Do you have an aquarium? If so, you may be considering buying an air pump for it. It’s a common misconception that an air pump increases the amount of oxygen in the water and it’s for this reason that it’s necessary for the health of the fish. However, that’s simply not the case. In broad terms, a fish tank air pump is designed to improve the circulation of air in the aquarium by sending small bubbles up to the surface, which then pop. This motion then agitates the surface, increasing the surface area over which gas exchange can take place.
An air pump is often needed to improve the functioning of other features in your tank, such as filters that are driven by air; some ornaments with spinning wheels or turning valves that require air to drive them; and air stones, which create a flow of tiny bubbles that help move air through a filter.
You might also use an air pump to ensure there’s a current in the water, which stops stagnation in specific parts of the tank. If your tank is home to semi-aquatic animals, an air pump will help aerate the whole enclosure.
So the type of air pump you buy will very much depend on the use(s) you’ll put it to. With that in mind, read on to discover some of the features of our pick of aquarium pumps on the market.
Best Aquarium Pumps Buying Guide & FAQ
Features to Consider When Buying Aquarium Pumps and Types of Aquarium Pumps
When you’re choosing which air pump to buy, always go for one that’s a little bigger than you calculate that you need. It’ll do no harm, and will compensate for any underestimation in your sums. It will also allow you to expand your tank and its contents in future.
There is a huge array of aquarium pumps on the market, and which you’ll need will very much depend on what you want to use it for and how.
Your first decision is between a submersible and an in-line unit. The former can go right in your tank, aquarium or other set-up; the latter will usually need to be outside, raised above the water level. While the former will take up precious room in your fishes’ home, the latter can be unsightly – and noisier – if positioned in your living room!
Then, you need to consider whether this is a supplement to an internal or external aquarium filter, or whether you want a unit that does both at once. Again, if you choose a two-in-one, it’s likely to take up more space in your tank.
Your next factors are the size you’ll need for the volume of water you want aerating (we’ll talk more about this below), and whether you want multiple outlet valves to span a larger tank or to split the effect between two or more tanks. In general terms, though, the larger the volume of water and the more outlets, the bigger the pump you’ll be looking for.
Other considerations include whether the unit is suitable for outdoor use or indoor only; how easy it is to clean and so on. Read on for more information below.
Benefits of Aquarium Pumps
It’s important to remember, as mentioned in the introduction, that the bubbles created by an aquarium pump don’t actually feed the fish oxygen directly. What an aquarium pump (or aquarium powerhead) does is to send bubbles up to the water surface which then pop; and this bursting action creates surface movement. That will help promote oxygenation, in other words the exchange of gases between the water and the atmosphere beyond.
The main benefit of an aquarium pump, therefore, is to address the issue of there being insufficient water surface movement within the tank itself.
Factors that increase the likelihood of this occurring include the number of fish in the tank and the temperature of the water. In essence, the more fish you have, the more oxygen they’ll need to thrive and survive. And the higher the temperature of the water within the aquarium, the greater the amount of water surface movement is required to maintain sufficient levels of oxygen within the water.
Q: Where should I place my aquarium pump?
A: It’s important that your aquarium pump works in harmony with your filter outlet. The idea is to improve the water circulation within the tank, and so for best effect, you should ensure that your pump points in the same direction as the filter. Therefore, if your filter is on the left hand side and points out to the right, then the pump should also be positioned on the left, with the water flow exiting to the right.
If you position it anywhere else within the tank, particularly at the opposite end, then this will only hamper the circulation of the water and increase the possibility of ‘dead spots’.
Q: What size do I need?
A: As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for your pump to be capable of turning over the volume of water in your aquarium five times every hour. First, establish how many gallons your tank holds. Then multiply that by five to get the minimum flow rate in gallons per hour (GPH). So for a 20 gallon tank, you will need a pump that is capable of producing at least a minimum flow rate of 100 GPH.
There are other factors that may affect the flow rate, though. These might include elbows and turns in the plumbing, for instance, or fitted filters. That’s why it’s always better to opt for a pump that has a slightly larger flow rate than you think you need. If your pump is too weak, it’s impossible to increase water flow. However, it is possible to reduce the water flow from a more powerful pump if you need to – either by buying a model that has an adjustable flow rate or by installing a ball valve on the pump’s outlet side.
Q: How loud are aquarium water pumps?
A: No aquarium pump is going to be completely silent. If noise is a major concern, you can opt for a submerged pump, which will generally be quieter than an in-line unit while in operation. However, placement of the pump within your tank will obviously take up more space and also may increase the temperature of the water.
While an in-line aquarium pump will not affect water temperature, it’s likely to be noisier while in operation. Additionally, they may need more plumbing work to fit them, as the pump needs water to operate. This might involve drilling a hole in the filter sump.
Q: How do I clean my aquarium pump?
A: Broadly speaking, all air pumps should be cleaned every six to twelve months to avoid deposits, dirt and grime that may reduce the efficiency of the way they operate. You may also notice your pump becomes much noisier when it’s in use – another sure sign it’s time for a clean.
Your first port of call should be the manufacturer’s instructions, as every pump is different. You can also check out online forums to get hints and tips from other users of pumps like yours.
In general terms, there are a few steps to go through to complete this process. First, always make sure the pump is unplugged and removed from your tank. Many good pumps have a cover that’s easily removed to allow you access to the impeller, the moving part that transmits energy between the motor and the water being pumped. Remove the impeller itself or the entire workings and closely inspect for damage. The parts can then be soaked in a cleaning solution. For lightly soiled units, a solution of white distilled vinegar and water should be enough to remove deposits. Tougher stains and marks may need an acidic cleaning solution. Leave for a few hours or until the deposits are easy to remove. Either way, ensure the cleaning solution is properly rinsed off before carefully reassembling the aquarium air pump. There’s a likelihood that acidic solutions especially may damage the delicate parts if left on too long.
Our Top Pick
Our pick of the aquarium pumps on the market is the Simple Deluxe 1056 GPH Listed Submersible Pump. Popular with a whole host of buyers from all backgrounds and for all purposes, this fish tank filter pump packs in an impressive range of features for your money and for keeping your aquarium aerated, from its pre-filter that’s designed to maximize the life of your product to its ease of maintenance and the 15ft waterproofed power cord. All in all, a great buy.
- Powerhead (pump), Wikipedia