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How to Wash Plastic Fish Tank Plants: Cleaning Aquarium Decorations

I enjoy keeping pet fish and sharing tips and tricks with other aquarium owners.

Learn how to clean your fish tank decorations safely.

Learn how to clean your fish tank decorations safely.

How to Clean Fish Tank Decorations and Aquarium Plants

Aquarium decorations can be notoriously difficult to clean, especially when they become covered in algae. Never attempt to scrub algae off with soap or detergent, which is extremely toxic to fish.

Cleaning your aquarium and keeping up with regular water changes are essential to your fish's health. However, good bacteria will naturally build up in the tank, and routinely scrubbing all of the décor at once will deplete these bacteria. If possible, only wash some of the plants in your fish tank at a time, instead of all at once.

There are several efficient, safe ways to wash your aquarium plants:

  1. Boiling Water
  2. Bleach Solution
  3. Vinegar
  4. Scrubbing Tools

1. Boiling Water

Hot water kills the algae, and the algae will scrub off easily once it is dead. Best of all, this method exposes your fish to absolutely no chemicals.


  1. Boil some clean water.
  2. Remove the pan from the stove, and transfer water into a clean container.
  3. Place décor in the water while it is still hot, and let them sit for at least ten minutes.
  4. Scrub off remaining algae.
  5. After the objects are completely cooled, place back in them back in the tank.

2. Bleach Solution

In extreme cases, a correctly applied bleach solution may be the only way to fully remove the algae.


  • Bleach will dull the color of silk plants and harm fish if not completely rinsed from the product.
  • Never wash porous objects such as driftwood or coral in the bleach solution.
  • Never mix bleach solution with other chemicals.

How to Use Bleach Safely

Here are the steps for safely washing aquarium décor in bleach solution from freshwater aquariums:

  1. Mix one part bleach and nine parts water in a clean container. Never add more than 10% bleach.
  2. Place decorations in the solution for no longer than 15 minutes.
  3. Remove items and place in a container of clean water to soak for about 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse THOROUGHLY in clean water and scrub if needed.

3. Vinegar

Sometimes, calcium deposits build up on aquarium glass and décor as the water evaporates. You can easily save yourself hours of scraping and scrubbing simply by making a vinegar solution. The vinegar solution is perfectly safe for your fish (although I would never recommend dumping any amount of vinegar into the fish tank).


1. In a clean spray bottle, mix the following together:

  • a half a cup of white vinegar
  • a half-gallon of distilled water

2. Spray onto surface and wipe away the calcium.

3. Rinse thoroughly with clear water.

I find the toothbrush to be the most useful cleaning tool in my arsenal.

I find the toothbrush to be the most useful cleaning tool in my arsenal.

4. Scrubbing Tools

There are many household scrubbing implements that you can use to clean fish tank paraphernalia. Toilet scrubbers, toothbrushes, and bottle scrubbers are great.

However, never use an item that has come in contact with household chemicals. These chemicals could harm your fish, or even interact with the bleach. Always keep fish cleaning supplies separate from other household cleaning supplies to avoid contamination.

This aquarium plant is covered in algae, and needs to be cleaned.

This aquarium plant is covered in algae, and needs to be cleaned.

Algae Prevention

If all of this cleaning has you down, you may want to try preventing further algae outbreaks. One way to prevent algae is by adding certain species of bacteria to your system. These bacteria are available at your local fish store and should be on the same shelf as the next option: chemical algae remover.

Most mainstream manufacturers of aquarium chemicals produce some form of algae control/killer. A word of caution: Pay very close attention to the dosing instructions. My boyfriend and I learned the hard way that dosing mistakes WILL create a toxic environment for your fish.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


TLovelace on August 22, 2019:

One thing to keep in mind is that if you use the boiling water method, the glue holding the plant to the base will come out and you have to reglue everything.

Cleaned plants with bleach solution and rinsed throughly but it killed my beta! on September 05, 2018:

Cleaned plants with bleach and water ,and fish house rinsed throughly , my beta died!

Stephanie Giguere (author) from Worcester, MA on January 29, 2013:

Thanks guys!

Eric Dockett from USA on January 28, 2013:

Great advice! Algae is always hard to deal with and cleaning those plants can be a chore. I think some fake plants look more realistic with a little algae on them, but others not so much!

Mary Craig from New York on January 28, 2013:

You have listed some helpful, natural ways to clean the plants in a fish tank. I always found it difficult and would wind up throwing out the plants. If I'd seen your hub I wouldn't have had to do that!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.