hydroponic system air pump

Q&A: Does My Hydroponic System Need An Air Pump?

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We all know that oxygen is immensely important to plants. What you may not know is that oxygen is just as important to the roots as it is to the leaves. Your plant’s roots will need to be exposed to oxygen on a regular basis or they will drown.

But not all hydroponic systems need an air pump, in fact, most don’t. Here’s how to determine if your hydroponic system needs an air pump.

Oxygen Is Really Important, Especially In Hydroponics

Before we go into determining if your hydroponic system will need an air pump it’s important to know that it’s never a bad idea to oxygenate your nutrient solution. Air pumps not only add oxygen to the water but keep it moving, keeping it from becoming stagnant.

You cannot over-oxygenate your plant’s root systems with an aquarium air pump it will only have benefits.

Hydroponic Systems That Require An Air Pump

DWC hydroponic systems are the only systems that require the use of an air pump. With deep water culture, the plant’s roots system is completely submerged in the nutrient solution. The air pump gets the oxygen to the air diffuser in the reservoir, then the diffuser then breaks the air stream into tiny bubbles that are easier for the root system to absorb.

root mass dwc hydroponic system

Hydroponic Systems That Do Not Require An Air Pump

Most hydroponic systems utilize methods that allow oxygen to reach the plant’s root system without using an air pump.

NFT hydroponic systems are set up with plants in channels that have the nutrient solution running through them. The nutrient solution doesn’t fill the channel but flows on the bottom, so the nutrients flow over the bottom of the plant’s root system. The gap between the top of the channel and the nutrient solution at the bottom provides the oxygen needed for the plant’s roots to breathe.

Ebb and flow hydroponic systems are set up on timers or with siphons to drain the nutrient solution from the grow bed, exposing the plant’s roots to oxygen. When the water drains from the grow bed the plant’s root system is exposed to the air.

Vertical hydroponic systems suspended plants in the air, giving them all the oxygen they need. The nutrient solution is then dropped in through the top of the rail or tube falling on the roots of all the plants on the way down.

small vertical hydroponic system growing lettuce

Aeroponic Systems suspend plants in the air and nutrient solution is sprayed on the roots from the bottom and then falls back into the reservoir.

Kratky hydroponic systems are passive systems with the plant doing all the work. A reservoir is filled with a nutrient solution with the plant’s roots touching the top. As the plant takes in the nutrient solution, the level in the reservoir drops, and the plant’s roots grow a little longer. As this continues the “air gap” grows, providing the plant’s roots with the needed oxygen.


Deep water culture is the only hydroponic system that which an air pump is absolutely required. While not every hydroponic system needs an air pump, you can’t over-oxygenate your hydroponic system.

3 Answers

  1. Ted Williams
    January 12, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    I have been finding your website helpful. I am starting a tower hydroponic system for the first time and had many questions. I know I will be reading your tips for some time to come.
    I am planning an indoor system using a 17 gal reservoir and 6” uPVC And will make my cup holes with heat gun and bottle “mold”. It will be about
    about 7’ high and hung from ceiling. Buying an 800 GPH pump, running 15 min on, 15 minutes off. Planning to grow lettuce, spinach, and herbs primarily. Perhaps a flower or 2.
    Sounds like I need to drain, clear and refill such a system 7-10 days or so.
    This will be in a lower lever den area that stays cool year around. Too cool in winter so I will need to heat on enclosed area. Your suggests on that will be needed. And Can I except much odor from this type of system.
    I am 66 and live with wife in Little Rock, Ar

    1. NoSoilSolutions
      January 15, 2020 at 10:12 am

      Thanks for stopping by Ted! Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad you’ve found the site helpful. I’d be happy to help you get started in any way I can. Lettuce is a good weather crop so you shouldn’t have to heat things too much. It should be good if kept about 55 degrees. Growing lettuce won’t create any odor, some herbs and flowers will have smells but they will be fresh herb/flower smells so that should be pleasant.
      If you have Facebook, be sure to join the Hobby Hydroponics Group community! We share info, experiences, and pictures of our hobby hydroponic gardens.

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