What are Aquarium Air Pumps?
Air pumps are a piece of equipment that pushes air into your aquarium. The pumps are placed outside your aquarium and are connected to an air tube that brings the air into the aquarium. Air pumps are often used to power filters or air stones.
Air pumps are not needed in all aquariums. In addition to powering your water filters, they help aerate and circulate water inside your tank. This can be beneficial to your fish because it will help maintain the oxygen levels inside your aquarium. It can also make the aquarium environment look more natural. Some aquarium filters like Sponge Filters, Under Gravel Filters (UGV) and Fluidized Bed Filters, need to be paired with an air pump for them to operate.
Just like aquarium filters, there are different types of air pumps.
Types of Air Pumps
The different types of air pumps vary based on their source of power. Unlike filters, there is not any major difference with how the air pumps perform.
Plug-in Air Pumps
These are simple and the most commonly used air pumps. They plug into the electrical outlet and the air tube is submerged inside your aquarium. Once it is turned on the pump will start pumping air into your tank continuously.
These pumps are available in different wattages, with the higher watt ones able to pump air faster. If you have a larger aquarium then you’ll want to think about getting an air pump that has a higher wattage. Most air pumps mention the size of the tank they can be used with, and this should eliminate some confusion when choosing the right pump.
Most of these do not have any buttons to control the flow or switch them on/off. Some of the better ones that cost a little more will have an adjustable dial to control the amount of air they will pump. They can be used with sponge and UGF filters that need an air pump to operate. The drawback to these is that they do not have a backup power source and have to always be plugged in to operate.
Cost – $15 to $50
Battery-Operated Air Pumps
These run on batteries and don’t require an outlet to operate. Because they operate on batteries, the batteries will need to be changed or recharged when they get low. They don’t have as much power as the plug in pumps, so they are not able to pump as much air. Because of their limitations they are not recommended for larger aquariums. Battery pumps are portable and you can take them with you or move them around if needed. Being able to move them is great if you have to move your fish in a small tank when taking them to your vet or cleaning their tank.
Battery air pumps are mostly used as a backup air pump when there is a power outage. They are sometimes also used as a secondary pump to improve the aeration inside the tank. A complaint that many people have with these air pumps is that they are fairly loud.
Cost – $18 to $40
Battery Backup Air Pumps
These are hybrid air pumps that run both on electricity and batteries. Plug them into an outlet and they will keep pumping air into your tank. If the power goes out, they will switch to batteries to keep the air pump running. The battery backup feature makes sure your aquarium filters will keep working even if your power goes out. It combines the plug-in and battery-powered air pumps into a single unit. Their dual modes are why they are more expensive.
Cost – $25 to $50
Unlike aquarium filters, there really are not many choices when it comes to air pumps. The most popular aquarium air pump by far is the plug-in air pump. For most aquariums this will work perfectly. The battery only air pump has its uses, but unless you use rechargeable batteries they can be pretty expensive to use. If you have occasional power outages and just want to know that your aquarium will continue to have good filtration and aeration the battery backup air pumps are a great choice. Most aquariums will be able to go 6-10 hours without a problem even if the power does go out, so for most we just recommend the plug-in air pump.
Something most people think about as an afterthought are air stones. Air stones are porous stones that connect to an air pump and diffuse air into small bubbles.
If you ran a tube right from your air pump into your aquarium you will get giant bubbles that don’t really do all that much to aerate your aquarium. They help sponge filters do a better job pulling particles out of the water. Something most people don’t even realize is that the amount of noise their aquarium makes can be cut down with an air stone and having smaller bubbles.
In addition to aerating your aquarium and helping the filters work they also circulate the water in your aquarium. It adds oxygen into the water, and the bubbles moving their way up from the bottom of the aquarium push the water upwards. This upwards water motion also helps spread the oxygen throughout your aquarium as the water moves.