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Clove oil alternative - DIY 2023-08-05

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  • Author Fishfur
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Sometimes it’s necessary to put a fish down to save it from suffering. It’s not fun but sometimes it’s the only kindness we can offer a fish. Usually we use clove oil but what if you can’t get it when you need it?

Though it’s not that hard to find when you look, sometimes fish keepers can find themselves in situations where they they need clove oil more quickly than an online source can deliver it, or for them to find it locally, or for any other reason.

But clove spice should be easy to find - you may already have it in the spice cupboard. If not, a package of ground or whole cloves will be enough for a small fish though if you have a much larger fish, you may need quite a bit more than that.

You will be making an infusion from it, or a tea if you prefer.

You need to make a strong infusion because eugenol, which is the compound in cloves that anesthetizes fish and can kill fish, most unfortunately isn’t very soluble in water. It’s soluble in alcohol but the alcohol would hurt the fish and we don’t want to hurt the fish. So we’re stuck using boiling water.

Mind you, the eugenol in clove oil isn’t any more soluble. The infusion isn’t a particularly exact process but you can count on needing to use a lot more of this infusion than you would ever need if you had the oil.

Use boiling water, not merely hot water, as the heat helps a little bit with the extraction. Genuine clove oil is made using steam distillation and temperatures at least double the boiling point of water.

The only downside to this is that it needs to steep, ideally at least overnight, so you can’t use it immediately. But if you make it tonight you can use it tomorrow morning.

If you‘re in a big hurry you might try doubling or tripling (or even more) the amount of cloves and boil the brew on the stove ( that might be quite potent odour wise) and hope that a few hours of steeping while it cools will extract enough eugenol to do the necessary task.

The original method called only for steeping the brew as you might with ordinary tea, but boiling it for a few minutes on the stove top may be useful to extract more eugenol. Since I have no way to measure eugenol content, that is a judgement call and up to you. It is likely to be very pungent if you do boil it for a bit, particularly if you’re making an extra strength infusion.


Either a SS saucepan or a brewing container made of heat resistant glass or plastic or stainless steel and boiling water. Using distilled or RO water may be better but use what you’ve got in the tap if that’s what you have.

The container needs to be one you can cover and seal up tightly, to keep the brew from making your entire home reek of cloves, though that point may be moot if you choose to boil your infusion.

You may need a storage jar if you plan to try to keep it for a little while.

It can be stored in the fridge for a week or so and I see no reason why you could not freeze it to have handy for the future, though I’d only expect it to last a few months in the freezer. It would need to be very tightly sealed so it could not impart flavour to other foods in the freezer and the same in the fridge.

For the average batch I’d use at least one or two ounces of cloves & cover them with about an inch or so of boiling water.

Since we know the eugenol isn’t very soluble we have to use a fair bit of clove spice to ensure the desired result.

If you get whole cloves it would be best if you can grind them up before use. See below for an image of whole cloves, just in case you’ve never seen them.

If you choose to cook this on the stove, you’ll need to pour it into something you can seal tightly, like a canning jar.

If you brew it in the container like tea, once the water is added, seal it up tightly,

Set aside to cool off. It’ll be ready to use in 12 hours.

Just in case I didn’t make it clear, cloves are really pungent so if you’re sensitive to strong odours, you might want to do this outside if you can or maybe wear a mask.


You need a reasonable idea of how much water is in the euthanasia bath with the fish - is it a pint, a quart, 500 ml or a litre, whatever it is - you don’t need to be super precise but you should be close.

To use clove oil itself, you add one drop to about 1.5 - 2 oz ( 45-60 mls) of tank water in a sealed container and shake it very hard. It’ll look cloudy whitish after that.

Add about 1/4 of the oil/water mix to the euthanasia bath.

For the infusion you need to use more and I’d start with 2.5 ml of the infusion in about 30 mls (1 oz) of water and shake that hard and add a quarter of it to the bath.

Now you watch the fish. Most of them don’t seem to notice the cloves and as it takes effect the fish should roll onto its side and start breathing more slowly and then sink. If this does not happen within about 10 miinutes, you need to add more of the infusion to the bath.

You can use a dropper or syringe to add additional millilitres at a time until the fish does sink to the bottom and lies without moving and breathing very slowly - only once every few seconds.

Once it’s doing that it is asleep and unaware of anything.

At this point, you can either add a lot more clove infusion and then wait a few hours to be absolutely sure the fish has stopped breathing before you dispose of the body, or you can add alcohol for a very quick ending. The fish won’t know the difference.

If you use alcohol, you need to use roughly 25% of the volume of the euthanasia bath.

For an example, if the bath contains a litre of water (1000ml) then you’d add about 250 ml (1 cup) of alcohol to the bath and then wait about 20 minutes. There should be no sign of gill movement and if that’s the case then the fish has passed away.

The usual advice is to use Vodka (ethanol) but if you have rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) you can use it instead. The fish is anesthetized and will not feel or know about the alcohol - you could even use methanol if you had to - it’s a lot more poisonous than either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, but if it’s what you have, you can use it.

It’s always sad when we have to put a fish down but at least we can spare them pain and a lingering death and this way, not having clove oil on hand does not have to mean you can’t do this last service for your fish.

Image is a free DL from Whole cloves - Free Stock Image
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Latest reviews

  • bumblinBee
  • 5.00 star(s)
  • Version: 2023-08-05
Informative, well-written, and something I sorely needed a few years back when I couldn't get my hands on clove oil anywhere. Only thing I can recommend would be to supplement the article with some videos as a visual aid, but the instructions are clear and concise regardless.
  • NeonTetra1
  • 5.00 star(s)
  • Version: 2023-08-05
Very informative, this will be helpful in the future for me and other people!
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