Aquarium Air Pump for fish tanks

Part I: What is an aquarium air pump?

Some people call it a “bubbler” or a “bubble maker”, while some others have no idea what it is. The equipment make bubbles you see in the aquariums is a series of connected parts and accessories rather than just one single component. An aquarium air pump is the key component amongst them.
In order to make bubbles in an aquarium, you need
1. An aquarium air pump
2. An air tubing
3. An air stone

To make it more secure for safety reasons, you also need
4. An air check valve to prevent the water from goes backward to the air pump in case of a power outage.

To split air tubing and/or to control the air flow, you can use
5. T(or Y-valve) + Control Valve, or better yet a gang valve.

Part II: How do I install an aquarium air pump and its accessories in a fish tank?

It is very easy once you have all the necessary accessories.
1. Choose a safe location for your aquarium air pump
Wherever you decide to put your air pump, you must make sure it is secure and will not fall down easily. It must not be installed inside the aquarium (some people actually did it). It requires the air pump to be at a higher level than the fish tank, so the water will not go back into the air tubing and reach the air pump in case of a power outage. The air pump also must not be directly above the fish tank, because it might fall into the water. It is an electronic device after all.

2. Connect the air tubing to the air pump
All aquarium air pumps have connectors on them. You will immediately know how to connect the air tubing to them once you see it.

3. Install an air check valve
Cut the air tubing with a pair of scissors somewhere near the fish tank and add an air check valve to it to prevent the water from getting back into the air pump.

4. Install Y-valve or T-valve
This step might not be necessary if you only plan to use one air stone. Cut the air tubing again near the aquarium and install a Y-valve to it so that you can split one air tubing into two for two air stones.

5. Connect one air stone to each end of the air tubing in the fish tank. You may place the air stone on the substrate, or hang it in the water anywhere you want, as long as it is below the water surface.

6. Plug in the power to the air pump and watch the air stones making bubbles in your fish tank.

Why do we need air bubbles in the aquariums?
Most people might not even ask this question, because we know that fish requires oxygen in order to survive just like us. When you see fish staying near the water surface, it is very likely that there is a lack of oxygen. The “bubble maker” (air stone) in the aquariums increases the oxygen level in the water. However, many people do not actually understand how the bubbles help increase the oxygen levels. Some people believe fish can use the oxygen from the fine bubbles directly. That is not true, because fish breathe through their gills and their gills can only process the dissolved oxygen in the water.

How do the bubbles increase the oxygen level in the water? When I was a beginner in fish keeping, I mistakenly believed that the oxygen in the small bubbles produced by the air stone could more or less be dissolved by the water before they reach the surface. This is all wrong. The oxygenation process in fact takes place when the bubbles burst at the water surface creating surface movement. The increased water surface movement can promote the gas exchange between the water and the atmosphere. This is the very reason why you may not even need an aquarium air pump if your filter system already creates enough water surface movements in your fish tank. It is also the very reason why it is not required to place the air stone at the bottom of the tank, because the distance between the air stone and the water surface does not matter at all. What matters is the bubble bursting at the surface.

An aquarium air pump and its accessories are necessary when you do not have sufficient water surface movement in your aquarium. The more fish, the more oxygen is needed. The higher temperature the aquarium water is at, the more water movement is needed in order to maintain the same oxygen level in the water.

Now you know why the aquarium air pump system is needed, and how it works to oxygenate the water for your fish.
The next question is –
Which aquarium air pump should I get for my fish tank?
You must get an air pump strong enough to produce enough bubbles for the surface movement. All the aquarium air pumps have the manufacturer recommended tank size rated on their boxes. You may use lower rated air pumps on bigger tanks, or vice versa. Some air pumps can have their air flow adjusted at the pump (Ex: Rena air pumps), or you can adjust the air flow by using a controllable air valve. You may also increase the aeration by use a Y-valve to split one air tubing into two, and connect them to two air stones spread cross the fish tank.

One fact that many first-time buyers of aquarium air pumps might have overlooked is the noise level of the air pump. Some air pumps can be loud and noisy, and they might become louder over time. Choosing an air pump quiet enough is necessary if the noise is an issue for you, it is especially when your aquarium is in the bedroom. From my personal experience, Rena air pumps are the quieter aquarium air pumps. It seems their higher models are in fact quieter despite the fact they are more powerful. Rena 400 Air Pump has two connectors at the pump, which means you can power two air stones without a Y-valve. Or you can use two Y-valves to split it into 4 air stones for one or more fish tanks. I still keep my air pump inside a closet. Although I had to use a very long air tubing to connect it to my air stones in the fish tanks, I can’t hear the noise at all with the closet door closed.

Note: There are certain types aquariums and fish do not need air pump or air stone
1. Planted aquariums with CO2 system
Those who run planted aquariums may use an automatic timers to turn the air pump on at the same time the lights are turned off, and to turn the air pump off at the same time as the lights are on. This is absolutely necessary when you have a CO2 injection system for your plants, because the aeration in the fish tank will offset the CO2 system and making it pointless.

2. Fish with labyrinth organ
Labyrinth fish such as Betta (Siamese Fighter Fish) and Gourami can directly breath air. Air pump is not necessary for them.

3. Aquariums run on sponge filters
If you use an air pump to power your sponge filters, there is no need for extra air stones in the same tanks. The bubbles from the sponge filter will achieve the same purpose as the bubbles from the air stones.

4. Aquariums use power filters
Some aquariums use power filters. This type of filter creates a waterfall as the water run through it. If the waterfall is high enough to produce sufficient surface movement, it has achieved the same goal as the bubbles from an air pump. You may still use an air stone or two as you wish, for the purpose of making sure there is enough oxygen for the fish, and/or simple for decoration. Some people like to see bubbles in a fish tank.

Whatever aquarium air pump you choose for a fish tank, make sure you get all the necessary accessories and to install them properly before turn it on.

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11 thoughts on “Aquarium Air Pump for fish tanks

  1. Hi there would you mind letting me know which hosting company you�re utilizing? I�ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.

  2. I believe you have this backwards (correction in parentheticals): “1. Planted aquariums with CO2 system
    For those who run planted aquariums, you may use an automatic timer to turn the air pump on (OFF) at the same time the lights are turned on, and to turn it off (ON) at the same time as the lights are off. This is absolutely necessary when you have CO2 injection system for your plants, because the aeration in the tank will offset the CO2 system and making it pointless.”

    • Nice catch. Thank you!
      I meant to say that the air pump need to be on when the lights are off, and to turn the air pumps off when the lights are on. One of my planted aquariums actually have this exact setup with two timers (one for air pump, one for the lights).

  3. I run a sponge filter with air pump..many people tell to use a air stone inside that sponge filter to create more flow of water thru sponge and more suction but i dont believe that as the water movement is very low with small bubbles compared to large bubbles…whats your opinion on this and which is best with respect to water movement and oxygenation?

  4. Ooooh, now I understand why my submersible water pump (a Boyu SP-1300) has this “shunt line” with a head that kind of “sprays” the water. Not knowing its purpose originally, I just hang it over the aquarium on a conveniently located lighting support strut.

    That small spray of water adds more surface movement, definitely. Helping with aeration of the aquarium, rendering an aerator no longer needed 🙂

    I do like watching the bubbles, though. So even if I don’t need an aerator, I’ll still buy one.

    Thanks for explaining this!

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