21 Freshwater Hair Algae Eaters for a PRISTINE Aquarium

It’s finally happened:

Your tank is being overrun with hair algae.

It started with just a little fuzz growing off of a few things.

And before you know it?

You’ve got tangles of ugly green hair algae growing all over everything.  And what’s worse…

…most of your standard algae eaters won’t have anything to do with the stuff.

The best hair algae eaters are siamese algae eaters, amano shrimp, rosy barbs, and nerite snails. Livebearers, such as mollies, platies, and guppies can also be trained to eat hair algae. Common ‘algae eaters’, such as the bristlenose pleco, will not eat hair algae, however.

Let’s get into the list and cover a few more options.

Rudolph Shrimp

If you’re looking for something to get rid of the hair algae in your tank, rudolph shrimp is definitely something that should be high on your list of things to check out.

Admittedly:

This is by far not the first thing you might think of for getting rid of algae.

But if you give it a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.

The people I know who have had hair algae and added these say they absolutely decimated the hair algae in the tank.

They also will clean algae off of leaves in your aquarium if you have a planted tank.

One word of warning:

This is not exactly a cheap shrimp, so if you’re not into shrimp in general, I would skip this in favor of some of the other items on this list.

#9 on this list is cheaper and still really good at eating hair algae.

Care

Rudolph shrimp are pretty hardy little things that don’t require a whole lot to survive.  They can survive in most PH and temperatures, so as long as your Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate are under control, you should have success with the rudolph shrimp.

Additionally, this shrimp may require brackish water to reproduce, so if you buy them, you probably won’t get a bunch of baby shrimp.

Depending on whether or not you want your shrimp to breed, this could be a deal breaker for you.  If so, check out some of the other shrimp on this list.

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese algae eater in planted aquarium | Source: Deposit Photos

Next up on my list is one of the few fish that will actually eat hair algae.

(As long as you get the real thing and not one of the imposters that are sold as a Siamese algae eater.)

The SAE is a great addition to most 30+ gallon tanks.

Not only will they eat green algae and hair algae, they will also eat black beard algae.  (And other species of algae that few other fish will touch.)

The one drawback?

They reportedly get lazier with age.  Several people who have had these have told me that they started off ravenously eating algae, but when they got big they started just grazing on the algae.

(Not exactly great for getting rid of your problem.)

This may be a case where the fish completely got rid of the algae problem and then got used to eating pellets, however, so your mileage may vary with this.

Care

ParameterAcceptable Value
Care LevelEasy
TempermentPeaceful
Tank Size30+ Gallons
Size6”
Temperature71-82F
PH6-8
Lifespan10 Years

Siamese algae eaters can survive in a wide range of temperatures (71-82F) and PH conditions (6-8).  They also aren’t particular about hardness (5-15 GH).

If you have christmas moss (or other types of moss, to a lesser extent), you may want to skip this fish, however, as they love to eat it.

You also have to be careful when purchasing these, as some shops will sell the Flying Fox as a Siamese algae eater.  These imposters are more aggressive and not as good with eating algae.

Nerite Snail

Nerite snails are one of the few snails that are reported to eat hair algae.

Nerite snails are great hair algae eaters.
spotted nerite snail (Neritina natalensis) eating on a rock in a fish tank

The pros?

  • They are cheap.
  • They are easy to find.
  • They are easy to care for.
  • They eat most types of algae (green algae, hair algae, green spot algae, etc).
  • Won’t damage aquatic plants.

The Cons:

  • Commonly available ones are usually unsightly mud brown ones.
  • They leave eggs on everything, even if they’ve never seen another snail.  (These won’t hatch in freshwater, but you have to scrape these off every so often.)
  • They are notorious escape artists and will constantly try to leave your tank for better waters.

The cons don’t outweigh the pros for me personally, but you may want to look into a few of these as a potential mercenary in your war against hair algae.

One other thing to consider:

There are quite a few people who have said that nerite snails don’t eat hair algae.  (Or some variation of, “I have nerite snails, and I have hair algae, and they want nothing to do with each other.”)

Something that I’ve noticed is that these people quite often have horned nerite snails.  (Which are a different species and have slightly different care requirements.)

While I don’t have any direct proof, I suspect there may be a link between the two.  At the very least, if you try for nerites to get your hair algae under control, I would skip horned nerites and go for a different variety.

(Shouldn’t be too difficult to tell the difference between the two types.)

Care

Nerite snails aren’t terribly difficult to care for, but they do have some specific requirements.

They need alkaline water, in the range of 7.5-8.5.  (Meaning if you have/want shrimp, there is a very thin overlap of water conditions the two will survive in.)  They will survive in most temperatures (72-85F), and most hardnesses (5-15 GH).

One important care item that’s commonly overlooked:

They also need a source of calcium.  This can be a piece of fossilized coral, cuttlebone, or calcium sand.  Without this, they will start having shell problems, and they will have a shortened lifespan.

If you’re interested in getting a nerite snail, check out the care guide I wrote here.

Florida Flagfish

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t heard about the Florida native American Flagfish before.  (Unless you’ve read other articles on getting rid of hair algae.)

Let me cut to the chase here:

This fish may not be for you if you’re looking for something you can just drop in your freshwater tank to kill algae.

This fish is both rare and reported to be somewhat demanding.

So unless you want to get the fish just because you like the fish, there are better options on this list.

(Like the rosy barb below.)

The Good:

  • Excellent algae eaters.
  • Can be quite showy if properly cared for.
  • Can work in tanks as small as 10 gallons (but 20 is probably better)

The Bad:

  • Hard to find
  • Need to be kept in groups of at least 3

Care

Will survive in temperatures of 60-78, PH between 6.5-8.5, and hardness of 6-20 GH.

I’m not extremely familiar with this type of fish, so you can check out this guide on another blog if you’re interested in getting a set of them.

Crystal Red Shrimp

Crystal red shrimp (Cardinia cantonensis) | Source: Deposit Photos

Crystal red shrimp are a showy red and white shrimp that make a wonderful addition to any tank with the right water parameters.

They also eat hair algae, which is a bonus!

(Note – Crystal Red Shrimp are just a variation of bee shrimp, so any other variation should work about as well.)

The good:

  • Can even live in tanks as small as 5 gallons.
  • Very pretty coloration

The bad:

  • Not the cheapest shrimp (at $6-7 most places).  If you’re just looking for something to eat algae, and you don’t care about anything else, look somewhere else.
  • They have pretty specific requirements for water paremeters.
Crystal Red Shrimp Eating (Cardinia cantonensis) | Source: Deposit Photos

Care

Unfortunately, crystal red shrimp are not the most hardy of shrimp.

If you want them to do well, you need soft, acidic water.  This means a PH of 6.2-6.8, and hardness of 4-6 GH.

If you have that, you can get away with a wider range of temperatures, with water anywhere between 65-78F.

Red Cherry Shrimp

Red Cherry Shrimp | Source: Deposit Photos

Cherry shrimp are perhaps one of the most popular shrimp in the hobby.

The good:

  • Easy to find locally.
  • Available in a number of bold colors.
  • Capable of surviving in a wide range of water conditions.
  • Eat a variety of types of algae in addition to hair algae.
  • Low bioload means you can keep these without much worry about overcrowding and ammonia buildup.

The bad:

  • Not a whole lot, actually.

Care

This shrimp can survive in a wide range of conditions.  Make sure you acclimate them properly before putting them into your aquarium, and you shouldn’t have an issue. (Slowly add a half cup of your aquarium’s water to their bag every half hour for 2-3 hours.)

They like any temperature between 70-80F, PH between 6-8, and hardness between 5-15 GH.

Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp | Source: Deposit Photos

Ghost shrimp are reported by some to eat hair algae.  (I’ve personally seen them picking at it in my tank, though I can’t yet say how effective they’ll be in completely removing it.)

They seem to be a mixed bag, however.

The reason for this is that “ghost shrimp” can be one of several different species.  Some more or less aggressive, and some that won’t touch hair algae at all.

If you intend to get these for your aquarium, they have several pros and cons.

The good:

  • They are extremely cheap.  (10 for $2.19 at my local store.)
  • They can be pretty decent as a cleaning crew, even if they don’t eat algae.
  • They will breed in freshwater, so you might be able to grow your own population without needing to go back to the store.  (Assuming your fish don’t eat them.)

The bad:

  • They are often wild caught and poorly treated, meaning that they may be sick and die off quickly after being put in your tank.
  • They may carry diseases you don’t want in your tank (especially if you have other shrimp).
  • Since they can be one of multiple species, you don’t know you’re getting something that will actually eat hair algae.  (Red-clawed macro shrimp is one “ghost shrimp” species that doesn’t, for example.)
  • Some species (such as the above example) can be aggressive.

Care

If they survive past the first few days of being in your aquarium, ghost shrimp can be pretty hardy.

Since they’re poorly treated at the store, they can often come in sick.

If you get a bunch of them, some will die off, and the rest will survive and breed, however.  Just make sure you drip acclimate them so that they can get used to your tank water.

They can survive in temperatures of 60-80F, PH of 6-8, and hardness of 5-15 GH.  (Meaning they’re not very picky about what type of tank they go into.)

Rosy Barbs

Rosy Barbs | Source: Deposit Photos

If you have a larger tank that isn’t planted, rosy barbs may be the hidden gem on this list for your tank.

If you restrict their food, you can train them to eat hair algae.

Once you do?

They can absolutely destroy an infestation of hair algae in your tank.

Of course, there is a drawback:

Doing this seems to train your rosy barbs to eat plant matter.

While they won’t eat mature leaves, they can eat all of the young leaves off of your plants, causing some serious problems.

If you don’t have a lot of plants in your tank, however, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.

Pros:

  • Attractive coloration
  • Easy to take care of
  • Relatively inexpensive and easy to find
  • Can be great at eating hair algae

Cons:

  • If they start eating hair algae, they will also start eating your plants.
  • Somewhat aggressive, and shouldn’t be placed in an aquarium with certain species of fish.
Rosy Barb | Source: Deposit Photos

Care

Rosy barbs do well in tanks with temperatures between 65-77F, PH of between 6-8, and hardness between 5-15 GH.

They also shouldn’t be placed with slow fish that have showy fins, because they are very prone to harassing other fish and nipping at their fins.

Other than that, they are pretty hardy fish that don’t need much care.

Amano Shrimp

The amano shrimp is perhaps the most famous freshwater creature when it comes to getting rid of hair algae.

(With the possible exception of the Siamese Algae Eater.)

Amano Shrimp | Source: Deposit Photos

And it’s not hard to see why:

As long as you’re not overfeeding them on other things, they will happily eat hair algae.

I haven’t been able to find any amano shrimp locally, but I’ve heard from other fish keepers that amano shrimp completely eradicated their hair algae problem.

Of course, not everyone has as good of results.

Some people find that they graze on (but don’t make a huge difference in the amount of) hair algae in their aquarium.

Still, they’re cheap and easy to take care of, so they should be high on the list of things you consider to help you out with your hair algae problem.

The good:

  • Easy to find; easy to take care of
  • Inexpensive
  • Great at eating hair algae

The bad:

  • Don’t breed in freshwater
  • If you’re looking for something you can drop in your tank and will survive off algae and debris only, this isn’t it.

Care

This shrimp is extremely hardy, and will survive in almost any conditions.  Temperatures between 60-80F, PH between 6-8, and hardness between 5-15 GH is perfectly fine for them.

The one drawback is that they don’t breed in freshwater.

So if you want to keep amano shrimp in your tank, you’re going to have to go out and buy more every year.

Still, this is a pretty small price to pay if they keep your tank clean.

Honey Gourami

Honey Gourami | Source: Deposit Photos

Honey gourami is a peaceful species that can act both as a centerpiece fish as well as an algae eater.

Honey gourami will eat hair algae with no problem, but they are also peaceful (unlike some other gourami) and look great.

Mind you, they aren’t going to destroy the algae in your aquarium. They’re more grazers that will help keep algae from getting out of control as long as you’re doing your part.

Ideally, you’d add a pair of honey gourami to your aquarium, but you can put one in by itself.

The good:

  • Peaceful, won’t bully other fish.
  • Will eat hair algae.
  • Nice coloration; can be a showcase fish.
  • Immune to dwarf gourami disease.
  • Can live in tanks as small as 10 gallons.

The bad:

  • Can be somewhat expensive, at $8 per fish. This is offset by the fact that you can throw 1 or 2 in your aquarium and don’t need an entire school, though.
  • Shouldn’t be looked at as “the solution” to your algae. They’ll help, but they won’t do all the work.
Honey Gourami | Source: Deposit Photos

Care

Honey gourami will feel right at home in any tank over 10 gallons. They have a wide range of temperatures (72-82F) and PH (6-7.5) they are comfortable in, but they do prefer softer waters (6-13dGH).

They are peaceful fish, so you shouldn’t put them in with anything that might bully them.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus) | Source: Deposit Photos

Comonly confused with the Siamese Algae Eater, the flying fox is another option that will eat hair algae.

They may not be quite as avid as their SAE lookalikes, but you shouldn’t entirely discount them when it comes to eating algae. (I’ve heard from some fishkeepers that they even eat black beard algae, which most fish won’t touch.)

As I’ve said above, however, Flying Foxes aren’t as good as SAE when it comes to eating hair algae.

The good:

  • Will eat most types of algae when they’re young.
  • Relatively cheap, around $4 per fish.
  • Won’t eat most plants (other than moss).

The bad:

  • Lose interest in algae as they age.
  • Some fishkeepers report mixed results with whether or not their flying fox eats hair algae. (Some do, others not so much.)
  • Not as good at eating algae as the SAE.
  • Sometimes sold as SAE.
  • More aggressive than SAE.

Care

Similar to the SAE, described above. Flying foxes will survive in most conditions.

Like SAE, they usually get a taste for moss, so if you have java moss or christmas moss in your tank, you may want to stay away from both species.

Kissing Gourami

Kissing gourami (Helostoma temminckii) | Source: Deposit Photos

Kissing gourami is another candidate for a hair algae eater that doesn’t look like an algae eater.

And better still, this one is a voracious algae eater. I’ve heard fishkeepers say that they’ve had kissing gourami decimate the hair algae in their tank.

The downside, of course, is that they get huge (12″) and will eat everything in your tank (plants, algae, etc).

You’ll want something larger than a 30 gallon aquarium to keep them in, and you’ll need to choose your tank mates wisely.

Overall, I wouldn’t consider this a beginner fish, so I’d recommend doing your research before picking one up.

I have seen them in quite a few places locally, though, so they seem to be readily available.

Mollies

Sailfin Molly | Source: Deposit Photos

Mollies are another species that has a pretty good reputation for eating hair algae. They also come in a variety of forms: fancy mollies, black mollies, dalmation mollies, etc.

They aren’t necessarily going to singlehandedly destroy your hair algae problem, but they are pretty heavy grazers.

The key to getting mollies to consistently eat algae in your aquarium is to underfeed them a bit.

The good:

  • Typically both normal and fancy mollies are available at most stores that sell fish.
  • Cheap.
  • Look great.
  • Will eat multiple types of algae, including hair algae.

The bad:

  • May have problems acclimating to your tank, due to being bred in brackish water typically.
  • Can get too big for smaller tanks.
  • Will breed prodigiously.
Dalmation Molly | Source: Deposit Photos

Care

If you can get them to survive the initial transition into your tank, mollies are pretty easy to care for.

They prefer quite hard water, but they can live in a wide range of parameters (10-25dKH)

They like alkaline water, between 7.5-8.5 PH.

If they survive more than a few weeks, they will breed in your aquarium. Children will be better adapted to your tank than the parents, so they’ll likely live longer. Eventually, you will need to find another home for some of your babies.

Most pet stores that sell fish will take them off your hands, though they may not provide store credit.

Dwarf Gourami

Three Spot Gourami | (C) Tiny Underwater | License: CC-BY-4.0

The dwarf gourami is another fish that will eat hair algae. In my opinion, it’s not the best looking fish, but a lot of people like them just as fish.

There is one huge downside to dwarf gourami:

Dwarf gourami disease. I’d be willing to say that you should avoid getting dwarf gourami because of this alone.

This disease makes getting any dwarf gourami species pretty risky, because you could keep them for 6 months only to have them suddenly start wasting away. (And there is nothing you can do.)

If you want a gourami, I’d go for a honey gourami instead.

Platies

Wagtail Platy | Source: Deposit Photos

Platies are another species that will eat hair algae, and what’s better is that they have a goldfish vibe to them.

Like mollies, they are more “grazers” that will keep things under control than voracious algae eating machines. That’s okay, though, because they graze continuously, and they reproduce enough that there will be a ton of them even if you only get three.

The good:

  • They look nice.
  • They stay smaller than mollies (2-3″)
  • They’re pretty hardy.

The bad:

  • They breed a lot.

Care

Platies are pretty easy to care for. They’ll survive in most non-acidic PHs (7-8.5), and they like water in the 3-8 dKH range.

They aren’t terribly prone to disease, so if you can get them to live in your tank for the first few weeks, they’ll survive and breed like crazy.

You can put them in a 10 gallon tank, but you should really try for a 20+.

Ramshorn Snails

Ramshorn snails are commonly regarded as a pest, but if you can overlook their tendency to reproduce based on how much food is available, you can put them to work eating the algae in your aqaurium.

Like most of the other things on this list, they’re not going to singlehandedly end your algae problem, but they can make a good part of a wholistic algae control plan.

I won’t include a care section here, because ramshorn snails:

  • Will randomly come included free with a purchase of plants or driftwood.
  • Are basically impossible to kill. The question most fishkeepers ask isn’t “how do I keep these things alive” but rather “how do I kill these pests?”

Overall, I like them, and they come in some nice designer colors as well.

Guppies

Male Guppies | Source: Deposit Photos

Guppies are another great species for your tank if you have a hair algae problem. But even better than that…

… These guys look amazing!

Few fish come in a wider variety of colors and patterns than guppies.

And while they are another species that will multiply like crazy if you keep females in your aquarium, the males look best and can be kept by themselves without any issue.

The good:

  • Eat hair algae.
  • Look amazing.
  • Small, so you can keep a lot of them in your aquarium.

The bad:

  • Can be a bit picky about water conditions.
  • Can breed a lot. (I’ve heard them called the “million fish”.)
Swimming blue guppy | Source: Deposit Photos

Care

Keep guppies between 75-82F. They can survive an extremely wide range of hardness and PH conditions, but they prefer a PH around 7.

Make sure your water quality stays good, and other than that you should have luck with guppies.

Moonlight Gourami

Moonlight gourami (Trichopodus microlepis) AKA Moonbeam Gourami | Source: Deposit Photos

Moonlight gourami is another species of gourami that you get because it looks amazing, but it also comes with the added benefit that it likes to make a snack out of hair algae.

I wouldn’t expect them to get rid of your hair algae by themselves, but if you want to cultivate a tank that looks great and is hostile to hair algae, these guys might be good to add to your aquarium.

Care is similar to other gourami, but moonlight gourami get to 5 inches and need a 29 gallon or larger tank.

Swordtails

Swordtails feeding on bottom of aquarium | Source: Deposit Photos

I have swordtails in my aquarium, and I can confirm that they do graze on hair algae throughout the day.

They aren’t the best at eating hair algae, so you may want to go with guppies, mollies, or one of the other options on the list, but they’re a good fish to have in your aquarium just because you like them. (With algae eating being a nice bonus.)

I’m not going to put a pros/cons or care section here, because it’s basically the same as the platy section above, and the swordtails you’ll get from the store will often be hybridized with platies anyway.

They do get quite a bit bigger (up to 6″), but they can crossbreed with platies.

Pond Snails

Pond snails are my favorite species of aquatic snail for the freshwater aquarium.

Commonly referred to as a “pest snail”, these little guys are the hardest working members of my aquarium’s cleanup crew.

They’re free, reproduce by themselves (if you have one, you will get more), and will eat most things, including hair algae. (In fact, some fishkeepers have said the pond snails completely got rid of their hair algae, though that hasn’t been my experience.)

They’re also the hardiest species of pest snail, in my experience. Where ramshorn and malaysian trumpet snails have experienced population declines, these guys keep going with no issues.

They’re practically impossible to kill, regardless of tank conditions.

Tropheus Cichlids

Cichlid from genus Tropheus | Source: Deposit Photos

This isn’t something that you just get and throw in your tank because you have hair algae.

That having been said, if you’re interested in keeping african cichlids anyway, cichlids from the tropheus genus do like to eat hair algae, and some fishkeepers that own tropheus cultivate hair algae just to feed to them.

I will say that if you’re going to try a cichlid tank, you need to do your research and make sure you know how to take care of them.

They are quite cute, though.

How You Get Rid Of Hair Algae Forever

Hair algae doesn’t just come out of nowhere.  And while these fish, shrimp, and snails will help?

It’s not going to go away on its own.

In the case of my aquarium, the cold weather killed off my anacharis (even though it’s supposed to survive down to the low 70s, which my tank never dipped below).

That caused a nutrient imbalance in my tank that allowed hair algae (as well as multiple other types of algae) to bloom.

I added algae eaters to my tank to help combat the problem, but only got rid of it after doing a number of things to help address the root cause of the hair algae growth.

If you want to make sure you get rid of the hair algae in your tank, don’t just add fish/shrimp. You want to also remove what you can by hand, reduce the amount of light you’re giving your tank, and add carbon (via CO2 or Seachem Excel).

In Conclusion

Hair algae is one of the more difficult things to get most algae eaters to touch. (The common ones, like bristlenose plecos, wont have anything to do with the stuff.)

Luckly, though, there is a hungry army out there waiting to devour the hair algae in your tank.

No matter what size aquarium and what water conditions you have, something on this list will work for you.

I hope this helps, and I wish you luck in your battle to get your tank looking good again.