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Is an air pump necessary for a fish tank? [The Truth]

How incredibly soothing it is to sit back and watch a beautifully lit aquarium with bubbles being injected into the water via an air pump and tubing. Watching the bubbles float to the surface and pop is oddly satisfying. There might be one location in the aquarium or multiple locations where the air is pumped into the tank and regardless of whether there is one or more sources the effect is always a pleasure to watch.

The question remains though, is an air pump necessary for a fish tank? The short answer is no an air pump is definitely not necessary for a fish tank. There is misconception on why a hobbyist might want or need to use an air pump. In this article I intend to explain why you would want to have an air pump hooked up to your aquarium and dispel some of those misconceptions.

The misconception on whether an air pump is required in an aquarium or not

When newbies in the aquarium hobby hear that the water in their tank needs oxygen to improve the health of the tank and its inhabitants they immediately assume placing an air pump outside the tank with a tube and air stone in the water will solve the oxygen problem. It won’t though. Unless you are pumping CO2 into the tank it just doesn’t work like you think it does.

So what increases oxygen in an aquarium without pumping CO2 into it. The larger surface area your aquarium has the better as that is where oxygen will enter your tank naturally. When carbon dioxide releases from the water and touches the air the water absorbs oxygen.

It is an exchange of the gasses that makes this process happen. The agitation of the water at surface level is what releases the carbon dioxide. The larger the surface and the amount of water movement will get this job done. If you have a smaller surface area on your tank if you tank is a tall style then you need quite a bit of water agitation for this to work.

So now you understand why an air pump is not necessarily necessary in an aquarium.

What is the purpose of an air pump in a fish tank?

There are a few different reasons you might want to introduce an air pump into your aquarium.

  • For the feel and appearance of your tank. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article there is something very soothing about watching bubbles floating to the top of your tank. Maybe it is something about the mixing of water and air that attracts our attention. This is a great reason to add an air pump to your tank.
  • To operate a corner filter or protein skimmer. There are some types of internal filters and protein skimmers that require an air pump to operate. Instead of running a hang on back filter if you could opt for an internal filter. This way you would get the benefits of both functionality and appearance. Protein skimmers in marine aquariums are required to filter out elements a normal filter cannot take out of the tank. If you have ever been to a shoreline of the ocean or a very large lake chances are you have seen a foamy substance that is dirty and seems to be just washing up on the shore.
  • To increase water agitation at the surface. As mentioned earlier increasing water agitation will increase the amount of oxygen in the tank. If you use an air pump with air stones or some other type of display for air tubing you can cause agitation on the surface. When the bubbles reach the surface and burst they are helping to release carbon dioxide which then swaps with the oxygen available and that enters your tank. Water agitation can be achieved by installing a power head in the water which causes more current and does the same this as an air pump. The difference is that a power head is virtually silent where an air pump can be very noisy.
  • For decoration looks and functionality. Some aquarium decoration work by having air pumped into them. I am sure you have seen the treasure chests that open and close because of air being pumped into the decoration. There are many different kinds of decorations to choose from that take advantage of air pump technology.
  • An air pump can be used for dead spots. There really shouldn’t be any spots in your aquarium where water tends to sit still longer than other areas. Ideally you want all of the water in the tank flowing and cycling

air in an aquarium

So there you have it. Unless you have a specific piece of equipment that needs air to make it function you really don’t need an air pump for a fish tank. I came across some great questions related to aquarium air pumps I thought I would take the time to answer. Some of these might have been answered above in explaining something else.

What does an air stone do in a fish tank?

An air stone is an object that feels like a stone and is highly pourus. The reason it is pourus is so the air will pump from outside the tank (air pump) through the tubing and out of the stone. A tube that is connected to an air pump on one end is then connected to the air stone. When the pump is turned on air (bubbles) are injected in to the water.

Can fish live without air pump?

Yes a fish can live without an air pump as described above. There are other methods to move water for instance using a power head. An air pump is just not a required piece of aquarium equipment.

Can fish sleep with an air pump on?

I have never heard a fish complain. In all seriousness though I think fish can sleep just fine with air circulating into the tank. As long as the air stone is not in a location that the fish prefers to rest or sleep. If that’s the case then more the air supply before your fish become stressed and much worse.

Should I use an air pump in my aquarium?

I think we covered this one however it might just be worth saying that if you have aquarium equipment that requires air to function then yes you should use one. Or if you just want to watch bubbles ripple through the water then yes install an air pump. Those are the only reason to hook one up. Pumps are just not necessary unless there is a specific purpose for them.

Fish tank air pump setup

Because of the noise these pumps can make I would suggest placing it in the aquarium cabinet behind closed doors if at all possible. You might need extra-long tubing to place it there but I feel it is worth it. Especially if your tank is in a location where you like to have silence.

Some pumps will vibrate even with rubber bottoms so I suggest you place a towel underneath it to help relieve some of the vibration. It should make a huge difference.

What size air pump for your fish tank?

Air pumps like everything else can be purchased in many different sizes. Unless you are running more than one decoration or corner filter I wouldn’t bother buying the biggest one. Most have one outlet to attach tubing to while more powerful units can come with more than one outlet to hook up multiple air tubes.

Air pump manufacturers are very helpful and place the size of aquariums there pumps will be appropriate for. For 90% of all home aquariums almost any size pump will work just fine. The only time you will run into issues is when you have a massive tank and the pump has a hard time pumping the air all the way through the tubing and then down under water out the air stones against the pressure of the water.

How to oxygenate a fish tank without a pump

We have covered this already however it is worth mentioning again to ensure you understand.

  1. The best way to increase the oxygen levels in an aquarium is to create agitation at surface level so the carbon dioxide in the tank will exchange with the air allowing the oxygen to enter the water.
  2. Having a tank with a large surface area increases the amount of oxygen that enters your aquarium.

Best air pump for aquarium

It’s hard to say what air pump is best for you without knowing what purpose you need one for. What I can do though is recommend that when you search for one you try to select one that is as quiet as possible. It’s just nice not having to listen to anything other than the bubbles rippling through the water.

I would recommend one though that I feel is not only super quiet but also economical so won’t put a big dent in your wallet.

The Mylivell aquarium air pump is very quiet because it doesn’t operate with a motor. This pump is recommended for tanks up to 40 gallons. I recommend checking it out. Check it out here.

There you have it now go and enjoy that beautiful aquarium of yours.

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