How Do You Get Rid Of Hair Algae? (Removal & Prevention)

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Hair alga is a common nuisance in home aquariums, and therefore, one of the most prevalent questions is how to get rid of it. So, after years of experience, I decided to dedicate an entire article explaining how to do that properly.

I will divide this article into two.

First, I will explain how to actively remove hair algae that already occupy your tank. Then, I will share some excellent tips on how to prevent the algae from coming back.

An image of dense hair algae that have caught a lot of debris and leftovers.

How To Actively Remove Hair Algae

Algae are not the sort of threat you can ignore. Given time, they will overwhelm your tank. Therefore, it is in your fish’s best interests to remove algae from the aquarium using one or more of the following tools and methods:

1. Removing Hair Algae Manually


  • Wear a set of cleaning gloves.
  • Scrub the tank’s surfaces to loosen the algae.
  • Get a toothbrush and entangle the hair algae around its shaft.
  • Twist the toothbrush so the algae wrap around it like spaghetti.
  • Pull the toothbrush with the algae out.
  • Repeat the steps above in different areas.
  • Grab what the toothbrush can’t catch with your hands.
  • Siphon the substrate to suck up all the remains.

If all that sounds confusing, here is a great video showing precisely how to do that:

Generally, you don’t have to waste money on sophisticated algae removal tools when you can simply pull the hair algae out of the tank.

It is fairly acceptable to grab the strands and remove the organism from the water with your hands. 

Naturally, this approach raises questions about the threat algae poses to your health.

A paper in the National Library of Medicine (Elisa Berdalet, Richard Gowen, Porter Hoagland, Lora E, Fleming, Henrik Enevoldsen, Philip Hess, Stephanie K. Moore, Keith Davidson) explored the dangers algal blooms posed to human health.[1]

But it was primarily concerned with the impact microalgae could have on food supplies and economic activities.

On the other hand, Wolfgang Karl Hofbauer’s paper in Toxins (Journal) highlighted the allergenic and pathogenic consequences of algae on human beings.[2]

Does this make hair algae a threat to anyone that handles the organism with their bare hands? Well, not necessarily.

First of all, a paper in the ‘Harmful Algae’ journal looked at harmful marine algal blooms and concluded algae’s natural phytotoxins become a threat when you ingest them via contaminated food.[3]

You can also inhale them. But aquarists don’t go around eating or inhaling hair algae. 

Secondly, you can wear gloves. In fact, this practice is encouraged because it protects fish from bacteria and parasites.

I also recommend getting a toothbrush and twisting the shaft around the strands before pulling the hair algae out.

Better yet, scrub the surfaces in the tank to shake the algae loose before sucking the organism out of the aquarium with a siphon.

These steps won’t matter if you forget to vacuum the gravel, as the algae will quickly return.

For that part, I got the Laifoo Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner (link to Amazon). This one is pretty affordable and gets the job done.

2. Introducing Hair Algae Eaters

These are my favorite algae eaters (fish, shrimp, and snails): 

  • Amano shrimp (Excellent)
  • Nerite snails (Excellent)
  • Siamese algae eaters (Excellent)
  • Mollies (Decent)
  • Guppies (Decent)

Adding algae eaters to the tank is a common approach when dealing with hair algae. Fish species such as mollies, and guppies will make short work of hair algae. 

You can also experiment with shrimp species such as Amano, Cherry, and Cardinal shrimp.[4]

But adding algae eaters to the tank is not easy. First, you need a significant number of algae eaters to control a heavy hair algae infestation. 

But if you already have fish in the tank, introducing even more fish, shrimp, and snails could lead to overcrowding.

Secondly, can the new creatures co-exist with the pre-existing inhabitants of the tank? Don’t forget that fish are opportunistic eaters that eat whatever fits in their mouths. 

Larger fish with an aggressive streak will snack on your shrimp and snails before they can graze on the algae.

What about the conditions in the tank? Can the algae eaters survive the conditions in the aquarium? 

Does it make sense to adjust the parameters to suit the algae eaters if it means harming the pre-existing inhabitants of the tank?

You should weigh the pros and cons of adding algae eaters to a tank with a hair algae infestation. You could make things worse in the long run.

Useful info: If you wish to use algae eaters to control the hair algae situation in your tank, here is an article where I listed the best species for this job.

A picture of Amano shrimp eating algae from Java Moss.

3. Commercial Products (Not Recommended)

In full disclosure, I am not a big fan of using commercial products to fight algae, and I have never used one before.

Most of the fish owners I know did not find them effective, and in the end, they turned out to be one big waste of money.

However, some may argue that commercial algae killers are effective, especially if you select a brand that attacks hair algae. But you should pay close attention to the ingredients. 

Roy P.E Yanong (University of Florida, IFAS Extension) said in a paper that copper is an efficient algae killer, especially copper with a 2+ charge.[5]

This explains the prominence of copper sulfate in algae removal campaigns. However, copper-based products are dangerous to invertebrates. 

The wrong product will kill your shrimp, snails, and even live plants. If you’re determined to use copper-based algae killers, follow the instructions carefully.

Manufacturers understand the threat their copper products pose, and the instructions they provide allow aquarists to deploy these products without harming their live plants and invertebrates.

Keep in mind that algae killers produce dead algae, and dead algae can destroy your tank if you permit the organisms to rot. 

So even if you managed to kill hair algae with commercial products, make sure to remove them as soon as possible and perform a water change.

As a side note, here’s a video of a guy who tried algae removal tablets that didn’t change anything, even at high doses:

How To Prevent Hair Algae From Coming Back

1. Remove Nitrate From The Water Source


Substances such as nitrates and phosphates encourage hair algae growth. Therefore, you should avoid water sources with high nitrate and phosphate levels. 

If tap water is the only water source available to you, send a sample to the lab. You can also ask your water supplier for an analysis of the minerals and toxins in the tap water.

However, a faster solution would be to test the water yourself. For that purpose, I personally use the API Water Test Kit (link to Amazon).

Deploy the appropriate steps to purify the water before you add it to the tank during a water change. People fight high nitrate levels by performing a water change. 

But a water change can make things much worse if your water source is corrupted by nitrates. Look for conditioners that neutralize this substance. 

If you don’t trust water conditioners, install a reverse osmosis system that strips the tap water of pollutants such as nitrates.[6]

You are better off investing in a reverse osmosis setup for the whole house. But if you don’t want to purify all the tap water, add a reverse osmosis unit to the aquarium. 

2. Increasing The CO2 In Your Tank


  • Observe the tank and see if it is properly agitated.
  • If you can’t see any bubbles, install at least one airstone.
  • Locate the airstone in a way the bubbles can reach the surface.

Plants survive by absorbing carbon dioxide and ejecting oxygen in the presence of light. Low carbon dioxide levels are dangerous because they harm the plants while simultaneously encouraging algae growth. 

You won’t kill the algae by elevating carbon dioxide levels. Instead, a higher CO2 content will cause the algae growth to decelerate. 

You shouldn’t look at CO2 as a tool that actively harms algae. Overall, higher CO2 levels won’t affect your algae population.

The organism may not thrive, but it will continue to exist in your aquarium. 

The plants will appreciate the development because they use CO2, and healthier plants will starve the algae by consuming the excess nutrients, 

That is even more prominent if you’ve increased the number of live plants. Add some water pumps and air stones. Find a way to increase agitation at the surface.

Once the bubbles created by the airstone reach the surface, they will break the tension, allowing carbon dioxide to enter the tank. 

The bubbles created by an airstone will break the surface tension, allowing CO2 to dissolve.

3. Try Not To Overfeed Your Fish


  • Feed your fish what they can consume within two to three minutes.
  • Don’t be tempted to feed your fish once they swim at the top.
  • Consider installing an automatic feeder.

Overfeeding increases the number of leftovers in the water. Those leftovers elevate the ammonia concentration when they rot.

This is a problem because nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia into nitrites and nitrates. Algae will thrive in the presence of nitrogenous waste

You can minimize this waste by reducing overfeeding. Don’t add food simply because your fish are hanging out at the surface. 

They are not hungry. Although, that won’t stop them from eating whatever food you introduce to the tank. 

If overfeeding is a frequent challenge for you, buy an automatic feeder. It will add the right amount of food at the correct time. 

4. Limit The Lighting Hours


  • Dim your aquarium lights by at least 50%.
  • Limit the lighting hours to 8-12 hours a day.
  • Keep your tank away from windows.

Light is vital to the growth of algae. A paper in ‘Advances in Continuous and Discrete Models’ found that algae growth was strongest under fluorescent light sources.[7] 

The paper also noted that red LEDs created optimal conditions for algae growth. Naturally, light alone cannot boost hair algae growth. 

From what a paper in Ecological Modelling has seen, you need a combination of various variables, including the right light intensity, nitrogen, and phosphorous concentration, to maximize algae growth.[8]

Nonetheless, you should moderate the amount of light the aquarium receives. You don’t have to remove the artificial lights. 

The key is to limit the lighting to 8 or 12 hours each day. Keep the tank away from direct sunlight. This means steering clear of windows. 

If you occasionally forget to turn the lights off at night, install an automated system that controls the lights, turning them on and off where necessary. 

5. Conduct Routine Water Changes

I highly suggest that you change the water routinely to keep the concentration of nitrogenous waste low.

A water change once or twice a week is enough to prevent the nitrates and phosphates from spiking.

Use a strong filter that matches the size of the tank. Don’t forget to remove dead plants and animals before they rot.

6. Ensure Your Tank Isn’t Overcrowded


  • Estimate the average length of your fish (in inches).
  • Count the number of fish in your tank.
  • The result of multiplying these two numbers is the number of gallons you need.
  • If your tank features fewer gallons than required, remove some fish.

Avoid overcrowding at all costs. Make sure the tank size matches the size and number of fish you want to rear. 

A large population of fish will generate more waste. This is not a problem if you have a bigger tank that can dilute the waste, preventing sudden ammonia spikes.

If the tank is too small, donate some of the fish. You can also buy a bigger tank if your budget allows it. 

Should I Remove Hair Algae? Are There Any Benefits?

Hair algae are similar to all other algae types in the sense that they can improve the appearance of the aquarium. 

However, beyond the aesthetic value, hair algae don’t serve a purpose. 

Admittedly, algae consume nitrates, and it has become common practice in some sectors to use algae to lower nitrate levels. 

However, there are easier ways to control nitrates in a tank. Hair algae is a menace. Don’t hesitate to remove it.

A picture of yellow-green hair algae that have grown out of control.

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While there are many ways to remove hair algae, there is no point in doing so without changing the aquatic environment.

Even when removed properly, hair algae will return to your tank if you don’t take the proper measures.

Start by eliminating the nutrients the alga requires, including nitrate. Make sure this substance doesn’t exist in your water source, and if it does, remove it.

You should also limit the lighting hours. Some aquarists go the extra mile and place their tank in complete darkness for a few days. That is a valid approach in severe cases.