Algae Turf Scrubber – Why it Could Revolutionize the Reef Hobby

Thank you for visiting! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon and other stores/partners are affiliate links Aquarium Store Depot earns a commission if you make a purchase.

As a retail seller of aquarium supplies, we always stay up on the latest developments in the industry. There is one such development that has been getting a lot of mention on forums, but not a lot of mention from manufacturers. That development is called the algae turf scrubber. I have seen them in action and have become a believer in them. As a seller, I had to come to terms that this breakthrough has the ability to replace a large amount of equipment that I stock in my store, but I must advocate the truth and what works for my customers.

This development is a game changer folks. So now that I have hyped it up a bit, let me explain what exactly an Algae Turf Scrubber is.

What is an Algae Turf Scrubber (ATS)?

An Algae Turf Scrubber is a filtration device that uses light to grow algae. Okay so that sounds odd – why would you want to grow algae right? It’s unsightly in the tank and a pain to remove from the tank after all. Well, the thing is algae can remove all sorts of nasties in your tank – Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrates, Phosphates, etc. They even act as chemical filtration and remove chemicals like copper from your tank! The problem is it looks ugly in your display tank.

An algae scrubber purposely grows algae in your tank in a concentrated area so that it can do filtration for you. In fact, it has the ability to eliminate algae in your display tank since the area you grow your algae in will be so much more attractive for algae to thrive.

How does it work?

When Algae turf scrubbers were first around most of the hobby world who adopted them utilized Dr. Walter Adey’s dump tray style scrubber. The design relied primarily on the growth of red turf algae. This dump tray model had several drawbacks though. It was massive taking up a large amount of space. The dump trays would swing back and forth and be noisy. Many of these models were not operated correctly, which lead to some of the negative feedback you may likely hear from forums, stores, or other hobbyists.

Dump Style Algae Turf Scrubber


Enter the new Water Fall Style Algae Turf Scrubber Model

After around 2008, a new bred of algae turf scrubbers was released. These models used a fixed screen that hangs on a waterfall-style water pipe and is illuminated by lights. These waterfall models excel at growing green hair algae and have a much smaller foot print then the dump tray models. This green hair alga is far superior to the red algae as it grows faster and has better nutrient export than the red algae grown in the dump tray models.

These waterfall models have become very popular on hobbyist forums and there are multiple DIY applications for them along with success stories of hobbyists who have used them. Many of these DIY algae turf scrubber setups are so successful that they no longer use expensive equipment like protein skimmers, media reactors, bio-pellets, etc. They also reported incredible pod growth. The algae turf scrubbers would grow millions of baby pods, enough to feed Mandarin Gobies.

DIY Algae Turf Scrubber

These DIY models were wonderful. They were cheap to build, they produced great results, but something was missing. It was only available to DIYers! Not everyone in the hobby is a DIYer and the scrubber technology was patented for years so not a lot of ready-made products were available – until recently.

The Birth of The Ready-Made That is For Sale

With the patent expiring on the algae scrubber, products are now available to hobbyist for purchase. They are hard to find, but we have fortunately been working with a domestic manufacturer and have a Algae Turf Scrubber for sale. This unit from IceCap is one of the more affordable manufactured units on the market.

I looked long and hard to find the right manufacturer who was developing a top-notch waterfall-style scrubber. The big difference between a DIY scrubber and a ready-made scrubber is the fact that the ready-made scrubbers are enclosed. They are made of top-quality acrylic and PVC. They easily connect with a pump and can be installed in sump. The lighting is powered by IP66 waterproof white light LEDs and adjustable spray bars for quiet operation.

Algae Turf Scrubber

These scrubbers growth incredibility rich green algae that should be cleaned out every 7 days. You can see examples of the harvest from these scrubbers below. We were blown away from the algae these models were producing!

ATS Harvest
ATS Harvest

What do I do if I Already Have a Aquarium and Skimmer?

Algae turf scrubbers are actually superior to protein skimmers because they do so much more. If you have a skimmer, I would recommend running both until you have pulled at least three full harvests of green algae from the algae turf scrubber. After that, try running the tank without the skimmer and monitor the results. As long as you are keeping up with the maintenance of the scrubber and regularly cleaning it, you will begin noticing that the tank is operating ideally without the skimmer.

Eventually, you can make the decision to remove the skimmer completely or just run both. Running both is not necessary, but hobbyists like to run them as a backup. You will always pull with the skimmer using a scrubber, but that is because the skimmer and scrubber pull nutrients at different stages.

A skimmer takes organics out of the water BEFORE they have time to break down into nitrates. They also remove some beneficial things such as coral food. They are plug and play, and very reliable, but they will not capture ALL of the nutrients.

Algae Turf Scrubbers on the other hand remove nutrients AFTER they have already broken down. This ensures that all the little coral food particles float around in the water column so your corals get maximum exposure time to food. When you are ready to remove your skimmer – go sell it off and get what you really want- Corals and Fish!

Why Don’t I Just Make One DIY?

Because of the fact that Algae Turf Scrubbers were mostly available to DIYers, they were not plug-and play, took time to grow and dial in, and research was required to get the right amount of light and flow was needed to be successful. With a production model like ours, the vetting has been done and these models are just as plug-and-play as any protein skimmer. By purchasing a proven model, you ensure maximum success for your reef tank and avoid the frustration of having tweak your DIY to make sure it was done right.

How Come I Have Never Heard Of These Before?

For one thing, there was a patent on the design so there were not a lot of retail products out there. The second factor is more about our hobby. If you are a brand manufacturer, you are heavily invested in equipment like protein skimmers which sell for a lot of money. These scrubbers have the ability to make skimmers obsolete so there is a natural hesitation to adopt them. The third factor is retailers. We have a lot of inventory invested in equipment that we sell to customers.

This is something I struggled with when looking at scrubbers, but after working with my manufacturer and seeing the results myself I feel that I have an obligation to the hobby to promote the scrubber and bring it to market. I have always run my store with the motto “We seek to simplify the hobby so the beginner can thrive.” The Algae Turf Scrubber IS simplification at its finest.  It’s natural, simple, and cheaper, and this innovation should be available to all hobbyists – not just DIYers.

If you already have a tank, I ask you to try these Algae Turf Scrubbers out. If you are new to the hobby, we encourage you to set up your tank with an algae scrubber from the start and start it up after the tank’s cycle and initial algae boom. These models do not take up a lot of space and will save you money. I promise you will not be disappointed.


  1. I know I am late to stumbling across what is a really well written article. My only take is this article is written in the context that algae turf scrubbers are some kind of new revolutionary invention. They have been around since the 80’s, if not the 70’s.

    They are an excellent alternative to the Berlin method. You will want to run your algae scrubber as a sole source, or primary source of filtration. If you run one with anything else, the filters will compete and neither will run at full efficacy. If you are hesitant and want to run one with a skimmer for a belt and suspenders approach, then undersize your skimmer, or tune it down.

    You also should not mix algae methods with carbon dosing methods as the desired bacteria populations and algae turf/chaeto/macro algae will compete with each other…again neither approach will reach full efficacy.

    The one downside to algae turf scrubbers, as well as Miracle Mud type refugiums or any dedicated algae approach, is that algae does release a small amount of toxins in the water column and some SPS corals are highly sensitive to this. In these cases, you may want to run carbon, which then introduces its own set of contraindications with some SPS corals. In full SPS tank cases, the Berlin method with carbon dosing would be preferred.

    As far as why manufacturers never really pushed ATS or refugium methods. 1), ATS were held up in patent litigation among the early pioneers, which greatly limited the number of people that could produce and sell these. DIY plans have been around for decades. 2) look at the prices of all the other equipment in the hobby and guess which pieces produce the most profit margin….hint….not the ATSs 😀

  2. Hi Vlad,

    Cheato does not work with an algae scrubber. You actually don’t need to purchase any algae as the unit will produce algae for you naturally. You may be thinking about an Algae reactor – which requires the purchase of cheato. There is actually a comparison posts on the blog where I go through several other denitrating solutions and compare them to a scrubber. See –

  3. Will chaeto work in a tray or waterfall turf scrubber? What are the best algae to use in these type of scrubbers?

  4. Hi John,

    Yes this will work for freshwater tanks and will eliminate algae. The model is a meant to be used in a sump though. If you lack a sump, you wouldn’t be able to use these units. There are in-tank or hang-on models you can purchase. I’m going to put some up on my site soon as I’m working with Santa Monica to get these hang-on models available. They work very well and would be great to use for hang-on on in-tank/floating applications.

  5. Hi Chandra,

    Natural filtration methods have been around for years in the saltwater aquarium industry. It was first live rock, then transitioned into dry rock + seeding. The only issue with rock was that it would not address chemical filtration and nitrate portion of the nitrogen cycle. That’s where an algae turf scrubber comes in. A protein skimmer pulls out waste out of a system to prevent nutrient build up, but an algae turf scrubber can do so much more than that. The problem with utilizing nature to solve your filtration issues has always been scale. Afterall, it’s difficult to replicate the ocean when you have such a tiny space in comparison to work with. Once the waterfall model came about, it really worked wonders in solving the scalability issue.


Leave a Comment


Turtle Tank Setup (A 7 Step How To Guide)
Are you setting up a new tank for a pet turtle? Creating the perfect turtle habitat is a little different from planning a fish tank, but don't worry; the process is fun and easy once you understand their basic needs!
Cichlid Tank Mates - Great Choices For ALL Species
Nothing looks more stunning than a large aquarium filled with cichlids. No matter if you have African, Central American, South American, or another common type of cichlid, these tropical fish can bring immense color and excitement to the home aquarium.
Why Angelfish And Guppies Are A Deadly Combo
You might think that guppies are easy fish that can be kept with nearly any other species, right? While these small, hardy fish can get along with most fish species, they are not compatible with angelfish. Keep in mind that angelfish are a type of cichlid, and so they should be treated as such.