of other tanks, consider using almost boiling water to sterilize them. Obviously if your ornaments can melt, be cautious during this step. Boiling/hot water can sterilize any unwanted items on the ornaments that a simple tap water wash cannot achieve. You can also utilize bleach in this cleaning process but it’s usually not needed unless you are very concerned about the objects origins or future uses.

Watch for sharp edges

I’ve had personal experience with this one and it can really ruin your day. Some ornaments have holes in them large enough for fish to fit through. These openings can be very sharp, especially on cheaper quality ornaments. Our paradise gourami unfortunately miscalculated his size and attempted to swim through one of these holes. The sharp edges caught him and he struggled to get out on his own, causing a lot of damage and stress. We had to intervene to help him escape, but it wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully he is fine, but it was an experience that would’ve been avoided if we would have checked for those sharp edges before adding the ornament to the tank. It is possible to modify some ornaments and file down the sharp edges or spots where a fish could potentially get stuck. A lways look before you add!

Don’t crowd your tank

With so many ornament options, it can be easy to go overboard, especially if you are a fan of collecting them. Make sure that ornaments don’t take over your tank. This can add more surfaces for unwanted algae growth and also block water flow in some cases. Less is more. Let your fish or plants be the stars of your tank and the ornaments more of the backdrop.

Don’t feel obligated to use ornaments at all

There is nothing wrong with a natural or minimalist style tank. Even though you may walk past great-looking ornaments in your local fish store, don’t feel like you have to have them in your tank. They’re ultimately there for each person’s preference to customize a tank’s look and feel. Your fish will not care if the princess castle is replaced with a pirate ship, as long as there’s a place for him to hide and feel safe somewhere. You can achieve this without ornaments in a variety of ways. If your current aquascape is lacking hiding places or low water flow areas, then ornaments can be a great and visually pleasing option. But you can also achieve these things using other methods.

Cleaning ornaments during tank maintenance

Like most things in your tank, you may find that ornaments get dirty or covered with algae and need some cleaning. One plus of ornaments is giving more surface area on which good bacteria can grow. When it comes to cleaning ornaments, you want to be mindful of this and not clean all of your ornaments at once.

An easy way to achieve this is to clean ornaments during your water changes. Collect some of your tank water and remove the ornament you want to clean. Using a soft toothbrush or some other scrubbing tool, gently scrub the ornament until you’re satisfied. No need to use any chemicals or soaps when cleaning your ornaments.

From here, return the ornament back to the tank. Depending on the maturity of your tank, cleaning one or two ornaments at a time should be enough. You don’t want to disturb more good bacteria than you have to during this time. On your next water change, pick other ornaments to clean.


  • Only use ornaments that are safely designed for fish tank use
  • Ensure all items are washed with tap water before adding to your tank, sterilized if necessary
  • Watch for sharp edges or spots where your fish can get stuck
  • Don’t crowd your tank with ornaments, less is more
  • Don’t feel obligated to use ornaments unless you’re happy with that choice and it fits your needs
  • Feel free to clean your ornaments through normal maintenance, but be aware of the good bacteria that may be on those surfaces

Final Thoughts

Although it may look like a lot of information, nothing here is complicated or difficult. It’s good to experiment with the look and feel of your tank until you and your fish are happy with the outcome. It’s also good to use best practices and ensure that you are doing what you can to keep your fish alive, healthy, and happy and your water quality great.

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