Aquarium Algae Control: How I Got Rid Of Nuisance Algae In My Aquarium

Lots of Nuisance Algae

This is the nuisance algae that I finally got rid of.

Over the last couple years, I’ve been on a continual algae battle with my 75 gallon aquarium. At times I had become discouraged, but I did not give up the battle.

I continued to patiently try different techniques and methods that I thought might help curb the algae problem in my aquarium.

Now, over the last few months, I have finally conquered the problem of nuisance algae in my aquarium.

I feel that if I share information about what I did and what I used with other aquarium owners – aquarists that are struggling with nuisance algae – that I might be able to help somebody else solve their problems.

Here’s what I learned.

Aquarium Water Quality is Important

Curbing nuisance algae in an aquarium has everything to do with the aquarium water quality. I quickly found that trying to get rid of the undesirable algae and diatoms in my aquarium was basically a process of trying to get my water quality in check.

I had to figure out ways to prevent nitrate spikes and to remove nitrate from the aquarium completely. I also had to learn about different water parameters and continually test and condition the water to keep those parameters in check.

Once I had water quality under control, I started to finally notice a drop in nuisance algae.

Test Your Aquarium Water

To maintain great water quality, you will need to get used to testing aquarium water parameters regularly. Aquarists that have algae problems are often not paying any attention to different water parameters, and that’s why the water quality is bad. And that’s why there’s nuisance algae.

Make water testing a part of your weekly routine. It should be something you get excited about. Why? You will need to test water at least every week for the rest of your aquariums existence, so you might as well enjoy it!

When I started taking water quality seriously (in order to get rid of that nuisance algae), I found that I routinely needed to test the following parameters:

  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • pH
  • Ammonia
  • Phosphates
  • Water Hardness

Get a testing kit that can cover those at the least. Set up a space where you can test easily. I found that I needed to make water testing easy and have a place where I can leave my stuff. A closet laboratory of sorts. Once I had my maintenance and testing bay set up I was never discouraged to do regular water testing.

Aquarium Water Circulation is Also Good

Cardinals In Saltwater TankIn addition to water quality, aquarium water circulation is of the utmost importance. It’s one of those fundamental things that will help a lot of other efforts. Proper water circulation will prevent debris from building up in certain areas of the tank, which is great for keeping nitrates under control. When the water in your aquarium is being properly circulated, it’s a lot easier for the filtration to do it’s job.

If you don’t have any water pumps in your aquarium at this time, add even just one pump somewhere in the tank – and watch all the junk that will suddenly be lifted off the rocks by the improved water movement.

Water circulation pumps, Koralia pumps in my case, can also be used to create surface agitation, preventing junk from pooling at the top of the tank. I used to have problems with oily looking stuff floating around on the top of my water – after I added proper surface agitation that junk disappeared, it was easier for the skimmer and filter to clean that stuff up when improved water circulation kept it in the water and didn’t allow it to float and collect on the top of the water.

Controlling Nitrates & Other Water Parameters

Nitrates build up in an aquarium when there is a lot of waste in the water. To help curb any nitrate problems, I do the following:

Vacuuming – I vacuum the substrate regularly, currently about once a week. I vacuum both by siphoning water out of the aquarium (during water changes) or by hooking up the substrate vacuum to a canister filter to remove waste from the tank without removing water.

Water Changes – I do aquarium water changes regularly. Currently I’m swapping about 10% of the water each week. All my water is purified using an RO-DI water purification system.

Skimming – I continuously run a protein skimmer. I clean the collection cup diligently to get maximum waste removal. By “diligently” I mean about 2 times a week.

Live Rock – I added more live rock. This was counter productive at first, since the new stuff causes nitrate spikes every time I add it, but now that I’ve got a comfortably large amount of live rock in the aquarium I don’t need to add any more and it helps with increased biological filtration. If I do need to add more live rock, there are some good techniques to easily cure live rock.

Snails – I added lots of snails. Lots of snails, big and small. A good mix of Turbo, Bumblebee, Nassarius and Astrea snails. These guys all seems to get into different places in my aquarium and provide a great balance in terms of cleaning. The Nassarius and Bumblebee snails seems to clean up leftover food and other junk, and the Turbo and Astrea snails attack all kinds of algae.

Canister Filter Discretion – I don’t leave a canister filter hooked up to my aquarium for extended periods of time. If I do leave a canister filter running continuously for more than a few days, I will clean it weekly to remove waste. The canister filter can become a Nitrate factory when I don’t clean it regularly so I’ve become very careful about how I use it.

Chemi-Pure Elite – I use Chemi-Pure Elite to help remove metals and chemicals from the water. When I use this stuff, I put it in my canister filter, so I need to make sure I’m cleaning the canister filter regularly while I’m running Chemi-Pure Elite. I started using this stuff after I ran RowaPhos for about 8 months to take down phosphate levels in my aquarium.

RowaPhos – As mentioned in the previous bullet point, I used RowaPhos to bring down my phosphate levels. I used a few cycles of RowaPhos for about 8 months in a reactor that was hanging on the back of my aquarium with it’s own power head. Once the phosphates were under control I removed the RowaPhos from the system (and the reactor) and switched to Chemi-Pure Elite in a canister filter to further maintain phosphate levels and to help remove other junk from the water.

Prime – I add this stuff to new water when I do water changes. Supposedly it helps keep water parameters in balance and helps remove nitrates. I haven’t really noticed any major effects but my aquarium is healthy and it’s one of the things I’ve been using, so I don’t really want to stop using it now.

Essential Elements – I started adding Kent Essential Elements a few months ago. In that time, I’ve noticed an increase in decorative types of algae, and they probably help to keep nutrients from the nuisance algae, which helps. My fish are all very healthy too right now, and I kinda regard this stuff the same as I regard the Prime – I don’t want to stop using it since everything is healthy and in check, so why stop and risk anything?

Lighting Quality

I am also convinced that working on my lighting cycles and light quality has impacted the reduction of nuisance algae. At one point I upgraded from the standard one-bulb cheapo 48″ aquarium hood light to a Current USA Nova Extreme Pro. This was a huge upgrade actually. I went from having one mediocre fluorescent light to having 6 high quality t5 lights, a mix of 10,000k and Actinic bulbs.

When I initially installed the new lights, the full Nova Extreme Pro setup proved to be too powerful for my needs. My office radiated like a grow room, and it was hot in there. I eventually removed half the lamps and now have 2 Actinics and 1 10,000k lamp inside the unit, which is the perfect amount of light for my setup. The higher quality light has made the aquarium look much nicer.

But, you are probably wondering, what about this lamp helped me control nuisance algae? The way I could control the timing of the lights is what has helped me the most. I am able to control 2 different cycles of light, overlapping the Actinics with the 10,000k lamp to create a day/night cycle that keeps the lights on for a good chunk of time – but I don’t need to run full-out 10,000k lights all the time.

By tweaking the lighting cycle for a while from week to week I was able to find a sweet spot that allows me to have optimal lighting but not so much that it promotes excess algae growth.

Hardware Choices

I really don’t have too much hardcore hardware for filtering my aquarium. I figure that if I can keep the the water quality in check and use discipline in other areas of aquarium maintenance, then I won’t need to rely so much on mechanical hardware. With that being said I do have some decent hardware that has proven to be just what I need to keep my aquarium in check.

Skimmer – I mentioned this in the previous section already. I use an AquaC Remora Pro hang-on-tank protein skimmer with a Rio power head. I bought this thing used off of eBay and it’s worked great for me for at least 3 years now. I just clean the collection cup regularly and clean out the enter unit about once every month or two and it continues to efficiently remove organic waste from the aquarium.

Canister Filter – I use an Eheim Ecco canister filter. I like it because it has lots of media trays and it’s easy to maintain. I can literally pull this thing off the aquarium, clean it and get it back on within 10 minutes. Awesome. So much better than the Magnum 350 I used to use. I typically add foam pads to catch debris and then add either Carbon, Chemi-Pure or whatever other media that I deem I need to run at the moment. If I am not running any media, I will only hook up the canister filter when vacuuming the aquarium to help clear debris, and then promptly remove and store it once the water settles after cleaning.

Water Circulation Pumps – I use two Koralia 3 Water Circulation Pumps to create water circulation and surface agitation. I position the power heads at the ends of the tank, pointing upwards toward the middle. This creates surface agitation and excellent water circulation throughout the entire aquarium. I have very few dead spots. I’ll sometimes point them in different directions to lift debris off the rocks and substrate so the canister filter can suck it all up. These things are quite and rock solid.

Phosphate Reactor – I picked up a hang-on-tank reactor so that I could run RowaPhos without needing to pack it into my canister filter. This was a great move. I’ve been able to use that hang-on-tank reactor easily when needed, and I can pack it away when I don’t need it. I’ve mainly used it for RowaPhos though in my experience.

Lighting Fixture – I now use a Current USA Nova Extreme Pro as my main lighting. It has two power switches for split-use of the main lighting and also moonlights. It’s worked great for me and has allowed me to tweak my lighting cycles to a point where excessive algae growth is not a problem due to lighting alone.

Maintenance Cycles

I’ve briefly dropped some random information in the other sections about how often I do certain maintenance tasks. Here’s a concrete list of what I do and how often I do it:

  • 10% Water changes – once every two weeks
  • Water top offs – as needed, usually once a week
  • Clean skimmer collection cup – twice a week
  • Clean the rest of the skimmer – once a month
  • Vacuum gravel – once a week
  • Clean canister filter – once a week
  • Blow debris off live rock – once a week – I do this usually a couple hours before vacuuming, and only do this when I have the canister filter running
  • Scrub aquarium glass – once a week
  • Test water parameters – every 2 or 3 days

As you can see, this is a just a lot of small stuff, and my schedule is all about being proactive. By sticking to this schedule pretty religiously I have eliminated nuisance algae in my aquarium almost completely.

I’ve had times when I’ve lapsed on this schedule in the past, and that’s usually when the problems start to occur. And when the problems occur, it’s a WHOLE LOT more work to clean up the problem than it would have been to keep up on this maintenance and prevent the problem in the first place. If I’ve learned anything about aquarium maintenance while trying to battle algae – it’s that prevention is always better, and easier.


As you can see, it all really is about water quality. Pretty much everything I have described about my adventures in reducing nuisance algae has to do with the maintaining good water quality.

Focus on all the core fundamentals of maintaining excellent water quality in your aquarium and getting rid of algae will become an afterthought. Get used to watching parameters and digging into your aquarium often. Keep on top of the maintenance and keep your parameters in check and you’ll get rid of that bad algae!

images by: Lisa Brewster

About Luke

the owner and caretaker of a 75 gallon aquarium in his home studio. Good times.

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