Do Neon Tetras Need An Air Pump? (And Which One Is Best)

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Fish, including neon tetras, rely on extracting oxygen from water to breathe. They use their gills to facilitate this process, pulling in water and extracting the oxygen it contains.

Some fish also have lung-like structures that allow them to gulp air from the surface, but mostly, fish depend on dissolved oxygen in the water.

In nature, there’s usually an abundance of oxygen. But in aquariums, it’s the fishkeeper’s responsibility to ensure proper aeration.

How Oxygen Transfer Works In Aquariums

First, it’s important to understand how oxygen actually enters your tank. This is how the process works in general:

  • Oxygen from the air enters the aquarium’s water via the surface gas exchange, the rate of which increases with the surface area.
  • The oxygen dissolves in the water and is distributed throughout the tank with the help of currents from filters, pumps, and air stones.
  • Fish and other aquatic animals use the dissolved oxygen and release carbon dioxide, akin to human respiration.
  • Photosynthesis from plants and algae supplements the oxygen levels in the water.
  • Equipment like aerators can boost oxygen levels by enhancing the surface area for gas exchange.

Do Neon Tetras Need An Air Pump?

First, it’s important to understand that an air pump isn’t mandatory for neon tetras, and here is why:

  • Neon tetras are adapted to live in low-oxygen environments, making an air pump not absolutely necessary.
  • They are small fish that have a low oxygen demand compared to larger species.
  • If the tank is well-planted, the plants will produce oxygen during photosynthesis, reducing the need for an air pump.
  • Frequent water changes can help maintain adequate oxygen levels without the need for an air pump.
  • Tanks with good surface agitation, such as a filter that causes a waterfall effect, can also ensure sufficient oxygen diffusion.

The other side of the coin is that an air pump could also be extremely beneficial. This is what you should consider:

  • An air pump helps increase oxygen levels in the tank, providing a buffer in case of sudden changes.
  • It promotes gas exchange at the water’s surface, ensuring harmful gases like carbon dioxide are expelled.
  • It helps maintain a stable pH by preventing carbon dioxide buildup.
  • In a densely populated tank, an air pump can help meet the higher oxygen demand.
  • It can assist in circulating water, which can prevent the buildup of dead zones and improve overall water quality.
  • The bubbles created by an air pump can create a visually pleasing effect and add movement to the tank.
  • If the tank lacks surface agitation, an air pump can supplement this to ensure adequate oxygenation.
  • It can potentially make the tank environment more similar to a neon tetra’s natural habitat, reducing stress for the fish.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Tank Setup

Other Aeration Devices You Can Use

1. Filters

This is why your neon tetras tank should have a filter:

  • Improves water quality: Filters remove harmful substances and impurities from the water, promoting the overall health of your neon tetras.
  • Surface agitation: As the water is cycled back into the tank, it creates surface agitation, which increases gas exchange and thus improves oxygenation.
  • Promotes healthy bacteria growth: Some filters, especially biological ones, provide a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow. These bacteria contribute to maintaining water quality and stability.

2. Powerheads

These devices work great alongside filters:

  • Creates water current: Powerheads create a current in the water, mimicking natural environments and encouraging active swimming, which can benefit the overall health of neon tetras.
  • Increases oxygenation: The water movement caused by powerheads improves oxygen exchange, providing a healthier environment for the fish.
  • Redistributes heat: Powerheads can also help evenly distribute heat throughout the tank, ensuring a consistent temperature for your neon tetras, which is essential for their wellbeing.
  • Versatility: Powerheads are versatile in their positioning and can be directed to specific areas of the tank if required. They can also be used with other devices such as undergravel filters to increase their effectiveness.

3. Spray Bar Aerators

These devices, typically connected to the filter outlet and provide the following benefits:

  • Enhances gas exchange: Spray bar aerators produce a stream of bubbles that increase the surface area of the water, enhancing the gas exchange process and boosting oxygen levels.
  • Reduces noise: Unlike some other aeration methods, spray bars usually produce less noise, which can be beneficial for maintaining a peaceful environment.
  • Adjustable flow rate: Many spray bar aerators have an adjustable flow rate, allowing you to control the amount of aeration and turbulence in the tank to suit your neon tetras’ needs.
  • Even distribution of water: Spray bar aerators spread the outflow evenly across their length, which leads to a more uniform distribution of water and therefore a more balanced oxygenation in the tank.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need A Bubbler?

Increasing Oxygen In Neon Tetra Tanks Without An Air Pump

There are a few ways to increase the oxygen levels even without an air pump:

1. Using Live Plants For Oxygen Production

Neon tetras thrive in habitats populated with live plants, providing many benefits:

  • Oxygen production: During the day, live plants photosynthesize, consuming carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, which is beneficial for the fish.
  • Natural environment: Live plants create a natural and comfortable environment for the fish, encouraging more activity, which can improve their respiration and oxygen use.
  • Removal of toxins: Live plants can help absorb harmful toxins such as ammonia and nitrates, indirectly contributing to better oxygen absorption by the fish.
  • Algae prevention: Plants compete with algae for nutrients, which can help to keep algae levels under control. Algae can deplete oxygen levels, especially during the night, so this is an indirect benefit.

2. Proper Water Filtration

Adding a water filtration system to your tetra’s aquarium is extremely crucial My personal recommendation is the Fluval 207 Canister Filter (link to Amazon):

  • Water circulation: Proper filtration helps circulate the water, promoting better distribution of oxygen throughout the tank.
  • Surface agitation: As the filtered water is returned to the tank, it creates surface agitation, improving oxygen absorption from the air.
  • Removal of waste: Filters remove fish waste and other debris from the water, which if left to decompose, could deplete oxygen levels.
  • Healthy bacteria: Beneficial bacteria in filters help to break down harmful substances and maintain water quality, promoting better oxygen absorption by the fish.

3. Perform Regular Water Changes

Regular water changes in your neon tetras aquarium are vital for maintaining a healthy environment:

  • Fresh supply of oxygen: Replacing water introduces fresh oxygen into the tank, boosting overall oxygen levels.
  • Removes waste: Regular water changes help to remove toxins and waste products that can consume oxygen and harm fish.
  • Reduces algae: Regular water changes can also help to control algae growth. Algae can deplete oxygen levels in the water, particularly at night.
  • Improves water quality: Regularly changing the water keeps the environment clean and healthy, promoting better oxygen absorption and overall health of your neon tetras.

Aim to replace about 25% of the tank’s water weekly. Don’t forget to use a water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine from your tap water.

My recommendation for this is the well-known API Tap Water Conditioner (link to Amazon).

Air Pump Options For Neon Tetras

You don’t need anything fancy when it comes to an air pump for your neon tetras. One popular choice would be the Tetra Whisper Air Pump (link to Amazon).

Here is how to install it:

  • Unbox the air pump: Carefully remove the Tetra Whisper Air Pump from its packaging, ensuring all components are present and in good condition.
  • Choose a location: Decide on a suitable place for your air pump. The pump should be positioned higher than the water level of your tank to avert the possibility of water being drawn back into the pump, particularly during a power failure. If you can’t place it above the tank, install a check valve (not included with the pump) to prevent back siphoning.
  • Connect the tubing: Attach one end of the air tubing (sold separately) to the outlet on the air pump. Cut the tubing to the desired length, making sure it can comfortably reach from the pump to your tank without stretching.
  • Install an air stone or diffuser: At the other end of the tubing, attach an air stone or diffuser (sold separately). This will break up the bubbles produced by the air pump, creating a gentle flow of bubbles and maximizing the oxygenation in the tank.
  • Submerge the air stone: Place the air stone in the desired location in your tank, ensuring it’s fully submerged. The air stone should be positioned near the bottom of the tank for best results.
  • Connect the Air Pump: Link the air pump to an electrical outlet. Ensure that your hands are dry while making this connection, and also verify that the vicinity of the outlet is free from any moisture.
  • Adjust the airflow: Most Tetra Whisper Air Pumps come with an adjustable airflow control. Experiment with the airflow to get the desired bubble effect and level of water agitation.
  • Monitor: Observe the operation of the air pump over the first few days. Make sure it’s working correctly and providing adequate aeration for your neon tetras.


Let’s quickly summarize the main points I covered earlier:

  • Neon tetras can survive without an air pump in their tank as long as proper aeration is ensured through alternative methods.
  • A well-functioning filter is not mandatory for a neon tetra tank, but it is crucial for maintaining a well-oxygenated environment.
  • Live plants in the aquarium contribute to oxygen production and overall cleanliness, benefiting the health of neon tetras.
  • Regular water changes and the use of a water conditioner are essential for maintaining an oxygen-rich environment in a neon tetra tank.
  • While a filter is necessary for neon tetras, the type of filter and its proper installation are important considerations to protect the fish and maintain water quality.