Help! What Eats Hair Algae? 9 Freshwater Hair Algae Eaters

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.

Calling In The Cavalry

Luckily for you, not all fish are that picky.  In this list, we have 9 shrimp, fish, or snails that will rid you of your hair algae problem.

Note: It’s important that you supplement this with cleaning out as much hair algae as you can by hand.

While these guys do eat hair algae, they may not be able to completely get rid of it by themselves.  What they will do is help you keep it in check and get rid of smaller amounts of it.

One more word of warning:

Some of the things on this list will go after hair algae with gusto.

Other things may eat hair algae only if you’re not keeping them fat and happy with flakes or pellets.

If you want to encourage something on this list to eat your hair algae more readily, you can try cutting back on how much you’re feeding them.

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 a cheaper shrimp that is 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

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 hair algae, they will also eat black beard algae.  (And other types of algae that no 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

wdt_ID Parameter Acceptable Value
1 Care Level Easy
2 Temperment Peaceful
3 Tank Size 30+ Gallons
4 Size 6"
5 Temperature 71-82F
6 PH 6-8
7 Lifespan 10 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.  Flying Foxes are more aggressive and not as good with eating algae (making them useless for our purposes).

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.

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 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 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.

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.

Cherry Shrimp

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 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 snails).
  • 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 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

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.

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.)

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.

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 an imbalance in my tank that allowed hair algae (as well as multiple other types of algae) to bloom.

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

If you want to make sure you get rid of the hair algae in your tank, check out the guide I wrote here.

In Conclusion

Hair algae is one of the more difficult things to get most algae eaters to touch.

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.