There are three main reasons why aquarium air pumps are essential accessories for any setup. They provide oxygenation. They also improve water circulation which helps the filtration system clean the otherwise dead spots. Last but not least, they also help maintain water pH which can be highly essential for some fish.
They come in all shapes and sizes and with various types of motors and power output. But this doesn’t necessarily make your choice harder if you know how to rate and compare them.
7 Aquarium Air Pumps for Small, Medium, and Large Fish Tanks
- 7 Aquarium Air Pumps for Small, Medium, and Large Fish Tanks
- Air Pump Power Sources
- Does Size Matter?
- Is a Piston/Rotary Pump Mandatory These Days?
- UL Rating - When You Should Consider it
Air stones may not have a long life due to their propensity to develop algae but they are highly efficient at improving oxygenation and water circulation. With this Mylivell air pump’s 240 ml/min flow rate, you should get a stable performance in any fish tank of up to 15 gallons, regardless of its shape.
Installing the pump is simple as it comes with silicone tubes that are easy to plug in and a suction cup for external use. Air stone air pumps are known for their low power consumption and noise levels. If you’re looking for something quiet at an affordable price tag, this may be it.
In terms of design, the air pump looks pretty cool too. It’s compact – standing just under an inch in height and 3.1 inches in width. The fact that it resembles a manta ray makes it even better in my opinion.
The Fluval Q2 is a beast of an air pump. It is designed for use in fish tanks of between 50 and 160 gallons, which makes it one of the best for mid-range and high-end aquariums. However, it doesn’t exactly have the quiet operation as advertised. I think it’s understandable given its size and raw power.
With a 4” air stone (sold separately), you’ll be able to provide more than enough oxygenation for a good-sized aquarium. The pump has a long service life and it also comes with a 2-year warranty. The adjustable flow rate is essential in order to provide optimum oxygenation for a wide range of fish and tank sizes.
But other than the noise there is another downside. The Fluval Q2 is a bit expensive and it doesn’t come with an air stone. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to buy one or two, as the Q2 supports a T-connection for running two air stones simultaneously. This will allow you to create even better water circulation and improve the performance of your water filtration system.
The Active Aqua is a very interesting unit. It’s available in four models with one, two, four, and eight outlets. It’s rather quiet compared to many of its direct competitors, and that’s partially because of its multi-level muffler which reduces vibrations.
The 2-outlet model seems to be the most popular out of this line. With its 125 GPH rating and adjustable flow rate function, it doesn’t take an expert to see why that is. The synthetic rubber diaphragm further improves the consistency and spread of the flow, and the ability to work in both fish tanks and hydroponic setups make it a very versatile unit.
Now, as affordable as the 2-outlet model is, it does lack a few features. There’s no tubing, T-connection, or air stone included in the package. This makes using the Active Aqua air pump a bit more expensive in reality than it looks on paper.
This is a heavy-duty air pump that Hygger designed for medium to large-capacity fish tanks. At full load, the pump is rated at around 35db, which isn’t too loud at all. Part of the reason why it seems able to maintain that low noise level is the use of magnetic bearings, which are known to reduce vibrations.
Because this is a high-output air pump, it’s not suited for small fish tanks. Not only is the pump powerful enough to handle 600-gallon fish tanks but it can also work with multiple smaller fish tanks simultaneously if you have all the right connections.
The pump only comes with a one-year warranty but its rugged design makes it appear capable of having a long service life compared to others in its price range. But is it perfect? – Not exactly. The fact that it lacks tubing and air stones as well as flow rate adjustment does limit its use a bit. Unless you’re the proud owner of a massive 150-gallon or larger aquarium, the pump may prove too powerful.
If you’re looking to get something for cheap, Tetra’s Whisper line of aquarium air pumps seems to have the best prices. They range in capacity from 10 to 100 gallons and in each category, they win by a landslide in pricing. However, it’s worth mentioning that the Tetra Whisper air pumps are Non-UL which means that the durability might be somewhat questionable.
By far the most popular model in the series is the 60 to 100-gallon air pump. It’s the most powerful and consistent of the bunch. I like its design as it is colorful and suitable for aquariums with multiple species of fish. The design has the right shape to reach hard-to-reach places.
What I liked the most about this product was that it came with the Tetra My Aquarium App. It’s a very nice mobile app for beginners as it can give you information regarding food, water care products, and oxygenation and filtration tips based on your aquarium size and species of fish.
The MA-60 is another personal favorite of mine which comes with plenty of accessories and enough power to oxygenate a 10-gallon aquarium. The little pump offers good value and even though it doesn’t have an amazing service life, it is still a top-seller because of its affordable price point.
The noise level is so-so. The pump is rated at under 40dB but there are plenty of similarly priced air pumps which are quieter. The dampening is almost non-existent which allows the vibrations to make most of the noise.
But its compact size alone is still worth it if you’re low on counter space. What’s even better about this unit is the fact that it comes with an air stone, an air tube, and a check valve. That’s more than you get from some high-end or premium packages.
I’m not going to pretend that the Pawfly MA-60 is the best aquarium air pump. However, if you’re new to fish caring and you have a small tank, this kit is probably the best to get you started.
Normally, I would say that the best aquarium air pump is one that plugs into an outlet. But, having a battery-operated device on hand is worth serious consideration.
This Marina battery-run air pump makes for a good backup air source for summer power outages or for relocating your fish to a new home. It comes with an air stone and 18” tubing (which is not a lot but enough for small aquariums). And in terms of flow rate, it can take care of a 60-gallon aquarium for a short time.
To use it, you’ll need two D-size batteries. You’ll also need a makeshift system to hold it in place during transit, if that’s why you’re buying it for. It’s not quiet and the flow rate is not adjustable which means it will run at full load for as long as it can, depending on your batteries. You should get a good two days of use out of a pair of batteries.
Air Pump Power Sources
Most often than not, aquarium air pumps are categorized by their power source. This means that you have two categories to choose from – battery-powered or electric air pumps. Battery-powered units are situational but can pack plenty of power, enough to even handle aquariums of 60 gallons and up on a temporary basis.
Electric air pumps make up the bulk of what you find online and in pet stores. They can come with multiple outlets which allow you to set up complex air tubing assemblies to oxygenate one or more aquariums at a time.
Does Size Matter?
There are small, medium, and large aquarium air pumps. But the size doesn’t always determine the overall performance. There are quite a few bulky air pumps that may only have a maximum flow rate of 125 GPH. That’s enough to handle most 10-gallon tanks and not much else.
So why are they so big? – Because they’re super quiet and feature multiple layers of vibration dampening as well as sound muffling materials. So, size matters but not the physical size. Pay attention to the rated flow rate and capacity instead. And noise levels if it’s a priority for you.
Is a Piston/Rotary Pump Mandatory These Days?
Classic aquarium pumps are vibrator or diaphragm pumps. They vary in price although not nearly as expensive as piston pumps. The latter are advanced designs, more complex in every way compared to traditional pumps and thus more efficient.
However, they’re not suited for smaller aquariums. In fact, piston pumps are generally designed for very large aquarium setups that hold hundreds or thousands of gallons of water. Therefore, if you’re interested in aquarium air pumps for home use, there’s no need to put a piston pump on your list.
UL Rating - When You Should Consider it
There are many Non-UL air pumps on the market and a lot of them have an above average performance. But what is this UL rating everyone mentions but no one explains? – It’s simply an industry safety standard for cables and wiring required for certain devices that exceed a certain voltage rating.
The good news is that if you’re a small or medium aquarium owner, you don’t need to chase UL-rated air pumps. Pumps that run on low voltage and current are not at risk of catching fire, as compared to an air conditioner, for example.
Quality Pump Equals Healthy Fish
The air pumps have just as much to do with keeping the aquatic environment healthy as the air filters. Without a good pump, the water doesn’t get circulated enough to be entirely filtered, which leaves plenty of dead spots where unwanted bacteria can grow.
Buying the best aquarium air pump that you can afford should be a no-brainer if you truly care about your fish. You can skimp a bit on glass quality or buy cheap decorations, but you can’t afford to not get a powerful enough air pump for your aquarium. And, all things considered, there are plenty of good and affordable air pumps out there, so there’s really no excuse.