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Does Your Aquarium Really Need an Air Pump?

A while ago I was in my local fish store looking for food when I came a cross a selection of air pumps. This got me wondering if I needed one for my aquarium, so I did some research.

Quick Answer

An aquarium can be healthy without an air stone, but having an air pump can have great benefits for your tank. It can provide the extra gas exchange for more oxygen in your tank and it can also serve as decoration or a filter. Do not use an air pump when you are adding CO2 to your tank.

So an air bubbler can be of great value to your fish tank if you add it. It is a super versatile piece of equipment that is definitely worth considering. In the rest of the article I will explain to you why!

Surface Agitation

One of the main reasons why you would want to have an air pump is because of the extra gas exchange it provides. More oxygen in the water means happier fish. If you ever see your fish swimming at the top of the tank gasping for air, an air pump might solve your problem.

Another way to permanently increase the gas exchange in your aquarium is by adding or increasing surface agitation in your tank. You probably will have heard or seen this term before, but what exactly does it mean.

At the surface of the water, water and air exchange gases. Carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves the water and oxygen enter the aquariums water. If the surface is agitated, the gas exchange will increase.

If the surface of the aquarium is completely still, the gas exchange that is happening is not sufficient for the health of your fish. Adding an air stone connected to an air pump will introduce surface agitation and therefore increase gas exchange at the surface.

Another way of increasing surface agitation without air bubbles is having the output of your filter breaking the water surface. If you do not want the sound of the output water hitting the water surface you can have the output submerged and pointed at the water surface.

Do Not Use an Air Pump In Combination With CO2

As read in the previous part, adding an air stone will increase surface agitation. With increased surface agitation comes increased gas exchange. And finally, increased gas exchange means more CO2 leaving your water. Not ideal, right?

Now, what should you do. If you are adding CO2, you will have made sure that your system is not adding CO2 at night because plants do not need CO2 at night.

What you can do is run the air bubbles at night.

If you do not this, you might get a biofilm layer that is building up at the surface because it is not moving. This is not directly a problem but it is not desired. You can also prevent this by aiming your filter at the water surface.

Air Powered Sponge Filter

This is another application of an air pump that you can use for your aquarium. A sponge filter is a filter that is solely powered by the air bubbles generated by an air stone and an air pump.

The air pushes the water upwards creating a drag, sucking in more water at the bottom. If you let the water that is sucked in flow through a sponge, beneficial bacteria will start to grow on the sponge and eventually these bacteria will be able to break down the ammonia in your tank.

Advantages of a filter like this is that you kill two birds with one stone, you have a filter and you have the desired surface agitation. Another advantage is when you want to set up a lot of tanks in the same room, this is what stores or super dedicated hobbyist use.

These air powered sponge filters are also super cheap. If you have a small tank (up to 10 gallon / 40 liters) these are definitely something to consider. If you want you can check out the latest price on Amazon here.

Disadvantages to using a sponge filter is that you will have to have an air pump running 24/7 which can get noisy. Maybe not ideal for tanks that you have in your bedroom for example.

If you want to set up a fish room with a lot of tanks, you can have one big air pump installed that powers the sponge filters that are in all the tanks. This way you can filter huge numbers of tanks on one pump, maybe even more than 50 tanks.

Are Bubbles Important in a Fish Tank?

Bubbles aren’t essential for fish tanks, but they can serve a purpose. A common reason why people add a bubbler to their aquarium is to increase oxygen levels. Through the bubbles of the air pump, oxygen is dissolved into the tank’s water.

Though tiny bubbles and water movement, oxygen is dissolved. This provides aeration that can in turn help your aquarium fish. It creates a better and healthier environment. Aquarium bubblers are popular in larger aquariums. However, they’ll not provide much oxygen if the air stone produces large bubbles. The size of the bubbles does have an effect on how effective they are for water aeration.

With large bubbles, the air will race to the surface of the aquarium, leaving little time for any diffusion of the oxygen from the air into the water. If you use an air stone with tiny bubbles, they’ll float upwards slower, leaving more time for the oxygen to dissolve.

Aeration in the tank’s water also depends on other factors, such as aquarium temperature and water circulation. Warmer water can hold less oxygen than colder water. This is also a reason why fish can suffocate in summer times if the aquarium water accidentally warms up too much. A good way to quickly add more oxygen to your aquarium is by performing a partial water change with colder water. This water will contain a lot of dissolved oxygen. Use this in case of an emergency.

Usually, an aquarium will have enough oxygen for your fish to live. If your fish are not showing weird behavior such as gasping at the surface, you’re good to go. Some fish, such as bettas and gouramis, do breathe at the surface in addition to using their gills. This is because they have the ability to do so. Betta fish will, if you are lucky, build bubble nests. Fish that do this are called labyrinth fishes.

Aquarium Ornaments Using Air Pumps

Have you ever seen those treasure chests in aquariums opening and closing, and releasing a massive bubble when they open? As a kid I absolutely loved them, and if I am correct they also appear in movies like Finding Nemo.

This is a fun way to add surface agitation and a fun decoration to your tank in one go. It is also a good way to weigh down the air stone, because that can be a struggle as these outputs float due to the air.

I definitely do not want to spam you with Amazon ads (I get a small affiliate cut when someone orders anything through a link of my website) but there are some awesome examples on there. Check this car out! The hood opens every couple of seconds to release a huge air bubble.

Maybe I will do a future post with a lot of these decorations, if it is done I will link it here.

What To Look For When You Purchase An Air Pump

One of my aquariums is in my bedroom….. yes. Whilst it is beautiful to see, my air stone reminded me how much I adore silence when I am trying to sleep.

This definitely is the main thing you have to take into account, air pumps make noise. This is also the reason why I only keep mine running during the day, the pump stops as soon as the lights of the aquarium go out.

Tip: Place the air pump one two small kitchen sponges to reduce the noise.

The second thing is air flow capacity. If you have a small tank you do not have to take this into account. Any small air pump (sold for aquariums) will do. If you have a bigger fish tank you will have to also buy (you already guessed it) a bigger air pump.

There are also pumps with multiple outputs, but you can also buy a splitter for it.

Lastly, make sure you add a return valve to the air hose that leads to your tank. I am going to say it again, add a return valve!! to your air stone. This return valve makes sure the air hose will not become a siphon and literally pull all the water from your tank and carefully distribute it across your floor.

If I were to recommend one air pump which you can get right now that will be suitable for air bubbles in both small and bigger aquariums, I would recommend the Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump. It has everything you need (the set includes return valves, air stones, air line and comes with a 1 year warranty). If you want, you can check it out here.

My favorite fishtank products that make life easier

I am so happy you enjoy this post so far! You will also definitely like my product recommendations that will make your fishkeeping experience so much better. I’m 100% sure you’ll love them!

  • Without a gravel vacuum, like one from Aqueon, cleaning the substrate of your tanks is near impossible. Whenever I want to remove some of the sunken detritus from the bottom of my acrylic tanks I’m happy I’ve got one of these.
  • It’s no secret that I do not like nutritious aqua-soil. It makes a mess and only works for a given amount of time. Instead, I always use a liquid aquarium plant fertilizer. Everyone who keeps live plants needs it, it’s not that expensive and makes your plants grow better.
  • I love keeping plants, but planting and reorganizing my aquarium was difficult until I got a set of these tools. It’s much easier to plant any kind of plant compared to using my thick fingers.
  • Ever since I’m able to accurately test my water parameters, including the pH level, keeping fish became less stressful. Before I was always stressed that my water parameters were wrong, but with a kit such as the API Master kit, I can measure this. It really is essential to successful fishkeeping.
  • The more you know about your aquarium, the better! Temperature is crucial for the health of your fish. A thermometer will also show you whether your heaters are still working correctly. It will give you more insight and more peace of mind. It’s an easy way to ensure that you’re providing your fish with the tropical temperatures they need.

Related Questions

Where does the air pump go in a fish tank? The actual air pump you can place underneath your tank or elsewhere. An air line is connected to the output of the pump, that leads the air into your tank. Somewhere along this line you should add a return valve. At the end of the line you should place an air stone. The bubbles come out of this airstone.

How long should you run an air pump in a fish tank? First, do not run an air stone when you are adding CO2. Secondly, you can run the air pump 24/7 or you can put it on a timer and only let it run during either day or night time. I would suggest running it on a timer for just as long as you are keeping your light on.

What does an air stone do in a fish tank? An air stone is connected to the air pump via an air line/tube and forces the air flow through a lot of tiny holes, creating a lot of bubbles.