Fish Tank Decorations: A Simple Guide


Fish keeping is one of the best hobbies you can perform at home. Whether you install one indoors or outdoors, it is sure to attract a lot of attention. One thing that makes this hobby awesome is that you can customize your tank according to how you want it to look. Depending on how you make use of fish tank decorations, your tank would either look extravagant or a mishmash of elements. Utilizing the right decorations can bring any kind of tank to life — it is all just a matter of selecting the right ones to install.

You won’t have a problem looking for decorations for your aquarium: a quick look at Amazon shows there are a lot of items available arranged in various categories like backgrounds, coral ornaments, marbles, wood, plastic plants and so on. But which of these decors should you use?

The simplest answer is to decorate your fish tank the way you want, using any item as long as it’s not toxic to the fish. It’s true that most fish don’t care if the plants are real or plastic or if there’s a rock or an ornament in the corner. However, there are fish that prefer certain types of decorations or cover.

Fish from lakes, rivers or shallow ponds for instance, like plants and other flexible soft covers, in which case the Como Assorted Color Plastic Plants will fit nicely. On the other hand, fish from deep and faster waters like hard covers like rocks, wood and solid objects. If you look at Amazon you’ll find plenty of fish tank rocks like the Aqua Della Stone and the RockGarden Small Sculptured Lava among others.

Knowing what your fish prefers is very important: choosing one that they don’t like isn’t going to kill them, but getting covers or decors fish would go for when in their natural habitat reduces their stress level and leads to more natural behavior.

Aquarium Decoration Basicsdecorating aquariums

Here are some basic things that you need to keep in your mind while choosing decorative elements for your aquarium.

  • Go for a natural look. One of the safest ways to dress up your fish tank is to give it a more natural look. The best way to do it is by using natural items as the core of your decorative process. For example, while it’s tempting to use colored sand (and it can turn out great if done the right way), using natural-colored sand would make things look more realistic. The right sand mix is essential if you intend to include live plants in your tank. Complement this with natural decorations such as rocks, driftwood, shells, and coconut halves.
  • Use artificial decorations wisely. The downside of using natural decorations is they tend to be difficult to locate and expensive to acquire. Going for artificial substitutes will do more than just fine as long as they are made of nontoxic materials. Great artificial decorations include fake driftwood, fake corals, and miniature ships. Choosing the right fish tank decorations can help in bringing your ideal vision of a fish tank come to life.
  • Make efficient use of space. The overall look of a tank is not just determined by the type of fish living there or the amount of decorations present. Management of space is also crucial to create an awesome fish tank. While throwing as much décor as possible may sound like a good idea, it rarely works in reality. Proper use of space will help in creating an uncluttered look. It will also help in bringing different details to life. Remember that arranging decorations is a fine skill in building fish tanks.
  • Make use of background elements and lights. The efficient use of lights and background elements helps in creating the desired visual effects in the tank. Using background materials (e.g. construction paper or film) creates a perception of depth and subtly changes the hue of the water. The use of lights can bring your tank to life at night or when placed in a dark corner. White light of the right strength is usually good enough, but using coloured lights might turn into a worthy gamble for those who are creative enough to make it work.

sleeping goldfish

What Decors Should I Avoid?

Be wary of toxic decorations, especially water soluble minerals. The stone might not be dangerous but once dissolved in water could produce a toxic substance and affect the fish’s ability to breathe. On the other hand if the stone is too soft the fish could swallow it by accident and affect their intestines.

You should also avoid items with yellow, red, or bright blue glazes unless the label states they are specifically for use in a fish tank. These items may contain soluble lead, and non-colorfast dyes and inks as they can dissolve and mix with the water. You should also steer clear of rubber and plastic items that are not specifically designed for fish tanks because they might contain dangerous solvents.

Bottom line: use only items that are labeled safe to use in an aquarium.

How Much Cover is Required in a Fish Tank?

For most fish 50% to 75% cover is enough. This might seem like a lot, but if you study fish and their natural habitat, you’ll see that they do like to “hang out” in places with lots of rocks, plants and corals. The trick here is not stuffing the tank with decors, but  arranging them in such a way that the fish feel like they’re in their natural habitat. The more comfortable the fish are, the more you’ll be able to view them as they would normally behave without feeling lost or stressed out.

When decorating, always remember that the fringe areas and edges offer the best cover, so don’t put a large rock in the middle of the tank. For a freshwater tank, don’t use coral skeletons, real shells and limestone because they’re going to dissolve in the  fish tank, and it will increase the water’s pH level. This is not something you want unless you’ve got high pH fish or a rift lake cichlid tank.

Tips for Decorating a Fish Tank

aquarium house decoration

Here are some suggestions on how to spruce up an aquarium:

  • Large planets and coral ornaments like the Deep Blue Professional Synthetic Coral should be placed at the sides or the back, and shorter / smaller ones up front. This might seem obvious, but you will be surprised at how many fish tanks keep the swimming space out of view.
  • Fish tank decorating basics will tell you that taller decorations like plants can be used to conceal aquarium heaters and that’s true. In addition you can use them to hide air lines, lift tubes and other essential but unsightly aquarium components.
  • To make better use of space, group similar plants together but offset these with other kinds of plants with different colors. This arrangement adds variety to the color and texture of the fish tank.
  • Other decors like water wheels, volcanoes, castles and plastic or resin decors can be placed in various areas of the tank. To hide their edges, place small plants in front of them.

Choose one or two decorations and use them as the focal point. Position the item(s) a bit off center: don’t set it exactly in the center because it looks unnatural. And don’t forget to add a background – preferably dark – for the fish, as this will put them at ease. A background can also be used to hide tubes, filters and pipes.

Are Live Plants Necessary?

decoration with aquatic plants

No, they’re not. But if you want to use them, that’s fine too. There’s a certain charm and authenticity that comes with using live plants of course, but they do require extra maintenance. If that’s not your thing you can go online and shop for high quality synthetic decorations. Aside from those mentioned above you’ll also find shells, logs, artificial stones and more. In other words, every natural item now has a synthetic counterpart.

Is There Anything Else I Need to Know?

No matter what decorations you intend to buy, purchase only from a reputable company / online shopping site. If you’re buying from a well-known site chances are the product is as good as advertised and if not you can avail of the return policy. And do read customer reviews and see what people have to say about it.

To sum it up:

  • Make sure the decorative item is aquarium safe and won’t release toxins in the water
  • The item has to be clean: read the package if there are instructions on preparing the item prior to being placed in a fish tank
  •  Make sure the item isn’t small or brittle enough fish might swallow it by accident
  • Do not overstuff the fish tank with decors


This is just a simple guide that aims to make things easier for the budding aquariphile. Using fish tank decorations the right way helps in creating the perfect backdrop of your fish’s home. It takes vision, resourcefulness, and creativity to properly decorate a fish tank. There are as many ways to decorate your fish tank as the items available. In the end it all comes down to your personal preference, and as long as the fish are comfortable, there’s no limit to your creativity.

Image Courtesy: Flickr

4 thoughts on “Fish Tank Decorations: A Simple Guide”

  1. I have had betta fish, my 1st one lasted for about 3 years or so. We went through Katrina, which gave us both severe stress. I guess he lasted maybe 8 months are so, I was flooded & we had to stay at my Mama’s. In 2017 I have bought 2 other fish that lived only for 4 months are so. Maybe I didn’t have enough decorations inside. They had a great personality. They would get so excited when they saw me, wag all over like a dog. I would even talk to them & they would call when I called them. A Crown Tail & Half Moon. I also got another Half Moon not as gorgeous as the 1 I just lost on 06/30/17. I bought the I on the same day with a larger tank, lights & filters. Thank to your site you have helped me to know I need to decorate the larger tank with a lot more. I guess I’ll check out Amazon. I have a PetSmart & Petco really close. Thank you so much & I will be doing much more reading from you.
    Sincerely ,
    Ms Donris Jeanfreau

  2. Great ideas, Rob. I never really bothered with a background but I think I will try it now that you mention about stress. I do have a vertical column tank and I think a big decoration in the center is a good look; but I like the off-center idea and will try it as well.

  3. Question for the fish community here.. So , I have a decoration that is plastic and looks like a tree trunk. In order to weigh it down , you have to fill it with aquarium water. I have planted most of it , and want to remove all non- natural decorations and add more plants. I have 2 happy Dwarf Frogs an a Guppy. When I remove the decoration tree trunk I speak of , water will be released into the tank . I can’t find anything on the internet about it. Could I be releasing toxic water into the tank ? I’m going to do a water change just in case.

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