Driftwood Treatments
Ralph Cote  

Found the perfect piece of driftwood? Now what? Here are various methods of prepping that piece of wood before you put it in your tank.

Typically, driftwood that is purchased doesn't need any treatment. It is likely germ-free and will sink in a day or two. If not, you can also apply the appropriate treatment to your local fish store or internet purchase.

If the water you found it in is not polluted (if it is, leave it there or use at your own risk), how can you make it harmless to the fish in your aquarium? It probably doesn't need anything done to it, unless you live in the tropics. Most cold water organisms don't transfer well to a heated discus tank. And parasites are almost always very species specific (a trout tapeworm would be harmless to a discus). The same holds true for algae spores, cold water algae won't make it in an aquarium. But the reality is that we all feel much better cleaning up the driftwood before it goes in the tank, so here are a few suggestions (a combination of the various choices is also an option).

If you can, boil it. Nothing living can survive boiling water. Boil it for 10 to 15 minutes. It also takes out much of the tannins, so if you don't like the tea-colored water, this is perfect. It will also make the wood sink faster.

Every piece that I have found is too big for any pot that I have. The alternative to boiling is to put the wood in your bathtub (or outside) and pour boiling water on the wood. Be sure to get both sides of the wood and focus on any crevices.

A less time-consuming method is to spray the driftwood with a bleach solution. A 10% bleach-to-water solution will kill anything on the wood. It is very important to rinse the wood thoroughly after the bleach treatment until it doesn't smell like bleach anymore.

I've heard of people using pressure sprayers, like at a car wash. Don't use the soap cycle though. The heat and water force will remove most of the possible problems, and possibly much of the wood if it is too soft (it probably shouldn't be used anyway if it is that soft).

A somewhat less reliable method is to just leave the driftwood in the sun for a week or two. Just drying it out will kill most of the living organisms. I've heard that professional driftwood suppliers soak the wood in shallow tubs in the sun. This helps the rid the wood of bad stuff as well as speeding up the sinking process.

Stay away from any freshly cut wood, the sap and other unknown substances seep out into the water making a real mess (I know because I tried it once). It is a whitish or clear looking goo, it may not be harmful but who needs it?

Driftwood not sinking? You get a feel for about how long it will take the wood to sink by holding it, it is based on the density of the wood and the quick sinker just feels much heavier for its size. There are several ways to speed up the process though. As mentioned before, boiling will make it go faster. Soaking in deeper water also helps (such as the bottom of a water barrel). The water pressure speeds up the saturation of the wood. A third possibility, for the truly impatient, is to weigh it down in the aquarium. You can use gravel along the sides, or a temporary rock on top of it. I use driftwood that hangs from crosspieces (can be wood or plastic strips) on the top of the tank. A weight on the crosspiece, such as the light fixture, keeps the driftwood in place.

Some people don't like the brown tinged water that you get sometimes from having wood in the aquarium. Generally it doesn't last more than a month or two without you doing anything special. Water changes or carbon filtering will reduce the coloring of the water. Boiling the wood should speed the removal up. Others soak the wood before using it in the aquarium. I like the brown color though and I think the fish do, too.

It sounds like a lot of trouble but if you think back to the most memorable tank you've ever seen, most likely it was designed around a special piece of driftwood.

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