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Battling Brown Hair Algae: Causes Classification and Prevention Strategies

Brown Hair Algae: Proliferation and

Taxonomic Classification

Are you struggling to keep your freshwater aquarium clean and clear of brown hair algae? This pesky growth can be both a nuisance and an eyesore for aquarists.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the causes of brown hair algae proliferation and their taxonomic classification.

Overview of Brown Hair Algae

Hair algae are filamentous algae that grow in long, hair-like strands. Brown hair algae, also known as diatom algae, are a common type of hair algae found in freshwater aquariums.

They are unicellular organisms that consist of a single cell surrounded by a frustule made up of silica. The frustule, or shell, protects the cell from predators and helps it to maintain its shape.

Diatoms can range in size from less than one micron to several millimeters in diameter. They are photosynthetic and play an important role in the aquatic ecosystem as primary producers.

Brown hair algae can attach to any surface in the aquarium, including the glass, substrate, plants, and decorations.

Taxonomic Classification

Brown hair algae belong to the phylum Phaeophyta, meaning brown algae. This phylum also includes kelp and seaweeds commonly found in marine environments.

Brown algae are characterized by their brown pigmentation, which is caused by the presence of the pigment fucoxanthin.

However, unlike other brown algae, brown hair algae are unicellular and do not form complex thalli or structures.

Brown hair algae are also closely related to diatoms, which belong to the class Bacillariophyta. Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton found in both freshwater and marine environments.

They play a vital role in the global carbon cycle and are a major food source for many aquatic organisms.

Silica as the Primary Cause of Brown Hair Algae Proliferation

Silica, a naturally occurring compound, is the primary cause of brown hair algae proliferation in freshwater aquariums. Silica is present in tap water, plants, and fish food.

When silica levels are high, brown hair algae can benefit from this abundance.

Formation and Sources of Silica in the Tank

Silica can also be formed in the aquarium through the decay of organic matter, including fish waste and uneaten food. In addition, the use of certain types of substrates, such as sand and gravel, can also contribute to high levels of silica in the water.

To reduce silica levels in the aquarium, frequent water changes and the use of reverse osmosis (RO) or deionized (DI) water can be beneficial. Using a substrate specifically designed to reduce silica levels, such as ADA Aqua Soil, can also help to prevent brown hair algae growth.

Supplemental Causes of Brown Hair Algae Proliferation

While silica is the primary cause of brown hair algae proliferation, there are also other factors that can contribute to their growth. One of these factors is high levels of nitrates in the water.

Nitrates are a byproduct of the nitrogen cycle and can be present in the aquarium due to overfeeding or inadequate filtration.

To reduce nitrate levels, regular water changes and the use of live plants can be helpful.

Plants can absorb nitrates as a nutrient source, reducing their concentration in the water.

Another factor that can contribute to brown hair algae growth is strong light.

Brown hair algae can thrive in high light conditions, especially if the light is not balanced with adequate CO2 and nutrient levels. To prevent this, aquarists may need to adjust the lighting schedule or intensity, or add more nutrients to the water.


Brown hair algae can be a persistent problem in freshwater aquariums. Understanding their taxonomic classification and primary causes of proliferation, such as silica, nitrates, and strong light, can help aquarists take steps to prevent their growth.

By maintaining a healthy aquatic environment and providing proper care for the aquarium, brown hair algae can be successfully managed.

Cleaning a Brown Hair Algae Infested Tank

Brown hair algae can be a persistent and stubborn problem in freshwater aquariums. If left uncontrolled, it can quickly spread and make the tank look unsightly.

However, it is not impossible to get rid of brown hair algae. In this section, we will discuss in detail how to clean a brown hair algae infested tank.

Remove the Fish

The first step in cleaning the tank is to remove the fish. Fish should be transferred to a temporary container filled with water from the main tank.

This will protect them from any cleaning agents and make the cleaning process easier. The container should be kept in a dark, quiet place during the cleaning process.

Take out Live Aquatic Plants

The next step is to take out all live aquatic plants in the tank. Brown hair algae can attach to the leaves of live aquatic plants, making it difficult to remove.

Once these plants are removed, it is important to block any light source from reaching the tank. A tank blackout or covering the tank with towels can effectively block light.

Total Water Change

The next step is to perform a total water change. Drain the tank completely and refill it with fresh water.

This will help to remove any excess nutrients that brown hair algae feeds on. However, after the water change, a diatom bloom can occur.

Diatoms are a type of brown algae that can quickly grow and bloom in newly filled aquariums. This bloom can be easily controlled by reducing light and performing partial water changes.

Clean the Substrate

The substrate can hold brown hair algae and nutrients that promote its growth. It is important to clean it thoroughly during the cleaning process.

If the substrate is gravel or sand, it is recommended to remove it and rinse with clean water. If the substrate is soil, it can be difficult to remove and clean.

In that case, a thorough vacuuming of the substrate is recommended.

Prevention of Brown Hair Algae Proliferation

Preventing brown hair algae from appearing in the first place is always better than having to deal with an infestation later. In this section, we will discuss several effective ways to prevent brown hair algae from proliferating.

Frequent Partial Water Change

Frequent partial water changes are essential to prevent the concentration of ammonia, nitrites, and other nutrients that fuel algae growth. It is recommended to perform a 10-20% water change every week to maintain the aquarium environment’s quality.

Improve Your Filtration System

The filtration system can be the microbial breeding ground for beneficial bacteria that can help remove excess nutrients. Equipping the tank with a canister filter, hang-on-back (HOB), or sponge filter can help reduce algae growth rates.

The filter should be sized according to the aquarium size, and the cartridge should be changed regularly.

Introducing an Algae Consumer

Another way to help control brown hair algae is by introducing algae-eating organisms. Plecos and Amano shrimp are effective in consuming brown hair algae.

However, introducing too many can lead to other problems, such as excess waste.

Remove While Small and Few

Removing brown hair algae when it is small and only a few strands is easier than waiting for it to multiply. Regular observation of the tank’s appearance can help alert the aquarist when the first signs of brown hair algae appear.

Removing it immediately can help prevent widespread growth.

Addition of More Live Aquatic Plants

Adding more live aquatic plants can help reduce the nutrients available for algae growth. Plants can compete with brown hair algae for nutrients, and their ability to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus can reduce their concentration in the water.

Apply an Anti-Algae Solution

There are many anti-algae solutions available on the market that can be helpful in controlling brown hair algae. These products can be applied to the aquarium according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

An anti-algae solution can also promote the growth of aquatic plants by adding essential nutrients.


Cleaning a brown hair algae infested tank is not an easy task, but it is possible with proper care and management. A combination of total water change, cleaning the substrate, and removing live plants can effectively eliminate brown hair algae.

Regular maintenance, including partial water changes and improving the filtration system, can help prevent their recurrence. Introducing algae-eating organisms, removing brown hair algae while still small, adding more aquatic plants, and applying anti-algae solutions can be effective in controlling their growth.

The Domino Effects of Brown Hair Algae Infestation

Brown hair algae infestations can damage not only the beauty of the aquarium but also impacts the aquatic ecosystem and fish living in it. In this section, we will discuss in detail how a brown hair algae infestation affects the aesthetics and fish in the aquarium.

Impact on Aesthetics

The growth of brown hair algae can have a detrimental effect on the aesthetic appearance of the aquarium. The algae can spread and encrust on various surfaces, including the glass walls, decorations, and aquatic plants.

As the algae’s growth continues, it forms dense mats that can obstruct light from penetrating the water column. This can negatively impact the photosynthetic activity of aquatic plants and lead to their weakening or death and ultimately cause an imbalance in the environment.

Additionally, brown hair algae may give the aquarium a murky or cloudy appearance, making it difficult to see the fish clearly. This not only reduces the aquarium’s aesthetic appeal but also can cause difficulty in fish-breeder decisions regarding which fauna to nurture in the aquarium.

It is essential to control brown hair algae infestations as quickly as possible to maintain the aquarium’s beauty and promote healthy aquatic life.

Impact on Fish

Brown hair algae infestations do not only impact an aquarium’s aesthetics but also affect the health of the fish residing in it. As brown hair algae proliferate, they consume the vast quantities of oxygen present in the water.

The algae’s photosynthetic activities increase in the presence of bright light, causing an increase in dissolved carbon dioxide level and an eventual decrease in dissolved oxygen level. A decrease in dissolved oxygen can be catastrophic to fish, leading to death by suffocation.

Fish species that require high oxygen levels, like tetras, guppies, and cory catfish, are more susceptible to brown hair algae’s ill effects. Fish may also experience stress from the presence of brown hair algae in the aquarium.

They may become more prone to disease and have an increased likelihood of stress-related death. Having a clean and well-maintained aquarium that is free from brown hair algae infestations is essential to promote happy and healthy aquatic life.


In conclusion, brown hair algae infestations can have domino effects on aquarium aesthetics and aquatic life. Algae can grow rapidly, encrusting various surfaces and reducing the aesthetic appeal of the aquarium.

It can also reduce the photosynthetic activity of aquatic plants and decrease the overall dissolved oxygen level in the water. Reduced oxygen levels can lead to fish suffocation, causing stress, illnesses, and, ultimately, fish death.

It is crucial to clean the aquarium regularly, perform partial water changes frequently, and ensure proper fish and aquarium species management to maintain a healthy and aesthetic aquarium that fosters happy aquatic life. Taking proactive measures to prevent and control brown hair algae infestations can ensure a beautiful and thriving aquarium ecosystem.

In conclusion, brown hair algae infestations are a common problem in freshwater aquariums, which can impact both aquarium aesthetics and aquatic life. Taking proactive measures to prevent and control brown hair algae infestations, such as frequent partial water changes, improving filtration systems, and introducing algae-eating organisms, can ensure a beautiful and thriving aquarium ecosystem.

Additionally, removal of brown hair algae while still small and few can prevent widespread growth. Maintaining a well-maintained and clean aquarium environment through regular maintenance and monitoring is essential to promote happy and healthy aquatic life.

By understanding the causes and effects of brown hair algae infestations, aquarists can take essential steps to prevent and manage their growth, creating an environment in which aquatic fauna thrive.

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