If you are having an outbreak of algae in your aquarium don’t panic because I have the answers you are looking for right here. Getting rid of aquarium algae is not very hard. Once you determine how it begin you will also be able to stop algae growing in your fish tank again.
It takes a bit of work to clean up the unwanted algae but as you and I both know a clean tank is a beautiful thing. Some things you will want to learn is how does algae start growing in the first place and determine what kind of algae you have so you know how to correct the problem.
I have laid out enough information below that should help you tackle any algae growth problem going forward.
Before you get started cleaning the aquarium just know that algae growing in your tank is normal and extremely hard to prevent from happening. If you spend time cleaning your aquarium every single day of the week then maybe you can avoid a serious outbreak but most people have other things to do in life so can’t spend an hour every day on the aquarium.
Depending on the fish you own you might even want a bit of algae growing. Even a beautiful lake or the bright blue sea has algae growing.
Types of Algae Found in Aquariums
Algae is common and will happen more than once in your tank. It is just part of the process. Being able to identify the bloom in your tank will inherently help you figure out what course of action to take in correcting the problem. Below are algae types with a brief description and action plan.
Green Water Algae
- A microscopic algae bloom that quickly turns the color of your water green. The microscopic algae float or are suspended in the water and that is why the water color change. This type of algae is common with new tank set ups. If you notice the color of your tank water changing to a green turn all lighting off immediately and leave off for several days. When the lights are off, the algae stops growing and eventually gets filtered out.
- If you have some extra money you could purchase a Diatomic filter and run that right away. A Diatom filter will clean water at the smallest molecular level, some hobbyists call using these filtration systems polishing the water. If and when you can afford a Diatom filter you should. Eventually you will wish you had one.
- Brown algae (silica algae or Diatoms) will cover your glass and decorations in a nice even coating.
- Brown algae is somewhat easy to clean up. Brown algae will also dissipate once your tank has gone through the nitrogen cycle.
- Having live plants will help clear this variety up as the plants will absorb the nutrients that the algae requires to thrive and live with. You will still want to clean the brown algae up though and not hope that the improving water conditions take care of it.
Blue Green Algae
- This one is a slimy variety that will coat over decorations and rocks and glass. Also called cyanobacteria so the blue green variety is not really an algae at all.
- Blue green algae is a bit harder to clean off items than other varieties but with taking action and being relentless you can get rid of this one in no time. This one is a bacteria that can cause your tank harm if not remedied immediately.
- Beard algae grows on plants and can quickly overcome a plant eventually killing it. Make sure to wipe your plants clean of this pesky breed of algae.
Red or Brush Algae
- This type grows on slower growing plants among other locations. Brush algae does not get very long and is very hard to clean off. Some algae eating fish will tackle this one no problem however you might have to resort to scraping it off with a razor.
Green Hair Algae
- This algae grows just like the description. Looks like hair growing. This variety is not really intrusive so will not cause any huge problems unless of course you let it get out of control. It is okay to let green hair algae grow a bit. Some fish prefer to eat green hair algae so it isn’t all bad letting it grow a bit. You might even enjoy watching it sway in the water.
- Thread algae or string algae I have heard it called can grow quite long, as much as 18” long. Thread Algae grows amongst other algae types like hair algae. If you use a water that has high iron content you run the risk of growing this type of algae. I don’t recall any fish that enjoy eating this one other than maybe the Siamese algae fish. Clean this one out as soon as you get the chance.
How does Algae Start Growing in Your Aquarium?
So how or why does algae start growing in the first place?
Algae, like the plants in your tank will grow when the right nutrients, water conditions and lighting are available. The problem though is that no one ever says hey I want to grow a nice tank full of algae. Algae is a nuisance and causes issues for your aquarium water and livestock in the tank. Here is why algae could be growing in your tank;
- There are too many nutrients in the water from leftover food and any supplementation you might be adding to the water. It’s just too much and somethings going to give. Something in this case is algae.
- When feeding if there is still food floating around after 5 minutes or so it is good practice to scoop the excess food out of the water otherwise the phosphate levels will rise, causing issues for the tank. My rule of thumb for feeding my fish is less is more (as long as they are getting enough).
- The water you are using for water changes and top ups has nutrients in it that are causing algae growth. Phosphates and nitrates being introduced into the ecosystem is being counterintuitive. Invest in an aquarium water testing kit and test your new water source for these components.
- Lighting left on too long can cause an outbreak. Having your setup sitting in direct sunlight increases your chances of growing algae. If this is the case you really should consider moving the tank. Indirect sunlight helps light up the aquarium without being an issue.
- When setting the duration of aquarium lights being turned on try to replicate how long the sun is up during your days. This makes it easier to figure out and resembles what the fish would experience in the wild.
- Purchase and use proper aquarium lighting only.
- If you never do water changes you are increasing the chances of an outbreak of algae. Perform small water changes every couple of weeks at minimum. Go for approximately 10% of a water change. This helps by clearing some of the excess nutrients in the water out of the tank.
How to Clean Your Aquarium Algae Problem
First of all don’t worry about stripping down the aquarium draining it all and moving fish out to clean. If you empty most of the water you will end up having to start the Nitrogen Cycle right from scratch and if that is the case you might as well give your fish to a friend because the new uncycled water will just kill your fish. Also if you drain most of the water you are not necessarily fixing the algae problem as the algae will still be attached to the substrate decorations ETC and when you put water back the algae will bloom and fill the tank quickly.
- Supplies needed to clean your aquarium must be fish water safe, no ammonia products.
- You will want to consider whether your tank is glass or acrylic when selecting a scraper.
- You already know what you usually use to clean your setup however it doesn’t help to mention you might need things such as;
- Scrapers, razor blades and or plastic scrubbing pads for the inside glass/acrylic. Check your local pet store for aquarium safe cleaning products. The proper chemicals if any will be in the cleaners. The cleaners you use in the kitchen will be fatal to the fish.
- A syphon to clean the aquarium gravel and possibly change out a small amount of water.
- A pail to syphon dirty gravel into or to transport your decorations to the sink for cleaning.
- Possibly some bleach for a really heavy covering of algae on decorations or anything else you take out of the aquarium to clean. Use a mix of approximately 10% bleach to 90% hot water for soaking and scrubbing aquarium decorations. Make sure to rinse multiple times before putting the accessories back in the tank.
- For live plants syphon out some of the aquarium water into an ice cream sized pail and using a cloth wipe the plants down to get the algae off. Some hobbyists say you can use a bit of bleach on some live plants however I would recommend cautioning on the side of just wiping them down.
- The usual cloth’s and paper towels.
- Filter medium however I would not recommend cleaning everything inside of your tank as well as cleaning your filter at the same time ever. You must ensure you do not upset the biological bacteria levels in the tank to much or the fish will be in danger. After cleaning everything in the tank wait at least a week before you change filter medium. At that point you should be safe to do so.
- When you do clean the filter medium make sure you clean the inside of the filter body as well as any tubing. You could change out the tubing or clean it if that isn’t an option.
- Make sure to clean your filter on a regular basis going forward.
- Since you are cleaning everything else this is a good time to flip your tank hood and lighting over to give them a good wipe down with some vinegar and water to clean them up as well.
How you go about cleaning your tank is a matter of preference. Myself personally I would leave cleaning the gravel until the end as this will cloud up the water the most making it hard to clean the inside glass and moving objects around without potentially hurting a fish. So that being said take your decorations out of the tank first and soak them in a cleaner. Then proceed to clean the inside glass or acrylic while the accessories soak. Go ahead and scrub the decorations next and before placing them back in the tank you can syphon the aquarium gravel.
Be proactive and when the smallest amount of algae growth is spotted clean it up ASAP to prevent a full blown tank invasion from happening.
Consider purchasing live plants as live plants will thrive off of the nutrients floating around in the water which in turn means that algae will have a much harder time growing and getting out of control as long as the plants are healthy.
Also consider owning fish species that eat algae. The most common and really interesting fish is the Plecostomus. Some people just call them suckers because of the shape of their mouths and how they use them to eat (clean) the algae of glass and aquarium objects. Important to note that these algae eating fish will still most likely need to be fed something else from the pet store. Make sure to research what they eat other than aquarium algae before you take one home.
Finally – Performing regular partial water changes will help keep your water parameters at the levels they should be at for a healthy aquarium. A healthy tank will not easily promote algae growth.