The moment I bought a fish tank…
I headed to a nearby mart to buy them everything they need to live happily ever after.
While finding some fish tank equipment, I bumped into this section saying “air pumps”.
There were a gazillion of air pumps, small and large, cheap to high-cost ones with varying colors and shapes. Before considering buying one, I did my research to find out whether I really need an air pump or not and which one’s the best.
So, do a fish tank really needs an air pump to regulate oxygen or not? And if yes, then which air pump to go for?
Here’s what I found out:
Air pumps are not necessary if you have a filter large and efficient enough to increase the oxygen level in the water itself. Whereas, if you have a deep fish tank, warm water tank, freshwater tank, lots of ornaments, and/or too many plants in your fish tank then you really need an air pump to oxygenate the water effectively.
Does Your Fish Tank Need an Air Pump? (Video)
If you keep reading you’ll understand whether you need an air pump for your fish tank or not. You’ll also come across the list of finest air pumps for your fish tank.
So, here you go!
What is an air pump?
An air pump is a device that increases the dissolved oxygen in the water by creating water currents after intervals. Air pump uses an electromagnet that moves a rubber diaphragm, producing water bubbles in the tank.
The air pump doesn’t “produce” oxygen but it agitates the water, circulating oxygen efficiently. The air bubbles produced by the air pump also enhance oxygen levels. Air pumps are not only good at increasing oxygen in the tank but they are also aesthetically pleasing.
As fish are living beings, the first thing they require to remain alive is breathing efficiently. Fish breathe through their gills, inhaling oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide in the water. Dissolved oxygen is important not only for your fish but also for bacteria, plants, and algae living in the aquarium. So, it is critical to provide enough dissolved oxygen in the water and get rid of maximum carbon dioxide. Only then you can see your fish happy and healthy.
Is the air pump absolutely necessary?
To understand whether you need an air pump for your fish tank or not, first, get an insight into how an exchange of gases occurs in the water?
The surface of the water is where gas exchange occurs. The water dissolves oxygen from the air and forms a layer on it. The carbon dioxide exhaled by the fish is released into the air through the surface of the water.
If the water remains stagnant, then only some of the oxygen from the surface of the water reaches the fish. That is why an air pump is required that increases water circulation and surface area by producing water bubbles.
Sometimes, the filters installed do the job by regulating the air within the water. But in other cases, it is vital to use an air pump along with the filter device for efficient gas exchange. To check if your aquarium needs an air pump or not, you have to see other filtration devices installed. Most freshwater filters are not able to provide an adequate amount of oxygen for the fish. That’s why an air pump is necessary for a freshwater aquarium.
You need to buy an air pump for your fish tank necessarily if:
Your fish tank is deep enough:
If your fish tank is deeper than 10 gallons then consider installing an air pump. The oxygen on the surface cannot reach the whole tank unless the water is stimulated. The filter can also do the job but air pump can really help to oxygenate your whole tank in this case.
You have a warm water aquarium:
If you have a warm water fish tank, that means the temperature of water is more than 30°C, then you need an air pump for proper oxygenation.
The reason is that warm water is unable to hold much oxygen and that is why you need to bubble the water and increase the oxygen level by increasing circulation and surface area.
The filter installed runs with an air pump:
A few filters such as corner filters and under gravel filters need air to function. That’s why you need an air pump alongside with these filters to provide the required amount of air to your fish.
You have placed air stones:
Air stones have tiny holes in them and they produce bubbles and fine mist of air which increases oxygen level in the water and are also fun to watch.
Air stones don’t work on their own. So, you have to buy an air pump for it.
Your fish tank is loaded with moving ornaments:
If you’re fond of action ornaments such as spinning wheels and turning valves then definitely you need an air pump to move them the way they are told.
You have a freshwater aquarium:
The freshwater aquarium has filters that aren’t enough for proper oxygenation. You will need an air pump to draw more oxygen and also help produce water currents and keep it flowing.
Your fish tank has a lot of plants:
Plants produce carbon dioxide at night which can be hazardous for the fish if your fish tank is heavily populated with plants.
Air pump helps to draw out maximum carbon dioxide and increase the dissolved oxygen. It is recommended to keep your air pump on during the whole night to make sure your fish are breathing properly.
You have protein skimmer in marine aquarium:
A marine tank needs an air pump along with protein skimmers to skim out the protein layer formed above the surface of the water. This layer forms because of deposition of salts on the surface and this layer needs to be removed for proper ventilation in the tank.
What are the common types of air pumps?
There are three most common types of air pumps.
Plug-in air pump:
This pump has no on/off button. Once you plug it in, it bubbles the water until it’s plugged out. It’s the most common type of air pump.
Battery operated air pump:
It works on batteries so it’s portable. You can use it when there is some power problems. They are noisy than the plug-in air pumps.
Battery back-up air pump:
It’s a modern and expensive air pump which can run on power and batteries, both. It’s a combo of the above two types.
How to install an air pump?
Once you’ve bought an air pump, you need to install it in the right way.
- Connect air tubes to the air pump.
- Install check valves (T valves) if necessary.
- Connect the tuning with air stones, ornaments or filters.
- Plug-in the air pump to see it bubbling.
For how long to leave the air pump on?
It’s totally up to you. If you are not offended by its noise then you can run it 24/7. You can also turn it off at night or just keep it on at night and off during the day.
When you DON’T need an air pump?
A common misconception is that air pumps “produce” oxygen and your fish can’t breathe without an air pump.
The fish can breathe without an air pump and in some cases, it’s not needed.
If you have a filter that doesn’t need an air pump to function and is big enough to move the water around efficiently, then there’s no need for an air pump.
If your tank isn’t very deep and is less populated with plants and other animals (frogs, shrimps) then filters can do the job alone.
Signs your fish might need an air pump:
Fish give signals when there’s less oxygen in the water and it can’t breathe properly.
Fish move their gills and seem restless. They also come to the surface with their mouth open. Don’t ignore these signs and immediately change the water and install an air pump for effective gas exchange.
Fish also open their mouths and come to the surface for having food. So, it’s not obvious that they’re deprived of oxygen in this case. You have to watch them closely to see if they are feeding or gasping.
Also, some fish such as Buller, enjoy air bubbles in water and play with them. They feel happy in bubbly water and also enjoy the noise. Contrarily, other fish feel stressed in bubbles and noise due to the air pump.
How to choose the right air pump for your fish tank?
By now you must have made your mind either to buy an air pump or not. If you’re convinced to buy one then choose your air pump wisely. Choosing an air pump isn’t hard. You have to measure the size of the tank and see how loaded it is.
- If your tank is deeper than 18 to 20” (46 to 51 cm), you need a special deep water air pump for maximum agitation.
- You need a big sized air pump if there are a lot of ornaments, plants, and fish in your tank.
- Big sized air stones need larger air pump for bubbling.
Top five air pumps on Amazon:
Ready to buy an air pump? Check out the best air pumps available based on their properties.
The air pump should be great at sight and sound both. Eheim air pump is the most quietest one overall. It produces almost no noise once attached to the bubbler.
Airline tubes and adjustable air stones come with the box. You can adjust the size of bubbles from coarse to fine, whatever you like.
The cobalt rescue air pump is the most efficient and less expensive battery backup air pump. It swaps to batteries from power quickly. You need one if there are power problems in your area.
Marina is undoubtedly best at operating on batteries.
Its unique motor delivers maximum power and is efficient in creating bubbles. It comes with an air stone and air tubing as well.
Stellar is the best plug-in air pump with powerful bubbling. It’s great in quality and inexpensive as well.
It works for tanks from 60 gallons to 100 gallons.
If you’re looking for a cheap air pump that works in all depths then go for tetra whisper air pump.
Although it might be not of perfect shape and is less complex but it’s great when you want to have one way cheaper than others.
The Bottom line:
Fish need oxygen to breathe. To increase the amount of oxygen in your fish tank you can use an air pump.
Air pumps agitate the water in a fish tank, allowing more oxygen to dissolve in the water. They circulate the water within the tank and also increase the surface area for gas exchange.
Air pumps are necessary if you have filters (under gravel filter) that run along with the air pump. You also need one if your tank is too deep, populated with plants and other animals, and if you have action ornaments in your tank. Warm water tanks and freshwater tanks also need an air pump for oxygenation.
Air pumps aren’t necessary if you have big enough filter that doesn’t need an air pump to function. Filters produce bubbles and also produce water currents.
Even if there’s no need for an air pump, you can still buy one for aesthetic purposes.
If you have made your mind then check out the best air pumps (mentioned above) based on their types.