Algae Scrubber Basics


This is the 2nd revision of the "Algae Scrubber Basics" post that I posted on Reef Central, Reef 2 Reef, 3Reef, Reef Sanctuary, Reef Frontiers, Aquarium Advice, Reef Builders, etc. The last revision I made to this was in February of 2012, so even though this is almost 2 years old, the basic principles still apply. I haven't had the chance to really sit down and perform a total makeover of this, so there are a few things that are outdated, but for the most part it is pretty solid.


In the past 6 months, there have been several basic changes to the core concept of the Algae Scrubber, and these changes resulted in many people experiencing better growth and more effective filtration.

By far the biggest change is that the size of the screen needed for a given system is no longer dictated by the volume of the tank or the bio-load, but is instead based on the amount of food you add to the system. This has resulted in much smaller screen requirements; in some cases, ridiculously small screens when compared to the previously guidelines.

The second is the optional lighting scenario using twice the light intensity and half the photoperiod, which can power through the initial dark algae growth stages some experience, and can also be helpful in battling tough tank algae.

Third covers the advent of LED Algae Scrubbers.

I went through and edited the previously posted “Basics”, mainly for the purpose of addressing the 3 above items. Many other sections were also affected, and I have incorporated as many hints, tips, and tricks as I could. Even if you have read through the previous “Basics” summary before, read this one again. And again.

Some of the pictures in this are based on the old sizing requirements, but are still good for examples of specific principles. For this reason, and the lack of pictures of smaller builds using the new requirements, I have kept many of the pictures the same.

Part 2? Yeah yeah…I incorporated a little more into this one, and I have a start on Part 2, but it needs revamping too!

This will likely be the last summary revision for this version of the Algae Scrubber. There is a new version being developed (not by me) and it is currently being kept under wraps as it is in the middle of the patent process (again, not by me) so I know very little about it, except that it will supposedly have vast improvements in many areas, and will not resemble any Algae Scrubber that anyone has ever seen (this frustratingly includes me). The principles are all the same, so this summary has value still. But just be aware that a lot of this information (that I’ve but so much time into assembling…grrr!) might just get thrown out the window. Tidbits of info? On the new version, you won’t have to cut a slot in a pipe, can remove and clean the screen without shutting off flow,

Anyways….the re-revamped Basics:

Algae Scrubber Basics Summary: February 2012

There are many options when it comes to building your own Algae Scrubber. Hopefully this series of posts will wrap up all the basic concepts as clearly and concisely as possible. It seems that many people look at this concept and think they can make some kind of major improvement, and post their idea. Then, a newbie can look at that and think that it makes great sense and mimic it, without understanding the pitfalls. I feel that it is important to understand the concept and purpose behind the basics, and why you should rarely deviate from them without fully understanding the basic concepts first.

Most of the issues people encounter with their DIY builds can be directly attributed to missing one or two of the basic principles. So consider this a "best practice" summary. That is, there are several ways to build an Algae Scrubber, but there is always a cheap and easy way, as well as the most effective and efficient way.

The Vertical Waterfall Algae Scrubber

99% of this summary is dedicated to the basic of designing and constructing a modern, vertical screen, waterfall-style Algae Scrubber, illuminated from both sides. This is simply because this design is currently by far the most efficient and effective type of Algae Scrubber design, and the only one that I recommend building. The occasional mention is made regarding considerations to make for building a single-sided Algae Scrubber, or for a horizontal/slanted Algae Scrubber. From here forward in this series of posts, horizontal or slanted Algae Scrubbers will be referred to as “non-vertical”.

The vertical waterfall style Algae Scrubber is very efficient for a couple of reasons. The design allows you to illuminate the algae from both sides and place the lights very close, which reduces the distance that light has to travel through water in order to reach the algae. The water flow over the screen is relatively thin and moves fast; this is important, because algae requires turbulent flow in order for nutrients to reach the cells on a microscopic level (Google “boundary layer”). Because of both of these factors, vertical Algae Scrubbers require less light and material than the older style non-vertical Algae Scrubbers for equivalent filtration capacity.