Drift Away: Aquarium Driftwood Questions Answered

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

Read Time: 5 minutes

Driftwood is a staple in the fish tank hobby for a reason. It's gorgeous, it's natural, you never see the same branch twice...you can't go wrong with it. Here are answers to the top questions about adding driftwood to your setup. You know you want to.

Green aquarium plants on driftwood in a Dustin's Fishtanks customer planted aquarium

Here's a cool use of driftwood in a Dustin's Fishtanks customer tank! 

Number 1 Series of Questions: Will Aquarium Driftwood Float? How Do I Get Driftwood to Sink in My Fish Tank? How Long Does Driftwood Take to Sink? How Do I Get It to Sink Faster? 

We get it. People really want wood to not float, and make it snappy. If you've ever felt tempted to stick a brick on top of your aquarium driftwood and call it an artistic decision when people sideye you for it, we've got some tips and tricks for ya. 

Yes, driftwood does sometimes resist becoming part of your hardscape for a while. Wood floats like ducks and witches. But you can try a few things to make it stay where you want. No one wants to lose control of their wood. 

A piece of Malaysian Driftwood

Tip #1: Soak/Boil/Bake It Beforehand

Soaking driftwood outside your tank releases tannins so you don't darken your water as much (more on that in question 5) and waterlogs it until it sinks naturally. This is useful, but it can take a while. Boiling it and exposing it to sunlight and high temps can help it sink more quickly, too. 

Tip #2: Buy a Different Kind or Buy a Pre-treated Piece

Some types of driftwood (more on the types below!) sink more quickly than others. More porous species like cholla get waterlogged more easily and sink faster. Some pieces are so dense and heavy they sink even before they're waterlogged.

Alternatively, some sellers will pretreat their driftwood so they sink almost immediately after purchase. Basically, they soak and sink the driftwood for you and you can buy it out of a tank at the shop.

This can be useful as long as they aren't trying to charge you ridiculous amounts for it and the wood doesn't rot. I'd definitely boil/clean it before I added it to my tank, though; you don't know what's in the tank at the shop.

Tip #3: Drilling/Boring

This tip is basically like poking a hole in the bottom of a boat. You can try drilling and boring in hidden areas to make it more porous and sink more easily.

Tip #4: Anchoring 

Eventually, driftwood gets waterlogged enough it sinks and stays put, but if you don't like to wait around to add it to your tank, you can either permanently or temporarily anchor it in place. Seen this done a million different ways, so get creative with it. 

If you just want to weigh it down until it gets soaked, you can tie it to other places in the tank or weigh it down with strategically placed stones that can be removed eventually (or left there for extra support and decoration). I've also seen people tie fishing wire to suction cups, loop the wire over and around the wood, and stick the suction cups below the substrate for a nearly invisible support system. 

You can also permanently anchor it in place or anchor multiple pieces together using wire, aquarium-safe glue and silicone, or screws. Also seen a few people attach driftwood to a slate tile and bury the tile under the substrate so it looks like it's sitting on the bottom naturally. 

Tip #5: Give Up

With the right piece of driftwood, you could just let it float and end up with a cool-looking hardscape anyway. Saw someone do that with a piece of spiderwood: they anchored the base to the side of the tank towards the top, the branches trailed down into the water, and it looked like a snapshot from a nature journal. 

Question 2: Is Driftwood Safe for My Aquarium, and Is Driftwood Good for My Aquarium? 

Yes and yes! As long as the wood doesn't contain harmful substances that can leach into the water, it was cleaned/dried appropriately beforehand, and you manage tannins, you're golden. Fish and invertebrates love driftwood, and it can be an epic statement piece in your tank.

A few different species of driftwood lined up on a wooden table

Question 3: Where to Find or Buy Driftwood for Your Fish Tank

You can buy driftwood at your local fish store or larger petstore chains. There's also a massive selection of driftwood online. Etsy has a few sellers with small shops for unique-looking pieces. I've found a few cool ones on places like Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, etc. Just keep in mind shipping costs add up depressingly fast. 

Another option is joining aquarium groups and clubs and asking around or participating in swap meets. Make friends with some other aquascapers. Aquarium conventions are amazing, too. 

If you live in or near a beach or lake town, some souvenir shops sell driftwood (you just might pay more at places like that, so shop around). You can also check with florists since some of them use it in arrangements, or at furniture/decor stores

Of course, you can also add driftwood you found on a walk by the shore, provided you take the right precautions and collect it legally and ethically. Check the laws in your area about where you can collect driftwood and how much you're allowed to take at a time, and never collect in protected areas. It may seem like you aren't doing any harm, but driftwood serves many important ecological purposes like providing shelter and breeding areas for animals, plants, and microorganisms and providing stability to shores and sand dunes. 

There will be another post specifically about finding and cleaning/treating salvaged driftwood, so stay tuned! (Basically: salt and boil the hell out of it). 

Question 4: What Types of Driftwood Are There, and What's the Best Type of Driftwood for My Tank? 

Technically, there are millions of species of driftwood since driftwood is just wood that has been drifting (you're welcome for the super technical definition), but there are several that get used in the hobby a lot.

Typically, from a design standpoint, you don't want to add different types of driftwood to the same tank (totally up to you, though; we're not telling you what to do with your wood). Get a bunch at once if you can so you can play around with your scape. Here are some of the most common:

Malaysian Driftwood

A small piece of Malaysian driftwood for a fish tank

Cholla Wood

A piece of cholla wood on a wooden table

(I find hermit crabs really like this one, if you're running terrariums alongside your fish tanks. Pic is of a piece I've had in with the crab mafia for a while).

Spiderwood, Spiderwood, Does Whatever a Spiderwood Does



Two photos of Manzanita Driftwood, one of many pieces floating in an outdoor pond, and one of a single piece


A piece of Mopani driftwood on a tan background

Question 5: Driftwood Turned My Aquarium Water Brown???

So, you dropped driftwood in your tank without doing anything to it and came back to an aquarium full of black tea, huh? Don't panic: it's not harmful to your tank or your fish. 

Submerged wood leeches substances called tannins into the water and discolors it. Soaking and boiling the wood before adding it to your tank can remove a lot of those tannins beforehand. Or, you can lean into it and scape a blackwater or biotope tank. 

They'll also just go away eventually with enough time and water changes, if you want to just leave it for a while. Keep in mind that heavy tannins can lower your pH, so watch it if you have fish sensitive to that.

Question 6: How Long Does Driftwood Last in an Aquarium? Since It's Wood in Water, Won't Driftwood Just Rot? 

This is a hard question to answer specifically because it depends on the species and where you got it. Yes, because wood is organic, it will decompose eventually - but it may be so far in the future you don't care. 

If you gather it from the wild, it may not last as long as something from an aquarium store. Softer species don't last as long and decompose more quickly - you'll start seeing pieces break off. Cheaper driftwood tends to fall apart more quickly, too. 

At the very least, most driftwood will last several years. Some harder woods or treated pieces can last for decades, though. 

Question 7: How Do You Attach Aquarium Plants to Driftwood? 

Easiest question on the list. First, make sure the plant you have likes being tied to decor instead of planted in substrate. Plants with rhizomes that can't be buried; like Anubias, African Water Fern (Bolbitis heudelotii), and Java Ferns (Microsorum); are good choices. Moss species, like Java moss, flame moss, and Christmas moss, can also go anywhere you like. 

A couple dozen aquarium plants attached to driftwood on a white background, with white text "Plants on Driftwood" in the foreground

You have a few options to secure the plants. Thread, wire, or fishing line tied in a discreet place can hold plants in place and make them look like they'd always grown there. Some aquarium plant sellers will throw in wire for free if you order plants from them. Dustin's Fishtanks does. ;) 

There are also super glues made specifically for aquariums. Or, you can anchor the plant with a rock or wedge it in a crevice in the driftwood. 

Hope that helps you on your way to designing a killer tank around driftwood. Here are some videos from the Dustin's Fishtanks YouTube channel on driftwood below. Tank on! 

Aquarium Driftwood Design Tips, Playing with Driftwood in Your Planted Aquarium

How to Use Driftwood in Your Aquarium: Driftwood Tips and Tricks

How to Tie Anubias to Driftwood

Bolbitus on Driftwood

How to Tie Anubias or Java Fern to Driftwood

How to Sink Driftwood: Manzanita Driftwood in Aquarium

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