Buying and Using an Aquarium Water Pump: Fish Tank Supplies

Learn About Aquarium Filtration and How To Choose the Best Pump for Your Fish

Anybody want to go for a swim in a pond of stagnant, sludgy water? No? Why, then, would we expect our fish to be happy in a tank with poor water circulation? Like its cousin the air pump, a water pump will help to create a healthy environment for your fish.

Read along and find out how to buy and use an aquarium pump (water pump), including choosing fish tank supplies.  Be sure to look at the end of the article where we'll explain the all important flow rate and head height.

  1. Filling up the fish tank and draining it as well. Aquariums periodically must be drained and filled back up. What better way to do this than to use an aquarium pump?
  2. Aquarium Filtration. Perhaps the most fundamental use of these aquarium pumps is to either move water into the filtration system, or to move the water back into the tank after filtration has occurred. The filter setup in your aquarium, along with the necessary flow rate and head height, will determine the kind of water pump you buy.
    • Aquarium water pumps can either be submersible in the tank (as with powerheads) or outside of the tank in the form of an in-line water pump. Submersibles make less noise and are typically easier to set up. However, in-line water pumps are capable of generating more powerful pumping than submersibles, and also will not heat up surrounding water as the submerged pumps unfortunately can (one clear benefit of being outside of the water). For pressure filtering systems, you should use an in-line.
    • For a wet/dry filter system, your aquarium water pump will be set up to move the water from your filter back into the greater volume of the tank. You can use either a submersible water pump or an in-line free-flow water pump. Once again, the in-line pump does not carry the risk of heating the water, and can even achieve a better flow rate. But you'll have to roll up your sleeves and be prepared for some installation fun.
  3. Protein Skimmers. In a separate article, we described how air pumps can be used to power a protein skimmer. Aquarium water pumps can serve the same purpose, but with greater gusto. Turbo and Venturi protein skimmers both rely on a water pump.
  4. Making healthy currents. It is important in any aquarium to avoid dead pockets of sluggish or no movement. In such places where water stagnates, algae will build up. Think of a swamp. Aquarium water pumps are often used to create currents and water movement in your aquarium.

    The ability to move water in aquariums has grown quite sophisticated over the years. Water pumps can be used to power wave makers, which can simulate ocean currents within your aquarium. Particularly if you have a reef aquarium, this feature is a vital investment; corals and saltwater invertebrate species depend upon this kind of water movement in order to feed and to get rid of waste.

As with other aquarium pumps, you can buy a water pump from pet stores and online. If you are just beginning as an aquarist, try to visit a local pet store where the staff can help you navigate the many options and make sense of the features and specifications of the water pumps. When you buy your aquarium water pump, consider the following guidelines.

  • Flow rate. Flow rate is the amount of water the pump will move in an hour (measured in gallons per hour, or GPH). The water in your aquarium should be turned over roughly four times every hour; if your tank holds ten gallons, for example, then you would have to buy an aquarium pump capable of sustaining a flow rate of forty gallons per hour.
  • Head height. Head height is the vertical distance from the pump to the highest destination of pumped water. Once you have figured out the type of water pump that will work with your filtration system, the head height and flow rate will determine whether or not one of these aquarium pumps will work properly in your aquarium.
  • However, when buying an aquarium water pump, it's always best to err on the strong side. Once you have bought your aquarium's water pump, you can adjust the flow rate in only one direction: down. To continue using the previous example, buying an aquarium pump with a 40 GPH flow rate at your head height will not be able to compensate for plumbing factors that can decrease flow rate of a pump. Instead of buying the aquarium pump that just satisfies your flow rate and head height needs, buy one that exceeds the requirements.


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