Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaner Fish: Can They Really Clean Your Aquarium?

Article all about aquarium cleaner fish

Saltwater fish are undoubtedly a challenge and a great joy to those who choose to keep them. They are the result of hours of research, setting up, and picking the perfect residents to put into them. In addition, saltwater aquarium cleaner fish need to be considered.

When done, however, the work isn’t over as saltwater aquarium owners will still need to maintain their beautiful reefs, corals, rocks, and sandy bottoms. After all, the highest water quality is of the utmost importance in saltwater tanks.

Keeping high-quality water is not always easy, and any aquarium keeper will tell you that they’d welcome any help that they can get. And what better help to gain than the fish you keep themselves?

Are there fish that can help keep your saltwater aquarium clean? Some fish will help keep your aquarium looking great in a number of ways. From eating Algae to stirring up the substrate and releasing trapped dirt.

Let us take a look at some fish that can really help you keep your saltwater marine aquarium clean and tidy.

9 Saltwater species that keep your aquarium clean


highfin goby
Gobies love to dig! Great Saltwater Aquarium Cleaner Fish

Not all species of Goby will help keep your aquarium clean but those that do will plow through your substrate at an impressive rate. They’ll pick algae, detritus, and any uneaten food from the sand whilst removing unwanted nitrates by stirring and aerating the bottom.

Please note, however, that the grain of substrate needs to be fairly small so as to not damage the Gobies membranes in their gills. 

Sand Sifting Gobies dig through the tank substrate which sifts and removes algae, detritus and uneaten food from the sand. This will not only remove unwanted nitrate producing substances, but it also stirs and aerates the substrate (very important for deep sand beds), releasing toxic gases.

Gobie not only help to keep your saltwater aquarium clean they also help to keep your other fish clean and healthy.

Some gobies will pick parasites from the body and gills of fish within your aquarium. Cleaner gobies will normally establish a cleaning station where other reef fish will gather to be cleaned. On a busy day, it’s like a carwash with fish queuing up to be cleaned.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Goby Species

The Diamond Watchman Goby is also known as the Pretty Prawn, Maiden, or Orange-dashed Goby is a timid but long-living species ideal for smaller saltwater aquariums. They grow up to 6 inches in length, are orange with pretty white spots, and can be found naturally in the Indo-pacific ocean.

As an aquarium cleaner, the Diamond Watchman Goby performs two functions. They keep the substrate well aerated by digging and using burrows in the substrate, and sift for food and algae that they then eat. Please note, sand in an aquarium that houses Gobies should be as fine as possible. This is to prevent damage occurring to their gill membranes.


yellow tang
Surgeon fish rank as a common saltwater aquarium cleaner fish

Surgeonfish are probably the most commonly used saltwater aquarium cleaning fish. They are naturally found in tropical waters around the world where they feed on detritus and crustaceans. Disc-shaped and with laterally compressed bodies the Surgeonfish closely resembles the Angelfish. 

These fish make great saltwater aquarium cleaner fish, they never stop eating algae from your aquarium glass and substrate. Algae often makes up over 50% of their diet.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Surgeonfish Species

The Yellow Tang or Yellow Surgeonfish is probably the most definitive fish of the saltwater aquarium. It has an oval-shaped body and a vibrantly yellow body and grows up to around 8 inches. They need aquariums of 100 gallons plus with plenty of room available for them to swim. They can be territorial to other Tangs so are probably best-kept solo.

As an aquarium cleaner, the Yellow Tang absolutely loves to feast on algae and will benefit from doing so greatly. It strengthens their immune system, reduces aggression, and is beneficial all around. 


Magnificent Foxface rabbit fish
Foxface rabbitfish make great saltwater aquarium cleaner fish

A relation of the Tang, the Rabbitfish belongs to the Siganidae family which includes over 25 described species. They mostly originate from the Indo-pacific and generally inhabit reef areas.

Though omnivorous, this species requires large amounts of vegetable matter in their diet, making them an excellent choice as an aquarium cleaning aid. 

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Rabbitfish Species

The Foxface Rabbitfish is a stunning saltwater species with a yellow body and black and white patterned face. They can grow up to 10 inches in length and require a good-sized aquarium.

Strangely they become blotchy and lose their color of an evening, but do not worry as the full color will resume in the morning. Fox faces also, be warned, have venomous dorsal and anal fins that can deliver a nasty sting.

As a saltwater aquarium cleaner fish, the Foxface Rabbitfish loves all types of algae and will feed upon it as cows feed on the grass in the meadow. 


tailspot blenny
There are over 350 species of saltwater blenny

The Blenny is a smaller saltwater fish that is suitable for all aquariums including smaller ones. There are around 350 species of Blenny fish, but only a few are suitable to consume algae and clean your tank.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Blenny Species

The Black Sailfin Blenny is probably best known for its stark black coloration on its body and fins. They grow up to 4 ½ inches in length and require an aquarium of 30 gallons plus. They love perching on rocks where they will feed and are commonly known to hide among rocks and in caves. 

As a saltwater aquarium cleaner fish, the Sailfin Blenny is a voracious algae eater that will forage wherever it grows. In fact, they are prized for their ability to get rid of nuisance algae which is exactly what you want.


peppermint angelfish
The peppermint Angelfish makes a great cleaner fish but cost around $4000-8000

Like the Blenny, only a few species of Angelfish can be considered as good saltwater aquarium cleaner fish. These are mainly from the genus centropyge which includes dwarf species.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Angelfish Species

The Flame Angelfish is an absolutely stunning addition for any aquarium. They reach just 4 inches in size and require an aquarium of around 70 gallons, but what they lack in size they make up for in color. They have a bold red/orange body that has vertical black stripes. Horizontal black stripes adorn the caudal portion of their dorsal and anal fins which also have blue tips.

As a saltwater aquarium cleaner fish, the Flame Angelfish enjoys marine algae. However, they are not as successful at cleaning tanks as other species of fish mentioned here. 


pistol shrimp
Photo Credits-Ozzy Delaney

Okay, not technically a fish but one of the best if not the best living creature to have in your saltwater aquarium.

There are many species of saltwater shrimps that will keep your aquarium and fish clean. Many shrimps also have an unbreakable bond with Gobies and often live side by side within a burrow dug in the substrate. This formidable team not only clean your aquarium but also clean fish and eat parasites.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Shrimps

The most popular cleaner shrimps are the Pacific Cleaner Shrimp and the Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp (also known as the Red or Fire Shrimp). These shrimps do an excellent job of scavenging for leftover food, but they also pick parasites off of fish and are used to control saltwater ich.


banded trochus snail
Snails make great clean up crew members. Image Credits @Klaus Rudloff Berlin

Saltwater aquarium snails are often referred to as ‘the cleanup crew’ and these lesser-known creatures keep busy in your tank to remove non-living organic matter, sifting through and aerating the sand, and keeping algae under control.

Snails are often thought of as unwanted pests within most aquariums. However, some snails look amazing and not only help keep your aquarium clean they also are great to watch and keep.

Snails spend their whole life eating, they never stop cleaning your aquarium 24hours a day. They will clean your aquarium glass, rocks and hard to get to areas.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaning Snails

Here are a few of our favorite saltwater aquarium cleaning snails.

Tiger Nassarius snails: These larger snails are perfect for bigger saltwater aquariums with deep sandbeds. They come out at night to scavenge through the aquarium looking for leftover foods. Throughout the day they spend most of their time beneath the substrate which is great for loosening up the sand and aerating the substrate.

Banded Trochus Snails: These saltwater snails are perfect for keeping the aquarium glass clean. They patrol up and down the glass all day long. You will need about one snail per three to four gallons of water to keep your aquarium looking clean. They are peaceful snails and will not harm invertebrates or fish.


  • Do all saltwater fish eat algae? No, some species just eat meat and won’t and can’t survive on algae.
  • How do I keep my saltwater aquarium clean? Focus on water quality and your aquarium will be cleaner. Consider adding a protein skimmer and sump filter.
  • Which fish is the best for cleaning your saltwater aquarium? This is a hard question as there are so many. I personally like snails.
  • Which fish will clean my substrate the best? Gobies shift the sand all the time but snails burrow into the sand at night so either make great cleaners.

Conclusion: Best Saltwater Aquarium Cleaner Fish, Snails and Shrimps

Whilst it is unlikely that any aquarium cleaning fish will keep your tank spotless, they can certainly help to keep the algae and dirt down. In fact, used as part of a ‘cleaning crew’ they really can be effective. A cleaning crew would consist of snails, crabs, shrimp, and Starfish, and teamed with a few algae-eating fish will save you some elbow grease all day long!

Warning: Before purchasing any aquarium cleaning species of fish to go in your tank, you should always research them properly as not all species will be compatible with other inhabitants or the type of aquarium you keep.

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