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Which Clean-up Crew is Best for a Reef Tank?

Which Clean-up Crew is Best for a Reef Tank?

So, after about a week or two of aquascaping your tank, you will want to add a Clean-up crew (CUC) to the water. Clean-up crew is the name given to reef inverts which you can add to your aquarium to keep the environment clean. These animals help by grazing on nuisance algae, detritus, and even wasted food particles.

However, not all CUC help clean the tank. Some may end up eating your fish and corals. An example is the Harlequin shrimp that feed on starfish.

Keep in mind that like corals, you also need to feed these CUC with the right proportion of food. Otherwise, they can starve and die. That said, let’s dive in to discuss our top picks



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Common Clean-up Crew in a Reef Tank

The following are the most common choice of clean-up crew you’ll find in a reef tank:


Snails can help you clean up by feeding on algae, cyanobacteria, and diatoms in your tank. There are so many; from the Turbo to the Tiger Nassarius and Trochus.

If you’re running a new aquarium, I recommend Trochus snails such as Banded Trochus. In addition to helping you control diatoms and algae on the tank glass, they’re easy to cater for. Although these algae grazing snails prefer smooth surfaces such as tank glass, they can eat up fine algae from sand and rocks. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you can put one snail per two to three gallons of water.

You could also go for the Tiger Nassarius snails if your tank has a sand bed. They enjoy staying under the sand during the day and come out to clean up at night for food. As they move about beneath the sand, they help clean up the substrate and uneaten food particles.


Another reliable clean-up crew to your aquarium is crabs. Affordable and entertaining, these inverts serve a crucial purpose in the reef’s food chain. Whenever you notice any signs of bubble algae, just introduce some crabs. Moreover, even in the absence of bubble algae, crabs will graze on other algae types and leftover food.

The Scarlet Hermit Crabs species, also called Red-Legged Hermits, are usually peaceful. While it doesn’t cause any threat to its tankmates, it performs its clean-up activities excellently. The Blue-Legged Hermit Crab counterpart is known to be hostile so might not be a great choice.

Similarly, you don’t want to add Emerald Crabs to your reef tank. Although they help with bubble algae issues, they can be a bit aggressive on small peaceful fish. The best bet is to rather introduce them to a big tank.


Of course, shrimp makes this list. They search every nooks and crevice for leftover food particles and detritus – thanks to their long arms and tiny claws. There are two types namely: scavengers, and cleaners.

Scavenger shrimps help you remove excess food and decaying substances in the water. Cleaners, on the other hand, help pick off pests and parasites from both fish & corals. Examples of cleaners include Skunk Cleaner and Banded Coral Shrimp.

Adding the right shrimp into your reef tank, for example, the Peppermint Shrimp will eat unwanted aiptasia anemones for you. They can also help in keeping aggressive stinging critters in control or feeding on leftover food particles.


Guide to Choosing Clean-up Crew for Your Tank

Now that you’re familiar with the most popular clean-up crew, I think the next thing is knowing how many of these you’d need in your reef tank.

Needless to say that the last thing you want to have is overcrowding your tank. With this in mind, I recommend you start growing your clean-up crew gradually and specifically. In other words, there is specific reef inverts to tackle a particular problem.

If you experience an algae bloom, for example, introducing the right organisms to fight their growth is the best solution. And if after a while, you didn’t see your preferred results, you can then add more of the same species or another organism that can feed on algae. So, that’s the logic!

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