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What is the Purpose of a Wave Maker in an Aquarium?

If you’re looking at creating some extra water flow in your fish tank, you should consider a waver maker. You’ve most likely heard of a power head, which is a circulating pump that runs continuously. An aquarium wave maker, however, is an upgrade to a traditional power head.

The purpose of a wave maker is to replicate waves in a fish tank. Saltwater tanks require a lot of water movement whereas freshwater tanks will require water flow based on the type of fish. A wave maker will rid an aquarium of ‘dead spots’ which helps the filtration work more efficiently, keeping excess food and decaying plants from collecting in one spot.

As mentioned, a wave maker is an upgrade from a regular aquarium power head. They’re both valuable pieces of equipment for a fish tank, in my opinion. In this article, I’ll point out the obvious differences regarding functionality. There aren’t many dissimilarities, so it should be easy for you to decide on whether a wave maker is what you need in your fish tank.

Okay, let’s begin!

What Does an Aquarium Wavemaker Do?

An aquarium wavemaker is a piece of equipment that’s used to create water flow in a fish tank. It mimics waves and water movement just like water moving in a river, lake, or ocean.

These devices are powerful enough to ensure there are no dead spots in a fish tank. Of course, the equipment will need to be positioned in a location that best suits the fish’s needs as well as the filtration’s requirements.

What is the Difference Between a Wave Maker and a Power Head?

A traditional aquarium power head is usually round shaped and will remind you of a portable fan for a desk – because that’s essentially what it is. They’re underwater fans but instead of moving air, they move water.

A power head has small blades that spin around when turned on and are shaped in a way that cause water to be scooped up from behind the blades, forcing it forward. Some units will allow you to control the flow of water volume, making them turn faster or slower, if need be.

A wave maker is an upgrade from using a power head.  These units will have more features and are either shaped like a power head or a tube that’s positioned horizontally. The tube-style wave makers will replicate real waves much better than the power head styles.

The extra features you can get with wave makers help to turn your fish tank’s water into a closer replication of its natural environment – especially, if your fish come from rivers with strong currents or the ocean where the water is moving constantly.

Here are some features that make upgrading from a power head to a wave maker worth it. 

  • Adjustable flow (or wave) modes. Some units allow you to set the amount of flow to either more or less water movement.
  • Frequency of waves is also another feature. Having a setting that allows you to turn up the flow rate during the daytime when your fish are swimming and then turn it down at night when they’re resting is an excellent feature. This could also be called a timer for water flow.
  • In this day-and-age, if something doesn’t have Wi-Fi capability, people wonder why. Fortunately, someone created wave makers with Wi-Fi options. This means you can check on the water flow no matter where you are. You can turn it up or down whenever you need to.

Is a Wavemaker Good for a Freshwater Aquarium?

Yes, a wavemaker is good for a freshwater aquarium. Depending on what type of fish you have, a wavemaker can be a good addition to almost any fish tank.

If you have bettas or goldfish, I wouldn’t buy a wavemaker. Goldfish especially are large, clumsy swimmers and they’re bodies won’t able to navigate the current very well. This could cause damage to your plants and/or decorations as well as possibly injure your aquatic pets.

Most other fish, however, will do just fine with a wavemaker.

A wavemaker is a great way to cause surface agitation, which you know is a good way of adding oxygen to the water. It also helps get rid of dead spots in the tank. Dead spots are areas where excess food, decaying plants, and fish poop accumulate and cause the nitrates to rise.

freshwater fish tank water flow live plants

Best Wavemaker for Freshwater Aquarium

The best wavemaker for your freshwater aquarium is a unit that provides the proper amount of water flow for the size of your tank as well any features you feel are important to have.

Here are some excellent selections for you over on Amazon. 

You don’t want to get one that’s too powerful or conversely, not powerful enough. Just remember this when making your selection.

Where to Place a Wavemaker in a Freshwater Aquarium?

Placing your wavemaker in the best location is obviously important. I would situate any wavemaker so that it points towards mostly open water on the opposite side of the filter location. Don’t point it right at plants or decorations either.

Another great idea is to situate the wavemaker whereby it sits partially out of the water. This will give your tank all the surface water agitation it needs.

Do You Need a Wavemaker in a Marine or Reef Tank?

Yes, you should have a wavemaker in a marine or reef tank. If not a wavemaker, then a power heads for sure. The idea is to get a lot of water flow in your saltwater tank.

When you think about the ocean, the water is always moving and thrashing around. Your marine fish will thrive with more water flow in the tank.

reef tank maintenance

Where Do You Put a Wave Maker in a Reef Tank?

Place a wavemaker in a location that’ll maximize water flow and not directly towards live corals.

You want strong water flow in a reef tank but not so strong that your corals and anemones can’t get settled comfortably in one location.

Point the wavemaker so it’s moving water into open areas as much as possible. You also want to point it towards the intake of the filter.

Keeping the wavemaker partially out of the water allows more surface agitation. It’s not completely necessary but is an option, especially if your reef tank is filled with rock. This way, the water is forced over the top of everything and will get rid of dead spots in the tank.

What Size Wavemaker Do You Need for a 20-Gallon Tank?

For a 20-gallon fish tank I would recommend buying a smaller powerhead. A large wavemaker will be too strong for this size of tank. It’s better to start with a smaller powerhead and see how that works for you.

If you want a recommendation, this one here from Amazon would work just fine. 


A wavemaker’s sole purpose is to move water in a fish tank. Some come with different features, depending on how much you spend.

They’re highly beneficial in a fish tank as I don’t personally feel a filtration system alone moves the water enough. Therefore, supplementing your aquarium with another piece of equipment is essential.

Do yourself a favor – if you haven’t purchased one yet, get one! Your fish will be grateful.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

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