How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants

How to Quarantine, Disinfect, and Sterilize Aquarium Plants

At first, when you purchase plants for planting in the aquarium, you may be wondering whether there is something to be done before introducing the plants in the tank.

Of course there is: You have to quarantine and sterilize the plants before usage regardless of how reputable the source of purchase is. These plants should be disinfected in order to mitigate risks and prevent the introduction of parasites and other harmful organisms into the tank.

If you are keen on maintaining a clean and healthy tank then you wouldn’t want the contamination of the set-up as a result of the introduction of new plants. Plant quarantine is very important to avert the transfer of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, parasites and pathogens in the tank water.

Therefore before planting newly purchased plants in the aquarium, take precautionary measures first.

Reasons to Quarantine New Plants

1. Snail infestation. 

Frankly saying, this is the most common reason. Snails will often hitchhike on aquatic plants and make themselves at home in your tank. For example, Bladder Snails (Physa acuta), Pond snails (Lymnaea stagnalis), and Malaysian Trumpet Snails (Melanoides Tuberculata) are very good at it. All these new snails pop up out of “nowhere”, and you have no idea why and how! I mean … what could possibly go wrong?

Related article:

2. Parasites and Predators

This is not a joke. For example, some aquarists lost their fish and colonies of shrimp to such monsters like dragonfly or damselfly nymphs. They are natural hunting machines, they can catch including shrimp and fish of their size!

Once nymphs get into your aquarium, it is extremely hard to get rid of them. Therefore, the best option is to prevent it.

Related articles:

3. Pesticides and Contaminations

There were situations when people bought new plants and put them into their tanks without quarantine. As a result, they had massive die-offs of fish and shrimp right after that.

This is probably because these plants were treated with pesticides to remove parasites. However, the residue of the chemicals can still wipe out your aquarium.

4. Algae, Fungus and other Diseases

Yes, unfortunately, it also happened to some people.

There are lots and lots of stories you can find on the Internet. So, I hope that there is no need to convince you anymore.

Step-by-Step Quarantine New Plants

  1. Remove the rockwool or any sponge-like material shipped with the plant. While doing this, ensure that you remove them thoroughly and gently. Try to get down to the bare roots and do not leave out any tiny bit of residue stuck to the roots as it can soak pesticides or other pollutants.
  2. Using a pair of scissors, cut back long overgrown roots of the plant to about 1-2cm. The plant will regrow them after a while, so you don’t have to worry.
  3. Sterilize or disinfect new plants.
  4. Water the plants to remove the last residue of rock wool and immerse them in a bucket of clean water for several days (at least 5 days).
  5. Add Seachem Prime (link to check the price on Amazon) to the bucket of water. It will bind pesticides and other residues. Seachem Prime is a water conditioner and it detoxifies ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. It also gets rid of heavy metals found in some tap water and removes chlorine and chloramine.
  6. Implement full water changes every day till the end of the process. Make sure to add Seachem Prime after each water change.
  7. After the 5-day quarantine, rinse the plants with clean tap water.
  8. The plants are now ready to be introduced into the aquarium

Note:  By doing quarantine and sterilization of the plants, you have the maximum possible protection. So, if you want to play safe, do not do just disinfection (read below).

Disinfection (Sterilisation) of new plants before planting

People often view the quarantine of new plants as a long process and cumbersome. Due to their impatience, they like to opt for faster means, which will give a similar result. That can be attained by sterilization with chemicals.

Before introducing the plants into the aquarium, it is necessary that you sterilize them first. The essence of this is to prevent the transfer of snails, toxins, parasites or pathogens into the aquarium. Unfortunately, sterilization still cannot guarantee 100% safety.

Let’s have a look at sterilization methods you can utilize.

Sterilization using Bleach

BleachBleach (link to check the price on Amazon) is a strong and effective disinfectant. It’s active ingredient – sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in microorganisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, parasites, algae, fungus, and viruses. Household bleach works fast and effectively and it is widely available for purchase at low costs. Diluted bleach is strongly recommended for the disinfection of aquarium plants, materials, and equipment.

Here are the procedures to follow:

  1. Rinse your new plants with room temperature (normal) water.
  2. Use a regular bleach eg. Clorox at a recommended ratio of 19 cups water to 1 cup bleach (19:1). For this purpose, use bleach that contains as few additives as possible (no soap, perfume, colorant). If using concentrated bleach, use ¾ of a cup.
  3. Put the plants into the bleach solution and leave them there for just 1 – 2 minutes (no more!). Ensure that the whole plant is immersed. (Use gloves when handling plants with the solution).
  4. Move the plants into a new bucket of room temperature water or alternatively, drain the water containing the bleach solution and refill it with clean water).
  5. Treat it with Seachem Prime water conditioner (put a teaspoon of the dechlorinator) into the bucket of water for 3 minutes.
  6. Rinse the plants several times with tap water.
  7. You can now plant.

Note the following safety measures while using bleach to disinfect aquarium plants:

  • Avoid mixing bleach with other chemicals. You should mic bleach with plain water only.
  • Don’t use bleach in concentrations higher than 10%.
  • The soaking time should never exceed 2 minutes, for delicate plants, I would reduce it to 15 – 20 seconds.

Sterilization using Potassium Permanganate

Potassium Permanganate - Jungle clear waterPotassium Permanganate (for example, Jungle clear water – link to check the price on Amazon) is a strong oxidizing agent with disinfectant properties. It was used before hypochlorites as a water disinfectant and softener. It is a compound that is used by hobbyists for disinfecting plants or ornaments before placement into the aquarium. Potassium Permanganate helps in removing organic build-up in tank water: it kills, parasites, algae, bacteria, and fungi.

Note: Potassium Permanganate loses its potency when exposed to light. Therefore, keep any solution you make away from direct light exposure.

Procedures to follow:

  1. Rinse the plants with tap water.
  2. Get Potassium Permanganate, if it is the crystal type: add 4mg to a liter of room temperature water to form a dark purple/pink solution. If it is the bottled liquid type you have (Jungle Clear Water), all you need to do is to add a few drops to a liter of water.
  3. Dip the plants in the solution and leave them submerged for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Move the plants to a new bucket of normal tap water and rinse thoroughly.
  5. Treat the plants in fresh dechlorinated water (Use Seachem Prime) for 3 minutes.
  6. Rinse the plants with tap water several times.
  7. Cultivate the plants in the tank

Dechlorinators like Seachem Prime will neutralize the Potassium Permanganate, making the plants safe for planting in the aquarium.

Warning: Potassium Permanganate is not shrimp safe! Be very careful! It can be harmful even in residual levels. Do not put plants in the shrimp tank even after rinsing them in fresh dechlorinated water with Seachem Prime. It will be safer to wait a few more days.

Sterilization using Hydrogen Peroxide

shrimp tank Hydrogen PeroxideHydrogen peroxide (link to check the price on Amazon) is a chemical compound with the formula H2O2. In its pure form, it is a pale blue, clear liquid that is slightly viscous than water. It is the simplest peroxide (a compound with an oxygen – oxygen single bond). Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as an oxidizer, bleaching agent, and antiseptic.

Hydrogen peroxide might come off as a strong oxidizer, it can kill plants if dipped in it over a long period. The good thing about H2O2 is that it can kill off algae and parasites.

Procedures to follow:

  1. Clean and rinse new plants with normal tap water.
  2. Mix 3% Hydrogen peroxide, 2-3 ml to 1 gallon of water.
  3. Submerge the plants in the solution for 5 minutes, don’t exceed this to avoid discoloration of the leaves.
  4. Rinse plants severally in tap water.
  5. Treat with water conditioner and rinse once again
  6. The plant is now ready for planting.

Sterilization using Alum

Alum (Aluminum sulfate) plant SterilizationAlum (Aluminum sulfate) is the mildest sterilization method. Although this method helps to eliminate snails mostly. It is not really potent against parasites and bacteria.

Steps to follow:

  1. Dissolve 1-3 tablespoons of alum per gallon of normal temperature water.
  2. Soak the plants in the solution for at least 2-3 hours.
  3. Rinse the plants in dechlorinated water.
  4. Introduce plants in the aquarium.

Alum – check out the price on Amazon.

Important: While sterilizing new aquarium plants with bleach, potassium permanganate, and hydrogen peroxide, always remember to wear gloves to protect your skin from chemical harm or reactions. Potassium permanganate leaves stains on surfaces that it comes in contact with, so you have to protect your work area to avoid stains when using potassium permanganate.

In Conclusion

Plant quarantine is a necessity, it is not something you need to debate on whether to do it or not. Bear in mind that the health of your tank inhabitants is at stake if you fail to sterilize plants before introducing them into the tank.

It is up to you to choose the method that will be most convenient. Quarantine is the best practice but if you cannot wait for long then you should opt for any of the other sterilization methods.

Related articles:

21 thoughts on “How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants

  1. That’s some informative stuff ! Thank you I was wondering how effective uv light is on algae ? Randy

    1. Hi Randy Hubbard,
      Thank you!
      Regarding your question, it depends on the type of algae.
      UV light can be efficient only when algae spores, bacteria, etc. go through the UV sterilizer. It will not be effective against algae attached to surface areas.
      Therefore, the UV light will be useless against most types of Hair algae, Black beard algae, Green Spot Algae, Diatoms, etc.
      Best regards,

  2. Do I have to quarantine if you do any one of the disinfection methods? I have h202 on hand. Im in the process of building my first scape and getting plants is next. (The spam filter got me a couple times)

    1. Hi Bruceko,
      If you want to reduce the risk then yes.
      The point is that sterilization does not guarantee that the plant does not have eggs that can survive disinfection.
      You may think that you got rid of the parasites and after a week or so – surprise!
      Best regards,

      1. Why would the additional quarantine guarantee that the plant does not have eggs that can survive disinfection?

        1. Hi Brent,
          How can you be sure that there are no eggs left on the plants after disinfection? It’s impossible. No aquarist can give a 100% safety guarantee. That’s why 5 additional quarantine days can provide a more complete picture of the situation. Of course, in some cases 5 days may be insufficient, but it’s at least a minimum that we can do.
          Best regards,

  3. hey Michael! just started to read your blog and I have to say I love it! I’ll be sure to check your affiliate links next time I order something for my tanks (not sure how they work, do you have a page links to products somewhere? or is it just the links in the articles?)

    anywho, I have a question: what about “in vitro” plants? the kinds that are in small cups and supposedly sterile? they claim that you can just put them in the tank right away, and have a hefty price tag because of you have any experience with those?

    1. Hi Winterray,
      You do not have to use those links, they are more like a cost estimation but thank you anyway.
      Regarding ‘in vitro’ plants, well, this is the price we have to pay for clean plants.
      Personally, I have never had any problem with them, the plants were really good and free from any nasty stuff.
      I should have added a paragraph about it.
      Best regards,

  4. Hi Michael.. Love your blog

    I just disinfected some Java Fern and Crypts for about a min too long. Do you think they’ll be alright?

    Much love from Aus

    1. Hi David,
      Thank you!
      What did you use?
      Bleach is the most problematic, in all other cases, I don’t think that it will hurt your plants too much.
      Best regards,

  5. Great website and advice on shrimp breeding and raising. On the plant dip, I have had bad luck with KMnO4 (potassium permanganate). Despite using Prime and rinsing procedures, just enough KMnP4 makes it through and causes some lethality, especially for shrimplets. (This is even with pre-emptive use of Prime in the tank as a precaution).

    One study does indicate that in “synthetically moderately hard water” KMnO4 has a 50% fatality rate (LD50) for very small crustaceans at concentrations as low as 0.05 mg/L (or 1 part in 20 million)!. Ornamental shrimp were not part of the test, but it is indicative that KMnO4 may be harmful even in residual levels. (Scuds had a much higher LD50, but I wouldn’t compare a hardy species to freshwater shrimp). I would also guess that RO water reconstituted with Shrimp Mineral probably is similar to “synthetically moderately hard water”. Notably, LD50 was forty times higher in pond water (i.e., it took 40 times more KMnO4 to cause the same % lethality). One difference may be the significantly higher presence of naturally occurring reducing agents (organic matter) in pond water that a “clean” shrimp tank is lacking.

    Every shrimp keepers experience may differ, therefore, depending on the water conditions in the tank, use of activated charcoal or other chemical filtration, etc.

    1. Link to the study abstract:

      1. Hi David,
        Thank you for sharing your experience and your kind words, I genuinely appreciate them because it can help other shrimp keepers to avoid this problem.
        Also, I have added to the article a warning that Potassium permanganate is not safe for the shrimp.
        Best regards,

  6. So of the options, which is your go to. When you get new plants, which do you use? Ive always added them directly but have def gotten pond snails as a result. I didnt mind at first, but then 3 months later we were still hunting new ones lol. It only takes one capable of laying eggs. There was a fake valisneria plant in that tank as well as the floaters and java moss/ferns. (Its a growout tank for honey guaramis) i took it out one day to give it a rinse clean and found over 10 seperate sets of eggs in the crevices, leaves, weight on the bottom etc. basically anywhere they could get to, they laid eggs. And that was just one plant. It was def the hub though. Soooo long story, i want to avoid this in the future, as well as if i use plants from one tank for another tank. Whats the go to!? Lol thx!

    1. Hi GuaramiGuy,
      It is important to consider the type of plant in this case.
      Generally, I use bleach for disinfecting plants. However, if the plant has a delicate structure, I can use hydrogen peroxide as a milder oxidizer compared to bleach.
      Yeap, we all made mistakes! Do not underestimate the importanсу of quarantine 🙂
      Best regards,

  7. I bought a mat of hair grass that came with a side of scud. I thought I shook/beat them all out in a bucket and then as I was putting it in a tank one more swam out. Would you use peroxide or bleach for this scud/hair grass combination?

    1. Hi Karena,
      Firstly, personally, I probably wouldn’t use anything from an aquarium where there are scuds. Secondly, if we discuss it theoretically, yes, I would use hydrogen peroxide or bleach for this.
      Afterward, I would quarantine the plant for a couple of weeks and periodically inspect it for any survivors.
      If I had any doubts, I would use hydrogen peroxide again before introducing the plant to the main aquarium.
      Best regards,

  8. Hey Michael your blog content has helped me immensely in starting my healthy shrimp tank. I just bought some plants and want to quarantine them. I have Tetra Aquasafe on hand and I’m wondering will it work the same as Seachem Prime? If not I’ll pick some prime up! Thanks for your thorough content!

    1. Hi Gabriella,
      I’m glad to hear that my content has been helpful!
      As for your question, it will be difficult for me to say because I need a complete and accurate list of things they can do.
      For example, I know that Tetra can also detoxify heavy metals and other impurities, but I don’t know which one would be better in this regard. Sorry.
      Best regards,

  9. I’m not sure if my comment was posted or not so I’ll ask again… Are you paid to advertise the brands you link to? If so… How can this article be trusted?

    1. Hi Hayley,
      This is a valid concern because many, if not most, websites are simply loaded with product advertisements. Therefore, one must always be cautious.
      As for me and my website, I don’t have direct advertising contracts, if that’s what you’re asking.
      Furthermore, I don’t think bleach, H2O2, etc. manufacturers would even consider reaching out to me to write about their products. It’s just funny.
      Best regards,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Content