Aquatics Unlimited: Articles:Troubleshooting the Air System
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Troubleshooting the Air System

for the week of 9/3/98

The pump's still humming - but no bubbles. Now what?

Disconnect the airline tubing from the air pump and try blowing into it.

If it is relatively easy to produce a few bubbles in the aquarium - like blowing bubbles through a soda straw: the pump is probably worn out. To test further, connect a piece of airline to the pump with nothing attached at the other end. Slowly lower the open end of the tubing into the aquarium. A pump with a hole in the diaphragm will often produce a few bubbles at the top of the aquarium, but none as the tubing is lowered towards the bottom. The pump will need to be repaired or replaced.

If it's more like blowing up a balloon: something is restricting flow. Check, if necessary by blowing through each item:

  • airstones - these plug from the inside with dust and need to be replaced regularly.
  • air valves - might be mis-adjusted or plugged with dust and dirt.
  • check valve - might be stuck in closed position, or plugged with dirt.
  • airline tubing - check for kinks, especially where it enters the aquarium.

Quite often, attempting to push air through plugged items results in a damaged pump. After repairing or replacing these aerating accessories, check the pump as above.

If it's easy to blow through, but no bubbles are produced: there must be a leak. Check all the above items. You can briefly submerge everything but the pump itself in the water and see where air comes bubbling out. Air valves in particular will often leak around the seals, or old, stiff tubing will slip off fittings. Other pets, especially the family cat, have been known to perforate airline tubing in what seems obviously (to me, at least) to be an act of jealousy.

"Tip of the week" appeared regularly in 1999 and 2000.

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