Powerheads: 11 Important Questions You Should Know

If you are just a new marine life enthusiast and still trying your best to make the most appropriate aquarium for your aquatic pets, you might wonder what else you still need aside from the usual basics.

Your fishes are blissfully swimming in the tank that you have set, but suddenly you remembered the swirling and flowing water in the ocean, river, or lakes. How can you replicate these movements?

Powerheads are the answer for this recreation of water movement. But, are they really necessary?

Are Powerheads Necessary?

For most tanks, powerheads are necessary to imitate the natural water movements which are essential for the aquatic creatures’ survival in an aquarium. The water currents help in better oxygenation, heat circulation, sanitation, food, and exercise of your tank inhabitants. Yet, there may be instances where powerheads are not required and it is up to the owner whether to improve or not the health of the tank.

To survive in captivity, your marine creatures should comfortably live in an aquarium that replicates their natural living environment.And, water flow is one essential thing in the natural habitat of fishes and other aquatic organisms.

Without the suitable currens of water, they will not be able to live for a longer period in your tank. They will not fully achieve the kind of life they have in the bodies of water that supports their health and wellness.

The water in your aquarium should be circulating so treatments and heat will be distributed in every corner. The quality of water will get better if there are more water rotations.

With powerheads, there will be better oxygen transportation in various parts of the tank which is more helpful than the bubbles coming from air stones.

Likewise, various foods of the aquatic organisms will be transported which is highly essential for those that cannot move around to look for food.

Lastly, the strong current of water offers a way of exercise for the fish. The majority of fishes love to play and swim by the current which is great for their health.

Are Powerheads Loud?

Generally, powerheads are not loud. However, they may cause noise that could worry you if they are not installed properly, clogged, or even defective.

Unusual sounds from your aquarium such as loud noises or too much vibration will bother you, of course! These can be only coming from the devices you have put inside your tank.

Some aquarists’ common concern when it comes to noise is their loud powerheads.

If they are experiencing this problem, then they might have inappropriately situated their powerheads or these are simply damaged products that need to be returned.

Powerheads should not make any noticeable sounds as they are constructed that way. Most of the powerhead brands are silent that you would not hear them at all.

There should be no loud noises or vibrations as long as your powerhead is fixed securely to the most appropriate part of your aquarium.

Likewise, your powerhead should work fine and silently if it is well-maintained. You should regularly check its cleanliness as some unwanted materials may intrude in the impeller area that can restrain the water movement.

If your powerhead accumulates lots of dirt, then it may get defective due to overheating, regardless of whether it is pretty old or just a few months old.

Usually, the powerhead is not to be blamed for the loud sound, rather the air pump, protein skimmer, and power filters that produce noises.

Is A Wavemaker A Powerhead?

No. A wavemaker is not a powerhead as they are two different devices used in recreating the natural flow of water in varying manners. Wavemakers circulate the water back and forth while powerheads only circulate one part of the water.

Water movements are recommended to generally improve the wellness and spirit inside your aquarium.

You can achieve this by using either a wavemaker or a powerhead. These devices are used for imitating the movement of bodies of water in your fish tank.

Some may think that they are just the same, but they are not. A wavemaker and a powerhead are different from each other.

What’s the major difference between them?

A wavemaker forms currents with more circulation as they are outspread better compared to a powerhead that only directs waves in a single straight direction.

A powerhead may endanger the lives of your tiny, sensitive fishes as the waves it is producing are quite stronger compared to a wavemaker. It also uses more energy which means you can expect a higher electricity bill.

As for the true wavemaker system, it is composed of a powerhead, controller panel, and power supply. This simply means that a wavemaker is better than a powerhead as it can provide more current to every part of huge tanks.

New fish owners and those with a limited budget and a limited space might begin their course with just one powerhead. Eventually, they can add a suitable controller if they are capable already or want a personalized set-up.

However, a wavemaker may be noisier than a powerhead which is only one of its drawbacks.

What Is The Difference Between A Powerhead And A Circulation Pump?

The difference between a powerhead and a circulation pump is their flow. A powerhead moves water in high velocity but just in a single straight direction or just a small area in the tank. Meanwhile, a circular pump moves water at a slower velocity but it is spreading the current over a wide area.

A powerhead and a circulation pump are often thought of as just the same tool; they are used interchangeably by some who lack full knowledge about them.

Yet, the simple truth is that they are different. Do not think too much about their variation as it is only about their type of flow.

Powerheads can pump water strongly due to their high velocity. They are recommended if you want concentrated pumps of water in a single part of your tank.

As for circulation pumps, they cannot pump as strongly as powerheads but their water flow can spread out over different areas, not just in a single part.

Many prefer circulation pumps for a wider movement of water which is perfect for large tanks as well. They will not cause any unwanted blasts to fishes which can even stress them out, especially the small ones.

Can A Powerhead Be Used As A Pump?

Yes. Some powerheads can be used as a pump while others are not suitable to be a replacement.

Commonly, powerheads do not meet the required size to be used as a return pump since they are pretty small. They are also not strong enough to perform the tasks of pumps inside the fish tank.

However, some powerheads are designed to be smaller pumps such as the Maxijet Powerhead and the Rio Plus Aqua Pump/Powerhead. These powerheads feature some specifications of pumps which makes them very flexible and convenient.

Do Cichlids Like Powerheads?

Yes. Cichlids like powerheads as they love swimming in the current. Just be careful to ensure that the water movement caused by the powerhead is not so strong and the cichlids are not tiny as they may be stressed out.

Either you are just a beginner or even an expert already when it comes to fish, the mesmerizing appeal of cichlids will surely hook your attention.

Just like other types of fish, cichlids are also used to water currents in their natural habitats. With this, cichlids in captivity should also enjoy the water movements that will help them have a healthier and happier life.

However, it is important to note that powerheads may be so powerful that they may compromise the safety of cichlids, especially those small ones.

If you plan on using a powerhead with your cichlids, they must be big enough to fully enjoy the benefits of the device; otherwise, they will just be thrown on the other side of the aquarium.

This might cause great stress to them. They will just be huddling on one side where there is less water pressure. Thus, they will not relish their daily life, certainly, as they are constrained from free movements within the tank.

Should I Turn Powerheads Off At Night?

No. You should not turn powerheads off at night as the appropriate water circulation in your aquarium during night time is likewise important during day time.

You might wonder if you should turn off your powerheads at night. Perhaps, you have read or heard that these devices may produce more heat which might have negative effects on the creatures inside your aquarium. Thus, you want to minimize this risk while still acquiring the benefits of the device.

Or, you might want to save electricity since powerheads are using more watts. Turning them off at night can save you some bucks which you can spend on other important things.

However, it is recommended to retain the operation of your powerheads even at night. This is because the circulation of water and the oxygen level in your fish tank needs to be maintained also in the evening.

Additionally, one important thing that you should not set aside is the need for your fish to live in a constant environment. The turning on and off of the powerhead at night and in the morning can make a quite unstable setting that can cause uneasiness to your aquatic creatures.

Should I Leave My Powerhead On All The Time?

Yes. You should leave your powerhead on all the time as the creatures in your aquarium need constant water movement for their breathing, diet, and exercise 24/7.

Should you always turn on your powerhead, like every day without turning it off?

The answer is a plain YES. Yes, you should leave your powerhead on all the time as your tank inhabitants need regular water flow for their wellness.

Powerhead provides more benefits than you might ever think. The water currents that it replicates from the ocean are a staple requirement in your aquarium. This offers your aquatic pets a living environment that is very alike to their natural habitat.

Turning the powerhead all the time can assist in better oxygenation in your tank. Likewise, it also helps your fishes and other creatures to supplement their food. Water current also stimulates your pets’ activities, helping them to exercise.

All these show the advantages of turning the powerhead at all times as the health and well-being of your marine inhabitants must be sustained consistently.

Do Reef Tanks Need Powerheads?

Yes. Reef tanks need powerheads as their inhabitants need a special water movement to maintain gas exchange, cleanliness, and nourishment.

A consistent flow of water is needed in a reef aquarium as some of the living organisms in it cannot roam around and look for food on their own.

Examples of these organisms are the corals and various invertebrates that feed through filtrating their food. Powerheads are important as the water flow takes plankton and foods to them.

Another benefit of powerheads for reef tanks is the washing away of wastes from the corals which keeps them clean and healthy. These wastes will be easier to be gathered by protein skimmers with the help of the current.

Water current helps in flushing natural debris on rocks which can suppress bacterias that are helpful for the living organisms in the reef tank.

How Many Powerheads For 20, 55, And 150 Gallon Tanks?

The powerhead you need for a 20-gallon tank is one large-sized powerhead or two smaller powerheads. For the 55-gallon tank and 150-gallon tank, you can put three or more units of regular-sized powerheads based on the water circulation that you need.

A 20-gallon tank may need one large powerhead or two small powerheads installed at the opposing ends of the tank.

For 55-gallon and 150-gallon tanks, more powerheads are needed as they have larger areas to cover. The powerheads should be positioned in different areas to have wider water current. The required number depends on the circulation you need and the kind of aquatic organisms you have.

If you are looking for the best powerheads, you should check the products of the renowned companies in the market. Some of the commended powerhead brands known for high-quality, durable products are Hydor, SunSun, AquaClear, Marineland, Cobalt, and Rio.


Crystal Clear Aquariums. (2020, September 22). Aquarium sizes and weights. https://ccaqua.com/products/aquarium-sizes-and-weights/

Hauter, S., & Hauter, D. (2019, November 18). How does a protein skimmer work in your aquarium? The Spruce Pets. https://www.thesprucepets.com/what-is-protein-skimming-2925328

75 Gallon Tank: 22 Things You Should Know (For Beginners)