Dealing with Algae
Algae Control in your Freshwater Aquarium
(The First Tank Guide)
Algae is generally a good sign. When you have algae growing in your tank, your tank is capable of supporting life on it's own, and that life is finding its way into your tank. However, many people do not like to have a coating of algae on everything, as it detracts from the appearance of the tank and makes it difficult to see and enjoy the fish.
So, people ask me how they can control algae growth in their tanks.
What About Algacides?
My experience with algacides (algae killers, algae eliminators, algae destroyers, etc. - basically any additive designed and sold to kill algae in your aquarium) show that these algacides kill live plants, are hard on the biological filter and are dangerous to many kinds of fish. In correspondence with the manufacturers, I have not gotten any better answers to these questions than, "It has been in testing for years and we have never had a single problem or complaint." However, every algae killer I have tried has had disastrous side effects and has done little, if anything, to slow, control, or impede algae growth.
What About Getting an Algae Eater or a Plecostomus?
Some people do have good luck with algae eaters, but it can really be luck of the draw. Not all species of fish sold as algae eaters do eat algae, and some can't eat algae. Even the ones that do eat algae are really unlikely to eat enough algae to make a difference in the algae growth in your aquarium. Selling fish to eat algae is one of the common myths and misconceptions about fish and aquarium keeping in the pet trade.
So, What Does Help Control Algae?
To help control algae, follow these simple steps:
- Scrub the sides of the tank as needed to remove algae, scrub immediately before water changes, so that free floating algae can be removed with the dirty water. Additional free floating algae will be removed by your mechanical filtration.
- Do regular water changes, 10-15% once a week. This can remove free floating algae, but will also remove phosphates and Nitrates that contribute to algae growth.
- Make sure that the tank receives no direct sunlight. Direct sunlight, even for a short time or only on part of the tank will encourage algae growth, especially where the light hits the tank.
- Don't overfeed the fish. (Your fish should be fed once a day, and should completely consume all food in under two minutes.) Excess food will provide nutrients for algae and will contribute to poor water quality and poor fish health.
- Set the lights on a timer, about 12 hours a day (about 14 hours a day if you have live plants), this time should roughly coincide with real time.
- Provide filter maintenance when needed (changing cartridges, cleaning gravel, etc.)
- Make sure that any additives you are using in the tank do not contain phosphates or Nitrates, there is enough phosphate in your tap water, and any fish in your tank should provide sufficient Nitrates.
- Keep your tank population under control. Overpopulation will contribute to increased waste levels in the tank, resulting in increased maintenance, poorer fish health, and algae growth.
How About Live Plants to Control Algae?
Live plants will also help deal with algae. A healthy community of live plants will be much more efficient at extracting and using nutrients in the water than the algae, and can actually starve the algae. To keep your plants healthy, you will want to provide 12-14 hours a day of light, and you will want to use high-quality plant lights designed for aquarium use, or full-spectrum aquarium lights. Using power compact or VHO fluorescent lights will also enhance plant growth.
Even with live plants it is very important to provide regular tank and filter maintenance to control algae. Your plants also need to have clean healthy water to survive.
How Long Does It Take?
Getting your algae problem under control may be very quick, or it may take some time. If the problem is mostly from an unnecessary additive you are using or from improper water changes or poor aquarium maintenance, making the correction should have immediate results. However, if you are experiencing a free-floating algae bloom, it may take several water changes to get the green discoloration out of the water once you have the cause of the algae growth under control.