Best Cleaners For Nano And Small Aquariums

Best Cleaners For Nano And Small Aquariums

There are lots of freshwater critters you can add to your large aquarium to help keep the surfaces clean and spotless.

On the contrary, finding suitable cleaners for your nano or small aquarium is a little bit harder due to constraints such as the volume of the enclosure, size of the animal, aggression, stocking limits, and cleaning efficiency.

Regardless, there are few notable creatures that will do an excellent job at consuming leftover fish food, algae, dead plant matter, and other things that cause dirt in nano tanks.

Keep reading to discover the best cleaners for your nano and small aquariums. Here are some great picks:

Blue Neon Goby and Gold Neon Dwarf Goby

Best Cleaners For Nano And Small Aquariums - Stiphodon spp.Stiphodon spp. — Stiphodon atropurpureus (Blue Neon Goby) and Stiphodon percneopterygionus (Gold Neon Dwarf Goby)

Stiphodon is a genus of beautiful, diminutive freshwater fish species collectively known as gobies.

The binomial name Stiphodon is from the Greek word ‘stifos’ meaning swarm or horde and ‘odon’ meaning toothed, this refers to the numerous, closely-packed teeth in the upper jaw of member species.

Stiphodon spp. are highly specialized biofilm grazers; they enjoy inhabiting freshwater tanks with plentiful growth of soft algae and associated microorganisms.

They are great at cleaning the tank (by feeding off green algae and hair algae that grow on leaves, rocks, glass, and other surfaces.

Note: There are not many fish species that eat Staghorn algae (Compsopogon sp.), however, some aquarists reported that, in some cases, Stiphodon spp. can do that!

Good for: green algae, green dust algae, hair algae, brown/diatoms.

Gobies are perfectly fit for mature nano and small aquariums due to their relatively small sizes, and they are also known for their peaceful disposition— thus, they can be kept with a variety of tankmates including dwarf shrimp.

However, if you are to keep males of one or more species of Stiphodon, ensure that there are lots of hiding places in the tank to minimize the chances of excessive aggression.

Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Size 5 – 7 cm (~2 – 3 inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 28 °C (72 – 82 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 4 – 16   
Diet Algae eater and biofilm / herbivore
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful / Males can be territorial

Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and BreedingThis South American catfish is known by the common names— Ottos, Dwarf sucker mouth, Goblin plecos, etc.

Otocinclus catfish is a popular clean-up crew member, and this peaceful fish has a size of about an inch or a bit more and costs a few dollars for one individual.

Ottos have a huge appetite for algae, hence they are often introduced as an efficient cleaner in freshwater planted aquaria.

Good for: green algae, green dust algae, brown/diatoms. So-so against hair algae.

Otocinclus will not eat Staghorn algae, red, or Black beard algae even when they are starving.

Otocinclus catfishes are typically active during the daytime and will diligently graze on soft algae, aufwuchs, and diatoms attached to rockworks, plant leaves, glass, and driftwood in your aquarium.

In addition, they will actively roam on the gravel in search of detritus or uneaten food to consume.

These are very small catfishes; making them suitable for nano and small aquariums and they will do a terrific job at keeping the tank algae-free.

Suitable tankmates include species of Corydoras, pencilfish, and small peaceful invertebrates such as Dwarf shrimp species.

Read more about this fish in my article “Otocinclus – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding”.

Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Size 4 – 5 cm (~1.5 – 2 inches)
Optimal Temperature 23 – 27 °C (73 – 80 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 (6.0 – 7.5) 
Optimal GH 4 – 12   
Diet Algae eater / herbivore
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

Corydoras Catfish (Corydoras habrosus)

Best Cleaners For Nano And Small Aquariums - Corydoras Catfish (Corydoras habrosus)Not all species of Corydoras are ideal for nano and small aquariums; with size being the main deciding factor. Anyway, there are some Cory species that will do an incredible job at scavenging for debris and scraps at the bottom and on flat surfaces in nano aquariums.

A good example is the beautifully marked ‘Corydoras habrosus’ (Salt & Pepper Cory), and these are best kept in a group of 4-6 individuals.

They are diminutive (3.5 – 5cm or 1.5 – 2 inches) and despite their very small sizes, they possess the traits of their relatively larger cousins.

A huge chunk of their activities is centered on moving around in small shoals, cleaning up the bottom of the aquarium, and also making sure that dirts do not build up in your tank.

Corydoras habrosus will make an interesting addition to your small tank’s clean-up crew, being an inquisitive fish species; they are always on the lookout for edible snacks— be it small live prey, leftover food, or detritus.

Note: If you are looking for an algae-eating species, Corydoras habrosus is not what you need. Although they will readily consume all types of fish food (including algae wafers), Corydoras will not eat algae in your tank. At least they will not do it consistently, so you cannot rely on them in this case.

Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Size 2.5 – 5 cm (~1 – 2 inches)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 26 °C (68 – 79 °F)
Optimal PH 6.0 – 8.0 
Optimal GH 2 – 18   
Diet Omnivore
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

Hillstream Loach (Sewellia lineolata)

Best Cleaners For Nano And Small Aquariums - Stiphodon spp.The Tiger hillstream loach, Sewellia lineolata, is a non-aggressive, diminutive, and attractive looking cleaner fish.

Ideally, hillstream loaches like fast-moving, well-oxygenated water with good water quality, so if you can meet their needs, you can keep them in small groups in your nano tank, and they will be a beneficial addition to your clean-up crew.

They are active bottom-dwellers, so be rest assured that they will constantly wander on the substrate, aquarium walls, and décor in search of biofilm, detritus, and tiny food particles to ingest.

Good for: green algae, green dust algae, brown/diatoms.

The Tiger hillstream loach is a renowned algae grazer, so you would be doing it a huge favor by providing a steady supply of algae for its consumption.

Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Size 2.5 – 5 cm (~1 – 2 inches)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 24 °C (68 – 75 °F)
Optimal PH 6.0 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 2 – 10   
Diet Omnivore
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata)

Amano shrimp on the rockAmano shrimp is a species of small freshwater shrimp in the family Ityidae. This species of shrimp was named after the famous Japanese aquascaper— Takashi Amano, and it bears the names: Yamato shrimp, Japanese shrimp, Japonica shrimp, and algae-eating shrimp.

Amano shrimp is generally clear; having a large translucent body which is typically marked with reddish-brown spots or tints of blue or green.

Amano shrimp is largely utilized in the aquarium hobby for its ability to devour different types of algae in large quantities, as well as detritus and leftover food on the substrate bed, thus cleaning up the aquarium.

Good for:  green algae, red algae, green dust algae, green spots, algae brown/diatoms, and hair algae. Basically, almost every type of algae found in a freshwater aquarium.

Note: In some cases, Amano shrimp can eat even Black beard algae, and Green beard algae. However, it is not guaranteed because there are not that many animals who can eat these things at all!

If you spend time to observe the aquarium more closely, you will notice them constantly roaming on the substrate and plants for algae, leftover food and debris to eat.

This shrimp is very common in the hobby because they are highly efficient at what they do— keeping the tank clean by eliminating detritus and unwanted algae. Usually, they will get big i.e. about 2 inches (5 cm) after some time, yet a nano tank can contain a few of them and they do not add a lot to your bioload neither do they breed in freshwater, so you don’t have worry about this shrimp overrunning your tank.

Read more about this shrimp in my article “Amano Shrimp – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet and Breeding”.

Dwarf Shrimp (Neocaridina and Caridina species)

_Blue bolt shrimp (Caridina cf cantonensis)Neocaridina and Caridina shrimp species have become extremely popular in recent years.

They are amazing scavengers and accept a huge variety of food. Basically, they will eat just about any food they manage to find in the tank. Therefore, in a well-established aquarium, they will often find enough supply of food (algae and biofilm) by themselves.

In addition, they breed easily and are very sociable.

On my blog you can find lots of information regarding keeping and breeding Dwarf shrimp, including the following species: 

Bamboo shrimp, Caridina cf. babaulti, Snowball shrimp, Crystal red shrimp, Ghost shrimp, Amano shrimp, Cherry shrimp, Cardinal shrimp, Blue tiger shrimp, Blue bolt shrimp, Blue bolt shrimp, Tangerine Tiger Shrimp, etc.

Each with its own distinctive color pattern amongst other characteristics.

These shrimps are native to South East Asia where they dwell in streams and ponds. Neocaridina and Caridina spp. are easy to care for and will thrive in small and nano aquariums.

They are best kept with small and peaceful fish (for examplePygmy Cory CatfishOtocinclus Catfish, Panda Garra, Albino Bristlenose PlecoRoyal Farlowella, etc.).

Good for:  cleaning green algae, green dust algae, algae brown/diatoms, and hair algae off live rocks, driftwood/bogwood, tank glass, and other ornaments, as well as rummaging for detritus in the gravel to consume.

Overall, they are excellent cleaners, and ideal for nano/small aquariums because of their small sizes and little contribution to the tank’s bioload. Try to keep them in groups of at least six individuals for

Tank size (optimal) 5 – 10 gallons (~20 – 40 liters)
Size 2.5 cm (~1 inch)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 24 °C (68 – 75 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 2 – 10   
Diet Omnivore/ Algae eaters
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

You can read more about it in my articles:

Nerite Snail

Nerite snail zebraThis is one of the best cleaners you could possibly have in your planted nano tank. (except maybe for Hairy snails, unfortunately, these snails are pretty rare and hard to find).

There are different types of Nerite snails with varying color patterns and shell shapes, and they are all efficient at cleaning up nano and small aquariums.

Make sure to follow the recommended stocking formula: 5 gallons per 1 Nerite snail; hence if you own a 10-gallon fish tank, you are allowed to keep 2 individuals.

Interestingly, all Nerite snails are detritivores and herbivores.

Good for: They will feast heavily on detritus, uneaten food, soft algae, green algae, green dust algae, green spots, algae brown/diatoms, hair algae.

The Nerite snail is a voracious algae eater; it will slowly move through your rockworks, plant leaves, and decorations till it clears all algae coverings, thereby leaving your nano aquarium completely clean.

This little snail species cannot reproduce in freshwater aquaria, therefore they cannot overpopulate your nano tank. The only problem is that they leave eggs on hard surfaces that you will have to remove manually.

Tank size (optimal) 5 – 10 gallons (~20 – 40 liters)
Size 2.5 cm (~1 inch)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 24 °C (68 – 75 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 2 – 10   
Diet Omnivore/ Algae eaters
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

You can read more about Nerite snails in my detailed guide here.

Ramshorn Snail (Planorbella sp.)

Ramshorn Snail on plantRamshorn snails are extremely prolific and they can cause problems in your tank if they arrive as an unwelcomed pest and overpopulate shortly after.

This snail species is typically 1 inch in size and its color ranges from red, orange, blue, brown, etc. They possess transparent shells as juveniles but this changes as they grow older.

Furthermore, since these snails can thrive in just about any size of the tank, they are fit for nano and small aquariums, even as small as 1 gallon (about 4 liters).

Ramshorn snails are probably one of the most resistant creatures in the aquatic hobby. They are very robust and undemanding in terms of water hardness, temperature, and pH.

Good for: Ramshorn snail is a useful addition to your tank’s clean-up crew because they enjoy munching soft green algae, diatoms, fish waste, mulm/dead plant matter.

In addition, they are peaceful and solitary creatures and can live in the same tank with small and peaceful fish and dwarf shrimp.

Tank size Any (no minimum requirements)
Size up to 2.5 cm (~1 inch)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 25 °C (68 – 75 °F)
Optimal PH 7.0 – 8.0 
Optimal GH 4 – 15   
Diet Omnivore/ Algae eaters
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

Read more about this species in my article “Ramshorn Snails – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding”.

Even though snails are beneficial for shrimp tanks, some people may have a hard time controlling their population in the tanks.

 In this case, read my article “How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank”.

Malaysian Trumpet Snail

The Malaysian trumpet snail is yet another excellent tank cleaner for nano and smaller aquariums. This fascinating snail is about ¼ inch to 1½ inch in length, and it features long shells that bear a striking resemblance with ice-cream cones with the coloration ranging from grey to brown.

They play an important role in small aquariums by wandering and scraping off unwanted algae attached to plants, rocks, and driftwood.

Additionally, Malaysian trumpet snails spend plenty of time at the bottom; actively digging the substrate (burrowing) and foraging for leftover fish food and debris, etc.

The major downside of having this snail as part of your tank’s clean-up crew is because it can reproduce rapidly and overrun your nano aquarium if left unchecked.

Tank size Any (no minimum requirements)
Size 2 to 4 cm (0.8 – 1.5 inches
Optimal Temperature 11 to 32 C (~51°F – 88°F)
Optimal PH 7.0 – 8.0 
Optimal GH 4 – 15   
Diet Omnivore/ Algae eaters
Social Yes
Temperament Peaceful

Read more about this species in my articles:

Other Snail Species

There are many freshwater snail species that are very good scavengers, for example, Apple and Mystery snailsRabbit SnailJapanese Trapdoor SnailBlack Devil Snail, Brotia Pagodula Snail, etc.

While all snails may seem like a perfect fit for nano aquariums due to their relatively small sizes, there are exceptions, try to avoid these snails not because they are dangerous but they grow so large and let off so much waste that can easily ruin the tank water.

In any case, you can read more about them in my detailed guides or my articles where I give a short description of each species.

List of Freshwater Aquarium Snails. Pros and Cons

In Conclusion

Keeping some of the recommended fish and inverts discussed above in your nano tank will aid in maintaining a clean and healthy environment for all inhabitants.

Apart from the conventional usage of scrubbing pads to wipe off filamentous algae from tank walls and surfaces, most of these critters can perfectly handle the job of eliminating algae coverings in your small tanks.

Additionally, they will glide through different surfaces in the aquarium; even in the narrow crevices of rocks in search of biofilm, scraps, leftover food, and microorganisms for quench their insatiable appetite. These efficient cleaners will work round the clock to keep your tank tidy and algae-free, so consider adding a few in your nano tank as soon as possible. 

Related Articles:

Types of Algae. Best Algae Eating Team

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