What Fish Will Eat the Poop in Your Aquarium?

Because there are quite a number of fish in my aquarium, I can see fish poop gathering on the bottom of my tank rather quickly. Right now I use a gravel vacuum to remove it, but I was curious if there would be a fish that could eat the poop for me.

There is no fish that will eat poop in an aquarium. Occasionally fish are seen chewing on fish poop, but that is because they mistake it for food. Even catfish, plecos, or shrimp do not eat fish poop. The only way to remove fish poop is to use a gravel vacuum and remove it manually.

But do not get disappointed. There are definitely ways to reduce maintenance on your aquarium. In the rest of the article, I will explain some things that you need to know about cleaning the fish poop from your tank, so keep reading. I hope you find it helpful.

Before we hop in the main content of the article, I want to point out this Youtube video I’ve made on this topic. If you prefer me explaining the answer over reading it, go ahead and give it a watch!

What Kind of Fish Eats Poop?

There are various types of cleaner fish that are often referred to as a “clean-up crew”. Although adding the right fish can definitely reduce the necessary maintenance, they will not eat fish poop. Even worse, they will produce more fish poop!

Snails, shrimp, plecos, and corydoras are all part of the clean-up crew to a lot of people (myself included). These are the fish that you add to your aquarium that will scout around for uneaten food, plant rest, and sadly sometimes even deceased fish. I highly encourage you to add a clean-up crew if your other tank members allow doing so. They will be able to get to nooks and crannies we are simply not able to reach.

It is useful to have a clean-up crew in your tank to find all kinds of organic leftovers. If these critters would not find all the organic leftovers, it would turn into a major source of ammonia. If your tank is unable to handle the ammonia spikes, it would become a major threat to your fish. If you’re overfeeding, a lot of uneaten food drops to the bottom. This could start to rot, creating toxic ammonia.

When Not To Add a Cleanup Crew

However, some people add a clean-up crew because they would like them to do the work for them. The mindset that you can add other fish to your tank so you never have to do maintenance again is fundamentally wrong. First of all, these fish do not eat poop, and second of all: they produce poop themselves. And the only one who is going to clean that poop is us as fish keepers.

You really do need to think twice before deciding on adding more fish to solve a fish-related problem. But there are some major benefits!

When To Add A Cleanup Crew

  • If fish food inevetably fall to the bottom of the tank
  • If you like critters like catfish, shrimp, or snails
  • If you want some help keeping your tank algae free (help which is far from perfect)

If your aquarium has a couple of fish that you love feeding, but you notice that they do not eat all the food you feed them, even if you reduce the amount you feed, it might be a good idea to add a cleanup crew. The uneaten food can be because your fish are messy eaters, or that they do not pick up the food as soon as it hits the bottom of the tank.

But the absolute best reason to add a cleanup crew is that they are awesome fish to keep! Bristlenose-catfish are fascinating fish and also rather easy to breed. A school of corydoras catfish is beautiful to watch and I also love my snails and shrimp. All great fish to add to any aquarium (as long as the size and tank-mates allow it).

This in my opinion is the absolute best reason to add anything that you can call a clean-up crew to your tank. And by the way, you should also feed these fish dedicated food and not rely on them eating algae or leftovers from your other tank mates. I can not stress this enough, because a lot of people assume bottom-feeders will find their own food. Instead, please add food like sinking algae wafers!

How Do You Get Rid of Fish Poop in an Aquarium?

The only logical next question is: how DO you get rid of poop? It takes some preparations, but you can actually arrange your tank in such a way that cleaning poop becomes easier. And also, removing poop “by hand” doesn’t have to be that bad. I actually find it rather satisfying.

To get rid of fish poop in an aquarium, you must use water flow to your advantage. Aim a wavemaker or the output of your filter across your substrate. This way, all the poop is directed towards the filter intake. Use a gravel vacuum to manually remove remain fish poop from the tank.

Let’s look at this in more detail!

1. Use Intake Sponges and Flow to Your Advantage

How can you use the technology that you use in your aquarium to help you keep your aquarium free from fish poop scattered across the substrate? To do this, you should add a sponge to the intake of your filter, and you should increase or adjust the flow in your tank. Keep in mind that increasing the flow is only possible if you have fish that can tolerate more flow.

For bigger aquariums, you could buy powerheads. Powerheads are water pumps that you can stick to the side of your aquarium, that will generate a flow in the desired direction. In my 60 gallon (240 L) tank, I am using 2 powerheads and a powerful filter to direct the flow. I make sure the poop is flushed towards the filter intake, and this has lowered the amount of poop in my tank a lot.

Most of the time these dedicated powerheads generate a strong flow, that is not suitable for smaller aquariums. A good substitute option if you have an aquarium that is not that large is to use small water pumps with suction cups, and just stick them on the glass.

Luckily these powerheads are not that expensive, and one that has been getting great reviews on Amazon by a lot of people is the SunSun submersible circulation pump (fancy terms for powerhead). If you are curious you can check it out on Amazon here.

If you can create a flow that is aimed towards your filter intake and more or less flows across the substrate, the fish poop will not hit the ground but will be guided towards the filter intake.

Now, this is where the filter intake sponges come into play. If you add an intake sponge that is easy to access and remove, you can take out the fish poop by just removing the intake sponge and clean it in a bucket of tank water outside the aquarium.

I would like to point your attention to the following YouTube video where a fish owner explains how he uses the flow in his aquarium to prevent the poop from scattering around his tank and becoming an eyesore:

2. Get Yourself A Proper Gravel Vacuum

Sadly there are no fish that can eat the fish poop in your aquarium so you do have to take it out yourself. There is nothing that is going to clean your tank except for you. What does help a lot is a gravel vacuum, which allows you to rinse the gravel or sand while you are doing a water change.

When I first tried a gravel vacuum I was blown away, because I assumed that the gravel vac would also suck up my gravel. This was not the case.

The way the gravel vacuum works is it lifts the top layer of your substrate and shakes and stirs it around real good. You have to create a siphon, and because of this, all the lighter debris that is stuck in between the gravel or sand gets sucked up together with the water.

A gravel vac is definitely the best way to remove fish poop from your aquarium.

Now, these gravel vacuums can become super expensive but you do not need those! All you need is a simple gravel vacuum, except when you have a big tank (100 gallons / 380 liters or bigger), where you probably want a longer one.

I would recommend this one, which currently is on Amazon. It is simple and convenient, as it will make the process of doing your water changes and removing the fish poop from your tank so much easier.

This is Why Fish Poop Is and Is Not As Bad As It Looks

Poop is super annoying because it is a massive eyesore. It is ugly and looks gross. This is mostly the case when you have fine light-colored sand. Therefore we all want to get rid of it. However, a lot of people also think it is a major source of toxic ammonia. This is not immediately true.

Most of the ammonia a fish produces is already excreted from its gills, way before it poops.

Therefore, the fish poop does not immediately need to be removed from the aquarium, unlike other wasteful products like uneaten food or deceased fish.

You could even use the poop to your advantage if you’re willing to add live plants to your aquarium. If you choose some great root-feeding plants, they are able to use the remaining nutrients in fish poop to grow. I’ve written an article called “7 Aquarium Plants That Are Root Feeders” which can help you pick the right plants.

My Favorite Fishtank Products to Make Life Easier

Over the years I’ve found a variety of products that make the fish keeping life so much easier. Whenever someone asks me what products I recommend buying, these are the first 5 items that come to mind. I’ll briefly list them below and state why I love them so much. I’m 100% sure you’ll love them!

1. A good gravel vacuum; Without a gravel vacuum, cleaning the substrate of your tanks is near impossible. Whenever I want to remove some of the sunken detritus from the bottom of my tank I’m happy I’ve got one of these. They’re available here on Amazon and I highly recommend them!

2. Liquid plant fertilizer; It’s no secret that I do not like nutritious aqua-soil. It makes a mess and only works a given amount of time. Instead, I always use a liquid aquarium plant fertilizer. Everyone who keeps live plants needs it, it’s not that expensive and makes your plants grow better. This is the one I use and recommend.

3. A set of aquascape tools; I love keeping plants, but planting and reorganizing my aquarium was difficult until I got a set of these tools. It’s much easier to plant any kind of plant compared to using my thick fingers. They’re also available here on Amazon.

4. A liquid-based water test kit; ever since I’m able to accurately test my water parameters, keeping fish became less stressful. Before I was always stressed that my water parameters were wrong, but using a kit such as the API Master kit, which is available here, I can measure this. It really is essential to successful fishkeeping.

Feature Image Reference: Link, AuthorMiroslav.vajdic , Licensed under CC3.0 no changes made

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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