20 Hair Algae Eaters for a SPOTLESS Aquarium

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Algae come in many varieties and forms and more often than not it’s an uninvited intruder rather than a beautiful aquascape addition.

American Flagfish

The good news is that there are also diverse types of aquarium algae eaters that you can employ to battle the nuisance.

These are not only fish but also shrimp and even snails.

Each of the 20 cleaners has developed an appetite towards different algal types, so you’d want a particular eater if you’re mainly dealing with, say, green or brown hair algae.

The cleaning algivorous crew is not strictly freshwater species.

Algal spores can have an outbreak in a saltwater environment as well, so nature has taken care of that too.

No matter your fish tank setup of choice – freshwater planted, saltwater FOWLR, etc. – there’s probably an algae-eating critter that will work best for your problem.

Author’s note: Remember that the gallon capacity and size of your aquarium plays a role in your choice. Some algae eaters will remain small whereas others will grow quite large. I made sure to recommend both big and tiny species on this list.

Anyway, what are the fish or other aquatic inhabitants that will definitely eat algae in an aquarium?

Let Aquanswers show and help you with picking the right one for your setup.

aquarium algae eaters header

Before I move on to my top selections I need to make sure that you understand the nature of algae.

Usually, algal growth is a sign of a healthy, nutrient-rich environment.

Often times the nutrient imbalance occurs in new aquariums, which is when algal spores explode and take over.

Research shows that in excessive amounts it can actually be harmful to aquatic life.

It has also been documented that microalgal blooms are not safe for your skin and us aquarists often put our hands in the aquarium water.

In some cases, you end up with hair algae or Black beard algae. These are the toughest to remove, be it with the aid of algae-eating fish or not.

There are plenty of factors that you have control over and that you should get familiar with to make sure you’re on the right side of the battlefield.

I’ve described them all in a detailed guide that concerns black beard algae removal, which is the most difficult one to get rid of (visit the link to learn more).

There I go really deep and share some unpopular gems that might be worth checking before you proceed to choose an algae-grazing species.

For example, if the pH levels in your planted tank have risen since the algae’s appearance, this is a sign that there’s a lack of CO2 in there. This, in turn, will make the hair algae hard and unappetizing for fish.

You should also know that most of the so-called algae grazers’ diet is not exclusively made of algae-consumption.

Other food should be supplemented such as algae wafers and vegetables, but we’ll get to that later.

Some of these species are classified as omnivores so the occasional frozen worm should be thrown in, as well. Do your research on your choice, before introducing an algae-focused eater to the aquarium.

Clean your aquarium for good with these TOP-performing hair algae eaters

The presence an algae eater is considered a fundamental building block of a healthy ecosystem, be it in an aquarium or an outdoors body of water.

Many categories of algae exist, which increases the chance of one of them adapting to your particular freshwater or saltwater fish tank and invading it. To achieve the best results it’s crucial to pick the right type of hair algae grazer.

Listed below you’ll only find species that have been actually documented to consume this invader at very impressive rates.

Here are the best algae eaters for freshwater and saltwater aquariums:

1. True Siamese algae eater (Crossocheilus siamensis)

Siamese Algae Eater

Image by Emilia Murray

Max. size:6 Inches (15 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallon long and above
Companion ideas:tetras, danios, barbs (if in school of 4 or more), gouramis, angelfish, corydoras, guppies
Ph:6.5 to 8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Coming from the Crossocheilus genus, the true Siamese Algae Eater reaches around 6 inches in maximum size or just about 15 cm.

This implies the need for a medium-sized freshwater tank.

This species is the epitome of the good guy in the aquarium. Not only will the Siamese algae eaters get you rid of algae, but they have a super peaceful and friendly temper as well. Anyway…

When I say “true” I mean an Actual Siamese Algae eater and not a Chinese one, or a flying foxfish.

Fish stores may sometimes falsely advertise one as the other so do your research on the appearance and care requirements of a true Siamese Algae Eater before purchasing one (hint: The black line on the side of a true SAE ends at the back of its tail fin and not the beginning). Visit the link for more info on identification and care.

This algae-eating fish will relentlessly munch on even the most stubborn types of freshwater algae without wasting any time.

Many consider the Siamese Algae Eater the best fish for winning the battle with freshwater algae.

I agree with that statement.

Having a couple of these fish is a good reassurance against the emergence of uninvited vegetation as you won’t have the opportunity to even witness it growing.

On that note, mind that it may be better to get female siamese algae eaters as the male ones may get extremely territorial among each other. Females are the ones that grow larger and do not appear as elongated as the males.

Anyhow, this species very much dislikes the company of red-tailed sharks, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to aim for the “freshwater shark tank look”. Visit the link for more shark-like fish ideas.

Community fish are always a better choice for an SAE’s tank mates, but avoid cichlids and other aggressive species.

Suggested aquarium equipment for a single True Siamese algae eater:

  • Lights: BeamsWork DA FSPEC Pent. You will need aquarium grow lights suitable for heavily planted tanks and the 30″ Beamswork fixture will do a fantastic job for a 20-gallon long tank.
  • Filter: if you choose to go with a 20-gallon aquarium for your Siamese Algae Eater,
    Eheim 2215 Canister Filter will maintain an adequate water turnover for such size of the tank. Compare offers for this aquarium filter at Amazon and Chewy.
  • Heater: Check out the 150-Watt version of the Cobalt Aquatics Neo-Therm Heater at both Amazon and Chewy. The Cobalt heaters are shatterproof, have adjustable temperature, and provide stable results.

2. Rubber-lipped pleco (chaetostoma formosae)

rubber lip pleco

Image by Mark Smith

Max. size:4.2 at maximum (10.6 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallon long and above
Companion ideas:tetras, danios, gouramis, mollies, Swordtails, platies, barbs, endlers, goldfish with caution
Ph:6.5 to 8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The rubber lip pleco belongs to the Chaetostoma genus.

Anyway, it is a small and rather peaceful fish that is not very popular in this hobby.

And I can’t help but wonder why.

When it comes to demolishing unwanted algal growth, these guys are my go-to algae-eating fish recommendation.

For best results against the most stubborn of algae turn to a rubber-lipped pleco. This fish is one of the few small pleco species that will eat all the freshwater kinds of algae, including the nasty black algae and even brown diatoms.

I’ve had my RL pleco for a while now. No traces of any algae intruders, as I managed to “teach” my little friend to keep his appetite for them.

I wrote a full guide on how to care for this fish, what to watch out for when getting one, and other of its peculiarities, including tank mates.

Visit the care guide on Rubber Lipped Plecos here if you want to learn more.

Anyway, A Rubber Lips pleco will clean a tank at spectacular rates. Here’s video proof of a single specimen cleaning a full-blown infestation in a 10-gallon tank in just about a week.

This fish should really be more popular.

Don’t house Rubber Lipped plecos with other bottom-dwelling catfish and mind that, in general, these fish prefer subtropical water temperatures with a current (71 to 78 °F).

Because of their preferred temperature range the rubber-lipped plecos can work as algae eaters in a goldfish tank. However, though small and peaceful, if not well-fed, on a very rare occasion they may or may not try to eat the goldfish’s slime coat.

Suggested aquarium equipment for a Rubber-lipped pleco:

  • Lights: As with the Siamese algae eater I recommend getting the
    BeamsWork DA FSPEC Pent aquarium light for your Rubber lipped pleco. This light is bright enough and will maintain the live plant in your 20-gallon tank without causing extra algae issues.
  • Heater: Considering the temperature ranges this fish can deal with, you can keep them without a heater, just like a Goldfish.If you prefer to have a heater though, consider getting this 150-Watt one at Amazon. This heater is great at keeping the set temperature in medium and bigger aquariums and is powerful enough to make up for any temperature swings during the cold months.
  • Filter: Eheim 2215 Canister Filter. The Eheim 2215 is strong enough to maintain clean water even in an overstocked 20-gallon freshwater tank. You can get the Eheim at both Amazon and Chewy (and find the best offer). If you decide to keep just a couple of fish in there, you can go with Fluval 107.

3. Panda Garra (Garra flavatra)

panda garra

Image by 1uninterested

Max. size:4 inches but they usually remain around 3.2 (approximately 8 to 10 cm)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallons and above
Companion ideas:pretty much any peaceful community fish
Ph:6.5 to 7.5
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The Panda Garra is a member of the Garra genus.

I’ve been meaning to include the Panda Garra in this list since this post did not originally come with it.

However, with time and some observations, I keep getting convinced that Panda Garra can be an excellent hair algae eater.

Moreover, they seem to absolutely demolish Black Beard Algae.

I would even go as far as to argue that they are as effective in cleaning black hair algae as Rubber Lip Pleco fish.

Anyway, in terms of diet, the Panda Garra are classified as omnivores and will need some meat on their menu.

After they’re done with the hair algae in your tank you should supply their diet with algae wafers and frozen or live foods.

These fish are not terribly picky and will accept almost any food you offer them.

juvenile panda garra

Image by Ssmith989

Author’s note: While in the process of cleaning hair algae, you should feed your Panda Garras sparingly. Only supply them with meaty foods during this period. I recommend throwing something meaty in their tanks every second day. This way you’ll stimulate their appetite for algae.

Anyway, the Panda Garra are not aggressive and are actually a preferred choice in community tanks.

I find their peaceful nature and attractive looks very desirable and try to sneak them into my tanks at any given opportunity.

4. Juvenile Chinese algae eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri)

Chinese Algae Eater

Image by Garthh

Max. size:12 inches (30.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:55 gallons for juveniles and 100+ gallons for adults
Companion ideas:zebra danios, tiger barbs, crayfish
Ph:6 to 8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The Chinese algae eater comes from the Gyrinocheilus genus.

If you’ve ever owned a Chinese Algae Eater then you’d know why I put “juvenile” in the title.

As juveniles, these guys will restlessly clean your tank. They will kind of shy away when you approach the aquarium, and as soon as you turn your back they’ll get back to work.

Cute right?

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Which will be just a couple of months.

First of all the CAEs grow really fast and get just under a foot in max size.

A 10-gallon tank may seem appropriate for a juvenile, but you’ll quickly find yourself wondering where to house the evergrowing beast.

Second, upon maturity, they will lose appetite for plants (algae) and will start looking to get some protein.

Where they get that protein from will very often be their tank mates.

Chinese algae eaters will eat the protein-based slime coat off of larger thin-bodied fish, making them bleed to death.

The whole process is really creepy in nature.

You can avoid that by constantly keeping the adult CAEs fed with good, protein-rich food.

Unfortunately, not many people can be as diligent and one day they will forget to dose the so-desired meal.

Coming home to your beautiful angelfish being eaten alive is not a pleasant experience.

Chinese Algae Eaters will also get super territorial as they age, so that’s another thing to consider.

If you have a large tank that needs a cleaning employing a juvenile algae eater may be appropriate, but be prepared for what’s coming after that.

5. American flagfish (Jordanella floridae)

American Flagfish

Image by CheepShot

Max. size:2.2 inches (5.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:10 gallons and above
Companion ideas:guppies, danios, platies, corydoras, otocinclus, school of tetras or barbs
Ph:6.8 to 8.1
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The American flagfish is one of the species within the Jordanella genus.

I am kind of baffled at the fact that whenever algae eaters are the topic of discussion these freshwater fish never come up as a suggestion.

The American Flagfish is a Killifish who’s so good at consuming freshwater algae that encouraging algal growth is actually recommended with these guys.

They don’t grow large (around 2 inches maximum) and have a great personality as long as you know what you’re doing.

The males are very beautiful, showing off nice colors, but they may get a little territorial.

The females, however, are not as aggressive while they can still be good centerpiece fish in smaller aquarium setups.

I would encourage anyone with a 10 to 20-gallon tank to get at least 3 female flagfish, to keep freshwater algae at bay.

This fish prefers colder water, but can gradually acclimate to warmer water temperatures.

The American Flagfish demand a plant-based menu. Algae wafers are a good choice, along with the occasional cucumber or spinach piece.

Mind that these algae-eating fish feel best in heavily planted tanks with plenty of hiding spaces such as caves and driftwood.

The flagfish may or may not munch on the freshwater plants in your aquarium.

6. Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus)

Bristlenose Pleco

Image by Kurisu Mills

Max. size:6 inches (15.2 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:30 gallons and above
Companion ideas:danios, platies, school of tetras or barbs, mollies, guppies, swordtails, goldfish
Ph:6.5 to 7.8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The Bristlenose plecos, known as bristlenose catfish, are part of the Ancistrus genus.

A Bristlenose plecostomus will spend its time as every other plecostomus: they will glue themselves on the glass, scavenge the aquarium for algae and happily hang out on driftwood.

Except Bristlenose Plecos will remain smallish when adult and won’t outgrow 6 inches.

Because of its size, care level, and ability to clean a tank up, this fish is super popular in the hobby.

In fact, the whole family the Bristlenose Pleco comes from is so effective at consuming huge amounts of algae that releasing them in the wild is known to wreak havoc on local ecosystems.

So don’t ever do that.

Anyway, the Bristlenose pleco has a rather stunning appearance – with age they will develop mustache-like tentacles, which gives them a unique look.

There are also different varieties like a long-finned Bristlenose or an albino one.

It’s an aesthetically pleasing fish species that will keep a clean look to your aquarium.

Don’t house your Bristlenose pleco with similar-looking fish that dwell at the bottom of the tank as there may be territory disputes.

Bristlenose plecos are known to collaborate well with goldfish in an algae-infested aquarium. Along with the rubber-lipped pleco and the rosy barb, these are the only 3 species of fish that make sense as algae-eating tank mates for goldfish aquariums.

7. True black molly (Poecilia sphenops)

True Black Molly

Image by Marrabbio

Max. size:5 inches (12.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallons and above
Companion ideas:guppy, danios, female betta, platies, tetras, guppies, swordtails, gouramis, endlers, angelfish
Ph:7.6 to 8.4
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Wait, a black molly is an algae eater?

You bet.

Performing a simple Youtube search would reveal video proof for the skeptics. Here’s a 25 seconds long video where it feasts on the notorious black beard algae.

Now, generally, mollies come in plenty of colors.

However, my experience shows that the True Black Mollies from the well-known Poecilia genus are really best at snacking on algae.

They don’t grow large and are a great tropical fish pet.

They’ll be constantly active roaming the aquarium in search of something to snack on.

A cool thing, not many people new to the hobby know, is that mollies can survive in both freshwater and saltwater tanks.

They’re also livebearers and breeding them is not rocket science.

If you want to get Black Mollies for your tropical community tank, make sure that the females outnumber the males or you will witness aggression among their kind.

Peaceful community fish go best as tankmates for the Black Molly.

8. Royal Whiptail Catfish (Sturisoma panamense)

Royal Whiptail Catfish
Max. size:8 inches (20.3 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:30 gallons and above
Companion ideas:gouramis, danios, rasboras, corydoras, neon tetras, school of kuhli loaches
Ph:6.0 to 7.2
Fish tank type:Freshwater

This armored catfish comes from the Sturisoma genus.

The diet of the Royal Whiptail Catfish (sometimes called Twig Catfish) is mainly vegetable matter.

It will actively graze on algae and occasionally on the biofilm of your driftwood.

Speaking of which, this fish is nocturnal and will need plenty of hiding places where it can hang out during the daytime.

You won’t see it very often, true, but you won’t see algae as well.

The whiptail has a unique appearance (as you can see in the photo) that kind of puts it on the exotic side of freshwater fishkeeping. I’ve actually included it in my article about the most cool-looking aquarium fish that one can own.

Note that you should still supplement its diet, even if your tank is blooming with algae, as this species needs diverse sources of food.

I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s a beginner-level fish as well.

The twig catfish are very sensitive to water parameters, need well-oxygenated tank water with a current, and don’t do well in communities with non-friendly tank mates.

A full-grown Royal Whiptail Catfish reaches nearly 8 inches, placing it among the largest freshwater fish that will be interested in eating algae.

9. Pygmy suckermouth (Otocinclus affinis)

Pygmy Suckerfish
Max. size:2 inches (5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallons and above
Companion ideas:rasboras, dwarf gouramis, corydoras, neon tetras, danios, female betta
Ph:6.8 to 7.6
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Coming from the Otocinclus genus, the Pygmy Suckermouth (also popular as Otocinculus) will mainly snack on softer blue and green hair algae.

It will roam the tank non-stop, looking for its delicious treat.

The Otocinculus won’t harm any aquatic plants, it will literally only eat algae.

That being said, you should still provide some sinking wafers, other vegetables, and the occasional frozen bloodworm.

The Pigmy Suckermouth is as peaceful as it gets.

Perhaps, that’s because of its relatively small size – no more than 2 inches for an adult Oto.

With a maximum size of 2 inches, the Otocinculus is classified as one of the smallest freshwater fish species that eat algae in the aquarium trade.

It seems like the perfect algae eater, right?

Not so fast.

This fish is quite fragile and requires pristine water quality and parameters.

Beginner fishkeepers often have difficulties keeping one alive for longer periods of time.

I remember my first Pygmy Sucker – it lasted 2 days in my tank. Lesson learned – I had to step up my game and educate myself more on how to keep stable aquarium water, before getting another one.

10. Rosy & Cherry Barbs (Pethia conchonius & Puntius titteya)

Rosy and Cherry Barb

Images by Brian Gratwicke and Kkonstan

Max. size:2 inches (5 centimeters) for Cherry barbs and 6 inches (15.2 cm) for Rosy bars
Suggested aquarium size:10 gallons (Cherry barbs) and 30 gallons (Rosy barbs)
Companion ideas:rasboras, corydoras, small plecos, neon tetras, danios, otocinculus, clown loaches, platies, mollies, goldfish
Ph:6.2 to 8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Rosy Barbs are members of the Pethia genus and Cherry barbs belong to the Puntius genus in a family known as Cyprinidae.

Both fish will snack on algae.

The rosy barb and cherry barb are known to mainly graze on the hair-type algae (staghorn or other). If your freshwater aquarium has a serious hair algae problem, these two fish are considered among the best options as a solution.

Both are really beautiful community tank fish with cherries being the friendlier of the two.

Rosies may nip the fins of long-finned fish, but that’s about it. If they are kept in a school of 3 to 5 specimens there will be no aggression.

They will also swim together, but only if there are many of them in a larger tank (think 55 gallons).

Cherry barbs are peace lovers. They will avoid conflict and will go about their thing, which is often eating things from around the aquarium.

They will be more than happy in a group of 3 (1 male with 2 females).

The rosy barbs can grow up to 6 inches whereas the cherry barbs will not outgrow 2.

The tiny maximum size of the cherry barb fish makes it a perfect choice as an algae eater in a 10-gallon freshwater aquarium. This fish will rarely reach 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length, which suits most smaller tanks best.

The diet of both species should not only be consisted of algae – a softened vegetable such as zucchini or cucumber will be appreciated.

If I were to pick from the two species I’d definitely go for the Cherry barb as they remain smaller, and more peaceful and I like their unusual pink coloration.

Rosy barbs are among the very few algae-eating fish that are compatible with a goldfish, along with the rubber-lipped and the bristlenose pleco.

11. Common goldfish (Carassius auratus)

Common Goldfish

Image by Bigsmile20

Max. size:depends on the size of your tank, but usually around 4 to 5 inches ( 10 to 12.7 cm)
Suggested aquarium size:30 gallons and above
Companion ideas:topminnows, loaches, rosy barbs, zebra danios, smaller plecos
Ph:7.1 to 7.6
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The Common goldfish is a species within the Carassius genus.

Though classified as omnivores these fish are notorious for eating all kinds of aquatic plants.

And this includes consuming algae.

Goldfish do eat and will sooner or later develop an appetite for algae among other aquatic vegetation. However, they prefer colder temperatures and are not a good addition to tropical community tanks, in general.

In fact, the goldfish is actually recommended as means of biological algae control for ponds and stock watering tanks.

The appetite of Carassius auratus is related to the fact that they have no stomach.

This forces them to constantly look for food and if they don’t find protein – they’ll snack on plants and algal growth.

When keeping goldfish know that they make copious amounts of waste and are a lot “dirtier” than other fish of their size.

You should also know that whatever plants you may have in your aquarium will not be safe from this devourer. That’s, of course, if you have not carefully researched your plant selection. Visit this article to discover some plants that would actually work in a goldfish tank.

It’s recommended to get a goldfish for algae control only if you have a decent filtration, the right tank mates for it and no other plant matter in your fish tank.

12. Dolabella Sea Hare (Dolabella auricularia)

dolabella sea hare

Image by d.grcich

Max. size:16 inches (40.6 cm)
Suggested aquarium size:a 75-gallon tank for a mature specimen
Companion ideas:Peaceful marine fish and invertebrates that would not bother the Sea Hare
Ph:8.1 to 8.4
Fish tank type:Saltwater

We all know that algae is not a freshwater-only problem.

The Dolabella Sea Hare is a type of sea slug, which belongs to the Dolabella genus, feeds almost exclusively on marine algae and is an absolute lawnmower.

Its favorite food in a saltwater aquarium would be hair algae. After that is over, the Dolabella Sea Hare would destroy any leftover type of film algae, which may sometimes include coralline.

Overall, this species of Sea Hare is one of the best saltwater algae eaters in the aquarium trade.

Anyway, this species of sea slug is so effective at removing hair algae that it needs to be relocated when the outbreak is put under control.

The Dolabella Sea Hare will wipe off clean all surfaces it could find, but will eventually starve if the algal growth cannot keep up with its eating pace.

Fortunately, many reef keepers are aware of that and it’s a common practice to borrow a Sea Hare from a fellow reefer who’s just had their tank cleaned by the slug.

One thing to know about the Dolabella Sea Hare is that, as with most sea slugs from the genus, it could release toxins in the water when spooked.

However, I’m recommending specifically the Dolabella species, because they are very unlikely to do so.

In the rare event that they do – the toxins will just color up the water but won’t harm your livestock or nuke the tank.

Anyway, another thing to consider with the Dolabella Sea Hare is that it grows pretty large. A mature specimen could reach up to 1 foot in length.

However, if it’s a part-time rental that you’re doing you should not worry about it that much, especially if you’re given a younger and smaller specimen.

One thing to keep in mind though is the snail’s tank mates. Dolabella Sea Hares should be among non-aggressive saltwater fish species.

Finally, make sure that your reef tank powerheads and wavemakers have protective guards on.

This is because it is not unseen for a clumsy Sea Hare to get pulverized by a powerhead…

13. Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum)

sailfin tang

Image by Affectionate-Ad4027

Max. size:up to 16 inches (up to 40.6 cm)
Suggested aquarium size:125 gallons
Companion ideas:Unless you have an enormous tank, don’t house with other Tangs, won’t bother other tank mates
Ph:8 to 8.4
Fish tank type:Saltwater

An adult Sailfin Tang’s diet will mainly consist of saltwater algae.

This fish, from the Zebrasoma genus, is considered an important addition to a reef aquarium by many hobbyists because it acts as a centerpiece.

However, the Sailfin Tang will also be super active in its search of hair algae and it will keep a reef tank in check.

Author’s note: The Sailfin Tang will absolutely destroy filamentous marine algae. This is a type of hair algae that is soft, thin, and looks like a mesh. It is essentially what happens when you leave film algae to grow for too long. However, the Sailfin Tang won’t really be interested in eating string-like growth such as the more robust species of Green Hair Algae.

Anyway, another reason why this fish is so popular is that it gets along pretty well with other community fish, as long as they don’t come from the same family (“surgeon” fish).

It has been documented that the Surgeonfish family supports the health of a reef and is actually known as the “lawnmowers of the sea”.

They are herbivores and algae are the main part of their diet.

Whenever you run out of yours, feed your beautiful Sailfin Tang with algae wafers and flake food. Don’t feed lettuce though.

14. Ramshorn snail (Planorbidae)

Ramshorn Snail

Image by Robert Howie

Max. size:0.7 inches (2 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:Any
Companion ideas:Otociculus, Corydoras and other peaceful fish, Ghost shirm, Cherry shrimp, Bamboo shrimp, nerite snail, mystery snail, trumpet snail, pond snails, DON’T house with fish from the Botia genus, as most loaches are known to eat freshwater snails
Ph:6.6 to 7.6
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Want to get a snail that rivals even the best algae-grazing fish in terms of efficiency?

Enter: the Ramshorn snail.

These guys, mollusks within the Planorbidae family, are phenomenal at eating algae. They can clean up a decently-sized aquarium in a matter of DAYS.

They have a plain look to them and they multiply like crazy, but you’ll have your tank polished from top to bottom.

The Ramshorn snail is the go-to solution for combating algae growth in a heavily planted tank. Besides eating algae, this snail won’t ever touch other aquatic plants unless they have decaying or dead vegetation matter.

Seriously consider getting a couple of these if that’s your situation.

15. Nerite snail (Neritina natalensis)

Nerite Snail

Image by TheJammingYam

Max. size:1 inch (2.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:5 gallons and above
Companion ideas:smaller peaceful community fish, shrimp and other snails, NO cichlids, goldfish, loaches or crayfish
Ph:7 to 8.4
Fish tank type:Freshwater & Saltwater

Did you know that there’s this elite club of aquatic cleaners?

If yes then you probably know that the Nerite snail is an honorable member of the Aquarium Clean-up Crew when it comes to freshwater tanks.

Coming from the Neritina genus, these snails do an outstanding job when it comes to microalgae control.

The Nerite snail will actively eat brown algae (also known as diatoms). A single Nerite snail can take care of the brown microalgae in a 10-gallon fish tank alone.

If you’re skeptical then do take a look at this video.

This snail species is as peaceful as it gets and gets along with almost any aquarium occupant.

They will roam around your tank with their super slow snail speed, looking for algae and other uninvited organic matter to snack on.

Don’t add too many of these guys, as later on, they won’t have enough algae to munch on.

A single Nerite snail per 5 to 10 gallons will be more than enough, so you don’t need to go for all the members of the Algae Clean Up Crew here.

Note: Though Nerite snails look cool and eat algae, some people find their eggs very unsightly and end up removing them through various means.

Removing the eggs of a Nerite snail is not an easy task.

16. Malaysian Trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata)

Trumpet Snail

Image by Dennis L.

Max. size:1 inch (2.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:5 gallons and above
Companion ideas:smaller peaceful community fish, shrimp and other snails, NO cichlids, goldfish, loaches or crayfish
Ph:7 to 7.7
Fish tank type:Freshwater & Brackish

These tank scavengers are members of the Melanoides genus.

Anyhow, having Malaysian trumpet snails is not for everyone.

These small aquatic snails are sometimes considered a pest because they multiply at astonishing rates.

They only like to eat soft algae that are growing on hard surfaces. Only get them if that’s the case for you.

Some hobbyists avoid them and some love them.

It’s a controversial pick really, so if snails are your weapon of choice consider the others mentioned on this list as well.

17. Turbo snail (Turbo fluctuosa)

Turbo Snail

Image by Jen Hammock

Max. size:2 inches (5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:20 gallons and above
Companion ideas:most any reef-safe fish, but don’t house with other algae-grazers as the Turbo snail won’t be able to compete for food
Ph:8 to 8.4
Fish tank type:Saltwater

The Turbo snail is assigned to the Turbo genus of sea snails.

Turbos are the heavy artillery when it comes to battling algae in marine tanks.

They get big and they eat big.

Unlike other marine snails in the trade, the Turbo snail doesn’t prefer a specific type of algae. It will eat anything from microalgae to hair algae nonselectively.

These guys grow large and heavy. Your live rock should be well positioned and secured because it’s not unseen that a fat turbo knocks a piece of rockwork here and there.

Mind that these guys are so effective at cleaning unwanted algal growth that you won’t need more than 2 or 3 for a large aquarium.

Turbo Snails are reef-safe.

Anyway, avoid putting the Mexican Turbo snail in tropical reef tanks as it won’t tolerate warm water temperatures.

18. Amano shrimp (Caridina multidentata)

Amano Shrimp

Image by Dack9

Max. size:2 inches (5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:10 gallons and above
Companion ideas:Betta fish but with caution and in a more spacious tank, neon tetras, tiger barbs, guppies, discus, otocinculus, corydoras, smaller plecos, cherry shrimp, bamboo shrimp, peaceful snails
Ph:6.2 to 7.2
Fish tank type:Freshwater

This species of freshwater shrimp is from the Caridina genus.

The Amano shrimp generally became popular after Takashi Amano introduced it to the aquarium trade.

Takashi Amano is an iconic figure in the hobby, and I recommend reading his stuff, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

Anyway, this shrimp has been known to absolutely love and even depend on algae. For this reason, it should only be added to an already-established aquarium.

Amano shrimp will definitely eat and even prefer grazing on hair aquarium algae. Having some green or another type of hair-like freshwater algae is actually recommended for this shrimp species.

Be careful not to end up with another species of Caridina, (as they are hundreds) because they will not be as good as the Amano shrimp in battling algae.

A true Amano will be larger and very active in the tank.

19. Red cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

Red Cherry Shrimp

Image by Stevencaller

Max. size:1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:5 gallons and above
Companion ideas:neon tetras, otocinculus, corydoras, smaller plecos, bamboo shrimp, amano shrimp, peaceful snails
Ph:6.5 to 8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

The Red Cherry shrimp belong to the Neocaridina genus and have exploded in popularity in past years and for a reason.

They’ll munch on most all soft green algae and on some occasions on hair algae, but are not a good choice when exclusively battling that.

However, the Red Cherry shrimp is one of the very few algae-eating critters that could comfortably live in a small aquarium of 5 or less gallons.

The Cherry shrimp will multiply fast, as long as there are none of their natural predators in their tank.

It’s noteworthy that being so small, bright red, and a fast multiplier signals that you’re probably on the bottom of the food chain.

If you resort to these algae grazers, you should carefully pick their tank mates if you want them to sustain a stable colony.

Usually, an aquarist will add these to their heavily planted tank that has dwarf community fish in it.

20. Sulawesi shrimp (Caridina dennerli)

Cardinal Shrimp

Image by DirkBlankenhaus

Max. size:1 inch (2.5 centimeters)
Suggested aquarium size:5 gallons and above
Companion ideas:Sulawesi biotope snails such as the Sulawesi Rabbit snail, other Sulawesi shrimp
Ph:7.5 to 8.5
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Coming from the widespread Caridina genus, the Cardinal Sulawesi shrimp has earned the respect of fishkeepers for both its appearance and algae-devouring abilities.

Leafless aquatic plants are the main part of this shrimp’s diet, so algal growth is actually encouraged while housing it in your aquarium.

Mind that the Cardinal shrimp are quite sensitive to fish tank conditions.

They will appreciate very clean water.

Another thing to consider if you want these colorful creatures to clean your tank is that they are rarely found in fish stores.

You’ll have a better chance of getting one if you contact someone who’s breeding them.

Since this shrimp species is hard to find and more on the expensive side aquarists are often keeping them in Sulawesi biotope tanks to reduce the risk of loss.

Microalgae and biofilm are their favorite snacks.

21. Hillstream Loach (Sewellia lineolata)

a hillstream loach resting on a piece of smooth rock

Image by CelestineVi

Max. size:up to 3 inches (around 7 cm)
Suggested aquarium size:55 gallons for a school of 3 to 4 fish
Companion ideas:Guppies, platies, otocinclus (if you’re careful with matching the Oto’s and the Loach’s temperature preferences);
Ph:7.0 – 7.8
Fish tank type:Freshwater

Hillstream loaches (Sewellia lineolata) are great at dealing with various types of algae such as brown diatom algae. In rare cases they will graze on hair algae such as black beard algae.

The reason I’m mentioning them in this article is because there are not many great hair algae eaters for cold water tanks (freshwater). Use them as a last resort if you keep such ecosystem at home.

Hillsteream loaches can’t survive on algae alone so you’ll need to provide them with other types of sustenance to keep them healthy.

However, they do require quite a bit of space in order to open up their appetites.

You’ll need at least 55 gallons of water to keep a school of 3 loaches together.

Moreover, they will need plenty of oxygen since they come from fast flowing streams and rivers.

Which algae eaters are compatible with aggressive cichlids?

If you’re looking after the particularly aggressive African cichlids then there are not many options for a healthy coexistence with an algae-grazer. Have a look at the algae eating fish compatible with cichlids:

On some occasions, Bristlenose plecos will be able to keep the algae in check in a cichlid tank. However, you should introduce the pleco earlier, when your cichlids are young. This gives both species time to get used to cohabit with one another.

Another condition for this setup to work is that the pleco should already be decently sized so that it can protect itself in case of aggression.

The third condition to be met is that you provide the Bristlenose with plenty of hiding spaces, enough to keep it safe during the daytime.

Consider adding a small piece of driftwood with the pleco, as it will graze on it because it helps with its digestion.

Driftwood will lower the pH of the water by a tiny bit, so bear that in mind if your cichlids demand a slightly more alkaline tank environment.

Note that African Cichlids are mainly herbivorous and introducing good plant-based Cichlid food such as Spirulina to their diet, may stimulate their appetite for some types of algae.

Which algae eaters are compatible with turtles?

With turtles things can get a little more complicated:

Most any fish that is not large enough to become dinner will eventually get eaten, no matter how fast or smart it is. If you get a fish, big enough to fend for itself you won’t have much progress with your algae problem. Larger plecos don’t really eat that much of it. SAEs and Otos get eaten.

A turtle’s temperament may vary but they are all killers.

Older red ear sliders (RES) tend to lean on the herbivorous side more, which gives their fish tankmates higher chances of survival.

Here’s what animal eats algae and survive in a turtle aquarium:

My best suggestion here would be… ghost shrimp.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right.

A ghost shrimp will be eaten by the turtle at some point. But they will also do an outstanding job at cleaning the walls and hard surfaces of your tank from algae.

The reason I’m suggesting this exact species of shrimp is that they are super cheap and you can buy tons of them.

By the time your turtle eats a couple, the others may as well learn how to avoid and escape the predator.

Red cherry shrimp are faster and more agile than ghost shrimp but they are also significantly more expensive. It’s up to you.

Author’s note: If you’re dealing with green water in your turtle tank you should know that it’s caused by free-floating green microalgae. Such green microalgae are not something ghost shrimp or any other algae eater can fix.

Which algae eaters are compatible with African dwarf frogs?

African dwarf frogs are violent little creatures. They won’t be compatible with some smaller docile fish. If the frog hasn’t been fed it can even try to eat a larger fish.

Here’s a video of an ADF trying to eat a pygmy suckermouth. For this reason, they should be housed with faster and larger fish or ones that are inhabiting the upper space in the aquarium. Here’s what algae eating creatures will work with an African Dwarf Frog:

Algae consumers such as mollies, a Bristlenose pleco, or a rubber lipped pleco will be appropriate for a tank with an African Dwarf frog. Nerite snails could also work, as their shell makes them immune to the frog. Red cherry shrimp are agile enough to escape the frog, but it’s not uncommon for them to lose a limb when the frog’s around.

Do you need to supply these creatures with foods other than algae?

After your tank is free of algae and even during the cleaning process, the aforementioned aquatic species will still need to feed on something else. Listed below are options that will generally fit the healthy diet profile of an algivorous aquarium inhabitant. Do keep in mind that every fish, crustacean or snail has its own personal preferences as with algal consumption. Here’s a list of supplemental food that an algae eater will need:

  • spirulina flakes
  • sinking algae wafers
  • fresh lettuce
  • fresh zucchini
  • fresh kale
  • fresh cucumbers
  • green peas
  • frozen bloodworm for the omnivorous fish

Following this list will guarantee that your pet will be provided with important vitamins, nutrients, and fiber from diverse food sources.

My conclusion

Picking algae eaters for your aquarium will work if you provide them with a healthy habitat while choosing the right type for your problem. They should feel comfortable in their tank so that they can fully indulge in what they do best.

Know that these creatures are not problem solvers, but rather the aid. To fully eradicate the issue you need to dig deeper and find the cause.

In a freshwater tank, the nutrients responsible for the hair algae outbreak may be entirely different than in a reef tank.

Anyway, which one did you choose?

Let me know your experience in the comments so I can update this article and help more fishkeepers out.

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Momchil Boyanov is the Founder and now Senior Editor of AquAnswers. He has over 13+ years of experience in keeping home aquariums as well as providing professional aquarium services. Momchil has had his fair share of adventures in aquarium care. He has made MANY mistakes throughout his fishkeeping journey and thus learned A LOT. Through Aquanswers, Momchil shares knowledge about freshwater and saltwater aquariums with the people within this community.

14 thoughts on “20 Hair Algae Eaters for a SPOTLESS Aquarium”

  1. Hello Momchil,
    Thank you for the article. I’m getting more ideas for tank mates. My 35G freshwater tank has artificial plants and a large piece of driftwood with whitish fuzzy, hairlike algae growing from it. Can snails climb the driftwood to feed on the algae? I read that some snails cannot right themselves if they fall off an object and land upside down.

    Would any of the snails or shrimps listed have troubles with my single blue German ram, who is curious but has not shown any aggression?

    • Hello Spence,

      German Blue Rams will try to eat shrimp that fit in their mouths. They are not aggressive but remain predatory in their nature. Snails should be okay. Also, snails are surprisingly coordinated, and you should not worry about them falling, in my opinion.

      By the way, I have a recent article on white fuzzy growth, which you could give a read. You can find it by browsing my blog’s homepage.

      Good luck, and thank you for your kind words and for being a reader!


  2. Very interesting article, thanks. I have green hair algae in my 45G tank. I added a rubber lip and 2 small Chinese algae eaters last week, and they are making some progress, but still a ways to go. I have thought about adding cherry barbs and/or the American Flagfish, but have read they are both fin nippers. I have some Congo tetras and long finned danios that I don’t want to get trashed. I also have several rainbowfish and Dennison barbs, and 3 dwarf synodontis cats. Will the cherry barbs or flag fish be safe to add to my tank?

  3. thank you so much learned a lot great information

  4. I have a 40 gallon breeder with many cherry shrimp. I also have recently added 5 Siamese algae eaters, also have 6 amano but only one of decent size, pond snails. I reduced lighting but my hair Algae is going out of control. What can I add that will eat the hair algae and leave my cherry shrimp alone? It seems to me from the article ramshorn snails maybe the answer. Let me know.

    • Hi,

      Ramshorn snails are a good idea. Just keep in mind Ramshorn snails prefer filamentous hair algae and not the thick, grass-like kind.

      Anyway, I’d look deeper into what’s causing the algae. You could try increasing the number of plants in the tank. If there are enough plants in the tank they will use up the nutrients and outcompete the algae eventually. Floating plants suck up a good amount of nutrients too.

      I’d recommend checking my article on Black Beard Algae removal (a type of hair algae). It will likely give you a couple of applicable ideas.

      Good luck.


  5. Very informative! Thanks.

    May I know why ramshorn snails can’t be kept with pond snails?

    Are cherry barb safe for red cherry shrimps?

    • Hi,

      From what I’ve seen personally, Cherry Barbs are very active and will always try to make a meal out of cherry shrimp.

      I would not recommend mixing them unless your tank is heavily planted so the shrimp could retreat in safety.

      Onto your second question: that’s actually a mistake on my end and it’s now fixed. Ramshorn snails can be kept with pond snails. 🙂

      Good luck!

  6. I’ve green hair algae&brown algae growing on the glass of a 30 gallon long hilstream biotype Aquarium;I was just trying to figure out what what algae eating fish would be best suited for the job.

    • Hi James,

      I’m assuming you already have hillstream loaches? If not – you can try getting some because they grazer on surface algae (but not hair algae). Unfortunately, there are not many options for your particular system that I can recommend. You should likely try to eliminate the algae by improving some of the water’s parameters.

      Give my guide on black beard algae removal a read. Most of the methods described there will work on most hair algae.

      I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to keep me posted or ask more questions.

      – Momchil

  7. Water temps would be a good idea to mention .

    • Appreciate the feedback, will upgrade this soon.

      Thanks Michael

  8. You can put sucker fish in with goldfish, you just have to keep your tank clean. I have two aquariums set up right now both with goldfish and both have plecos in them and they are all very happy. You just have to make sure your tank is clean and all will be good

    • Hi, Robert!

      My experience shows the same (with the rubber lipped and bristlenosed plecos). Glad to hear some confirmation, so thanks a lot for your input.

      Stay well!

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