Algae eaters have long been an integral part of the aquarium-keeping hobby for balancing the natural ecosystem we are all trying to replicate by selecting the Best Algae Eater For Freshwater Aquarium.
Due to their expertise in algae removal coupled with their quirky looks and habits, they are glorious additions to your aquatic family. From fish, to shrimp, to snails; we will cover our favorites for eating algae in your tank.
Looking for a clean-up crew to help control the growth of algae in your freshwater aquarium?
In this article, you’re going to learn how to choose the best algae eater for your aquarium, as well as discovering my favourite algae eaters for your tank.
Learn how to choose a new clean-up crew for your tank. Because of how important these fish are to your aquarium, it is essential that you learn how they can naturally clean up your system so you can stay away from harsh chemicals.
How To Choose the Best Algae Eater For Freshwater Aquarium
First, we should probably discuss a basic but important question: what is an algae eater?
Most people have only a very general idea of what algae-eaters are, typically only associating the term with just one or two very popular species. Instead, “algae-eaters” should be understood to describe a rather large group of fish and invertebrates, each with their own specific needs and requirements for your tank type.
How to select the Best Algae Eater For Freshwater Aquarium:
Besides looking at the water parameters that a given fish can survive and, hopefully, thrive in, it’s necessary to consider other important facets of a tank’s ecosystem and its inhabitants.
Activity and Aggression Levels of Tank Mates: This is a very important question to ask. Do your current fish or critters mesh well with your chosen algae eater?
Oxygenation Levels: What are the oxygenation levels in your tank? Pick an algae eater that matches the same requirements as your existing ecosystem.
Speed of Current: Some algae eaters like lots of current but, for others, it’s kind of stressful. Does your speed of current rule out any algae eating critters?
Density of Foliage/Hardscape: What density of foliage and hardscape do you currently have in your tank? How will that affect a potential algae eater?
Be very careful in your research of algae-eaters to make sure that you are creating a match made in aquarium heaven.In deciding which type of algae-eater to add to your tank, it’s important to consider the personalities and husbandry needs of your current tank inhabitants as well as the algae-eater you’re looking to add to your aquarium.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to algae-eating solutions for an aquarium.
Luckily, most commercially available algae-eaters can thrive within a wide range of water parameters. Assuming you keep your water quality clean and stable, you’ll mainly just have to focus on making sure that the different personalities for your aquatic citizens mesh well together.
Whether you want to learn more about starting a new aquarium or just more advanced nuances to clean your system for better tank photography, this article will explain our favorite options.
Best Algae Eater For Freshwater Aquarium
1. Bristlenose Plecostomus (Bristlenose plecos)
Bristlenose plecos are a great addition to most aquariums. These weird little guys only grow to be around 4in long, allowing them to fit into most medium-sized community aquariums. This makes them a valuable alternative to the very common “Sucker Fish” (Hypostomus Plecostomus) that grows to almost two feet long.
On top of their impressive algae-eating abilities, they’re capable of being quite the conversation starter. Males develop large whiskery growths on their faces, something that seems appropriate for an aquatic janitor.
They’re also commonly available in different color varieties, namely gold or albino. This means that they can be quite the dramatic addition to an aquarium. This particular pleco alge-eater will do well in aquariums that have driftwood and plenty of hiding spots.
2. Siamese Algae Eater
Siamese algae eaters are the algae-eating powerhouses of the fishkeeping world. Their generally peaceful nature and ability to eat and control a wide range of algae (including the dreaded Black Beard algae) makes them an asset to almost any aquarium. These guys are particularly ravenous.
Not only will they eat some of the least appetizing forms of algae, they’ll also help control flatworm populations and eat leftover detritus in the aquarium. They also do extremely well in planted aquariums because they’re not known to typically damage the plants when grazing for algae.
3. Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese algae eaters have been around the aquarium trade for a while. Though they aren’t necessarily the best algae-eaters available, they do offer something that our previously mentioned species don’t.
Although Chinese algae eaters can be docile enough to be kept in a community tank when they’re adolescents, they become much more aggressive as they age. This obviously means that they shouldn’t be kept in community tanks, but this might actually be an advantage for some fish-keepers.
These particular suckerfish get on the larger side (in terms of the fish presented here today), reaching about 10in or so. Their large size and agility make them one of the few algae-eaters that can survive with larger semi-aggressive fish or in certain African cichlid tank setups.
4. Otocinclus Catfish
These algae-eating catfish are one of the best species in the trade, hands-down. These are the smallest species in this article, only getting up to 1.5in or so. This and their very calm demeanor make them perfect for most community tanks. These guys do best in groups are do remarkably well in planted aquariums.
They will not harm the plants and are particularly good at removing brown algae and general new algae growth before it gets a chance to take hold in the tank.
5. Twig Catfish
Twig catfish are one of the best catfish algae-eaters in the hobby and are slowly becoming more and more available. They readily accept a variety of foods and quickly clear a tank of any green algae. However, out of all the algae-eating fish discussed in this article, this particular species requires the most care.
They need to be in an aquarium that has high oxygen levels and a bit of a current, not to mention pristine water-quality. And, because of their shy nature, they must be kept with accommodating species that won’t out-compete them for food. Assuming your aquarium meets these requirements, a twig catfish would make an interesting and useful addition to your tank.
Mollies, platys, and guppies are readily available within the aquarium trade.
A lot of community tanks feature these fellows already because of their ability to rapidly reproduce. Fortunately, these fish are also helpful in taking care of hair algae.
Also known as the bristlenose catfish, this species is named for the whisker-like projections on its snout.
These fish are easy to care for, though they do grow to a length around 5 inches. Bristlenose plecos are compatible with most peaceful species and they will tolerate a range of tank conditions.
However, they prefer a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with slightly hard to slightly soft water.
The minimum recommended tank size is 20 gallons and they generally require supplemental feeding with algae wafers, though they will feed on green spot algae.
10. Mollies (Scientific Name: Poecilia Sphenops)
Though they may not feed on algae as some of the other fish on this list, mollies and other livebearers will feed on algae from time to time if it is available.
Other livebearers you might consider are swordtails and platies.
Swordtails are unique because they come in a variety of different colors and you can tell the sexes apart because males have a long sword-like projection at the base of their tail. Platies also come in many different colors and patterns.
Mollies and other livebearers are very peaceful fish and they do well in community tanks at least 20 gallons in size, or larger depending how many you have.
On average, mollies grow 2 to 4 inches in length and they prefer a pH between 7.5 and 8.5.
Mollies can also do well in slightly brackish conditions, so consider adding a little aquarium salt to your tank (but always consider others in your tank before adding anything).
One thing to keep in mind with mollies and other livebearers is that they reproduce quickly – make sure you have enough space to accommodate them.
What Are The Best Algae-Eating Snails?
1. Mystery Snail
Mystery snails, a smaller species of Apple snail, are a very popular snail that can be found at almost any local fish store. These snails are true detrivores and will helpfully eat different types of algae, decaying plant matter, and leftover fish food.
Mystery snails are one of the larger snail species in this article, but they still only top out at around 2in, making them a sure bet for smaller community tanks as well as larger ones.
2. Nerite Snail
Nerite snails are in high-demand within the pet trade.
They come in a variety of colors and patterns and, unlike most other snails, will not breed in the aquarium. Nerites are intense algae grazers, willing to eat almost any type of algae while not harming any live plants within the aquarium.
3. Malaysian Trumpet Snail
This particular species of snail is practically required for any planted aquarium.
These snails are prized for their tendency to scavenge for food underneath aquarium substrate. They are detrivores and will eat plant and protein matter found underneath the substrate while also coming out to eat soft algae.
Their drive to look for food underneath the substrate effectively makes them plow the soil, so to speak, aerating it for live plants. The only drawback is that this species of snail will very quickly and rapidly breed within the aquarium if food is abundant.
4. Nerite Snail (Scientific Name: Neritina Sp.)
Known for the zebra-like pattern on their shells, nerite snails are one of the most popular species of algae-eating snails.
These snails eat every type of algae, even the tougher types like green spot algae, and they work very quickly.
One thing to be mindful of is that these snails have a hard time turning over if they should fall on their back, so be careful when handling them.
Nerite snails grow to just over an inch in length so they are fairly small – this means you need to be careful about keeping them with large and predatory fish.
These snails prefer a pH between 6.5 and 8.5 with a KH in the 12 to 18 range. They can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures from 65°F to 85°F, so they can adapt to the conditions already in your tank.
5. Ramshorn Snail (Scientific Name: Planorbidae)
Named for the shape of their shell (it is shaped like a ram’s horn), these snails feed on a variety of different types of algae as well as uneaten fish food and decaying plant matter.
They do not, however, eat live plants and they do well with smaller and more peaceful species of fish – they can become a target for cichlids, loaches, and other predatory fish.
Ramshorn snails grow up to an inch in size and they prefer neutral tank water around 7.0 pH. They can be kept singly, with other ramshorn snails, or with nerite snails.
Ramshorn snails come in two primary color schemes – black and red. The red coloration is a bright red and it is interesting to note that their skin is the same color as their blood.
6. Mystery Apple Snail (Scientific Name: Pomacea Bridgesii)
Because they are typically sold as babies, many people do not realize just how large the mystery apple snail can grow (up to the size of a baseball).
These snails come in various colors, though bright yellow is the most common, and they feed on most types of algae. Their favorites, however, are plant algae, glass algae, and substrate algae.
Mystery apple snails are able to fend for themselves, though they may be a target for predatory fish when they are very small.
They prefer warmer tank water and they will feed on live plants, so make sure you give them supplemental feeding if you keep them in a planted tank.
One of the smallest algae eaters on this list, the Malaysian trumpet snail grows under 1 inch in length.
These snails have long shells that come to a point and they can be found in a variety of different colors. Malaysian trumpet snails feed on several different types of algae, but they don’t feed on plants, so they’re a safe addition to your planted tank.
Malaysian trumpet snails need at least 10 gallons for tank size and prefer a pH between 7.0 and 7.5. They are very easy to care for and do well in community tanks with peaceful species, though be careful because they reproduce quickly.
This species of snail also tends to plow through the substrate in search of food, so be careful about keeping them with rooted plants.
The rabbit snail is one of the larger species of algae-eating snails, growing up to 5 inches in length.
These snails have long, pointed shells similar to the Malaysian trumpet snail and they come in various shades of yellow and brown.
This species generally doesn’t feed on live aquarium plants with the exception of java fern, so be mindful of that.
Rabbit snails need at least 30 gallons of tank size and they prefer slightly cooler water temperatures between 68°F and 74°F.
These snails are moderately easy to care for and they prefer a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with a KH between 2 and 15.
Rabbit snails consume decaying plant matter and other detritus in addition to algae and they do reproduce in the home aquarium, but not very quickly.
Algae Hungry Freshwater Shrimp For Your Tank
Freshwater shrimp make an excellent addition to the “cleanup crew” in your tank.
Not only do they feed on detritus like uneaten fish food and decaying plant matter, but some species will also feed on algae.
Just be careful about adding shrimp to your tank because larger fish may eat them.
What Are The Best Algae-Eating Shrimp?
1. Cherry Shrimp
These little aquatic rubies are one of the most popular ornamental shrimp species widely available.
They’re pretty hardy if their water conditions are kept stable and will easily breed within the aquarium. Cherry shrimp are great at eating different types of hair algae and will also eat leftover fish food.
They come in a variety of colors (though a bright red is the most common) and make beautiful tank mates if kept with smaller fish that won’t hunt them.
2. Amano Shrimp
Amano shrimp are the best algae-eating shrimp species.
Their larger size (2in) makes them better able to defend themselves in community tanks, setting them apart from the Cherry shrimp. This species is great at eating various types of soft algae as well as decaying plant matter and some leftover fish food.
These shrimp are easy to care for and because they only grow up to 2 inches in length, they can be kept in fairly small aquariums.
Amano shrimp require soft to slightly hard water in the 6.5 to 7.5 pH range. They also prefer warmer water temperatures between 72°F and 78°F, though they are adaptable as long as their other needs are met.
This species does well in groups of three or more and they can be kept in tanks with small to medium-sized peaceful fish, though they may be a target for large and aggressive fish like cichlids and goldfish.
In addition to feeding on algae, these shrimps will also feed on uneaten fish food and other detritus.
Named for their bright red color, cherry shrimp are a great addition to your freshwater cleanup crew, but they are also ornamental.
These shrimp do best in groups of 2 to 4 can they can be kept in tanks at least 10 gallons in capacity. They prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0 and a KH of 3 to 10 with a wide temperature range between 60°F and 80°F.
Cherry shrimp are easy to care for as long as they have algae to feed on, though they may consume other detritus as well.
This species tends to thrive in planted tanks and they can get along with other peaceful tank inhabitants, though they may become prey for larger and carnivorous fish like puffers and loaches. It is best to keep them with smaller fish.
Aptly named for their see-through bodies, ghost shrimp are not quite as effective as amano shrimp or cherry shrimp in the algae-eating department, but they will certainly help if you have an algae problem.
Though their bodies are transparent, they have an orange or yellow spot in the middle of the tail that makes them easy to identify.
Ghost shrimp grow up to 2 inches in length and they are easy to care for in a 10-gallon tank with a temperature range of 68°F to 85°F, a KH between 3 and 10, and a pH between 6.5 and 8.0.
These shrimp are peaceful by nature and they make excellent scavengers for a community tank when kept with other small and non-aggressive species.
Bamboo shrimp are reddish-brown in color with a white stripe. These shrimps grow between 2 and 3 inches in length, so they’re one of the larger species of algae-eating shrimp on this list.
They require a tank size of at least 20 gallons with a pH between 7.0 and 7.5, slightly hard water, and high water quality.
Bamboo shrimp are fairly easy to care for as long as they have plenty of algae and detritus to feed on, though you may still want to supplement their feeding with crushed algae wafers just in case.
These shrimp are peaceful by nature so they do well in the community tank, though they may become prey to larger and carnivorous species.
Generally speaking, however, they do fine with smaller fish.
What To Consider Before Choosing One For Your Aquarium
Before choosing an algae eater for your tank there are several things you need to consider. First and foremost, what kind of algae do you have in your tank?
If you are dealing with a specific type of algae, your best bet is to choose an algae eater that will feed on that type of algae.
For tanks with more large-scale algae problems, it may help to add two or three different types of algae eater to your tank (as long as they’re able to live with each other).
But what are the different types of algae you might find in your tank?
Here’s a quick overview:
Hair algae – Also known as filamentous or thread algae, hair algae is light green and grows in wispy filaments. It grows quickly and attaches to any tank surface.
Brown algae – Also known as diatoms, brown algae are single-celled algae that is brown in color. This algae starts out as a dusting over tank surfaces then turns into a thick mat over the course of several days.
Brown slime algae – Also known as dinoflagellates, brown slime algae is symbiotic – it provides nutrients for invertebrates like snails but can also take over the tank.
Blue green algae – Also known as cyanobacteria, blue green algae is actually pinkish-red in color, in most cases. It is single-celled and starts with a spot or two but quickly spreads.
Black beard algae – Often dark purple or black in color, black beard algae usually grows on aquarium plants.
Green spot algae – This type of algae grows in tanks with bright lighting and it can be hard to remove. It typically grows on tank walls and slow-growing plants.
Green algae – This type of algae is also known as an algae bloom and it can happen if you do not let your tank cycle properly or if the lighting is too bright.
When it comes to the best algae eater, there is no one-size-fits-all.
The truth is, the algae eater that’s best for your tank will depend on the factors discussed above – the type of algae you have, the size and conditions in your tank, and any other tank inhabitants you may have already.
The best thing you can do is to research the options and choose the one that seems like the best fit for your specific aquarium.
Which algae-eaters have given you the best success stories?
Which species are your go-to favorites?
And which did we not mention in our article?
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.