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Aquarium Air Pump Set-Up

If you didn’t already know, every aquarium should have some sort of oxygenating device and not just for the way it looks.

Why Do I Need An Air Pump In My Aquarium?

You’ll need an air pump to force air into your aquarium in order to produce oxygen bubbles. Constant bubbling in your aquarium not only looks great but your fish need it. Without oxygen your fish will suffocate.

Bubbles are also vital for releasing pollutants so an air pump is essential for the health of your fish and your aquarium. You will easily know if your fish are lacking in oxygen as they will gravitate to the surface of the water gasping for air. 

Nitrate build-up in the water sticks to the bubbles and rises to the top of the water. When the bubbles reach the surface and pop, it releases the nitrate and other pollutants into the atmosphere. 

What Size Air Pump Do I Need?

To set up your aquarium air pump, first decide on the size of air pump that you need. This will determine the flow rate which depends on the size of your tank and the type of aquarium you are building.

The general rule of thumb for calculating flow rate of your air pump is 0.033 liters of air per minute per gallon.

So, if your tank has 10 gallons of water, your pump will need to produce 0.33 liters of air per minute.  

  • A 15-gallon tank will need to produce 5 liters of air per minute
  • A 25-gallon tank will need to produce 8.33 liters of air per minute
  • A 55-gallon tank will need to produce 18.32 liters of air per minute
  • A 180-gallon tank can use a 100-liter flow rate pump

If your aquarium is saltwater, the flow rate needs to be increased since factors such as filters will slow down the flow rate. 

What Type of Air Pump Do I Need?

There are two main types of air pump, pumps that sit underwater and pumps that are placed outside of the aquarium.

Submersible Air Pumps

Submersible air pumps tend to be cheaper than external pumps, they are also easier to install. One thing to consider with submersible pumps is that they will produce a certain amount of heat in the tank, which may end up heating the water. To counteract this, you might need a chiller to regulate the temperature or cool the tank with fans. Chillers can be costly. 

External Air Pumps

The motor in an external air pump disperses heat into the air, so there’s no need to cool the tank in any way. 

If using an external air pump, it must be placed higher than the water level. If the pump is lower than water level, water can siphon back into the pump if it doesn’t have a check valve. 

Air Stones

Air stones are usually made of limestone or porous rock. The air is pushed through the tiny holes in the rock and into the water. 

Air stones come in different shapes; cylindrical, block shaped, disk shaped, and dome shaped. Novelty air stones are available such as volcano shaped. Some disk shaped air stones can be as wide as several centimeters. The bubbles produced by this type of air stone can look really effervescent, as the stream of bubbles it produces are wider.

Air stones are placed on the floor of the tank and sometimes held in place by suckers. It is essential to consider where to place your air stone in the tank. Try to keep the air stone some distance from the air filter so it doesn’t suck in the bubbles and reduce the level of oxygenation of the water.

It’s beneficial to place the air stone amongst any plants so that it doesn’t interfere with the areas where fish swim. 

Another good place for an air stone is under the gravel substrate. 

Before installing an air stone, it’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, air stones will need to be soaked for a minimum of an hour first to remove any dust and contaminants.  

Vinyl Tubing

Tubing is required to connect your air pump to whatever device you are going to use to disperse the oxygen. It must be long enough to reach from the pump to the tank. 

Check Valve

If the pump is lower than the water level and the power goes out, the check valve prevents water from being siphoned back into the pump.


The only thing you need to change is the filter. If the pump starts to produce less bubbles, all you have to do is take it apart and change the rubber diaphragm. 

Running Costs

Water pumps don’t use much electricity. The smallest pump uses around 4 watts. If you have a 30-gallon tank you may decide on a pump that uses around 19 watts. 

24 hours at 19 watts translates to 0.456 kilowatts of electricity, (24 x 19 = 456). Let’s say your electricity is charged at 10 cents a kilowatt, you’re looking at less than 5 cents a day. 

Do You Really Need An Air Pump?

As air pumps are primarily to agitate and add oxygen to the water, an air pump isn’t necessary if you’re already using an air powered sponge filter. Sponge filters already create a lot of tiny bubbles, so installing an air pump will be overkill. Using both is also likely to be noisier.

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