Alternative Uses for Fish Tanks: Repurposing Aquariums for Decor, Storage, and More

Fish tanks are commonly associated with keeping pet fish, but what happens when you no longer want an aquarium? Instead of tossing it out, consider repurposing your fish tank creatively around the home. From terrariums to coffee tables, there are endless possibilities for giving old fish tanks new life.

This comprehensive guide covers unique and practical ideas to transform useless fish tanks into functional décor. Explore ways to reuse aquariums with DIY projects, unusual concepts, tips, and things to consider.

Turning a Fish Tank into a Lush Terrarium

One of the most popular ways to repurpose an old aquarium is converting it into a beautiful enclosed terrarium. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to DIYing a fish tank terrarium:

What You’ll Need

  • Cleaned out fish tank
  • Small gravel or pebbles
  • Activated charcoal
  • Potting soil
  • Assorted plants like succulents, air plants, small ferns, etc.

Steps to Build a Terrarium in a Fish Tank

  • Add a drainage layer: Start by covering the bottom inch of the tank with gravel or small pebbles. This creates a drainage system for excess water.
  • Include activated charcoal: Add a thin layer of activated charcoal over the pebbles. This helps absorb odor and purify the air.
  • Add potting mix: Cover the charcoal with 2-3 inches of an airy potting soil mix suitable for tropical plants.
  • Plant the terrarium: Carefully remove plants from their nursery pots and plant them in the soil. Grouping plants with similar light and water needs together works best.
  • Water gently: Lightly water your terrarium, taking care not to oversaturate the soil.
  • Seal and display: Place the lid back on, allowing for ventilation. Position your new fish tank terrarium in bright, indirect light.

Maintaining the Terrarium

  • Water only when the soil is partly dry. Be careful not to overwater.
  • Mist the plants occasionally for added humidity.
  • Prune back any overgrown plants when needed.
  • Add new plants if desired for a lush look. Remove any dead or diseased plants.
  • Supplement light with a grow light in winter or if sunlight is inadequate.

With the right plant selection and proper care, a repurposed fish tank makes an ideal enclosed terrarium. The glass sides retain humidity for tropical plants to thrive. Activated charcoal absorbs odors, keeping the air fresh. Drainage gravel prevents root rot.

Get creative with hardscape elements like decorative rocks or driftwood. Themed terrariums like a desert or tropical landscape are also fun projects. Mini aquatic terrariums with floating plants are another unique idea.

Converting an Aquarium into a Fairy Garden

In addition to terrariums, old fish tanks can be upcycled into whimsical fairy gardens in addition to terrariums. Follow these tips for constructing a miniature garden oasis:

Supplies Needed

  • Cleaned out aquarium
  • Small bag of potting mix
  • Assortment of small indoor plants, herbs, and succulents
  • Pebbles, moss, and other decorative elements
  • Miniature accessories like furniture, fairies, structures, etc.

How to Make a Fairy Garden in a Fish Tank

  1. Cover the bottom with pebbles and potting soil. Mound soil to make hills and valleys.
  2. Select miniature plants and arrange artistically around the tank. Group according to watering needs.
  3. Add decorative touches like stones, moss tufts, driftwood, and found items. Craft tiny furniture from sticks, bark, and other natural materials.
  4. Incorporate any fairy garden figurines, mini structures, accessories, and creatures. Give your garden occupants a home.
  • Consider adding a focal point like a pond, waterfall, or statue. This creates visual interest.
  • Water gently to avoid displacing any items. Mist to increase humidity around delicate plants.
  • Place your finished fairy garden near a bright window. Supplement with a grow light if needed.

Take time decorating your magical miniature world. Let your creativity run wild. Involve kids in building fairy gardens in old fish tanks for an engaging project. Swap out elements seasonally for a fresh look. A repurposed aquarium provides ample room for an elaborate tiny garden scene.

Upcycling Large Aquariums into Storage

If you have a large used fish tank, converting it into storage is an easy DIY project. Here’s how to repurpose big tanks:

  • Completely clean the aquarium inside and out. Remove any silicone or hardware.
  • Measure the opening dimensions to ensure items can fit through.
  • Sand down any sharp plastic edges for safety.
  • Paint the outside and inside if desired, or apply decorative or contact paper.
  • Add handles or casters for moving the tank.
  • Insert shelves, dividers, or storage bins as needed.
  • Use as open storage or add doors to the front. Hinge plexiglass doors directly to the tank.
  • Place your revamped storage tank in the desired room.

Large aquariums store sports equipment, tools, toys, linens, pantry overflow, or general household items. Get creative mixing closed and open storage. Add labels or chalkboard paint to identify contents.

Storage tanks are perfect for concealing clutter in the laundry room, garage, dorms, kids’ rooms, and more. They provide plenty of capacity without taking up floor space. Just ensure the base is sturdy enough to handle heavy items.

Building a Desktop Terrarium in a Fish Bowl

Small fish bowls also present unique possibilities for repurposing. Turn a basic bowl into a beautiful miniature world with these tips:


  • Clean fish bowl
  • Activated charcoal
  • Pebbles
  • Potting mix
  • Small tropical plants like polka dot plant, pilea, ferns
  • Decorative additions like moss, twigs, stones

Constructing a Fish Bowl Terrarium

  1. Place a layer of activated charcoal in the bottom to absorb odors.
  2. Add pebbles or marbles for drainage.
  3. Scoop in 2-3 inches of indoor potting soil.
  4. Select 1-3 small tropical plants that enjoy humidity and bright light. Delicates like baby’s tears or moss work well.
  5. Plant carefully in the soil, keeping scale in mind.
  6. Dress up your mini garden with natural materials like bark or moss-covered sticks.
  7. Mist occasionally to maintain adequate humidity inside the enclosed environment.

Fish bowl terrariums allow you to create a tiny self-contained world on a desk or tabletop. Mini tropical plants thrive in the humid conditions. Experiment with different themes and plant combinations. Add interesting hardscape elements to give your design depth and texture. A repurposed bowl makes an easy-care, eye-catching living centerpiece.

Transforming Small Tanks into Pet Homes

While large aquariums work for storage, small to mid-size tanks are well-suited for housing other pets. Here are some options:

Reptile Tanks

Old fish tanks are perfect temporary homes for reptiles like:

  • Leopard geckos
  • Anoles
  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Frogs
  • Newts

Reptiles require proper lighting and heating. Make sure to outfit the tank with UVB bulbs, basking lights, substrate, hides, and climbing accessories suited to the species. Maintain ideal temperature and humidity ranges.

Rodent Tanks

With adequate ventilation, small cleaned out aquariums can house:

  • Hamsters
  • Gerbils
  • Mice
  • Rats

Line the bottom with bedding and add hides, chew toys, a wheel, and other enrichments. Securely fasten the top with wire mesh. Avoid plastic lids that prevent airflow. Spot clean the tank regularly.

Invertebrate Tanks

Invertebrates like arachnids, insects, and mollusks are also simple to keep in repurposed nano aquariums:

  • Jumping spiders
  • Beetles
  • Millipedes
  • Snails
  • Hermit crabs

Cater the setup to the species’ needs. Provide proper substrates, humidity, and temperatures. Clean thoroughly between occupants to prevent disease transmission.

Always research the specific care requirements for any pet you intend to house in a repurposed fish tank. While convenient, tanks don’t automatically meet every animal’s needs. With adjustments though, they can make for economical homes for small pets.

Making a Fish Tank Coffee Table

Looking for furniture options? Converting an old aquarium into a coffee table is an easy DIY project.

What You’ll Need

  • Used fish tank of appropriate dimensions
  • Plywood or glass for the tabletop
  • Foam, sealant, or rubber strips to cushion between tank and top
  • Decor like sand, gravel, pebbles, rocks, wood, etc.

Steps to Construct a Fish Tank Coffee Table

  1. Thoroughly clean out and dry the used aquarium. Remove any silicone or hardware.
  2. Measure the tank’s length and width. Cut a piece of plywood or glass 1-2 inches smaller than the tank’s footprint. This will be your tabletop.
  3. Apply foam strips, rubber sealant, or weatherstripping around the top edges of the open tank. This cushions the tabletop.
  4. Lower in the plywood or glass top. Ensure it rests securely and levelly on the cushioned edges.
  5. Decorate the empty tank interior through the glass or cutout. Add a layer of rinsed play sand or pebbles. Incorporate materials like rocks, driftwood, shells, etc. Consider adding LED strip lights.
  6. Option to finish the plywood edges with stain, varnish, laminate, or other edging to coordinate with your décor.
  7. Add hairpin legs or other table legs in the height that suits your sofas.
  8. Position your creative coffee table in the living room or seating area.

Take measurements before selecting an aquarium for the project. Opt for long, low tanks that mimic traditional coffee table proportions. Create visual interest by “aquascaping” the interior with layers, textures, and colors.

Seal any wood thoroughly to prevent warping from moisture below. Plexiglass also works for a see-through top. Take safety precautions with the weight and edges of glass tops. Add a unique conversation piece to your home with a DIY aquarium coffee table.

Crafting a Fish Tank Bookcase

Another way to repurpose tanks into furniture is creating a fish tank bookcase. Follow these steps:

What You’ll Need

  • Clean aquarium without lid
  • Plywood or lumber for shelves
  • Saw, sandpaper, wood finish
  • Primer, paint, decorative paper (optional)

Building a Bookcase

  1. Measure tank height and width. Cut plywood or boards to length for shelving. Cut 2-3 shelves to divide the tank into compartments.
  2. Sand and finish the wood pieces as desired – stain, paint, or leave natural.
  3. Place the tank horizontally with opening facing out.
  4. Prime and paint the back and sides of the tank if desired. Or decorate with wallpaper or contact paper.
  5. Insert the shelves spaced evenly vertically in the tank. Secure firmly in place with silicone or brackets.
  6. Anchor the tank bookcase to the wall securely through the back.
  7. Start loading up your shelves with books, decor items, plants, and accessories.

Customize the shelf spacing and sizes to suit your needs. Mix closed storage with open display areas. Add lighting to illuminate the shelves or interior decorations.

Repurposed fish tanks are perfectly sized wall units for organizing media collections, accessories, office supplies, art pieces, and general décor. Their glass fronts enable you to get creative with visible styling. Tank bookcases provide ample storage without taking up added floor space.

Using Aquariums as Display Cases

The clear glass sides also make old tanks ideal display cases for showcasing prized possessions. Some inspiring ideas include:

  • Collectibles case – Show off your favorite figurines, dolls, Funko Pops, etc.
  • Memorabilia case – Display autographed items, sports memorabilia.
  • Trophy case – Exhibit hard-earned awards, medals, and plaques.
  • Keepsake case – Highlight sentimental objects from your past like photos, yearbooks, souvenirs.
  • Mini museum – Curate and exhibit personal artifacts, art, natural specimens.

Apply the basic steps for building shelving. Adjust the shelf placement and sizes to showcase your treasures best. Use risers, stands, and backdrops to stage items.

LED lighting highlights display cases for maximum visual impact. For collectibles, minimize direct light exposure. Try creative themes like “classic cars” or “my travel adventures” for a cohesive look. Rotate items out seasonally.

Constructing an Aquaponic System

For the ultimate functional repurposing, convert old tanks into productive aquaponic systems. Here’s an overview of how to DIY an aquaponic setup:

What You’ll Need

  • Clean tank or tub (10-100 gallon capacity)
  • Growing bed (Styrofoam, plastic, wood)
  • Submersible water pump
  • Flexible tubing and fittings
  • Grow lights
  • Fish (goldfish, koi, or tilapia work well)
  • Small starter plants
  • Hydroponic nutrients

Building an Aquaponic System

  1. Position tank on sturdy surface. Fill partially with dechlorinated water. Ensure it’s level.
  2. Install water pump in tank. Run tubing from pump outlet up to grow bed.
  3. Cut grow bed bottom and fit tubing through to create a siphon. Fill bed with grow media like clay balls.
  4. Place grow bed above tank, supported by a stand or rack. Make sure water can gravity flow back into tank.
  5. Add plants in grow bed. Lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and peppers are good options.
  6. Introduce fish to tank at about 1 pound of fish per 10 gallons of water.
  7. Use grow lights to supplement natural sunlight for plants.
  8. Feed fish daily fish food. Their waste provides nutrients for the plants.
  9. Periodically test water chemistry. Do partial water changes as needed.
  10. Harvest plants as they mature. Maintain the system by pruning and replacing plants.

Aquaponics utilizes fish waste as natural fertilizer for growing edible plants. The plants filter the water, which is recycled back to the fish. This closed-loop system conserves water while producing organic herbs, veggies, and fish protein.

Repurposed aquariums, plastic tubs, and storage containers work perfectly to create small-scale aquaponic systems. Get creative, combining elements into a productive urban garden. Maintain ideal water quality and troubleshoot issues for thriving plants and fish.

Setting Up a Jarrarium in Repurposed Jars

For desktop aquariums, upcycle glass jars and containers into miniature “jarrariums”. Follow these directions:

Supplies Needed

  • Clean 1-5 gallon glass jug or jar
  • Pebbles or marbles
  • Activated charcoal (optional)
  • Potting soil
  • Sand
  • Plants like mosses, succulents, ferns
  • Decorations – rocks, twigs, shells, etc

Building a Jarrarium

  1. Add a 1-2″ layer of pebbles or marbles for drainage.
  2. Place a thin layer of activated charcoal to absorb odors (optional).
  3. Fill 1/4 with potting soil for plant roots to grow in.
  4. Top soil with a 1-2″ cap of sand to hold plants in place.
  5. Insert plants, keeping scale and proportions in mind.
  6. Decorate with natural elements like rocks, driftwood, shells, etc.
  7. Lightly mist plants. Seal the lid or opening with plastic wrap.
  8. Place jar near natural light. Mist occasionally and open to refresh airflow.
  9. Monitor water level and condensation. Adjust plants and decor as needed.

Have fun selecting vessels and themes for desktop jarrariums. Vintage bottles, cookie jars, and pitchers all provide creative bases. Micro worlds encourage imagination and exploration of nature. Kids love crafting their jarrarium landscapes. Repurposed glassware offers endless possibilities!

Decorating with Empty Tanks

Don’t want to house plants or pets? Get creative decorating with empty repurposed aquariums.

  • Molded in – Fill large tanks with quick-dry concrete, plaster, epoxy resin, or alternative material. Once set, pop out the molded vessel to display.
  • Room divider – Use a large tank as a partition or barrier between spaces. Build it into a shelving unit or hide clutter inside.
  • Wall art – Attach colorful tissue paper, photos, or artwork to the back glass wall of a tank. Use LEDs to illuminate designs.
  • Shadow box – Frame and hang a small empty tank on the wall. Display mini scenes or objects inside.
  • Sculptural piece – Stack tanks or bowls together in interesting shapes and forms as avant-garde décor.

Sand, etch, or paint the exterior glass or add mirrors or tiles for further visual interest. Get creative, dreaming up how to transform empties into one-of-a-kind art installations and statement pieces.

Unusual and Fun Ways to Repurpose Fish Tanks

Looking for offbeat ideas? Here are some more unusual and fun ways to repurpose old fish tanks:

  • Mini greenhouse – Convert a large tank into a protective greenhouse for starting seedlings early. Add grow lights, plastic sheeting, and heaters to transform it into a nursery.
  • Critter camouflage – Disguise a tank as a decorative tree stump or giant stone in the garden. Cut a hole to allow rabbits, hedgehogs, or other wildlife to nest inside safely.
  • Dog washing station – Use a small tank to catch water and suds when bathing pets outside. Raise it on a stand at a comfortable working height.
  • Reptile hibernaculum – Bury a tank in the garden and place logs leading up to the entrance. This provides a winter refuge for frogs, toads, and other cold-blooded creatures.
  • Wedding photo booth prop – Decorate a tank with flowers, greenery, ribbons, etc. and use it as a whimsical photo backdrop at your wedding or event.
  • Plant mister – Make an automated plant mister by adding micro tubing and a humidifier or mister head inside a covered tank. Use a smart timer to run it.
  • Tabletop pond – Create a mini pond ecosystem filled with pebbles, plants, rocks, and even mini solar-powered fountains. Add snails or small fish for movement.
  • Bird or bee water station – Elevate a small tank and fill with pebbles, marbles, sticks. Keep it filled with water for backyard birds and pollinators.
  • Aquatic planting station – Use tanks of water to root plant cuttings like pothos, philodendrons, basil, and other easy-to-propagate houseplants.

The possibilities are endless! Brainstorm fun decorative, practical, or nature-focused uses that fit your space and interests. Adding a unique repurposed tank elevates your living space with an eco-friendly style.

Decorating Empty Aquariums for Visual Interest

Don’t want to repurpose your tank into something functional? You can also use empty aquariums purely for decorative visual impact. Some ideas include:

Using Lighting Effects

Add a variety of lighting elements to empty tanks for brilliant illumination:

  • LED strip lights on the top, bottom, or back walls
  • Twinkle string lights threaded through the tank
  • Color-changing smart bulbs inside
  • Fiber optic strands create a starry night effect
  • Small ball lights, candles, or tea lights for a warm ambiance

Experiment with color palettes and modes like fade, strobe, and chase. Remote controls allow you to adjust lighting moods easily.

Incorporating Natural Materials

Bring nature indoors by filling tanks with organic materials:

  • Sand, gravel, or marbles in neutral hues
  • Pebbles, shells, sea glass, and corals
  • Driftwood, pinecones, acorns, bark, sticks
  • Preserved moss, dried botanicals, flowers, and ferns
  • Potpourri, dried herbs and spices (for aroma)

Layer materials for added depth and dimension. Incorporate found natural objects like feathers, seed pods, dried citrus slices, etc.

Adding Dimensional Decorations

Further adorn empty tanks with:

  • Ribbons, tulle, burlap, fabric scraps
  • Ornaments, beads,bells, baubles
  • Model trees, miniatures, toy animals and figurines
  • Paper flowers, butterflies, paper art
  • Faux florals, greenery, vines, eucalyptus
  • Painted glass pebbles, marbles, or rocks

Rotate decorations seasonally for a fresh look. Keep scale in mind depending on tank size – tiny details get lost in large tanks. Have fun playing with color combinations and textures.

Using Repurposed Glass Creatively

  • Add mirrors, tiles, sea glass, or marbles to the bottom, sides, or lid
  • Attach photos, artwork, tissue paper, or contact paper
  • Etch or paint the exterior glass
  • Arrange colorful bottles or vases inside
  • Suspend objects from the ceiling with fishing line
  • Backlight with colored tissue paper or acrylic sheeting

Almost anything can be adapted to fill and decorate empty unused tanks! Match your design to your existing home décor for a cohesive look.

Key Considerations When Repurposing Aquariums

While fish tanks present endless possibilities for DIY projects, keep the following factors in mind:

  • Size and dimensions – Measure carefully to ensure it will fit your space and purpose. Confirm dimensions allow for easy removal of any shelving or furniture you construct inside.
  • Structural support – Reinforce and anchor tanks used as furniture or storage to handle heavy weight. Use solid wood, not particleboard. Brace or place directly on floor.
  • Lid or opening – Check if your repurposed use requires easy access to the tank interior. Hinged or removable tops offer flexibility.
  • Silicone and hardware – Remove all traces of silicone, filters, tubing, gravel, etc. for the best results. Use razor blades to eliminate any residue.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting – Scrub thoroughly with hot water and dechlorinating agent like Prime. Sterilize with diluted bleach or peroxide if housing pets. Rinse extremely well before use.
  • Safety – Sand rough edges and don’t overload weight capacity. Use shatterproof materials for any tabletops or shelving.
  • Circulation – Ensure repurposed tanks have adequate airflow if housing plants or animals. Avoid stagnant conditions.

Proper preparations and safety precautions enable successful aquarium conversions for home, pet, and garden use.

Rehoming Unwanted Aquariums

If you don’t have an intended project for your unused fish tank, consider donating or selling it to give the aquarium a new lease on life. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer to schools or youth groups for classroom projects
  • Donate to aquatic pet stores for their displays
  • Gift to a friend looking to start a new aquarium hobby
  • Sell via local ads or online marketplaces
  • Trade into aquarium or pet supply stores for credit
  • Post for free on community boards like Buy Nothing groups
  • Give to animal shelters to house small animals

Make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize any tanks before passing them along. Remove all previous silicone, sealant, gravel, decorations and residue.

Specify the brand, dimensions, any damage or repairs needed, and whether lids, lighting, or other parts are included. Provide details on prior use to avoid housing mismatches.

Repurposing, selling, donating, or trading aquariums keeps them in use and prevents wasting functional tanks. Breathe new life into empty fish tanks by finding them a new home and purpose.

FAQs About Repurposing Aquariums

What are some creative ways you’ve repurposed a fish tank?

Some creative fish tank repurposing ideas include using them for leopard gecko habitats, succulent planters, zen garden sandboxes, snow globe displays, and self-contained herb gardens. They also work great as DIY wedding card boxes, terrarium centerpieces, and decorative partitions between rooms.

How do you ensure the sustainability of your repurposed fish tank projects?

Opt for reusable, natural materials rather than disposable plastic decorations. Source found and recycled objects to fill tanks. Use LED bulbs and live plants instead of fake decor. Compost old soil and plants instead of sending them to landfills. When finished, try to reuse or recycle the tank again.

What challenges have you faced while repurposing a fish tank, and how did you overcome them?

Common challenges include removing silicone residue, controlling condensation, preventing mold, and providing adequate airflow or drainage. Razor blades, ventilation, dehumidifiers, gravel/charcoal layers, and sealing cracks help overcome these issues. Weight, support, and accessibility are also considerations for furniture projects.

How do you clean used tanks thoroughly before repurposing them?

Remove any silicone, hardware, decorations, or residue to clean used aquariums. Scrub inside and out with hot water and dechlorinating agent or diluted vinegar. Rinse extremely well and let dry fully. For pet uses, sterilize with a diluted bleach solution, rinse, and allow to air out before introducing inhabitants.

What are safe, non-toxic ways to decorate the inside of repurposed fish tanks?

Natural materials like rocks, sand, marbles, seashells, and real plants make safe, non-toxic decorations for repurposed aquariums. Avoid plastics or toxic paints. LED string lights and battery-powered fairy lights also create magical ambiance without risks.

What are the best plants to use in repurposed miniature aquarium environments?

Some great plants for repurposed desktop jarrariums and terrariums include mosses, ferns, nerve plants, pilea, succulents, tropical epiphytes like orchids or bromeliads, and aquatic floaters like frogbit

Here are some more tips for repurposing old fish tanks:

Choosing the Right Tank for Your Project

  • Small bowls work well for desktop terrariums and mini gardens
  • 5-10 gallon tanks are ideal for reptile/rodent habitats
  • Standard 20-55 gallon tanks suit terrariums, furniture, aquaponics
  • Extra large 100+ gallon tanks can become ponds or storage

Safety Tips

  • Reinforce any furniture built with tanks by anchoring to the wall or floor
  • Use shatterproof plexiglass or polycarbonate instead of glass if making tabletops
  • Wear gloves when handling used tanks to avoid sharp edges

Supervise children around repurposed tanks and test weight limits before use

Troubleshooting Common Issues

  • Remove all silicone residue for versatility in repurposing tanks
  • Prevent mold growth by ensuring good airflow and drainage
  • Control condensation with fans, dehumidifiers, or absorbing materials
  • Use waterproof barriers like silicone or liners if integrating into furniture
  • Monitor water quality and promptly fix leaks in aquatic setups

Budget-Friendly Repurposing

  • Check thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist for cheap/free used tanks
  • Use scrap wood, salvaged materials, and found objects to decorate
  • Grow your own plants from cuttings instead of buying new ones
  • Use basic affordable supplies like glue, spray paint, sandpaper for transformations

Repurposing Inspiration

  • Vertical open-front tank built into a wall shelf
  • Old tank fused with driftwood as the base of a custom coffee table
  • Vintage suitcase tanks to display mini plants on desktops
  • Stack of tanks secured together into a unique tower sculpture
  • Long horizontal tank embedded across the top of a recycled dresser

With a little imagination and DIY spirit, the possibilities for giving old fish tanks new life are endless! What unique ways can you think of to repurpose aquariums?


Fish tanks are not just for fish anymore. With some creativity and elbow grease, you can repurpose them into something that serves a function and adds aesthetic value to your space. So the next time you think about discarding that old fish tank, remember that your imagination only limits its potential.