How Long to Boil Driftwood to Remove Tannins

How Long to Boil Driftwood to Remove Tannins?

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Driftwood in a home aquarium provides a beautiful element of décor to the tank but can also provide a source of tannins for fish and other aquatic life. Unfortunately, you can’t add whatever piece of wood you find in the forest or at the beach. While some tannins might be good for your tank, your ecosystem may suffer if there’s too much.

This means you will have to prepare the wood, usually by boiling, before you can introduce it. So, how long does it take to boil driftwood to remove the tannins? Unfortunately, there are no definitive rules to this. It will depend on several factors such as the size of the wood, the species of wood, the wood’s age and how dry it is.

How Long to Boil Driftwood to Remove Tannins?

It can take as little as two hours to as much as several days or weeks to boil driftwood until you see the water entirely clear. For large pieces of driftwood or when hours of boiling aren’t effective, try soaking it in a bucket of dissolved baking soda.

This will help draw out the tannins. However, this can take several weeks to months.

The type of wood will determine the length of time to boil (or soak) it. Some trees have little to no tannin content while others pack them in. Use the following as a loose, general guide:

High Tannin Content

  • Cashew
  • Pistachio
  • Sumac
  • Cedar
  • Redwood
  • Red Oak
  • Willow
  • Pine
  • Chestnut

None to Low Tannin Content

  • Soursop
  • Custard Apple
  • Birch
  • Teak
  • Olive
  • Ash

This means woods with higher tannin levels will require a lot more boiling with frequent water changes than ones without it.

How Do You Remove Tannins from Driftwood?

There are two ways to remove tannins from driftwood: boiling or soaking. Either method can be time-consuming. As a general rule, old and well-dried driftwood will take less time than ones that are large, wet or green (fresh).


Boiling is pretty self-explanatory but there are some notes to keep in mind. Before boiling, you have to prepare the wood a little. This means scrubbing and washing all the debris and dirt from the surface. Once free and clear, set it out in the sun to dry out completely. Doing this inhibits mold development, which will be essential for your aquarium.

Then, use a large stock pot and fill it with water and submerge the driftwood piece into it. Put it on the stove and turn the burner to a high setting. When the water starts rolling, wait for 15 minutes or until the water is black with tannins.

Drain out the boiled water, replace it with fresh water and begin the process again. Do this as many times as necessary until the water is clear. If after two to three hours and the water is still dark, take the driftwood out, allow it to dry in the sun and then try it again.

You may need to repeat this entire process several times before you see any desirable results.


If you find the process of boiling far too laborious, you can soak the driftwood in a bucket of water. Once you see the dark brown color, change out the water. Allow this to soak until you no longer see the tannins leaching into it.

You can add a cup of baking soda to every gallon or so. Just ensure you dissolve it before you put the driftwood in. If you accidentally add too much baking soda, just leave it out through subsequent soaks until cleared along with the tannins.

Tips for Soaking or Boiling

Ensure you only use purified, filtered or Reverse Osmosis (RO) water for removing the tannins from driftwood. This will ensure the removal of impurities while not adding unknown contaminants to the wood. Straight tap or spring water may do more damage to you tank than it will remove tannins in some cases.

How to Prevent Driftwood from Leaching Tannins into a Tank

Once you put in your driftwood, even after all your preparations, it may still leach tannins into the aquarium. If this happens, you can use chemical-free, heat-treated activated charcoal to help it from getting out of control. Plus, your regular water changes will do much to keep it down.

But, you have to be careful with the fish in your tank. While some fish are fine with tannin-rich water, other creatures will struggle. For instance, catfish and cichlids will prefer a little acidity that the tannins provide. Sea anemones, on the other hand, cannot stand even the slightest shift in water parameters.

Will Tannins Hurt Fish?

Most fish cannot thrive in a tannin-heavy environment because of the acidity increase in the tank’s parameters. In many cases, it will make them very sick and they can incur immunity deficiencies. So, it’s good to study up on what amounts of wood and tannins your fish can tolerate.

This is why it’s better to purchase ready-prepared driftwood for your tank from an aquarium supply shop.


Boiling driftwood may be a good idea, but it can be very time consuming depending on things like the species of wood, its age, dryness and other pertinent factors. At the very least, expect to spend two hours before waters clear up. Anything longer or more tedious than that may require you to soak it.

See Also:

Can You Use Spring Water in a Fish Tank?
Do Fish Tank Thermometers Contain Mercury?
Is Cloudy Water Bad for Fish?
Can You Use Reptile Decor in a Fish Tank?