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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Aeration Keeping Your Fish Healthy Through H2o Maintenence

Aeration-Keeping your Fish Healthy Through H2O Maintenance


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In order to maintain a tank of healthy fish, the water must contain oxygen. The process in which oxygen is introduced into the water is known as aeration.

In order to maintain a tank of healthy fish, the water must contain oxygen. The process in which oxygen is introduced into the water is known as aeration.

Fish "breathe" through their gills. They use their gills to extract oxygen from the water that's then used and converted into carbon dioxide (just like humans) and then discharged back into the water. To ensure that there is sufficient oxygen in the water for the fish to "breathe", the carbon dioxide needs to be replaced by oxygen. This process is commonly referred to as "gas exchange" and is generally done by aerating the water. A good aeration system is essential to a healthy aquarium.

Aeration is accomplished by breaking the surface of the water or by creating turbulence in the water. It can be accomplished in several ways. Many aquariums are aerated using the turbulence created by the pumping action of a power filter or canister filter and the water falling back into the aquarium. Others use a powerhead with an undergravel filter to pump water across the surface of the tank.

Air Pumps
Another common method of aeration is to use an air pump to introduce air bubbles into the water, either with an undergravel filter system or solely with airstones. While both methods involve airstones, in an undergravel filter the introduction of air bubbles into the water creates a current which draws water through the undergravel filter bed and up through a lift tube to the water's surface. Airstones used without an undergravel filter typically provide supplementary aeration to that provided by a canister or power filter.

Selecting an Air Pump
When selecting an air pump, there are two primary considerations - size and power.

  • The size of the air pump depends on how much air you need to produce for your aquarium. If you plan to use extra air outlets, such as with action ornaments, bubble walls or decorative air stones, then you should consider a larger air pump. Larger pumps also generally have more outlets, thus alleviating the need for gang valves.
  • When using an air pump with a tall (deep) tank, you should select a larger air pump or an air pump designed for deeper tanks. The deeper the water, the more pressure, and thus the harder the air pump has to work to force air through the airstone and into the water

Airstones are an important part of creating a good aeration system in your tank. Air from the air pump passes through a submerged block of porous material. This breaks up the airflow and produces tiny bubbles, which rise to the surface, breaking the surface tension of water.

Airstones should be routinely changed and cleaned. A clogged air stone will create backpressure, which will shorten the life of the air pump. To test it, simply blow through it. If you can't easily blow through the air stone, neither can the air pump.

Check Valve
A check valve is a small simple device that is attached to the airline tubing, allowing water to flow in only one direction. It prevents water from siphoning out of the aquarium and flowing backwards into the air pump in the event of an electric power failure.

Gang Valve
A gang valve allows the airflow of one air pump to be divided out into many air lines (for example, one for an undergravel filter, one for an action ornament, one for an air stone, etc.). Brass valves are slightly more expensive because they last longer, are easier to adjust and are less prone to air leaks.

The airflow of each valve can be adjusted individually on the gang valve. These generally come in two, three, four, and five-way valves. By using a gang valve, you don't need to have a separate air pump for each filter, air stone, action ornament, etc.

Airline Tubing
Airline tubing is the clear plastic flexible tubing that runs air from the air pump to the aquarium. It's always a good idea to buy extra airline tubing because you'll need it to hook up any airstones, underground filters or action ornaments.

Tubing comes in both extruded plastic and silicon tubing. Silicone tubing is slightly more expensive because it lasts longer and is more flexible. Extruded plastic tubing is stiffer and tends to yellow and crack with age.

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