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How to Safely Use Clorox to Get Rid of Brown Spots on Aquarium Silk Plants

Updated on January 26, 2014

Boy, is this a risky procedure. Out of all the dangerous chemicals out there, bleach is the worst substance to put in your aquarium. Even the smallest amount can easily kill your fish.

Unfortunately, it is also the quickest, and for some, the only way to get brown stains off of silk plants. If you can merely wipe the brown spots off, then you have no reason to keep reading. This is for people who are debating throwing their silk plants away because the stains refuse to come off.

The brown algae—or whatever it is—accumulate on your plants for any number of reasons. The most common are direct or indirect sunlight, too much light in general, and putting too much food in the aquarium (that your fish aren’t eating).

Of course, the brown spots can also mean you are not cleaning your aquarium enough and there are too many nitrates in your water. If you suspect this is the case, buy a nitrate test kit from any aquarium store, or simply clean your tank more often.

It's very common for new tanks to develop brown algae, and it goes away on its own in time.

So now you know how to avoid getting these stains, but what to do for the silk plants that are already damaged? Here are my careful step-by-step instructions on how to use Clorox in the safest way possible.

Four things you’ll need:

  • Clorox
  • Spray Bottle
  • Bucket of Aquarium Water
  • Cup or Glass of tap water

I advise only treating one silk plant at a time; don’t do a batch.

Adding Clorox and Immediately Rinsing After

Before even messing with the Clorox, first take out the silk plant with stains from the tank. If you have touched Clorox (even the bottle), I’d wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water, then wait a few hours before touching the tank water. Also do a 10-15% water change to your aquarium, keeping the siphoned water in a bucket you will use later.

Put the plant nearby the sink and then take out Clorox and pour it into the spray bottle. Put the Clorox away. Then take the silk plant and spray only the leaves that have the brown spots. After 3-4 seconds, turn on the water and start rinsing the leaves. Use your fingers and rub the fabric under the warm running water for at least a whole minute. You should notice the brown has come off as you begin this.

Let the Plant Soak

After 60 seconds of washing the silk plant, place it into the bucket of aquarium water. Let it sit for an hour. I have a theory that by letting it sit in chlorinated tap water, it doesn’t absorb the remaining Clorox as well—just a theory; I’m not a scientist.

At the meantime, detached the spray bottle’s head and stick the siphon in the glass of water. Spray so only water is going through it. If you leave Clorox in the tube of the sprayer, it can eat away the insides after a while.

Also use steaming hot water and rinse out the glass once you are done with the spray bottle.

Rinse Again and Let the Plant Dry

After an hour of soaking, take the plant out and wash it for 60 seconds again under warm water. After the 60 seconds, lay it someplace safe to dry. You can speed up the process by placing it in front of a fan facing away from you.


Once the plant has completely dried, start the process all over again. Before handling the dried plant or any product that has touched Clorox, add more tank water to the bucket, as well as tap water to the glass.

  1. 60 Second Wash
  2. 1 Hour Soak
  3. 60 second Wash
  4. Let It Dry

If you can smell Clorox after the second time (while the plant is dry), I’d give it a third cycle, and another until I felt confident enough to place it back into the tank. Otherwise, you’re done.

Only then would I move on to the next plant that needs a Clorox cleaning.

By doing a batch at a time, I fear it increases the risk of bleach exposure. If you insist on doing several at a time, to be safe, I’d do a 30% water change shortly after placing the plants back into the tank, as well as adding (new) active carbon in your filter, as it's known to absorb some bleach.

Some might think this process is excessive, that the first cycle would do the job. That’s a possibility, but I see the second cycle as a safety net. If it didn’t get rid of it all the first time, it should by the second round (unless you’re cutting corners, letting it soak for only 30 minutes or rinsing for 30 seconds).

I’ve done this several times with the blue silk plant in the photo; this process has never hurt my animals.

The lighting in this photo makes the plant look paler than before, but it's the same hue, just different lighting.
The lighting in this photo makes the plant look paler than before, but it's the same hue, just different lighting.


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