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Is it necessary to purchase algae pads at a pet shop instead of the local department store? Yes! Although the pads may look the same, there may be soap or chemical residue in them from the manufacturing process. Soap or chemical reside can be lethal to aquarium fish.
An algae scrubber is a water filtering device (not to be confused with a scrubber pad used to clean glass) which uses light to grow algae; in this process, undesirable chemicals are removed from the water. Algae scrubbers have allowed saltwater and freshwater aquarium and pond hobbyists the ability to operate their tanks the way that oceans and lakes operate: using natural filtration in the form of primary production.
Tired of sticking your whole arm into the tank to clean the glass? A magnetic glass cleaner is just what you need. Tip: bigger isn't better. Opt for the smaller ones, as they are more maneuverable and don't fall off the glass as readily as the larger variety.
The algae scrubber was invented by Dr. Walter Adey, who beginning in the late 1970s, was Director of the Marine Systems Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC, USA). His research of various types of algae, especially in their ecological role on coral reefs, gave him insight into how the ocean (in particular a reef) "recycles" nutrients. He designed and built various exhibits ranging in size up to 3000 gallons, and modeled different aquatic ecological systems including a tropical coral reef/lagoon which "after 8 years of closure [to the environment], had its chemical parameters controlled solely by an algal turf scrubber.
Dr. Adey built several versions of algae scrubbers for aquariums at the Smithsonian. He called them "Algal Turf Scrubbers", because at the time it was believed that "turf" algae was the best type of algae to grow in a scrubber. He also was granted the first U.S. patent for a dumping-bucket algae scrubber, which described a complex dumping device that poured water onto a horizontal surface, thus simulating waves in a reef environment.
When cleaning the filter, the right brush is everything. Be sure to have a filter brush on hand to get into those tight spaces.