Aquarium Air Pump: 8 Things You Should Know (for Beginners)

Air pumps are one of the essentials when setting an aquarium. They are used to provide the type of similar oxygenation that fishes breathe in their natural habitats.

If you are new to fish keeping, you should be familiar with air pumps’ functions so you can choose the best based on your needs.

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How Long Should You Run An Air Pump In A Fish Tank?

An air pump in a fish tank should be running 24/7 or just in a specific period based on the size of your aquarium, the marine organisms you have, and the type of aquatic devices inside it.

As one of the top gears in your fish tank, you might be thinking about how long you should run your air pump.

The safety and wellness of the inhabitants in your tank are definitely your utmost concern.

The time of operation of your air pump depends on various factors. It can run 24/7 or just even at a specific time of the day, day or night, based on the needs of your fish.

If you want to turn off your air pump occasionally, make sure that your aquatic pets are capable of sustaining their breath while it is off.

First, your tank should be large enough making sufficient room for each of your fish to puff their needed oxygen. Running an air pump all the time is recommended if you have a small aquarium that is highly populated.

Next, you can turn off your air pump once in a while if your aquatic fishes are those that have the capabilities to breathe from the water surface such as bettas.

Lastly, if you have a strong filter that is dual purpose – it can also supply air in your aquarium, then you can turn off your pump.

What Is The Difference Between Air Pump And Water Pump?

The difference between an air pump and a water pump is their purpose. An air pump is used to increase the pressure which improves oxygenation while a water pump is designed to circulate the water in your tank and improve filtration.

An air pump is primarily used to increase the pressure by forcing air from the environment into your fish tank. This improves the oxygen level in your tank by using compression mechanisms.

Through the forcing of air, strong water currents are formed together with tiny air bubbles that hugely enhance the breathing of your marine pets.

It is basically supplying oxygen to your tank through airline tubing. The air pump assists in achieving a more reliable gas exchange inside your tank. 

As for a water pump, it improves the creation of currents that likewise helps in the aeration in your tank. It is pumping the water so it will circulate in every corner of your tank.

With the improved circulation of water, any stagnant area is prevented. This offers a more vigorous filtering system as the currents reach the skimmers, filters, and other cleaning accessories better.

An air pump is recommended for a 50-gallon tank and below while a water pump that is submerged is perfect for a 50-gallon tank and bigger.

Can You Use A Water Pump As An Air Pump?

Generally, you cannot use a water pump as an air pump as they have different operations and specific requirements. However, there are specialized water pumps that can do both pumpings of water and air.

Water pumps are using impellers to make water currents. Meanwhile, air pumps are created with a diaphragm-like structure that moves back and forth to run the air through a one-way pipe.

Water pumps are designed with the need for lubrication and they are being cooled down with the help of the water flowing through them. Thus, if they run without water, they may be damaged in a short while.

However, some water pumps are designed to be both functional for pumping water and air. So most likely, you can also expect that these specialized pumps are more expensive than the usual air pump and water pump.

What Is The Difference Between Air Pump And Filter?

The difference between an air pump and a filter is their purpose. An air pump is pumping air while a filter is used for cleaning the water in your aquarium.

From the word itself, an air pump is basically utilized to pump air for your tank’s water. This ensures that the fishes and other marine life in your tank are getting the right oxygen they need.

As for the filter, its primary purpose is to clean the water that your aquatic pets breathe. The usual wastes that need to be filtered are solid wastes (dirt and debris floating), dissolved wastes (organic compounds), and biological wastes (ammonia and nitrate).

Can An Aquarium Air Pump Overheat?

Yes, an aquarium air pump can overheat which can be caused by its poor quality, the environment, or maintenance issues.

Too much use of electrical equipment might lead to overheating, and your tanks’ air pump is not an exemption.

If it is running all the time, you must take extra measures to make sure it is always in great condition.

A sign that your air pump is overheating is when it is running then suddenly stops, then runs again, and then repeats the scenario.

Basically, air pumps are getting hot due to the friction taking place between their interior components while operating.

Primarily, the quality of your pump is one big factor in overheating. Low-quality products are usually getting hot faster and even producing loud noises.

The kind of setting you have in your home or backyard will affect your air pump. You can expect it to be hot if it is placed under direct sunlight exposure.

With the air pump becoming hot, the air it is releasing in your tank will be hot too. This will certainly increase the water temperature that can be fatal to your marine pets.

Your air pump can also overheat if its inside is dirty or some parts are quite damaged that need immediate replacement.

You can actually open your air pump to check if it has accumulated dirt or needs some new parts.

Can Aquarium Air Pumps Catch Fire?

Yes, it is possible for aquarium air pumps to catch fire. The fire can be caused by various factors such as lack of cooling, cord or plug damage, and others which can be usually observed on low-quality, cheap air pumps and to those that are unmaintained.

If you need to leave your aquarium air pump on at all times, one of your worries would be the possibility of the device making fire.

It is quite natural to be anxious with devices using electricity as they are the common starter of flame in a household.

When it comes to air pumps, these tank accessories can also catch fire if they are low quality or not properly maintained.

Yet, you should not get too anxious because air pumps will not be incurring fire right away. They are deliberately tested to ensure precise performance before releasing to the market.

Cheap air pumps are usually low-quality so before getting yourself one, make sure you are well-informed of the potential risks.

It is better to save a little more and invest in a high-quality pump that will give you peace of mind.

Yet, it is not just about the quality that you must consider as the reason why the air pump can catch fire; it is likewise concerning the maintenance you are taking to ensure safety.

Though you have a superior air pump, you must always check it to make sure there are no cord or plug damages where electric sparks usually take place.

Likewise, you must ensure your pump is getting enough cooling and not overheating, most especially if it is turned on 24/7. Too much temperature can lead to an explosion, causing a fire.

How Long Do Aquarium Air Pumps Last?

Aquarium air pumps can last 15 years or even more provided that it is of great quality and regularly maintained accurately.

Surprisingly, a well-cared quality air pump can last up to many years!  

First-rate air pumps have a longer life compared to those cheap ones in the market. First-rate means more expensive as you are paying for high-quality products that are designed to be efficient and highly durable.

Though you need to shell out more money upfront, you can expect that these products will last for decades if handled properly.

It is important to remember that buying a superior air pump does not guarantee its long life right away – taking extra care of it is the major key.

For your air pump to last up to 15 years or even more, regular checking is needed – always check the wires, plugs, and cooling.

You must not expose it to a high-risk environment such as too hot or too cold as it will impact its mechanical parts. Some are also not designed to be exposed to saltwater.

To ensure the lengthy lifetime of your air pump, you must be familiar with its specifications so you will know how to better take care of it.

There are lots of aquarium air pumps in the market which makes the decision-making for a new aquarist even harder regarding the best pump to get.

Here are the top 3 aquarium air pumps based on the feedback of the customers about their specifications:

  1. Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump for Aquariums (Non-UL) -this is the highest recommended all-around air pump for most aquariums.
  2. Tetra Whisper AP150 Air Pump for Deep Water Application – this is the most preferred air pump for large tanks.
  3. Marina Battery-Operated Air Pump – this is the best-seller battery-operated aquarium air pump.


Burke, A. (2009, April 16). How-aquarium-pump-work.

Grundfos. (n.d.). Impeller.

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