7 Ways to Aerate Aquarium Without Air Pump

Find the most effective ways to aerate your aquarium without resorting to an air pump. In this guide, you’ll discover the importance of aeration in maintaining healthy aquatic life. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of alternative methods for ensuring sufficient oxygenation for your fish.

aerate aquarium without air pump

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The seven best methods you can use to aerate your aquarium without an air pump are water movement, sponge filter, aquatic plants, powerhead, drip method, waterfalls or fountains, and manual air stones.

Water Movement with a Cup

One simple yet efficient method of oxygenating your aquarium without an air pump is through the Water Movement with a Cup strategy. This involves using a plastic cup or any container to scoop up some aquarium water and pouring it back repeatedly.

  • Start by carefully filling a clean cup with aquarium water.
  • Pour the water back into the tank, make sure to do so from a height to create significant disturbance on the water surface. As a guideline, you might want to pour from a height of about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm).
  • Repeat this process intermittently throughout the day.

The process helps create a rippling effect on the water surface. These ripples increase the water’s surface area, accelerating the gas exchange process, thus enriching the water with oxygen.

Though not as consistent as an air pump, this method is perfect as a short-term solution or for smaller tanks. However, ensure to do this carefully to avoid stressing your fish or causing water to spill out of the aquarium. Simplicity and cost-effectiveness are the key advantages of this method.

Power Filter with Air Flow

Certainty is paramount here. Power filters don’t just provide filtration for your aquarium but also significant aeration features. Usually secure in the aquarium’s back corner, a power filter helps to introduce air into the water. It handles this with the aid of a process known as the venturi effect. This essentially involves pulling air from the surroundings into the water when it is expelled.

Making use of the available internal motorized pump, the power filter pushes water to the surface. The water is forced upwards and into the air, which then forms cascades or small droplets. Upon their return to the aquarium, these droplets of water now rich in oxygen help to circulate air within the tank.

Now you might wonder, “How do I optimize this process?” There are ways to do this. Manipulating the water flow settings in your power filter can have an impact on the amount of air trade. A faster flow promotes greater aeration. Conversely, a slower flow rate can limit aeration.

Note that it is essential to monitor this. A high flow rate can stress some types of fish. Ensure you tailor your filter’s speed to the specific needs of your aquarium’s inhabitants.

The best part? Power filters are available in different sizes to cater to varied aquarium capacities. Correct power filter use can thus significantly enhance aquarium aeration without the need for a standalone air pump.

Aquatic Plants

One of the most natural and aesthetically pleasing ways to aerate your aquarium without using an air pump is by introducing aquatic plants. These plants enrich the water with oxygen, a process made possible thanks to something we all learnt at school: photosynthesis.

It’s this incredible process that fuels plant growth. Plants, including aquatic ones, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day. It’s nature’s own version of your aquarium’s air pump!

  • Elodea: This plant is admired for its rapid oxygen production. Its thin, feathery leaves provide the perfect hiding and breeding grounds for fish, and it can survive in varied conditions.
  • Hornwort: A nearly indestructible plant, hornwort is fantastic at oxygenating and does not require substrate to grow.
  • Dwarf Baby Tears: One of the best for oxygenation, it keeps the water fresh and healthy. However, it does require quality lighting and carbon dioxide to flourish.

Introducing these plants into your aquarium can significantly increase the oxygen levels, acting as a substitute for an air pump. However, it’s vital to balance the number of aquatic plants with the number of fish. Too many plants can absorb too much carbon dioxide and release an excessive amount of oxygen, which could cause large fluctuations in the concentrations of these gases – not ideal for your underwater community.

So, make the smart, scenic choice, and try out aquatic plants to bring a breath of literal fresh ‘air’ into your aquarium, in the process improving its overall health and creating a more enjoyable environment for the fish. The right aquascape could be the key to providing the optimal conditions. Remember, for best results, it’s always about achieving that perfect balance between fauna and flora, even underwater.


A powerhead is a water pump mechanism that you can fix inside your aquarium. The primary function of powerheads is to create water current, but they can also be used to increase oxygen in your aquarium water.

To use a powerhead for aeration, mount it in a way that the water output is near the water surface. Doing so may result in turbulence, which then promotes gas exchange between the surface area water and the air. The powerheads come in various sizes, fitted for tanks as small as 5 gallons (20 liters) or as large as 200 gallons (757 liters).

Keep in mind that powerheads can be too powerful for some types of fish. The key to using them is to balance the need for oxygenation with the tendencies of aquarium inhabitants. Avoid causing unnecessary stress to the fish.

It is also worth mentioning that the use of a powerhead can be combined with other aeration methods. This combo can create an excellent environment for your aquatic friends.

Pro tip: Try pairing the powerhead with an under-gravel filter to create impressive results.

In conclusion, using powerheads is an excellent solution for aerating your tank without an air pump. They come in various sizes and can be suitable for both small and large aquariums. Remember to periodically clean the powerhead to keep it functioning efficiently.

Drip Method

The Drip Method is an unconventional yet effective way of aerating your aquarium. Much like how rain oxygenates a natural body of water, you can emulate this phenomenon right in your tank. Here’s how you can use it:

First, begin by setting up a bucket above your aquarium. Find a location that is higher than the tank by about 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters). This setup will allow gravity to do the job for you. This higher position will ensure optimal flow of water.

Then, use a thin tube or a hose to connect your bucket to your aquarium. Fill this bucket with water and then adjust your tube to give you a slow drip, similar to how a leaky faucet behaves. This drip should not be a forceful stream. A rate of around 60 drops per minute is often ideal.

As the water dribs into your tank, it will generate disturbance. This disturbance triggers water movement which enhances gas exchange at the surface. As the water from the bucket drips into your aquarium, the constant splash will enable the bubble to suck in fresh air, promoting aeration in the tank.

Remember to adjust the drip rate according to the size of your aquarium. While the drip process is great at aerating, it can also lead to water overflow if your tank is small and the drip rate is high.

Lastly, ensure the water you add into the bucket is treated. If the new water differs significantly from your tank water, it could cause shock to the inhabitants, leading to health issues.

As out-of-the-box as it may seem, the Drip Method can be a highly effective solution when it comes to aerating your tank. It’s especially useful for those who prefer a more natural and cost-effective means to achieve the same purpose.

Waterfalls or Fountains

Incorporating waterfalls or fountains is an intriguing method to aerate your aquarium without using an air pump. For fish enthusiasts, installing mini fountains or waterfalls in their home fish tanks offers an uncommon aesthetic appeal along with functional aeration.

  • Implementation: The principle behind this rests in the movement of water. As water moves, like in a waterfall or fountain, it tends to increase the surface area exposed to air, improving oxygen exchange. Implementing this requires some knowledge of water dynamics. You can install a submersible pump toward the bottom of your aquarium which pushes the water upwards, simulating a mini waterfall or fountain.
  • Maintenance: It’s essential to keep the waterfalls and fountains clean and unblocked to ensure a continuous flow of water. Regular maintenance reduces the chances of microbial build-up and ensures the efficient aeration of your aquarium.
  • Benefit: The increase in water movement not only enhances aeration but creates an environment close to the natural habitats of many aquatic species.

There are a variety of fountains and mini waterfalls available in the market to suit different tank sizes and styles. While this method may demand a bit of investment and effort, the pay-off in terms of aesthetic enhancement and aeration efficiency make it well worth considering for any aquarium hobbyist.

Remember, the idea of using waterfalls or fountains to aerate your tank is primarily to increase interaction between surface water and air, thus enhancing oxygen absorption. However, it needs constant monitoring to avoid flooding or other technical glitches.

Manual Air Stones

Manually-operated air stones are viable alternatives when an air pump isn’t available. Air stones are compact, porous stones that allow air to pass through. When you blow air from above the water directly into these stones, they produce fine bubbles which enhance oxygen exchange, replicating the natural aeration occurring in rivers and oceans.

To use this method, you need a piece of air tubing and an air stone. Here’s how it works:

  1. Attach the air stone to one end of the tubing.
  2. Place the stone at the bottom of your aquarium.
  3. Blow air into the other end of the tubing (outside the aquarium), and the stone will produce fine air bubbles.

The smaller the bubbles the air stone produces, the better. Small bubbles increase the surface area for gas exchange, significantly enhancing oxygenation. But remember, although manual air stones are effective, remember they require consistent effort and may not be suitable for larger aquariums.

Manually operated air stones are a non-mechanical and cost-effective way to aid efficient oxygenation in your tank. They’re also useful when you need to aerate your water in emergencies, or when an air pump isn’t handy. However, the method does rely heavily on your effort, making it less desirable for larger tanks where the larger water volume demands more aeration.

What are the Main Benefits of Aeration of Aquariums?

Aeration of aquariums has several invaluable benefits. Primarily, it promotes the overall health and well-being of aquatic organisms. With proper aeration, oxygen levels are significantly enhanced, which is crucial for the survival of your fish.

Oxygen is not only necessary for fish to breathe. It also assists beneficial bacteria in breaking down harmful substances like ammonia and nitrates. Therefore, through aeration, you’re ensuring toxicity is kept at bay.

Moreover, a properly aerated aquarium experiences better and more effective water circulation. This is fundamentally important as well circulated water helps:

  • Prevent the buildup of dirt and debris.
  • Distribute heat evenly throughout the aquarium.
  • Nourish plants by evenly spreading essential nutrients across the tank.

Lastly, a well-aerated aquarium leads to a healthier, vibrant, and stimulating environment for the fish. It significantly improves their behavior, coloration, and breeding.

Aeration provides indispensable benefits. It ensures a cleaner, healthier, and more stable environment, promoting overall aquatic life and making your fishkeeping experience more rewarding.

What are the Problems Caused by Lack of Aeration?

Without adequate aeration, your aquarium could face numerous issues. Many aquatic organisms depend on dissolved oxygen to survive. Thus, a lack of aeration can lead to low levels of dissolved oxygen, creating a challenging environment for your fish and other aquatic life.

  • Insufficient Oxygen Supply: Aquatic lives breathe through gills. They extract oxygen from water, so when there’s less aeration, oxygen levels decline, making it harder for them to breathe and eventually leading to their death.
  • Poor Water Quality: Aeration plays a significant part in maintaining water clarity by stirring up the water and freeing trapped gases. A lack of aeration can lead to poor water quality, which can cause other health issues for your fish.
  • Altering pH Levels: Without aeration, carbon dioxide builds up in the water, resulting in a drop in the pH level and creating acidic conditions that can harm aquatic life.
  • Inconducive Environment for Helpful Bacteria: A lack of aeration leads to a decrease in the aerobic bacteria that help in break down waste products. Without these bacteria, waste builds up and becomes toxic for the fish.

Remember, a well-aerated aquarium supports the fish and other organisms, maintaining a clean, healthy, and vibrant ecosystem. Therefore, you should ensure that your fish have a sufficient oxygen supply and ideal living conditions. That can be possible through maintaining proper aeration in your aquarium even without an air pump.

Does Aeration Help with Water Oxygenation?

Absolutely, aeration indeed assists with water oxygenation. When you aerate your aquarium, you encourage the process of gas exchange. How does it happen? It’s quite straightforward.

This process takes place at the water surface. When the water circulates, it brings the deeper, less oxygenated water to the surface and allows it to come into contact with the air. Consequently, more oxygen gets absorbed into the water, enhancing the overall oxygenation.

Here are two key points to remember:

  • More Surface Movement: Aeration increases the movement of the water surface. It facilitates better oxygen dissolution into the water, providing your underwater friends with a well-oxygenated environment.
  • Better Gas Exchange: The exchange of gases (oxygen in, carbon dioxide out) gets amplified during aeration. The harmful gases are released into the environment effectively, ensuring cleaner and healthier water for the aquatic life.

No wonder aeration is crucial for your aquarium and choosing to go with or without an air pump doesn’t change this fact. As long as you follow the suggestions given, you’ll ensure a thriving environment for your aquatic pets. Remember, the key lies in allowing maximum surface exposure to atmospheric air, which in turn aids in proper oxygenation.


You don’t strictly need an air pump to aerate your aquarium effectively. With techniques like using a cup, power filters, aquatic plants, powerheads, the drip method, waterfalls, or manual air stones, you can keep your aquatic friends healthy and happy. What are your thoughts on these methods? Leave a comment and let us know.

Questions and Answers

Thank you for all your information,
I have a narrow dome 10 gallon with 6 fish and 1 bottom feeder, no live plants as this is my first tank. The waterfall filter is running and the heat is set to 77. I attached a battery pump to oxygenate the tank; however, I was affraid that when the batteries stop the pump will suck water out of the tank at night even though the pump box was placed above the water level. There is bubbles flowing down from the filter but Im concerned its not reaching the catfish. Most of all I’m worried about water flowing out of the tank if the pump ever stopped running. Please advise me on if the pump should be installed back

Pierre Pequegnat September 21, 2020 Reply

Hi Fabian,

Thanks for your article. I am a newbie, and started a 2.5 fishbowl (dirty, and fully planted) about 10 days ago. I have no filter; no aerator. I am concerned about the amount of air (O2 and CO2) in the water for the plants, as I am currently not doing water changes (i.e. still at Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0, Nitrates 0).

Short of doing water changes (which I don’t want to do until I get some Ammonia to start a cycle), I only see one solution in your article: pour some water from a height.

As a suggestion, I am going to give my wine aerator a try. It is a venturi tube and so it should enhance the amount of air infused. As my fishbowl is just 2.5 gallons, I am thinking that the SAE (Standard Aeration Efficiency) will be better and just a half gallon of fishbowl water cycled through the wine aerator would likely equate to at least a 20% water change, if not higher. The tube would also allow me to significantly reduce the height from which I had to pour the water into my shallow (dirty) fishbowl.

I tried sourcing some engineering papers online and there are some studies and white papers, but nothing that speaks specifically to wine aerators and their SAE efficiency (vs pouring water from a height).

The key question, which none of the documents address, is “using a Vinturi V1010 wine aerator (on amazon), how much air is added; and how much water (in percentage terms), and how often should one aerate a planted fishbowl with no ammonia.

Probably not worth the work to figure it out and the sooner or later I’ll know something. Either I get some ammonia and start water changes, or my plants die along with the way.

Given the difficulty that many newbies have with cycling, it’s surprising how little information is really available about what happens in small fishbowl tanks during the first few weeks of cycling.

Just thinking out loud.

Again, thanks for your article. I hope my suggestion of using a wine aerator helps your audience.



    Hey Pierre, thank you for your feedback! I never thought of using a wine aerator for any of my tanks, but it is a pretty cool idea.

Hi Pierre, my problem is this. I set up a new Flex 15gal tank about about 2 weeks ago and the water looked great so I added 2 fish as a test. 2 cheap Molly’s and they have always looked great. Approx. 2 days later the water turned unclear, not foggy or any color changes just not clear looking. I then tried adding some clear water liquid and after about 24hrs. the tank was crystal clear. Then about 24hrs. later the same thing happened again. I have added no more fish and am not over feeding. I have also kept the lights off and covered the tank. Should I try Vaccuuming the gravel ( I did do this when setting up the tank) and doing small water change or Vaccuuming the gravel again? The water is not tap water it’s non chlorinated bottled water. Any ideas on a proper solution? Thanks, Randy

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