What are Aquarium Pumps?

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  • Written By: Di L.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Aquarium pumps are devices that are used to maintain the health of an aquarium and its inhabitants by providing water circulation and oxygenation. The pump is often a small device which is hooked onto the outside of the aquarium, but it can also be submerged. External pumps tend to be more powerful and will not heat up the surrounding water, while submerged aquarium pumps must be monitored for heat generation. The size and power of the pump is directly proportional to the size of the aquarium, as well as the amount of water that it contains. A larger tank requires a more powerful pump to circulate water at the same rate as a smaller aquarium equipped with a less powerful pump.


The entire body of water of your aquarium should be passed through the pump, or “turned over” several times per hour. The actual frequency depends on the type and density of organisms you plan to keep in your tank. This movement of water is measured in gallons per hour, or GPH, and is an indication of the power of aquarium pumps. If your tank holds 20 gallons of water, and your setup requires a turnover rate of 5 times per hour, you will need a pump rated at 100 GPH. Systems containing coral reefs and certain invertebrates generally require more powerful aquarium pumps, since many of these organisms use the natural current in their feeding cycles. It is often favorable to use two smaller pumps for a large tank because they provide your aquarium with some backup water pumping, should one of the pumps break down.

The water that is circulated through aquarium pumps should be passed through a filtration system. This is essential to keep the water clean from any waste produced by the organisms, decaying organic matter, and physical particles like dirt. The two most important types of filters used with aquarium pumps are the biological filter and the mechanical filter. The biological filter is actually composed of bacteria that grow and settle in the tank and the filter and remove harmful byproducts of organic waste decomposition. In this kind of filter, the surface area is most important. The mechanical filter removes debris from the water, keeping it clear and preventing anything from clogging up the biological filter.

It is necessary for any closed aquarium to have an aquarium pump, in order to avoid pockets with no water movement, where algae and harmful bacteria will grow and damage the fish and plants. Selecting the right pump and filter for your aquarium may seem like a daunting task at first, but with the right amount of research, anyone can make a good choice and benefit from seeing their aquarium grow and thrive.


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