Do you Need an Air Pump in Your Aquarium?

Do You need an Air Pump in your Aquarium

The air pump for an aquarium is an electrical device that will force air into the aquarium.  

It is also used to drive air-powered equipment like bubble decorations and air-stones.  The question is whether you need one depends on the type of aquarium you have.  If it is one of those small bowls for goldfish, the answer is no but with the large aquariums, you would need one.

Benefits of Using an Air Pump 

Your aquarium can be healthy without the air pump but it does have some good benefits if you use it.  

Surface agitation:  This is one of the main reasons that you would want to use an air pump in your aquarium.  It provides extra gas exchange.  The fish will be happier with more oxygen in the tank.  You can also increase the gas exchange in your aquarium by increasing the surface agitation in the aquarium. 

The water and air exchange gases at the water surface.  Oxygen enters the aquarium and CO2 (carbon dioxide) leaves the water.  When the surface water is agitated, the exchange in gas will increase.

When the surface water is still the gas exchange that is happening is not healthy for the fish in your aquarium.  Using the air pump to activate an air stone will make surface agitation so the gas exchange at the surface is increased.  Air bubbles will also help increase the gas exchange at the surface so using an air pump can help make these air bubbles.

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Air Powered Sponge Filter:  This is a filter that is entirely powered by the air bubbles that are generated by the air pump and air stone.  With this, the air is pushing the water upwards.  This creates drag and sucks in more water at the bottom.  When you let the water flow through the sponge, you will start to have beneficial bacteria start to grow on the sponge. 

Eventually, these bacteria will be able to break down any ammonia in your aquarium.   One of the main disadvantages of using this sponge filter is that you will have to keep the air pump always running, but this can be annoying.

aquarium with air

Why you Need an Air Pump

  • Some of the ornaments that are used in an aquarium are moved by turning valves, lifting things, bubbles, or spinning wheels so you need air flowing in the aquarium.
  • To run the air stones that give off a fine mist of air or just bubble
  • Some filters go in the aquarium, like under gravel filters or corner files that are driven by the air from the pump.
  • Some underwater habitats require an air pump to keep fresh air circulating into the enclosures.  Some of the semi-aquatic animals include crabs, newts, mudskippers, and even some shrimp or frogs.
  • They can be used to create a current in the water and help prevent parts of the aquarium from becoming stagnant
  • Some types of protein skimmers, which move excess protein waste from aquariums, need the air pump to operate

Buying an Air Pump for Your Aquarium

Before you purchase an air pump, there are some things that you need to take in consideration.  

  • Noise Level:  An important thing to remember is that air pumps do make a lot of noise so make sure that your aquarium is in a room where the noise from the air pump does not bother you.  
  • Air Flow Capacity:  You do not need to be concerned with this if you have a small aquarium because, with small aquariums, any small air pump will do.  When you have a larger fish aquarium, then you will need a larger air pump.  Check out several to make sure that you get the right size.
  • Return valve:  You should always add a return valve to your air pump and your air stone.  This valve will make sure that the air hose does become a siphon and take all of the water from the aquarium.  If this happens, it will be all over the floor and you would have dead fish if not caught in time.
  • Tank Size:  If your aquarium is more than 18-20 inches tall, you will need to buy a deep water air pump, which is desired to push water far below the surface of the water.
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One important thing to remember when you buy an air pump for your aquarium, the more things that you use it to keep running, the larger the air pump you will need.

air pump part

Aquariums That Do Not Need an Air Pump

  • Fish with Labyrinth Organs:  If you have  an aquarium with betta or gourami fish, which can directly breathe air, you will not need an air pump
  • They use Power Filters:  This is the type of filter that creates a water run through the aquarium so if the waterfall is high enough to give the aquarium the right surface movement, then you will not need an air pump.  The reason is that the power filter is doing the same job as the air pump would.


  • When you are adding CO2 to your tank, do not use the air pump in your aquarium.
  • If you see your fish at the top of the aquarium and they appear to be gasping for air,they are not getting enough oxygen and the air pump may help to solve your problem.
  • Air pumps add surface agitation and help to weigh down the air stone so it does not float to the top.
  • To help reduce the noise of the air pump, put it on one or two small kitchen sponges.
  • Some air pumps have multiple outputs so you can buy a splitter for it.
  • The air pump is placed underneath the aquarium and an air line is connected to the output of the pump.
  • You can run the air pump 24-7or put it on a timer.
  • When picking out an air pump for your aquarium, get one that is just a little larger than what you need.
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