Do Goldfish Need a Bubbler? Why or Why Not? (Quick Guide 2024)

Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: April 7, 2024
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Do goldfish need a bubbler? It may seem contradictory for an underwater creature, but goldfish, like humans, require a substantial amount of oxygen. In addition to feeding them properly, it is crucial to ensure your goldfish aquarium is set up correctly to preserve the necessary oxygen levels for their wellbeing.

Article Summary

  • Goldfish may not require a bubbler if there is enough water flow and adequate space in their tank.
  • Smaller goldfish tanks or those with limited water flow may benefit from a bubbler or other forms of aeration to ensure sufficient oxygen levels.
  • Various methods, including live plants, aerating ornaments, and air stones, can be used to oxygenate the water without the need for an air pump.

Looking around the typical pet store there are a ton of different options when it comes to keeping your tank’s oxygen levels at the right amount for goldfish, and today we’ll discuss one in depth: bubblers.

If you’ve ever asked the question “Do goldfish need a bubbler?” read on to find out the answer!

Do Goldfish Need A Bubbler?

Goldfish Swimming in a Tank
Goldfish Swimming in a Tank

Provided that there is enough water flow and adequate space in your tank, your goldfish may not require a bubbler.

Smaller goldfish tanks, or those without much water flow will likely need a bubbler or some other form of aeration to add oxygen back into the tank’s water supply.

Adding air pumps helps improve the tank’s oxygen levels and air quality.

Tank Conditions

Keeping a close eye on conditions within the tank, along with regular testing of your aquarium water parameters is the best way to avoid things getting too low.

Importance of Proper Oxygenation

Proper oxygenation of water is a truly critical component of fish keeping, as it helps with every process your fish needs to survive.

From gas exchange, digestion, to respiration, even reproduction, oxygen has a part in the success of your aquarium.

Are Bubbles Bad for Goldfish?

While bubbles themselves will not likely harm your goldfish, they can disturb them to the point of making life difficult. These bubbles help facilitate gas exchange by providing surface water movement that allows diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide release.

Make sure that the bubbler isn’t set too high, or it may break eggs present in the tank during breeding, cause your fish to swim irregularly, and ruin their important sleep cycle.


If you notice that your fish is obviously struggling to swim against the additional water flow added by a bubbler, it’s a good sign to turn things down a bit!

What Is A Bubbler?

Aquarium Air Pump
Aquarium Air Pump

To answer the question “Do goldfish need a bubbler?” Let’s start with finding out what a bubbler is and how it works.

Often regarded as synonymous with air pumps, as the name suggests bubblers generate bubbles of air which disturb the water’s surface.

Unlike an air filter, they don’t act to move things out of the water as much as generate water movement from the surface to the bottom of the tank with air which in turn provides oxygenation to the tank’s water supply and improves air quality.

Do Goldfish Need Air?

While there can be such a thing as too little air, your fish can never have more air than they need! They don’t breathe air directly but they absorb oxygen through water.

Provided that too much surface movement doesn’t go against the aesthetics of your aquarium, an air pump is typically a good recommendation for more freshwater aquariums.

How Goldfish Bubbler Work

Contrary to popular belief the bubbles themselves don’t provide additional oxygen to the tank water, but rather the gas exchange caused by surface disturbance.

With surface movement comes the additional exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen molecules, thereby moving more oxygen inside the goldfish tank.

Can Goldfish Live Without a Filter or Air Pump?

Why do goldfish need an air bubbler?

While your fish can potentially survive without an air pump provided there’s enough oxygen in the water, it will still need a water filter.

Water filters are an integral part of any healthy goldfish aquarium build because they allow the tank to remove harmful waste materials and prevent the buildup of ammonia and nitrates.

Without working filter media, decaying matter such as old food, feces, and dead plant material can build up in the tank’s water.

These all produce ammonia, which are normally broken down by beneficial bacteria but can poison your goldfish when it reaches a certain level, typically over 2 parts per million.

Using a kit for an ammonia test is a simple but important part of regular goldfish tank upkeep.

Test your tap water to make sure that it’s sufficient for the fish you keep. Knowing what levels are in your tank can prevent a harmful ammonia spike from sickening your fish or killing them with toxic shock!

How to Tell If You Need a Bubbler in Your Goldfish Tank

Goldfish at a Corner of a Fish Tank
Goldfish at a Corner of a Fish Tank

While there are a few instances where you don’t need a bubbler such as if your fish tank is large enough for your goldfish and if there’s enough movement in the water to provide sufficient oxygen, there are some cases where one may be needed.

A Few Things To Consider:

Goldfish Size and Number

The larger in size and more goldfish you have in one tank, the more oxygen you need in the tank.

The worst possible thing for your fish is to be overcrowded.

Not only does this mean that they won’t have enough swimming space, but toxic matter will accumulate rapidly, and there will likely be inadequate oxygen.

Tank Size

Goldfish require a minimum of 20 gallons for one fish, with an additional gallon per inch of fish or goldfish tank buddies added after that. While a single goldfish may look cute when placed in a small tank, it may need a bigger tank with lots of room to swim to feel at home.

The surface area of a tank is directly related to the amount of air it can hold. If you notice that your tank doesn’t fall into these parameters, it’s likely you need a bigger tank for more surface area.

Water Movement

When looking at your tank, notice if the water surface seems still.

Lack of movement on the water surface indicates that there is little water flow throughout the tank, and that your goldfish need an air pump creating bubbles to create more air or improve air circulation in the tank.

Still water comes with the added defect of increasing the amount of harmful chemical buildup over time.

This can lead to toxic shock and ammonia poisoning, as the aquarium filter is unable to pull out waste.

While a larger aquarium will naturally have more dissolved oxygen in it, if the tank water appears still it may still require having more circulation measures employed such as an air stone and air pump.

Water Temperature

Cold water or warm water? Let’s discuss how water temperature can affect your fish.

Cool Water

Water temperature plays a real physical role in making sure your fish get all the needed oxygen they require. Cooler water can carry more oxygen, and is more likely to lead to well oxygenated water. You might want to consider a heater if you live in a place with a cold climate.

Warm Water

Warmer waters (above 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit) are ideal for tropical fish species but may not allow for enough air or as much oxygen in the aquarium. Warm water has a harder time carrying dissolved oxygen, along with the high temperatures being potentially harmful to your goldfish in general.

Considered a cold water fish, goldfish prefer temperatures in the 50-60 degree range. High temperatures or too far outside of this in either direction can cause them to go into temperature shock as their body processes have a hard time keeping up.

Can Goldfish Live in a Bowl without an Air Pump?

Fish Bowl Placed Outdoors
Fish Bowl Placed Outdoors

If the fish bowl is appropriately sized for your goldfish and has proper water flow, it can absolutely be a good home.

A water filter typically provides some form of surface disturbance with smaller bubbles than a normal bubbler, allowing for oxygenation of the water in the fish tank.

If you notice that the air quality is low, it likely means that your goldfish’s tank will need an air pump.

How Do I Know If My Fish Tank Has No Oxygen?

If you know that your tank is too small, has too many fish, and lacks sufficient water flow, it likely does not have sufficient oxygen.

Home testing kits are available that can tell you in more certain terms whether you need to increase oxygen through an air pump, but if you see the telltale signs it’s a good idea to get more water flow going ASAP!

Don’t leave your fish without enough oxygen

The longer you leave your fish without the proper amount of water flow, the more likely it is that you’ll see long term effects to their health and well being.

While a few hours without the right amount of air or oxygenated water can be acceptable, their brains, respiratory and digestive functions, organs and tissues will all see long lasting damage.

How Many Hours Can Goldfish Live Without an Air Pump?

Assuming that the fish tanks meet the above requirements and need an air pump for more oxygen, you will begin to see the effects in as little as 12 hours.

After 48 hours without all the oxygen it needs to survive, the goldfish will likely suffocate and die.

How Do I Know If My Goldfish Need More Oxygen?

The unfortunate part of keeping goldfish is that they’re poor communicators! Therefore it becomes critical that we as aquarists keep a close eye on them and their living conditions to make sure that our fancy goldfish stay happy and healthy.

Signs That Your Goldfish Needs More Oxygen

Goldfish Swimming Towards Aquarium Surface
Goldfish Swimming Towards Aquarium Surface

Gill Movement

If your fish’s gills are moving more rapidly than normal, or not at all, it is likely struggling to get enough oxygen.

A healthy goldfish breathes at a normal fairly slow rate and seeing something that is out of the norm such as increased gill movement is a sign that it’s getting less oxygen than it needs.


Slow moving, lethargic fish that are struggling in some way, may require an air pump in the fish tank. It could be an indicator of them getting less oxygen than needed.

While this can also be a sign of disease, parasitic infection, and generally low water quality, seeing a change in the activity level of your fish is a good sign something is wrong.

Gasping for air at the surface

Goldfish Gasping for Air

When there is insufficient oxygen in the water of your tank, your aquarium fish may begin to look like it’s gasping for air.

They do this at the tank’s water surface typically, in an effort to take in enough air than they can get inside of the tank itself.

This frantic movement is a serious sign that they don’t have enough oxygen, and steps should be taken immediately and that an air or water pump is necessary.

How Can I Oxygenate My Water Without An Air Pump?

Goldfish Swimming at the Bottom of the Tank
Goldfish Swimming at the Bottom of the Tank

While an air pump will certainly help to bring more oxygen into the tank from the water surface, there are several other ways to aerate the tank’s water without one.

For instance, if you’re trying to preserve the calm water aesthetic of your tank without too many air bubbles disturbing the surface water, you may want to consider one of these alternatives over a traditional air pump for your goldfish.

Live Plants

Aquatic plants such as java ferns naturally produce oxygen when they take in carbon dioxide and respire.

Adding aquatic plants can be a beautiful way to add some extra breathable air into your tank for goldfish, but it should be noted that aquatic plants alone cannot produce sufficient oxygen supply for a still tank.

Aerating Ornaments

Certain ornaments that you can find in pet stores are hooked up to their own form of air pump, and will aerate your goldfish tank.

These can be a more aesthetically pleasing way to introduce additional air and add oxygen supply to your tank’s water, compared to the normal tube-shaped air pumps you may find to make air bubbles.

Air Stones

Air Stones
Air Stones

Another way to improve air circulation is by using an air stone. Similar to an aerating ornament, air stones function in conjunction with an air pump to produce bubbles of air, albeit dissipated over a larger surface area in a more quiet manner.

These can disturb your fish much less than some more aggressive models and may be a good option for calmer goldfish.


Throughout today’s article we’ve looked at some facts about goldfish, why a bubbler may be a good choice for your aquarium, as well as some cases where it may not be necessary.

As long as there is enough movement of the water in the tank to provide proper oxygenation, an air or water pump isn’t required.

Otherwise they’re a great, easy to install choice that can make your tank a great home.

Feel Free To Share!

I hope that answers the question “do goldfish need a bubbler?” for you.

As always thanks for reading along, we hope you found the information useful in your aquarium journey! Feel free to share this with any other fish fanatics you may know, and we wish you the best of luck with your aquarium endeavors.

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