As much as I love pets, taking care of them can be a real pain sometimes. You’ve got to feed them, wash them, walk them, clean up after them, and sweep up giant clumps of hair that collect in the corners of the room. It would be so much easier to keep pets if they spent less time making your house messy and spent more time making your living space spotless. How great would it be if cats liked to do dishes instead of nap all day? Who wouldn’t want to keep a dog that vacuums your carpets?

It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Some aquarium species spend every second of their waking day scrubbing your beautiful custom aquarium to make it absolutely spotless. Algae eaters, snails, shrimps, and other aquatic janitors will gladly gobble up algae. They get a nice meal and you get an unobstructed view of your aquascape.

Check out this before and after sequence — the driftwood starts off coated with a thin layer of algae. Once the neritina zebra snail and the amano shrimp are done with it, you can’t even tell that there was any algae on the wood to begin with.

Before and After Algae Eaters

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One of the nice things about employing aquatic janitors is that there are so many aesthetic options available. You can select the right species that won’t distract from the overall aesthetic of your aquascape.

Siamese Algae Eaters

Often abbreviated as SAE, this fish is a favorite among aquascapers for its unending appetite and quirky eating habits. The SAE’s mouth is shaped kind of like a vacuum, which allows it to skim across the bottom of an aquascape and suck up icky algae. SAEs are a good choice if you want to add a bit of activity to your aquascape. They’re also a dull brown color, which means that they won’t distract from other fish and aquascaping features that are supposed to stand out.

Siamese Algae Eater

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One of the problems with SAEs is that they won’t dig very deep into your substrate. Some might dig under the gravel to get at the tasty morsels below, and some SAE get lazy and just wait for the daily dose of fish food.


Snails are an excellent choice because they’re so visually dull. I realize that dullness doesn’t really sound like an advantage, but keep in mind that most aquascapers want beautifully colorful fish like beta fish or discus fish to stand out in an aquarium. Snails, with their dull shells and barely noticeable movements, will be overlooked in favor of more brightly colored creatures. Snails will also dig under the substrate to give your aquascape a nice, deep cleaning.

Neritina Zebra Snails

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The only catch with snails is that some species have a tendency to cruise across the aquarium glass, which can ruin your view.


Amano shrimp are named after Takashi Amano, a freshwater aquascaper who revitalized aquascaping in Japan. Amano loved these shrimp because they clean up algae without distracting from the overall aesthetic of the aquarium. They’re almost completely transparent, save for black eyes and a few brown splotches on their body. Amano shrimp are like a ghost cleaning crew, invisibly scrubbing the rocks and plants in your aquascape.

If you’re thinking about getting a custom freshwater aquascape, then I highly recommend considering one of these options. They’ll work hard to keep your aquarium clean, they’re dirt-cheap, and they will gladly step back and let more colorful fish stand in the spotlight! And if none of these creatures float your boat, you can always take a more hands-on approach and get cleaning equipment that can help you get the job done.

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