How to safely clean aquarium decor

How to safely clean aquarium decor

If your molded aquarium decor is starting to lose its luster and get covered with green algae, it’s likely time for a quick scrub to brighten it up. But cleaning doesn’t have to be a big chore!

By following a few easy steps, you can keep your aquascape looking clean and healthy. We’ve put together some tips and guidelines on how to best clean each type of aquascaping element to make things easy.

Close up of microalgae growing on molded dragon stone Close up of cleaned dragon stone using citric acid

BEFORE YOU GET STARTED

Cleaning your aquarium decor gives you the perfect opportunity to perform a thorough tank cleaning, including:

  • Testing your water quality – this can help determine why you may be having an algae issue.
  • Removing any algae from the glass walls or aquarium lid
  • Vacuum the substrate – with your decor removed for cleaning, this is the perfect opportunity to vacuum your substrate and remove excess fish waste, uneaten food, and detritus.
  • Clean and/or replacing any filter pads or chemical media

Molded/Artificial Decor Cleaning Methods

 Boiling WaterVinegarCitric AcidMuriatic Acid 
Plants w/Stone BasePlants w/Stone Base
Molded Manzanita BranchesMolded Manzanita Branches
Molded Seiryu StonesMolded Seiryu Stones
Molded Dragon Stones

*We DO NOT recommend using boiling water to clean artificial plants or manzanita branches with stone bases. Extreme heat will alter the stone base adhesive, loosening the base structure. It’s also not very effective for cleaning and removing algae from molded stones.

BEFORE YOU START SCRUBBING

What You’ll Need

  • A plastic bucket or container to soak your decor
  • Cleaning brush (an old toothbrush works well)
  • Latex gloves and glasses for eye protection
  • Baking soda and/or dechlorinator

Preparation TIPS

  • Take a picture of your aquascape before you remove and clean everything
  • If you have freshwater shrimp or small fish, make sure to drain/shake your decor in your tank before removing
  • We highly recommend wearing latex gloves when using citric or muratic acid
  • Ensure you have a big enough container for all your stones/rocks, branches and other decor
  • Always turn your aquarium equipment OFF and have replacement water prepared (if performing a water change)

Method #1 – VINEGAR

USE TO CLEAN: All decor including molded stones/rocks, Manzanita Branches, and artificial plants.

A vinegar solution works well to clean away any hard mineral deposits and is excellent for cleaning both molded manzanita branches and plants. It will only remove light algae buildup on rocks and may take some extra brushing.

PRO’s
  • Extremely safe
  • Good at removing mineral deposits (and hard water stains on your aquarium glass.)
  • Excellent for cleaning artificial plants and molded wood branches
CON’s
  • Takes a long time
  • Weak for removing microalgae buildup and stains
  • Brushing & scrubbing usually required
  • Usually not cost effective (requires a lot of vinegar to create cleaning solution)
Liquid vinegar for cleaning aquarium decor

White vinegar works best (contains 5-20% acetic acid), distilled vinegar and apple cider vinegar also work well.

Instructions

  1. Add 1 gallon of vinegar to each gallon of freshwater (1 part Vinegar : 1 part freshwater) in bucket/container and mix.
  2. Place rocks and decor into solution.
  3. Soak decor in solution for 3 – 6 hours.
  4. Remove rocks and/or artificial decor from bucket and rinse with freshwater. Use cleaning brush to scrub away any stubborn algae buildup and rinse again.
  5. Place decor back into aquarium.

Method #2 – CITRIC ACID

USE TO CLEAN: All decor including molded stones/rocks, Manzanita Branches, and artificial plants.

Without question, a dilute solution of muratic acid with freshwater is the fastest way to remove any algae build-up or other detritus from your molded aquarium decor.

CAUTION: Use latex gloves when mixing and never splash cleaning solution add acid to aquarium water (only use outside in cleaning container.)

PRO’s
  • Shorter cleaning time
  • Good at removing dirt and detritus
  • Excellent for cleaning all decor
  • Will not strip away colors if used in concentrated solution
CON’s
  • Strong acidic solution must be thoroughly rinsed after cleaning
  • Gloves needed for handling when scrubbing/brushing
  • Brushing & scrubbing usually required

Use pure food grade citric acid

Instructions

  1. Add 3/4 cup (6 oz.) of citric acid to each gallon of freshwater in bucket/container and mix until fully dissolved.
  2. Place rocks and/or artificial decor into solution.
  3. Soak decor in solution for 1 – 3 hours (you can soak them up to 6 hours for tough algae buildup.)
  4. Add a few tablespoons of baking soda to neutralize the acid before discarding solution.
  5. Remove rocks and decor from bucket and rinse with freshwater. Use cleaning brush to remove any stubborn algae buildup and rinse again.
  6. Place decor back into aquarium.

Method #3 – MURIATIC ACID

USE TO CLEAN: Recommended only for molded stones/rocks.

Without question, a dilute solution of muriatic acid with freshwater is the fastest way to remove any algae build-up or other detritus from your molded aquarium decor.

USE CAUTION: Muriatic acid is caustic – so if using this method, you’ll want to use both latex gloves , wear some eye protection and do it outdoors.  Be careful not to splash any of the acid on your skin, it can cause a nasty little burning sensation.

PRO’s
  • Fastest cleaning time
  • Removes tough algae buildup
  • Good for cleaning molded stones
CON’s
  • Strong acidic solution must be thoroughly rinsed after cleaning
  • Gloves and safety glasses needed when using
  • Decor MUST be thoroughly rinsed and dechlorinated after use
  • If left in solution too long, can strip away colors over time
  • Can be toxic to fish, shrimp and other live inhabitants
Liquid muratic acid for cleaning aquarium decor

Muriatic acid is often found in the pool section at local hardware stores

Instructions

  1. Place rocks and/or artificial decor in your bucket/container.
  2. Fill bucket with 2 – 4 gallons of freshwater.
  3. Create a 5% cleaning solution by adding ~4 tsp. of acid for every 2 gallons of freshwater (1 part acid:20 parts freshwater).
  4. Soak decor in solution for 15-20 minutes (you can soak them up to 30 minutes for tough algae buildup.)
  5. Add a few tablespoons of baking soda to neutralize the acid before discarding solution.
  6. Remove rocks and decor from bucket and rinse with freshwater. Use cleaning brush to remove any stubborn algae buildup.
  7. We recommend placing clean rocks back into the bucket, filling with freshwater and adding dechlorinator and soak for 30 minutes. (This ensures you neutralize any remaining cleaning solution.)
  8. Remove rocks and decor and place back into aquarium.

DECOR CLEANING FAQs

Do I need to take the fish or shrimp out when cleaning?

No, its fine to leave your fish and other critters in your tank. Just follow the steps listed above and your critters will be just fine!

Can I use these cleaning methods for real stones and wood branches?

It’s always best to check with your local store, but these methods are usually safe for all types of natural stones and branches.

Will using chemicals remove the original colors?

Not if you follow the above guidelines. We don’t recommend cleaning our molded decor in concentrated solutions of bleach or other chemicals.  The diluted solutions listed above will work just fine and will not remove colors over time.

How often do I need to clean my decor?

This really depends on how dirty your decor is, we usually recommend once every 3-6 months.