How To Use Air Pumps in Aquaponics (Tips and Tricks)

Air pumps are specialized equipment used to increase the gas exchange rate at the water’s surface. Proper aeration is one of the most important factors that influence the success of an aquaponics system and is vital to the survival of plants and aquatic life on your farm. Therefore, air pumps are widely used in aquaponic farming systems.

Here are the steps to follow to use air pumps in aquaponics:

  1. Make sure your equipment is the right size.
  2. Test how loud the pump is.
  3. Get the appropriate accessories.
  4. Install your pump and accessories securely.

Although air pumps are crucial, they’re usually overlooked when setting up aquaponic systems, which may affect the oxygen supply in your farm. The rest of this article highlights the role of air pumps in aquaponics, why they’re necessary for aquaponic farming systems, and the procedure to choose the right air pump for your aquaponic farm. Read on for more tips for using air pumps in aquaponics.

1. Make Sure Your Equipment Is the Right Size

The air pump you need should be the right size for your aquaponics system. For an aquaponics farming system that will use one air pump as its only source of aeration, the most efficient air pump model on the market is necessary.

However, even if you’re using multiple air pumps, you should still check your aeration level to ensure the air pumps are providing enough dissolved oxygen for your farm.

Air pumps come in a range of capacities, and the table below can help you choose the right one for your aquaponics system:

Volume of WaterOutput of Air Pump
Less than 26.42 gallons (100 liters)39.63 gallons (150 liters) per hour
26.42 to 52.83 gallons (100 to 200 liters)134.73 gallons (510 liters) per hour
92.46 to 184.92 gallons (350 to 700 liters)501.93 gallons (1900 liters) per hour
264.17 gallons (1000 liters)554.76 gallons (2100 liters) per hour

The type of air pump you need for your aquaponics farm may depend on the quantity, size, and type of fish in your system (more on that later in the article).

2. Test How Loud the Pump Is

After sizing the air pump, the next step is to examine the pump’s noise during operation. Noise can become a problem, especially if you will be running the air pump for extended periods, so you must purchase an air pump that doesn’t produce too much sound.

Air pumps’ noise comes from the vibrations they make during operation, but many air pumps on the market today are equipped with dampeners to enable them to function silently.

Make sure to test the air pump before purchasing it. 

3. Get the Appropriate Accessories

The accessories required for air pumps used in air pumps are:

  • Airline tubes
  • Air stones
  • Check valves

When purchasing an air pump, make sure to inspect the check valve and choose appropriate air tubing for the system. These accessories can help make the air pump system work efficiently, so take the time to select the best ones for your pump.

Make sure that all of your attachments match each other and fit snugly to get the most out of the pump.

4. Install Your Pump and Accessories Securely

You can get the help of a professional or install the air pump for your aquaponic farm yourself. The most important aspect of the entire setup process is to ensure that all the air pump accessories are securely fastened to prevent leaks and pressure drops.

Just be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions attached to the pump before you install the air pump.  

Follow the steps below to install the air pump for an aquaponics system:

  1. Take out all the fish in the tank.
  2. Place the air pump in the corner of the tank
  3. Attach the air stones to the airline tubing.
  4. Connect the check valve to the air pump.
  5. Ensure that the check valve isn’t cranked up and all the accessories are securely fitted.
  6. Start the air pump.
Schematic diagram of a deep water culture (DWC) aquaponic system

The Necessity of Oxygenating Your Systems

An aquaponic air pump ensures all life in your farm has plenty of oxygen by introducing air into your water tank or grow bed. An air pump directly infuses atmospheric air as bubbles into the system. 

The air pump system works more effectively with specialized media called air stones which help split up the bubbles even further into smaller ones, allowing more dissolved oxygen into the water.

An air pump provides oxygen to marine life and plant roots in aquaponics. The supplied oxygen results in an optimum environment for the ecosystem in your plant, delivering life-giving oxygen to fish, encouraging the growth of nitrifying bacteria, and preventing rot in the root of plants.

Air pumps use air pipes and air stones within the water tanks to pump air into the water, raising dissolved oxygen. Supplementary dissolved oxygen is a critical component of the nutrient film technique (NFT) and deep water culture (DWC) units. The air stones are at the end of the line, and their purpose is to distribute the air into smaller bubbles.

Tiny bubbles have a more extensive surface area than large bubbles, allowing them to release oxygen into the water more effectively, resulting in more effective and economic aeration systems. 

The availability of dissolved oxygen has rescued many aquaponic systems from a catastrophic collapse. In locations where power outages are common, it’s recommended to use air pumps with batteries

Air pumps are perfect for all sizes of aquaponic farming systems and are the easiest and most efficient way to ensure your farm gets enough oxygen. They come in various types on the market, and some are more suited for specific aquaponic systems than others. These pumps also come in multiple sizes, and it’s essential to know what your aquaponic farming system requires.

How Does Aeration Work?

In general, most fishes require about 0.0001lb/gal (5 to 12 mg/L) of dissolved oxygen to thrive, whereas plants need approximately 0.0001lb/gal (4 to 12 mg/L) for respiratory functions. In an aquaponic farm, an air pump relieves surface tension and enhances water circulation to achieve a high dissolved oxygen level.

Aeration is the process of inducing water movement in aquaponic tanks to produce a high dissolved oxygen content. This process satisfies an aquaponics system’s oxygen requirements by employing air pumps and air stones.

Although you can use water pumps or air pumps to induce aeration, an air pump is more effective for aquaponics. Aeration compensates for the shortage of oxygen caused by the decomposition of waste, the feeding of fish, and the biological processes of algae.

Since the water used in aquaponic farms must have a high oxygen content, aeration is an integral part of aquaponics.

Do You Need Special Equipment for Oxygen?

It’s typical for novice farmers to wonder about the importance of air pumps in aquaponic farming systems. Unsurprisingly, fish and plants require oxygen to survive, just like humans. 

Air pumps are necessary for aquaponics. Plant and aquatic life need more stable ecosystems to thrive and are affected by changes in temperature and oxygen levels.

Here are more reasons why air pumps are essential:

  • Pathogen control: Many harmful microorganisms thrive in habitats with little air. To avoid this, make sure your aquaponics system has enough dissolved oxygen.
  • Denitrification reduction: Aeration also aids in the removal of hazardous gases from denitrification. Denitrification will cause a reduction in the amount of food available for fish to eat.
  • Aquatic life energy optimization: Fish require dissolved oxygen from the water in the tank. Less energy is needed for respiration if there’s excess dissolved oxygen in the water.

If the dissolved oxygen levels were too low, aquaponics would fail. The biofilters’ beneficial bacteria require oxygen to thrive. Without these bacteria, the plants wouldn’t absorb the minerals they need.

Interestingly, an excess amount of oxygen won’t affect your aquaponics system, and it’s a good idea to increase the amount of aeration as much as you can.

The amount of dissolved oxygen in the water also decreases with increasing temperature. That means the summer months are necessary times to have air pumps in your aquaponics farm, as they carry the most considerable risk of fish fatalities.

How Do You Know How Much Aeration You Have?

Plants, like fish, need oxygen to survive and thrive. Although most people believe that plants only require carbon dioxide to grow, all plants require oxygen at their roots. That’s why sand or other soil additives are frequently used to create air holes in the earth so that the plant roots can access enough oxygen.

You can use a dissolved oxygen meter to measure aeration levels in your aquaponic system. Place the meter in the water and read the values. Values of 5 to 8 ppm are acceptable for aquaponic farms, and values below 4 ppm indicate that something’s wrong with your farm.

You may notice that the dissolved oxygen level varies from summer to winter. If you start an aquaponic system in the winter, make sure you have enough aeration to keep the dissolved oxygen levels healthy as the water warms.

To be safe, keep the dissolved oxygen level of your tank as high as you can (8 ppm or more). You can measure the dissolved oxygen level in your tank using an oxygen meter, which is precise and accurately reads the system in parts per million (ppm).

Importance of Water Movement

Water flow is necessary for maintaining life in aquaponic systems. Dissolved nutrients in the tank are removed as the water flows via the mechanical separator and biofilter toward the plants in their media beds or canals. The most immediate effect of stopping water circulation is a drop in dissolved oxygen and waste accumulation in the fish tank.

Air pumps are used to cycle water and promote water movement in aquaponic systems. The agitation of the water system is necessary for introducing dissolved oxygen into the tank and ensuring waste control in the system.

Fish in aquaponics can die if they don’t have a mechanical filter and a biofilter. If there’s no water movement, the oxygen levels in media beds or deep water culture (DWC) units will fall, and nutrient film technique (NFT) systems will dry up.

Reasons for Drops in the Level of Dissolved Oxygen

The dissolved oxygen levels in an aquaponic system can drop for various reasons. The good news is that the causes are usually quickly resolved and result from contamination or other aquatic or plant life invasions. It’s necessary to know what may cause the oxygen levels in your system to drop so you may compensate for it.

Here are some reasons the dissolved oxygen level may drop in aquaponics:

Algae Wreaks Havoc on the Aquaponics System

Algae are aquatic plants that don’t flower and are generally green in color. They can spread quickly and consume the system’s dissolved oxygen and nutrition supply.

The Air Pump Stops Working

If the principal aeration supply for your aquaponics system has been turned off, dissolved oxygen will begin to fall significantly.

The Air Stones Become Fouled

Air stones tend to become covered with moss and other debris as time passes. The pores in the air stone can get clogged due to the fouling, which may lower its capacity to function effectively, resulting in less dissolved oxygen in the water.

The Water Temperature Rises

The temperature of the water directly impacts the capacity of oxygen to dissolve in it. The warmer the water, the more difficult it is for oxygen to dissolve.

An Increase in the Fish Population

If the fish in your farm reproduce too quickly, they may begin to compete for the resources in the system. Therefore, the dissolved oxygen in the water will become a limited resource.

There Are Other Plants or Other Life in the Farm

Plants require oxygen, and more oxygen will be necessary as they mature or more plants are introduced to the farm. Invasive species, such as aquatic snails, can also be a problem in aquaponics.

How to Choose the Right Equipment for Oxygenating Aquaponic Systems

Here are the steps to choose suitable air pumps for aquaponic systems:

Determine the Oxygen Requirement of the Aquaponics Farm

You can calculate how much oxygen your system requires in proportion to the daily feed rate.

According to aquaculture literature, the optimal oxygen to feed ratio is 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of oxygen for 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of feed provided. You may, however, determine the amount of oxygen necessary for your aquaponics system on your own.

If you have 500 fish in your aquaponics farm and use 10 pounds (4.54 kg) of feed per day, the system will require 10 pounds (4.54 kg) of oxygen each day. As a result, the oxygen-to-daily-feed ratio is measured. In smaller aquaponic farms, you may get away with a 0.5-to-1 oxygen-to-daily-feed ratio.

It’s important to note that some plants might require impressive amounts of oxygen, so you must carefully apply the 1-to-1 ratio when setting up your system.

Size Your Equipment to Match Your Aquaponics Systems

For small-scale aquaponics, you need to put two airlines with air stones in the fish tank and one in the biofilter container. You need to monitor the rate at which air enters the system to calculate the size of the air pump. To measure the air in the system, use a flow-rate meter or set up a volumetric measurement system.

You’ll need a 67.63 oz (2 L) bottle, a cup, and a graduated beaker to set up a volumetric measuring system. Start a timer when the bubbling air stone is inserted into the measurement device. When the container is filled with air, stop the timer and determine the flow rate in volume per minute.

The suitable size for small-scale aquaponics systems described in this article is 135.26 to 270.51 oz/min (4 to 8 L/min) for all air stones combined. It’s usually preferable to have excess dissolved oxygen in your farm than too little.

Select Appropriate Instruments

The instruments required to set up your air pump in aquaponics are:

  • Air stones
  • Airline tubes
  • Check valves

Air stones are permeable stones affixed to the airline tube at one end. They aid with the circulation of air in the fish tank. After choosing an air pump, you’ll need to choose suitable air stones.

The air pump’s nozzle is connected to the airline tube. This device delivers compressed air to the fish tanks and grows beds. The tubing is composed of flexible plastic, which makes it easy to alter depending on the arrangement of the system.

Check valves are necessary to prevent water from being sucked back into the air pump. The system might fail or be seriously damaged if water is sucked into the air pump. Check valves should be installed when your air pump is below the elevation of your farm and tubing.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Aerators

Choosing a suitable air pump shouldn’t be a hassle. Many factors influence the efficiency of air pumps used in aquaponic systems, and you should be careful to consider all aspects when choosing an air pump.

Some of these factors may require that you tweak the condition of your aquaponics system, and the rest may require you to purchase an alternative air pump.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing air pumps in aquaponics:


Turbulence is caused by the flow of water across the system. Water circulates through the various components as it flows through the system. The water pump lifts the water into the tank, then it flows through the biofilters, plants, and grow beds and returns to a sink, where the cycle restarts.

Turbulence is the mechanism through which oxygen is dissolved in water. Rather than supplying oxygen straight to the water, air pumps create turbulence, enabling the oxygen to dissolve. Turbulence should be taken into account when choosing an air pump for aquaponics.

The Number of Fish in the Tank

The fish in aquaponics use up most of the dissolved oxygen in the system. The aeration requirements of your farm depend on the number of fish in the system. The density of the fish in aquaponics also increases as time passes because as they eat and grow bigger, their oxygen requirements increase.

If you notice fish swimming to the water’s surface, the water contains much too little dissolved oxygen for the fish to survive. If there’s not enough oxygen in the system for the fish in aquaponics, you can know it’s low for all life in the tank.

You may guarantee adequate turbulence for optimal aeration by using a suitably sized air pump.

The Size of the Fish Tank

You can estimate how much water is flowing in aquaponics based on the size of the fish tank. The size of the fish tank will determine what size of air pump to use and the maximum amount of life your system can accommodate.

The bigger the tank, the more life the system can support and the more air pumps you need for efficient aeration. 

The Number of Plants in the System

Plants respire, and this process involves oxygen. They use oxygen and emit carbon dioxide during aerobic respiration. Photosynthesis, on the other hand, consumes carbon dioxide to create oxygen.

The more plants in the aquaponics system, the greater their oxygen requirement to thrive. Plants, like fish, will expand in size with time, increasing their oxygen consumption, which should be accounted for when picking an air pump.

The Depth of Water in the Farm

The water’s depth will also influence the air pump size required for aquaponics. The deeper you place the air stones in the water, the more power is necessary to drive air out of the stone.

In certain circumstances, the air stones at the bottom of the tank aren’t required. However, placing the air stone near the bottom of the tank and providing additional aeration pumps up water and stops heavy waste from collecting at the bottom.

Value for Money

It’s crucial to get value for your money when purchasing any good. However, pricing shouldn’t be the only consideration for aquaponics air pumps. It’s necessary to compare the functions of the air pumps on sale and make sure you understand what your system requires.

Quality of Your Equipment

As with any piece of technology, you must ensure that the quality of the air pump is high enough to function in your aquaponics system for as long as possible. Take note of the build quality of the air pump and ensure to only buy high-quality air pumps for aquaponics use.


An aquaponics system wouldn’t be complete without air pumps. They promote healthier crops and guarantee that fish, plants, and microbes are safe.

The presence of an air pump ensures that your aquaponics system is operating at its best.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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