Most aquarists strive to create the ideal living conditions for their fish, but maintaining adequate oxygen and CO2 levels can be challenging. Additionally, many aquarium accessories and decorations that help develop a healthy environment require a secondary air supply. Finding the best aquarium air pump option for your tank can be challenging.
Aquarium air pumps deliver ample oxygen to your tank’s inhabitants and can power various tank accessories, including filters and moving decor. We put together the below reviews after extensive testing to help you choose the best air pump for your tank.
What is an Aquarium Air Pump?
An aquarium air pump is a small electrical pump that forces air through a hose routed into your tank. They typically aren’t waterproof and cannot be submerged, so they sit outside of your aquarium, where they are exposed to the air they collect.
Air pumps often use an electromagnet that rapidly turns on and off. As the power is cycled, a lever is pulled and released repeatedly, which forces air into the hose using suction.
You place the hose into your aquarium, where it can be hooked up to air stones, sponge filters, decorations that move, or bubble curtains.
Do You Need an Aquarium Air Pump?
It’s debatable as to whether or not an air pump helps deliver adequate oxygen to a tank. Most filters introduce some oxygen into the water, which is often sufficient. However, there’s no doubt that pumps connected to air stones do increase the oxygen in the water, which is never a bad thing.
While an air pump may not be crucial for the health of your fish, they are necessary for many aquarium accessories. Air stones, bubble screens, opening or closing decorations, and filter sponges all require air, which a pump can provide.
Lastly, air pumps connected to stones or curtains can improve your tank’s look, and some fish species enjoy playing in the bubbles. It may not be necessary, but it can improve your tank’s appearance and provide some fun for your fish.
Types of Aquarium Air Pumps
There are three primary types of air pumps available.
1. Plug-In Air Pump
Plug-in air pumps are exactly what they sound like: pumps that are powered via an electrical outlet. These are reliable except in the case of a power outage, but they have limitations on how far away from a socket they can be placed.
2. Battery-Operated Air Pump
Battery-operated air pumps can be placed anywhere, so they’re excellent options for free-standing tanks. However, they aren’t as reliable and can die, unlike plug-in pumps. They tend to be more costly over time.
3. Battery Back-Up Air Pump
Battery back-up pumps are typically the most expensive, but they virtually never die, as they use electricity and can flip to battery power in a power outage. These pumps have some placement restrictions, as they’ll always need to be near an outlet.
Benefits of Using an Aquarium Air Pump
Aquarium air pumps may not be necessary, but aquarists who use one will enjoy several benefits in their tanks.
Increased Oxygen Levels
Your fish may have enough oxygen to survive without an air pump. However, including one in your tank can provide more oxygenated water, which can only be healthier for your tank’s inhabitants. Including an air pump in your setup will guarantee that your water is adequately oxygenated, especially in warmer temperatures when water naturally absorbs less gas.
Improved Water Circulation
Air pumps force air into the water, which aids in circulation. Better circulation has a few positive effects on your aquarium, including faster removal of CO2, oxygen becoming more readily available in your tank, and more efficient filtration.
Air pumps also add to your tank’s appearance if they’re connected to a bubbler or moving decoration. Air stones and bubble curtains can add some natural beauty, while decor that opens and closes or raises and lowers can bring a dynamic and exciting feel to your setup.
What Size Aquarium Air Pump Do You Need?
Choosing the right size air pump is crucial for enjoying the benefits a pump can bring to your tank. Essentially, the pump needs to be powerful enough to overcome the pressure of the water above it and the depth at which the hose will sit. It needs good air flow. As such, deeper or larger tanks require a more powerful pump.
Most pumps include a rating for the size of the tank they can handle. The rating can give you a general idea of the volume the pump can overcome, but it isn’t a guarantee that it will work efficiently. The air pump rating can fluctuate depending on the accessories you plan to connect to it.
Are You Attaching an Air Stone?
Air stones require minimal pressure, so the rating on a pump is typically accurate for these accessories. For example, a pump rated for a 15-gallon tank should be sufficient when hooked up to a single stone in a 15-gallon aquarium.
However, each additional air stone you intend to connect will require an additional 15-gallon volume rating. As such, a pump rated for 30-gallons will be needed for two air stones in a 15-gallon tank.
Are You Attaching a Sponge Filter?
Sponge filters benefit from a bit more airflow than stones, so we recommend choosing a pump that can accommodate about 10-20% more volume than your tank. For example, a sponge in a 120-gallon tank should be matched with a pump that is suitable for at least a 140-gallon aquarium.
Like stones, each sponge requires this pump capacity, so adding a second sponge filter will require double the pump power.
How to Choose an Air Pump for Your Aquarium
Not all aquarium air pumps are created equal. To ensure you choose the best pump for your setup and needs, make sure to pay attention to the below factors.
The most important thing to consider when choosing an air pump is the size of your tank.
Less powerful pumps that are intended for smaller volumes won’t be able to overcome the water pressure of a larger aquarium. This means your pump may not function at all and will quickly burn out trying to force air into the tank.
Even if a weak pump is capable of supplying a large aquarium with air, chances are the flow won’t be sufficient enough to experience the benefits. The added water circulation will be minimal, moving decorations may not work correctly or at all, and your filter won’t receive as much of a benefit from the oxygenated water.
In addition to volume, you should consider the depth at which you plan to place the air hose. This is an especially important factor because pumps rated for your tank size may not function properly if they’re set deep in vertical tanks with added pressure at the bottom.
Of course, you’ll want to factor in the price of the air pump you’re considering.
It’s no secret that owning and maintaining an aquarium is expensive, so a costly air pump that probably isn’t a requirement in your tank may not be ideal for your setup. With that being said, you should avoid purchasing a cheap pump that isn’t strong enough to deliver air to your tank, as you’ll end up spending more in the long run when it inevitably doesn’t work or burns out.
When considering the cost of a pump, make sure to factor in other accessories. Most aquarists connect air pumps to stones, sponge filters, or decorations, the added cost of which can quickly put you over your budget.
Additionally, all air pumps fail in time, as the suction device used to force air through the hose will lose its seal after extended use. More expensive pumps generally include higher-quality materials that will last longer. As such, choosing the most expensive product you can afford can help you secure a pump that will last a long time, minimizing your long-term cost.
The beauty of aquarium air pumps is that you can connect them to a variety of equipment to improve the appearance and functionality of your tank. Therefore, you should consider the equipment you intend to connect to your pump, as it can help you choose which is best for your purposes.
Air stones typically require less power than filter sponges, and both generally use more air than moving decorations. You’ll want to opt for about 10-20% more power for sponges, whereas you could get away with matching a pump’s rating with your tank volume for stones. Decorations can often be powered by a pump rated for slightly less than your aquarium size.
Remember to consider how many devices you plan to connect, as each accessory requires an additional volume rating from your pump. For example, a pump rated for 40-gallons is necessary for connection to two air stones in a single 20-gallon tank.
If you’ve ever used an air pump before, you likely know that they make noise, and sometimes a lot of it! Aquarium air pumps use an electromagnet that cycles on and off rapidly. This mechanism is effective, but it can be quite loud.
If you think the noise will bother you or your family members, consider choosing a pump built to operate silently. We’ll include information about relative noise in our reviews below, but understand that some pumps rated as “whisper quiet” are significantly louder than others with the same noise rating.
Purchasing a silent air pump is especially important if your tank will be set up in a bedroom or a living room, where the noise could interrupt sleep or conversation.
Best Aquarium Air Pump Options
We’ll provide a list of our top recommendations for aquarium air pumps and follow that with in-depth reviews of each to explain why they’re our favorite options.
- Our All-Around Recommendation: Tetra Whisper Air Pump
- All-Around Alternative: EHEIM Air Pump 400
- For Large Tanks: Tetra Whisper AP 150
- Battery Back-Up: Cobalt Aquatics DC Air Pump
- Alternative Battery Back-Up: Deep Blue Professional Hurricane Category 5 Battery Operated Air Pump
- Quietest Small Aquarium Pump: Mylivell Quietest Aquarium Air Pump
- Quietest Medium-to-Large Aquarium Air Pump: EHEIM Air Pump 100 W/ Diffuser
- Quietest Extra Large Aquarium Air Pump: Tetra Whisper AP 300
- Quiet Alternative: Active AQUA Air Pump
Reviews for Our Top Picks
This pump has several noise-dampening features, including rubber feet to reduce vibration and movement and a suspended motor design. The result is a nearly silent pump.
Despite the lack of noise, it’s robust and reliable, and we’re confident it will continue pumping for years before needing maintenance.
It comes in five size and power options, making it suitable for tanks ranging from 10 gallons to 100 gallons. The larger options are rugged enough to power multiple accessories in a single tank as well.
This pump is extremely affordable and provides outstanding value for the money.
- It has a dome-shaped design to reduce noise
- It includes rubber feet to limit vibration
- It operates nearly silently
- It comes in five sizes for a custom fit
- It’s durable
- Only the largest sizes have two ports for accessories
- It doesn’t include tubing
This pump runs without much noise at all, so it’s suitable for tanks in bedrooms and living areas.
This pump includes tubing, as well as two adjustable air stones, so you can set this up to improve oxygen levels in your tank right out of the box.
It is a bit less potent than our top pick, so we recommend purchasing a size larger than you feel you need.
It’s more expensive than many other options as well, but the included accessories still make it a great value for the money.
- It includes tubing and two air stones
- It has an adjustable flow rate
- It runs almost entirely silently
- It comes in different sizes for a custom fit
- It’s less powerful than many other options
- It’s a bit on the pricey side
We strongly recommend this pump for tanks between 100 and 150 gallons. It’s designed to be powerful enough to oxygenate larger tanks, and it does so without any trouble at all.
Despite this pump’s impressive power, it operates without much noise at all, so you will be comfortable using this in aquariums in bedrooms or areas where you may entertain guests.
It’s suitable for smaller, deep tanks, but it only has one hose connection. As such, you’ll only be able to attach a single accessory.
It’s still relatively affordable and is an excellent value for the price.
- It uses noise dampening technology for silent operation
- The durable motor gives it power and longevity
- It’s an excellent option for large tanks up to 150 gallons
- It can handle deep tanks
- It’s very affordable
- It only has a single accessory connection
- It may be too powerful for smaller tanks
This pump hooks up to a standard electrical outlet, but it includes a long-lasting, on-board battery to keep it running in the event of a power outage. The battery is rechargeable, which is convenient and keeps your ongoing costs down.
It comes in either a single-hose or dual-hose option, so you can choose the pump to suit your needs best and have the option for multiple accessories.
This pump is a bit noisy compared to some of the other whisper pumps, but we think the added functionality of the battery makes it worth it.
- It includes a rechargeable battery to continue running during power outages
- It comes in a one- or two-hose option
- It’s powerful and feels like it will last quite a while
- It has LED lights to indicate battery health
- It’s a bit noisy during operation
- It doesn’t include air hoses
This pump runs off of electricity from a standard outlet, and it includes a long-lasting battery to provide continued operation during power outages. It includes slots for regular D batteries in case of emergency.
It’s significantly more powerful than our previous battery back-up pump, but it’s also much more expensive and can quickly push you over your budget.
It features two air hose ports for use with multiple accessories.
This pump is adjustable, allowing you to customize airflow for your needs and to suit your tank best. It also has a cycle option to limit battery drainage.
- It includes a powerful back-up battery in case of a power outage
- It has two hose ports for use with multiple accessories
- It’s very powerful
- You can use it with standard batteries during extended power outages
- It’s very expensive
- It’s a bit noisy and may not be suitable for aquariums in bedrooms
This air pump is not only super compact, but it includes suction cups to attach to your tank to keep your stand clean and tidy.
It’s extremely quiet during operation and is suitable for tanks in any room of the house.
It’s powerful enough for an air stone in a tank around 5 gallons, but it won’t be able to handle multiple accessories without a gang valve, nor can it run in larger aquariums.
It includes tubing and an air hose, so you can get it set up right out of the box without having to make additional purchases.
- It has a very compact design
- It includes suction cups to attach directly to the glass
- It includes air tubes and an air stone
- It’s nearly silent during operation
- It can only handle a single accessory
- It’s only suitable for 5-gallon tanks or smaller
This pump is very quiet when in use, so it’s unlikely to disrupt sleep or conversation in the same room.
Despite its small size and minimal noise, it’s powerful enough to handle tanks up to 100 gallons. However, it only has a single hose port, so you can’t use it with multiple accessories without a gang valve.
It includes air tubing, a diffuser, and a check valve, allowing you to set it up and start using it without making any additional purchases.
This pump is a bit on the pricey side, but it provides excellent value.
- It includes noise-dampening features for silent operation
- It has a compact design
- It’s powerful enough for tanks up to 100 gallons
- It includes everything you need to set it up, including a diffuser
- It’s a bit expensive
- It only includes a single air hose port
This pump is extremely powerful and can handle tanks up to an impressive 300 gallons. It’s suitable for deep tanks as well, and it includes two air hose ports for use with multiple accessories in smaller aquariums.
Although it’s one of the most powerful pumps available, it remains relatively silent during use. You likely won’t have any problems with it interrupting sleep or conversation.
It’s relatively affordable, given the output possible. However, it doesn’t include hoses or accessories, so you’ll need to make additional purchases before being able to use it.
- It is equipped with a potent and durable motor
- It comes with a lifetime guarantee
- You can use it in tanks up to 300 gallons
- It includes two ports for use with multiple accessories
- It can pump up to depths of eight feet
- It doesn’t include hoses
- You’ll have to purchase accessories separately
Quiet Alternative: Active AQUA Air Pump
This pump is relatively quiet during operation, and you’ll find it suitable for tanks in bedrooms or living areas where you need minimal noise.
It’s available in multiple options with one to twelve hose ports. All of the options are very affordable, especially given how versatile they are.
It’s powerful enough to handle medium-sized tanks with multiple air stones or smaller tanks with a variety of accessories.
It doesn’t include air hoses or attachments, so you’ll have to purchase those separately.
It has a dial to control airflow, so you can customize the output for your tank.
- It has multiple hose ports for accessories
- It has a control dial to tune the airflow for your setup
- It’s relatively silent when in use
- It has a powerful motor capable of use in medium-sized tanks
- It doesn’t include air hoses or accessories
- It is rather noisy if you don’t use all of the hose ports
How Many Air Stones Can an Aquarium Pump Run?
An aquarium pump typically includes a volume rating range, which estimates the tank volumes in which it can run efficiently. The general rule of thumb is that the lower end of the range determines the tank volume in which a single stone can be run. If the rating is double your tank volume, the pump can run two stones in your tank.
For example, a pump rated for 20 gallons could run one air stone in a 20-gallon tank, but it could power two air stones in a 10-gallon tank.
Using this calculation, you can determine how many stones a pump can run in your specific tank. Make sure the pump has multiple hose ports, or remember to purchase a gang valve if it doesn’t.
How to Reduce Aquarium Air Pump Noise
Most people want a quiet air pump. However, aquarium pumps can be loud, sometimes making them unrealistic for use in tanks that you keep in bedrooms or living spaces. However, there are few things you can do to help reduce the noise.
First, if you have a pump with multiple hose ports, make sure you’re using each port. An output that isn’t connected to a hose will be significantly louder than one that’s in use.
Second, make sure that your pump’s power is optimized for your tank size. More capable options will always be noisier, so find the balance between power and noise for your setup.
If your pump has increased in volume over time, clean the accessories to which it’s connected. Blockages from bacteria or algae can put added strain on the pump motor.
Lastly, consider upgrading to a pump that’s designed for silent operation, like the Tetra Whisper Air Pump.
Essential Air Pump Accessories
Whether your pump includes tubing or not, this 25-foot tubing kit from Penn Plax will ensure you have enough to adapt to your tank depth, setup, and multiple accessories.
Air Check Valve
A check valve prevents water from making its way into your pump in the event of a failure, limiting the risk of fire and further pump damage. This check valve from Pawfly is reliable and super affordable.
Air Control Valve
An air control valve, like this one from Fluval, can turn any standard pump into a customizable one with an adjustable flow for different accessories or output.
An airline connector, like these from Lee’s Pet Products, helps you route your hosing efficiently and can help make use of multiple lengths to fit your setup perfectly.
Gang valves, like this affordable option from Penn Plax, allow you to use a single-port pump with multiple accessories without having to purchase additional pumps.
Aquarium Air Pump FAQs
Do Fish Like Bubbles?
Not only do air bubbles help reduce odor, increase oxygenation, and improve filtration, they can also provide entertainment for some species. Many aquarists find that their fish enjoy swimming through the bubbles created by bubblers or air stones. Certain species like Bettas, Loaches, and Guppies all reportedly enjoy playing in bubbles in freshwater aquariums.
Do Aquariums Need Bubblers?
Most aquariums don’t need bubblers to function properly. Provided you have the proper filter setup, the filter return should mix enough oxygen with the water. However, bubblers have many benefits that can improve the health of your fish and tank appearance.
Bubblers add abundant oxygen to the water, which can only be beneficial for your tank’s inhabitants. They also improve the water circulation to help rid of CO2 and reduce odors. Additionally, bubbles make filtration more efficient and effective.
Should I Turn Off the Bubbles in My Fish Tank at Night?
You can opt to turn your bubbles off at night if it interrupts sleep. However, your tank will benefit from constant bubbles, so it’s best to leave your fish tank air pump on, if possible. This is especially true In planted tanks where the plants fail to consume CO2 in the absence of light. The bubbler will help remove excess CO2 from the water while the plants are inactive.
How Do I Fix Low Oxygen in My Aquarium?
Fixing low oxygen levels in your tank is cheap and straightforward: just purchase an efficient air pump and a bubbler! These products are designed to oxygenate your water and provide the healthiest environment for your fish.
Do Air Pumps Add Oxygen to Water?
They certainly do! Aside from adding beauty to your tank and powering different accessories, air pumps can add a tremendous amount of healthy oxygen to your water if combined with a bubbler or air stone.
How Can I Oxygenate My Water Without a Pump?
The best way to oxygenate water without using a pump is to use surface agitation. Connecting a spray bar or waterfall attachment to your filter will typically do the trick. However, these methods are typically more expensive and noisier than air pumps and bubblers.
How Long Do Aquarium Stones Last?
Air stones don’t often come with expiration dates. Provided you keep them clean and free of debris, algae, and bacteria build-up, your aquarium air stone can last indefinitely.
Air pumps are wonderful accessories to add to your aquarium. They introduce abundant oxygen to your water to improve overall tank health, they can add natural beauty to your setup, and you can use them to power moving decorations, additional filters, and many other accessories.
The best air pump for your tank will be quiet enough for the room in which your tank is housed, powerful enough for your tank volume and depth, and have a flow rate that can handle the number and types of accessories you plan to use in your aquarium.
Our all-around recommendation is the Tetra Whisper Air Pump. The Whisper pump nearly silent during operation, durable, and comes in five sizes to match just about any aquarium volume.