Do Fish Tanks Need Bubblers? The Answer Might Surprise You

I recently had a reader ask, “Do Fish Tanks Need Bubblers?”

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into bubblers, here’s what you’ll learn;

  • What is an Aquarium Bubbler?
  • What does a bubbler do in a fish tank?
  • Does my fish tank need a bubbler?
  • Benefits, pros and cons
  • Different types and brands
  • Common problems
  • Controlling oxygen levels in your tank.

So with that in mind, let’s begin.


Our Favorite Bubblers & Air Stones

What is an Aquarium Bubbler?

To answer the question do fish tanks need bubblers, let us first understand what a bubbler is and what it does.

First-time aquarium owners can easily get overwhelmed by the number of accessories available to them. Many even end up questioning whether or not they need a bubbler. Not all accessories and devices are necessary or essential; you should definitely look into some good Aquarium bubblers for your tank.

An Aquarium bubbler or an air pump is one of the devices that will help you create an ideal living environment for your tank’s inhabitants. It is a small device that uses an electromagnet to create vibration in the rubber diaphragm in the device.

The vibrations pressurize the air to move in and out of the device. The air from the pump escapes into the water, creates bubbles, and adds movements to the water. Thus the name air bubbler.

Many pumps come with a tube to ensure the bubbles are created throughout the tank. The bubbler’s aesthetic effect is pleasing to look at and plays an essential role in improving the quality of the tank’s surroundings.

Further Reading: Learn How to Select, Use, Install & Fix a Fish Tank Air Pump.

What Does A Bubbler Do In A Fish Tank? How Do They Work?

You can create a bubble by attaching a tube to any fish tank. Many believe that all it does is make the aquarium look more aesthetic, but that is not the case. While the bubbles are pleasing to look at, they perform two essential functions.

Aerate the water

Fish depend upon dissolved oxygen in the water for survival. You could have an excellent filtration system, but if you don’t have an air bubbler with an efficient pump system, your fish are at risk of suffocation as the gas exchange in the aquarium is bound to be low.

While the air bubbles generated do add oxygen to the water, the contribution is almost negligible. The primary way the water replenishes its oxygen levels is through the transfer that occurs at the surface. When the oxygen levels in the water drop, oxygen from the atmosphere makes its way into the water through gas exchange. However, the exposure is limited, and thus, the transfer is prolonged.

Air bubblers help create waves that add circulate the water, which is essential for increasing the tank’s oxygen content. You can even change the direction of the bubbler to ensure there is movement in the entire tank.

The bubbles initiate surface agitation, promoting water movement, and exposing more water to the atmosphere allowing for higher oxygen transfer. The higher the oxygen content, the happier the inhabitants of the tank will be.

Increase Water Movement

The bubbler disrupts the water and stimulates movement and flow, which improves circulation. Ask any Aquarium expert, and they can provide you a whole list of reasons why circulation is essential in fish water tanks.

With a bubbler, you don’t run the risk of the water becoming stagnant in your tank. Stagnant water can really stink up the entire tank, and you will have to clean it quite frequently. You can avoid the hassle by installing a bubbler, which is beneficial for the fish.

Adding a bubbler can help create the ideal environment for your fish. It adds movement to the water, which creates a gentle, steady flow that doesn’t disrupt the inhabitants and provides all the benefits.

How to Tell If You Need an Aquarium Bubbler

Setting up an air pump in an aquarium becomes an absolute necessity in some cases, while in others, it’s a matter of choice. But how do you know if you need a bubbler or not? Here are some scenarios where it becomes a must.

Your filter could also require an air pump to function correctly and others that can significantly benefit from their use. A corner filter or a gravel filter, in particular, require the use of air pumps to ensure the filtration system operates perfectly.

Some aquarium decorations require an air pump for them to operate as designed. Some plant and weed decorations recommend installing a bubbler to create ways to sway and create a natural look to the tank.

If you want to keep newts, shrimps, crabs, or frogs, you will need to ensure optimal circulation in the tank so these creatures don’t crawl out in search of oxygen. Here a bubbler becomes a necessity.

What are the Benefits of Using Bubblers?

There are two main benefits of using an air bubbler in a tank. It helps oxygenate the water through surface agitation, which improves circulation. The bubbles’ movement disturbs the surface, exposing an increasing amount of water molecules to the surface, allowing for higher gas exchange.

The circulation ensures the water doesn’t stagnate in the tank, which can help deal with many tank odor issues. Higher circulation levels in the fish tank allow for increased oxygen exchange at the surface, increasing the water’s oxygen levels.

It can even enhance the appearance of the tank. Bubblers come in different forms and add a decorative element to the tank while aerating the water inside. Some decorative bubblers can help mimic the natural habitat of fish, which keeps them happy.

Are There Cons to Using Bubblers?

Though a fantastic piece of equipment, bubblers do have some downsides to them. Besides the additional cost and the cost of maintenance, there are a few other cons that keep people from purchasing and installing them in their Aquariums. Here, we mention a few downsides having bubbles in the aquarium can help determine whether you need a bubbler.

The Bubbles are Visible

Bubbles do add an aesthetic touch to your fish tank, but they aren’t for everyone. Many aquarium enthusiasts find bubbles to be very distracting and prefer a fish water tank’s natural serenity. For those who don’t appreciate bubbles’ visual movement, a bubbler may not be the best choice of equipment.

Can Promote Salt Water Creep

If you have a salt-water tank, then the salt creep is probably your biggest enemy. Air pumps in fish tanks with salt-water can be challenging to deal with. They can drastically increase the risk of salt creep.

When the bubbler generates bubbles, it disturbs the water and increases water movement and flow. The water will reach surfaces it usually wouldn’t, including the side of the tank and the area around it. When it dries, it will leave a salt crystal layer that looks very unappealing.

The bubbler also produces bubbles that pop and splash water that can make maintenance significantly more challenging. Too much water movement in salt-water tanks means trouble for the person in charge of maintaining it.

Can be Noisy

Many bubbler machines actually generate a lot of noise, which can be off-putting for many. The bubbles alone create a substantial amount of noise, even if the machine doesn’t. Many people install Aquariums as they add a serene touch to the environment. Adding an air pump in a fish tank can be a distraction and an annoyance for many people because of the noise it generates.

What Are the Different Types of Bubblers You Can Buy?

There are many different types of bubblers available in the market. You can choose one based on the size of the bubbles you want or the decorative element you want to include in your tank. Here are a few bubblers that can add both beauty and functionality to your aquarium.


If you are looking for a cheap air bubbler, then air stones are the perfect option. They are available in various shapes and sizes and can be made from any porous material, which is why they are not very highly-priced.

The shape and the material of the air stones directly affect the size of the bubbles. The rougher the surface of the air stone, the bigger the bubbles. The finer the surface of the air stone, the smaller the bubbles. The flexibility it provides is why it is the most common bubbler in the market.

The Pawfly air stones make an excellent option for those looking for something functional yet economical. They are available in packs of 2 and can work wonderfully well for Aquariums of all sizes. If the fish tank is too big, you can always use both at the same time.

Bubble Wands

Bubble wands are essentially long cylindrical air stones. The only reason why they are called wands is because of their shape. Many aquarium owners prefer bubble wands over standard air stones as they can easily be installed on the bottom of the fish tank through suction cups and don’t float around.

The Yootop aquarium stone bar is an ideal bubble wand. Its long tube adds a different look than regular small bubbler stones. For larger aquariums, a tube suits better as it covers more surface area.

Flexible Bubble Wands & Walls

Bubbles come in all shapes and sizes, and the bubble wands and walls are proof of that claim. A flexible bubble wand can be curved and molded into various shapes to fit within different fish tank decorations and create numerous bubble patterns.

You can even use a bubble wall if you want a substantial amount of movement in your tank. Whether you add one horizontally or vertically, they make for a wonderful addition to the tank. The Aqueon flexible wand is a high-quality bubbler that you can look into if you want something a little more exciting than normal bubblers.

LED Bubblers

If you want to add a spotlight to your bubbles, then an LED bubbler is the perfect option for you. They are air stones with an LED light fitted in them. This compact device created beautiful bubbles and shines a light on them, which takes their visual appeal to a whole other level.

The TOPBRY LED Bubbler offers a high-quality bubbler’s advantages and comes with 16 different lights and four lighting effects to illuminate the bubbles in the water. It is also remote controlled and can provide a lot of functionality to those looking for something different to include in their aquarium.

Bubbler Ornaments & Decorations

If you are an aquarium enthusiast who likes to decorate, these ornaments and designs are worth looking at. Ornamental bubblers come in all shapes and sizes, including little volcanoes, treasure chests, and all types of rocks and stones.

In fact, you can even get miniature cities and archaeological ruins that all double as air bubblers. Usually, they all feature different air stones that they use to generate the water movement. Some come with complex mechanisms, so make sure you acquaint yourself with the device before purchasing one.

The Coral Starfish decorative Air Bubbler by Sunyiny can make for a wonderful addition to your fish tank. It adds a beautiful pop of color and is a powerful bubbler that can keep the water in the fish tank well oxygenated.

Common Problems You Might Face after Setting up Your Bubbler

The threat of maintenance issues is why many people spend a lot of time identifying whether they need a bubbler or not. They don’t realize that setting up a bubbler is a pretty straightforward process.

However, you may face some problems after you finish setting it up, especially if you are doing it yourself. The simplest way to avoid that is to get professional help if you aren’t confident in setting up the equipment. You can even run into problems if you have bought a low-quality bubbler. Such equipment is not durable and can give issues when generating bubbles from the very beginning.

Your Aquarium Bubbler Isn’t Working Properly.

If the bubbles are too weak, then you probably need to switch out your air pump. A weak air pump does not generate enough water vibrations to create big enough bubbles that render the equipment useless. Before you purchase one, make sure you have picked up a powerful enough air pump for your tank.

You Have Way Too Many Bubbles

If your air pump is too powerful, it can create too many bubbles that can be a problem. A lot of bubbles create more disruption in the water than is necessary. They harm the fish and the plants as well and can even cause unnecessary splashing, which increases maintenance workload.

For salt-water aquariums, in particular, too many bubbles can become a significant problem. The excessive splashing can create a salt creep not only on the tank but also nearby surfaces if the splashing becomes aggressive enough. You will end up spending a substantial part of your weekend cleaning the tank and the surface area around it.

The Bubbles Are Focused on the Base of the Device

Sometimes the device can leak, which results in the majority of the bubbles being generated near the base of the device. If you want to avoid this problem, we suggest investing in good quality bubblers as this problem is common in cheaper devices.

Even if it works perfectly fine after the initial installation, it is not durable enough to last long and break in a few days. You can try to repair the leak, but it would be best if you replace it with something more durable, so you don’t have to face the issue every few days and can peacefully enjoy the aesthetic presence of bubbles in your aquarium.

Does Your Tank Have Enough Oxygen and How to Tell?

The tank inhabitants’ behavior is the most significant indicator of whether your tank is well oxygenated or not. If you see the fish gasping at the surface, the water in the tank is running really low on oxygen, and you need to use bubbles or other means to increase oxygen levels in the aquarium.

They tend to stay near the filler output if oxygen levels drop. The filler output is the area that gets the most disturbance, especially in closed aquariums. If your fish seem to be hanging out near any opening in the tank, you need to take active measures to increase the tank’s oxygen content.

How Do You Oxygenate a Fish Tank Without a Pump?

You don’t necessarily need a separate air pump to aerate your tank via bubbles. Using a high-quality filter works just as well and is also essential for maintaining hygienic conditions in the fish tank. You can include various plants in the tank, and they work wonderfully well in terms of improving air quality in the aquarium.

Live plants, in particular, are an excellent source of oxygen for the thank inhabitants. You can even forego installing an air pump in a fish tank as long as you have ample plants. You can also use other equipment such as spray bars to agitate the water in the tank and ensure the tank is well-oxygenated. A decorative water wheel works well, too, if it is big enough.

If you don’t want to use any device or air stone, you can switch to a wide and shallow tank to expose more surface area to the atmosphere, and you won’t have to worry about oxygenating the tank ever again.

Can Fish Survive Without A Bubbler?

While a bubbler isn’t critical for your fish’s survival, it is an essential device that will help keep them healthy for a long period. It aerates the tank, ensuring the fish can breathe properly at all times. It adds movement to the tank, which keeps the fish happy because it stimulates a natural water body’s movement.

Though it isn’t essential for their survival, a bubbler goes a long way in creating the optimal environment for the fish. If you have crabs or shrimps in your tank, then we suggest you make sure you install a good bubbler, or they may crawl out in search of oxygen if the levels drop in the water.

If you don’t want to invest in a bubbler, you can also use live plants to achieve the same effects. However, with plants comes added maintenance that you will have to take care of.

Conclusion: Do I Need A Bubbler For My Fish Tank?

Whether you need a bubbler in a fish tank or not can be difficult to determine. The plethora of options available can make answering this question tricky. While live plants can help oxygenate the tank, they also increase maintenance work.

There are many devices and decorations that you can add to your fish tank. While not all of them are necessary, purchasing some may become too much for some starter aquarists to handle, but they do have their advantages.

We suggest that if you can, you should definitely invest in a good quality bubbler. It will help maintain ideal living conditions in the tank. It can oxygenate the water and generate movement that mimics the flow of natural water bodies, which can be very beneficial for the tank’s inhabitants.

Do keep in mind that there are different bubblers for salt-water and fresh-water aquariums. Because salt-water can be highly corrosive, the bubbler must be corrosion resistant to operate optimally in a harsh environment. You can use your salt-water bubbler in your fresh-water fish tank but not the other way round. If you want to include live plants, you must make sure your choice plant can survive in salt-water.

We hope this article helps bring clarity to all the confused first-timer aquarium owners. Whether you need a bubbler or want one, we have tried to provide all possible information to help you make your purchase decision.

Jack Dempsey
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