How to Get Rid of Detritus Worms in Your Aquarium

Fish tank owners who see white worms in their tanks probably have to deal with one of two issues. Regular aquarium maintenance can control the overcrowding caused by Detritus Worms, which are more prevalent. The less common Planarian worms pose a more complicated problem.

How to get rid of detritus worms in aquairum

Make sure that before making any changes to the tank, you are aware of which type of white worm you are dealing with and how to get rid of Detritus worms in your aquarium. Dewormers are frequently overused and misused, which can result in accidentally injuring or killing fish.

What Are Detritus Worms?

Earthworms and leech worms also belong to the species of annelid worms, which also include segmented worms, debris worms, and tubifex worms. They move between rocks and through the water like white-brown ribbons. 

The detritus worms consume organic trash that has already decomposed, so they are safe for your fish. Detritus worms are commonly found in aquariums due to their easy introduction. The new fish or plant might have brought them, and the gravel might even have been transferred from another tank. 

There are often no visible signs of detritus worms. Gravel’s pebbles are normally home to these creatures, which feed on the waste products left over from your fish’s feedings. It might take a gravel vacuum to pick them up and notice them. In your aquarium, detritus worms are an important symbiotic organism because they keep the substrate clean.

How to Identify Detritus Worms?

how to deworm fish

Detritus worms are easily identified by their thin, white, wiggling appearance in the fish tank. The strings resemble thin, long white threads when viewed from a distance. There are thin segmented bodies and they have a whitish appearance. They writhe rapidly as they swim in snake-like motions or crawl on the substrate like earthworms.

There are three types of worms found in aquariums: laying on the substrate, swimming freely in the water column, and attaching themselves to the planted tank walls. Sizes can range from a millimeter to a few centimeters to one inch but are usually between 0.1 and 0.5 inches. During the dark hours, detritus worms become more active. They make small holes into the substrate during the day to hide under driftwood, rocks, or other objects.

Detritus worm infestation can be a common issue in aquariums, causing concern among fishkeepers. These small organisms, often overlooked, can lead to problems if their population grows unchecked. Let’s explore the causes of detritus worm infestations, ways to prevent them, and effective methods for their removal.

Detritus Worms: Causes

One of the most common worm species found in fish tanks is detritus worms. There may be too much food sitting on top of your substrate, which is the first explanation. If the food is not consumed, it may begin to rot.

Secondly, detritus worms may appear in your fish tank if you recently overfed your fish, leaving an excessive amount of uneaten food on or beneath the surface of the substrate.

Detritus worms are also known as garden worms or dirt worms. They can be quite troublesome if they appear on your tank’s surface.

How Harmful Are Detritus Worms?

The detritus worms, which transmit infection throughout the tank, can actually kill your fish if you don’t take action against them. Pink flowers typically start out as red, but as soon as they are exposed to light, they turn brown or gray, blending into your gravel.

To prevent things from getting out of hand, act now to prevent detritus worms from taking over your tank and reproducing at an accelerated rate.

Furthermore, detritus worms are usually introduced into a tank through new plants or substrates, so be careful not to do this.

Although detritus worms may be advantageous for your tank since they eliminate extra food and other debris that encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Their population may overwhelm your fish if it grows too large, which is a bad thing. Because detritus worms are so dangerous, it’s crucial to prevent them from taking over your tank and get rid of them as soon as possible.

How to Get Rid of Detritus Worms

Detritus worms aren’t good for your aquarium if they become overpopulated and can harm your fish.

Having detritus worms in your fish tank helps to break down leftover food, but if their population grows too large, they can overwhelm your fish and cause serious problems, which you definitely don’t want.

How do you know that you have too many?

Because detritus worms live in the substrate, you might never see them in an aquarium. However, if you notice them swimming in the water column, sitting on the glass, and sticking out of the substrate, you should take action.

Even though it’s crucial to prevent detritus worms from taking over your tank, using one of the methods above shouldn’t be too difficult. Select a strategy that fits your budget and knowledge level to minimize their numbers.

1. Any gravel from another tank should not be used because it will likely retain any worm debris from a previous tank and will introduce these to your current tank.

2. These worms can really cause betta illness, which is fatal and incurable, so it’s especially important to take extra precautions if you have one in your aquarium.

3. You should siphon as many debris worms from your substrate as possible. When you have a lot of fish in your aquarium, you might consider adding snails as natural predators of detritus worms.

4. You shouldn’t overfeed your fish because the extra food will just rot and produce more detritus worms.

5. When there are too many on your fish tank’s surface, there isn’t much you can do about them, but you can easily remove them with a net.

6. Alternatively, you can get algae wafers, which are excellent food sources for detritus worms. The excess can be left on your substrate if your fish are not able to eat all of them. This will make getting rid of them easier.

7. Cherry shrimp, neon tetras, or guppies are the best fish for eating detritus worms in your aquarium.

8. Pesticides and other chemicals should never be used on them because they are harmful to your plants and fish.

9. Make sure you remove all uneaten food from your tank since if you do not, more detritus worms will be produced. Before placing your plants in the tank, it is recommended that you rinse them thoroughly to ensure that they are debris-free.

10. You can add new low-light aquarium plants directly to your substrate if they are inert plants such as Anubis or java ferns.

11. If gravel is on top of the substrate, it is crucial to remove it and thoroughly clean it to remove any debris worms.

12. A detritus worm eater can help get rid of any detritus worms in your tank if other methods don’t work.

13. Your aquarium may have too much nitrate if you see detritus worms. This is why we suggest learning more about how to get rid of them here since they can cause serious harm to your fish and can even kill them at high levels.

14. If you want to eliminate leftover food and waste in your aquarium, add some snails. Don’t put any newly acquired fish in the tank in competition with the snails.

15. When dead plant debris decomposes on top of your substrate before you have the opportunity to remove it, it can be just as harmful.

16. Use a moist towel to clean the surface of the substrate after cleaning out your tank’s substrate to get rid of most debris worms.

Are Detritus Worms Dangerous to Shrimp, Fish, and Snails?

The good news is that detritus worms are not harmful to fish, dwarf shrimp, snails, or other animals in the aquarium. Instead, they can provide a nutritious meal for your aquarium’s fish and fry.

In your aquarium, it’s fine to have a few of these worms as long as there aren’t too many.

Cleaning Tips to Get Rid Of Detritus Worms

Detritus worms are surprisingly easy to get rid of in an aquarium, and there are a few different ways you can do so.

Cleaning Out Extra Food: You can also get rid of detritus worms by removing all of their food sources, so avoid overfeeding your fish tank and just give them the amount they can consume within 30 minutes.

Using Cleaning Chemicals: Alternatively, you can use cleaning products specifically made for getting rid of detritus worms, but you should be careful because some are quite expensive and may not be as effective if your water is still discolored.

Cleaning Your Tank Regularly: Regular fish tank cleaning is the best technique to get rid of these tiny pests because it will remove their food source for them.

Using Baking Soda: You can use baking soda to kill detritus worms because it is a natural antiseptic and also prevents bacteria from forming. In case the worms have not been eliminated previously, sprinkle some baking soda on the substrate.

Using Sandpaper: If you are using sandpaper to remove the top layer of your gravel to remove detritus worms, be careful not to remove too much of it.

Using Vinegar: Vinegar also works well to get rid of these dangerous bugs, though it takes a little longer than other methods. You can add vinegar to your tank, let it evaporate, and repeat the process as necessary. If you want to prevent excessive evaporation, make sure you leave a few drops of vinegar at the bottom of the tank.

Alternative Way to Get Rid Of Detritus Worms

The good news is that you can deworm aquariums by using a variety of different techniques.

1. Stop Overfeeding. Consider Your Schedule

As well as reducing eating habits, you should also exercise more. You shouldn’t overfeed aquarium fish; give them what they can consume in the shortest amount of time, and make sure their food is easy to digest.

Remove any food that remains undigested after 10 minutes so that the worms don’t eat it. After two or three hours, remove leftover shrimp from the tank.

Detritus worms, often consume fish waste and leftover food in aquariums. They help in breaking down organic matter, including fish poop, and contribute to the ecosystem’s balance. However, if their population becomes excessive, it could be a sign of poor tank maintenance or overfeeding.

2. Filtration

Detritus worms may also be affected by filtration in aquariums. Check your filtration system for any problems.

A population explosion would simply happen in tanks with inadequate filtration, poor water quality, and decaying mulm. In order to handle wastes and pollutants, the aquarium needs an effective filtration system (mechanical and biological).

If you have good filtration and enough water flow, the quality of your tank’s water will improve and the amount of dissolved oxygen will increase.

3. Improve Your Maintenance Practices

First of all, you need to pay close attention to the maintenance and hygiene procedures of your tank.

Detritus worms are significantly reduced in the substrate when gravel is cleaned regularly with a vacuum cleaner. These worms are continuously ingesting unconsumed fish food, plant and animal wastes, and other substances through this process.

Gravel Vacuum a fish tank

Vacuuming is an effective method of removing more worms from the substrate along with their food.

4. Water Changes

To eliminate the Detritus worm population in the water column, it is necessary to change the water (up to 50%). If you maintain shrimp, frequent or large water changes may result in molting problems.

When the worms reach the top of the substrate, carefully aim at and remove them from the aquarium. The tank should be refilled with clean, dechlorinated water afterward, and it should be cleaned thoroughly periodically.

5. Overstocking

Keep an eye on your bio load, overstocking the water with fish and invertebrates will increase excessive waste production, causing damage to the water and improving the conditions for detritus worms.

6. Chemical Removal

My recommendation is to use it to kill these worms as it is offensive to use drugs against them.

Treatment for detritus worms does not require the use of harmful chemicals; instead, use the following treatments:

  • No-Planaria,
  • Fenbendazole (Panacur and Canine Dewormer),
  • Orazio,
  • AAP Dyacide, etc.

As a result of treatment, the substrate will contain a large number of detritus worms. As a result, they will die there. A large amount of ammonia is produced, which can kill your fish or shrimp over the course of one or two weeks.

7. Biological Removal

Detritus worms are also eaten by some fish species, crayfish, crabs, and frogs. There are times when they will go crazy over them, for example:

  • Neon tetras,
  • Bettas,
  • Harlequin Rasboras,
  • Endlers,
  • Mollies,
  • Corydoras,
  • Guppies,
  • Angelfish.

Shrimplets may also be affected by these fish. If you do not wish to put your shrimp at risk, you should consider some smaller fish fry (like guppies).

It is important to keep in mind that big fish usually do not eat detritus worms.

8. CO2 and Temperature Trick

Aquarists have gassed their tanks with so much CO2 that oxygen has been completely depleted. By swimming for oxygen, detritus worms had to leave their substrates. Siphoning them out of the water column becomes much easier as a result.

These worms dislike warm weather, so raising it by 15 degrees will also surprise them.

The problem with both of these methods is that they may harm livestock.

Here Are Some Tiny White Worms in My Fish Tank

Planaria Worms

detritus vs planaria

While detritus worms are more common and easier to deal with, planaria worms are rarer and harder to get rid of. These flatworms usually come into your tank with plants, especially if the plants are from a nearby pond. If you recently added such plants and now notice white flatworms, you’ll likely need to use chemicals to treat the issue.

There are both freshwater and saltwater flatworms called planaria that belong to the genus Turbellaria. If you look closely enough, you can see protrusions on both sides of their expanded heads, as well as eyespots. In aquariums, these are often the worms that are scuttling across the glass.

The flatworms have a longer evolutionary history than annelid worms and are related to flukes and tapeworms. They are sexually incapable, which means they can reproduce on their own. A worm will produce a new worm after being divided into parts.

Considering that these worms are both scavengers and predators, they pose a problem. When you breed fish that lay eggs, they are dangerous because they enjoy feasting on the eggs, but won’t harm your healthy fish. They might also eat the eyes and gills of the elderly or sick. 

Camallanus Worms


The Camallanus worms are extremely thin and tiny. They are only a few millimeters long and resemble pink threads. The parasites live in fish intestines and feed on the blood of their hosts.

Mature Camallanus worms are typically not visible outside of their host. Their tails are attached to the infection when they emerge from the fish.

It is highly recommended that Planaria and Camallanus worms be removed altogether from aquariums, as opposed to Detritus worms.

Differences Between Detritus Worms, Camallanus Worms, and Planaria

When aquarists don’t know the scientific name of a particular species, they frequently use the term “detritus worm.” This causes further confusion and misunderstanding.

They are not very numerous, but because of their distinctive characteristics, they can be easily recognized crawling on a glass wall of a tank because of their poor reproduction rate.

They have pointed heads, and their mouths are located in the middle of their undersides. There may be only two spots over the head, depending on the subspecies classification. Throughout their bodies, they have eye spots or photoreceptors.

Planarians will multiply if they are cut vertically or horizontally.

Here is a comparative analysis chart that will help you get to know these Worms better.


Fresh and saltwater
Fresh and saltwater
Fresh and saltwater

NematodesExternal, parasitic nematodes

Mouth features
_They have a ‘mouth’ in the middle of the body on the underside
Body structure
Thread-like pink worms
Flat and thick
Thread-like white worms
Movements_Move slowly (more of a gliding)
Fast, Snake-like
Head structure
_They have arrow-shaped heads.
Reproduction rate
SlowSlowFast reproduction
Only during the larva stage
Do not swim
Can Swim


1. Where do Detritus Worms Come From?

They can hide in the substrate (sand or gravel) by their size and color, and then join the new environment when the tank is filled. By filling the tank with dirty water, you might unintentionally give them a way in.

2. How do Detritus Survive?

The fish happily eat decomposing organic waste or leftover food particles in the aquarium. Therefore, they are always filtering the water and working hard to eliminate garbage without outside assistance.

They are often called natural tank cleaners because they consume slowly but persistently to produce sanitization.

3. What Instigates Increase in Detritus Worm’s Population?

It is caused by overfeeding the pet and using contaminated water when certain circumstances arise. Aquatic animals must have enough food in their tanks to eat within two to three minutes. They will suffer from malnutrition if they are malnourished, and being overfed will have other negative effects.

4. Are Detritus Dangerous in any way?

Detritus worms are usually harmless, but they can become a nuisance if their numbers increase significantly. To get rid of these pests, there are several methods you can try.

Physically removing the worms from the substrate is one way, and using natural predators like small fish or snails can also be effective. If you’re dealing with a large infestation, you might need to use a treatment specifically designed to eliminate detritus worms.

5. Are Detritus Harmful to Fish?

Most fish tanks contain these little critters, even if the owner is unaware of them. They appear tranquil and harmless to other organisms, but their threats are entirely based on individual perception.

The Detritus Worms do not directly affect fish, crustaceans, turtles, snails, or other aquatic creatures. In addition to their lack of illness susceptibility, these are not thought to be harmful to them.

The number of these Worms, however, indirectly affects tank inhabitants as they multiply. Water oxygen levels will drop when the number rises, while nitrogen levels will rise, which will upset aquatic life.

6. Are Detritus Harmful to Humans?

As Detritus Worms can only survive in water, they will perish if filtered out of the tank. Detritus Worms pose no threat to humans at all.

Unlike leeches, these worms cannot penetrate the skin or draw blood on your hands because they are not dangerous. After completing the tank operation, one should properly wash their hands to prevent themselves from contracting bacteria or microscopic parasites.

Parasitic worms can pose a health risk to your turtles. Consult a veterinarian or a professional experienced in reptile care to identify the type of worm and provide appropriate treatment.

7. What Eats Detritus Worms?

Most baby aquatic animals, like fish and frogs, eat worms. But as animals grow bigger, they usually don’t eat worms. Detritus Worms usually move around on the bottom of the tank, so animals that like to eat leftover food find them tasty.

Some fish like loaches, such as Clown, Kuhli, and Zebra loaches, really like eating these worms. Catfish, bettas, and plecos can also eat them if they have other types of food too.

8. What Eats Detritus in a Freshwater Tank?

The crayfish can be an indispensable addition to your freshwater cleanup crew due to their similar appearance to lobsters. They can be territorial with their own species, so it is best to keep just one crayfish if you have more than one. Crayfish are scavengers who eat a variety of detritus in an aquarium.

9. Do Bettas Eat Detritus Worms?

Bettas enjoy eating live worms when they encounter fish of the same size or smaller. While female bettas are generally less violent than male bettas, it can be difficult to predict their behavior toward means, especially when starving.


When your aquarium is kept clean and you regularly vacuum the gravel, detritus worms will naturally die off and be eliminated. A serious infestation should only be treated with hydrogen peroxide and aquarium deformers. The presence of detritus worms in your aquarium is not anything to be concerned about, as they are a sign of the health of your aquarium.

Detritus worms are common in many aquariums and can be beneficial to some extent, as they help clean up fish waste and debris. However, an overabundance of these worms can disrupt the balance in your tank. By maintaining proper cleaning practices, avoiding overfeeding, and using appropriate treatments, you can keep their population under control and create a healthier environment for your aquatic inhabitants.

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