The Many Aquarium Uses of Plastic Canvas (Mesh): Dividers and More

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Marie is a lover of everything about and inside of aquariums. Among other friendly creatures, she has a turtle that she adores.

I love do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, especially when it comes to aquariums (because the hobby is expensive!). Out of all the materials I use for such projects, I frequently find myself using an arts and crafts material called plastic canvas, which is originally used for needlepoint. These sheets of plastic mesh are perfectly safe for aquarium use, they come in all sorts of colors, and they're extremely cheap. Here are some ideas for using plastic mesh; I have discovered many ways of using it to enhance the aquarium.

  1. Tank Divider
  2. Java Moss Background
  3. Filter Material
  4. Small Covers/Lids
  5. Algae Scrubber Filter Material
  6. Shading
  7. Adding Color
  8. Climbing Material/Ramp

1. Tank Divider

Probably the most common aquarium use for plastic mesh, tank dividers save people the trouble of purchasing another aquarium if one can utilize the space in the existing tank. Male bettas are a prime example of fish that can’t get along with its own species. By constructing a tank divider, you will ensure the two fish won’t be able to fight.

Of course, the same principle applies to other species of fish. In a 20 gallon long, you can keep a crayfish on one side and endler live bearers on the other, without fear of the crayfish eating the fish.

Warning: Make sure the animals will be happy in the space you provide them as the result of a tank divider. Also be sure the temperature and pH is within range of all species’ needs.

2. Java Moss Background

This is another popular use for plastic mesh. At one point someone came up with the creative idea to grow java moss on sheets of mesh. Java moss is a slow growing plant and it takes its time, but once it clings and spreads, you’ll have a pretty cool background for your tank. The picture below (not mine) is an amazing example of what you can accomplish with this concept. I'm sure the fish appreciate the extra plant life too.

3. Filter Material

With creativity and a dash of science, one can create an effective filter, even more so than those sold in stores (if you understand the importance of the nitrogen cycle, surface area, and water flow). Plastic mesh is a popular material for keeping filter media in place while allowing water flow.

I always use plastic mesh when creating an internal box filter for this purpose. I can also imagine it working for HOB filters.

4. Small Covers/Lids

Canvas mesh for needlepoint isn't sturdy, but it can be tied together with fishing line and fastened with poster borders to make for a secure lid. I never use lids unless I am keeping known escape artists, like frogs and crayfish, and the one I've built for my 15 gallon long is perfect.

You can also easily modify it. Just cut off an end of a poster border and you'll have just enough space to place an airline tube or a heater's cord. You could even cut out a space big enough for an HOB filter, although this can be tricky when dealing with escape artists. And of course if you make a mistake (like I clearly did), just tie a piece of canvas over the error.

This project can actually be a bit of work, but with patience you'll have a cheap, secure lid at your disposal.

Tips for Making Lids

For this one, I would use clear plastic mesh, unless you want very dim aquarium lighting. Even with clear mesh, lighting may still be dimmed to a degree (depending on how close the light is), so if this will cause an issue, you might incorporate plexiglass to areas that need more lighting. Some of my tanks just have plexiglass as a top (to prevent immense evaporation and retain heat).

5. Algae Scrubber Filter Material

For those with a high nitrate problem, an algae scrubber (despite its name) is a perfect filter, where you intentionally grow algae in a concentrated area using water flow and a long-running light source. The idea is the algae in the filter will outsource any other algae in the tank, ironically using algae to get rid of undesirable algae on glass, décor, etc., while the algae you've grown is hidden inside the scrubber.

Green algae also suck up nitrates, something a regular filter won't do; you'll rarely get green algae in an aquarium filter since beneficial bacteria prefers the dark.

Plants often suck up nitrates too, but it's typically a very low percent, especially for slow growing plants. And while plants are just there, absorbing the nitrates at their own pace, water is being drawn right to the algae of the algae scrubber, resulting in nitrates getting absorbed more quickly among the tank as a whole.

Plastic canvas is a great material for algae to grow on, although to be fair, just about any surface is susceptible to algae. However, the green stuff will most likely stick to the mesh because of the water flow accessibility that mesh has, and plastic mesh is easy to remove from the scrubber when the algae gets too thick (washing some of it off and placing it back in).

It is even better to use sandpaper or a sander to make the mesh that more "clingy" for the algae. The following video is the best video I've seen for making a simple algae scrubber for any aquarium.

6. Shading

I'm a strong believer in giving aquatic animals as many options as possible in the tank. By this, I mean creating a diverse environment, such as making one corner of the tank full of foliage (jungle-like), while providing an open space area for fish to swim freely without bumping into something. Lighting and shading in an aquarium is another way of giving your animals options, as some would like to be near the surface, close to the light, while others prefer darkness--a prime example would be the plecostomus.

So, if there isn't enough décor/plants to provide a lot of darkness in one area of the tank, then simply filter out the lighting with black canvas mesh. Placing it on top of the screen, underneath the light, is the simplest way to do it, but it depends greatly on how your lighting is set up. If the light is just hanging over the tank, you may have to get fishing line and find a away to tie it under.

Warning: Plastic canvas mesh, like most flexible plastic, can melt at a certain degree, so be weary of having it too close to the light. I would give at least an inch of space between the light and the mesh, but be your own judge.

7. Adding Color

So this is basically the same as shading, only instead of adding black to simply darken an area in the tank, you are taking advantage of the array of colors this mesh comes in. This is pure aesthetics; it doesn't matter to the animal what color its surroundings are; this is just to add beauty to the tank, especially if you have a color theme. This is still shading, only lighter. And it can benefit the animal if it doesn't like particularly bright lights (e.g., the betta fish).

8. Climbing Material/Ramp

This is good gripping material, and because it is aquarium safe, it only makes sense to use it when making ramps for semi-aquatic animals such as crustaceans, amphibians, and turtles. With lightweight animals like hermit or fiddler crabs, the mesh alone should be enough to support them. Heavy animals, like turtles, will obviously need something sturdier, but the mesh can still be glued/tied on the surface of the ramp to serve its purpose. To the right is a perfect example of mesh serving not only as climbing material, but for land space as well (and from preventing the crabs from escaping through the HOB filter!).

Warning: When cutting plastic mesh intended for animals to use, be sure to cut evenly so there are no sharp plastic parts sticking out; this can scratch amphibians, fish, and tear those with long fins.

Random Uses for Plastic Canvas Mesh

A safe hideout for baby shrimp or baby dwarf crayfish.

Dee on July 24, 2020:

I made my Beta a hammock to rest in and he loves it i made sure there were no sharp edges and the wire to hang it is a jewelry one that wont rust

mariekbloch (author) on May 18, 2020:

I suppose, as long as there are no sharp edges that can snag their fins, or there is no way the fish can get tangled in it.

LNS on May 16, 2020:

Plastic canvas and acrylic yarn are both used in aquariums. In other hobbies they are used together to "build" decor. Could you use those techniques to diy decorations and such?

mariekbloch (author) on August 09, 2019:

I always wash off whatever I put in the tank. I doubt it was the mesh though. No, I've never had this issue.

Bcatelyn on July 30, 2019:

I recently divided two separate tanks with this canvas mesh and have since been experiencing cloudy water. Is this a common occurrence? If so what can I do?

Fish on April 25, 2019:

Walmart, Micheals and Joanna's carry it

mariekbloch (author) on July 28, 2014:

Well, Petco is not really a fish store; it's a pet store in general. They might have some, but if not look at your local fish/aquarium store. Good luck.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on July 26, 2014:

Wonderful! Next time I'm by a Petco, I'll stop in and see if they have any.

mariekbloch (author) on July 26, 2014:

Hello Ann, most fish stores have java moss. I don't believe fish will eat it.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on July 24, 2014:

I never knew there were so many uses for plastic canvas! I may try a few of these in my tanks. I love the Java moss. Do most fish stores carry it? Also, do you know if the fish like to eat it?


Be sure that the fish tank divider is firmly secured before adding fish to either side. The last thing you want is for two aggressive fish to meet in common waters injuring one another. It would also be a shame if the fish tank divider fell over on one or more of the aquarium’s inhabitants. Do not forget to provide food for each individual divide in the aquarium since food is most likely not to pass through each partition despite the unrestricted flow.

You're also welcome to visit following articles

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Eight Reasons Why Having a Pet Fish is Awesome

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by PetSmart through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about PetSmart, all opinions are my own.

Have you ever owned fish? My children have always wanted a pet, but both my husband and I are very allergic to dogs and cats. One day at a dinner event we were attending, our oldest daughter won a fish tank in a raffle. She and my husband were so excited that we stopped at PetSmart on the way home and bought our first pet fish.

We chose a Betta because they are so easy to care for, and they come in just so many amazing beautiful colors. The males are big and beautiful, while the females are smaller. You can even find baby ones that are teeny tiny.

Over the years we’ve had a few Bettas — from Harry Potter and Darth Vader to Inspector Catfish Neverclean and Flaming Hot Lips Cheeto. Flaming Hot Lips Cheeto was my favorite. He was a beautiful iridescent pearl color, but his lips were bright reddish orange. After we had him for a few months Cheeto’s color actually changed and the bright red orange started spreading throughout the rest of his body.

Bettas are very low-maintenance fish. However, they are also solitary fish and cannot be in the same tank with each other or they will fight to the death, so my husband devised a plan to separate our aquarium into two separate places. This way we could have two fish.

We used plastic canvas mesh from the craft store and plastic dividers and report covers from the office supply store. You can search for a DIY aquarium divider and find several different ways to make one. Currently, we have a 10-gallon aquarium tank and now have two Betta fish – a double tail male and a spade tail male with a DIY divider my husband made.

Just because you have Betta fish doesn’t mean you can’t add other aquatic life to your tank. We have Ghost Shrimp, which help clean the aquarium. Because they are somewhat invisible, they are very hard to find, so my kids love playing “Where’s the shrimp?” You can hunt for a long time before finding one.

A moss ball is something else you can have in the aquarium. Often times they are sold as a companion to Betta fish. Moss balls are great because they help keep the aquarium clean, they take in fish byproducts, and they add oxygen. Both moss balls and Ghost Shrimp require almost zero maintenance. You can find them at PetSmart.

My husband and our youngest daughter love to sit in front of the aquarium and just watch the shrimp and the fish. It’s very calming and relaxing, and it’s something they can do together.

There are so many reasons why having a pet fish is awesome:

  1. Fish are great starter pets, especially for children to learn responsibility.
  2. Fish are very calming. Watching a fish swim through the water is very tranquil and relaxing.
  3. You don’t have to worry about a fish making too much noise like a barking dog.
  4. Adding a fish tank to your home space is a great way to add decor.
  5. You could train your fish to do tricks! (We had one Betta that could swim through a hoop for a treat.)
  6. You get to decorate your fish’s tank just the way you want!
  7. It’s so much fun to give your new pet fish a “cool” name! How many dogs and cats have a name like Flaming Hot Lips Cheeto?
  8. Best of all? Fish don’t need to be walked!

If you’re considering getting a pet fish, PetSmart is your go-to place for fish supplies, aquariums, and food & care products.

Dividing Aquarium: Why & How?

Whether it’s due to aggression, territorialism or just plain old size difference it’s pretty safe to say anyone who keeps more than one non-schooling fish in a tank for a long time is going to need to separate them somewhere along the line. Many people don’t have the room or the funds for a specific tank for this purpose and that’s when alternative techniques come into play.

When dividing tanks one of two approaches can be taken ‘physical’ OR ‘behavioural’. The idea of this article is to familiarise you with techniques form both of these approaches and the situations in which they should be used.

Reasons to Divide a Tank
First off let’s discuss the reasons for dividing fish as this will help decide which approach to take

Aggression Aggression in aquariums happens for many reasons the main being that the fish just don’t get along either because their species are not compatible or just as common their personalities clash. Two scenarios in which this aggression could occur are fish such as gouramis and betas (who exhibit aggression towards each other consistently) or a convict who just doesn’t like other fish because that’s just the way he is.

Territorialism Territorialism or a fishes need to have its own or their own (in the case of a breeding pair) space, in which no other fish are allowed, is also one of the major reasons for separating fish. This is often seen in the case of breeding pairs who in an attempt to protect their young protect their breeding site.

Size difference bigger fish will if they are inclined, eat smaller fish so if you want the smaller fish to keep on swimming you might just need to separate them.
How to Divide a Tank
Now that we know WHY to separate fish, let’s talk about HOW to do it. As stated earlier, their are basically two techniques. These are

‘Physical’ or the inserting an actual barrier to separate the tank into two separate areas. Physical separation can be used in all of the above situations

‘behavioural’ or the act of using the fishes natural behaviour to effectively divide the tank by ‘separating’ the tank using decor and substrate to define ‘boarders’ allowing fish to establish different territories. Which is used in situations such as a breeding couple, territorial fish (remembering every tank is different), but is usually unsuitable for unbridled aggression and size difference.
We will start by addressing physical separation techniques, physical techniques are arguably the most useful as they can be applied to any scenario. Physical dividers consist of a dividing surface and a method of attachment. To familiarise you with the techniques used in physical tank division I’ll run through all of the popular dividing surfaces and the popular attachment techniques.

Dividing surfaces
The biggest and most important part of a physical divider is the dividing surface. There are a few choices when it comes to dividing surfaces. There are also many things to consider when deciding on which to use keep in mind the size of the fish, the size of the tank, the ability for water to flow and be filtered and the transition of heat throughout the tank. There are tried and proven dividing surfaces, the main three being egg crate, plastic canvas and plexiglass each of which has its advantages and disadvantages and suitable uses.

Egg crate is cheap and easy to work with, it is also very effective. Egg crate is a ‘large mesh’ made of plastic, and is available at all INSERT PLACE. Simply cut to shape and attach to the inside of the tank to effectively divide it (attaching dividing surfaces will be discussed later). It is easy due to its structure to link multiple sheets of egg crate together or attack things to it.

Plastic Canvas is the little brother of egg crate, it is a finer mesh available at art and craft stores.

Plexiglass is exactly that a pane plexiglass cut to size and holes drilled into it. It has a few advantages over egg crate it’s sturdier, harder to see and the sizes of its holes are customisable, this is where the advantages end. Plexiglass is harder to work with, requiring power tools and some level of technical knowhow it also has very limited options in attachment techniques. Due to this it is rarely used as a divider, only in cases when a stronger divider is needed.

Attachment Techniques
Attachment techniques are the way in which you connect the dividing surface to the tank itself. Much like the dividing surface many variables must be taken into account when deciding on which attachment technique is to be used in a specific tank, the main two being wether the barrier is to be permanent or not and the strength of the fish involved, after all you wouldn’t hold a bull pen together with twine.

The first, and simplest, attachment technique is ‘propping’. This is when you simply cut the dividing surface to size and use the substrate/decorations and the sides of the tank to prop up the dividing surface. ‘Propping’ obviously isn’t permanent. It is also unsuitable for use with plastic canvas (as it bends). Propping should only be used in tanks containing fish that do not posses the strength to disturb the dividing surface. It is the most unsafe attachment technique.

Rubber tubing
The use of rubber tubing is in-fact an improvement on the ‘propping’ technique. It’s a simple concept the dividing surface is cut to size and two pieces of rubber tubing are slit down the side and the edges of the divider placed inside them. The divider is then inserted into the tank (the rubber sides holding it up and preventing the dividing surface from scratching the tank’s glass. This technique is suitable for use with all of the dividing surfaces, and all but the strongest fish.

Framing is yet another improvement on the original ‘propping’ concept. The general idea is a frame (consisting of a square frame around the dividing surface and a structure that allows it to be free standing). For the dividing surfaces that are net like in structure (egg crate and plastic canvas) this can be connected with cable ties (or zip ties), for plexiglass (if truck ties cant be fitted to the drilled holes) you have to be a little more creative. Plexiglass may be connected to a frame but cutting slits into the PVC and fitting the plexiglass within. When uncovered PVC frames can be unsightly but using substrate and careful décor placement, PVC frames can be almost completely hidden. Depending on how wide the stand part of the frame is it may be impossible for a fish to move it, making the framing technique the strongest of techniques (along side silicon) and subsequently not only suitable for all dividing surfaces but also for all fish, commonly kept in our aquariums.

Suction cups
They hold your heater in place, they hold your thermometer in place, why shouldn’t they hold your divider in place? Suction cups are a good attachment technique, they can be attached to dividing surfaces with truck ties or wire and allow them to be stuck to any glass surface. The power of multiple suction cups make them suitable for most tanks (excluding ridiculously strong fish e.g. pacu).

Silicon is the most permanent attachment technique and along with framing one of the best in terms of strength and stability. When a tank is destined to be forever divided a permanent solution, that is to say silicon is the best route to take. Not only is the use of silicon one of the most reliable techniques it is the neatest and most ‘professional’ looking. The colour of silicon can be matched to that of the tank joins and with good workmanship it may be almost unrecognisable as an ‘aftermarket’ edition.

Once the aspects of the specific tank are taken into consideration and the dividing surface and attachment technique selected it’s a simple matter of assembling the divider and inserting it into the tank.

Now onto behavioural division, it is not as cut and dry as physical separation it often takes more than one try for the separation to work, this makes using behavioural division less convenient when compared to physical division. Behavioural separation relies on a fish’s basic instinct to create a divide within the tank, by allowing each fish to claim its own clear territory, but as we have all seen a fish’s behaviour is often unpredictable and this adds to the problems associated with behavioural division. There are two different techniques when dividing a tank using a fish’s behaviour and depending on which species of fish you are stocking the way you go about it differs, there are two types of behavioural division one which uses structure to create the boundaries and one which uses space to create the boundaries.

Using Structure
Using structure to create boundaries is like using walls to mark your property the fish’s territories consist of open spaces with ‘walls’ separating these spaces. ‘Walls’ can be made from anything from rocks to plants. This technique is most effective for non-cichlids.

Using space
Using space to create boundaries is like the ‘no-mans land’ that marks the boundry between two trenches. The fish’s territories consist of décor and substrate formations between which there are areas of open space. This technique is the most commonly used on Oscarfish as it is the most effective technique for use with cichlid species.

Using cover (caves and plants)
There is a third behavioural ‘separation’ technique, that is, the use of cover. This is the only behavioural ‘separation’ technique suitable for use in SOME cases of unbridled aggression and size difference (always remember EVERY TANK IS DIFFERENT and while it is suitable in some cases it is still much safer to use a physical separation technique). The general idea is to provide an area for the less aggressive/dangerous fish to retreat to when being attacked/intimidated, of course you must take the size, strength, species, and speed of both fish involved into consideration. Giving a betta some plants in a jaguar tank isn’t going to keep it alive, but in the case of an Oscar and some fast dithers you would have much better results.

Medical assistance (hospital tanks and their benefits)
Hospital tanks aren’t really a tank division but they are a handy tool in fish keeping, and so I’ve decided to give them a brief mention. The basic idea is a smaller tank in which a fish can be placed while they heal. This protects them from dangers such as aggression or infection by other fish, and allows treatment to be performed easier and for less money (as there is a smaller quantity of water there is less medication used). Important points to remember when setting up a hospital tank Filtration must be considered (full mechanical and biological filtration must occur to prevent dangerous chemicals from occurring in the water column), many keep cycled media to use in such a situation. Remember when using hospital tanks water changes, water changes, water changes! As a hospital tank holds less water than the original tank, nitrates build up more quickly. Finally there is no need to decorate a hospital tank, your fish definitely won’t care, and all it will achieve is wasted space which instead should be dedicated to much needed water.

Not really a method of tank division, because it involves a seperate tank. But sometimes, no matter what you do, two fish simply may not coexist. When this happens, the only option is to place the fish into different tanks. For those of us hardcore enthusiast with spare tanks laying around, this is not a big issue. For most, however, this involves returning a fish to the LFS, finding a new home, or purchasing an additional tank. For extreme cases, where one fish’s life is in danger because of aggression, there are various “storage containers” (Rubbermaid makes some excellent ones) that are inexpensive and make fanatastic temporary tanks.

Plastic Canvas - Types, Counts, Weights, and More

Plastic canvas is a craft material of lightweight plastic with a grid of holes, much like embroidery canvas ( Aida cloth ). It is also called vinyl weave, vinyl Aida, and plastic canvas mesh. Plastic canvas is available with different sized holes (indicated by the count listed on the packaging), to accommodate different thicknesses of yarn. You can also find plastic canvas in multiple colors (white or clear are the most common though), as well as shapes, such as circles , ovals , hearts , stars , squares , crosses , and rectangles .

Watch the video: cheap DIY aquarium filter setup

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