How to Clean an Aquarium with Lasers

Just when you thought that you’d heard it all, I’m back with yet another unique use for lasers. No, not just another application of laser technology, this is an actual practical use for a high powered laser like our handheld or portable series.

Recently, I had an inquiry from an aquarist and reef enthusiast looking to use lasers to control pest algae and other unwanted growths in their tanks. At first, I was pretty surprised by the idea. I mean I’ve owned a couple small fish tanks in my day and when it came time to clean the tank, I would just remove the fish, empty the water and scrub away the algae. It never seemed that complicated to me. I realize my beta fish bowls are a far less complex habitat than a saltwater aquarium with live coral reefs, but I never thought I’d be talking about high powered lasers and live coral reefs in the same sentence.

So what exactly can you do with a laser and a saltwater / reef aquarium? A lot it seems. High powered lasers are ideal in eradicating marine aquaria pests. Some organisms they’re great at eliminating include: aiptasia / mojano (see video below), blue & green algae (including bryopsis and valonia), xenia, GSP and pretty much any other invasive pest that you want zapped. Handheld lasers are even capable of killing predatory crabs and vermetid snails!

So, how do I keep my aquarium clean?

Before you decide to run down to your local dollar store and purchase a laser pointer, make sure you know what you’re getting into and what you need in order to effectively exterminate your unwanted aquatic guests.

First off, you’re not going to have any luck with a cheapo laser pointer; you need something high powered. A 2-3 watt high powered laser pointer would be the perfect choice as it’s fast burning and relatively inexpensive (compared to other 1 watt lasers).

Second, you’re going to need to get eye protection. If you decide to go through with this, you need to make sure you have a set of safety glasses on hand for you and anyone else assisting you with this task.

On the same note, please remove your fish from the tank! Any slight reflection will render them blind almost instantly.

Alright, so let’s say you’ve got your high powered laser and your aquarium is in dire need of some serious pest policing, what do you do now? In theory it should be pretty easy right? Think of the laser as a weed-whacker or edger for your lawn; precision and patience are of the essence.

Unless you’ve got special glasses for your fish, you’re going to need to remove them from the tank first. Once you’ve removed your livestock from the tank you’re cleaning, you need to first identify where your aiptasia, algae, xenia or whatever you’re zapping is living. It might be easier to do this without the glasses on. Once you’ve identified the tank squatters, make sure to put those glasses on and proceed with caution. Take your time as you don’t want to damage other living organisms in the process.

Techniques to use

I decided to dive into this topic a little deeper (sorry for the pun) and see just how many other folks out there are using high powered lasers for cleaning their aquariums. I came across a thread on Reef Forums and found an insanely detailed encounter of one user cleaning his tank with a 1800mw laser. He made some great points and gives some solid advice for a first-timer.

1. For starters, you need to take care when it comes to shining the laser through the glass or acrylic tank. A perpendicular angle is preferred as you’ll avoid stray reflections. It’s also best-practice to wear long sleeves and gloves to avoid burning your hands/skin in the process.
2. Make sure your tank dwellers are safe! Remove them if possible. If you really want to get fancy, maybe get yourself some laser safety glass and sanction them off while you clean certain parts of the tank.
3. Do your best to keep water movement to a minimum. Don’t bump the tank or cause the water to move in any way if possible. Movement increases cooling and decreases the effect of your laser on whatever you’re zapping.
4. Keep a second pair of laser safety glasses on hand for your helper / curious friend. If you don’t have a second pair, lock the door and don’t let anyone in while you’re cleaning! Safety first, then teamwork.

Effectiveness scale

Dependent on the type of organisms that fill your tank, you’ll want to consider if a laser wil really be effective. Here’s a list of what a laser can be most effective against.

Aiptasia: Super effective. Within a few seconds you’ll start to hear the aiptasia sizzle and start to boil. You’ll then hear a small “pop” and they’ll explode.
Green Star Polyps: Roasted within seconds. Very effective.
Xenia: Very effective. Although it seems that killing xenia take a bit longer than aiptasia; probably about 30 seconds in total. This is likely due to them being lighter in color and absorbing less of the laser’s energy. It’s recommended to aim for the base of the xenia until you hear a popping noise.
Mojamo: This user didn’t have any mojamo in his tank, but is confident that they would stand no chance against a laser.
Valonia: inconclusive. While it appears that the laser cuts through both sides of the valonia bubble, it will take some time to see if they’re actually killed.
Algae: everything hit with the laser burns, sizzles and pops. It might take some time to kill all the algae, but it definitely stands no chance against the power of lasers.
Cyano: Easily eliminated. One pass with the laser will destroy all cyano.

Conclusion

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