Hey, Eileen here. Ever have a certain look or item in mind for your home or wardrobe or aquarium, and were not able to find just what you wanted? Ever decide to just make it instead? Despite the huge selection of aquarium ornaments on the market today, this DIY approach is what many aquarists are beginning to turn to when the ornaments in the stores just aren’t personal enough for their own unique tanks. So, how can you get in on the action to make your tank truly your own? Here are a few tips to making your own aquarium ornaments or using non-aquarium items to personalize your aquarium.
Silicone Sealant is Your Friend
Silicone aquarium sealant can be found in almost any fish store and is usually available in clear or black. Sealants designed for aquariums are safe for fish and aquarium tankmates when fully cured, but stay away from other sealants like those used for bathroom or hardware applications. You can use sealants to make caves from pieces of rock or rubble, glue shells, stones or other decorations together, or even to cover things like PVC or plastic “caves” with substrate or rocks to form a more natural-looking hideaway. Note: The tank in these photos has a custom background created by arranging and attaching layered slate with black silicone. The effect of the rock wall is rather permanent, but impressive as it adds dimension. This background was applied before the tank was set-up.
Think Outside the Box
Most rigid plastic toys, ornaments and figurines are safe for aquariums as long as they are not painted and do not have any sticker decals on them. Make sure the object is well-cleaned and any stickers or adhesives are completely removed. If you aren’t sure if it is painted or printed, try soaking it in water for awhile, then try to scrape the color off with your fingernail. If it comes off, it isn’t safe for your aquarium. You’ll also want to make sure any small pieces are removed or firmly attached with an adhesive like silicone sealants, and make sure nothing is small enough for your fish to eat.
A lot of ceramics and pottery like coffee mugs and flower pots are generally safe for aquariums, too. This is a great way to get your companies logo in that aquarium you have set up in the lobby! If a mug or plate or bowl is safe for food use, you can generally use it in your aquarium. Decorative pots that are only partially glazed or have fragile artistic glazes are not safe enough for aquariums. To see if an object will last in your aquarium, you can soak it for a few weeks in water that is the same conditions as your aquarium (or better yet, is at the extremes of your aquarium as far as temperature and pH). If it is unchanged in color, texture and strength at the end of a couple months, it should be safe to use as a decoration. Completely unglazed terracotta pottery is also perfectly suitable for aquariums. These items can make excellent caves and breeding shelters for fish like cichlids and gobies.
Some of the only artifacts leftover from ancient shipwrecks are pottery and glassware. It may look different and become completely encrusted with corals or algaes – especially in saltwater aquariums, a problem all of these ornament ideas – but glass is very durable (which is probably why most aquariums are made from it as well). Decorative glass bottles can be found in craft and antique stores and even very well-cleaned beer, wine and condiment bottles can be made into aquarium décor! As with the other materials listed, you’ll want to make sure there are no labels or adhesives left on the glass or bottles you decide to use and the glass should not be painted – if the glass is colored, make sure it is the glass itself that is colored, not a glaze or paint over it. You can also fill a light-colored bottle with small objects, ornaments, beads or substrates and seal the top closed to form a decorative glass “bubble” within your tank.
Cues from Nature: the Good and the Bad
Using natural items can be good and bad. In general, avoid the temptation to use something you’ve picked up off the ground since it is difficult to tell what chemicals or foreign substances may have leeched into it. Things like seashells and coral skeletons that can be cleaned VERY, VERY thoroughly in very hot water are usually safe, but avoid organic matter like starfish or wood that can decompose when put back into the water of your aquarium. Wood ornaments created for aquariums are usually safe for freshwater aquariums since they’ve already been cleaned and treated, but wood from the forest behind your house or that you’ve found at the shore is usually not a good addition to a home aquarium. If you aren’t sure if an object like a shell will affect your water quality if it is submerged, soak it in water with similar conditions to your tank and monitor the changes in color, smell, and chemistry of the water over a few weeks. Most shells are not suitable for freshwater aquariums except african cichlid or brackish set-ups, as they may raise your pH.
The Don’ts and Disclaimers
Of course, there are always disclaimers. These tips are just to give you an idea and starting point for your own creativity. Always make sure any non-aquarium ornaments you re-purpose for your aquarium are very clean and are safe for your fish, inverts and water chemistry before adding them to your aquarium, especially in extreme aquarium conditions like saltwater aquarium, low pH/acidic aquariums, high temperatures and sensitive or very aggressive animals. Make sure all objects are free from chemicals and sharp edges are sanded down or covered with silicone to avoid injuries to yourself or your aquarium residents. When in doubt, feel free to ask and we’ll be happy to help you figure out if your new decorating idea is a safe one!
These are just a few ideas. Be creative and let your personality shine through into your aquarium. And, don’t forget to show us the pictures of your new, unique aquarium!