Algae is not a bad thing

Before we get started we just like to say that algae is not a… bad thing. It doesn’t harm the fish or damage the aquarium water. Getting rid of algae can be seen as a purely aesthetic exercise. Some aquarists even let certain species of algae grow in their aquarium to give it a natural look.

Granted, if it’s growing on the glass it can block the display of the aquarium, but biologically it’s harmless.

As we mention below, plants help to prevent algae growth as they remove the nitrates that algae feeds on from the water. But, to be fair, the algae does help to remove the nitrates in the first place.

However, depending on the level of the nitrates this removal can be marginal, so it shouldn’t be seen as a standalone method of reducing nitrates in the aquarium water.

If you do decide you want to clean the algae from your aquarium, check out the 7 tips below. If you’ve got any of your own algae-cleaning advice, let us know in the comments.

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  1. Invest in a socket timer to make sure the lights aren’t left on for too long

Algae will often strike as a problem if the aquarium light is left on for too long. Sometimes people don’t realise how long they leave it on for throughout the day, and may end up leaving it on all night by accident.

The light should be off for at least 8 – 10 hours out of 24.

To ensure that your betta has regular and consistent periods of light consider investing in a socket timer, which can be programmed to turn the lights on and off at specific times.

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Invest in a socket timer to ensure consistent periods of light

  1. Keep your pH and nitrates in check

A high pH can cause algae to flourish in the aquarium. Bettas are softwater fish, so a water pH close to neutral/7 is preferable. If your pH is towards the higher end of the spectrum the aquarium is more susceptible to algae growth.

High nitrates (and other excess nutrients in the water, which are considered as waste products) are one of the most common causes of algae blooms. Given that your aquarium is filtered and cycled, nitrate is the end product of the cycle process. This is mostly removed from the water when you do a water change.

As we mention below in tip 7, if water changes aren’t carried out regularly the excess nitrates in the water can (and will almost certainly) cause algae to grow.

There are several factors that contribute to the level of nitrates in your aquarium. We won’t go into these in detail in the article, but one such factor is whether or not you have live plants in the aquarium. This leads us on to tip 3…

If your pH is towards the higher end of the spectrum the aquarium is more susceptible to algae growth.

If your pH is towards the higher end of the spectrum the aquarium is more susceptible to algae growth.

  1. Add live plants to your aquarium

Live plants are great at removing excess nitrates from the water. As we mention in tip 2, it’s excess nitrates (and other waste products in the aquarium) that cause algae to grow, so having live plants is a great way to naturally protect against this.

If you’re a novice keeper the thought of keeping live plants may seem daunting, but it needn’t be.

There are live plants on the market that are super hardy, which makes them very easy to care for, even if you are a beginner aquarists. If you need some advice on which plants to get started with, check out our article about plants that are great for your betta aquarium.

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Live plants are a natural way to control algae growth.

  1. Be well-equipped, and don’t be afraid to improvise.

Every aquarium is likely to experience algae growth at some point, and it’s something that usually needs to be scrubbed off during a clean. Having the right tools can make cleaning it off much easier.

Here are a couple of tools that are useful to have on hand (you can also read more in our cleaning article):

  • A good aquarium scrub + a toothbrush

There are many aquarium scrubs that you can use for cleaning algae but something like a simple aquarium magnet scrub won’t get into all those nooks and crannies. Sometimes using a toothbrush will do the trick better.

A dog toothbrush is great for cleaning aquariums thanks to its longer handle.

Our friend Jennifer from Caring Hands Vet emailed us a great tip recently: use a dog toothbrush as it has a longer handle compared to a standard toothbrush, making it easier and more comfortable to use.

  • A good aquarium vacuum

Algae that has been scrubbed off tends to settle in the aquarium somewhere — sometimes on the gravel — but it often ends up in nooks and crannies (along with other waste). Dead, detached, decomposing algae is actually harmful compared to live algae as the process of it breaking down will cause the ammonia etc to rise in the aquarium. There are a number of good aquarium syphons and vacuums on the market.

Jennifer helped us out with another great tip here: using a turkey baster with some piping can create an affordable, precise aquarium vacuum — allowing dead algae (and excess waste) to be removed from some of those pesky nooks and crannies that are particularly hard to reach. Here are a couple of photos she sent in of her turkey baster cleaning tool:

  1. Introduce some algae eaters.

This is by no means a ‘fix’ if you have an algae problem; it’s more so a mitigation for maybe the odd spot of algae that occurs in your aquarium.

If you repeatedly have an algae infestation in your aquarium chances are your nitrates are too high. In this situation, adding another fish to the aquarium can only make things worse.

Algae blooms often occur when the water is rich with nitrates, which is not a good thing. If you have a clear understanding of your water parameters, and you are quite confident that algae occurrences are not as a result of unbalanced water conditions, then maybe an algae eater will be a good option.

If you do decide to introduce an algae eater, ensure your aquarium can handle the introduction of another fish. For a single betta and a small algae eater, we recommend a size of 8 US Gallons (30 litres) or more. As far as algae eaters go, a Clown Pleco is a great at getting rid of algae and has a small bioload.

Check out some other algae eaters that are suitable to keep with a betta in our tank mates article.

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If you only have a minor amount of algae, adding an algae-eating tank mate for your betta can help to reduce it.

  1. Make sure your aquarium is away from a window/direct sunlight.

This is something that is ALWAYS advisable when setting up an aquarium. Most people do indeed make sure their aquarium is away from a window or positioned in a room where the light does not strike it directly, but if your aquarium is in a room with several windows, for example, it will be exposed to more sunlight.

The location of your aquarium should alway be considered when setting it up. This isn’t a tip as such, but we just thought we’d give it a mention as direct sunlight exposure on a daily basis can increase algae growth.

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Direct exposure to sunlight can increase algae growth.

  1. Cycling, filtering and water changes

We cover this more thoroughly throughout the site, but having a filtered and cycled aquarium is key to any fish keeping. It’s sometimes said that bettas don’t need a cycled and filtered aquarium, and that they can be kept in a bowl without a filter, but this is incorrect.

Having a cycled aquarium and a proper filter is a key part of mitigating algae as it helps to efficiently reduce ammonia, nitrites and nitrates.

More often than not, if water changes are not frequently carried out and you don’t have any live plants in the aquarium there will be no process in place for removing nitrates from the water. Algae, as we mention above, feeds off nitrates, so the more nitrates the more algae.

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A cycled aquarium, a filter and regular water changes are important for any betta aquarium.

  1. Tell us your tips!

Have you got any of your own tips for cleaning algae or reducing algae growth? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment or send us an email below to let us know.