The Best Air Pumps for Hydroponics


As a beginner hydroponic gardener, one of the things that confused me the most was how to control and maintain my nutrient reservoir. There are a lot of different variables to consider, one of the most important being the oxygenation of your nutrient reservoir.

There are three pieces here: your air stones, your airline tubing, and your air pumps. In this piece, we’ll look at air pumps, why they’re needed, and what to consider before you buy. I’ll also do some in-depth hydroponic air pump reviews as well.

Products mentioned in this review:

* For prices and reviews, see below.

Why Do You Need a Hydroponic Air Pump?

Because we’re growing hydroponically, everything that a plant needs to survive (and thrive) must be provided to them by us. Most gardeners think of water, light, and nutrients first, but oxygenation is a crucial part of the puzzle in hydroponics.

Think about it: in soil, there are little pockets of air in between bits of soil and water, so a plant is never fully submerged in water. Now imagine you’re growing in your favorite type of hydroponic system…but you’re not using an air pump. That stagnant water will run out of oxygen fairly quickly, and if the roots of your plants are fully submerged, they will drown in your nutrient reservoir!

It seems weird to think about a plant as being able to drown, but it’s entirely possible — and inevitable — if you don’t have the right air pump and system in place.

By using an air pump, you can take advantage of the diffusion of air into water. When placed at the bottom of your reservoir and in conjunction with a high-quality air stone, the bubbles produced will increase the dissolved oxygen level of your nutrient reservoir. The bubbles will also keep your reservoir evenly mixed, which is a nice side benefit.

How to Calculate Your Hydroponic Air Pump Sizing

What size air pump you need will depend on the size of your nutrient reservoir. There is a handy rule of thumb that states you should buy a pump with a wattage equal to the number of gallons of nutrient solution you have, but some growers find that to be a little overkill.

A better rule of thumb is to ensure that the pump you buy will provide at least 500-600cc per minute of air to your nutrient reservoir. 500-600cc per minute is the same as 500-600ml per minute, and even the cheapest air pumps will provide more than that, so most hobbyist indoor gardeners will be safe here.

If you’re growing commercially, you have other considerations and may need to open for extremely powerful pumps and complicated setups. That is a bit out of my depth as an indoor gardener, but I have heard good things about a few products that I will list in a section below.

Hydroponic Air Pump Noise and Other Concerns

For me, one of the joys of growing indoors is having a completely enclosed system that runs without much effort (once I have it all calibrated). One thing that messes with my sense of gardening zen is a noisy air pump, with a dull, droning growl that bothers me as I try to sleep or work.

Try to select an air pump that will run quiet. Most manufacturers provide a decibel level in their product specs, so keep an eye out for one that is lower than 45 to avoid too much annoying noise.

Another feature to look out for are multi-nozzle pumps. If you are running a bato bucket or multi-unit growing system, these pumps will make your life easier by not requiring you to create fancy splits in your airline tubing.

What Else You’ll Need With Your Air Pump

If you just buy an air pump, you’ll find yourself with a great tool and no way to use it. You need airline tubing and a high-quality airstone to make the whole thing work.

For airline tubing, all you’re looking for is a garden-safe plastic that’s ideally a dark color (black is best). You want black because clear tubing is susceptible to algae growth if there is any moisture in the line at all. I usually purchase aquarium tubing and it works just fine.

For your air stone, there are a lot of avenues to go down. The smaller the bubbles the airstone creates, the better. This is because there is more surface area exposed to the water, and the bubbles will travel slower. Both of these facts mean more oxygen is dissolved into your reservoir.

For airstones, I usually go with the Hydrofarm active aqua cylinder or a few of their 4” circular air stones.

The Best Hydroponic Air Pumps For The Money

When we’re talking about air pumps, “best” is a relative term. In terms of raw power and features, a commercial-grade air pump is technically the “best,” but it’s overkill if you’re just running a deep water culture system. I’ve broken these recommendations down by scale to make life a little easier.

The Best Air Pump for a DWC (Deep Water Culture) System

Hydrofarm Active Aqua Air Pump, 2 Outlets, 3W, 7.8 L/min
  • Super silent with multi-level muffler
  • Special artificial rubber to keep a steady air flow output...
  • Low power consumption and adjustable air flow
  • 125-GPH, maximum amperage is 0.025 and maximum decibels is...
  • 3-watts, 7.8-liter per minute, 120-voltage

In most simple DWCs, you’re working with one reservoir that’s anywhere from 5-25 gallons. If that sounds like you, all you need is the Hydrofarm air pump with 2 outlets. It’s quiet, at a maximum decibel rating of 40, and will pump 125 gallons of air per hour through your system.

This is the one I use in all of my small-scale gardening projects.

The Best Mid-Grade Air Pump

Hydrofarm Active Aqua Air Pump, 4 Outlets, 6W, 15 L/min
  • Super silent with multi-level muffler
  • Special artificial rubber to keep a steady air flow output...
  • Low power consumption
  • 240-GPH, maximum amperage is 0.08 and maximum decibels is 45
  • 6-watts, 15 liters per minute

If you have a larger system, or are running a multiple-reservoir growing room, then you’ll want to upgrade to the Hydrofarm 6-Watt air pump with 4 outlets. Like the entry-level model, it’s also very quiet at only 45 decibels, and will push out 15 liters per minute (240 gallons per hour).

The Best Commercial-Grade Air Pump

EcoPlus 1030 GPH (3900 LPH, 35W) Commercial Air Pump w/ 6 Valves | Aquarium, Fish Tank, Fountain,...
  • Widely used to provide oxygen in aquariums, fish farms and...
  • Includes chrome air manifold, ranging from six to twelve...
  • Cylinders and pistons are made of premium materials, making...

If you have a serious need for air in your growing operation, go for the EcoPlus commercial line. The only caveat: these are quite loud, so they’re good for enclosed grow rooms or outdoor growing operations, unless you are OK with a lot of noise.

They come in four different sizes, based on the GPH that you need:

All of these air pumps are exceptionally well-built and are well reviewed by both myself in my own personal use, as well as my gardening friends. You will need quite a bit of airline tubing, so I recommend just going with the 100’ roll from General Hydroponics just to be safe.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu

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Last update on 2019-11-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API