Is Acrylic Paint Safe Or Toxic For Fish & Aquariums?

Many fish owners want to make the best habitat for their pets while creating a beautiful display for visitors. Painting aquarium decor is a great way to create a colorful scene. We’ll be answering the question, “is acrylic paint safe for aquariums?” to help you find the best products for your fish. 

Before answering this question, we need to know what acrylic paint is. Three ingredients make up acrylic paint: acrylic pigment, acrylic binder, and acrylic vehicle. The acrylic pigment is how paints get their bright colors. It can be natural or synthetic. Acrylic binder holds the pigment in place when the paint dries and protects the paint after it dries. The acrylic vehicle transports the binder and the color. In this case, the vehicle is water. 

All levels of artists use acrylic paints, from professionals to beginners. Craft enthusiasts often use acrylic paints for projects as well. There are varying grades of acrylic paint available depending on your project. High-level artists often use professional-grade acrylic paints. Lower-grade paint is popular with beginners, hobbyists, and kids. 

Now that we know what acrylic paint is and who typically uses it, we can explore the question, “is acrylic paint safe for fish?” For the most part, all acrylic paints are non-toxic because they are solvent-free, low-odor, and non-flammable. But, as we mentioned earlier, water is the vehicle transport in acrylic paints. This means that it flakes off when submerged in water for a long time. 

So, is water-based acrylic paint toxic for fish? The paint itself does not release toxins into the water of an aquarium. But the fish may confuse the peeled-off flakes for food. Acrylic paint is poisonous to fish if ingested. Not only will your fish be at risk, but your decorations will slowly deteriorate as well. Unfortunately, some popular paint brands like Americana acrylic paint are toxic for fish. And so those brands are not suitable for inside an aquarium. 

Acrylic paint can kill fish, but not due to toxins in the water. Acrylic paint is toxic to fish when ingested. 

Is Acrylic Paint Safe Or Toxic For Fish & Aquariums

How To Find A Fish Tank Safe Paint

Is acrylic paint safe for fish tanks? Unfortunately, not all acrylic paints are. The most obvious label you can look for is "aquarium-safe." These types of paint will not flake off when submerged underwater for long periods. They do not emit toxins either and are all around safe for fish in an aquarium. 

You can also find epoxy paint. But you need to follow the proper directions before returning your fish to the water after using it. Pond Armor is an epoxy-based paint specifically used in fish ponds and aquariums. To prevent harming your fish, you must let it cure before putting water back in. 

Sealants are another option for ensuring your fish's safety while painting their aquarium. Use a waterproof sealant and allow it to cure to prevent paint from chipping, flaking, and releasing toxins. Just be sure to double-check that the sealant is non-toxic as well. 


How To Paint An Aquarium 

If you’d like to paint a background for your aquarium, it is not recommended to paint on the glass inside the tank. To ensure your fish’s safety, paint on the outside of the tank instead. Exterior acrylic paint is not safe for the inside of the fish tank. To do this, you'll need the below tools. 

  • Fish tank 
  • Your choice of paint - acrylic, epoxy, spray paint, etc. (following fish safety guidelines) 
  • Paint roller or large paintbrush 
  • Sealant 
  • Newspaper, cardboard, or an old cloth to place under the tank as you paint 

Painting the tank is pretty simple. 

  • 1
    Choose your color and use a paint roller or paintbrush to spread even coats on the glass 
  • 2
    Allow the paint to dry between layers 
  • 3
    Add the sealant 
  • 4
    Allow to cure (this usually takes around a week) 

To paint decorations for the inside of your aquarium, you’ll need to gather the same items as above. You'll also need sandpaper, alcohol wipes, primer, and smaller paintbrushes. 

Now you can follow the below steps to paint your decorations! 

  • 1
    Prep your decor by wiping it down with the alcohol pads/wipes to clean off any dirt 
  • 2
    Optional: Sand and/or prime your decor for better paint adhesion 
  • 3
    Apply thin layers of paint using your paintbrush, allowing it to dry between layers. Depending on how opaque you want the color, add between 2-7 layers of paint. 
  • 4
    Allow the paint to cure/dry 
  • 5
    Add the sealant 
  • 6
    Allow the sealant to cure (this usually takes around a week) 
  • 7
    Wash off the decor with unchlorinated water (to avoid contaminating the aquarium’s PH balance 
  • 8
    Place decor in your tank 
acrylic paint

What To Do If You Use The Wrong Paint In An Aquarium

If you're reading this and thinking, "I messed up," here's what you can do to save your aquarium! You can try using dish soap and water to break down the paint. But depending on the type of paint used, it may be more beneficial and time-saving to buy new decor instead. 

To take the paint off the glass in an aquarium, you can use a paint scraper. We suggest softening the paint first by using acetone. Make sure to move your fish into a clean and safe habitat before attempting to remove paint from the old aquarium. 


Common Painting Aquarium Questions 

What color is best for an aquarium background? 

Many aquarium builders use black for a background to allow the fish to stand out better. However, if an aquarium has more dark-colored fish, green is a perfect color to use instead. It allows the fish to pop without being too bright and distracting in the background. 


What type of paint is toxic to fish? 

Paint that is not labeled as non-toxic, waterproof, and animal/pet safe will be toxic to fish. Stay away from paint labeled as “mold-resistant” as well. This is particularly toxic in aquariums. 


Conclusion

Acrylic paint can be safe for aquariums, but only if used correctly. So, is acrylic paint toxic to fish? Some are, and some aren’t. You have to do research on your chosen brand. Never use brands that do not specify that they are non-toxic in your aquarium. Use a non-toxic, animal-safe sealant if you want to paint your aquarium or decor. That way, you can have a beautiful aquarium and keep your fish safe. 


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