Top 15 Hair Algae Eaters For Freshwater and Reef Aquariums

A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium
A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium

Hair algae can be a nuisance in tanks around the world, however it’s not always a bad thing. Different types of algae can be used to sustain a wide variety of saltwater and freshwater fish in your aquariums. Read on to see our top suggestions for a hair algae eater you’re sure to love.

What is hair algae?

Hair algae is a commonly found algae that forms dense carpet-like layers in freshwater and saltwater environments. It mainly appears during the cycling phase of the tank but can later appear due to a nutrient imbalance or long/intense lighting. We’ve included the necessary parameters for hair algae to grow below.

CO220-30 mg/l
NO310-25 mg/l
K5-10 mg/l
PO40.1-1 mg/l
Mg>10 mg/l

There are many solutions to eradicating hair algae from both saltwater and freshwater tanks including finding animals that primarily eat algae. While the algae in your tank isn’t necessarily harmful in small amounts, it is generally considered unappealing to the eye and can be dangerous to many different inhabitants due to entanglement.

What is an algae eater?

Algae eaters is a common name for filter-feeding, or bottom-dwelling herbivores and omnivores that specialize in feeding on algae. These animals are often found in the aquarium hobby world to help with tank maintenance and water quality. Algae eaters can be found in a freshwater aquarium or saltwater aquarium and are important parts of tank ecosystems.

Wild Pleco, the Algae Eater
(1) Wild Pleco, the Algae Eater

What type of algae different algae eaters eat depend on algae eating characteristics such as size of the algae eater and algae, water temperature, nutrient levels, and lighting. For example, the siamese algae eaters can be found eating hair algae because they enjoy eating soft non-fibrous algae whereas others do not.

Can fish remove hair algae?

There are many algae eating fish, but whether or not they want to eat hair algae depends on the species. Some fish will try to stay far away from hair algae because it can cut into their bodies and cause infections. Other fish will avoid it because it can entangle them.

What eats hair algae?

Different varieties of fish, ghost shrimp, and snails will clean your aquarium of hair algae. Choosing the right hair algae eater for your tank is important in managing your aquarium. Here’s a list of our favorite hair algae eaters.

What eats hair algae: Reef Tanks

1.
purple

Purple Short Spine Pincushion Urchin

Sea urchins are one of the best fighters in the war against algae. Since most sea urchins are herbivores, eating algae comes second nature. Not only will they eat algae, they’ll scrape your fish tank free of any algal residue.

1. : Purple Short Spine Pincushion Urchin

In the wild sea urchins naturally clean reef’s of algae, without harming the reef itself. Pincushion urchins in particular are used in the aquarium hobby because of their ability to effectively clean reef tanks and bulldoze through thick algae. Pincushion urchins are also hardy animals that are easy to feed with seaweed or kelp if they’ve eradicated the algae in your fish tank. 

Compatible with: Blennies, Angelfish, Clownfish

RECOMMENDATION

If you choose to use an urchin for algae control in your reef tank consider getting smaller herbivores like ghost shrimp or cerith snails to get the small, hard to reach algae that your urchins can’t.
2.

Nerite Snails

Nerite snails will thrive in both fresh and saltwater tanks and are widely regarded as one of the best choices for removing excess algae growth. There are several varieties including tiger and zebra, all will effectively combat algae problems in your marine tanks.

2.: Nerite Snails

The Nerite snail will not bother your coral or aquarium plants in a reef aquarium, but is highly sensitive to copper and nitrate levels. Be aware that if you are housing this snail species in saltwater aquariums their eggs will hatch, however eggs don’t hatch in freshwater.

These algae consumers will eat diatom algae, film algae, hair algae, and blue-green algae. With this wide repertoire, they’re widely considered one of the most effective and best algae eaters.

Compatible with: Most saltwater fish do well as long as they are peaceful and small. We recommend avoiding cichlids, barbs, and guppies.

TIP

If you’re having trouble with green spot algae, nerite snails are one of the best to solve these algae outbreaks!
3.
sailfin

Sailfin Blenny

This peaceful and active blenny makes a wonderful addition to any fish tank. Well known in the aquarium world sailfin blennies, sometimes known as algae blennies or fondly referred to as the "Lawnmower.

3. : Sailfin Blenny

The sailfin blenny does best in large aquariums with a variety of terrain for it to perch and hide on. Types of algae eaten include hair algae, microalgae, and bryopsis.

Compatible with: Crabs, clownfish, tangs, 

4.
Kole

Kole Tang

Popular in more serious aquarist’s saltwater tanks these peaceful fish are well liked for their sophisticated coloring and quirky personalities.

4.: Kole Tang

Kole tang need a diet rich in types of algae to strengthen their immune system and overall health. Offering multiple algae options around the tank will provide your tang and enriching experience. These fish should be kept solitary, and housed in aquariums that have a large swimming area, and plenty of places to hide.

Compatible with: crabs, shrimp, cardinals

5.
Cerith

Cerith Snail

Cerith snails have a beautiful spiral shell shape and are popular in many home aquariums. Don’t let their beauty fool you, they are excellent scavengers feeding on algae, feces, and uneaten fish food.

5.: Cerith Snail

Description: Not only are they great for eating algae, these snails will also help your substrate oxygen levels by burrowing in the sand. They are also one of the few snails that you don’t have to worry about overpopulating your tank. Eggs take a fairly long time to hatch, and will likely be eaten before getting the chance. Cerith snails are extremely hard to breed in captivity as the water parameters needed for breeding are unknown.

Compatible with: Giant clams, shrimp, marine invertebrates 

6.
Dwarf

Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab

These small, but mighty crabs are excellent scavengers who will eat algae, fish food, and everything in between. With their vibrant, colorful legs they’re sure to add a new perspective to your tank.

6.: Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab

Not only do these crabs provide cleaning services for your tank, they also help aerate the substrate by burrowing thus encouraging colonization of beneficial bacteria. Dwarf blue leg hermit crabs are reef-safe, and capable of fitting in small areas that larger algae eaters can’t reach.

Compatible with: Mollies, tetras, shrimp

TIP

Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crabs will require larger snail shells as they outgrow their own. Ensure that you provide plenty of snail shell options to allow them to test out different varieties and find the best fit! While they’re not picky about shells, if they think there’s not enough to go around they will attack other snails and hermit crabs to acquire new homes.
7.
Dolabella

Dollabella Sea Hare

For the aquarist looking to add a challenge to their tank, the dollabella sea hare might be it. An excellent algae remover, this sea hare will have no problem removing hair algae from your tank.

7.: Dollabella Sea Hare

Dollabella sea hares are so efficient in removing algae that they will actually starve once they have finished cleaning your tanks. Some aquarists will transfer them between multiple tanks and even between multiple aquarists in order to have sufficient algae for the sea hare to eat. Fairly peaceful creatures, the most threatening thing about aquarium life for sea hare’s is the powerhead filter due to their lack of scales or armor.

Compatible with: cardinals, rabbitfish, gobis

What eats hair algae: Freshwater Tanks

8.

Mystery Snails

Mystery snails are well known freshwater tank mates, and will eat most any algae. They would do well in a heavily planted tank for algae control and waste management. 

8.: Mystery Snails

Mystery snails will eat almost any type of algae, though their algae eating skills are often overshadowed by other snails. However, many fish keepers enjoy these snails because of their colorful shells and hardy nature.

Mystery snails are one of the few algae eaters that will do well in a goldfish tank. However, they will try to escape the tank if there’s not enough food, so be sure to keep a steady supply of algae wafers available.

Compatible with: rasboras, honey gouramis, neon tetras

9.

Amano shrimp

Amano shrimp are rockstar algae eaters and do well in tropical tanks. Not only do amano shrimp eat hair algae, they also eat black beard algae, and green hair algae.

9.: Amano shrimp

The secret to using these shrimp as an algae eater is to keep them hungry. These shrimp are some of the few that will eat black beard algae and brown slime algae, along with eating hair algae. However, don’t expect shrimp to single handedly be able to manage your hair algae problem as they don’t have the capabilities to clean the spots left behind in your fish tank. They’ve also been known to nibble at green spot algae, but generally don’t make a large dent. 

Compatible with: small tetras, small danios, guppies

RECOMMENDATION

Another popular freshwater shrimp for eating algae is the bamboo shrimp. Often mixed up in amano shrimp orders, you can tell the difference when they reach maturity. Bamboo shrimp grow to roughly 3 inches as an adult, whereas amano shrimp grow to only 2 inches.
10.
Chinese

Chinese Algae eaters

Although they are not colorful, and are a bit of a challenge this algae eater is fairly popular for committed aquarists.

10.: Chinese Algae eaters

If you’re interested in a species for larger tanks, these algae grazers might be for you. These fish can get up to 10-11 inches full grown, though in captivity they’re usually only 6 inches. Be aware that Chinse algae eaters like a fast water flow, so you will need a good pump and excellent circulation in your freshwater aquarium.

Compatible with: zebra danios, tiger bards, crayfish

TIP

These fish are ruthless, if they’re not getting enough protein from their diet they will eat the slime coat off of their tankmates. Make sure to keep an eye on all the tank inhabitants and their health.
11.

Ramshorn snails

Ramshorns are potentially the best solution for hair algae growth in freshwater aquariums. Not only do they clean algae in record time, but they won’t touch aquatic plants unless there is algae present.

11.: Ramshorn snails

Like all snails ramshorns reproduce rapidly, and can quickly become a pest. However, they are extremely useful for algae problems in nano tanks as they only reach a size of 1 inch. While they’re not the most colorful snail they will get the job done and are willing to consume uneaten fish food, aquarium algae, and other debris.

Compatible with: Otocinclus catfish, bamboo shrimp, corydora catfish

12.

Malaysian Trumpet snail

These snails are very picky about what algae that they’ll eat so unless you have soft algae growing on hard surfaces you should probably choose a different algae eater.

12.: Malaysian Trumpet snail

Aquarists have varied opinions regarding the Malaysian trumpet snails, some love them and others hate them. They’re sometimes classified as a pest because of how fast they reproduce. However, they are voracious algae eaters and will provide fast and easy algae removal. While these snails won’t actively eat your plants they will dig into substrate in search of food which might damage your plant’s roots.

Compatible with: shrimp, goldfish, loaches

13.
Bushy_Nose_Pleco

Bushynose pleco

The bushynose pleco, also known as the bristlenose catfish or the bristlenose pleco are well-known scavengers that will attach themselves to aquarium glass and substrate to hunt for algae.

13.: Bushynose pleco

Depending on the variety you could end up with a fish as long as 24 inches. If you’re looking for a fish that can effectively clean a large tank, or possibly an outdoor fish this is it. However, they are so good at algae cleaning that in the wild they’re known to wreak havoc on ecosystems.

Don’t place plecos with other bottom-dwelling fish as they are known to become territorial. These plecos will eat hair and other green algae, but tend to stay away from brown algae. An added bonus is that they won’t eat any freshwater plants you might have in your aquarium.

Compatible with: Goldfish, tetras, mollies, South American cichlids

TIP

It is controversial whether or not plecos do well in goldfish tanks. Some aquarists claim that they will suck off goldfish slime coats, but others say that the two different species don’t bother each other and cohabitate fairly well.
14.

Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp aren’t the most voracious algae eater but with a big enough colony they are extremely effective in removing hair algae.

14.: Cherry Shrimp

If your micro tank is having an algae outbreak, Cherry Shrimp might be the best choice. Growing to a maximum size of 1.5 inches and capable of living in colonies as small as 10 and as big as 100 cherry shrimp are an excellent addition to your freshwater tank. A peaceful tank mate, these shrimp are often sought after for their vibrant red coloring and easy care. 

Compatible with: Neon tetras, cory catfish, dwarf gouramis

15.
Siamese_Algae_Eater

Siamese Algae Eater

More popular for consuming black beard algae, the siamese algae eater is also an excellent consumer of hair algae. A bottom-dwelling, tropical fish are peaceful, hardy, and excellent community fish for your tank.

15.: Siamese Algae Eater

You might notice that the body and mouth shape looks similar to caps, that’s because siamese algae eater and carp are related! Out of all the fish,on our list this one might have one of the smallest tank requirements at only 30 gallons.

Compatible with: corydoras, guppies, barbs

Still haven’t found something to eat hair algae? Here’s some other suggestions that didn’t make our list: otocinclus catfish, dwarf red leg hermit crab, leopard blenny, yellow tang, and zebra turbo snail.

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

Yes, in general an algae eater’s diet can consist of detritus (decaying organic matter), small invertebrates, plants, algae wafers, and vegetables. This is especially important if you don’t have an algae problem, and are just using these animals to help control algae. Algae grazers aren’t picky and will even eat leftover fish food from your community tank.

Which algae eaters are compatible with aggressive cichlids?

The siamese algae eater and bristlenose plecos are probably the two best algae eating tank mates for aggressive cichlids. Since both of these are peaceful fish, and spend a majority of their time at the bottom of your tank these shouldn’t be much interference.

Which algae eaters are compatible with turtles?

Plecos, rosy barbs, and flagships are algae eating fish that can cohabitate peacefully with turtles. In general, you want algae consumers that are the length of your turtle so that way the turtles don’t try to chase the fish. Plecos are generally the most popular choice for turtle tanks because even smaller ones are able to survive with their fast swimming and hard scales. It has been noted that some plecos will even clean algal growth off of turtle shells.

Nerite snails are also found in turtle tanks as they are rockstar algae consumers.

How do you get rid of hair algae?

If you don’t want to add some friends into your tank to eat hair algae there are a few other options.

  1. If there are only a few spots of algae try fogging with hydrogen peroxide or easy carb, but not at the same time! Ideally use 1mL 35% solution for every 10 gallons of aquarium water. If you have a solution that is only 12% use 2mL per 10 gallons. Using a plastic syringe, fill with solution and then squirt directly at the hair algae. After a few minutes you should start to see bubbles, move on to the next spot of hair algae until you have used all of the solution. Wait 24 hours and repeat.
  2. If the algae has taken over your tank try a blackout treatment by turning off the aquarium light and blocking outside light. This method works for a few types of algae, including blue-green algae.
  3. If hair algae has almost taken over your aquarium you might need to use an algaecide to get rid of it. This should be a last resort as it can also destroy the algal ecosystem in your tank that many other fish use to supplement their diets.

With all of these methods we recommend also using UV sterilization. While it won’t help clumps of algae it will prevent more green water (waterborne algae) and the spread of algae growth throughout your tank.

If you need more help removing hair algae, watch this video below.

Getting Rid of Green Hair Algae

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are plenty of options to eradicate hair algae from your tank. However, regardless of eradication techniques if you do not consider why hair algae is occurring in your tank it will continue growing. While algae isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are definitely plenty of options to reduce it into a more manageable amount.

(1) Bemep, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

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