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FAQs about Bubble Trouble and Aquarium Systems:  Case Histories, Solved!

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Related FAQs: Bubble Troubles 1, Bubble Troubles 2, Bubble Troubles 3, Bubble Troubles 4, Bubble Troubles 5, Bubble Concerns, & FAQs on Causes/Fixes: Diagnosing Sources, Intake/Overflow Issues, Plumbing Issues, Pump/ing Issues, Discharge Issues, Biological Issues, & Marine Plumbing 1, Marine Plumbing 2, Marine Plumbing 3Marine Plumbing 4, Marine Plumbing 5, Marine Plumbing 6, Plumbing 7, Plumbing 8, Plumbing 9, Plumbing 10, Plumbing 11, Plumbing 12, Plumbing 13, Plumbing 14, Plumbing 15, Plumbing 16, Plumbing 17, Plumbing 18, Holes & Drilling, Durso Standpipes, Overflow Boxes, Plumbing Noise, Make Up Water Systems, Pumps, Plumbing, Circulation, Sumps, RefugiumsMarine Circulation 2, Gear Selection for Circulation, Pump Problems Fish-Only Marine Set-ups, Fish-Only Marine Systems 2, FOWLR/Fish and Invertebrate Systems, Reef Systems, Coldwater Systems, Small Systems, Large SystemsWater Changes Surge Devices


Micro Bubbles Mystery -- 11/18/09
I am experiencing high volume of micro bubbles being ejected into the tank causing a fuzzy/hazy appearance in the tank. I can confirm that the skimmer, calcium reactor, chiller returns, anything else in the sump are not causing the problem because I turned them all off for a few minutes...ran only the return (GenX pump 1500gph) and still seeing bubbles, no micro bubbles are entering the intake bulkhead to the pump, only coming out the returns in the tank.
How is this possible?
<<It would seem that air is being drawn-in somewhere along the pump return line>>
Have things grown on the impeller of the pump to act as a needle wheel?
<<Not likely to such an extent'¦and would still need some type of air infusion>>
Is that a possibility?
<<An unlikely one'¦though cleaning the pump's impeller and volute can't hurt, and will likely improve its performance/efficiency>>
Somewhere along the lines of the return lines is the problem,
I'm using a 1" SCWD too, maybe that is chopping up bubbles...not sure...
<<No'¦ The mechanism 'within' the SCWD is not the problem, although the line connections may well be. Try removing the SCWD and see what happens>>
at this point I'm thinking of exchanging the pump for a brand new Pan World instead in hopes of eliminating the problem which has been going on for maybe a month now.
<<This would be a better pump in my opinion, but just exchanging pumps is not likely going to resolve your issue here. You need to check 'every' joint/fitting along the return line for a possible air leak (and it probably won't be visible re any leaking water). Utilizing something like a silicon grease to smear-on and seal the joints will help. Do this, one joint at a time, until you find the culprit'¦and then make your repair. Or simply rebuild/replace the entire pump return line if not to extensive a project>>
Thanks for your input,
<Happy to share'¦ EricR>>

Re: Micro Bubbles  11/18/09
Yeah i think we're on the same page here. The air must be coming in somewhere along the return line connections. I was looking for any signs of salt creep that might indicate a bad connection. but these bubbles are soo small that they are being "sucked" in along the lines from a tiny tiny hole somewhere, probably wouldn't be any salt creep because the inside pressure would not allow it to leak out but only draw in small air instead im thinking. Guess I have some tinkering around to do. Will try the replacement pump first since i need a backup anyway and this Genex is pretty noisy, then mess around with connections.
Thanks for your response.
<Mmm. Do read re others adventures with these sorts of issues: http://wetwebmedia.com/bubtroubfaq2.htm
and the first linked file in the series above. Someone here placed your resp./query in my in-folder, but am going to send to EricR for his input as well. Bob Fenner>

Re: Micro Bubbles Mystery -- 11/21/09 (Eric's go)
Yeah I think we're on the same page here. The air must be coming in somewhere along the return line connections.
<<Is often the case (see WWM re)>>
I was looking for any signs of salt creep that might indicate a bad connection but these bubbles are so small that they are being "sucked" in along the lines from a tiny tiny hole somewhere, probably wouldn't be any salt creep because the inside pressure would not allow it to leak out but only draw in small air instead I'm thinking.
<<Yes'¦such small leaks are very often visually undetectable>>
Guess I have some tinkering around to do. Will try the replacement pump first since I need a backup anyway and this Gen-X is pretty noisy,
<<A good place to start>>
and then mess around with connections.
Thanks for your response.
<<Happy to share'¦ EricR>>
<Mmm. Do read re others adventures with these sorts of issues: http://wetwebmedia.com/bubtroubfaq2.htm
and the first linked file in the series above. Someone here placed your resp./query in my in-folder, but am going to send to EricR for his input as well. Bob Fenner>
<<Thanks Bob'¦and my apologies to you and Martin for the delay in my response. A family emergency has resulted in a hectic couple of days>>
<No worries Eric. First things first. I hope/trust all is well now. BobF>

R2: Micro Bubbles Mystery -- 11/21/09
Hey Eric,
<<Hey Mathew'¦and sorry mate, I just realized I referred to you as 'Martin' in my last response>>
The problem was the pump. I switched it out with an older spare pump GenX 1140gph. Surprisingly the older pump was quieter and moved practically the same amount of water.
<<Ahh'¦is likely 'cleaner' too!>>
Apparently the GenX 1500gph pump had accumulated so much dust buildup on the fan cover and pump itself that it basically became so hot you couldn't even touch it without burning yourself.
<<Indeed'¦ These pumps are not 'install and forget' pieces of equipment. Twice annual cleaning'¦inside and out'¦is always recommended, regardless of how the pump is performing>>
That had to have been related to the micro bubble problem somehow because after the switch, no more micro's.
<<So it would seem, yes>>
Always a good thing to keep your main pump clean and in good condition or heat problems can occur and oddly enough, micro bubbles.
Guess this proves that there were no problems with the return line anywhere or SCWD.
<<Always good>>
<<I'm glad you were able to resolve the issue so quickly and easily. Cheers, Eric Russell>>

Re: Micro Bubbles -- 10/31/09
I've attached pics of my sump/refug set up. I can't put a sock on the overflow since the two PVC tubes are connected to the side of the sump. I do, however, use a filter pad -- and as you'll see, I added one more to minimize the splash (I've never needed it in the past).
<I do think this polyurethane pad is working to prevent the bubbles>
It appears to me (and the pic of the refug macro algae seems to confirm) that the bubbles could be coming from this source.
<I concur... rapid photosynthesis is occurring there>
However, as the water spills into the baffles before being returned to the display tank, the bubbles don't appear to be present. The bubbles in the refug were my initial concern -- but since they seem to dissipate before getting into the return lines -- I concluded they were not a problem.
<Not likely so if not too numerous>
The pics don't show it well but the there are 2 PVC inside the sump; one for the skimmer (shown in the front) and the other just like it toward the back that feeds the return lines, the chiller, and the refug.
<I see these>
Thanks so much for your time to coach me along with this issue.
<Welcome Gene. There are other approaches to reducing bubbly-ness... Do you  utilize chemical filtration media? Have you investigated ORP/RedOx? The use of Ozone here will likely be of great benefit all the way around. BobF>

Re: Micro Bubbles
Thank you, Bob.
<Welcome Gene>
I don't know what ORP/RedOx is actually. I'll do some research on the topic.
<Is a very useful "window" to water quality, and it's supplementation, manipulation a sure means of reducing organics... likely the source of "bubbles" here>
What I have in the sump at this moment is a bag of something designed to reduce phosphates (mine are at about 0.5). I also have one other small bag of carbon only.
I have ordered from BRS their GFO kit and media. It should arrive in a day or 2.
<Also worth trying>
What do you mean by "rapid photosynthesis is occurring there"? I have been running the lights on the refug 24/7 to prevent the macro algae from going "asexual"
<Actually sexual>
-- as I've read this could be dangerous and constant lighting and thinning help prevent this. Should I change the lighting scheme to reduce the rapid photosynthesis?
<I would likely overlap some (an hour or two) of the main displays lighting regimen... and have the lights on the refugium algae otherwise when the main tank is dark. B>

Re: Micro Bubbles  -- 11/1/09
Thanks again!
Can I safely assume that these micro bubbles are NOT causing any harm at this time to my fish or corals?
<Mmm, no>
I will continue to work at removing the bubbles but don't want to become overly concerned unless necessary.
<... no way to tell from where I am. B>

Re: Micro Bubbles 11/10/09
Discovered that the micro bubbles were coming from the overflow area of the sump. The drop from 10 feet was creating too much turbulence for the baffle design I had. Thus, I have added new baffles and eliminated the problem.
Just an FYI.
<Ahh! Congratulations and thank you for this update. BobF>

Micro bubbles in my tank   9/21/06 I have been going in circles with my 120 gallon tank for 5 months now to no avail. There are bubbles everywhere in my tank. Well first I spent 200 dollars on sump with baffles and visibly there are no bubbles in the pump chamber it looks completely clear. I am using a mag 9.5 submerged). The return is made with flexible tubing split half way up with a tee to the return pipes. <Likely air entrainment... very likely at one of these junctions...> everything was working perfectly except for the bubbles. So I thought just the other day could the bubbles be coming from my pump. So I unplugged it put it in the main display and there was the culprit bubbles coming out in short burst. so my question to you guys which have helped me so much already. Is there a submersible pump with a 3/4 inch outlet that will not cause these problems because this is not the first time this has happened to me. Thank you. <... how did bubbles come from a submersed pump? This is assuredly not the source... but one of the lines distal from the discharge. For one, I'd replace the flexible tubing with solid... If you're set on using a submersible pump, you can... but they have downsides... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_3/cav3i1/Powerhead_test/powerhead_comp.htm and the linked files at the bottom. RMF>

Re: Micro bubbles in my tank... drilling acrylic   9/22/06 The pump is cavitating that is the only logical explanation. <?> I saw it with my own eyes I put the pump in the display and it produced bubbles. It filled the entire display with them. <Keep reading, please> Can an acrylic sump be drilled for a bulkhead. <Yes, easily. RMF>

Re: Micro bubbles in my tank Thank you for continuing to help this newbie. <Mmm, I appreciate the chance/opportunity to help you solve... have met with many such situations... Can be extremely flummoxing> I cleaned out the o-ring and wiped every thing else down. But that did not work. Bubbles still shot out. There is not very much you can get to inside this pump. This is the first time I opened the pump it was actually very clean hardly anything at all came off of the O-ring. I cant figure this out. My sump has baffles one set of them could my bubbles be coming through there. It has a section to fit a bubble diffusing sponge which is placed between the baffles. I don't really like this because it collects a lot of detritus and gets clogged. But when I take it out even more bubbles come in to my tank. <This is telling...> So if it cant be the pump and it cant be the pvc that is the only explanation. The only thing is the pump area looks clear. <And you have tried smearing silicone lube over all other connections... especially distal to the pump? Is there someone, another marine aquarium keeper who could come by, maybe someone from a store or service company, to give this all an extra look/see? BobF> Re: Micro bubbles in my tank I took your advice and ran all my lines with pvc exactly as the diagram showed and I turned my pump on and the bubbles were still there. <Mmm...> I really don't know what to do here. I'm getting fed up with this thing I have had micro bubbles ever since the first day. I just need some advice. Please help. <I do know what I would, have (had to) do/ne before... Please don't lose patience... we can solve this... Drain the water from the line/s going to and from the pump, remove the volute (the cover over the impeller) (screwed on)... take a close look at the O-ring that fits twixt the pump and the volute. Clean this (clean towel) and the race (Q-tip) and re-lube with silicone... and replace/fit all... Does this do it? Bob Fenner> Re: Micro bubbles in my tank  9/26/06 Thank you for sticking with me. I raised the water level in my sump about 5 inches. I thought if I raised the water level, some of the bubbles would not reach the baffles. <Good thought> I thought bringing the incoming water in at a higher level the splash would reduce and the bubbles would have more room to escape before they reached my baffles. <Yes... better to make the flow "over/under" with two baffles placed adjacent.....> This I would say reduced the bubbles in my tank by half. <An important clue, eh?> If you think this sump is not cutting it I was very interested in the pressure locking sump baffles article. What I was wondering is can you make that with an acrylic tank and if so is this a realistic project for a newbie like me. I really want to thank you for your time. I know you have to be answering tons of questions each day. Thank you. <Yes... either this, or draining, drying, and installing adjustable or permanent panels/baffles... BobF>

Help! almost ready to give up (Micro bubbles) Many months ago, I wrote to you about a problem I was experiencing with my 72 gal reef tank Oceanic) with a wet-dry filter. At that point, the tank was only running for about 2 months and I was concerned because my water had very fine particles floating in it- almost dust like. I was afraid I clean the substrate crushed coral) good enough. You told to be patient and not to clean the filter pad as often as I was- Basically let it build up. I then learned that the problem wasn't dust or dirt- It was bubbles, very fine micro bubbles. For the last 6 months I have tearing my hair out trying to get rid of them- unsuccessfully. In the wet-dry (Amiracle PL -2000) I have insert a ton of foam blocks and the bubbles are so small- with flashlight I can watch them float right through the foam blocks.  <wow...that is surprising indeed> I have tried putting a elbow joint on the end with the water pump (MagDrive 700) so it sucking water from the bottom of the filter and not air from near the top of the water. I gone as far as calling Amiracle themselves- They feels as though a lot of water is bypassing the drip tray. <that is very doubtful! Micro bubble are created through pressurized dynamics (aspiration of large bubbles through a pump, or a pinhole Venturi on the outflow side of a high volume pump)> I can tell you my wet -dry inflow gurgles and bubbles quite a bit- and a lot of water does overflow down the sides of the drip tray and misses the tray completely.  <this is because the pump is oversized for the application (which doesn't mean that the pump is too big for the display... just that the overflow is likely inadequate)> but this particular model filter has a capacity of 75-150 gallons- My tank is 72 gallons with a 700 GPH pump with almost four feet of elevation- I cant understand why the water flows so ruff into the filter.  <above... a common design flaw on many tank and filter overflows... they are undersized for high flow reef applications. Cheaper to produce, I suppose> I have even tried to run the system with a 500 GPH water pump which is insufficient for this size tank).  <wise experiment> With the 500 GPH more water seems to hit the drip tray but I continue to have the bubbles.  <indeed... the flow volume is the cause of the gurgling... not the micro bubbles. Again, micro bubbles are created in pressurized situations> The inflow does enter the filter on the side near the top then runs over a lip & over the drip tray & through the bioballs. The reason why I mention this is because a lot of other filters seem to have their inflow on top of the filter directly over the bioballs and really no water submerges the bioballs.  <no matter... gravity drops will not create such fine bubbles... it can only carry them from upstream at best> My filter seems to submerge the bioballs about 2/3rds in water. I have read where you don't think this is a problem.  <I personally believe that it is a significant compromise on the potential and performance of the filter. Little or no bio-balls should ever be submerged. Many reasons for this not the least of which makes the bio-balls completely dependant on dissolved O2 in the water rather than performing in a proper "trickle" filter style with unlimited O2 from the atmosphere as thin water trickles over the media> Insert a threaded 90 degree angle where the water inflows to slow down the gurgling and this still hasn't helped.  <again... the overflow path is too small or the pump is too large... a design flaw in my opinion> I have even paid someone who is in the industry of servicing aquariums and he could really offer any suggestions. I also have chgd the tubing I have for the inflow and outflow of the filter thinking may they were crimped or had a very small hole in it. <reasonable deduction, yes> I have searched your site per your suggestions. I have your books and have learned a lot & really enjoyed them. I thought about replacing the filter completely but really cant afford to & really not sure at this point if it would help me. I know what you are going to say- search your web page under bubbles& wet-dry- Which I have found some articles that are related but nothing that that has made a difference. I am pledging with you to offer me some specific suggestions that may make a difference for.  <This problem really should be simple to deduce, my friend. Systematically unplug electric pumps one at a time (skimmer, return, etc) to determine which is creating the bubbles. Then isolate the origin of the bubbles ( outflow of skimmer by aspirated water, Venturi pinhole on outflow side of return pump sending micro bubbles up to the display which overflow right back down to the sump and are aggravated by running through the return pump, etc.). I am honestly certain that if you have micro bubbles, they are not created by a drop from a simple gravity overflow. Yes... lets find out their origin first. Did you try my suggestion from earlier about running petroleum jelly on each of the joints on the outflow side of the pump? One at a time until the bubbles stop and then reglue that joint...> I realize this a hobby that take patience- I know this- I have done aquariums before but never have experienced this type of problem. If I didn't have such a appreciation for the oceans & SeaLife I would have quit a long time ago. Please help me. <indeed... hang in there my friend. This should be an easy fix. Best regards, Anthony>

Re: Help! almost ready to give up Thanks for responding! I have isolated the problem to the water pump.  <excellent!> I don't ever recall the suggestion about the petroleum jelly but sounds like a good idea.  <yes... an old trick. Just lube each joint and then wait 10-15 minutes to see if bubbles stop. Continue with each joint/union until you discover the culprit. This is the most common source of micro bubbles. If it isn't a fitting, sometimes it can be a seat/seal on the pump housing itself. Rare though. I believe you said you had a mag drive pump. They are not likely to have this problem... more so a problem with direct drive/shaft pumps> So if I understand you correctly- You are even thought the over is inadequate- it is not my problem. because when I shut off my water the problem goes way- it must be one of the connections on the water pump line back to the display tank. Is that correct? <yes... the inadequate overflow causes the gurgling sound but cannot cause micro bubbles from gravity overflow no matter how hard the crash or fall of water is. Micro bubbles are definitely coming from aspiration through a pump or more likely a Venturi from a pinhole leak in a fitting or union of some sort. Best regards, Anthony Calfo>

Tiny Bubbles Hi, My sump is up and running, but I have one problem. Both my return outtake "pipes" put forth lots of tiny bubbles into the tank. Do you know what's causing this? <It could be several things, most likely your pump is sucking in air from the sump or there is a pin hole leak in your return plumbing that is acting like a venturi. There should be more specific information regarding in the plumbing FAQ's.> I have a brand new Lifereef Protein Skimmer, so could it be the break-in period from that? <Not really.> Right now I have both of the pumps in the same sump, not separated, which I'll have to do eventually, but the tiny bubble thing is sort of irritating. Help! Thanks much, Mike <Good luck! -Steven Pro>

Re: Tiny bubbles (Reply to Steven) Good Morning, Steven! Your reply to my second message came through garbled, with half of it in italics, and some of it missing, so I had to wait to see it on the web site ;-) <The web is both great and mysterious at times.> The <>< is an IXOYE, or "ichthus" of the Christian faith - Christians make this sign to recognize each other....but it works for this site just as well! <I do remember, having had twelve years of Catholic education.> A fish, yes indeed! Better go get that coffee. wink wink. Say hello to your wife and baby for me, and if you want some Texas BBQ, let me know! We are going hunting for bubbles today, you may get several email from me, trying to track down the cause - you've been warned, and Anthony can attest to how often I have asked advice! Scott is going to redo the plumbing, and I'm going to work on the skimmer. wish us luck! -Cathy in Texas <>< <You guys do not need luck. I am confident that you two will discover the cause and correct. -Steven Pro>

Re: Tiny bubbles  Howdy! SUCCESS!!! There are now no more bubbles in the tank, except for every once in awhile a cloud emerges from the spouts. No where near the amount we had before, and it may be the skimmer "breaking in" - right? <Perhaps just a bubble or two slips by your baffles every once in a while. Nothing to be too concerned about.> The skimmer has green stuff in the tower, but the bubbles haven't risen to the collection cup yet. Though this may be due to the off again, on again of us messing with the tank, how long should it be before those bubbles get to the top? <With stability, just days more than likely.> I wanted to say a big THANK YOU to you guys - hopefully without the mushy part - for all the patience you have had with me and mine. We wouldn't have learned so much in so little time without your patience and guidance. And I know my "fishies" are much better for it! <You are quite welcome.> Now I get the fun part of putting in more animals and coral - once everything stabilizes, of course! So, what do you think of a snowflake eel? (wink) -Cathy in Texas <>< <Some of your crustaceans would be in jeopardy with the addition of an eel. Have a lovely day! -Steven Pro>

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