wikiHow to Clean Aquarium Decorations

Three Parts:Removing the Decorations from the TankCleaning the Individual DecorationsReplacing the Decorations

Fish are very easy pets to keep and an aquarium is a beautiful addition to a home. However, fish tanks need to be maintained in order to stay healthy and keep looking good. If you’ve placed decorations in your fish tank, you need to clean them as part of regular tank maintenance. Be sure to clean your aquarium’s decorations at least once a month, but more frequently than that if necessary.

Part 1
Removing the Decorations from the Tank

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    Remove decorations one at a time. You may be in a hurry to get your tank looking fresh, but never clean all of your decorations at once. Decorations are home to helpful bacteria that keep your fish healthy. Removing them all at once can upset the balance of your aquarium.[1]
    • Removing all of the decorations at once is stressful for your fish, too.
    • Keep your fish in the tank. There’s no need to remove them when cleaning parts of the tank.
    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap before you reach into the fish tank. Make sure you’ve rinsed all of the soap off your hands. Soap is terrible for fish and can kill them.
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    Move live plants to one corner of the tank. If you keep live plants in your tank, you don’t need to remove them. Plants naturally keep themselves clean. Simply move them to one corner of the tank so you can see and clean everything else.[2]
    • You can replace the old live plants with new ones if you want to change your aquarium’s look.
    • Live plants are an excellent way to help enhance the health of an aquarium, since they work as a natural filter.
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    Vacuum gravel from the bottom of the tank. Gravel is the most common decoration, and can become covered in algae over time. If you want to spruce it up, use a special gravel vacuum. The gravel vacuum will suck up water and gravel when you stick it into the gravel.[3]
    • Never clean all of the gravel at once.
    • As the gravel gets sucked into the tube, the pressure will tumble the gravel and clean it.
    • The gravel will then fall back out of the vacuum to the bottom of the tank.
    • This will remove some dirty water from the tank. You will need to replace it with dechlorinated water when you are done cleaning the decorations.

Part 2
Cleaning the Individual Decorations

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    Boil a pot of water. Make sure the pot is large enough to hold one or more decorations at a time. This can be regular tap water. Do not add anything to it, such as soap or chlorine.[4]
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    Soak the decorations in the water. Once the water has boiled, place one or two decorations into the pot. Let them soak for about 20 minutes. This should kill a majority of the algae and make the decorations easier to clean.[5]
    • Your decorations should be able to withstand the temperature of the boiled water. If they melt or fall apart, they should be thrown away.
    • Take the water off of the heat before soaking the decorations.
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    Scrub the decorations with a toothbrush. You can now remove the decorations from the pot and scrub them with the bristles of a toothbrush. The algae should come off relatively easily.[6]
    • Use a toothbrush that is specifically dedicated to your aquarium. It should not be used to clean anything else, or you may contaminate your aquarium.
    • If your decorations appear clean after this step, you can move on to putting them back in the tank.
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    Prepare a bucket of bleach solution. This step is not always necessary. However, if you want to make sure you’ve removed all algae, you may want to clean the decorations with a bleach solution as well.[7]
    • Your solution should be 5% bleach and 95% water. A handy recipe to use is 4 teaspoons of bleach to 2 gallons of water.
    • This water can be cool or warm, but should not be hot. Hot water can deactivate bleach.
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    Place the decoration in the bleach solution. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. After this, your decoration should be clean and free from any remaining algae.[8]
    • Never bleach aquarium gravel or rocks. This will disrupt the health of your aquarium.
    • Always use bleach in a well ventilated area. The fumes can be dangerous. If your eyes burn or run due to the fumes, you’re using too much bleach and do not have enough ventilation.
    • Wearing rubber gloves is advisable when working with bleach. It may irritate or dry out your skin.
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    Scrub the decoration again. Use the same toothbrush that you used earlier. Scrub the decoration to remove any remaining visible algae. Make sure to turn the decorations over and scrub all sides to prevent future algae buildup.[9]
    • Rinse the bleach solution off of the toothbrush when you’re done. You can simply run it under the tap for minute to do this.
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    Rinse the decoration with cool water. Once you’ve scrubbed each decoration, run it under cool water for a minute or two. This will remove any remaining bleach.[10]
    • Do not dry the decorations off after rinsing them. This is unnecessary.

Part 3
Replacing the Decorations

  1. Image titled Clean Aquarium Decorations Step 11
    Fill a bucket with dechlorinated tap water. This should be a fresh, clean bucket. Fill it up with enough tap water to cover the decorations. The water should be warm but not hot.[11]
    • Most tap water contains some chlorine. Your local pet store should have information about the chlorine content of your city’s tap water.
    • You can purchase dechlorinating tablets at your local pet store. Follow the directions on the packaging to make sure you’re using them properly.
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    Soak the decorations in the dechlorinated tap water. Allow the decorations to soak for about 20 minutes. You want to make sure that all of the chlorine and bleach are removed from the decorations. These chemicals can be deadly for fish.[12]
    • Porous decorations such as driftwood will absorb the dechlorinated water, which will then become part of the aquarium’s water. This is part of why it’s very important to make sure the final soak is done in dechlorinated water.
    • You can give your decorations a quick rinse under tap water after dechlorinating.
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    Put the decorations back in the tank. Your decorations are now safe to put back into the tank. You can place them in the tank in new locations if you like. If any of the decorations seem to be disintegrating or falling apart, they should be discarded.[13]
    • You can always add new decorations or rotate decorations to give your aquarium a new look.
    • Replace the decorations one at a time. You don’t want to stress your fish out by radically changing their environment again.
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    Move the live plants back into place. If you moved the live plants while you cleaned the decorations, you can now put them back. Make sure your hands are clean when you reach into the tank. Simply move the plants to a new place in the tank.[14]
    • You may need to bury the plants’ roots in the gravel to hold them down.
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    Wash your hands. Always wash your hands after reaching into a fish tank. Use soap and warm water. The water from a fish tank isn’t dangerous, but it does contain bacteria and waste.


  • You may want your aquarium to look spotless, but remember that bacteria and algae are part of a healthy aquarium. You want your tank to be clean, but not too clean.


  • Killing too much of the beneficial bacteria in a tank can be bad for your fish. Never try to get an aquarium spotlessly clean.
  • Clean and replace one or two decorations at a time. Anything more than that can be stressful for your fish.
  • Using soaps or cleaning products to clean aquarium decorations can contaminate a fish tank. Never use any product unless it states that it is safe for aquariums.

Article Info

Categories: Aquariums | Fish Health