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Does Your Aquarium Need a Bubbler if You Have a Filter?

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Home aquariums are a beautiful addition to any home. They are completely customizable with the species of fish you want, and tank decorations to match your home or your personality! With this being said, there are a few important pieces of equipment you will need when setting up your new tank. 

No, aquariums do not need a bubbler if there is a filter in the tank. However, this does rely heavily on your tank setup, the size of your tank, the health of your fish, and how many fish are in your tank. The quality of your filter can also determine if you add a bubbler to your tank.

There are a few factors that come into play when deciding to add a bubbler to your tank, or if you may not need one. These two pieces of equipment also come in handy for different things, and it is important to understand what they are used for.

The Purpose of an Aquarium Filter 

Surprisingly, not all fish tanks need a filter. However, if you have 5 gallons or more it is definitely recommended. Small fish bowls don’t typically have a filter or small tanks that only house one betta fish or similar. 

On that note, aquarium filters are a necessity for tanks that are the home to several fish, or a large tank that houses a large fish. So what exactly do aquarium filters do?

Clean Water

Aquarium filters are used to pull decaying matter such as stool, any free-floating particles, leftover fish food, and even harsh chemicals out of the tank. This will help keep your fish healthy, your tank clean, and your tank parameters in check.

When there is excessive waste in the tank, your ammonia and nitrate numbers will skyrocket. This can cause many of your fish to pass away, get diseases, or failure to thrive. With that being said, you should never just rely on the filter if you have a multitude of fish in the tank.

To keep your tank clean and low toxic, it is also recommended to do frequent partial water changes, do not keep an overpopulated tank (a good ratio is one fish per gallon of water), and get a carbon filter to remove chemicals.

Size of Filter 

Determining the size of the filter needed for your aquarium is crucial. If you get a filter that is meant for a smaller tank, the filter will not be able to handle the water intake and waste won’t be removed as well. 

Some individuals prefer to get filters that can handle a larger water intake even for a small tank to keep it especially clean. It is safe to say that you should purchase a filter with six times the flow rate of the number of gallons in the tank. 

For example, if you have a 75 gallon tank, you should get a filter that can handle a water flow rate of 300 GPH (gallons per hour) to ensure maximum cleanliness. Follow this chart to find what size filter you need: 

Tank SizeWater Flow Rate
5 Gallon20 GPH
10 Gallon40 GPH
20 Gallon80 GPH
30 Gallon 200 GPH
55 Gallon 220 GPH
75 Gallon300 GPH

Oxygenation of the Water

Another benefit of aquarium filters is that the constant water flow adds oxygen to the water. Oxygenation is crucial to the health of your fish and actually absorbs dissolved oxygen from the water directly into their gills. 

This is why it is very important to always keep your filter clean so your fish are receiving optimum oxygen without toxicity. You can do this by frequently rinsing off your filter, and changing the filter every month (more frequently if you have an overcrowded tank). 

If there is not enough oxygen in the water, you will find fish gasping for air at the top of the tank which is where the most oxygen is. However, the filter may not push oxygen all the way to the bottom of the tank, which is important if you have a larger tank. This is where a bubbler can come in. 

Beautiful full body shot of fresh water discus

The Importance of a Bubbler

As mentioned, filters clean the tank and add oxygen to the water. However, in some cases if you have a larger tank the filter does not add enough oxygen to the tank. This is because the tank may be too deep for the water flow to reach. This is when you will find fish gasping for air, or acting lethargic. 

A bubbler can help this problem. A bubbler essentially sits at the bottom of the tank and creates air flow throughout the aquarium by adding bubbles to the water. The bubbles then add oxygen to the water or aerates the water, helping fish thrive, and also gives a great playground for fish as well. 

On top of this, bubblers can increase the productivity of your aquarium filters as well. The bubbles can carry toxins and waste to the surface of the tank, making it easier for the filter to catch. 

Types of Bubblers

Depending on the tank size, number of fish, or oxygen necessity on your tank- you can choose between different bubblers. All have the same common denominator of adding aeration bubbles to the tank, but some may look better in your tank than others.

  • Airstones: Airstomes come in all shapes and sizes and can be made with several different materials; including, wood, stones, sand, and plastic. They can be a cute addition to your tank because they have several different shapes to choose from. If you have a large tank, you can opt to have two air stones for maximum aeration. 
  • Bubble Wands: Bubble wands are common in large tanks and are usually placed next to the back wall of the tank to bring water flow under the filter for maximum cleaning as well. They are essentially a long wand (some are up to a foot long) that can be somewhat submerged into the gravel of your tank.
  • Bubble Walls: Bubble walls are flexible and can make a unique design in your aquarium. It is really a long coil full of holes that you can wrap around any surface of the tank. You will need to ensure that you clamp this bubbler down so it doesn’t float to the top.
  • LED Bubbler: LED bubblers are a great addition to any tank because they come with a beautiful light which can attract some fish making them more apt to play in the bubbles. The light also makes for a beautiful feature in your tank aside from decorations. 
  • Bubbler Ornament: Bubbler ornaments are essentially air stones but with a better design. Some take the shape of abandoned ships or even small volcanoes. Again, you can add a few of these to a larger tank, or one for a small tank to get proper aeration. 

Signs You Need a Bubbler

Again, a bubbler is not always a need for an aquarium, especially if you have a great filter, but it can help! Ultimately it is up to you if you would like to add a bubbler to your tank. There are some species of fish, such as the betta, where you should not add a bubbler because it will agitate the fish.

With that being said, here are a few things to look out for in your tank that would mean you should add a bubbler:

  1. Fish are gasping for air with their mouths open.
  2. Bottom-dwelling fish are making their way to the top of the tank for oxygen
  3. You notice abundant waste at the bottom of your tank that the filter doesn’t reach
  4. You have a tank that is 10 gallons or more
  5. Fish are lethargic and not swimming around as they normally would
  6. Rapid gill movements 

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