How to Clean Coral

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Overfeeding a tank contributes to algae growths that can cover corals.
Overfeeding a tank contributes to algae growths that can cover corals. (Image: coral image by DOLPHIN from Fotolia.com)

A salt-water aquarium is an ecosystem that depends on the balancing of chemicals, water temperature, flora and fauna. If you notice corals covered in algae and sediment, the best means for cleaning your tank is using natural methods to correct the problem. Keep in mind that coral is a living animal, and in order to keep it alive, make sure it is always submerged in water.

Things You'll Need

  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Turkey baster
  • Crabs
  • Shrimp
  • Snails
  • Bucket
  • Reverse osmosis deionized (RO/DI) water

Adjust your power heads in the tank for optimum water flow if you notice sediment or algae accumulating on the corals. Position the power heads to create a circulating current within the tank. Adjusting water circulation may clear up the corals without having to touch them. Make sure the water flow is not too powerful so that it will not damage the corals.

Remove loose algae and sediment by using a turkey baster to create a gentle disturbance around the corals. The water flow will blast away the debris and should cause the polyps, the living part of the corals, to close. Once the coral polyps have retracted, keep the corals submerged in water, and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently rub away sediment and algae from the corals.

Using medium or hard-bristled toothbrushes will damage fragile corals.
Using medium or hard-bristled toothbrushes will damage fragile corals. (Image: toothbrush image by anna karwowska from Fotolia.com)

Purchase marine animals that are known to clean corals: a general rule of thumb is to have one cleaning critter per gallon of water. Hermit crabs, particularly scarlet and red-legged, are peaceful additions to your ecosystem and make excellent tank janitors on the sea floor and rocks. Emerald crabs will control bubble algae and peppermint shrimp will eat aiptasia. Snails tackle green algae growth while Sally Lightfoot crabs are efficient cleaners and can do the job of 10 hermit crabs.

Hermit crabs keep tanks clean by eating decaying food in the tank.
Hermit crabs keep tanks clean by eating decaying food in the tank. (Image: speckled hermit image by Christian Schoettler from Fotolia.com)

Dip your corals in fresh water to remove flatworms, bristleworms and nudibranches by placing them in a bucket filled with reverse osmosis deionized (RO/DI) fresh water. You can purchase RO/DI water by the gallon at your local aquarium store. Place your corals in the bucket for no more than five minutes. Note that there are divided opinions concerning fresh water dips: there are those who swear that dips will remove parasites while others warn to avoid them at all cost.

Although colorful, nudibranches, also called sea slugs, eat certain corals.
Although colorful, nudibranches, also called sea slugs, eat certain corals. (Image: Nudibranch image by Rick Chesler from Fotolia.com)

Tips & Warnings

  • Sunlight expedites algae blooms. To avoid certain type of algae growth, keep your tank out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep extra shells in the tank for your hermit crabs to grow.
  • Chemical solutions (never use cleaning materials under your kitchen sink) may provide a quick fix, but they are not always safe.
  • Avoid overfeeding tanks to reduce sediment and build-up on corals and live rock.

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