Unsurprisingly, many beginner aquarium hobbyists wonder how to decorate a fish tank with household items. This question is understandable, given that commercially available aquarium decorations are not cheap.
Determining the most appropriate decoration for a fish tank can increase its aesthetic value, complementing natural fish color against the green backdrop of aquatic plants. It is a vibrant ecosystem right in your living space.
However, soaring prices prompted many aquarists to improvise by repurposing ordinary household items and turning them into homemade fish tank decoration ideas.
Here is how you can make yours, too.
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Tips to Set Up a Fish Tank
Decorating an aquarium with household objects can be challenging if you are clueless about how to set it up. Let these words of wisdom help you make a fish tank with household items.
- Know your fish and other livestock. Some aquatic organisms might be more curious or aggressive than others, nibbling and destroying almost anything you put in the fish tank.
- Leave enough fish tank space for your fish to move about. The rule is for a single one-inch-long fish to have a gallon to swim in. Adding household fish tank structure or fixtures can prevent fish from exploring the aquarium. So, please avoid overstuffing your aquarium.
- Pick decorations that provide hideouts to fish. Some species are naturally shy and skittish. Similarly, small species need a cave or hiding place to escape larger fish, especially territorial and aggressive species.
- Unleash your creativity, and never fear experimentation. You could use almost any household item as a DIY fish tank décor. The only prerequisite is the object must be fish-safe.
What Household Items Can I Put in My Aquarium?
Here is a list of fish-safe objects to put in fish tanks. We cannot help but overemphasize “fish-safe” because you do not want anything to harm your aquatic friends.
- Glass objects, such as glass figurines, tiny whiskey bottles, etc. Note that they should not have any jagged or pointy edges.
- Clay pots and ceramic items, including Chinaware and similar objects
- Baby-safe plastic toys (if these items are safe for infants, they should also be safe for fish and other livestock)
- Mugs, teacups, and like items
- Posters, pictures, and stickers as background and tank decorations
Ways to Decorate a Fish Tank With Household Items
What to prepare
Your materials depend on the chosen method to decorate a fish tank without fish or with fish and other livestock.
For example, you can prepare Lego building blocks, clay pots, ceramic mugs, and glass items.
We will look at other materials as we describe each method.
Step 1: Prepare the fish tank
This step is unnecessary if your tank is fully set up or only requires homemade aesthetic fish tank décor.
Prepare your fish tank by rinsing it with clean water. Dry it very well before you start putting decorative elements into the aquarium.
Start by pouring your preferred aquarium substrate. Choose aquarium sand for fish that love to bury their eggs in the substrate. Examples are eels, rays, and knife fish.
Most fish species prefer gravel. You can pick aquarium gravel with assorted colors to add vibrancy to the fish tank.
Create substrate layers to add a dramatic effect. For instance, using different colors of aquarium sand will look more stunning than monochrome. For gravel, you can layer different colors or varying gravel sizes.
Step 2: Add household items for decorations.
We prepared six DIY fish tank ideas to consider in adding pizzazz to your aquarium. Please remember our “tips,” especially on not overstuffing the fish tank.
- Method 1: Use cement or clay pots.
Of the many DIY aquarium decorations clay or cement pots are the easiest to execute.
The best part is clay pots come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Of course, you can always opt for the usual rust-colored earthen pot to give your fish tank a more rustic appeal.
Ensure to clean the clay pot well. Look for sharp edges that might injure your fish or drainage holes that your fish can get stuck in.
Smoothen the rough edges and seal any openings too small for aquatic creatures to swim through.
- Method 2: Repurpose ceramic mugs and tea cups.
One of the cool things to put in a fish tank is a teacup or a ceramic coffee mug. This trick is especially advantageous for office aquariums, extending the business to the aquatic environment.
You can pick personalized coffee mugs (those with your picture) or brand-specific cups (i.e., jug with a brand logo) with a color theme that complements the fish community’s colors.
Position these mugs by burying a portion of them in the aquarium substrate. Tilt it at an angle to create a “cave” for your fish.
It can be an excellent conversation piece when you have visitors at home, provided you pick an eye-catching ceramic mug.
- Method 3: Put fish-safe plastic toys in the aquarium.
It is easy to transform your aquarium into a diorama, depicting events or stories. You only need to borrow your kids’ plastic toys to serve as characters in your underwater storyland.
For example, plastic dinosaur toys can replicate the Late Triassic Era. Toy soldiers can portray wartime exploits. Pirates can dot the aquascape, complete with plastic treasure chests.
There is only one rule to observe. The plastic toys must not leach chemicals into the water.
- Method 4: Add ceramic figurines.
If you are unsure about plastic toys’ safety, you can opt for ceramic figurines. Try Cinderella or Snow White and her loyal Seven Dwarfs. Or how about Ariel and Sebastian from The Little Mermaid?
You will never run out of ceramic things to put in fish tank units. These products are similar to clay. They will not leach harmful chemicals into your fish’s abode.
You can go safe or absurd. Pick something to attract guests’ and visitors’ attention and open the avenues of communication.
- Method 5: Recycle your kid’s Lego and similar toy blocks
Bring out your children’s LEGO playset and let them choose the kit they want to put in your fish tank. If the finished playset is small enough, it could make for one of the most interesting homemade fish bowl decorations.
LEGO has over 400 billion building elements to satisfy your fish tank décor cravings. Its toys are also guaranteed safe for kids (hence, safe for your fish).
Try to build a LEGO home or castle for your fish. Create an aquatic zoo with LEGO building blocks. The options are limitless.
- Method 6: Add holiday-themed decorations
Here is another crazy idea for adding pizzazz to your fish tank: decorate your tank according to the holiday season.
For example, a miniature Christmas tree and Santa Claus could adorn your aquarium during the Holidays. A small ceramic Jack-o-Lantern and plastic toy skeletons can fill the aquarium bed on Halloween.
Ceramic eggs and the Easter Bunny could let your fish “feel” the spirit of Lent.
Check your available holiday-themed decorations, clean them well, and place them in the fish tank when the time arrives.
Step 3: Print an aquarium background or use an old poster.
You do not have to make fish tank decorations at home from scratch. You can use an existing poster to serve as the aquarium’s background. The scenery does not have to be aquatic. Use your imagination.
Alternatively, you can search online for printable pictures. Print them in full color and at a size sufficient to cover the aquarium’s backside.
You can also ask your kids to draw and paint on paper. Laminate their artwork and use it as a fish tank background.
What not to add to your fish tank?
Now that we’ve covered safe aquarium decorations, you might want to avoid putting the following stuff in your fish tank.
- Consumable items, such as paper
- Sharp objects, including toys with pointed extensions and items with a prickly texture
- Beach sand (use only aquarium sand, please)
- Untreated wood (fish tank driftwood requires a thorough cleaning, quarantining, and sterilization before use)
- Degradable materials
- Open resealable plastic bags
- Objects that leach chemicals into the water (you might want to research the stuff to put in a fish tank to determine if it releases BPA, PCBs, dioxins, PBDEs, and other harmful substances)
Here are other tips and tricks for decorating your fish tank with household items.
- Add color to your fish tank decorations. Choose the right paint to use on aquarium decorations. It should be nontoxic, waterproof, and not fade.
- Consider adding readily available rocks and driftwood from your garden. Although rocks and driftwood are not “household items,” they can add “life” to any aquarium and give your fish tank a more “natural” vibe. Ensure to clean and sanitize these items before putting them in the fish tank.
- Add a picture frame next to the aquarium to accentuate your setup.
- Doodle on the aquarium glass. Use colorful glass-friendly markers to write messages and create designs.
How to decorate a fish tank with household items is a question best answered by imagination and creativity. Almost all household objects are candidates for adorning the aquarium, with a few exceptions.
The principal takeaway is a fish-safe household item. Please do not put anything into the aquarium that will harm your aquatic friend, impede its growth, or prevent it from living its aquatic life to the fullest.