Aquarium spray bars have so many benefits, I’m sometimes surprised more people don’t use them. Not only do they improve the oxygenation of your aquarium water, but they can also improve water circulation, and are great for fish that dislike strong currents.
An additional bonus is that you don’t necessarily have to buy this aquarium accessory because they’re relatively easy to make yourself!
In this article, I’ve gone to extra lengths to make sure you learn everything you need to about spray bars.
The Advantages of Aquarium Spray Bars
Spray Bars Increase Dissolved Oxygen in the Water
All fish need oxygen to survive. While a few species such as betta fish and gouramis can breathe some of their oxygen from the air at the water’s surface, most fish rely solely on dissolved oxygen to respire.
Oxygen is replenished in your tank when you add new water, from live plants photosynthesizing, and, most importantly, from the gas exchange at the water’s surface.
The amount of oxygen that enters the water through the surface gas exchange can be increased substantially by the amount of surface agitation, and, yes, spray bars can increase surface agitation dramatically.
Spray Bars Distribute Water Current More Evenly
By distributing water flow from your filter’s output over a larger area, spray bars can create better water circulation in your tank, removing dead spots that are devoid of currents.
You may have noticed when you’re cleaning your tank that there are corners of your aquarium where there is little current, causing fish waste and detritus to accumulate.
Introducing water flow into these corners reduces particulate build-up and keeps debris moving so they can eventually find their way back into your filter’s intake to get cleaned up!
Spray Bars Reduce Current Strength
Distributing the output flow over a greater area also decreases the strong current that can be created when all of the filter’s output is coming out of one small nozzle.
Although some fish such as clown loaches and plecos enjoy a strong current, fish from slow-moving waters like betta fish and gouramis can find water currents stressful, and in the long run, strong currents might well impact their health.
Spray bars even out the water current throughout the tank, ensuring that there is no place in the tank that has an overwhelming current that could stress out your fish.
Disadvantages of Aquarium Spray Bars
Aesthetics and Noise
One reason that some aquarists don’t like spray bars is that they simply don’t look very attractive.
A spray bar is essentially a large horizontal plastic pipe in your aquarium, and it might seem difficult to hide (see notes below on suggestions for hiding a spray bar!).
Another objection is the noise that spray bars can create.
Once again, there are solutions to this, such as positioning the spray under the water to eliminate splashing. More on that in a second!
Another obstacle to the perfect spray bar setup is mounting. You have to keep the thing stable and secure to withstand high degrees of pressure moving through it.
One option for this is to secure your spray bar to the rim of your aquarium above the water line.
But while this is a great solution for a spray bar above water, what about those of you who’d prefer to have your spray bar submerged?
Well, while sucker cups are notoriously unreliable and often lose their magic after a while, better quality, reliable sucker cups last much longer and are also pretty cheap if you buy them in bulk. Check these out as an example.
- Package Content: 10 Packs of Black Aquarium Suction Cups. Size: Approx. 1.4*1.6 inch / 3.5×4 cm.
- Easy To Install: The open mouth is detachable. Just turn it. It is easy to install and remove.
- Premium Material: Made of plastic and rubber material, which is perfect for fish tank, aquarium or any other glass surface.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Unlike a nozzle or a filter baffle, spray bars can require a fair bit of cleaning. This is because the small holes are usually only a few millimeters in diameter and can easily get clogged with algae!
When I used a spray bar years ago, I did find this annoying.
While other parts of my tank were nicely cleaned by my pleco and other catfish, the inside of the spray bar was out of reach, and so would build up with algae and get clogged up every month or so.
I don’t use a spray bar anymore, but thinking back on it, a bottle brush or a streamlined toothbrush could have worked wonders to clean the tube more thoroughly, then the holes wouldn’t get clogged up so quickly!
Positioning Your Spray Bar
There are a lot of options when it comes to positioning your spray bar. While spray bars are always positioned horizontally, the rest is up to you.
Spray Bar Above or Below the Water?
The most important consideration you need to make when positioning your spray bar is whether you want it above or below your water line.
A spray bar above the water is the traditional choice and will create several jets of water that sprinkle the surface of the aquarium. This creates a lot of surface agitation and gas exchange, but it’ll also sound like a constant waterfall.
Some fish keepers might enjoy this sound of running water, but other people (and fish!) definitely won’t!
A spray bar submerged just below the water line eliminates the noise often associated with this aquarium accessory, leaving you free to angle the current as you wish – either towards the water’s surface or down towards the gravel.
The Angle of Your Spray Bar
As well as choosing the location of your spray bar, you can adjust the angle of the holes for different effects.
If the spray bar is hanging above the water, you can use the angle to either trickle water down the glass into your water, or project it outwards to land in the middle of the tank.
Again it comes down to how much sound and surface agitation you’re looking to create.
If your spray bar is submerged underwater, you can either angle it pointing upwards to subtly agitate the water without making noise, or down towards the gravel.
The first option is more common since even subtle agitation of the water will greatly improve dissolved oxygen levels in the aquarium water.
But angling the spray bar down towards the gravel has the advantage of creating more water circulation at the bottom of the tank, eliminating dead spots, and trapped debris, as we discussed earlier.
Hiding Your Spray Bar
The final consideration you need to make when positioning your spray bar is aesthetics.
A spray bar either dangling above the water line or stuck onto the back of an aquarium in plain sight can look clumsy and unsightly. If you’re looking to create a natural aesthetic, it might be a reason you’d rather avoid using a spray bar at all.
Fortunately, as is often the case, thoughtful positioning of aquarium plants can go a long way to disguise aquarium equipment.
Tall plants such as Blue Water Hyssop, Hornwort, and Amazon Sword can all be positioned just in front of a submerged spray bar that is angled vertically so that they obscure the view while also remaining relatively undisturbed by the water’s flow.
How To Make Your Own Aquarium Spray Bar
If you’re one of those people who enjoy making things yourself, then good news! DIY Spray bars are fairly easy to make, and creating your own also allows you to craft your spray bar to your specific requirements.
Here, I’ll just describe the most fundamental aspects of making a spray bar, but you can find instructions for making more elaborate versions with adjustable flow, etc. online too.
1. Choose Your Piece of Pipe!
Spray bars are typically made from PVC tubing, but most types of aquarium-safe plastic pipe will do.
You want your pipe to match the diameter of your filter hose outlet, which is normally 1/2 inch (15mm) or 3/4 inch (20mm) across.
The length of your pipe will depend on the size of the tank, the strength of your water flow, and how much water pressure you want to create. Longer spray bars with more holes will create a less powerful spray than shorter ones with fewer holes.
But, to use an example, a typical spray bar might be around 9 inches (23cm) long with 8 holes. If possible, find a piece of pipe with a screw thread on the end where you can screw on a cap.
2. Mark Out Holes on Your Spray Bar
Next, you want to mark the holes that you’ll drill. You can do this effectively by sticking a piece of masking tape on your pipe, measuring your holes, and marking them down.
You want your holes to be evenly spaced over the length of your spray bar, with at least one inch between each hole. Use a straightedge to make sure the holes are in a good line.
Once again, how many holes you make comes down to how much pressure you want to create.
The fewer holes you drill, the more projection you’ll get from each water jet, but too much pressure could also cause the spray bar to be less efficient or even blown off by the filter’s outflow!
3. Drill Your Holes!
Now use a cordless drill and a sharp 3mm drill bit (you can opt to make holes bigger later) to drill the holes that you’ve marked out.
Try to keep the drill at 90° to ensure the holes are all at the same angle.
Only use moderate pressure to avoid cracking the PVC or drilling through into the other side by mistake.
4. Cap the End
Butt the end of your spray bar using an end cap. If your piece of tubing had a screw thread on the end, you can easily attach and undo your cap for cleaning later.
If your pipe didn’t have a screw thread, you’ll need to use strong aquarium-safe glue to fix a cap at the end.
Be warned that there can be a fair amount of pressure inside a spray bar, so make sure your end cap is nice and snug!
5. Attach Your Spray Bar to Your Filter Outlet
Attach your filter’s outlet hose to your spray bar and mount it either to your aquarium’s upper rim, or back wall, as described earlier. Turn your filter on.
You’ll soon find out how much pressure is created by your design and whether larger holes might be necessary.
If you need to make any amendments, take your spray bar back out and try a 4mm drill bit instead. Otherwise, well done! Your spray bar is complete!
Buying a Spray Bar
If you’re not so excited by the prospect of making your own spray bar, the good news is you can easily buy them online or at specialist pet stores.
Let’s take a look at a couple of nice ones.
Eheim AEH4004310 Spray Bar Set 494 Canister Filters Parts for Aquarium
- The installation spray bar set ensures optimum pressure conditions with variable options
- Package Dimensions: 6.8 H x 11.0 L x 22.6 W (centimeters)
- Package Weight: 0.49 pounds
This premium spray bar from Eheim has been receiving great reviews from online buyers.
Designed especially for use with canister filters, you could also use this model successfully with a sump filter setup with an outlet hose of matching size.
This spray bar is made in Germany so comes with metric measurements. An extendable design, it gives you 3 x 9cm tubes with 4 holes in each piece.
If you slot them all together to make the maximum length of 27cm, you’ll have 12 outlet holes.
Eheim is renowned for making solid, high-quality aquarium equipment, so it should be a worthwhile investment to spend a little extra on this high-quality model.
Fluval Spray Bar Kit, Aquarium Filter Accessory
- Specifically designed for the Fluval 07 and 06 performance canister series for use in freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Increases the amount of oxygen in your tank for healthier fish and plants
- Distributes water evenly for delicate aquascapes and eliminates dead spots in your aquarium
Another top piece of kit, this time from Fluval.
This spray bar is designed specifically to be used with the Fluval 07 and 06 performance canister filter series, for freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
Having reviewed these Fluval canister filters before, I can tell you, they’re among the best available. But you may also be able to customize this spray bar for use with other filter brands so long as the outlet hose dimensions are the same.
A simple and elegant design, the dark tubes blend in well against the back of the aquarium, but some customers have noticed that the gray elbow joint is very visible.
Still, this is a small quibble for an otherwise excellent spray bar.
Some Alternatives to Spray Bars
If you’ve got this far in reading, the chances are you’re pretty interested in improving water circulation, flow direction, or aeration in your fish tank (or maybe all three)!
But if you don’t like the visual aesthetics of spray bars, or are worried it’ll make one more piece of aquarium equipment that you’ll have to clean regularly, there are some other options.
Spray Bars vs Lily Pipes
Now, if you’re looking for a beautifully made outlet attachment for your filter that resembles a sleek piece of laboratory glassware, look no further than Lily pipes.
These eye-catching glass aquarium accessories are made to hook over the rim of your aquarium and deliver water from your filter to your aquarium in an amazingly elegant way.
Not only are the aesthetics of Lily pipes really pleasing, but the angle of the mouth that delivers the water is set at the perfect aperture and angle for plenty of water agitation without noisy splashing.
Spray Bars vs Airstones
Airstones are a very different concept from a spray bar, but they do offer another way that you can oxygenate your water more thoroughly.
Attached to an air pump outside the aquarium, air stones turn the large bubbles of the air pump hose into a fizz of tiny ones that oxygenates the water far more thoroughly.
Airstones don’t have to be ugly either. There are some really attractive models on the market, and some aquarists find the visual appeal of the bubbles a selling point too.
- Medium Bubbles: The air stone produces abundant dense bubbles to aerate your water reservoirs.
- Model: ASR-100; Jetting volume: 15 L/min; Recommended air pump power: > 4 W; Standard ID airline tubing: 3/16″ or 3/8″.
If you’re looking for a silent aquarium though, airstones aren’t for you.
Even if tiny bubbles are quieter than large ones, the pump that delivers the air will always make some sort of hum, even on the quieter models.
Spray bars can make an extremely useful aquarium accessory. Not only do they oxygenate your water better, but they also distribute water flow and improve circulation in your aquarium too.
For fish that don’t like a strong current, or for those who need a plentiful oxygen supply, I’d highly recommend using a spray bar or perhaps a Lily pipe, as suggested in the last section of this article.
The post Spray Bar Aquarium Accessories – Let’s Look at the Options appeared first on Aquariadise.