Top 17 Bottom Feeder Fish: Best Tank Cleaners

Bottom Feeders are one of the most useful fish you can keep in your aquarium.

These fish will spend all of their time at the bottom of the tank, scavenging for food, or nibbling on any algae that has built up.

There are many types that are suitable for the aquarium.

Some species make fantastic scavengers. Others are more active and like to explore their surroundings.

If you are unsure about which is best for your aquarium then keep reading.

Below we have listed our 17 favorite bottom feeders that will keep your tank sparkling clean…

What is a Bottom Feeder Fish?

Panda Garra

Fish that spend most of their time at lower water levels are known as bottom feeders.

In the wild they will normally live near the river bed, scavenging rocks and other objects for food. They can be found in both freshwater and saltwater environments.

There are a few defining traits that are characteristic of bottom feeder fish:

  1. One characteristic that you are most likely to see is their barbels. These are whisker-like organs which have sensory features allowing them to detect prey and food. This can be useful in areas with low visibility where eyesight alone will not be sufficient to detect objects.
  2. Another common trait of bottom feeders is a flattened stomach. This allows them to lie as close to the river bed as possible which makes feeding easier for them.
  3. Most will also have downturned mouths or sucker mouths. This lets them scavenge on the river bottom or latch onto surfaces for stability while feeding.

Most bottom feeder species will have one or more of these traits which makes them easier to identify.

Just remember that not all of them will spend all day at the bottom of the tank. Some are adventurous and will spend their time in the middle of the water column as well.

Species Size Community Friendly Rank
Bristlenose Pleco 4-5 inches Yes 3
Bumblebee Goby 1.5 inches Yes 13
Chinese Algae Eater 6-11 inches No 8
Clown Loach 12 inches Yes 4
Common Pleco 20-24 inches Yes 9
Green Gold Cory 2.8 inches Yes 17
Kuhli Loach 3-4 inches Yes 1
Otocinclus 2 inches Yes 5
Panda Cory 2 inches Yes 10
Panda Garra 3.5 inches Yes 12
Rainbow Shark 4-6 inches No 2
Siamese Algae Eater 6 inches Yes 7
Synodontis Catfish 12 inches Yes 14
Tiger Shovelnose Catfish 36 inches No 16
Twig Catfish 9 inches No 15
Yoyo Loach 2.5 inches Yes 6
Zebra Loach 4 inches Yes 11

Best 5 Small Bottom Feeder Fish

Green Gold Cory

Green Gold Cory

Green Gold Cory Catfish are the perfect softwater bottom feeders.

These fish have an incredibly peaceful temperament and are sociable creatures so they like to be in groups (ideally six or more).

You will find they spend most of their time digging and playing around in the substrate. Their tendency to keep to themselves or in their group at the bottom of the tank means that they won’t bother other fish.

These extravagant looking fish will shimmer and sparkle through the tank with their iridescent scales reflecting colors of emerald green, bronze and gold.

  • Size: 2.8 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Bumblebee Goby

Bumblebee Goby

The Bumblebee Goby looks exactly like what you would imagine.

A bumblebee!

You often will see Bumblebee Gobies at the bottom of the tank doing what bottom feeders do best. They spend most of their day near the substrate, digging into the sand.

Their bodies are covered in alternating stripes of yellow and black. Some individuals will have pale yellow or bright orange stripes with males typically having the most vivid colors. They also have transparent fins and small heads with bulbous eyes.

These tiny fish are a delight to observe in the tank as they are extremely playful and sociable with other species. They actually require brackish conditions to survive so won’t do well in completely freshwater tanks and are sensitive to water changes.

  • Size: 1.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Panda Cory

Panda Cory Catfish

Just like their name suggests the Panda Cory resembles the bamboo-munching panda.

These catfish have black patches around their eyes, pink to white-colored bodies and additional black markings on their fins.

Not only does their behavior reflect their bottom feeding nature, but Panda Corys also have a defining trait that classifies them as bottom feeders. These are the barbels (whiskers) which they use as sensory mechanisms when scavenging around on the tank floor.

These fish are actually nocturnal so they will be less active during the day. When you do see them playing around, you will see how they love to scavenge at the bottom of the tank. They are also one of the best cold water aquarium fish.

  • Size: 2 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loaches are extravagant looking eels that like to dwell at the bottom of the tank.

They engage in typical bottom feeder activities such as burrowing and, in some cases, they can disappear for months as they get lost in the substrate. This is not anything to be concerned about as they will reemerge when they are ready.

These loaches are nocturnal so they will sleep during the day. If you want to watch your Kuhlis then you will need to wait until nighttime when they come out to eat.

They enjoy being in groups and socializing together, which makes them very compatible for community tanks.

  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Zebra Loach

Zebra Loach

The Zebra Loach is a wonderful bottom feeder.

These southern Indian natives are ideal for beginners with their low maintenance requirements and small size.

You will often find them at the bottom of the tank digging around in the substrate exploring their surroundings. Like most bottom feeder fish they have three pairs of barbels that help them to sense their surroundings.

Zebra Loaches have patterns of yellow, brown or gray vertical stripes which stand out against their cream colored body. These stripes cover most of their body including the fins. Juveniles will have red noses but these tend to fade as they get older.

What makes these loaches unique is that they are not nocturnal, so you get to watch their activity and how they interact with other loaches during the day.

  • Size: 4 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Best 5 Fish For Cleaning Bottom Of Tank

Common Pleco

Common Pleco

The Common Pleco is one of the most popular bottom feeders around.

They are best known for keeping aquariums as clean as possible.

Common Plecos hide in caves and dig around the substrate, especially at night when they are most active. They have flat bodies which allow them to stay as close to the bottom as possible, swimming around and using their highly adapted suckermouths to suction up any algae and left-over food that has sunk to the bottom during feeding time.

These fish are often covered with black markings, usually spots which stand out against a brown body.

  • Size: 20-24 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Rainbow Shark

Rainbow Shark

These colorful freshwater sharks are a vibrant species to look at.

They also do a great job at keeping your tank clean from any algae.

Rainbow Sharks have distinctive red-orange fins and slender gray bodies. Their faces are quite flat with a round snout, and they also have a forked tail. These passive fish will spend most of their time swimming at the bottom of the tank, picking up any algae or waste that has collected near the substrate.

Just remember that they are semi-aggressive so won’t do well in community tanks. They can become territorial or aggressive if provoked and require a lot of space, even though they are quite small.

  • Size: 4-6 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 Gallons
  • Community friendly: No

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eater Eating Algae

Siamese Algae Eaters are best known for eating algae.

These fish are docile and hardy. They are ideal for beginners since they do all the cleaning for you and are low maintenance.

They are not very good explorers and like to stick to familiar surroundings. Once they find something to feed on, they will remain in that spot until they have cleared it completely making them the ideal bottom feeders.

Siamese Algae Eaters have a slim and long gray body with a distinctive bold line that runs from head to tail. This line may fade on occasions such as in times of stress, for camouflage or even during courtship behaviors.

Overall they like to occupy the bottom of the tank and will dig around the substrate. They are scavengers so will feed on anything they can pick up including algae and dead insects and even dead fish. They are fairly active and do not mind being alone or in groups so can make a useful addition to community tanks.

  • Size: 6 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis Catfish

This African Catfish is commonly used as a cleaner in African Cichlid tanks.

They are a typical bottom feeder fish as they are often seen at the bottom of the tank.

Synodontis Catfish have many features that make them good bottom feeders. This includes their broad eyes which are positioned at the back of the head and ideal for peripheral vision, fleshy barbels near the mouth to sense food and objects near the bottom of the tank, and an inferior mouth which makes it easier to scavenge and suck up food.

They have sleek bodies with a forked tail and a sharp spine. They tend to range in color from a darkish to light brown and have various dark markings all over their bodies.

Synodontis Catfish also have an arched back and merged teeth.

  • Size: 12 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eaters have a rather dull appearance with most individuals having a pale brown or slightly gold body with a dark line running across. They also have a dorsal fin which is accompanied with many rays.

These fish are popular among aquarists as they do an excellent job at removing algae build up in the tank and keeping the aquarium sparkling clean.

You will see them latched onto the glass of your tank. This is a fairly common behavior and very typical in bottom feeder fish.

Their large mouth creates a suction mechanism which allows them to attach onto these surfaces.

They will also scavenge for food at the bottom of the tank and won’t interact with other fishes, often hiding near plants and caves. It is recommended to use soft substrate with flat rocks as these algae eaters will enjoy vacuuming and cleaning up the surface of the rocks.

  • Size: 6-11 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons
  • Community friendly: No

Best 7 Regular Bottom Feeder Fish

Twig Catfish (Farlowella)

Twig Catfish

True to their name the Twig Catfish has a long and skinny light brown body.

This is ideal for camouflage. They also have small fins as they are not active fish and spend most of their time latched onto surfaces with their suckermouth.

In the wild their lack of activity makes them practically invisible to predators. In the tank they are unlikely to bother others as they tend to be quite lazy. However, they make good bottom feeders as they clean up the algae that builds up in the tank.

Due to their timid personality they are not the best addition for community tanks as they can be outcompeted for food. They need slow-moving peaceful tank mates if they are to co-exist with others. They are also very sensitive to water fluctuations.

  • Size: 9 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: No

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

These bottom feeders are a great option for anyone that is looking for a large fish.

They are recommended for aquarists that have experience as their large size and slightly aggressive temperament can be a bit of a handful. However, they are an extremely rewarding species.

Tiger Shovelnoses have unique features which allow them to adapt to their surroundings.

Their long flat mouth allows them to scoop as much prey as possible when they are scavenging at the bottom of the riverbed. Like most bottom feeders they have barbels which extend from their mouth allowing them to sense food and objects too.

Although they are classed as bottom feeders you will often see them swimming around in the middle of the tank as they are incredibly active.

Their active nature and curious personality make them an interesting bottom feeder to keep.

  • Size: 36 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 250 Gallons
  • Community friendly: No

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Pleco is a more reserved species.

Like most bottom feeders they like to keep to themselves.

You will often find them sitting at the bottom of the tank among the gravel and rocks. Their flat bodies are ideal for this lifestyle as they can lie as close to the surface bottom as possible.

They are more active at night when you may see them engaging in typical bottom feeder activities such as burrowing in the substrate and nibbling on algae.

You can find them in a variety of colors including: vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows.

Their appearance can change for camouflage or in times of stress and sickness.

  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Yoyo Loach

Yoyo Loach

Yoyo Loaches look very similar to most loaches.

They have long and slender bodies that vary in color and pattern. The standard color is silver but blue hues are not rare and they may even have a hint of gold. This will be accompanied by black markings all over the body.

These Loaches have a flat snout which makes them perfect for resting at the bottom of the tank. They like to play around in the substrate and wait for food at the bottom of the tank. Sinking foods are best for this species as they will rarely swim up to feed.

Yoyo Loaches are a wonder for the tank. They are known to interact with their owners by swimming near the glass surfaces of the tank and they like to explore their surroundings.

  • Size: 2.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Otocinclus

Otocinclus

These algae eaters are small fish that do a great job of keeping your tank clean.

Their ability to scrape algae comes from their strong suckermouth which can fasten onto surfaces.

You will often see them latched onto objects at the bottom of the tank.

One unique behavior that makes them well adapted as bottom feeders is their ability to breathe air. This is important as they can carry oxygen to the deeper depths that they tend to stay in.

The common Otocinclus will have shades of brown covering its body. Their bellies tend to remain a cream-white color and they have a classic brown stripe that runs down their body. They have armor plates instead of scales which protect them when they scavenge rough areas of the river bed.

These small catfish like oxygenated waters with a steady flow and are an easy species to care for and are perfect for beginners.

  • Size: 2 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Panda Garra

Panda Garra

Panda Garras are active bottom feeders.

While they do spend the majority of their day at the bottom of the tank, it is not strange to see them swimming at higher water levels.

They do not mind being alone and can actually get more aggressive if kept with each other. They will scavenge at the bottom of the tank, nibbling on bits of algae or left-over food that they may come across.

These inquisitive and attractive fish are brown splashed with a few yellow-brown markings. They have a modified lip structure that resembles a disk shape which allows them to remain steady in fast-flowing waters as they feed on algae and biofilm.

Just remember that these fish are very picky when it comes to their ideal water parameters as they require fast flowing highly oxygenated water.

  • Size: 3.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

Clown Loach

Clown Loach

The Clown Loach thrives in a community tank.

Most of the time they will occupy the middle-bottom levels of the tank.

They are not too fond of light so are active in the early mornings or after sunset. During the day they tend to hide among plants near the bottom of the tank in the shade. They are also extremely useful as they can eat any pests that remain in the tank such as snails.

Clown Loaches have a long and sleek body covered in bright yellow-red shades with two black stripes.

They have very small sensitive barbels at the ends of their mouths which are perfect for detecting objects and food when they scavenge.

Their care level is considered moderately difficult (because of their activity), but these quirky creatures are something you cannot miss.

  • Size: 12 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 Gallons
  • Community friendly: Yes

List of 50 Bottom Feeders

  • Atlantic Cod
  • Atlantic Goliath Grouper
  • Atlantic Halibut
  • Bighead Carp
  • Black Carp
  • Blackfin Snapper
  • Blue Catfish
  • Blue Sucker
  • Bluespotted Ray
  • Brown Bullheads Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Common Carp
  • Crucian Carp
  • Cubera Snapper
  • European Conger
  • European Flounder
  • Flathead Catfish
  • Grass Carp
  • Gray Snapper
  • Grey Gurnard
  • Gulf Flounder
  • Gulper Eel
  • Lane Snapper
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Mangrove Snapper
  • Manta Ray
  • Mutton Snapper
  • Northern Hog Sucker
  • Northern Red Snapper
  • Olive Flounder
  • Pacific Cod
  • Pacific Halibut
  • Queen Snapper
  • Quillback Sucker
  • Schoolmaster Snapper
  • Shortnose Sturgeon
  • Shovelnose Sturgeon
  • Silk Snapper
  • Silver Carp
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sole Fish
  • Southern Flounder
  • Spotted Bass
  • Spotted Ray
  • Sting Ray
  • Striped Bass
  • Striped Red Mullet
  • White Sturgeon
  • Yellow Bullheads Catfish
  • Yellowtail Snapper

Which Is The Best Bottom Feeder For Your Tank?

Bottom feeder fish will help to keep your tank clean.

They can keep your tank free from algae and they get rid of any sunken food which improves the water quality too.

You will find them in a variety of sizes ranging from 1.5 inches (Bumblebee Gobies) to 24 inches (Common Pleco).

Each species will have specific requirements and different levels of compatibility, so it is important to make sure that you have planned for water parameters and suitable tank mates.

Most will get on well with other species and happily co-exist.

Do you keep any bottom feeders? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. 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.