How to Repurpose Your Old Fish Tank

Kathy Adams

Don't let that old aquarium collect dust -- give it a wonderful new life by upcycling it into a terrarium, diorama or a funky table lit from within.

Instead of keeping an old fish tank tucked away in a closet or the garage for another decade, upcycle it into something completely new for a useful or decorative addition to your home. From ambient lighting to a delightful diorama, that former fish tank is bound to delight, even without a fish in sight.

Let There Be (Ambient) Light

A lit aquarium with fish in it adds an air of relaxation to just about any room after dark. If you miss the chill vibe of your currently fish-free tank, upcycle that aquarium into ambient lighting.

  1. Paper the insides of the aquarium using colored tissue paper cut to size, taping the paper to the inside of the glass with thin strips of masking tape. Tape only the edges of the paper so the tape isn't visible from outside the glass.

  2. Insert a strand of holiday lights, or a color-changing LED light, for added effect. If you're using colored lights, use plain white tissue paper. White lights can be used with colored paper. For a nature-inspired take on ambient lighting, use handmade translucent papers that feature natural elements such as bits of seeds or dried flowers.

  3. If you have two identical aquariums, use them as bases for a homemade coffee table or matching end tables, topping them with an old wooden door or salvaged windows. Use battery-operated lights inside the table-base fish tanks.

Tantalizing Terrarium

  • Turn that unneeded aquarium into housing for a life form other than fish -- in this case, plants.

    1. Add an inch or two of pea gravel to the bottom of a clean fish tank, followed by sterilized potting soil several inches deep.

    2. Add your favorite terrarium-friendly plants such as small ferns, African violets and short peace lilies.

    3. Place a lid on the fish tank, or use it as an open-air terrarium. Keep an enclosed terrarium out of direct sunlight for best results.

    Kid-Friendly Worm Farm

  • Vermicompost, anyone? Turn that leaky aquarium into something both useful for the garden and entertaining for children -- a worm farm. Composting with worms -- also known as vermicomposting -- creates a nutrient-rich soil additive while offering the opportunity for kids to learn about composting, food waste and caring for worms.

    1. Choose an aquarium that is missing its bottom but is in otherwise good shape: A worm bin requires ventilation.

    2. Make a new bottom from a piece of wood or a lid from a storage bin, drilling eight to 10 narrow holes in the bottom for drainage.

    3. Fill the aquarium partway with shredded wet newspaper or cardboard as bedding for the worms. Add a few handfuls of dirt; then add red wiggler worms for composting.

    4. After a week or so, once the worms get used to their new home, add a handful or two of plant-based food scraps.

    5. Place a lid such as a window screen atop the aquarium, weighing it down so the worms don't escape. Keep the bin in a cool area, out of direct sunlight.

    6. Warning

      Do not use a glass aquarium with cracked or chipped side panels, as the weight of soil worms and wet paper may cause more damage. Chipped or sharp glass pieces may cause injury to you or the worms.

    Delightful Diorama

  • Add seasonal decor to any room of the house with your own glass-encased diorama. Cover the inside back glass with decorative paper or a printout of scenery such as a forest; then fill the inside area with any items you like, such as tiny plastic animals. Allow the kids to create their own dioramas of favorite movie scenes, fantasy lands or superheroes in action using their toys as the "actors." Monofilament fishing line helps superheroes, dinosaurs and birds fly, attached to the fish tank topper.

  • Change the scenes out seasonally to create your own miniature haunted graveyard, winter wonderland or tropical island paradise. Insert a blacklight into the tank's light housing and paint the toys and scenery with fluorescent paints for a diorama that glows with amazing colors.