By Peter Hartono

Algal growth in the aquarium is a common problem for many hobbyists. As long as the conditions in your tank are right to promote the growth and proliferation of algae, this problem will continue to bug you. Abundant light and nutrients from food that you give your fish on a regular basis as well as waste particles in the tank are ideal in paving the way for algae to proliferate in your tank.

Get Rid of Aquarium Algae the Natural Way - Snail & Cory
Once the algae is gone, you’ll need to supplement the diet of algae eaters.

Algae are sources of food for some tank inhabitants, however there are harmful species of algae that can threaten the aquarium’s balanced ecosystem. The presence of algae will also create a dent in the aesthetic beauty of your aquascape.

Some of the common problems linked to algal growth include:

• Reduction of the amount of light that enters the tank thereby reducing the quantity that is available to plants or corals.
• Alter the water pH in the tank.
• Can grow on rocks, decorations, and most importantly on the filter intake and outtake which can interfere in the filtration system.
• Can grow on power heads thus reducing the flow
• Can grow on the tank’s plants or coral and reduce their ability to undergo photosynthesis.
• Can also compete with decorative macro algae species for nutrients, space, and other growth factors

How do you get rid of algae and keep it from growing in your tank?

An effective way of killing algae is to use a commercial algaecide. This method has been shown to kill ALL species of algae including the beneficial ones. Many of these commercial preparations are copper-based, which is bad news for invertebrates since copper can kill them. This is especially true for marine or reef tanks which are laden with all sorts of micro-fauna, snails, shrimps, and amphipods. However, this may not be as much of a problem in freshwater tanks. Algaecide has also been shown to reduce the amount of oxygen available for inhabitants in your tank.

The good news is there are natural ways to get rid of algae in your tank.

1. Light reduction
This is achieved by reducing the amount of time the light is turned on or by wattage reduction. Aside from starving the algae of precious light source, you can also save on electricity. However, if you have a planted tank, reduced light may compromise your plant’s growth. Corals in reef tanks also require light to grow and thrive.

2. Food reduction
Reducing the amount of food that you give your fish may also be a solution to algal growth. Make sure though that your fish is still receiving enough food that they need each day. This method will help you save on fish food, however there are some fish species that require frequent feedings several times a day. In reef tanks, less food means fewer leftovers for the tank’s scavengers like the hermit crabs and worms. Scarcity of food may cause them to nip corals or attack fish.

3. Frequent water changes
Although this is a good idea, too frequent changes present several disadvantages including altering the amount of essential elements in the water as well as reducing the population of beneficial bacteria. You will also be spending more money on salt mix if you have a marine tank. Frequent water changes can also become a tiresome chore especially with big tanks.

4. Make sure your filter or protein skimmer are working well
Having right equipment in your aquarium can make all the difference, especially in regards to aquarium filters or protein skimmers. A low quality filter or the wrong filter can set you back several bucks when you have to buy a better replacement.

Get Rid of Aquarium Algae the Natural Way - Suckermouth Catfish
Some fish have a “suckermouth” designed to scrape off algae, like this Albino Longfin Bristlenose Pleco.

5. Add natural aquarium cleaners
There are various species of freshwater and saltwater scavengers that you can use to help clear your tank of excess algae and leftover food. However, be careful when choosing tank scavengers that you will put in for some of these tank cleaners can cause more trouble than benefits.

I. Freshwater Scavengers and Algae-eating Fish
1. Cory Catfish
Bottom-dwelling scavengers
Can be kept with other known peaceful fish species

2. Loaches
Not all species are suitable as scavengers
Recommended species include Kuhli Loaches, Dojo Loaches, Dwarf Loaches, Sucker Loaches. Sucker Loaches are known to nip other fish when mature; in the absence of algae, they have been observed to latch onto flat-bodied tank mates.

3. Chinese Algae Eaters
They are sucker-mouthed bottom feeders
Great for scraping algae from flat surfaces
Editor’s note: CAE’s are often aggressive when they reach adult size.

4. Pictus Catfish (also called Antenna Catfish)
Thrives best in groups of three or four in a planted and landscaped tank

5. Redfin Prochilodus
Aside from being scavengers, they add color to your tank

6. Plecostomus Catfish (commonly known as Plecos)
Dedicated algae eaters and the most popular of the catfish species

Editor’s Note:  Other freshwater algae eaters include snails, P. siamensis (Siamese Algae Eaters), Mollies, Ameca Splendens, Otocinclus, American Flagfish and some species of African Cichlids.

II. Freshwater Shrimps

1. Bamboo Shrimp
Their limbs have bristle-like structures that can trap and filter food

2. Blue Crayfish
Best kept as a lone scavenger in a tank with a large, fast fish species

3. Prawns (long-armed)
Best kept with large fish species however avoid grouping with long-finned species of fish

III. Crabs

1. Hermit crabs
Make sure to provide larger shells where your hermit crab can move into as they grow in size

2. Arrow Crabs
Keep as lone scavenger in a tank
Don’t mix with other crabs, shrimp or small/medium-sized fish

3. Fiddler Crabs
Can be kept singly or with other Fiddler crabs

4. Sally Lightfoot Crabs
Do best when housed with larger fish
Quite shy and needs time to adjust to a new environment

Get Rid of Aquarium Algae the Natural Way - Sailfin Mollies
A lot of freshwater fish will feed on algae, such as Sailfin Mollies.

IV. Saltwater Fish

1. Blenny (particularly the bicolor blenny)
Bottom scavengers

2. Butterfly fish
Not too reliable as a tank cleaner for they require a mixed diet

3. Sturgeon and Tang
May have to be fed with vegetable-based food to supplement their diet when algae is not available

4. Wrasse and hogfish
Pick parasites from fish particularly when they are still juveniles

5. Goby
Bottom dwelling scavengers
Live well with shrimps
Compete with fish for food
Ideal only for mature reef system

V. Saltwater Snails

1. Turbo Snails
Surface feeders
Good glass cleaners but not ideal for rough surfaces

VI. Saltwater Shrimp

1. Coral Banded
Notorious scavengers
Aggressive toward very small fish and other species of shrimp
Ideal to keep only one

2. Cleaner Shrimp
Best kept in community tanks
They pick off parasites from fishes

3. Red or Fire Shrimp
Used occasionally for parasite control because they eat the protozoan parasite that causes ich.
Best kept singly with large fish species

VII. Other Saltwater Scavengers

1. Sea Urchins (recommended: Pink Pin Cushion Urchin)
Stay away from some species of sea urchins with venomous spines
Favorite meal of the Triggerfish

2. Starfish and Brittle Stars
Bottom scavengers
Some species have been known to attack or eat invertebrates and sleeping fish

Author Bio
Peter Hartono is the online marketing executive of Just Aquatic.

✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Prevention and Treatment of Aquarium Fish Parasites

Naturally Enhance the Color of Aquarium Fish
Benefits of Montmorillonite Clay for Pond and Aquarium Fish


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3 thoughts on “How to Get Rid of Aquarium Algae the Natural Way

  1. Nice to know there are so many alternatives. I tried the algae killer stuff once and the fish didn’t look very happy even after water change.

  2. That’s true, I only have the hard glass algae in my molly tank but the rest have different kinds of algae. I can’t put mollies in my African tank but maybe one of the more aggressive eaters will do the trick!

  3. Wow, great job. Now you need to write one for ponds so mine doesn’t look like green soup!

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