Best Freshwater Aquarium Cleaners

Updated on November 19, 2020 by

What are the best freshwater cleaning fish?

It’s inevitable that aquariums are gonna get dirty no matter how diligent you are in your maintenance.

Uneaten food, fish waste, and algae will accumulate throughout your tank and can make things look a little unsightly between routine maintenance.

So to help you keep your aquarium looking a little cleaner between maintenance here is our top list of fish tank cleaners. 

10. Clown Loaches

Clown loaches are another really cool bottom-dwelling scavenger that has a shape kind of similar to Corydoras catfish, but there’s a big difference between the two. What we mean is that these fish get a lot bigger than most people imagine.

This is because most of them you see for sale in stores are only going to be an inch to an inch and a half but what you need to know is these fish can get over twelve inches when full grown, so an adequate tank should be provided.

Clown Loach

We’ve never had any get that big but we’ve seen them and it’s pretty shocking. Clown loaches will be all over the place in your tank scavenging everywhere for food. They’ll sift the substrate sneak behind little decorations and generally do a great job picking up messes. 

These aren’t as easy to keep as others on this list and they’re without a doubt the biggest fish on the list so you’ll not only need to know what you’re doing if you’re gonna get some, but you’ll also need to have the right setup. 

There’s a big reason why Clown loaches are a schooling fish so not only are they gonna get really big but you’re also gonna want a few of them to keep them happy. The bottom line is please do your research before you go buy a school of Clown loaches if you have the right set up to keep them.

9. Kuhli Loaches

They are one of the most unique fish in this category. They literally look like little worms or snakes just swimming around in your tank. This is another fish that’s not an algae eater. They spend their time getting into the little nooks and crannies throughout your tank looking for little things to eat. 

The only problem with them is if you only put one in the tank they are super shy fish so you might not see them very often. One of the ways you can change that is to get a small group of them. If you get three to four they might feel a little less skittish and will explore all the time.

Kuhli Loach

This is a super easy fish to keep that won’t hurt any other fish in your tank and they’ll get into those tight spots, no other might be able to reach. 

Water parameters are also extremely easy. Give them a pH of six to seven and keep the temperature 75 to 85° F, feed them a good tropical flake and they’ll do just fine.

8. Corydoras Catfish

There’s a word we like to use when describing Corydoras catfish and it’s not a word that we use really to describe many other fish.

When you describe fish you’re probably using words like cool, neat, unique or awesome. For Corys we use the word cute or even adorable. They’re cute, but also great little workers.

They’re easy to keep most of them stay pretty small and we’ve never heard a single story about them being aggressive towards other fish. 

Catfish Corydoras

These aren’t algae eaters that are gonna suck the algae off the glass but they’re bottom-dwelling scavengers that’ll sift through the substrate with their little barbells and pick up things left all around the bottom of your tank.

One word of caution though – those little barbells that hang down underneath their mouths, can get a little damaged from rougher substrates, so when you go to pick out a substrate for your tank, make sure you pick something that’s nice and smooth and not gonna damage those little dangly things. 

These are super easy to keep fish because they’ll tolerate most parameters, a pH from six to eight, and a temperature anywhere from 72 to 80° F, but we’ve actually kept them with discus at 84 degrees and they were fine. Keep their water clean and feed them a good quality tropical flake.

Other than that they’ll go around the tank and find other little things to munch on and they’re very cute. 

7. Freshwater Shrimp

Shrimp are tiny creatures and you’d be surprised at the amount of work they can do there. These inverts are constantly moving around working and they never stop.

Shrimp will go up down and all around your tank picking it all the little tiny things and they’ll do a great job eating algae. One of the coolest things about shrimp is some of them, for instance cherry shrimp are super easy to breed and they breed a lot

Freshwater Shrimp

So you can just buy a group of six to eight of them and they’ll just get to work cleaning up your tank and make more shrimp.
Before you know it you’ll have a huge army of shrimp and your tank will be immaculate. How perfect is that? 

Now you’ve got to be careful though because if you have fish in the tank with your shrimp they’ll most likely eat the babies so if you want to create that army of shrimp you’ve got to make sure there’s nothing in there that’ll feast on those babies. 

There’s a ton of different shrimp breeds, so if you find one that you really want, do some research on it just to make sure that it’ll be okay in your tank.

6. Siamese Algae Eaters

These guys are one of the best algae eating fish in the entire hobby and it’s not even really debatable but some people will tell you they can have an aggressive attitude.

In all honesty we’ve never seen this to be true. We’ve always found them to leave other fish alone and just do their thing.

Crossocheilus siamensis

These are algae eating powerhouses that will clean a tank spotless in no time at all especially if you put a few in the tank together. They are going to get a little bigger than others on this list. They can get up to 4 – 5” so I would definitely recommend that you put them in at least a 55 gallon aquarium, especially if you’re going to put a group of them in there.

Siamese algae eaters can tolerate a wide range of parameters but they do like the water a little warmer. Keep the pH between 6.5 and 7.5 and the temperature above 75° F and let these little workhorses do their thing.

5. Freshwater Snails

Snails might not be the most active, or best looking little things in your tank but they’ll serve as great workers and they’re pretty cool to look at.

They’ll give your tank a little bit of character. Snails are basically bottomless pits that will constantly be on the prowl picking up anything and everything that gets in their way.

Yellow aquarium snail

They just won’t do that very fast. They’ll do it at a snail’s pace without resting. They might not be the best glass cleaners but they’ll definitely help keep things tidy. There’s really cool varieties of snails out there, some big and some tiny, some fancy and some that would be considered a nuisance, but the point is these are great aquarium cleaners.

They won’t cause a huge load on a tank and of course they won’t bother your fish. As said before there’s a wide variety of snails so when you find a really cool one you should do a google search just to make sure that they’ll be compatible with your water parameters and the other tank inhabitants.

4. Plecostomus

When most new fish keepers think about cleaner fish they almost automatically think about Plecos and in most cases it’ll be the common Plecostomus that comes to mind.

This is a very cool and unique fish but they won’t be the cleaner fish of choice in most aquariums. This is a fish that can get over 2 feet in length so most home aquariums won’t be a good fit for them. This is why when we talk about Plecos here, we’ll be referring to the smaller varieties, mainly the Bristlenose Pleco.

Pleco catfish blue eye bushynose

These Plecos are an amazing breed that is another constant scavenger. They don’t get huge and they won’t bother any other fish in your tank. They’re one of the easiest fish to keep because they’ll do just fine in almost any water parameters which makes them great little helpers for beginner fish keepers. 

Maintain the pH anywhere from 6 to 8 and a temperature of 68 to 80° F and they’ll be perfectly fine and put in some good work for you. This is another fish that will need to be fed. Don’t rely on them just eating the algae that they happen to find in the tank. If they do their job there’s not really gonna be much of that anyway.

Throw in some algae wafers regularly and if you want to see something really cool, then throw in a slice of zucchini or cucumber. They’ll go crazy over it and it’s a lot of fun to watch. 

3. Otocinclus

The Otocinclus suckermouth catfish are practically everybody’s dream fish it would have.

This is a great little fish that’s a constant worker as they’ll move around everywhere, eating algae and whatever they can find a munch on.


Otters are an algae eating fish that will clean the algae from your tank much faster than you think. They’re schooling fish so even if you have a ton of algae, the group will get together and gobble it all up super fast. 

Otocinclus are an amazing little fish that won’t bother any other fish in your tank. They like a pH anywhere from 6 to 8 and temperature 70 to 80° F. Keep them in clean water and well-fed and there’ll be little workhorses for you.

2. Hillstream Loaches

They are a super unique fish species that might not be the most exciting to watch but they’re gonna do an amazing job keeping things like your glass and other flat surfaces free of algae.

These fish practically never take a break as they’re constantly working and scavenging for food – they’ll be all over the place sucking and scraping algae.

Hillstream Loach

One of the challenges with algae eaters is finding the right fish that will put in the work while also not getting too big. Well, you don’t have to worry about that with these guys cause they won’t get any bigger than 3” or so, so they’re great for smaller tanks but we wouldn’t put them in a tank smaller than a 30 gallon

Hillstream loaches can accept a wide range of water parameters. Keep the pH anywhere from 7 to 8 and temperatures 68 to 78° F and they’ll be perfectly happy. Another great thing about these fish is that they don’t only eat algae they’ll also go around and pick up uneaten food and even frozen foods and live foods. They don’t get huge, they tolerate most water parameters and they eat algae – what more can you ask for?

1. The Fishkeeper

Ultimately, it is up to us to make sure we keep our tank clean and within the optimal parameters.

Having compatible tank mates, in the right aquarium size is the first criterion to be considered.

Tropical aquarium with coral fish

Following that, we should keep an eye on the regular maintenance, which depending on the tank size and its inhabitants will be on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

Equipping our tanks with the right filters and heaters will definitely help to maintain a clean tank. However, the fish keeper will always do regular maintenance, cleaning the filters’ media, the aquarium glass, and the substrate.

Frequently asked questions

Should you leave fish in the tank when cleaning?

Leave the fish in their tank when you’re doing routine maintenance. If the tank is large enough that you can clean a section of it while your fish hang out at the other end, then you should be able to do most cleaning tasks without removing them. Avoid removing your fish from their tank often.

How often should a fish tank be cleaned?

Depending on how many fish you have, and how messy they are, most tanks require cleaning about once every two weeks. Cleaning should involve: siphoning the gravel to remove any debris and uneaten food and replacing about 25% of the water.

Why did my fish died after I cleaned the tank?

The cause is more complex than that. Over time the by-products of fish waste, uneaten food particles, dead leaves from plants, etc., alter the chemistry of the water. … When a sudden, large water change occurs, it causes such a drastic shift in the makeup of the water that the fish often cannot tolerate it and they die.

Why does my fish tank get cloudy so fast?

The cause is usually due to bacterial bloom. As the new aquarium goes through the initial break-in cycle, it is not unusual for the water to become cloudy or at least a little hazy. Decaying plants or excess food that remains uneaten can also cause the milky water seen in bacterial bloom.

How do we know if the aquarium water is safe for fish?

The easiest way to check your fish tank water is to buy a good all-round tester kit and have the following checked: Ammonia (the number one killer of fish is ammonia), Nitrite (the second part of the nitrogen cycle is nitrites), Nitrate, and of course the pH.

Should you be on the lookout for the best aquarium water test kit out there, you can take a look at our article on that subject here. There are multiple choices of water test kits listed, suitable for both fresh and saltwater.