How to Get Rid of Hair Algae in Fish Tank

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Keeping an aquarium is all fun and good when you just start. With your fishes swimming and growing in clean, clear water, you might think you have finally gotten the hang of it.

However, you soon start to notice a funny, irritating type of green or brownish hair-like growth gradually creep over your aquatic plants and around your tank. This growth, known as hair algae, is one major bane of aquarium keeping.

And unfortunately, there are hardly any aquarists who have not experienced the challenge of hair algae at some point. So if you are battling with hair algae in your fish tank, you should know that you’re not alone.

How can you get rid of hair algae? To get rid of hair algae, you need to use the right methods and as soon as possible, either by manually ripping it off or through other careful measures. Hair algae can be a simple problem at first, but can easily get out of control.

They grow really fast

When hair algae start to grow in your fish tank, you might be surprised to see that they can spread really fast and if left unchecked, they can soon cover the whole tank.

They start to grow over the aquatic plants and later the interior of the fish tank and the water, looking like a green carpet covering your beautiful water plants. They can actually do some harm to the organisms in your aquarium if left to fester.

What causes the growth of hair algae?

  • Well, as a water habitat, the growth of some plants is a natural phenomenon such that, when the conditions are right they are simply unavoidable. This is why it is usually a common challenge every aquarist has to handle at one point or the other.
  • Hair algae grow as a result of an abundance of nitrates and phosphate that is deposited by aquatic organisms into their water. As long as there is water, and there are nitrates and phosphate causing organisms, you would at some point experience the growth of hair algae in your aquarium.
  • In addition, excessive carbon dioxide is also a cause for the growth of hair algae. Of course, carbon dioxide would be a part of your fish tank, however, when it becomes more than is necessary, it can lead to the growth of unwanted hair algae.
  • Hair algae might also grow or spread faster if your tank is exposed to a lot of light. Obviously, you should already know that light exposure isn’t quite good for the aquatic environment, as many fishes do not find this comfortable.

Many aquarists, however, explain that hair algae occur in every new tank before a balance is created, and would most likely die a natural death if measures are taken to stem their main causes in your tank.

Although there are way too many cases where hair algae prove terribly stubborn to be rid of.

It thus takes some amount of time to get your tank free from hair algae and precautions that you must diligently attend to, in order to achieve some improvement.

Is there a simple cure for hair algae?

For many aquarists, a simple measure would be to scrape it off with your hands. This can be done with your gloved hands, in which you try to rip them off the plants they have been attached to, or the walls of the fish tank.

If the spread is still at the early stage where the algae are minimal, this could actually work, but if not, this method might not be very effective.

This simple cure is however not in any way permanent, because the hair algae will simply regrow, and even faster too! You, therefore, need to know better methods to properly get rid of hair algae if your tank will be free from them.

How you can properly get rid of hair algae

When battling with hair algae, the first mistake many aquarists make is that they confuse every algae to be the same harmful hair algae that is difficult to eliminate.

There are different types of algae that grow in fish tanks and most of them differ from tank to tank. Since hair algae is a living organism, it requires some ‘nutrients’ to feed on in order to thrive. Thus, it is only in the right conditions that hair algae can survive.

Remove all hidden suppliers of algae from your tank

The first obvious cure would be to eliminate the conditions required for the growth of the hair algae. However, it is largely impossible for you to remove all the algae causing organisms because of the very aquatic life you’re struggling to keep contribute to the existence of hair algae.

Different fishes, snails, and other water organisms carry some bit of algae that are transmitted into the tank. Even the water that is originally introduced into the tank might bear some algae that then grows and spreads.

The plants and substrates most especially should be closely monitored to ensure that they do not carry bits of algae that would grow and contaminate the fish tank. If this is the case, manually scrapping would do little to alleviate the problem.

Replace tank water frequently

To get rid of hair algae, you might be required to replace the tank water more often, as well as washing and decontaminating the rocks, the substrates and other non-living components within the tank.

It would be more effective if the substrates are sterilized before re-introducing them into the water. You must, however, be careful in preventing harmful chemicals from getting into your tank through this process and subsequently harming your fishes.

Reduce nitrate and phosphate levels

In addition, as mentioned above, hair algae exist when the conditions required for their survival is favorable. Therefore, reducing the level of these can be a great step in getting rid of hair algae.

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You will need to test the nitrate levels often to know how much nitrate your tank contains and filter the water when necessary, in order to cut down on the nitrates and phosphates level.

Get Rid of Hair Algae

Grow more aquatic plants in your tank

Having more aquatic plants can reduce the risk of hair algae in your tank. Having sparse plants the fish tankOpens in a new tab. would give more room to the growth of hair algae.

It would, therefore, be wise to research the plants before you put them into your tank to know if they are suitable and healthy.

Thus, as a cure for hair algae growth, you should consider including more healthy aquatic plants in the tank. Growing plants that reach out to the water surface can be particularly beneficial.

Reduce the amount of light allowed into your tank

Furthermore, hair algae growth can be reduced when you reduce the amount of light that gets into your fish tank. Light, especially sunlight, is favorable for the growth of hair algae.

Anti-algae treatments

There are anti hair algae treatments and solutions that can be bought to eliminate the hair algae in your tank. However many aquarists advocate against them because of their side effects which could be harmful to the aquatic life you have.

But despite some of these measures, hair algae might grow even more persistently. Such as when you change the tank water too often. However, it remains a better choice to do so because there are more advantages of clean fish tank water than disadvantages.

This is why it is often said that getting rid of hair algae is really tasking. A total cure might also prove difficult if you are not sure about what is causing the growth in your own specific tank, or if you are even fighting the wrong type of hair algae.

Introduce Algae Eating fishes and Organisms

To get rid of this stubborn menace in difficult situations, you can also simply introduce organisms that would see the hair algae as food into your tank.

Many aquarists have found this to be a very effective measure against the spread of hair algae. Many marine organisms are algae eating critters such as;

  • Emerald crab
  • Catfishes
  • Surgeonfishes
  • Angelfishes
  • Snails
  • Hermit Crabs
  • Starfishes
  • Britlenose, etc.

These creatures find hair algae to be very good for food and actively consume them, thereby reducing their growth and spread.

Getting rid of hair algae in your planted tank

Hair algae in your planted plants might prove disastrous when it begins to expand and then choke your plants and even cover the surface of the water, ruining every plant you’ve struggled to grow.

Instead of allowing the nutrients to grow your planted organisms, the hair algae takes up everything and is generally a nuisance.

Temporary solutions might not be very trustworthy here, thus you might need to work on the carbon dioxide imbalance directly before you get a lasting solution.

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If it requires that you add more or reduce the level of carbon dioxide in your planted tank, ensure this is done well and cautiously, such that there is no mistake of overdose that may be dangerous to the fish. This coupled with the several measures explained here would be relevant to note.

How to get rid of hair algae in a Reef Tank

In a reef tank, you cannot fight hair algae carelessly like any other tank. While it might work when you reduce the lighting in other fish tanks, a reef tank requires a considerable amount of light for the survival of the corals.

The corals in your reef tank have to be preserved even as you try to eliminate hair algae. It is thus preferable for you to use natural hair algae eaters to get rid of them because these would specifically source for algae without harming your corals or other tank organisms.

Some natural organisms that feed mainly on algae in a safe and beneficial way for your reef tank include

  • dwarf hermit crab- the various species that are safe for reefs,
  • Herbivore snails in their different reef-safe species (Nerite snails, Turbo snails, Zebra Turbo Snails amongst others)
  • Herbivore blennies that eat mainly algae, and would consume most of the hair algae in your reef tank.
  • Surgeonfish also eat algae alone without disturbing your corals or the planted plants in the tank.

How to get rid of hair algae in a saltwater tank?

In a marine aquarium, having green hair algae is almost unavoidable, and the conditions are suited to breed even faster. Despite using algae removing products, the growth of hair algae might still persist in a marine aquarium.

However, you should know that not all the green algae in your marine tank have a harmful effect on the water. Though they mostly appear similar, you might be fighting some unnecessarily without knowing.

Many saltwater aquariums make use of sea salt mixes that are rich in elements such as phosphates and nitrates. These greatly increase the growth of hair algae, and the use of such non-quality products would have to be stopped totally or replaced with better ones if hair algae must be eliminated.

Other generic measures could also be employed in a saltwater tank, such as reducing the amount and intensity of light allowed into the tank, reducing the amount of algae-breeding nutrients, such as dissolved organic compounds existing within the tank, and increased flow of water in the marine tank, and use of right and healthy substrates within the tank.

Also ensuring that the water you replace your tank water with is well treated and healthy, free from the required elements for algae growth such as nitrates and phosphates would go a long way in curbing the spread of hair algae in your marine tank.

Moreover, since you know that not all algae are harmful to your saltwater tank and that in fact, some are beneficial and natural, you can grow some species of algae in the aquarium to reduce the growth of the hazardous hair algae.

The growth of healthy algae will increase the competition for survival with the hair algae and would cause their spread to be greatly limited.

In conclusion, you should know that getting rid of hair algae is not a day’s job. It requires patience and persistence, especially when you do not know the exact cause of the hair algae spread.

You, therefore, need to understand the exact type of algae you are dealing with, its causes and the different techniques involved in ridding your tank of them.

Saurabh Kumar

I am a passionate fish keeper, with years of experience. You will find some really useful tips and information on this blog about Freshwater Aquariums.

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