Aquarium automation is one of the hottest trends in aquarium keeping. What’s aquarium automation? It’s the use of electronic devices to control important functions in your freshwater or marine tank.
The primary goal behind aquarium automation is to make keeping an aquarium easier by continuously monitoring and controlling important parameters. Automation also helps in maintaining a consistent aquatic environment, which helps keep fish, coral and plants healthy and vibrant.
Dosing pumps are one of the primary types of aquarium automation devices. They’re designed to automatically add precise amounts of additives to the aquarium water. The idea is to consistently add just the right amount every day to ensure a stable aquatic environment. Dosing pumps can even be used to automatically change aquarium water!
What kind of aquariums benefit from a dosing pump?
Reef aquariums are the primary candidates for automated dosing pumps. The live corals, clams encrusting coralline algae and other reef-building organisms need a steady supply of calcium and magnesium. Marine invertebrates extract these minerals from the aquarium water to create calcium and magnesium skeletal mass, shell material, and encrusting algae biomass. If there are not enough minerals in the water, coral growth slows down to unnatural levels.
Many reef aquarists are concerned that essential trace and bio-elements can drop to growth-limiting levels. These elements include strontium, iodine, iron, copper and manganese. Other additives include proprietary blends of amino acids, vitamins and potassium. You can even use the pump to add freshwater to compensate for evaporation.
Freshwater planted aquariums can use a dosing pump to add essential plant nutrients like phosphate, nitrate, iron and essential trace elements. The idea is to keep the plant growth maximized to out-compete algae growth. Too much fertilizer at one time will over-stimulate algae growth. A small daily dose of nutrients gives the plants what they need without creating nutrient-rich water that causes algae problems. Daily additions of liquid carbon (CO2) is easy when it is managed by a dosing pump. The aquatic plants will always have a supply of carbon to stimulate lush growth.
How do dosing pumps work?
When dosing pumps were first introduced to the aquarium hobby, they were nothing more than industrial and medical devices. They were large, heavy, noisy and very expensive. Because these dosing pumps were not designed for aquarium use, they required lots of adjustment to make them work. Replacement parts were hard to find and very costly. Fortunately, aquarium product manufacturers worked to develop dosing pumps designed specifically for the aquarium hobby.
Today we can enjoy the quiet reliability of purpose-built aquarium dosing pumps that cost far less than the early models. All dosing systems use a peristaltic pump design. This type of pump consists of a series of rollers attached to a central rotor. As the rotor turns, the rollers press on a flexible hose inside the pump housing. As the hose is pinched by the roller, fluid is forced through the tube. The action of the rollers serves to gently pump fluids through the pump in a reliable, consistent flow rate. The amount of liquid added with each pump cycle depends on the diameter of the hose inside the peristaltic pump and the duration of the pump cycle.
Today’s designs fall into two categories. Stand-alone dosing pumps have built-in capabilities that allow for programming the dose rate and timing. Modular dosing pumps are more advanced, requiring connection to a separate control module. This modular system allows many devices to be controlled by a single “brain” module. Often the entire lighting, dosing and filtration system can be controlled with a wireless app from home, office or anywhere there is an internet connection.
Which dosing pump is right for me?
There are a variety of dosing pumps to choose from.
If all you want is to top off the tank when water evaporates, an automatic top-off (ATO) system is the way to go. While these dosing pumps can be programmed to periodically add water, none senses the water level like an ATO.
If you’re looking to add multiple additives and control exactly how much is added and when, dosing pumps are for you.
Our recommendation is to read through the reviews and see which models best suit your needs for dosing and automation capabilities.
Aquarium Dosing Pump Reviews
The Jebao DP-4 is a low-cost, four-head dosing pump. Each pump can be programmed to dispense a precise amount of liquid up to 24 times a day.
This allows a user to keep their tank parameters stable, and removes the need for mixing supplements every day. The controller is easy to set up and use.
Each pump can be programmed to function individually.
The DP-4 is perfect for any tank, as it allows for dosing in both large and small increments. The DP-4 comes with a power supply and is plug and play after it is calibrated with a 100mL graduated cylinder. An extra slave unit can be added to bring the pump count to eight.
- Each channel provides 1 to 9999-ml per day.
- Dose up to 24 times per day.
- Each pump can be programmed individually.
- Functions as a master pump is slave unit is added.
- Each pump head must be calibrated to 100 ml before use.
The Kamoer F4 is their latest dosing pump design. Unlike the previous version, the F4 Pro has no LCD display or buttons.
All functions are controlled through Wi-Fi. Each four-pump unit includes a Wifi connection which gives you control of the doser via iPhone or Android devices.
Periodic software updates are painless. The app sends updates to the F4 PRO via WiFi. No wires or physical connection is required. The user-interface is friendly and intuitive to help you get up and running quickly.
The Kamoer F4 Pro features three operational modes: Automatic, Manual, and Custom. Through the app you can set the start and stop times and dial-in how much to dose during that time period. The scheduling section of the app lets you select alternate dosing days.
An important feature is the option to set delays on channels. This allows one substance to be added and given time to disperse in the water before another pump doses a different chemical. This prevents two concentrated additives from being added at the same time, eliminating the chances of chemical precipitation. This makes it easy to use two-part calcium products, trace elements, liquid prepared foods and even live pods.
Note that a simple single-pump doser is also available.
- Small footprint
- Fully programable
- Easy calibration
- Battery backup of settings
- 1-year warranty
The Aqua Media Reefdoser system uses four professional grade peristaltic pumps.
Each pump can be independently programmed for accurate control of the dose rate or operated manually.
The pump fits nicely under the aquarium stand.
The Evo 4 uses an external wired controller that attaches to the pump.
The touch pad has an easy to read LCD display, making set-up and programming simple and fast. With only a few presses on the keypad, the dosing system up and running. LEDs light when the Evo 4 is powered and indicate which pumps are operating.
The Aqua Media Reefdoser can be used with freshwater, saltwater and reef aquariums. It is a stand-alone system that does not require an external controller.
- Doses: 1-24 doses/day.
- Interval between dosing (0-30): Days in between the dose schedule (0=every day, 1=skip a day, etc.)
- Dose volume in milliliters: 1-9999 milliliters.
- Automatic dosing of two-part calcium solutions for corals.
- Day or night feeding of live and prepared plankton and invert foods.
The Eshopps IV 200 Dosing Pump is a 2-channel aquarium dosing system.
It is a stand-alone unit that does not require a separate automation interface.
The dosing pump is capable of precise dispensing liquid aquarium supplements from 1 milliliter up to 1,999 milliliters.
You can dose pH buffers, calcium supplements, two-part additives, fertilizers, trace elements, amino acids and more. The pump can also be used to add water to compensate for evaporation.
The push-button controller is easy to set-up. No complicated programming is needed. Simple push-button programming lets you quickly enter dosing amount and frequency.
The waterproof control panel has a bright backlit LCD display.
The pump automates routine calcium, alkalinity, trace elements, magnesium, iodine, iron and amino acid supplementation.
The Eshopps IV Dosing Pump IV-200 is a Master Unit. It can be expanded by connecting three-channel IV-300 Slave Units. You can add up to two expansion slave units for up to eight independently controllable dosing channels.
The programming feature prevents dosing pumps with different liquids from pumping at the same time. Each pump activates at 5-minute intervals when pump channels are set to dose at the same time.
- Expandable up to 8 independent dosing pumps.
- Quiet motors.
- Works with standard 3/16 airline tubing.
- Comes with a mounting bracket.
This kit includes the Bubble Magus T-01 Doser, three 1.5 liter dosing containers, one Bubble Magus tube holder, and one Bubble Magus mounting bracket.
The T-01 dosing pump has three independent pump heads mounted to the controller box.
The T-01 uses a US-made microprocessor that stores the program settings in case of a power failure.
Each pump head comes with high-quality pump tubing with a lifespan of 10,000 hours. The backlit LCD display and push-button controls are easy to read, making programming quick and easy.
The entire T-01 unit is waterproof. Also included are three 1.5-liter dosing reservoirs. These clear acrylic containers can be used to hold liquid trace elements, two-part calcium supplements, RO water and more. The doser has automatic time-sharing between channels so different liquids will not be added to the aquarium at the same time, preventing unwanted chemical interaction.
Also included in the kit is a mounting bracket and dosing tube holder. By adding BM-T02 units, the number of channels can be expanded to 11. The pumps are quiet but not completely silent.
- Doses 1 milliliter up to 1,999 milliliters.
- Runs through up to 24 cycles per day.
- Includes three large reservoirs.
- Automatic dosing intervals.
As discussed in a previous review, some aquarium automation systems use a dedicated controller that controls outboard gear like lights, water pumps and dosing pumps.
Neptune Systems’ Apex controller is required to run the DOS pump.
The DOS two-channel dosing pump is an expansion module that connects to the Apex hub. Programming and power come from the main Apex control unit. Each pump head can be programmed to run on its own schedule and dosing regimen.
With two synchronized pumps, it is possible to perform automatic water changes. As one pump removes old aquarium water, the second pump adds new water.
The DOS system is popular for adding two-part calcium supplements for reef aquariums. Although the DOS pump comes with extra-large 3.3 mm pump tubing, it can micro-dose down to 0.1 milliliter. You’ll be able to pump faster if needed or fine-tune the rate for vodka and other dose-sensitive additives.
- Built with high-quality materials.
- Can suction-lift liquid up to 24 feet.
- Easy programming with Apex Fusion software and apps.
- Can be monitored and controlled remotely through cloud computing.
- Automatically slows motor speed when dosing small quantities.
Dosing Pump Recommendations
The idea behind dosing pumps is to reduce work, worry and provide a stable aquatic environment by consistently adding essential substances to the aquarium. Ease of use and reliability are the marks of a good dosing system.
The Kamoer F4 is a winner with reliable built-in Wi-Fi and an easy to use App. It has the flexibility today’s reef-keepers expect and a solid build that instills confidence. The small size makes the F4 easy to install anywhere under or above the aquarium. With four pump heads you’ll be able to automatically dose just about anything!
On the other end of the spectrum is the Neptune Systems DOS pump. If you have the Apex system or want to invest in a premium aquarium automation system, the DOS pump is an easy add-on. You’ll have full wireless control anywhere in the world.
The Jebao DP-4 is an economical stand-alone dosing pump suitable for any aquarium. The initial programming of the Jebao DP-4 is a little tedious but the unit has a reliable track record.
The Bubble Magus gives you three pumps and includes three large reservoirs. This makes the Bubble Magus ready to run with nothing else to buy.
Ultimately, you’ll have to determine which features are important for your aquarium set-up.