Hair Algae is the most problematic algae type by far, and it can be challenging to get rid of.
Almost all aquarium keepers will have to deal with algae outbreaks at some point in their lives.
Every aquarium has its own characteristics with different aquatic creatures, plants, and water parameters, so not all solutions work for all aquariums.
In other words, you will probably have to use a combination of methods to get rid of algae in your tank.
This article will teach you ten ways to get rid of algae and clean your tank to find the root cause so that the problem doesn’t come back.
How to Get Rid of Hair Algae?
There are natural and chemical ways to get rid of any hair algae growing in your tank.
First, you’ll have to identify the cause of the algae outbreak.
If the water contains excess nutrients, do more regular water changes, and feed your tank less often.
If there’s a CO2 imbalance in your tank, fix it using a CO2 system or liquid carbon.
You can also manually remove the algae or turn it into food by putting algae eaters in your aquarium.
Another option is to keep aquatic plants to use up the nutrients and outcompete the algae in growth.
Installing a UV system, dimming the lights, or using the black-out method can also help you eliminate the algae.
Another way is to use a bit of hydrogen peroxide, which can kill hair algae.
If none of these methods works, you could solve the problem using algaecides.
Remember, if you’re a new tank owner and have recently set up the aquarium, an algae outbreak is normal because the tank hasn’t been cycled yet.
Once the beneficial bacteria get a chance to grow and balance the nitrogen cycle in your tank, the algae colonies will weaken and disappear—assuming the water parameters are fine.
What Is Hair Algae?
Hair algae, also known as the string algae, forms when many single cells attach together and make up a chain.
The chain gets longer and longer over time until it starts to look like hair.
Many algae species can come together and create long green or brown strings.
They start to grow from the aquarium furnishings like the rocks and plant’s roots and ultimately form a big mess of wet wool which can grow up to several inches long.
If left untreated, they can take over the whole aquarium and kill the other plants.
Causes of Hair Algae
Hair algae cells can come into your tank from several sources.
You can transfer the algae by putting objects from other aquariums or bodies of water, like aquatic plants, decorations, or even fish and snails, into your tank.
If a single algae cell finds its way into your aquarium, it can multiply and grow into a healthy colony, given the right conditions.
Fish digest the protein in food and turn it into ammonia in the form of waste.
The beneficial bacteria and biological filtration in your tank will then convert the ammonia into nitrites, and finally, nitrates—a food source for algae.
The more waste there is in your tank, the higher the nitrate levels, and the easier it’ll be for algae to grow.
Another cause for algae growth can be overfeeding the fish.
If any excess food remains in the tank, it’ll quickly turn into waste, and the nitrate formation cycle begins.
Too much sunlight or artificial light, high carbon dioxide levels, and high amounts of phosphate can also result in excess growth of algae in a tank.
Why Should You Remove Green Hair Algae?
- Not the Best Decoration: No aquarium owner wants his tank to look like a spooky dense jungle, taken over by weird hair plants.
- Outcompete Other Living Things: Algae have the same needs as plants: nitrates, phosphates, and carbon dioxide.
If the algae growth gets out of hand, it can outcompete plants and take up all the nutrients.
It can also block the light and prevent it from reaching the plants and fish.
Much like other plants, algae use CO2 to grow, but when the lights go out, it’ll start to respirate and use up the oxygen in water, leaving your fish to suffocate.
- Take Up Space: If you don’t deal with the algae outgrowth, it can take up so much space and leave no room for your fish to swim freely. It can also entangle fish and invertebrates, keeping them from eating.
- Hurt Fish: Some fish varieties that have fewer scales can get hurt by strands of algae hair. They can cut into the fish’s body and cause infections.
10 Ways to Remove Algae from Your Aquarium
1. Manual Removal
The first step in the battle against hair algae is to remove it by hand.
Although this is a very effective method, it shouldn’t be the only thing you try, because hair algae will grow back in a few days.
First, turn off the filters and pumps because you don’t want strong currents to spread algae bits to hidden places, where they’ll grow again.
Then, put on a pair of rubber gloves and try to rip out as much of the algae as you can.
Get a bucket or bowl of water, so you can put the ripped off algae inside it, and clean your hand before you go back into the aquarium water again.
If your plants are infested, use one hand to hold them down and the other hand to scrub the algae off their leaves.
If only a couple of leaves are infested, you can just trim them.
Remember, you shouldn’t cut too much of your plants because they’re your warriors in the battle against algae.
If the algae’s wool doesn’t come off easily, it may be because of high phosphate levels.
A product like Phosphate RX will help you maintain the amount of phosphate in your tank, thereby weakening the algae strands.
Put the appropriate amount of the product in the tank at night when the fish are sleeping.
You can remove the algae manually the next day, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it’ll be.
2. Treat the Underlying Issue
First, you have to find out what the underlying issue is.
As explained, one of the reasons for excess algae growth can be high levels of nitrates and phosphates.
Test the aquarium water to determine if the nitrate level is under 10 ppm and the phosphate under 0.5 ppm.
If you have a problem with nutrient build-up, you’ll have to solve it with more regular water changes.
You should also get your tap water tested because it may contain high phosphate and heavy metals or high pH levels.
You may be fueling algae growth without realizing it.
You can start filtering the water on your own using the RO purification process, or purchase filtered water from stores.
Depending on your tap water parameters, you may have to mix it with RO water to gain the best results.
3. Adjusting CO2 Imbalance
Another major problem your tank may be facing is CO2 imbalance.
The slightest imbalance in carbon dioxide concentration can result in an outbreak of hair algae in your tank.
Be sure to measure the CO2 levels of your tank, and follow these tips if necessary:
- Installing a CO2 system can be a bit pricey, but you can definitely overcome algae using one.
- If you already have a running system, check and see if it’s still working properly.
- Increase the CO2 dosage up to a level that won’t hurt your fish.
This way, your plants will thrive, and the hair algae will be gone after a couple of weeks.
If CO2 gas injection doesn’t do the trick, you’re going to have to use liquid carbon in your aquarium.
Products like Easy Carbo can wipe out CO2-related algae very fast.
Read the instructions on the bottle carefully, and use the recommended dosage daily until the problem goes away.
Remember that adding this solution to your tank will reduce the dissolved oxygen levels which could cause problems for your fish.
Be sure to aerate the water with a pump or filter during this period.
It could also be harmful to some kinds of plants and shrimps.
4. Adjusting the Light
If your tank is near a window, too much sunlight during the day can help the algae grow, so be sure to move the tank further away from the window.
If you have a lighting system installed, reduce the intensity by 50% if possible.
Plus, make sure your tank isn’t getting light for more than eight hours every day.
Using a timer for lighting can really affect algae growth.
You can adjust the timer for six hours of daily light until the algae outgrowth is under control.
Another thing to consider is that the spectrum of light emitted by light bulbs can change over time and become favorable to algae.
It’s important to change the light bulbs every six months to a year.
When dealing with green hair algae, increasing the blue output and decreasing white in your LED lights can help, too.
5. Use a Clean-Up Crew
After the previous steps, it’s time to introduce a group of algae grazers to your tank to help eliminate the hair algae sooner.
There are various freshwater and saltwater creatures who love to eat algae.
The True Siamese Algae Eater, Ameca Splendens, Rubber-lipped Pleco, American Flag fish, juvenile Chinese Algae Eater, Mollies, Bristlenose Pleco, Catfishes, Angelfishes, and Starfishes are all fond of algae.
Some snail varieties such as Nerite Snails, Ramshorn Snails, Mystery Snails, Turbo Snails, Malaysian Trumpet Snails, and Rabbit Snails can also help wipe off algae.
Shrimps are famous for their big appetite for algae.
Amano Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp, Gammarus Shrimp, Red Cherry Shrimp, Sulawesi Shrimp, and Bamboo Shrimp can help the tank.
Other aquatic creatures like Emerald Crabs, Hermit Crabs, and Lawnmower Blennies can be valuable members of your clean-up crew.
6. Use Strong Plants
The more plants you have in your tank, the less space there is for algae to grow.
If your plants are strong enough to outcompete the algae for nutrients, CO2, and light, your algae will die off soon.
After performing the other methods, it’s a good idea to cut your plants in half and replant them in the tank.
It’s also a good idea to add more healthy aquatic plant varieties and let them grow tall, even reaching out of the tank.
This way, they can provide some shade which will block off the light for algae.
Be sure to research any plant you put in your aquarium.
People often put house plants in tanks or even purchase terrestrial plants as aquatic ones and wonder why they can’t thrive and help with the algae problems.
7. Blackout Treatment
The blackout treatment is a natural remedy which allows you to speed up the algae removal after you’ve corrected the reason the algae proliferated in the first place.
For this, you’ll have to deprive your aquarium of light completely for several days, depending on the plants in your aquarium.
Some plants can live happily in the dark for up to two weeks, whereas others will need light after three or four days.
In any condition, your aquatic plants will deal with this treatment better than algae.
You’ll have to make sure your aquarium is well-aerated during this time using air pumps or installing filter outlets higher up.
You won’t have to use fertilizers, and you should feed your fish sparingly.
Shut down your CO2 system, and manually remove as many algae as you can.
Putting a clean-up crew in the tank during this period is also helpful.
Then, turn off the aquarium lighting system and cover the tank with black cloth or cardboard to prevent any sidelight from getting into the tank.
Take a look at your aquarium every couple of days to keep an eye on the algae.
As soon as they’re wiped out, bring your aquarium back to its natural condition.
8. UV Systems
A UV system is capable of stopping any free-floating microorganisms, such as algae, viruses, bacteria, and fungi, from spreading in your tank.
The water containing these organisms goes into the system and passes over or around the UV bulb, which irradiates the water and kills the organisms.
The UV light will mutate their DNA, preventing their growth and multiplication.
A UV system won’t get rid of the hair algae stuck to the rocks or plants, but it will help you prevent an algae outbreak or keep the algae out after you’ve defeated it using the other methods.
9. Hydrogen Peroxide
Using H2O2 solution is another way you can safely get rid of algae because it’ll turn to harmless water and oxygen after 24 hours.
The solution you use shouldn’t exceed a hydrogen content of 3%.
Any more than that can cause severe damage.
To calculate the appropriate amount, divide your tank volume in liters by 30, and multiply the result by 5.
This will give you the amount for one treatment in milliliters.
The hydrogen peroxide will sink to the bottom of the tank immediately.
Then small air bubbles will rise, which are pure oxygen and harmless.
Using a combination of H2O2 solution and EasyCarbo can provide better results.
EasyCarbo will reduce the water’s dissolved oxygen levels, and hydrogen peroxide will even it out by producing oxygen.
However, you shouldn’t mix the two products or use them at the same time.
Wait for a couple of hours after using one and then proceed with the other treatment.
10. Anti-Algae Treatments
Using chemicals such as algaecides should be your last resort, as it can hurt your plants and fish.
It’s best to avoid adding algae control products to your aquarium and try to be patient with the other methods because they can take time to work.
If you’ve waited long enough and tried all the safer, natural methods, you can use algaecides to clean your tank of hair algae.
Remember, this approach may quickly get rid of the algae, but it won’t resolve the underlying problem, and it could come back very soon.
Just be sure to use the dosage recommended on the bottle’s label.
Aerate your tank during the treatment, and do big water changes afterward.
You can also try the fogging method, where you’ll directly spray the algaecide underwater to the infected areas, using a syringe.
Make sure you turn off the filter and pumps before applying the treatment and turn them back on a few minutes after the process.
Be careful not to hit any of the plants or fish with the liquid directly, especially more sensitive ones like mosses and liverwort.
Repeat this process once a day for three or four days until no trace of algae is left.