Top 20 Algae Eaters: Snails, Shrimp & Fish That Clean Tanks

Algae is a familiar sight to every aquarium keeper. Red, green, and brown algae grows naturally in all aquariums. It is part of the ecosystem and is usually not a cause for concern.

However, it can become a big problem when it is allowed to grow out of control. Too much algae can lower the water quality and use up the light and oxygen that your plants need.

Luckily, algae is the favorite food of many aquarium friendly critters. These critters are a natural way to control algae and feel at home in any freshwater aquarium.

Continue reading to discover 20 of the very best algae eaters that will keep a freshwater tank clean…

What Makes The Best Algae Eaters?

Algae Eaters Social

The best algae eaters are bottom dwellers. They forage at the bottom levels of a tank and eat up the algae where it grows.

Most algae eating fish and snails are omnivores, but they get most of their nutrition from algae. It should make up a large part of their diet or it should be an essential supplement.

Many detritivores (e.g. snails that eat dead plants) also eat algae as part of their diet.

Detritivores make some of the best aquarium janitors because they will eat absolutely anything that they find. They are also very voracious, and usually spend most of their day foraging for food.

The more algae that a critter will eat, the more effective it will be at keeping the tank clean. However, if you have more than one algae eater, they should not out-eat each other.

Algae cleaners are usually very peaceful and do not compete for resources with other freshwater fish and tank mates. They should never be aggressive or predatory towards the other members of a tank, including their fellow algae eaters. Above all, they should be able to fit in a community.

Since most of the algae in your aquarium will be found growing on plants, an efficient tank cleaner should be able to eat the algae without damaging the plants themselves.

This means that Goldfish, Koi, and other large carps do not cut it. They all eat plants and algae.

A-Z Freshwater Algae Eater List

Species Beginner Friendly Price Rank
Amano Shrimp Yes $3 to $5 6
Apple Snail Yes $3 to $7 12
Bamboo Shrimp Yes $10 to $16 13
Bee Shrimp No $7 to $15 21
Bristlenose Pleco Yes $10 to $20 7
Cherry Shrimp Yes $4 to $6 5
Chinese Algae Eater No $4 to $8 9
Ghost Shrimp Yes $3 to $6 1
Grass Shrimp Yes $3 to $6 16
Hillstream Loach No $35 to $70 20
Kuhli Loach No $3 to $6 3
Malaysian Trumpet Snail Yes $4 to $6 19
Nerite Snail Yes $1 to $9 10
Otocinclus Yes $3 to $8 4
Plecostomus Sometimes $10 to $150 2
Pond Snail Yes $4 to $6 17
Rabbit Snail Yes $8 to $12 15
Ramshorn Snail No $2 to $8 14
Siamese Algae Eater No $5 to $8 8
Siamese Flying Fox No $6 to $8 11
Snowball Shrimp Yes $3 to $7 18
Sulawesi Cardinal Shrimp No $12 to $16 22
Sun Snail Yes $4 to $6 23

Best 8 Algae Eating Fish

1. Plecostomus

Plecostomus

Plecostomus is a group that includes suckermouth catfish of all sizes.

These algae eating fish are like underwater vacuums. They gobble up algae and anything else they find at the bottom of a tank.

In the aquarium world they are known as ‘janitor fish’ for their supreme algae cleaning abilities.

If a Goldfish tank has an algae problem, you will usually spot a Common Pleco at the bottom. It can handle a minimum temperature of 68°F, making it suitable for warmer water Goldfish.

Usually, a Pleco will blend in with its environment with a grey and black speckled pattern. But they can also be brown, yellow, and albino.

Plecos are peaceful, but they should not be housed with any small bottom dwellers. They will not hesitate to eat fish and invertebrates smaller than they are.

2. Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

The Kuhli or ‘Coolie’ Loach is not just an algae cleaner, but it is one of the many perks of keeping this adorable fish. They will eat almost anything they find, including algae.

Kuhli Loaches are considered ‘oddball fish’ as they have eel like bodies and scaleless heads.

Scaleless fish are much more susceptible to diseases (e.g. ich). This must be taken into consideration if you choose one.

These curious fish love to inspect and investigate their environment, but, their lack of scales means they are very easily injured. Never use rough or jagged substrate to house a Kuhli Loach.

3. Otocinclus

Otocinclus
Otos can be kept in a 10-gallon tank and they are friendly to all skill levels.

Are you looking for the best algae cleaner for a nano tank?

Look no further than the Oto or ‘Otto’ catfish!

Otos are too small to eat full sized strands of algae. Instead, they eat it in the form of small particles or biofilm.

If you have a tank full of Chili Rasboras, Ember Tetras, or Zebra Danios, this tiny catfish will help to keep it neat and clean. They work best in a group of five or more.

4. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

Plecos are a popular cleaner fish for many community tanks.

The Bristlenose Pleco is a species of Pleco catfish with a very interesting feature. As its name suggest, this small fish has a face full of bristly tentacles.

Bristlenose Plecos are a great choice if you want an algae eating fish for a small tank. It grows up to a maximum of five inches long and can be kept in a 25-gallon tank.

Plecos are primarily herbivorous, and algae is one of its very favorite foods. They also enjoy blanched garden vegetables, driftwood, and small worms.

5. Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eaters are often the first choice when looking for an algae eater. The only reason they aren’t ranked higher is because they are a little destructive to more fragile plants.

These fish are some of the best algae cleaners around.

Siamese Algae Eaters are similar to another algae eater on our list: the Siamese Flying Fox. In fact, they are often mislabeled as Flying Foxes by sellers. But, it is easy to spot the difference.

Algae Eaters have shorter barbels on their snouts that Flying Foxes. Their black colors do not extend to the dorsal fins too.

6. Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater
You know a fish is a good tank cleaner when it has ‘algae eater’ in its name!

The Chinese algae eater is a small, sucker mouthed fish from the Gyrinochelidae family.

Its sucker shaped mouth is similar to that of suckermouth catfish. It allows them to efficiently graze for algae in the substrate of any tank.

Chinese Algae Eaters are found in China, but they are more common in Thailand and Vietnam. They have a brown and black spotted pattern that lets it blend in to the substrate around it.

This little fish can be a bit feisty and often gets into fights with its own kind or other similar fish.

Unless you plan to breed it, you should keep only one per tank.

7. Siamese Flying Fox

Siamese Flying Fox

The Siamese Flying Fox is very similar to the Siamese Algae Eater.

These two species are often interchangeable, but cannot be kept together in the same tank.

Like the Chinese and Siamese Algae Eaters, this fish becomes territorial with its own kind. It can also get testy with other bottom dwellers.

Siamese Flying Foxes happily munch on algae, but it needs to be fed more than just that. It also needs live micro-prey (e.g. brine shrimp and water fleas).

8. Hillstream Loach

Loaches are peaceful bottom dwellers that eat up algae in large amounts.

The Hillstream Loach is the best algae cleaner in the Cobitidae family, but it is not like the other loaches you may be used to.

Hillstreams come from fast moving mountain streams with highly transient water parameters. They have specialized care requirements:

  • A high flow external filter must be powerful enough to mimic river currents.
  • The water temperatures must range from 68 to 80°F.
  • The water must be well oxygenated, either with air stones or an air pump system.

If you are very experienced with river fish, you can consider the Hillstream Loach. If not, there are many easier algae cleaning fish above to choose from.

Best 8 Algae Eating Shrimp

1. Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp are one the most popular type of Grass Shrimp for an aquarium. Like other Grass Shrimp, they rely on plants for both shelter and food. They will not damage your plants while grazing for algae.

They are widely available and often advertised as ‘cleaner shrimp.’

Make sure to buy freshwater Ghost Shrimp as saltwater species also exist.

Ghost Shrimp are named for their completely transparent bodies. They look like little ghosts moving around in the substrate cleaning the tank.

2. Cherry Shrimp

Cherry Shrimp
One of the best algae eating shrimps is also the most beautiful.

Cherry Shrimp is the red and orange color form of the dwarf shrimp Neocaridina davidi.

If you keep a large group of different colored Cherry Shrimp together, you can create a living rainbow!

They are very popular, easy to find and can be managed by aquarists of any skill level.

Cherry Shrimp live on patches of Java Moss at the bottom of a tank. The moss attracts algae and biofilm, which is this shrimp’s main food source.

These shrimp are so good at finding food on their own that outside food is only necessary once or twice a week.

3. Amano Shrimp

Amano Shrimp
This little shrimp is an omnivore, but algae is its favorite food.

If you were to ask an aquarist to pick the best algae eating shrimp, it is a safe bet that many will pick the Amano Shrimp.

Amano Shrimp are some of the most voracious algae cleaners.

For freshwater tanks there is no better cleaner shrimp. Amano Shrimp are friendly to all tank sizes, from 100-gallon to freshwater nano tanks. They can even handle slightly acidic conditions, which most invertebrates on our list cannot.

When you introduce Amano Shrimp to your aquarium, you will usually catch them hanging out on your plants. They are not eating the plants, but the algae and biofilm that coats the leaves.

Be on the lookout for little movements among your leaves and moss as their translucent exoskeleton makes them very hard to spot.

4. Bamboo Shrimp

Bamboo Shrimp

The Bamboo Shrimp is not just an algae eater! They are one of the best cleaning shrimp and eat any type of particle that they can find in the tank.

Unlike most of the shrimp on this list, this detritivore does not graze for its food.

It feeds on algae with special filters on the ends of its chelipeds. It uses their filters to catch particles to eat at all hours of the day.

Bamboo Shrimp seek out the areas in your tank where the flow is the highest. In these areas, filamentous algae gets swept up in the currents.

5. Grass Shrimp

Grass Shrimp

A Grass Shrimp is any shrimp in the genus Palaemonetes. The Ghost Shrimp featured earlier in our list is a type of Grass Shrimp.

These tiny, translucent shrimp are found in estuaries all over the world. It lives in salt marshes and seagrass beds.

Many of the major rivers and bays in the United States are home to these shrimp.

Grass Shrimp eat algae and microscopic phytoplankton. In the aquarium, they should be allowed little bit of everything they would get to eat in the wild.

6. Snowball Shrimp

Snowball Shrimp

The Snowball Shrimp is a beautiful white shrimp from the Neocaridina genus. Unlike the Grass or Ghost Shrimp, it is impossible to miss!

Snowball Shrimp love algae, but will also need a high quality shrimp food packed with veggies.

If you need an algae cleaner for a cold water tank, this little shrimp is it.

It can withstand temperatures as low as 55°F and is also one of the few shrimp that can handle slightly acidic waters (a minimum pH of 6.0).

Since it is so hardy, it can handle a few rookie mistakes from a beginner aquarium keeper.

7. Bee Shrimp

Crystal Red Bee Shrimp

The Bee Shrimp comes in over 20 different color variations. The ‘Crystal Red’ (pictured above) with red and white color blocks is our favorite.

This algae eater is a well-loved aquarium pet by experienced keepers.

If you know how to take care of it, it does its job very well. It will enjoy eating on algae, plants and veggies.

Bee Shrimp are very sensitive to their environment. They need an experienced keeper to give them the best possible home. Poor water quality, unclean water or substrate, and aggressive tank mates can all cause big problems.

This shrimp is not the best choice if you are simply looking for a basic algae cleaner.

8. Sulawesi Cardinal Shrimp

Sulawesi Cardinal Shrimp

The Sulawesi Cardinal Shrimp is one of the most beautiful algae eating shrimp. Unfortunately, it is also one of the hardest to keep. This rare species needs a lot of equipment.

Cardinal Shrimp habitats must be well aerated, heated above 77°F, and completely cycled with no shifting parameters. There should be a constant supply of algae and detritus to graze on, but not enough to foul up the water quality. Even the slightest change in quality can lead to disaster.

The Sulawesi Cardinal can be kept alongside another excellent algae cleaner: the Rabbit Snail.

Best 7 Algae Eating Snails

1. Nerite Snail

Nerite Snail

Nerite Snails are among the most popular algae cleaning snails.

There are over 200 species of Nerite Snails, many of which are easy to find in pet stores. There is one for every type of tank, from freshwater to saltwater to paludariums and terrariums.

Freshwater Nerites like heavily planted tanks with moist gravel or mud bottoms.

You can keep a group of Nerite Snails together. Just size up by 5-gallons for each snail you add beyond the first three.

2. Apple Snail

Apple Snail

The Apple Snail or ‘Mystery Snail’ is one of the larger freshwater snails. It has an apple shaped shell with the spiral whorls that most people think of when they think of a snail.

Apple Snails love heavily planted tanks with plenty of thickets to shelter in.

These snails eat both algae and detritus.

They will graze on plants occasionally, but are more concerned with eating dead ones than live ones.

Apple Snails do not only stay at the bottom of the tank, but climb the glass to reach the middle and upper levels too. This means that your aquarium will need a hood to keep them from climbing out entirely.

3. Ramshorn Snail

Ramshorn Snail
Ramshorn Snails make great cleaner snails, but can take over a tank in no time at all.

Some aquarists keep these snails as pets. For others, they are nothing but pests! They breed through parthenogenesis so do not even need a mate to be able to reproduce.

If you want to keep some Ramshorns for algae cleaning, make sure that it is only a small group. Do not have any more than three in a tank and do not place them in aquascapes with delicate plants.

Do not be fooled by their size, these snails are incredibly resilient and can take over a tank!

4. Rabbit Snail

Rabbit Snail
Rabbit Snails are also called Bunny or Elephant Snails.

This adorable snail is definitely one of the cutest algae eaters you can get. There are several species available in different eye-catching colors.

Rabbit Snails can fit into your aquascape both by color and shell pattern.

Each species comes with its own unique shell pattern, and some are fancier than others.

This critter grazes on algae like a rabbit grazes on lettuce! It also eats detritus and wide leaved plants.

5. Pond Snail

Pond Snail

Pond Snails are great for aquariums, ponds and paludariums. It is the most common kind of aquarium snail. In the wild, they occur in lakes and ponds all over the world.

A few Pond Snails may show up as unexpected guests after you put in a new aquarium plant. They are not destructive, so it may be worth keeping them around.

6. Malaysian Trumpet Snail

Malaysian Trumpet Snail

Malaysian Trumpet Snails are burrowing snails with cone shaped shells. They eat anything that appears in the substrate, including algae. They nip algae in the bud right at the source

It is possible to get a few Malaysian Trumpet Snails in your tank without even meaning to! Just like pond snails, these tiny snails are known for hitching a ride on new aquarium plants.

They are very beneficial to have in small numbers, but they reproduce very quickly.

A small group of Trumpet Snails can quickly turn into a massive colony.

If you want to keep a few of these snails for tank cleaning, they should only be kept with fish that are not large enough to eat them. Most nano fish do not pose any risk to them so it is best to keep them in a tank as small as 5-gallons.

7. Sun Snail

The Sun Snail, or Horned Nerite Snail, is named for the three to six ‘rays’ on its shell.

Sun Snails are more colorful and attention grabbing than typical Nerite Snails.

They can eat pretty much everything that other Nerite Snails can eat, including algae, detritus, plants, and garden vegetables.

A small group of Sun Snails is a nice touch in a tropical tank.

You need a 40-gallon tank to house a small group of Sun Snails. The tank must be hooded, as they are known to make their way to the upper levels. Other tank conditions are about the same as for any other species of Nerite Snail.

Which Is The Best Algae Eater For Your Tank?

A good cleaner eats just enough algae without eating too much of it.

The best algae eaters are the ones that maintain a natural balance between algae eating and other forms of nutrition. This way, they will not compete with others for food and resources.

For these reasons you should not pick an algae eater based on their appearance alone. You should choose based on how efficient it is at keeping your aquarium clean and how well it fits your community. Your chosen species should be tolerant of your other fish and focused on scavenging in the substrate.

We hope that this list has helped you to find the best species for your tank.

What is the best algae eater you have ever had? Let us know in the comments below…

About David Thomas

David Thomas David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

Leave a Comment