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The battle against Algae!

Updated on January 29, 2011

A hard worker in a small package

why algae grows

One of the most frustrating obstacles for fish keepers is when their beautiful tank is suddenly brown or green with algae!

It can be a pain to get rid of but no impossible, once you understand how the algae is growing you can take steps to eliminate it or at the very least keep it at a minimum. Algae is going to grow, regardless, it's a natural thing to happen to a tank and at some point it will happen. It may not be a lot or your whole make may be completely covered. Algae growth is a mixture of light and water quality. If your tank is getting a lot or constant light, especially sunlight your going to have a hard time keeping it down. Algae needs light to grow and the more you give the faster it grows. Keeping up on the maintenance on your tank makes a big difference too, if you're not doing regular water changes, filter changes, or vacuuming the bacteria growth will promote your algae growth. 

The solutions

There are a lot of ways to take care of algae, some better than others, depending on your situation.

If you have your tank near a window or in an area where it's getting a lot of light I would definitely move it but I know that can be quite a pain and you may have no other places to put your tank and that ok, there are ways to fix it. A really simple way to block a lot of light is to put a background on the tank. Blocks out the light and gives more design to your tank.

There is also the old fashioned method of just scrubbing the algae out with an algae pad, however most people don't care to stick their hand on their tanks and stir up the fish, but it works! If you do choose this method make sure you wash your hands fish and you have no lotion or anything like that on your hand that could get into your tank. Even something minor could off set your water quality and cause your fish to get sick.

There are, of course, various chemicals that you can use to destroy your algae. However I don't recommend chemicals as a first choice. Mostly because the less chemicals you have in your tank the better. It's not good to constantly fill your own body with various drugs or chemicals and the same goes for you tank. Besides that, if your tank is receiving a lot of light and it's gotten out of control you have to do something about the light otherwise the chemical can't destroy it quicker than it grows. If it gets to a certain point it may not take a lot of light for an explosion of algae to appear again. Chemicals are something you have to be very careful with. Don't ever think you can just add more to give it more of a kick, an overdose can cause serious damage to your fish. I've seen it happen plenty of times, the person doesn't read the directions or just thinks the more they add the quicker it'll go away and end up killing all their fish. Should the chemical succeed in killing the algae you still still have to clean up the big chunks of algae that will be lying in your tank, should the algae be bad enough. That can be solved easily enough with a gravel vacuum, its just a little more work on your part.

One of my favorites is a UV Sterilizer, which is a device that you put in your tank that uses a UV light to kill of bacteria that promotes algae growth. They make things a lot easier but they can be very expensive. I would especially recommend them to people with large tanks. The price is the only down part to them really, you do also have to replace the bulb in them so it's another cost to your maintenance routine. 

The most popular way to solve the algae problem is to get a fish to do the cleaning for you! There is a great variety of fish that will do the job for you, snails, plecostomus, chinese algae eaters, and otocinclus. However, there are some problems with a couple of these. I am not a fan of plecostomus at all. They get extremely large, too large for most tanks. They can easily reach lengths of 2 feet! I'm sure someone told you or you heard the statement "fish only grow to the space their in." I really don't like that statement cause it's not true! A lot of people get fooled into making very bad decisions about their tank because of statements like that. Anyone who has gotten one and one day it got so big it couldn't turn around in the tank fully understands this. I've seen it, it's not pretty. On top of that, they can be extremely lazy and not even eat algae but go after other food instead. I've even had instances where a pleco attacked another fish trying to eat the slime coat off the fish! While I haven't heard many cases of this, it wouldn't be hard if it was big enough or you have non-aggressive fish. Same goes for chinese algae eaters. While they don't get nearly as big I have seen them be very aggressive towards other fish or just lazy. I've heard many customers in the past say that they have had problems with them being to sensitive to water changes and die way too easily.

There is a pleco that I've dealt with in the past that I am a fan of though! That would be the bristle nose plecostomus. While they still do get large they do the job. I've always head and experienced good things with them. The only down side...they get very big! Not suitable for most tanks. There are snails too but they aren't usually a popular choice because of the fear of a snail take over. So what to do?

If you want a fish to take care of the problem and otocinclus is the best option! I absolutely love them! As you can see by the picture they don't get very big, only about 2 inches if that, but they do an amazing job. Since they are small you do usually have to get a small group of them to take care a tank but they are worth it. They are very hard workers and I always keep them for my community tanks. If you have aggressive fish these obviously won't be a good choice since they probably won't last in your tank for very long. However for small or community tanks they are the perfect choice! Of course there is added care for them. If you don't have any algae for them to eat zucchini is a great choice or buying algae wafers for them to eat. Don't get carried away with those though, if there aren't eaten quick enough the wafer will break down and cause a mess in your tank. Only leave zucchini in a tank for about four hours, after that it will start to get mushy and make a mess.

Try to avoid breaking down the tanks, which includes cleaning everything inside of it, to fix the algae problem. It can be very stressful for your fish and you risk the fish not being able to adapt to the new water. Only do that as an absolute last resort

They look strange but do the job well!

There are chemicals and basic scrub pads to help


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