How to Get Rid of Detritus Worms in Your Aquarium

First off, it’s important to remember that you likely won’t be able to get rid of every single detritus worm in your substrate. 

In fact, a small detritus worm population living in your aquarium is a good thing. Most aquariums have at least some of these little critters living in the gravel/soil, and no one even notices them. 

They eat poop and uneaten fish food, helping to break these wastes down.

You just don’t want a huge population living in your tank.

They’re unsightly and kinda gross. And if the population grows too large, they can even deplete the oxygen in the water.

Luckily, keeping detritus worm populations in check is quite simple.

Detritus worm overpopulation is caused by one or both of two things: 

  • Poor substrate cleaning practices 
  • Overfeeding

Gravel Vacuuming

Gravel vacuuming aquarium

In order to get rid of the detritus worms that you currently have, do twice weekly water changes on your tank including thorough gravel vacuuming. 

The suction from the gravel vacuum will pull the worms out so you can dispose of them. 

I know it can seem daunting to clean your substrate, especially if you have something other than regular gravel or have plants. But, don’t worry, it’s actually pretty easy.

You don’t have to dig very deep into the substrate in order to suck the worms out. So, you don’t have to disturb the entire substrate bed to get the worms out. 

Here are some tips for cleaning different kinds of substrates:

  • Gravel – this is the easiest kind of substrate to clean. Just dig the gravel vac all the way to the bottom of the tank again and again in all the open areas. Push the vacuum lightly into the top inch or so in planted areas. 
  • Sand – the trick to vacuuming sand is having a long lift tube on the gravel vacuum and slowing down the flow of water by kinking the drain hose. This helps stop sand from escaping through the vacuum but will still pull out worms and fish waste out. 
  • Soil – because soil substrates are so light and easy to disturb, it’s really important to slow the water down. This means having to work more slowly, but you should be able to pull a lot of the worms. 

Once you have reduced the worm population, you can switch to weekly water changes. Just be sure to continue vacuuming the substrate to keep the worm numbers low. 

Stop Overfeeding

Detritus worms can’t become overpopulated without a substantial food source. 

A giant population boom means that too much food is going uneaten and collecting in the substrate. 

detritus worms in substrate

Overfeeding is one of the leading causes of problems among fishkeepers. Fish like to eat and we like to feed them.

And fish will continue to beg for food even if they’ve had more than enough to eat. They always act like they’re starving, prompting us to give them way more food than they need. 

But don’t believe their lies! 

Only feed your fish what they can eat within about a minute or two. 

Watch them eat to make sure that all the food gets eaten up. Don’t just dump food in and walk away. 

Remove uneaten food promptly. You don’t have to track down every stray flake, just do your best to keep things to a minimum.

You can also add invertebrates like shrimp or snails to clean up food scraps. 


Detritus worms are just a part of life when you have an aquarium. 

But, if they become overpopulated, they can be gross and unsightly. 

Luckily, it’s really easy to get rid of the overpopulation and keep it gone. And it’s stuff you need to be doing anyway, so no big deal. 

I hope you find this article helpful. 

I wish you and your fish the very best.

Katherine Morgan
Katherine Morgan

Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. An aquarium specialist, I've kept tanks for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast.

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