How to get rid of brown algae in fish tank easily

how to get rid of brown algae in fish tank
Care & Maintenance

How To Get Rid of Brown Algae

Brown algae is an organism that naturally grows in your fish tank. By its looks, the algae can seem like a harmful plant-like species that should not be welcomed in the tank. In reality, it is entirely harmless. It just makes the tank seem dirty. Almost all fish tanks have brown algae grow in them. There are ways to quickly get rid of it as well as preventative measures to take so that it does not return.

What Is Brown Algae?

You may think that brown algae is an algae directly from its name. However, it is actually a bunch of single-celled organisms called diatoms. There are different kinds of algae diatoms for both freshwater and salt water, and they usually appear in almost any underwater environment.

Though brown algae diatoms are not the same as brown algae, people use the terms interchangeably. Both need phosphates, nitrates, and light to grow. Brown algae diatoms differ, though, because they need silica to function. This usually helps them create more durable cell walls.

It is really easy to identify brown algae. Just look for brown plant-like species growing on top of aquatic plants, a substrate, or any other surface in your fish tank. When you touch brown algae, it easily slips off with the swipe of a finger. Only the part that you touch gets removed. It does not come off in clumps.

What Causes Brown Algae in Fish Tank?

There are many root causes for brown algae to grow in your fish tank. The best way to remove your brown algae is first knowing the cause of the algae growth.

The Nitrate Level

High nitrate levels are a big reason your tank may have excess brown algae. It is natural for nitrates to accumulate in the aquatic environment due to the nitrogen cycle. When fish waste gets broken down, it produces ammonia. The tank’s filter and substrate transform the ammonia to nitrite, which then becomes nitrate.

If you do not complete routine water changes, the nitrates can build up in the tank and create a feast for brown algae. To prevent brown algae from appearing as a result of nitrates, change the water regularly and check to make sure that your tap water- if you add it to the tank- does not contain nitrates, as well.

The Phosphate Level

Phosphates are an essential element to almost any living thing- even your aquarium plants and freshwater fish. So, it is natural for phosphates to appear in your tank. Unfortunately, too much can spur lots of brown algae. Phosphates are released when there is uneaten food, dead plants, or fish waste. Again, regular water changes can help prevent the growth of unwanted brown algae.

The Silicate Level

Silicates are another element that brown algae feed on. Too much can spike up the amount of brown algae you find. Silicate levels usually rise when you add another substrate to the tank. New sand can contain silica, which promotes brown algae growth. For marine tanks, salt mixtures can also contain silica. Just make sure to check the label of your substrates to see that they do not add to your tank’s silicate level.

Bad Tank Lighting
bad lighting

Brown algae grow best on dim lighting, so having poor lighting in the tank can promote their growth. With stronger and more vibrant lighting, green algae are more likely to outgrow the brown. Plus, you can have fin finding unique colorful lighting.

Does Brown Algae Mean My Tank Is Cycled?

The appearance of the brown diatoms means that your aquarium is beginning to complete its cycle. For every fish tank, there is a natural cycle of feeding your fish, which then produces waste. The plants and the bottom layer in your tank then filter the excrement. Towards the end of this process, there is an increase in dissolved organic carbons and nitrites. There is also a low amount of phosphates and nitrates. It is during this period when the brown diatoms thrive. With the work of natural filtration and your tank’s filter, the proper organisms needed for your fish to survive can thrive. A simple cleaning can remove the unwanted brown diatoms from the container to keep things fresh.

Is Brown Algae Bad?

Brown algae is not a bad thing. It cannot harm the fish or the plants living in your tank. However, unlike green algae, it is not true algae and does not have the best appearance. Its slight brown or mustard brown color can make your fish tank look dirty and unkempt. Luckily, there are easy ways to get rid of it.

Ways to Get Rid of Brown Algae

All aquariums likely experience an algae problem. Brown algae diatoms are natural species that appear in fish tanks- both freshwater and saltwater. Although they are not the prettiest thing to look at, there are ways to get rid of the algae easily and quickly.

Water Changes

Changing the tank water is the best way to remove brown algae. In replacing the water with clean water, you are eliminating the nitrates, phosphates, and silicates that the diatoms need to survive.

Keep in mind that these elements can sink down into the sand or gravel. Using a gravel vacuum can make sure that you get rid of all the algae’s food sources that lie in between the gravel and the sand.

Going Beneath the Surface

Getting rid of the brown algae from your substrate can be tricky, especially if you have sand. For gravel substrates, use a gravel vacuum to keep things clean.

For sand, you can use a gravel vacuum, but you need to have a more delicate touch. Using the vacuum to its full force can suck up too much of the sand. So, wield the vacuum around the top of the surface lightly, and then prevent heavy suction by pinching the hose. Use the vacuum hose to stir the sand around, allowing you to pick up any algae and to clean the tank.

Remove Brown Algae from the Glass

The glass that encompasses your fish tank can accumulate substantial amounts of algae over time. Even though your substrate can contain lots of silicates, so can your tank’s glass. To keep this part of the container diatom-free, you need a cleansing pad that can function in water. A bucket can also streamline the process.

Simply take the pad and gently wipe the glass clean from the brown algae. Use the bucket as a place to squeeze out water from the tank. After removing the water from the pad, you can continue using the pad for cleaning glass.

Clean Out the Tank Plants

The artificial plants you keep in the tank can also attract unwanted diatoms. By keeping them clean, you can prevent large clusters of light brown organisms.

Though you cannot really clean the live plants in the aquariums, you can remove the artificial ones for scrubbing. Use a bristled brush, such as a toothbrush, to remove any of the algae on the plant. For extreme cases, you may need to soak the plant in bleach to remove any stubborn effects of the algae.

Go the Natural Way

Several algae eaters can remove brown algae the natural way. Getting elbow deep in aquariums can be uncomfortable and annoying. Instead, rely on special underwater species that can eat to keep the tank clean.

What Eats Brown Algae?

It is highly recommended that you avoid substrates containing silicates. However, the glass in your tank is most likely made of silicates. This means that you can avoid silica substrates, but the material is always in there. The diatoms can appear on the glass of your tank since it contains the silicate they need to survive. So, the best way to get rid of the organism is through cleaning or getting live diatom removers.

For both freshwater tanks and saltwater aquariums, snails are the natural brown algae remover. If you have fresh water, go for Nerite snails. They eat the algae and do not reproduce in freshwater. Amano shrimp also see the diatoms as their food source.

In a saltwater tank, Nassarius snails and Mexican turbo snails are the best choices for cleaning up those pesky diatoms.

What Fish Eat Brown Algae?

There are two popular fish that can live in your tank and clean the water or glass of brown algae. The plecostomus catfish is also known as the suckermouth catfish. It can eat the brown algae on the glass of the tank or the algae in the water while it swims. Another freshwater fish is the otocinclus catfish. These are smaller than the plecostomus, so you may want to invest in multiple to see real effects. Overall, people recommend the snails for efficient brown algae removal.

Improve the Tank Lighting

As mentioned before, brown algae grow best in dim lighting. Having bright light can encourage the growth of green algae, which more fish are likely to eat.

Overall, dim light encourages the growth of brown algae, while a brighter light promotes the growth of green algae. You should try to grow true green algae because the fish are more likely to eat this instead of the brown. Plus, the green is healthier and more colorful to look at.

Related post: 5 Great Low Light Aquarium Plants For Your New Tank

Ways to Prevent Brown Algae in Your Fish Tank

If you consistently have a brown algae problem, then you are not alone. Brown algae is a common problem, and you can take the steps mentioned above to get rid of the diatoms. However, to avoid scraping and scrubbing, keep in mind some of the following preventative measures.

Get the Proper Filter for Your Tank

Having a solid filter can keep the stubborn diatoms from accumulating. Just be sure that the filter suits the size of your container. Filters can keep the water fresh, especially if there is excess food or waste.

Proper Light

Light is such an influential factor in the growth of algae. Brown algae expand in dim light, so having a luminous source can prevent diatoms from growing in the tank.

Water Flow

Having high water flow in the tank can also prevent the accumulation of brown algae. Water filters can help in maintaining the movement.

Regular Water Changes

Changing up the water in your tank on a regular basis is crucial in preventing brown algae from appearing. Leftover fish feed, waste, and substrates all produce elements that the diatoms need to survive. These elements stay in the water- until you replace the water. If you have a good filter, then simple tap water is good enough for your water change.

You should change your tank’s water once every week. Though you do not have to do a full replacement every time, you should make sure to get rid of some of the specimens that can encourage brown algae development.

Do Not Overfeed

Overfeeding your fish means that there is leftover food. These flakes can sink to the bottom and produce the nitrates and phosphates needed for brown algae to stay alive. Additionally, if you overfeed, then your fish can produce more waste, which also creates the elements required for diatoms to live.

Do Not Use Silicates

When adding a bottom layer to your tank, be aware of the materials that make up the sand or the gravel. Many people think that play sand contains silicates, and the silicates can secrete elements that serve as food for the diatoms.

The Last Word on Brown Algae

Although it looks unpleasant, the diatoms that grow in your fish container are not harmful. Simply put, they are clusters of organisms that thrive off the secreted elements of your fish and its feed. Too much of these diatoms can create a dirty look for your aquarium or container. You can utilize the simple tips, like scrubbing the walls and changing the water, to remove the diatoms and prevent them from returning.

Getting rid of diatoms is not necessary for the health of your fish. However, with simple cleaning tools and techniques, you can keep your underwater environment completely spotless and pleasing to the eye.

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