Does a Fish Tank Need a Bubbler?

Does a Fish Tank Need a Bubbler?

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Bubbles in an aquarium are a fun way to oxygenate the water, provide entertainment for your fish and create an idyllic aquascape. It will improve the living conditions for your tank’s inhabitants and help keep things clean.

But, does a fish tank need a bubbler? The answer to this will depend on the size of your tank, the general oxygen levels present and what kind of conditions your fish require. However, if your tank is 10 gallons or more that houses more than five fish, some kind of bubbler will be essential.

Aeration is an important component to keeping an aquascape. There are many ways to do this and a bubbler is just one method. This often comprises an air pump with a long plastic or silicone tube attached. You could also use an air stone but the filter can also serve to provide oxygen.

What Is the Purpose for a Bubbler in an Aquarium?

A bubbler increases oxygen levels in the water of an aquarium. This helps fish breathe, moves debris to the surface of the tank and helps maintain a healthy environment for your fish. But, it’s important to understand that the oxygen comes from water movement, not airflow itself.

The agitation provided by the bubbles creates extra oxygen when they burst at the surface of the water. There are three main purposes to using a bubbler:

  1. Water Aeration: Oxygen enters the tank from the water’s surface and dissolves into the water through an exchange of gasses. If the surface of your aquarium is still, less oxygen will be present. However, bubblers will agitate the stillness, which allows more oxygen into the tank.
  2. Water Movement: The movement of bubbles means there’s a steady water current within your aquascape.
  3. Water Purification: The motion of the water will naturally bring debris and other undesirable components to the surface of the tank. This includes bacteria, uneaten food and fish waste. It makes things much easier to keep clean.

What Are the Factors that Affect Water Aeration in an Aquarium?

In order for fish to thrive, they must have enough oxygen to breathe. This means you are going to have to be diligent in ensuring there’s enough for all your creatures inside the aquarium. You should take the following things into consideration to maintain and/or add oxygen to your tank:

  • Appropriate Lighting: If your tank is getting too much light, this can rob the tank of oxygen. Lower light levels allow more oxygen to flourish within the tank.
  • Eliminate Waste: Some fish waste in the tank can be beneficial to the nitrogen cycle. But, when you notice excess, you must remove it so algae blooms don’t take hold. This can lower oxygen in the tank dramatically and quickly.
  • Frequent Filter Checks: One of the key methods to maintain oxygenation in the tank is by ensuring the filter is clean and properly working. Clogging will lower the tank’s oxygen supply.
  • HOB Filters: Hang-off-the-back(HOB) filter is a special type of additional filter to release filtered water into the tank from the surface. The process provides the perfect amount of agitation.
  • Overstocking Fish: There cannot be enough stress put on avoiding overstocking fish into the tank. Too many fish means oxygen will lower to such a degree that it will not replenish adequately to keep up with their needs.
  • Plants: Plants are a great way to add fresh oxygen into the tank at all times. However, they have to have the right amounts of fertilizer and light on a regular basis along with pruning.
  • Proper Tank Size: Make sure your tank is roomy enough for all of its inhabitants, including plants. For instance, if you have four bettas in a 10-gallon tank, this is going to be too small and there won’t be enough oxygen. Larger tanks allow for better oxygenation from the surface.
  • Spray Bars: If your fish and/or plants like mists of water, consider getting a spray bar. These hookup to the filter outlet and cycle droplets of tank water back into the tank, which oxygenates it well.
  • Water Pump Powerheads: Many aquariums require a water pump and the powerhead is great for moving water and creating fresh oxygen within a tank.
  • Water Temperature: Warm water slows down and removes oxygen. So, you will want to attempt to go as cold as your fish and plants will tolerate. Use cooler water when doing partial water changes too since it’s fantastic for introducing fresh oxygen.
  • Wave Makers: If you want to create a true aquascape that best mimics your fish’s natural habitat, getting a wave maker is great for oxygenating an aquarium. It creates waves just like the sea or ocean while also dissolving much needed oxygen.

How Do I Know If I Need a Bubbler?


Before you go out and buy equipment to create a bubbler, you first should determine whether the tank actually needs it or not. Remember, too much oxygen can present its own problems if your aquascape has enough in it already. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your fish constantly gasping for air at the water’s surface or do they spend time nearer to the surface more than they should?
  • Do your fish hang out by the filter more than usual?
  • Do your fish appear lackadaisical or less active?
  • Are the gills on your fish moving more rapidly than normal?
  • Do your fish appear to be dying in combination with any of the other signs mentioned above?
  • What is the size of your tank and how many fish do you have?

Evaluating the Answers

If you see your fish struggling to breathe, chances are, you’re going to need a bubbler for your tank. Likewise, if you have many fish in a 10 gallon tank or larger, a bubbler is going to be a crucial aspect to keeping your fish happy and thriving.

The more fish you have in an enclosed space, the less oxygen is present in the tank. This is because fish take oxygen in through their gills and transform it into carbon dioxide simultaneously. When there are several fish injecting carbon dioxide at the same time, it lowers oxygen levels profusely.

Adding a bubbler into the tank will keep a steady flow of oxygen throughout the environment and remove excess carbon dioxide.

How Do I Know If My Tank Has Enough Oxygen?

It may be that your tank has enough oxygen and there is no need for an additional bubbler. Once again, the best indicator for this will be your fish. Observe their habits, behavior and if they are gasping for air. 

However, when in doubt, purchase an oxygen test kit for your tank. These test strips will give you an exact reading. You simply read the package directions and dip them into the water.

What Are the Signs of Too Much Oxygen in an Aquarium?

Your tank will show signs to indicate there may already be too much oxygen. Too much can be just as bad as not having enough. When there are bubbles sticking on the glass, filters, heaters, aerators or other equipment, it’s a sure indication of over-oxygenation.

Another one is when you notice dead algae in the tank. This is because oxygen kills algae whereas a lack of oxygen produces more algae. While it is good to kill profuse algae blooms, you have to be careful because it isn’t so good for fish.

If there’s too much, fish can succumb to a thing called, “lethal gas bubble disease.” The over-oxygenated water gets into their circulatory system, which creates painful air bubbles in their organs and tissues. This will eventually become visible in their eyes, fins and gills. It can cause heart problems, organ failure and even death.

Are There Any Downsides to Using a Bubbler?

While all the benefits seem desirable, there are some pitfalls with using a bubbler. If you have a huge tank, a bubbler will not be nearly as efficient as a powerhead from a filter or a water pump. In the case your tank is a saltwater environment, a bubbler can create salt creep.

Also, depending on how long the tubing is, pressure from airflow can get lost in the mix. This means the bubbler isn’t doing what you need it to. Plus, bubblers are famous for getting clogged along with frequent pinched hoses. Because the tubing is usually small and thin, they get funky quickly and you have to replace them often.

What Are the Different Kinds of Bubblers?

However, the kind of bubbler you choose to get will determine the issues that can occur. The list below details the different kinds of devices you can use in your fish tank as a bubbler:

  • Air Stones: Usually comprising porous materials like stone, sand, plastic, wood or lava rock, air stones come in a range of shapes, sizes, colors and functions. The size of the bubbles it produces will depend on the size of the pores within the stone. The more fine the surface, the tinier the bubbles will be.
  • Bubbler Ornaments: Bubbler ornaments are tank décor that serve a dual purpose. They can come in the form of angels, sunken treasure chests or volcanoes, for example.
  • Bubble Wands: For an air stone in the shape of a wand, bubble wands are very convenient. They create a wall of bubbles and you can move it around as frequently as you like. These often have suction cups that keep it in place and are easy to remove.
  • Bubble Walls: This bubbler comprises silicone or rubber which you can twist, spread out, coil or form into whatever shape you want. It creates an artistic effect in the tank, which is practical and beautiful.
  • LED Bubbler: If you want bubbles to light up, an LED bubbler adds a little pizzazz.

What Is the Recommended Care ; Maintenance for Bubblers?

If you use an air stone variety of bubbler or one with soft, clear tubing, it’s going to get clogged at one point or another. This means you have to clean, care for and maintain this little piece of equipment so it doesn’t create a bacteria explosion in your tank or prevent oxygen from flowing within it.

How to Clean the Bubbler

To clean your air stone or other bubbler, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. But basically, you’ll use a small bristled brush, like a new toothbrush or narrow bottle cleaner. Gently scrub away all the debris and unclog any pores of the stone. Rinse it off with water that’s similar to but separate from the tank.

Replacing the Air Stone/Bubbler

Depending on the size of the air stone and the mineral makeup of your tank, you may have to replace your air stone around every month and a half. Pay attention to the air stone and its behavior after putting it back into the tank. If the bubbles aren’t as active as they were before, it’s time to buy a new one.


Are Bubblers Good for Saltwater Tanks?

Bubblers are great for saltwater aquariums. But, due to the salt creep that can happen with frequent clogging means you have to clean the bubbler often. Those little bubbles pop at the surface and bring with it salt. Once this dries, it will leave little spots of salt crystals everywhere and this can be difficult to keep clean.

What Is Salt Creep?

Salt creep is how water splashes out of a saltwater aquarium. When it lands on a surface and dries, it leaves behind stubborn, caked-on crystals.

How Do You Prevent Salt Creep?

Having a good cover over the spot where the bubbles come to the surface is the best way to prevent and control salt creep. Anything that splashes outside of the tank, you have to wipe up immediately to stop any unnecessary buildup of crystals.

Can Chemicals Affect a Tank’s Oxygen Levels?

Water conditioners, salination solutions and even pharmaceuticals can all affect your aquarium’s oxygen levels. This is why it’s imperative you read every product label thoroughly and use them properly to prevent this from happening.

When Wouldn’t You Need a Bubbler?

If you have a tank that’s less than 10 gallons and/or only have one to three fish, there shouldn’t be any need for a bubbler. The fish should get all the oxygen they need from your regular water changes as well as the filter. Therefore, only large tanks with plentitudes of fish will benefit from incorporating a bubbler.

Should You Use Soap to Clean a Bubbler?

Never use soap to clean any equipment in your tank, especially bubblers of the air stone variety. As a matter of fact, never use any chemicals not appropriate to keeping the tank clean. Don’t things like bleach, hydrogen peroxide or other foreign substances.

Can You Use an Old Toothbrush to Clean a Bubbler?

Never use an old toothbrush to clean your bubbler. Always buy one new that you reserve specifically for cleaning the tank. This is because the germs and bacteria from your teeth attach to the bristles of the brush and this can adversely affect your tank and its inhabitants.