Do Goldfish Need An Air Pump?

If you have a goldfish, which you probably do because they’re popular in a home aquarium.  When you’re at the pet store, you see all these air pump for sale.  If they are selling it,  you may think your goldfish needs it to survive.

Do goldfish need an air pump? No, goldfish do not need an air pump to survive. Most fish tanks will either be equipped with a power filter or canister filter that agitates the water enough to produce plenty of oxygen for the goldfish.

However, there are some situations where it may be necessary to add an air pump to the goldfish tank.  If you’re wondering when you may need it, keep reading.

What Does An Air Pump Do In A Fish Tank?

An air pump in a fish tank has many purposes. One basic function of the air pump is to supply air into the fish tank. This is done by forcing the air, through mechanical means, from the atmosphere into the aquarium.

By forcing air into the water, it creates water motion with the rising bubbles. As the bubble rises to the surface of the water, carbon dioxide and other gases are released into the air and oxygen is exchanged into the water.  This provides the goldfish with oxygen to breathe.

Besides providing the needed oxygen for the goldfish to survive, it also has other purposes in the fish tank as well.  Below are other purposes that an air pump does in a fish tank.

Air Pump Increase Surface Area

An air pump increases the surface area of the water by agitating the surface water.  As the surface water is agitated, oxygen is allowed to enter the water by way of gas exchange.

The gas exchange will occur at the surface of the tank. When carbon dioxide and other gases float up and released into the air, the oxygen from the air gets pulled into the water.

As the air pump is pumping air into the aquarium, it’s creating bubbles. The more bubbles it creates, the larger the surface area of the water will be. This will allow the aquarium tank to release more carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide and other gases that are being released, the more oxygen that gets taken into the water.

Air Pump Provides Water Circulation

Having an air pump in the goldfish tank can help improves circulation.  It does this by moving oxygenated water from the surface to the bottom of the tank.

Carbon dioxide and other gases usually stay at the bottom of the tank.  So with an air pump, it will push the gases up to the surface of the tank where it can release carbon dioxide and other gases and exchange for oxygen.

Air Pump Used For Aquarium Decorations

For decoration purposes, an air stone is added to the fish tank, powered by the air pump. When the air pump pumps air to the air stone, a beautiful flow of tiny bubbles will rise to the top.

Besides just the air stone used for decoration purposes, there are many other different types and shapes of decorations that have an air stone in them too.  They function all the same and will need an air pump to work correctly.

One example that you might see often is the popular treasure chest decoration.  This decoration uses an air pump to open and close the treasure chest.

Inside the treasure chest is an air stone and as the air pump is pumping air into the air stone, it releases bubbles of air that open the treasure chest.

Air Pump Power Filter Equipment

One filtering equipment that uses an air pump to function is the sponge filter.  Water is usually pulled through the filtration mechanism via an air pump.

When the air pump is turned on, water rush into the filter and causes air bubbles to float up from the pump. The floating bubbles will then lift the water up and out of the life tube that is attached to the filter.

The sponge filter will trap fish waste, solid debris, and uneaten food that’s carried in by the water.

Another filter type of equipment that uses an air pump to function is the undergravel filter.  It operates just like the sponge filter does at filtering the water, except the undergravel filter equipment is placed under the aquarium gravel.

Both the sponge filter and undergravel filter uses an air pump, but when it comes to which one to choose for your goldfish tank, it will depend on how the size and shape of the aquarium.

When Do Goldfish Need An Air Pump?

There are times when it’s necessary to put an air pump in the goldfish tank.  The more oxygen the goldfish have access to, the healthier and longer they will live.

A lot of Fish In The Same Tank

The more fish that is in a tank, the more oxygen that’s needed in the tank.  The size of the aquarium should dictate how many goldfish and other fish should be in the tank.  For most people, the more fish they have in the tank, the more beautiful the entire aquarium is.  While it’s true, more fish gives the aquarium more, it can also do a lot of harm to the fish.  When there’s not enough oxygen for all the goldfish and other fish to breathe, it will start causing health issues for them.

It’s not recommended to overcrowd the fish tank with fish as it could cause them stress.  However, if you still insist on overcrowding the tank with goldfish and other fish, an air pump is necessary for all the fish to survive.

Summer Months

During the summer months, the weather is usually warm to hot.  When no one is home, most people will turn the air conditioning unit off.  When this happens, the room temperature will begin to rise and get hotter and hotter.  The aquarium water temperature will start to rise as well.  When the water temperature goes up, this is where the problems begin for the goldfish.

The warm temperature will usually deplete the oxygen in the water.  Goldfish need oxygen to survive and where there is a low oxygen level, they will start to have trouble breathing.  When this happens, you’ll start to see the goldfish gasping for air at the surface.

This is when it’s a good idea to add an air pump to help the goldfish breath.

Small Tank

The smaller the fish tank, the smaller the surface area of the water.   Less surface area will not be enough for the aquarium to exchange gases for oxygen.  This is especially true for the fishbowl.

The larger the goldfish the more oxygen it will need.  This is why it’s not recommended to put a large goldfish in a fishbowl.

While some people like to put aquatic plants in the fishbowl, the plants won’t be able to supply ample oxygen for the goldfish to live a healthy life.  This goes the same for small aquarium tanks.

Whether you have the goldfish in a small tank or a fishbowl, to make sure the goldfish is getting plenty of oxygen, add an air pump to the tank.

Why Are My Goldfish Gasping For Air At The Surface?

When there is a lack of oxygen in the water, the goldfish start to gasp for air at the surface.  When you see this, this is a sign they are in distress and need immediate attention.  If this continues, it will result in the goldfish dying due to a lack of oxygen.

Lack of oxygen is usually caused by something depleting the oxygen from the water. There could be a lot of things contributing to the lack of oxygen in the water.

One factor that contributes to a lack of oxygen in the water is overcrowding. When there are too many fish in the tank, all the fish will be competing for the same air supply. This results in a low oxygen level in the water.

Another factor could be poor water circulation due to a clogged filter or a bad filter. When the filter is not running properly, less water will flow and create less oxygen in the water.

The third factor could be the temperatures. During the summer months, when it’s usually hot, the temperature of the aquarium’s water will rise. When this happens, the oxygen level will get depleted.

To remedy any of the problems above, you’ll want to install an air pump to help the water have more oxygen. More oxygen in the water will prevent the goldfish from gasping for air at the surface.

Can Goldfish Survive In A Bowl Without A Pump?

Goldfish can live well and healthy in a fishbowl without an air pump, but only if it’s set up correctly.

Oxygen is plentiful in the water when there is no fish living in it.  Goldfish breathes by pulling oxygen out from the water.  Once all the oxygen in the water is depleted, they will start gasping for air at the surface of the water.

To keep the water oxygenated, you will need to find a way to introduce oxygen into the water. There are a couple of ways of doing this. One way is by adding an air pump. The air pump will create bubbles in the water, which will agitate the water and result in oxygen in the water.

However, one thing with a fishbowl, most aquarists don’t like to see the oxygen line running into the fishbowl.  A fishbowl is small enough already and running an air pump line into the fishbowl would not be too appealing.

If that’s the case, you can introduce aquatic plants into the goldfish fishbowl. Plants are known to supply plenty of oxygen in their environment. Much like terrestrial plants do for the air, underwater plants oxygenate your fish bowl’s water. This can be a means of providing oxygen in the fishbowl without an air pump.

Some of the best plants that work great for the fishbowl are:

  • Anubias Barteri
  • Duckweed
  • Java Fern
  • Vallisneria

In addition to the plants, you’ll need to keep the fishbowl water clean. Goldfish are dirty aquatic creatures, so part of goldfish maintenance is regular cleaning their fishbowl.

Every five to seven days, replace only 25 percent of the water. There are beneficial bacteria in the old water so you’ll want to keep some in there.
Before putting the new water into the fishbowl, make sure to treat it with a water conditioner and let it sit for about 48 hours prior.

In addition to the above, about once a week, or two weeks at the most, do a thorough cleansing of the fishbowl.  To do this, fill up a small bag with the fishbowl water and put the goldfish in there.  Then empty the entire water from the fishbowl.  Take a clean soft cloth and wipe the tank with hydrogen peroxide.

This might seem like a lot of maintenance for a fishbowl, but it’s for the health of the goldfish.  Goldfish tend to poop a lot and that could cause the water to be dirty quickly and cause the nitrate levels to peak. When there’s a high amount of nitrate present in the water, it will cause the goldfish to get sick, and ultimately leads to death.


As you can see, an air pump isn’t needed for the goldfish to survive, but it’s recommended if your fish tank is suffering from a lack of oxygen.  Goldfish need plenty of oxygen to be healthy.  By providing them with a lot of oxygen by adding an air pump, your goldfish will have a greater chance of being healthy and living a long life.


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