If you are new to the fishkeeping hobby, you will have undoubtedly come across air pumps in your local fish store or online and wondered whether you actually need one or not.
So do you actually need an air pump? Not necessarily. They aren’t an essential piece of equipment but they do provide a broad list of benefits that certainly justify the small cost, including increased gas exchange, better water circulation and additional decoration.
So while I have just contradicted myself with the title of this article, consider that you don’t actually NEED an air pump, but you definitely should consider having one.
This article will break down the benefits of adding an air pump to your aquarium, with 5 reasons why I believe every fish keeper should have one in their arsenal.
Surface Agitation and Gas Exchange
The reason why surface agitation is crucial for the health of your aquarium is because it’s at the surface where gas exchange takes place.
Without surface agitation, oxygen that sits on the surface of the water can’t make its way into the water and any excess carbon dioxide in the water can’t make its way out.
One way to ensure there is enough surface agitation is to place your power filter slightly above water level, allowing the flow to circulate the water at the surface.
If this is not an option (because you don’t use a power filter, or the sound is too loud), an air pump is the next best option. The constant flow of bubbles will push the carbon dioxide to the surface, creating agitation that allows gas exchange to take place.
If sound is an issue for you, a “quiet” air pump like the Tetra Whisper would be the best choice for you.
If you ever find your fish swimming at the surface of your aquarium, gasping at the surface, it means there isn’t enough oxygen in your tank. An air pump will fix this problem within minutes.
If you keep a planted aquarium and add Co2 to your aquarium for plant health, it’s obviously not a good idea to keep an air pump on all day. It’s counterproductive.
What you can do is turn on the air pump at night to oxygenate the tank, as plants don’t require carbon dioxide at night.
One of the biggest benefits of increased surface agitation is the increased oxygen that it provides. With that being said, it’s not only surface agitation that adds oxygen to your aquarium water.
The use of an air pump with an air stone will create thousands of little oxygen bubbles that drive huge amounts of oxygen directly into your tank water.
Oxygen is essential and beneficial for all living things in your aquarium including the fish, plants and even the beneficial bacteria that are crucial for the overall health of your entire ecosystem.
More oxygen = a healthier aquarium. It’s that simple.
They Look Awesome
If you have ever looked at an aquarium and thought “Wow, that looks awesome” … Chances are, that aquarium had some sort of air pump decoration providing bubbles into the tank.
Sometimes you will see the bubbles on their own, but to add extra flair and decoration to your aquarium, you can add a number of ornaments that work with an air pump to add character and a theme, including treasure chests, volcanoes and even fake coral.
Not only are these decorations fascinating and fun to look at, your fish will also enjoy the bubbles. I have spent countless hours watching my fish swim in and out of the bubbles and interacting with the ornaments.
They are Required For Sponge Filters
Another reason why air pumps are a great piece of equipment for all aquarium owners is because they allow you to use sponge filters.
Sponge filters are incredibly cheap, effective and are hotbeds for the development of beneficial bacteria.
Sponge filters will only work with an air pump because they don’t have a motor of their own so they rely on the upwards thrust of an air pump to drive the water from the tank through the sponge filters.
For smaller tanks (or even bigger tanks when used in addition to a power filter or canister filter) sponge filters are perfect. They are small, quiet and inexpensive.
They can also be moved around from tank to tank if you ever need to setup a new tank or a quarantine tank. The sponge filters with all of their beneficial bacteria will instantly make a new tank hospitable, without having to wait weeks for it to cycle.
Ideal For Quarantine Tanks
Speaking of Quarantine tanks, the instant addition of beneficial bacteria from filter media is not the only benefit of using an air pump.
When treating an illness in a fish, one of the most prescribed remedies is to raise the temperature considerably to help fight whatever infection is ailing your fish.
The problem is, higher water temperatures means lower oxygen levels. When treating a poorly fish, you need to make sure there is enough oxygen for them to fully heal.
Adding an air pump to your quarantine or hospital tank will allow you to increase the water temperature to fight the infection while at the same time keeping the water nice and oxygenated.
It’s a win/win.
What’s The Best Aquarium Air Pump?
Now that is the million dollar question.
It depends on what is important to you.
For the majority of people I recommend an air pump to, I always tell them to go with the Tetra Whisper for the simple reason that it’s the quietest pump on the market. If you will be running your pump for the majority of the day, which you probably will be, you will want a pump that is quiet.
The Tetra Whisper is available in a few different sizes (ranging from 10-100 Gallons) depending on the size of your aquarium and it’s also inexpensive.
It’s worth noting though, that you will need to purchase an additional tubing and an air stone with this one if you want the additional oxygenation.
The next best option and one which comes with everything included, ready to go straight out of the box is the Fluval aquarium air pump. It’s still relatively inexpensive (probably cheaper than the Tetra Whisper with everything included) and it even comes with a 1-year warranty.
Does an Air Pump Go Inside The Aquarium?
The air pump doesn’t go inside of the aquarium, just the silicone pipe.
The pump itself will sit either underneath your aquarium if you have a cabinet, or it will stand at the side or behind the tank. Whatever suits your style.
Can I Turn My Air Pump Off at Night?
Unlike the filter, the air pump is not an essential piece of equipment, so it wouldn’t pose any threat to your aquarium health if you turn it off at night.
However, if you keep plants in your aquarium, it’s definitely recommended to keep the pump on at night to aid in photosynthesis. Plants consume oxygen at night in order to synthesize, so without the additional oxygen and surface agitation, they may suffer.
If the sound is an issue, simply choose a quiet air pump like the Tetra Whisper.