Are Air Stones Good and Safe for Aquariums?

When putting together your aquarium, you want to have a setup that is both healthy for your fish and visually pleasing for humans. Some accessories, such as plants and underwater “houses” are fairly easy to see as safe. Others, such as air stones, can be a little sketchy-looking to newbie aquarium owners. 

Are air stones good and safe for aquariums? Fish tank experts note that they aren’t just safe for aquariums; they are downright beneficial thanks to the amount of aeration they can provide. 

Understanding an air stone’s role in your aquarium setup is a good way to make sure you get the most bang for your proverbial buck. This guide will explain what air stones do, why they are beneficial to your aquarium, and what to look for when shopping for one. 

Are Air Stones Good and Safe For Aquariums?

Air stones aren’t just an aesthetic addition to an aquarium. They are used in aquariums because they improve water quality and therefore make the tank more hospitable to fish. In a nutshell, they are both safe and beneficial to almost any aquarium. 

What Do Air Stones Do?

In order for any fish to live happily and healthily in its tank, the tank in question will have to have a certain amount of oxygen flowing through the tank’s water. Air stones, also known as bubblers, help improve an aquarium’s water oxygenation. 

An air stone uses a small bubbler to aerate your tank while also reducing the amount of noise a typical oxygenation system will have. This improves water quality while also making the tank run smoothly. 

How Can Air Stones Help My Aquarium?

Without a little bit of air flow going through an aquarium, the risk of having stale, “dead” water rises dramatically. In many cases, aquariums that don’t have air stones in them may need to have a much higher number of plants just to make sure the fish in them can breathe. 

People who own aquariums with very little water movement use air stones as a way to ensure that fish don’t suffocate due to un-oxygenated water. Without adequate movement and oxygen levels in the water, your aquarium can become poisonous to the fish inside. 

Keeping water from becoming stagnant in a traditional tank can become a seriously high maintenance task. Bubblers can reduce that labor amount significantly. So, to a point, tank owners tend to use bubblers as a way to prevent water toxicity and reduce maintenance workload. 

Do All Fish Tanks Really Need An Air Stone? 

Though air stones never hurt to have, the truth is that they are not necessary for all tanks. If you have an aquarium that is well-aerated, then an air stone is optional. However, if any of the following is true, an air stone can be a lifesaver:

  • Your fish have been trying to jump out of the aquarium. Fish actually do this when they aren’t getting enough oxygen in their water—a serious threat to their health! If you notice this behavior, getting an air stone can help you do better. 
  • The water is clearly stagnant. Stagnant water is not healthy water! If you notice that your water is very stagnant, you need an air stone to help improve the oxygenation and movement. 
  • Your water always seems to get murky quickly. This can be another sign of a poorly oxygenated tank. Along with cleaning the tank more regularly, having a bubbler installed can prevent toxins from building up. 
  • You have no plants in your fish tank. Plant life is what usually gives aquariums the oxygen fish need to survive. If you don’t have any plants in your tank, an air stone is a smart move.

Are There Any Situations Where An Air Bubbler Can be Harmful to Fish?

Believe it or not, you really can’t over-aerate a tank. Fish need as much airflow and oxygenation in their water as possible if they want to thrive rather than just survive. 

Air bubblers make a huge difference in the overall quality of the oxygen in your fish’s tank. Even if you have a very heavily oxygenated tank with crystal-clear water, you still won’t harm your fish by installing an air stone in your tank. 

A bigger concern should be an under-oxygenated tank. Low-oxygen tanks are scarily common and can cause death in all types of fish. When in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Can Air Stones Be Added For Aesthetic Reasons?

Much like that cute little plastic castle your fish love, it’s not uncommon for people to install air stones for aesthetic purposes as well as for the wellbeing of a fish. They definitely look good enough to be used as a stylish accent to your tank, so why not?

What To Look For In An Air Stone

Believe it or not, air stones really aren’t a “one size fits all” type of deal. There are different types of bubblers to choose from, as well as different sizes. Here’s what aquarium owners need to know when they’re in the market for a new air stone. 

Material Quality

The biggest thing you should look for when buying an air pump is the quality of the material it’s made of. It’s important to seek out air stones that are made of non-toxic materials, ideally materials that also are not prone to rusting. Thankfully, most air stones are already non-toxic. 

You can get great air stones made from the following materials:

  • Stone
  • Wood
  • Non-Toxic Plastic
  • Glass

As long as you check to make sure that the air stone has been certified as safe for fish, you should be good to go. 

Size

Just like with any other kind of aquarium accessory, size matters. A bubbler that’s too small won’t be able to aerate your tank too well. One that’s too large, on the other hand, will just annoy your fish. 

Thankfully, most bubblers on the market will have guidelines for aquarium size written on the box. Those guidelines are reliable, and are there to help you figure out what bubbler works best for your tank size. 

Shape

The shape of your air stone doesn’t just determine how good your aquarium looks. It also changes how the air bubbles are distributed in your tank. The two types of air stones are:

  • Round Discs. These round air stones are perfect for a tank focal point, but don’t always give an even dispersion of air. Even so, they are amazingly handy for all tanks.
  • Strips. Strip bubblers will give you an elegant line of bubbles that give a more even distribution of air. That being said, the amount of air they push through tends to be lower than a round disc. That’s why many people choose to have multiple air stone strips in their tanks.
  • Bricks. Though somewhat rare, rectangular, brick-shaped air stones do exist. They’re a happy medium between round discs and strips. 

Generally speaking, much of the choice on stone shape is aesthetic. They all do the same thing, and for the most part, the differences are slight. So, it’s still mostly a personal choice on your end as long as your aquarium doesn’t have a serious air flow problem. 

Aesthetics And Lighting

Of course, every aquarium owner wants to have a tank that looks good, too! That’s why a lot of bubblers tend to have a cute theme to them or just have a beautiful look to them. When it comes to aesthetics, what you want to have as part of your tank is what you should look to get. 

Lighting, on the other hand, is a little different. 

Many air bubblers come equipped with LED lighting that adds a snazzy touch to any tank. However, if you have fish that are sensitive to light or naturally live in subterranean areas, an LED light is not advisable. It could throw off your fish’s immune system!

Ease Of Installation

For the most part, all air stones are fairly easy to install. However, some are a little easier to work with than others. If an air stone is advertised as an easy-to-install product, chances are that your setup time will be lower. 

How To Install An Air Stone

Getting an air stone for your aquarium is normally an excellent decision. However, many people avoid doing it because of the labor involved in air stone installation. This shouldn’t be the case. Air stone installation is fairly easy to do.

Do I Need Anything Else To Use An Air Stone In My Aquarium?

Air stones can’t really function on their own. They need to have the right attachments to be capable of getting the oxygen to your tank. Thankfully, you can get all the tools you need for an installation pretty easily through a single shopping trip at your local aquarium store. 

In order to successfully install one, you will need to get the following items:

  • Tubing. Any sort of non-toxic tubing will work. 
  • An Air Pump. Choose one that’s appropriate for the size of your tank. This is where your air stone’s air will be coming from. 
  • A Reverse-Flow Valve. This will prevent water from siphoning itself out of the tank during aeration.

It seems like a lot of spending, sure, but the truth is that the benefits you receive from having an air stone definitely make it worth it. 

I Have All The Items. How Do I Install The Air Stone? 

Once you’ve done your shopping and got all the “ingredients” for your air stone setup, it’s time to actually get down to business. Every air stone will have its own directions printed on the packaging, but for the most part, the process still boils down to the same steps.

Here’s how you can install an air stone:

  1. You will need to cut a small amount of tubing and attach it to the air pump. The tubing you cut only needs to be a maximum of four inches long. 
  2. Add your reverse-flow valve to the air pump. This prevents water from leaking out of your tank while it gets aerated. 
  3. Cut a longer amount of tubing and carefully install it on the other side of the reverse flow valve. This length of tubing should be long enough to run along the bottom of the tank and help the air stone get oxygen from outside. 
  4. Attach your air stone to the other end of the tube. This completes the setup. All you have to do now is place it.
  5. Gently place your air stone at the bottom of your aquarium. Remember, the bottom of aquariums get far less oxygen than the top portions. By placing a bubbler at the bottom of your tank, you’re maximizing the amount of air flow your tank can have. 

Do I Need To Maintain My Air Stone?

For the most part, just about every item in your aquarium will need maintenance from time to time. Rocks and pebbles may need to be switched out once in a while. The air filter needs to be changed. But what about air stones? Do they need maintenance too?

The answer is, yes, they do. Thankfully, maintenance really just means giving them a gentle cleaning once every two months or so. 

Can A Dirty Air Stone Harm Fish?

Generally speaking, just about every type of aquarium equipment can potentially harm your fish if it’s left uncleaned for too long. The problem with keeping a dirty air stone in your tank is manifold. If left uncleaned, an air stone will:

  • Lose its ability to aerate your tank. With all the buildup clogging the stone’s pores, it’s not surprising that air stones will lose their efficiency over time. To get your stone working again, you will need to get it cleaned up. 
  • Potentially expose your fish to harmful bacteria. If too many toxins build up in your stone, the bubbler could become a hotbed for bacteria. 
  • Start to look gross. A film-covered air stone is no centerpiece for your aquarium!

How To Clean Your Air Stone

Air stones can only function well if they are cleaned, and even the most fastidious aquarium owner will have buildup occur on their air stones. Cleaning them once every two months or so is the best way to keep your bubbler working at its maximum efficiency. 

Here’s how you can clean your air stone:

  1. Take the air stone out of the tank. Scrub off any buildup you see on the stone’s exterior and leave your air stone outside on a ledge to dry. 
  2. Once the stone is totally dry, boil it for 10 minutes. This sterilizes the stone. 
  3. To get rid of interior buildup, soak the air stone in a mixture of bleach and water for 24 hours. Your mixture should contain one part bleach and three parts water. This sanitizes the stone and cleans it off. 
  4. Remove the air stone from the mixture, and let it run in a tank that’s separate from your fish’s tank. This will get rid of the excess bleach. You should let the air stone run for at least five to 10 minutes. 
  5. Remove the air stone from the tank, and let the air pump continue to run through the stone for an additional five minutes. This will dry the stone’s interior. 
  6. Leave the stone to air dry for 24 hours, then replace it in your tank. Keeping the stone dry is ideal. 

Quick-Cleaning Your Air Stone

If you aren’t looking to do an in-depth cleaning, there is another way to get rid of the bacteria and buildup your air stone acquired. A simpler way of “flash cleaning” air stones just requires the owner to do the following:

  1. Soak the air stone in hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide kills off bacteria and biological fluids. By soaking your stone in peroxide, you’re getting rid of the mold and bacteria inside of it. You should soak it for at least five minutes. 
  2. Run your air stone under cold water. Rinsing the stone thoroughly is a must. Otherwise, you will just have a stone covered in dead slime mold. 
  3. Blow through the stone to dry out the interior, and leave it to dry outside. Once again, making a point to dry your air stone makes all the difference when you’re sanitizing it. 
  4. Put the stone back into the tank, and let it run. Once the air stone is totally dry, you’re done cleaning it. All you need to do now is just re-install it in your tank and enjoy the bubbles. 

Another Option To Consider

If maintenance for your air stone seems like a little too much work, you can also just replace the stone. Most aquarium owners who use air stones in their tanks replace them every time they do a thorough cleaning of their tank. 

At the end of the day, your aquarium’s top priority should be your fish’s health. An air stone can help them, but keeping your tank and equipment clean will make all the difference in the world.

Author Profile

Adam Edwards
Hi, my name is Adam and I'm an aquarium enthusiast! I didn't discover the joys of being an 'aquarium fanatic' (as some of my friends call me!) until I was in my 20's. When I first started out I found it difficult to find all the information I needed so I started this website to compile all the useful information I can think of. Enjoy!