How to Creatively Decorate a Freshwater Fish Tank

Three Methods:Using Unusual Tank Set-upsDecorating by ThemeEnsuring Your Tank is Fish Friendly

A fish aquarium can be both beautiful and entertaining for you and for your swimming friends. Aquariums give life and variety to any room in your house, and decorating one offers a chance to use your creativity while providing a great environment for your pet fish. Whether you just got your first tank or want to redo a boring set-up, just a few minor touch-ups (or even a couple major ones!) can make your aquarium fun and unique.

Method 1
Using Unusual Tank Set-ups

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    Convert old TV set in a fish tank. Using an unusual object to house your tank provides it with a lot of character right off the bat. Find an old console TV for a larger tank in your attic or at a thrift store. Or, if you don’t have room for a new piece of furniture, create one out of an older model TV pre-dating flat screens.
    • Choose your TV based on the requirements of your fish, if you have already chosen which fish you want to include. Check online for guidelines, and make sure to account for the full-grown size of your fish.[1]
    • You will need to gut out the TV components and place a tank inside the shell. Ask your parents or another adult to help you if you aren’t comfortable with cutting tools.
    • You could also use an old computer monitor for a similar look. [2]
    • Use any substrate, plants, and other decorations you like. You may want to focus on traditional materials to complement the vintage look of the TV. Or mix it up by using more modern, colorful floor materials and decorations.
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    Make a coffee or side table out of an aquarium.[3] While you can buy one of these pre-made, they can be expensive. Instead, make your own aquarium in the dimensions you want and top it with a large piece of wood or stone, or a sheet of glass. Make sure to include an opening to feed your fish and include necessary equipment, like a filter.
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    Transform a vintage bubble-gum machine into a fish tank.[4] Or find an object you like at a thrift store that contains a large empty space to insert a tank.
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    Turn your bathroom into an aquarium. Purchase a pre-made fish tank sink or bathtub/fish tank combo. [5] Fish tank toilets are even available. [6] Get all three, paint your bathroom blue or blue-green, and the whole room will look like a fancy aquarium.
    • If you are good at carpentry, you may be able to make your own sink aquarium. Follow basic instructions and include space for plumbing features.

Method 2
Decorating by Theme

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    Create a tranquil Buddhist scene. Include a medium or large stone Buddha figurine as your central element. Add a pagoda or “stone” lantern for visual appeal, and include a bridge or artificial rock sculpture for fish to swim through. Include fish such as rainbow fish, clown loaches, golden panchax or silver sharks.[7] Buy an Asian-themed background for your tank, or create your own by printing and laminating an enlarged photograph.[8]
    • Make sure your Buddha statue is made from natural rocks or polyresin and is not painted.
    • Buy artificial bamboo to fully submerge, or live “Lucky Bamboo” if you would like a dual under water/above land look. ”Lucky Bamboo” cannot be fully submerged. Make sure the plant’s leaves are above water.[9]
    • Alternatively, you can aquatic friendly plants and mix with dried bamboo sticks to create a bamboo “forest.”[10]
    • Whether bought or made, backgrounds are easy to attach, move, and change. For the most seamless look, make sure to hide any tape or other tools used to attach them to the tank.
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    Turn your aquarium into a desert oasis. Use quartz sand as your main substrate and include some artificial desert plants or fun natural-looking desert accessories. Make it a specific desert by adding ancient Egyptian decorations, like a pyramid, broken columns, and/or a sarcophagus. Include bright fish to add color to your sandscape, like Firemouth Cichlids or Bengal Danios. Or, find artificial animal skulls and cacti to model a North or South American desert and species found in these waters. [11]
    • Stack objects in the tank so that fish have both places to hide and objects to swim through.
    • South American fish include Colombian Moon tetras and Buenos Aires tetras, Swordtails, and Blind cave fish.
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    Construct a space tank. If you like science fiction, a space theme might interest you. Choose a substrate like sand or gravel to imitate a distant planet’s surface. Look for accessories like a crashed UFO or alien figurines. Include interesting looking rock formations and a galaxy background. Or, include colorful lights and cover the back with plain black paper.
    • Buy a floating satellite accessory to introduce a human presence in your outer space scene.[12]
    • Use spray paint and round objects to paint a space scene with nearby planets.[13]
    • Include an artificial ruin to suggest a past alien civilization lived there.
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    Go for a fairytale theme. Use a castle as the main decorative element, preferably one with holes fish can swim through. If you don’t want to buy a big castle, make a background for your tank with a castle scene and add smaller objects to it. Use multicolored rocks as substrate and colorful accessories. Add a fairy or two and maybe even a dragon. Angelfish and tetras look great in this type of environment.[14]
    • To create your own background, find an image you like, enlarge it to the size of your tank, print it off and laminate it.
    • This theme allows for a wider selection of plants. Pick colorful artificial ones that complement your substrate materials.

Method 3
Ensuring Your Tank is Fish Friendly

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    Choose your substrate carefully. When deciding on a substrate, make sure to consider how healthy it is for the type of fish you have or want, as well as the practical advantages and disadvantages of each type.[15] Eels and rays need sandy floors, for example, since they spend most of their time on the bottom. Avoid adding natural objects unless they have been properly cleaned and sanitized. Generally, you need 1-2” of substrate on the bottom of your tank, but research your individual fish to see what is recommended.[16]
    • Wood, rocks and shells found outside may have minerals that harm fish when leaching into the surrounding water. [17]
    • Any rocks used shouldn’t have sharp edges for fish to cut themselves.
    • Do not wash gravel or other materials with soap, detergent, or bleach. If not washed out properly, those products can poison a fish. Find a product made to clean non-aquarium specific materials to ensure your fish’s safety.
    • Sand is harder to clean than rocks or pebbles, especially if you want to perform gravel washes.[18]
    • Glass pebbles are pretty, but do not provide areas for good bacteria to grow on, which can improve the environment for your fish.
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    Buy aquarium appropriate plants. Whether your chosen theme dictates a tank lush with flora or with one plant, using aquatic-friendly live plants adds natural beauty to your aquarium. Live plants look also help sustain healthy water quality in your tank and give them places to hide. They recycle nitrogen from fishes’ waste, keeping water cleaner, keep carbon dioxide levels from becoming toxic and provide oxygen for your fish to breathe.
    • You will need to pull dead leaves off live plants and watch for decaying matter that periodically falls off.[19]
    • Plastic or silk plants are more colorful and easier to care for, since they can’t die.
    • Make sure to buy plants specifically made for aquariums. Other hobby plants, like those made for train models, may contain substances that are harmful or toxic for your fish.
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    Follow guidelines when picking out accessories for your theme. Don’t put any painted objects or anything with sharp corners in your tank.[20] Make sure to include places for fish to hide, but avoid overcrowding your tank or your fish will not have enough swimming room.
    • If you are using plants too, one or two cool accessories is probably enough.


  • Always do research before you buy the fish of your choice, so you'll know how big of a fish tank you should get.
  • Make sure you are providing a safe, clean environment for your fish. All aquariums will need a thermometer, a water filtration system, a water conditioner (to remove chlorine from tap water), and of course, a good bottle of fish food.[21]
  • Consider also buying an air pump to make bubbles if your filtration system does not create much water movement.[22]
  • Make sure to put your aquarium on a sturdy surface. A 10 gallon tank with water and accessories can easily weigh 100 lbs.[23]


  • Buy fish that are compatible with one another. Ask sales associates or do a little research prior to buying fish. They can become a big responsibility!
  • Never mix sea rock or sea shells in a fresh water tank.
  • Fish can get trapped in the hollows of rock ornaments. Make sure you buy rocks that are not hollow or have easy means of escaping if fish do wander inside.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Aquariums | Decoration Projects