Fish Can Live Without an Air Pump in Tank

The value of oxygen in fish’s life is similar to humans. In an aquarium, only live plants are not sufficient to fulfill the oxygen level in water for fish. Parameters of dissolved oxygen should be maintained for a healthy environment. An aquarium fish can stay up to two days without oxygen (in still water) but they still need some more amount of oxygen to breathe and do their essential daily work.

Fish can breathe by taking water through their mouth and passing it out through their gills, and then oxygen is absorbed and CO2 is released back into the water. Do they get enough oxygen if water is not circulated? This is where air pump play came into the role.

Today we are going to share with you all the information about Air Pump, whether it’s about the necessity with its alternatives. Stick with us till the end of this article.

What is an air pump?

Air pump

The name “Air Pump” itself defines that it is a machine that pumps air in a tank. This is a device that helps in promoting water agitation (movement of water on the surface of the tank) in an aquarium. This is necessary to decrease the CO2 level and displace it with oxygen in the water.

Air pump produces air bubbles in the water that bring oxygen into the water and also filter contaminants from the tank.

Do fish in tanks need air pumps?

Goldfish tank with air pump

Yes, it is very necessary because as the oxygen levels decrease, the good bacteria will no longer be present. And later toxicity increases by the waste produced by fish causing stress to them.
Fish start showing some symptoms that draw attention like they stop swimming, or go to the surface to breathe, and if you closely notice their gills are moving faster than usual. This shows that they are oxygen-deprived and fish need an air pump in the tank.

Scientifically, the dissolved oxygen level in an aquarium should be 5 to 7 ppm in a saltwater tank, the measure is 7.18 and 8.4 ppm in a freshwater fish tank. A dissolved oxygen meter is used to check the parameters, but when the levels are below the mentioned value it can be dangerous for our little aquatic pets.

7 fish that can live without air pump

Fish can also live without an air pump but it does not mean they can tolerate less oxygen in the tank. There are several measures of care or alternatives to the aeration system that we will discuss later in this article.

The list of fish that can live without an air pump is as follows:

  • Gourami
  • Spined Loach
  • Kuhli Loach
  • Guppies
  • Paradise fish
  • Betta fish
  • Catfish

1. Gourami


The Gourami fish are known as primary herbivores but also can eat freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex, and brine shrimp meaty foods. Gourami gives an attractive look with its bright color. These fish need access to the atmospheric air. These fish are hardy fish and also have aggressive behavior (especially among male ones). Female gouramis have rounded bellies when compared to males.

2. Spined Loach

Spined Loach

These are common freshwater fish but have amazing techniques for breathing. They can even sense or predict the weather in barometric pressure. Before the arrival of bad weather, they breathe from the upper surface which slowly passes to the whole body and enriches blood through capillaries in their intestine. But in calm weather conditions, they take atmospheric air and like to be at the bottom surface.

They also breathe from their skin and rest accumulates through the gills and intestinal method. These fish are harmless, and please avoid sharp objects in the tank.

3. Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

These Kuhli Loaches are popular for their shape and structure. It gives a feeling of eel in your tank. The air pump is not necessarily in a tank of Loaches, even a simple corner canister filter is okay because it can do skin reparation and can also use atmospheric air for breathing purposes.

It is peaceful in nature and can be fitted into any community tank. They are also known as bottom dwellers or tank cleaners.

4. Guppy fish


Guppies are small fish with colorful patterns and unique fins. They are very popular and originated in northeast South America. They loved tanks filled with plants so they could be kept without air pumps. Guppy fish like some of the common plants like Java fern, Java moss, Christmas moss, and many more.

5. Paradise fish

Paradise fish

The Paradise are semi-aggressive fish and are species of Gouramis. These are freshwater fish that originated in West Asia. Like all the aforementioned fish, they can live without surface agitation, living as labyrinth fish like bettas, gouramis, etc., because they have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe from the surface. But if there is an air stone or filter output in the tank, they will live a happier, healthier, and likely longer life with surface agitation.

Generally, they loved to eat plants and hide behind the plants. Some popular plants like Duckweed, Dwarf hair grass, Guppy grass, Hornwort, Java moss, Salvinia, and Water wisteria are good shelters for Paradise fish.

6. Betta fish


Bettas are widely known as fish that can live without an air pump. They have the unique capability of intake oxygen via bubbles that form from atmospheric air and float on the surfaces. They have wide colorful fins but they are very aggressive to other fish.

7. Catfish


They are also among the popular fish that can live without an air pump. They intake oxygen from the atmosphere and are also capable of intestinal respiration like the loaches.

These fish are bottom dwellers so adding plants will be a good idea for oxygen. Some plants are Echinodorus Tenellus, Cryptocoryne Parva, Lobelia Cardinalis, Vallisneria, and Marimo Moss Balls are good for them.

How to keep fish in a tank without an air pump?

It is very simple we just have to add some habits to our daily routine which keep the aeration and maintain a clean environment in the aquarium. The points of habits are mentioned below:

  • Changing water from time to time will reduce toxicity from the water, but don’t change the water at a time it can stress your fish. Remove 20%-30% once and repeat at least twice a week.
  • Avoid overcrowding your tank with fish.
  • We can lower the temperature of the tank water. It will maintain the dissolved oxygen in the water.
  • Cleaning the tank on time will reduce the harmful waste from water and maintain the oxygen balance in the tank. Also, avoid overfeeding your fish and remove the waste food from the bottom of the tank.

What are some alternatives to air pumps in aquariums?

There are many alternatives to the air pumps in aquariums which are mentioned below:

1. Cup method

A cup or cup-like object is used as a tool to alter the water of the tank. We have to lift some amount of water and pour it back. We just have to ensure that the water will not splash or the substrate at the bottom is not disrupted, for that, we can use a plate and keep it at the bottom surface. This process will bring more oxygen from the air while pouring it back and thus the tank is aerated again.

2. Proper filtration system

The filtration system plays an important role in the tank. It helps by removing harmful chemical compounds and maintaining the oxygen level of the tank.

3. Planting aquarium plants

As much as we plant aquarium plants it brings more oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. This is a very generic way of keeping your tank aerated but avoid algae and mosses that use oxygen for their development. The plant covers the major part of the tank so it will keep the circulation of oxygen through the aquarium.

4. Use a wide fish tank

The larger will be the surface area of the tank the higher will be the concentration of oxygen at the surface area. The surface area is in contact with the atmosphere all the time. Thus, an ideal tank always has a larger aerated surface area.

5. Choose fish wisely

Different species of fish swim at different levels of the tank. It means some of them are bottom dwellers and others swim at mid-level and at surface regions. Thus, the fish can get proper oxygen at every level of your tank but never overcrowd it. Adding some schooling fish and fast swimmer fish also helps in aeration.


Hope this useful context served you the best. This article is all about “Fish Can Live without an Air Pump” which not only helps you with the techniques and alternatives of an air pump but also shares with you about the fish that can be kept without an aerator in the tank. This helps you to make the right decisions for your tank.

If you have any unanswered questions or want suggestions for your fish aquarium then please leave your message in the comment section or Need Help of Hygger.

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Comments (7)

  1. hello hygger team, just want to ask the team, is it ok to put several guppies at fish bowl without water pump (with normal temperature)?

    Jan 22, 2024 Reply
    • Hi HAFSYAZ,
      Guppies can live without the water pump, but the fishbowl is too small for several guppies.
      If it is warm, they can live with normal temperature, but you need a heater when the temperature is lower than 22℃.

      hygger team

      Jan 23, 2024 Reply
  2. Hi dear today my batta fish aquarium water pump is not working is it ok for my fish i clean yesterday aquarium

    Oct 11, 2023 Reply
    • Hello, Anju. You’d better not leave your betta fish in low oxygen environment more than 2 days.

      That’s it.
      hygger team

      Oct 12, 2023 Reply
  3. Great article! It’s totally true that fish can thrive without an air pump in their tank – nature has already equipped them with amazing respiratory systems.

    Katie at Meadowia
    Aug 17, 2023 Reply
  4. Hi, I have recently bought a fish bowl and I have kept 4 mollies in it. It doesn’t have any aerator and filter and at my place temperature is very high now. So, the bowl water gets hot and I exchange some fresh water everyday to increase oxygen and to lower the bowl water temperature and I also follow the cup method. Sometimes I also stir the water with my fingers. Am I doing everything right and if not then where I am going wrong and what should be followed. Need immediate advice. Thanks.

    Partha Sarathi Deb
    Apr 18, 2023 Reply
    • Hi Partha Sarathi Deb, you do the right things, but there is a better way for your mollies, although mollies can live without an air pump, considering the high temperature, you can put a fish bowl small air pump in your bowl to decrease the temperature for them. And you can exchange 1/3 water once a week. Hopes it helps.

      hygger team

      Apr 19, 2023 Reply

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