Do You Really Need Aquarium Aeration?

Water aeration is among the most beautiful features of an aquarium. But, it’s rarely considered whether or not you really need to aerate your fish tank. While those tiny air bubbles are beautiful to look at, does your fish tank really need an air pump or not? Can your fish go without it and can too many bubbles do harm? Let’s find out.

In this article, you’ll learn what aquarium aeration is, why it’s needed, and how to install an aquarium aeration system into your fish tank.

A fish tank with goldfish of various sizes floating around with two streams of aeration bubble streams behind them.
Aquarium aeration creates beautiful bubbles while providing vital oxygen.

What is aeration in an aquarium?

Air. It’s an air pump that blows air into the water. The short answer is that aeration isn’t a must have in most cases isn’t a bad thing in most cases.

To find out what the other cases are, let’s first clarify what aeration is and what those tiny bubbles in the fish tank are good for. As you might expect, they have something to do with oxygen, which is what our finned friends need like we do. But unlike us, aquarium fish extract dissolved oxygen by breathing through their gills where we breathe air and our lungs extract the oxygen we need.

To be more specific, fish need water that has enough dissolved oxygen and air bubbles are one of the ways to increase this. Note: do not confuse dissolved oxygen in water with the oxygen that is a part of the water molecule H 2 O. The latter is unavailable to fish for breathing, but the actual oxygen gas that is dissolved in the water is what fish need.

How does oxygen get into the water? It does so from the air in the room at the water’s surface. The problem is that when the water of the fish tank stands still, the oxygen that enters the water is slow to be absorbed and doesn’t let many oxygen molecules dissolve in the water. To overcome this, you need to stir things up a bit.

How much aeration does an aquarium need?

An aerator makes tiny air bubbles that gently float up to the water surface and pop upon reaching it. This surface agitation causes a physical force on the surrounding water and oxygen molecules. In turn, water starts to move and gets stirred. Therefore, aeration is a tool to mix aquarium water so the dissolved oxygen gets spread evenly throughout the volume of the tank. This lets the aquarium water that is on the water surface to absorb more oxygen from the air.

As you now see, aeration is not mandatory if your fish tank already has good water movement and enough dissolved oxygen. But how do you know?

How can you tell if your aquarium water has too little dissolved oxygen? The surest way to tell is to test it. It is possible to buy aquarium testing kits in pet stores for all kinds of measurements and dissolved oxygen level is one of them. You can also take a look at how your fish behave. Signs of too little oxygen are low activity, gulping for air at the surface, and rapid movement of their gills.

An important thing to note is that a low oxygen level is not necessarily best corrected by adding an air pump. Here are several ways to determine if there is enough dissolved oxygen in your fish tanks water:

  • Solve underlying problems. The most common cause of low oxygen levels in aquariums is having too many fish. That is, too many consumers of the oxygen in the tank and the water temperature is too high. The last reason is because warmer water can hold less oxygen. In either of these cases, you can add as many air pumps and aquarium aeration as you want it still won’t solve the underlying problems.
  • Powered aquarium filters provide enough water circulation to ensure there is enough dissolved oxygen in the tank water. Besides, many internal aquarium water filters have an option to turn on or off the generation of small air bubbles coming out of the outlet nozzle, thus further improving the mixing of the water. For more information on aquarium filters, here’s our article on the Best Fish Filters for your Aquarium.
  • Live aquarium plants. Just like every other plant, they make oxygen too. They take dissolved carbon dioxide out of the water and turn it into oxygen. In fact, if you have live plants in your aquarium, you have to be careful and monitor their well being if you choose to have an aerator for aesthetic purposes. This is because because aerators also let carbon dioxide (which plants need for food) escape from the water.
  • Fish tank hygiene. If your fish tank is dirty, this increases the amount of ammonia and lower oxygen levels. This is because decaying leftover fish food and fish waste consume oxygen. If you’d like more information on this, here’s our article on how to maintain an aquarium.

Air bubbles of course, also increase water circulation. Mostly, the bubbles are better to be incorporated into an aquarium as an aesthetic tool that looks cool.

How to set up an aerator in the fish tank

So if you’ve decided that air bubbles will look nice in your fish tank, it is easy to set up an aeration system when setting up your aquarium. Here are things you will need:

  • Air pump – We suggest not going for the cheapest devices. Air pumps can be the loudest pieces of aquarium equipment. Most air pumps will list how much noise they make. You want to get a high quality pump that is silent.
  • Air tubes – These are the plastic tubes that run from the outlet of the air pump to the fish tank. These are usually flexible and come in many different colors.
  • Airstone – A porous stone to which an air tube is attached. If you just put the end of the tube inside the fish tank, it will create only a few large bubbles and will wiggle around because of the outflow of air. This will look more messy than beautiful. The porous material of an air stone separates the airflow into many parts and creates thousands of tiny, beautiful air bubbles. Additionally, the air stone helps keep the air tube and air stone from moving around. Air stones come in different shapes and sizes. Some are round, while others are elongated, allowing the bubbles to be spread across a larger area. The choice is just a matter of design. Do you want a small source of bubbles in one corner or a wall of bubbles at the back of the tank? It’s up to you to create the look you want in your aquarium.
  • Regulator valve – Unless the output of the air pump can be regulated on the pump itself. You want to place the valve inside the line from the pump to the air stone to modify the airflow. If you notice that the bubbles create a storm inside the aquarium, you’ll be able to turn it down a bit.
  • Check valve – A valve that lets air and water move only in one direction. Without a check valve and the pump is off, the water is able to flow backward into the tube. This can reach the pump and damage it or worse, flood your living room unless you have a check valve installed in the air tube. Alternatively, you can place the air pump above the water’s surface, but this can be impractical if you want the equipment to be hidden from view.
  • Plug-in timer – You can turn the pump on and off manually, but it is much more convenient to have a timer. A plug-in timer not only frees you from this responsibility but also ensures that the bubbles are on for the necessary amount of time. In the beginning, we recommend turning it on for only a few hours each day. Monitor how your plants and fish respond. If the plants and fish respond well, you can then increase the time.

As we have said above that most aquariums, especially if they contain live plants or powered water filters, will do fine without an air pump. however, many find air pumps to be one of the most beautiful aspects of keeping fish. Thus, they can be implemented at will. By keeping the dissolved oxygen level in the range that your fish and aquatic plants enjoy, they’ll be much happier. This will go a long way towards a happy life for you and your pet fish. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.

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