How to get Detritus Worm

How To Get Rid Of Detritus Worms In An Aquarium? Tiny White Worms

Everyone wants to own an aquarium. Aquariums improve the aesthetics of your room and can be a focal point of the room. Besides that, studies show that owning an aquarium can be therapeutic and help you unwind after a hard day. Additionally, they can have educational value for the kids.

Not to mention that while most residences don’t allow pets such as cats, birds, and dogs, property owners rarely have problems with aquariums. This is because fish don’t have destructive behavior when left alone, and they will never interrupt the neighbors’ peace of mind with their constant barking or noises.

However, most people are hesitant to invest in an aquarium for a number of reasons. Some of the common reasons they give are that it means additional chores for them as they have to delicately look after the fish.

You have to watch the type of water you put into the aquarium, the type of food you feed the fish, among other duties that require delicacy. Failure to take good care of your aquarium can lead to an invasion of worms. One of the most common types of worms that infest an aquarium is the detritus worms.

What are detritus worms?  Tiny white worms in an aquarium

Detritus worms belong to the phylum of annelids which include over 22,000 ringed worms such as leeches, ragworms, and earthworms. Detritus worms are usually thin-looking, white-brown strings you will see wiggling through the aquarium.

These worms will not cause any harm to your fish as they feed on decomposing animal and plant material. They are known as detritivores.

It is very difficult to notice detritus worms as they tend to live in the gravel present in the aquarium. They feed on the debris that has been left over after feeding your fish and the waste deposited by the fish. You will not notice them unless they get sucked into the tank vacuum.

Some of the common ways through which detritus worms get introduced into your aquarium are by transferring water from an infested aquarium together with the gravel or when you introduce new fish or plants in the aquarium. Poorly oxygenated aquariums also lead to the buildup of organic matter which attracts the worms.

While detritus worms are not harmful, in fact, they help in keeping the aquarium clean, it is usually important to get rid of them before you experience a population explosion of the worms. Overpopulation of the detritus worms can lower the oxygen levels in the aquarium which leads to low oxygen for the fish and in turn, their health becomes adversely affected.

They can also lead to the manifestation of harmful anaerobic bacteria which will harm your fish. Furthermore, the worms interfere with the aesthetics of the aquarium when they break out of the gravel.

How to get rid of detritus worms?

Since detritus worms are mostly caused by dirty water and aquariums, the first solution you should try is to thoroughly clean the aquarium. You will need the following items for this task;

  • An algae scraper
  • A water siphon
  • A filter media
  • A brush
  • A bleach
  • An aquarium lime remover. 
  • A razor blade (if you have an acrylic aquarium, then you should get a plastic blade)
  • A new bucket (reserved for use on the aquarium only)
  • Paper towels, and 
  • Old bath towels.

The aquarium should be cleaned in the following five steps;

  1. Use the algae scraper, or pad, to clean the inside of the aquarium first. Do not use regular houseware pads as they tend to leave soap and chemical residues which can harm your fish. You can use the razor blade to scrape off stubborn residues in the aquarium.
  2. Take out the artificial plants, rocks, and decorations that are noticeable dirty or have algae growth and soak them in the bleach. This should not take more than 15 minutes. After soaking, you should scrub off remaining residues then rinse them well in running water before putting them out to air dry in order to remove any residual bleach. While you can bleach live plants, you should only do so in a 5% bleach solution and not more than three minutes before rinsing. Never use soaps or detergents for bleaching. Any trace of them will harm the fish.
  3. Use the water siphon to vacuum the debris and clean the gravel. You can find different types of siphons in the market. The one you go for will depend on your personal preference as they all basically serve the same purpose. Vacuum the entire surface of the gravel in order to remove all the debris. The finer particles of the debris may pass through the filter and find their way back to the tank though. 
  4. Use the aquarium lime remover to clean the outside of the aquarium including the hood, light, and the top. Do not use regular glass cleaners or standard lime cleaners as they can be too toxic for the survival of the fish. After cleaning, ensure that you use clean water to rinse the outside of the aquarium.
  5. After doing the above four steps, wait for two weeks then clean the filter. This is because the thorough cleaning interferes with the balance of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium. The bacteria left in the filter media allows for the restoration of this balance. You can return the decorations, plants, and rocks into the aquarium while you wait to clean the filter. Remember to also clean the other parts of the filter assembly including the filter tubing. You can use the filter brush to clean out the sludge that has built-up in the small crevices.

Your aquarium should not only get cleaned during the routine thorough cleaning. Regular cleaning helps keep it clean.

Secondly, you can get rid of the detritus worms by changing the water. Instead of being a massive water change, it should be a partial regular change of water. This is because the fish take time to adjust to the gradual water chemistry change as a result of the buildup of fish waste, food particles, and dead plants.

The fish will find it difficult to adapt to a drastic change in this environment and die as a result. The few who survive will probably die out of stress. Leaving the water unchanged for long also affects the immunity of the fish as they are exposed to more viruses, harmful bacteria, and parasites from the buildup of waste in the water.

When changing the aquarium water, start by changing at most 5% of the water volume then wait for a week before making another change. You can gradually increase the percentage with each change until the whole of the water has been changed.

This enables the fish to gradually adapt to the change in water chemistry. Gradually changing the water may be slow and tedious at first, but you get the hang of it with time and it becomes easier to accomplish. Don’t believe the myth that aquarium water should not be changed.

Thirdly, you can contain the population explosion of detritus worms by reviewing how you feed the fish. The worst mistake you can do is overfeed your fish. They only require a certain amount of food, which means that the rest is nothing but fodder for the worms. Any uneaten food should always be cleared from the aquarium using a net or siphon.

Uneaten foods increase the levels of ammonia and nitrates in the water which can cause the pH and oxygen levels to drop to life-threatening levels. The water may also become clouded, experience a bloom of algae, and promote the growth of mold or even planaria.

Overfeeding the fish also has a direct effect on them. It can lead to a fatty liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis and also fin rot.

Fish are opportunistic eaters and only eat when food is available. They can easily adjust and for days between meals when food is scarce and eat throughout the day when food is in abundance. They will eat even when they are not hungry as long as you give them food. Fish are also quick learners and know who usually feeds them so that they jump and seem to be begging for food when the feeder is nearby.

Generally, you shouldn’t feed the fish more than two times. You should also keep the feedings small. The timing of the feeding only matters for the nocturnal feeders such as certain types of catfish. For nocturnal feeders, it is advisable to feed them just before the lights go out for the night.

However, herbivorous fish usually have smaller stomachs that can’t hold a lot of food and may, therefore, need to be fed more frequently than the others. Alternatively, ensure that they have live plants that they can nibble on whenever they feel hungry. Young fish may also need frequent feeding and special diets.

It is better to underfeed your fish than overfeed them. Never give them feedings that they can’t consume in five minutes or less. Always maintain a balanced diet for the fish.

Maintaining a properly ventilated aquarium so that the oxygen levels are not affected can also help keep the detritus worms under control. Do not put too many fish in one aquarium because this will not only affect the oxygen levels but also increase the amount of fish waste in the aquarium. 

These are the ways you can take care of an outbreak of detritus worms. At no point should you use dewormers or any other medication to get rid of the worms. It may only succeed in killing the fish without solving the problem. The detritus worms shouldn’t worry you much unless there is an explosion of their population

What else should you consider?

Instead of worrying about detritus worms, you should worry more about the planaria. They are not related to the detritus worms as planaria are flatworms. Planaria are quite small but you can notice their eyespots protruding from the sides of their heads upon close examination. If you want to look out for planaria, looking for worms that are crawling on the glass of an aquarium.

The problem with planaria, which are found on both fresh and salt waters, is that they are asexual and can reproduce on their own. So cutting them into pieces only helps them reproduce as each piece regenerates. You can easily introduce planaria into your aquarium by getting an infested plant for a pond or a natural water source.

Planaria are carnivores and scavengers and will feast on the eggs if your fish are breeding. While they won’t harm any healthy fish, they have a tendency to also prey on the weaker fish. While detritus worms are only a problem in numbers, a few planaria in your aquarium is a good enough reason to worry.

Since the treatment of planaria may involve the use of chemicals that can be harmful to the fish, it is important to be sure that you have an invasion of planaria first before looking for a solution. Always consult an ichthyologist before embarking on any treatment solution.

They will be able to advise on which products are good and safe for both the aquarium and the fish. Vulnerable animals in the aquarium such as shrimps, snails, and silverfish should be first removed before the treatment. Certain types of fish may also exhibit sensitivity to certain methods of planaria treatments. Never go above the recommended dosage of treatment no matter how much the invasion of planaria seems.

Just like for detritus worms, regular cleaning also helps keep the planaria away from your aquarium and fish. When making the weekly water changes, also ensure that the bottom of the aquarium is properly siphoned.


Generally, observing general cleanliness of the aquarium and having the right feeding program for the fish is more than enough to keep problems such as population explosion of detritus worms and planaria invasion at bay. Scary stories should not stop you from getting an aquarium if you really want one. You just need to care for the aquarium and the fish like you would care for other pets such as cats and dogs.

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