If you have some old boring decorations that you want to put in your fish aquarium, painting them is a great way to give your tank a cool makeover.
But is acrylic paint safe for fish aquariums? As long as the paint is non-toxic and you properly seal the paint, your fish will be safe.
By painting your decorations such as rocks, statutes, or even the tank itself with acrylic paint, you give your aquarium a one of a kind unique look that will definitely make it pop out no matter what room it’s in.
For the best non-toxic acrylic paint for your aquarium, I highly recommend this Arteza set. It’s specifically designed for rocks, and will withstand the water from the tank.
Let’s dig a little deeper into aquarium safe paints and epoxies.
What Paint is Safe to Use in an Aquarium?
The following types of paints are safe for use in an aquarium:
- Latex paint
- Acrylic paint
While these are typically fish safe paints, it’s incredibly important to check the label. We’ve gathered the best aquarium safe paints for your fish below!
Best Aquarium Safe Paint
We’re huge fans of Arteza acrylic paints, but what really stands out about this particular set is that it’s designed for multiple outdoor surfaces. With 24 vibrant colors for mixing and matching, it’s the perfect fish-safe acrylic paint set.
Krylon Fusion All-in-One Spray offers a unique formulation that won’t wear. It’s also designed for minimal priming and surface preparation.
While technically this paint is designed for ponds, it can also be used for aquariums if you’re looking for a tougher and more durable paint. Aquarium epoxy is more durable than paint, so it’s worth checking out if you think you’ll need it.
Is Paint Toxic to Fish? Check the Label!
Not all paint is toxic to fish, but you’ll need to confirm it’s aquarium safe paint — formulas differ from one manufacturer to the next, as well as among the products offered.
Pro tip: Always check the product label to see if the product is fish-safe and durable when submerged.
Check the product label for the following properties to ensure it’s an aquarium safe paint:
- Non-toxic: This ones obvious. If it’s toxic to humans, there’s a good chance it’s toxic to fish
- Waterproof: If your paint is waterproof, it’s less likely to chip or fade away in water. Look for a paint that can be submerged in water
- Safe for animals: Some products are specifically designed to be animal or fish safe — these are your best bet! For example, this set is a non-toxic epoxy paint that explicitly markets itself as a great paint for ponds.
It’s also very important to avoid any paints or sealers that fight mildew, as these chemicals can be toxic to your fish. If you have any doubt about a paint, contact the manufacturer or consult with your veterinarian to be extra sure.
Make sure you have the proper paint brush for your decorations. I always recommend starting with two coats as opposed to one on your aquarium decorations. This guarantees better coverage and allows proper drying time in between coats.
After your second coat is fully dry, apply an aquarium safe acrylic paint clear coat, like this one, to protect the paint. Apply one layer, let it dry and then apply a second layer.
Consider using glow-in-the-dark paint for the decorations. Additionally, experiment with different brush strokes, patterns and textures to make the decorations interesting to look at.
Your fish will also appreciate a colorful and fun home!
Is Acrylic Paint Toxic to Fish?
Acrylic paint is a non-toxic and a water based paint, so in most cases it’s not toxic to fish.
Acrylic paint is usually the go-to paint when you need to have it near your fish. However, some paints can be lethal to your fish, so always make sure you read the label and double check that it’s non-toxic paint.
If you want to paint a plastic piece that’s going into your aquarium, you can use almost any spray paint that’s designed for plastics and labeled as non-toxic. For bonding, I recommend this Krylon clear spray, it makes any painted item last, and it’s also not toxic to your fish.
Krylon offers a ton of variety in terms of the colors they offer.
How to Spray Paint Plastic For Aquariums
First, you need to clean the surface with isopropyl alcohol or acetone — the stronger, the better. For me a small alcohol pad always works.
Second, wet-sand the surface with 600 grit sandpaper. Keep sanding until the plastic is worn and hard to see through. The goal is to make sure your paint adheres properly to the surface.
Next, clean the plastic with isopropyl alcohol or acetone, and let it fully dry. When you see that it’s completely dry, apply 2-3 coats of paint. Keep applying paint until your desired thickness is achieved.
In some cases you may want to define an area (e.g. painting decoration of some sort), using a paintbrush seemed necessary. I would spray the paint in a container, which would allow you to use it with the brush.
Next you need to wait for the item to fully cure. Some paints are 2-5 days.
After it’s fully cured, you want to seal your item with a clear coat. A lot of people recommend a 2-part epoxy, which will help with long term durability. You can also use a polyurethane finish or a clear matte varnish, depending on the desired affect you’re looking for.
Also, remember to have a lot of ventilation when spray painting any object, and make sure any paint you use around fish and any animal is non-toxic.
Do Fish Like Decorations?
We know that we like tank decorations to brighten up our room.
But what about our fish — do they even like having decorations in their home? You’d be surprised that they actually do!
Fish need places to hide and feel safe, according to Duke University. They need plants and rocks to mimic what would be their natural wild environment in the ocean.
Some fish feel threatened and need a rock to hide in, others like to sleep in between plants or grass. Depending on the size of your tank, a simple rock and plant will suffice a 5-10 gallon tank. If you have anything over 10 gallons, more decorations and caves will be needed.
It also depends on what type of fish you have, but most fish do prefer decorations to feel safe.
Having plants and caves/rocks in your aquarium not only makes your fish feel safe, but it brings out their natural behavior like they would in the ocean or other natural habitat. If you have shrimp in your tank, they absolutely need caves since they use them when they are molting.
I have also seen some fish use the decorations as territory. They will guard them and fight if another fish tries to inhabit it. Always make sure that your fish have enough room to swim comfortably. Don’t get carried away with so many decorations that your little guys don’t have room to roam.
Below are some links to products I personally recommend in order to build a neat aquarium.
MarineLand 350 BIO-Wheel Power Filter A filter is always recommended for your fish tank.
Rapid-fire FAQs About Painting an Aquarium
Some paints are safe, and others aren’t. Check for three factors: non-toxicity, waterproofing, and mold / mildew inhibition.
Paint that’s labeled non-toxic, which are typically water-based paints, are non-toxic. Avoid using oil-based paints or paints with a high VOC content.
Epoxy with a high VOC (volatile organic compound) content is toxic to fish. If the epoxy is labeled safe for animals, you’re good to go.
In most cases, yes, acrylic paints are safe for fish tanks because they’re water-based paints. However, check the label to make sure it’s non-toxic.
As always, don’t forget to check out my other articles for everything you need to know for painting with acrylics. Happy painting!
Editor’s Note: This article was updated May 22nd, 2021 with the latest info about painting aquariums.