About Sumps and Sump Pumps
A sump system is a secondary water reserve for an aquarium. It holds extra water and houses a lot of aquarium accessories that would otherwise clutter up the main tank. The sump pump is the most important part of a sump setup because it is the main connection between the sump and your main aquarium. It moves the water through the sump and back again; it needs to be powerful enough to complete that cycle regularly.
It goes without saying that the best sump pumps can make a huge difference in the regular maintenance of your aquarium. Sumps are most common in marine and reef tanks because it can take a lot of equipment to regulate a tropical environment, but they can also be beneficial for a freshwater aquarium that has grown to a large size. If you are looking to get started with your sump system, you will first need to find a reliable sump pump to keep it running smoothly. We have reviewed some of the best sump pumps on the market, but first, let’s find out what you should be looking for in a sump pump.
Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for in a Sump Pump
There are a huge variety of sump pumps out there, and there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which one is the best fit for you. You will need to keep in mind the size of your tank, the space available for your sump system, and the type of environment you are creating for your fish. It is also important to remember your personal preferences- a pump that might be great for one person might not be right for another. It depends on what kind of maintenance you feel comfortable with, how much control you want to have over the system, and what your plans are for changing or expanding your system in the future. Some of the pumps available include a lot of the extra equipment and features that you would otherwise have to source yourself, but do not provide a great deal of flexibility. Other options offer the bare bones in terms of setup, but with a quality pump that you can further customize to meet your specific needs. Take your time considering what features are most important to you before you start your search.
- Rate of water flow: Sump pumps all have varying rates of water flow, which is the rate at which the water is being pulled through the pump. If you have a very large tank, you will want to make sure that the sump pump you choose has a high enough water flow rate to support your tank. There are fixed and adjustable flow pumps available to choose from, depending on whether you want a constant flow rate or something that can be tweaked as your aquarium expands. Water flow is measured in gallons per hour, often abbreviated as GPH.
- Inline or submerged sump pump: The most basic question you will likely be asking yourself as you start looking for a sump pump is whether you want a submerged or inline pump. A submerged pump is designed to be run in the water, and an inline pump is installed on the outside of the sump. This is a matter of personal preference and space- consider the size of your sump, the sump pump, and how much room around the tank you have for other equipment. It is also important to remember that an inline pump will require some extra plumbing to allow the water to pass in and out of the pump from the outside. Many people are able to do this themselves, but if you are after easy installation options, a submerged pump might be best for you.
- Removable filters and maintenance: Another thing to consider is whether or not the pump has a screen or pre-filter. These will prevent debris from getting into the main mechanism of the pump and gumming up the works. Many sump pumps come with a filter for this purpose, and others don’t. Sump pumps without a filter will need to have one supplied externally- so again, it is a question of how much control you want over your system and how much space you have to dedicate to extra supplies. It is also important to consider how often you would like to have to clean out your pump. An external filter might seem cumbersome in the short term, but easier to maintain long term if you prefer to clean less often.
- Running Temperature: Running temperature is another factor to consider. Like many pieces of machinery, a sump pump heats up once it gets going. Your pump is constantly drawing water in and pushing it out again in a cycle, which will eventually lead to an increase in water temperature if your pump is running hot. This will be something to monitor in order to keep the water temperatures in your aquarium stable, especially for tropical aquariums, where your fish and plants are more likely to be affected by fluctuating temperatures. If your sump pump has a higher running temperature, it might lead you to invest in a chiller to keep things regulated. It is also worth noting that submerged sump pumps come into closer contact with the water and are more likely to heat things up than an inline pump.
- Noise level and energy use: The more accessories that you add to your tank, the more likely it is that the volume level will go up. If your aquarium is set up in a place where added noise will cause a disturbance, you might want to prioritize a quiet sump pump model. It is often the case that submerged sump pumps run more quietly than inline pumps.
You will also want to check the energy rating of your sump pump and make sure it is something you are able to keep running without your energy bill skyrocketing. Most sump pumps run on a standard household voltage, but the wattage varies from pump to pump. Investing in an energy-efficient sump pump upfront might save you more money in the long run.
Best Aquarium Sump Pumps
1. EcoPlus Submersible Pump
The EcoPlus is a great and versatile sump pump that can be used in a variety of aquariums. It comes in both fixed-flow and adjustable models, depending on your water flow needs. The fixed-flow models come in an assortment of options depending on how many gallons per hour you need to move and can accommodate some massive ponds and aquariums with a maximum water flow rate of 7400 gallons per hour. Here you can find the EcoPlus Submersible Pump!
The pumps can be installed submerged or inline depending on your preference. They have only one moving part for ease of maintenance, and are run using an earth rotor magnet which is efficient and provides a great consistent water flow. This magnet-based system is common in sump pumps and has the benefit of being oil-free and quieter than average. It comes with adapters to fit several sizes of airline tubing and includes inlet and outlet fittings. It has a ceramic shaft which makes it usable in a saltwater aquarium.
- Comes in both fixed-flow and adjustable models
- Earth rotor magnet system is high quality and efficient, oil-free and quiet
- Debris-blocking filter included
- Comes with adapters and fittings to suit a variety of spaces
- The manufacturer does not provide a running temperature estimate
- There are vertical limitations on this pump
2. Current USA eFlux
The Current USA eFlux is a great pump with a high degree of flexibility. The water flow is powered by a DC motor and is controllable by turning a dial. It can be used submerged or inline and is safe for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. The eFlux pumps are also energy-efficient, with the manufacturer estimating 65% in energy savings compared to traditional pump models. Here you can find the Current USA eFlux.
This pump is easy to install and includes the fittings required for a fast setup. It has a low running temperature compared to other pumps so you can run it frequently without worrying about temperature fluctuations in your aquarium. It comes with an easy-to-clean screen that prevents debris from getting into the motor. It is one of the flashier models on our list as it is also compatible with a larger aquarium management system called LOOP. LOOP connects and syncs all of your aquarium accessories into a single network- making it easy to control your entire tank with the touch of a button, and easier than ever to upgrade as your aquarium setup evolves. The Current USA eFlux DC Flow pump comes in three models that range from 1050 gallons per hour to 3170 gallons per hour capacities, which might be too strong for a smaller aquarium.
- DC motor offers great control over water flow with an easy to use dial
- Energy-efficient design can lead to savings on your energy bill
- Low running temperature means less maintenance for your aquarium temperature
- Safe for saltwater and freshwater aquariums
- Compatible with the LOOP system for those who want to streamline their aquarium maintenance
- Only 3 models to choose from, starting at 1050 gallons per hour. This might be overkill if you are looking for a sump pump for a smaller tank
- One of the pricier options on our list
3. Hydrofarm Active Aqua Submersible Sump Pump
The Hydrofarm Active Aqua is another great choice of a sump pump, especially if you are looking for a smaller scale pump or looking for a new pump on a budget. This pump comes in 7 models ranging from 40-to 1000 gallons per hour and with a maximum weight of 1.6 pounds it is small enough to fit in even the most modest of sumps. They can be run inline or submerged and disassemble easily for cleaning and maintenance. Here you can find the Hydrofarm Active Aqua Submersible Sump Pump.
It comes with a simple sponge filter that can be easily cleaned or replaced when needed- however with a multitude of parts than some of the other options, assembly might be a little more involved. It also comes with multiple hose fittings and the water flow is adjustable to accommodate your needs. The magnet-powered motor is oil-free and environmentally conscious. The running temperature of this pump is not noted by the manufacturer, so you might want to couple it with a chiller if you are worried about your fish overheating. It is also not recommended for use in saltwater tanks.
- Smaller options are available for more modest aquariums.
- Removable sponge filter included
- One of the most affordable pumps on the market
- Designed with hydroponics in mind, this sump pump is powerful relative to its size
- Comes with a 1-year warranty
- With a maximum of 1000 GPH, this pump might not be suitable for a large tank or pond
- Not compatible with saltwater aquariums
4. The Fluval Sea Sump Pump
The Fluval Sea sump pump is another great option designed specifically with marine aquariums in mind. The design is rugged enough to stand up to saltwater and electrically certified for marine use. There are no pieces of exposed metal to prevent rusting, and the casing is sturdy and secure. Additionally, these pumps are energy efficient and have a low-running temperature, which is great for temperature-sensitive reef tanks. Here you can find the Fluval Sea Sump Pump.
The Fluval Sea sump pump comes in three models of increasing size, with a maximum flow rating of 3434 gallons per hour. Though efficient, the flow is very powerful and consistent making it a customer favorite. It runs with a magnetic drive motor and is suitable for submerged or inline installation. The bigger models of this pump are on the large side to accommodate all that power- around 8 pounds- which might be too big for your sump. It is worth noting that this pump does not have a filter cap on it, and will need to provide an external solution to prevent clogging.
- Specifically designed for marine aquariums, these pumps have no exposed metal parts and can stand up to saltwater
- The low running temperature means you don’t have to worry about your aquarium running hot
- Strong and consistent water flow powerful enough for large aquariums and on the quiet side
- The energy-efficient design will cost less to run than traditional pumps, which is impressive for its size
- No water flow control
- Only 3 available flow rates mean you will likely have to install your own separate valve control
5. Eheim Universal Aquarium Water Pump
The Eheim Universal Aquarium Water pump is also a great sump pump option. It comes in several models with varying flow rates from 159-900 gallons per hour. It is not adjustable so an external valve would need to be provided if your ideal flow rate is not offered. It is epoxy-filled and hermetically sealed, which makes for a super-secure and dependable pump. Here you can find the Eheim Universal Aquarium Water Pump.
It is also known for being a very quiet sump pump, a great choice if your aquarium is in a place where you would like a little more silence. This pump can be installed submerged or inline depending on your preference and is suitable for freshwater and saltwater alike. It is an energy-efficient choice and has impeccable safety ratings, making it a customer favorite. The pump also comes with a pre-filter screen to keep debris out of the works, and they are reported to have a long lifespan for a pump.
- Designed to be durable and quiet, with epoxy filled and hermetically sealed casing
- Suitable for freshwater or saltwater aquariums
- Energy-efficient and powerful
- Long lifespan
- Expensive when comparing the price to the water flow rate
- With a maximum 900 gallons per minute, it might not be strong enough to support larger aquariums
Related Questions: Aquarium Sumps
There are many other sump pumps on the market that might be just as well suited as these to your sump system, so feel free to keep searching until you find the best sump pump for your needs and budget. If your aquarium is on the smaller side, you might even be wondering if a sump system is appropriate for you, or if you could get by with a typical filtration system. While there are no rules as to who can and cannot set up a sump system for their aquarium, there are certain instances where sumps are recommended.
When is it recommended to have a sump system?
Sumps are most often recommended for marine tanks, which require a lot of extra equipment. Saltwater tanks often need a heater, a chiller, skimmer, calcium reactor, several filter media, and more. These items would quickly overwhelm a display tank, so it makes sense to hide them away in the sump. Additionally, water changes are more risky and complicated for larger tanks, where the ecosystem is balanced for the fish and plants alike. A sump makes it easier for water changes to properly mix with the existing water to prevent any sort of shock or imbalance. The sump pump is very important in the sump system because it is responsible for the exchange of water between the sump and the display tank- without it, the sump would be useless.
How does a sump system work?
When searching for a sump pump, it helps to have a solid understanding of how the sump system works. To begin, water from the display tank (your aquarium) enters an overflow chamber as the waters rise. The water in this chamber drains into the sump. Once the water is in the sump, it runs through the equipment that is kept there (heater, chiller, filter, or anything else you might have set up), before reaching the sump pump. The sump pump pushes the water back up into the display tank. The goal is to have the sump pump running at about the same speed as the water draining from the overflow chamber, to create a constant loop of changing water.
What can I do to keep my sump pump clean?
Sump pump maintenance often varies depending on how hard the pump has to work to move the water and how large your aquarium is. However, there are a few maintenance tasks that you can perform to keep it running smoothly for a long time. Check on your sump pump once a month to see if it requires any cleaning- even if your water flow has not changed. Routine cleaning can help prevent buildup that can lead to a more challenging blockage. To clean the pump, rinse any debris out of the filter and wipe down the impeller.
A sump system is a great way to maintain a large aquarium. The increased water volume makes it easier to keep your ecosystem balanced and is great for keeping excess equipment out of the display tank. It can also make it easier to do water changes and keep everything in great shape without disturbing your fish and plants. Sump pumps are the most important part of any sump system because it is responsible for keeping the water flowing through the cycle. A great sump pump is a key to success with your sump system, and choosing the wrong one will definitely lead to some headaches. Now that we have covered what to look for in a sump pump and some of the great options on the market, you can feel confident with your next sump pump purchase.
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