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Old 10/28/2014, 05:02 AM   #1
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Chemiclean Use Survey

This is a report on the survey of 500 Reef Central threads mentioning Chemiclean, the cyanobacteria remedy. Only one report of Chemiclean use was recorded per forum member to avoid double counting more active forum members. Threads on this topic became numerous after 2005.

What is Chemclean? The active ingredient was reported by RC forum member Boomer in 2009 to be erythromycin cetyl sulfate

The product I recently purchased is a fine pale yellow powder that gives a pale yellow solution when one scoop is dissolved in 1 ml of tap water. The Chemiclean solution conductivity was greater than tap water, indicating an ionic soultion. Viewed under the microscope, the powder consists mostly of spherically shaped solids, suggestive of a granulated material.

Granulation is a technique of blending powders with a small amount of water to produce tiny granuales, making tablet manufacturing easier and to make tablets with the required characterisics. Chemiclean dissolves in water and 91% isopropanol. When dumped on top of tap water, it floats and then turns into a thick syrupy mass that takes some time to dissolve, supporting the microscopic analysis that the material is a noncrystalline solid.

Chemiclean is dosed at a rate of one scoop per 10 gallons of water. This works out to be 67 mg per dose and a concentration of ~2 ppm assuming 100% active ingredient. The amount of active ingredient per dose is not known but it provides a high enough concentration of the surfactant counter ion cetyl sulfate to cause severe foaming with aeration. As reported by forum members, the protein skimmer can be out of commission for more than a week because of excessive foaming. Even at a one tenth dose, there is substantially more foaming than aquarium water (see demonstration on YouTube)

Removing the active ingredient by water change is not practical and requires another approach. With the skimmer being out of commission because of excess foaming, this leaves GAC as the only option. One gram of granular activated carbon can absorb 3.8 mg sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS), a closely related surfactant used in cosmetics and toothpaste. Assuming sodium cetyl sulfate is similarly adsorbed, every 10 gallons of water treated requires roughly 9 grams of GAC (calculatiuon is based on the cetyl sulfate making up about half the weight of the active ingredient and assuming 100% active ingredient).

How well does Chemclean work? The first plot below shows the success rate for Chemiclean use reported by forum members over the years. It is not clear though how long the cyanobacteria were kept in check when a forum member reported that Chemiclean "worked". Many failures of Chemiclean are likely a result of identifying diatoms and dinoflagellates as cyanobacteria. Similarly, when cyanobacteria is reported to have come back after treatment, this rebloom could be a different organism. There is no information about how well the Chemiclean instructions were followed nor is it known whether the potency varied lot to lot or whether the formulation strength changed over the years.

When I placed a piece of cyanobacteria mat into a small container of aquarium water containing a dose of Chemiclean, the mat seemed to shrink or shrivel over time (see time lapse video on YouTube).

Several days later, however, a new film of cyanobacteria had started to grow from the shrunken mat. I did not run a control, so, the shrinking might not have been Chemiclean related.. The regrowth might have occurred because the ratio of Chemiclean to mass of cyanobacteria was too low.

The side effect rate, distress and death, are reported in the second plot. There was speculation around the 2007 timeframe by forum members that a bad lot of Chemiclean which had a brownish appearance might have been associated with the tank crashes. In one case, the forum member reported mistakenly overdosing the system leading to a heavy loss of animals. Based on experience following the 2007 peak, there still remains a substantial risk of stressing or killing some aquarium inhabitants with a Chemiclean treatment.

While the deterimental effect to biofilter bacteria of high erythromycin concentrations has been discussed, little attention has been paid to the potential toxicity of cetyl sulfate in fish, coral, invertabrate and the biofilter. Fish toxicity, altering oxygen absorption and ammonia excretion has been demonstrated for the closely related surfactant SDS. Fish egg toxicity has also been demonstrated. SDS and potentially cetyl sulfate can have detrimental effects on bacteria cell membranes. These effects may account for the reported Chemiclean associated stress and death of aquarium inhabitants that can occur anytime after dosing. These severe side effects might involve ammonia poisoning, arising from a sudden rise in ammonia excretion and/or a rapid decline in ammmonia consumption by the biofilter because of cetyl sulfate and erythromycin poisoning. This side effect might be more likely in aquariums with a heavy bioload or a biofilter heavily populated with Chemiclean sensitive bacteria. For example, if cyanobacteria comprised a significant portion of the biofilter, ammonia levels could be expected to rise faster than the remaining biofilter could consume.

Conclusion. Success at eradicating cyanobacteria with Chemiclean is not guarenteed. The vendor's safety warnings seem to be inadequate in light of this survey. Based on foum member usage reports, the risk of using Chemiclean is probably underestimated and inadequately understood. Still, Chemiclean probably has a place in the saltwater aquarium maintenance, but only with a more complete consideration of side effects.

Sucess Rate

Side Effect Rate

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Old 10/28/2014, 09:44 AM   #2
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Since I got into reefing in 2008, I have used ChemiClean at least 7-8 times on mixed soft/LPS tanks, and SPS only tanks. Every time it has worked exactly as advertised, and I follow the instructions to the letter. I have never had a coral or fish death from using ChemiClean.

Last time I used it was about 5 months ago in a 465 gallon bare bottom SPS tank, with the usual successful results.

Can't speak for those reporting failure or tank crashes or other negative results, but that has not happened to me once in 6 years of occasional use of the product.

One area I do wish they'd be more forthcoming about is the massive amount of over foaming that occurs post treatment, most reports I read are at least a week, even with repeated water changes. I have experienced this myself during all the prior times I have used ChemiClean except the last time in my 465 gallon tank. All my prior treatments were on systems with internal protein skimmers, but my 465 has a new H&S 3x1260 external, and this external over foamed for about 5 minutes, then settled down to normal right after the 20% post treatment water change recommended in the ChemiClean instructions. I don't know if there is a correlation with the external skimmer and no over foaming or not, just interesting and nice not to have to deal with it this time. This tank is also bare bottom, so maybe this had something to do with it as well? Just speculation on my part.

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Old 10/28/2014, 07:50 PM   #3
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You have to fix the source or it's just a bandaid but it does work. My interpretation of your graph told me what I already thought I knew. Most people use it as a bandaid while not changing their husbandry habits.

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Old 12/03/2014, 06:08 AM   #4
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I have had nothing but success with Chemi-Clean. That being said the best long term strategy is to ensure that there are no dead spots of waterflow, filters and sumps are kept clean and feeding livestock sparingly. On the few occasions I have had cyano, I maximize success by removing cyano mats with a slotted spoon and denying light to sub sand growth at the glass/sand by wrapping from the bottom of the tank to an inch or so above the sand with black tape or a couple of layers of black crepe paper during the chemiclean treatment period. I have had cyano twice about 6 months apart and due to over feeding..

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Old 12/03/2014, 06:50 AM   #5
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I have had nothing but success with using Chemiclean. But it is, however, a Band-Aid solution, which explains why some people say that I doesn't work. You have to get to the source of the problem, ie; nitrate source like a dirty substrate, dirty sump, or no water changes and inadequate filtration.

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Old 08/07/2016, 07:18 AM   #6
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This is easily the best post on this topic I have seen! Well done.

Ryan B

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Old 08/07/2016, 07:46 AM   #7
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This should be a sticky .

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Old 08/07/2016, 07:14 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Snarkys View Post
This is easily the best post on this topic I have seen! Well done.
Thank you!


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Old 08/07/2016, 08:39 PM   #9
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I was dealing with cyano in a 10 LPS nano tank for about two weeks before resorting to Chemi-clean, a day after administering it the cyano mats on my sand bed were mostly gone. I vacuumed out what I could after the first day. Three days after the red stains on my rock and sand had cleared up and there were no large visible traces.

I followed the directions to the letter, airated my tank with an air stone and cranked my power heads to the max. Lost no livestock or lps.

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Old 08/08/2016, 01:05 AM   #10
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I just used it to treat Green Cyano that I originally thought was algae. I got so frustrated trying to remove it until I found out what it was. One day after treatment it was 90% gone, and within 3 days completely. No serious side affects so far. 25% water change today. Still need to add fresh carbon and do a second water change in a few days. Tank is super clean.


Current Tank Info: 75 gallon RR, 30 gallon sump, Photon 48, Tunze Skimmer
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Old 08/08/2016, 10:18 AM   #11
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Very nice work Dan.


Current Tank Info: Tank of the Month , November 2011 : 600gal integrated system: 3 display tanks (120 g, 90g, 89g),several frag/grow out tanks, macroalgae refugia, cryptic zones. 40+ fish, seahorses, sps,lps,leathers, zoanthidae and non photosynthetic corals.
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Old 07/09/2017, 12:08 PM   #12
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+1 on multiple successful uses of chemiclean

Failure isn't an option It's a requirement. 660g 380inwall+280smp/surge S/L/Soft/Maxima/RBTA/Clown/Chromis/Anthias/Tang/Mandarin/Jawfish/Goby/Wrasse/D'back. DIY 12' Skimmer ActuatedSurge ConcreteScape
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Old 07/09/2017, 04:20 PM   #13
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I love this analysis but it isn't very reliable when it comes right down to it since every sample is uncontrolled. I'm with you right up until the conclusion. While you state "Success at eradicating cyanobacteria with Chemiclean is not guarenteed" I don't think you can draw that conclusion when it isn't clear if the treatment was performed properly.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs when it comes to the language? I just wouldn't want what someone takes away from this that chemi clean isn't effective.

+1 for chemi clean working fine for me. I went from almost every inch of my tank covered to never seeing it again with no live stock loss.

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Old 07/09/2017, 06:49 PM   #14
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I've used it several times.
It works, but it always ends up coming back several weeks later.
I've decided to never use it again. I've had better luck with siphoning out as much as possible and doing 2 or 3 days of lights out. And this is less stressful on the system.


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Old 07/10/2017, 04:02 AM   #15
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Another multiple-time user here. Always effective and never did more harm than temporarily **** off some corals. I agree that it's a band-aid and cyano will return until the root cause is addressed. But you still have a cyano-free tank in the months in between!

I personally think the likelihood of failure to eliminate cyano or harm to tank inhabitants is even lower than the chart suggests--think of all the lurkers on this site that used Chemiclean, but never posted about the success they've had. And people tend to write more about their problems on this site rather than successes.

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Old 07/10/2017, 03:37 PM   #16
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One more datum - my corals LOVE it. When I do a cleaning, they open up even more than usual. Those that are usually in photo mode put out their polyps like they're feeding all day and night.

Failure isn't an option It's a requirement. 660g 380inwall+280smp/surge S/L/Soft/Maxima/RBTA/Clown/Chromis/Anthias/Tang/Mandarin/Jawfish/Goby/Wrasse/D'back. DIY 12' Skimmer ActuatedSurge ConcreteScape
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Old 07/10/2017, 05:18 PM   #17
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I have used CC twice, just a few days ago as a matter of fact, due to a beginning red cyano bloom. It's already dying off as it did last time. Good stuff, and good write-up.

I have 1 1/2 years experience in this hobby. Take my advice with that in mind.

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Old 07/10/2017, 05:22 PM   #18
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I had to use it once about 7 months ago. Have not had cyano since and everything came through it with no problems.


Current Tank Info: 120 Gallon long reef tank, 75 gallon basement sump/fuge, GHL 3.1T ex controller, GHL Doser 2.1, BRS dual GFO/Carbon, Rapid Led's
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Old 07/10/2017, 05:51 PM   #19
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I use it when my corals smash up against each other or grow up out of the tank water. The die-off is very local and usually in a constrained area that is hard for anything to access. Even flow is limited due to coral branch congestion. That's where the cyano finds a home. CC can break it up there.

Failure isn't an option It's a requirement. 660g 380inwall+280smp/surge S/L/Soft/Maxima/RBTA/Clown/Chromis/Anthias/Tang/Mandarin/Jawfish/Goby/Wrasse/D'back. DIY 12' Skimmer ActuatedSurge ConcreteScape
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Old 07/23/2017, 06:33 PM   #20
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I've used Chemi Clean three or four times. Followed the directions and had success every time with no collateral damage. I also try to address the underlying cause in the recovery phase.

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Old 07/24/2017, 10:28 AM   #21
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I have used it many times over the years on different tanks in both my home and a retail setting with great success. Also following the instructions to the letter. In my at home cases it worked wonders for the initial set up of a new tank where I'd inevitably get an outbreak of slime, after that first dose i never saw it again with good maintenance practices.
Retail tanks seem to have a case every few months, i always figured it was coming in due to turn over of livestock.

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Old 05/22/2019, 06:07 AM   #22
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The statement that Chemi Clean contains "erythromycin cetyl sulfate" is most likely wrong now in 2019. I have been warned that it contains another anti-biotic by a UK based government body, I won't write here which one until I can get confirmation of it.

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Old 05/22/2019, 08:02 AM   #23
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Great job Dan! I used chemi-clean once. It worked as advertised. I removed the skimmer cup & lowered the level. I didn't have problems using the skimmer just to maintain O2. A big water change and GAC seemed to remove it once it did the job. Once returned to normal, the skimmer worked as before once the GAC worked for a while.

I often wonder if the lowered dissolved organic levels resulting from the big water changes used to suck out the Cyano prior to use, the big water change and the use of GAC afterwards might have as much to do with the results as the chemi-clean itself.


Current Tank Info: In-process, 90 Gallon SPS Reef
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