One of the biggest issues faced by aquarists is the build up of organic compounds and protein in tank water. Basic filtration systems often struggle to remove things like nitrates and ammonia from tank water. When these compounds reach high enough levels, they can lead to organic compound build-up in your water. These dangerous water levels can prove harmful to fish, leading to disease and death.
If you’re facing such problems, a protein skimmer is something you need to be thinking seriously about investing in. Protein skimmers make use of advanced chemical filtration, producing bubbles that will allow harmful debris and chemical compounds to be removed from your aquarium quickly. Looking to solve a protein problem in your tank? Our buying guide has all the information you need to know when selecting the best HOB protein skimmer for your budget.
HOB Protein Skimmers Explained
Although internal and in sump protein skimmers are incredibly popular, hang on back protein skimmers are becoming increasingly common. Unlike other types of protein skimmer, hang on back (HOB) skimmers can be used without an aquarium sump. As with hang on back filters, HOB protein skimmers can be mounted on the back of your aquarium. Once installed, these skimmers remove water from the tank itself.
HOB filters are best utilised with smaller tanks, especially if they are lacking a sump. Although effective with more compact aquariums, most HOB filters struggle to match the performance of conventional devices. They also consume a considerable amount of space within a tank, so they may limit your landscaping options. The reduced swimming area may also limit the amount of fish you can introduce to a tank at any one time.
The key process employed by a protein skimmer is something called foam fractionation. This process prevents substances that would normally generate liquid into a foam. When this foam is generated, it can be easily removed, or skimmed, from the water in your tank. By constantly agitating the water in your tank, a protein skimmer will ensure that any dissolved organic material is quickly brought to the top of the water level in the form of a foam.
However, protein skimmers are a little bit more involved than this. They generate a vertical pillar of air bubbles within the protein skimmer itself. When these bubbles rise upwards, any dissolved organic material within your aquarium water quickly attach to the outer membrane of these bubbles. The collected material is then ferried to the top of your tank along with these bubbles. These bubbles will eventually burst when they reach the surface, with the remaining material distributing in foam form. An integrated collection cup is on hand to gather any foam, with any unwanted organic material finally removed from the water within your tank.
A downside to protein skimmers is that they can only be used to remove substances that can actually be turned into a foam. Harmful compounds, such as nitrate and ammonia, can not be stirred up into this foamy state. As such, a protein skimmer is ineffective at removing them from your tank water. However, a protein skimmer can target the organic material that will eventually break down and transform into these chemicals. In other words, they mitigate the issue before it becomes problematic. If used correctly along with other basic aquarium maintenance techniques, you shouldn’t really encounter high nitrate and ammonia levels after installing a protein skimmer.
Main Benefits of a Protein Skimmer
If you carry out regular maintenance of your aquarium and have an effective filtration system already in place, you may struggle to see the need for a protein skimmer. However, even the most committed aquarist can reap the benefits after introducing a HOB filter to their tank setup.
For starters, a protein skimmer will help ensure water remains clean, freeing it of any unsightly green or yellow tints. This not only ensures your aquarium maintains high levels of clarity for better viewing, it also ensures that light penetration remains high. Unrestricted light is important for ensuring optimal health for aquatic plants, while also ensuring your fish can maintain a natural day/night cycle.
If you are housing corals within your aquarium, better light penetration is even more important. If harmful compounds impede your water quality and lead to insufficient light penetration, you can say goodbye to healthy coral growth altogether. By making photosynthesis easier for your corals and plants, you can encourage far more vibrant colours and healthy looking specimens.
A protein skimmer will also help prevent algae from blooming and gaining a foothold. With fewer unwanted nutrients in the water, algae is unlikely to become a problem. If left unchecked, algae can quickly cloud water with a deep green tint. It can also colonise live rock and substrate, requiring extensive tank maintenance and cleaning. A good protein skimmer will also reduce the amount of time you will need to spend on cleaning the sides of your aquarium. Finally, your fish can enjoy an altogether healthier environment in which to live in. With less nitrate and improved water quality, your fish will remain healthy for longer.
Product Reviews – The Best HOB Protein Skimmers
Struggling to keep your aquarium water free of harmful compounds and chemicals? A protein skimmer is a must-have. Below are some of the best hang-on-back protein skimmers currently available.
This highly effective protein skimmer from Coralife will help you keep on top of nitrate levels in your aquarium set ups. This superior choice of protein skimmer makes use of a patented aspiration system, with the needle wheel providing particularly efficient when it comes to removing organic waste from aquarium water before harmful particles have the chance to decay and increase nitrate levels. The collection cup has an extra-large neck, allowing for more efficient removal. The collection cup also features a user-friendly twist design, making it incredibly easy to clean and maintain.
This protein skimmer also boasts dual injection inlets, increasing the amount of contact between water and air bubbles. It is this dual inlet design that makes this protein skimmer so proficient. Another nice feature is the bubble production diffuser, which prevents very small bubbles from escaping into the main tank. This protein skimmer is also fairly versatile. You can use it in sump, or alternatively make use of the hanging mounting bracket to use it as a standard HOB filter. This protein skimmer comes in few different models, with the larger models being suitable for use with very large aquariums with capacities of up to 220 gallons.
Looking for a budget-friendly protein skimmer for a more modest tank? This reliable device from AquaMaxx is a good option. This compact protein skimmer is easy to install, while maintaining the system is straightforward. Adjusting the foam levels between wet and dry settings is easy. All you need to do is move the collection cup downwards or upwards to make your desired adjustments. Although affordable, this protein skimmer is incredibly durable. The cast acrylic construction makes it incredibly robust and suitable for use for years if cared for correctly.
This protein skimmer will also fit most types of tank. You can even use it with particularly thick aquarium, with the mounting bracket compatible with panels as thick as 0.75 inches. However, you will need to ensure you leave sufficient clearance to allow for easy removal of the collection cup. This protein skimmer is suitable for a broad range of tanks, including large aquariums with capacities of up to 90 gallons. If you’re looking for something that can keep up with a significant bio load, this is a low-cost and effective option. The SHARK 1.0 pump also makes this protein skimmer very efficient, requiring minimal electricity to do its job.
This AquaTop Xyclone protein skimmer is one of the more advanced options in this list. If you’re looking for a protein skimmer system that can cope with heavy bio loads and remove high levels of organic matter from aquarium water, this AquaTop Xcylone model will not let you down. This protein skimmer features a reliable pump with needle impeller, while the adjustable dual outlet allows you to tailor performance to your liking. The collection cup is also easy to remove, allowing you to carry out regular cleaning and maintenance.
Although effective, there are some things to consider before investing in this protein skimmer. It is best used for larger tanks, with the device requiring around 7 inches of clearance. It will cope with larger aquariums, including 90-gallon tanks, well. However, it can also prove useful for larger tank sizes than this, although you may find yourself having to carry out more frequent maintenance if the bio load is particularly high. Ultimately, this protein skimmer is a good option for those with medium-sized tanks with a considerable fish population housed within, helping ensure excess organic matter is quickly removed from the aquarium water and nitrate levels remain low.
Aquarium Protein Skimmer External Hanging On Saltwater Filter Internal Water Tank Filter Ultra Quiet Needle Pinwheel Plastic Protein Skimmer for Saltwater
This hanging protein skimmer from Hffheer is compact, but incredibly effective. This protein skimmer can be installed on the side or sump edge of your aquarium, ensuring water quality remains high and your fish are not exposed to high levels of nitrate and other harmful contaminants. The innovative design of this protein skimmer means you can look forward to exceptional performance, with a considerable processing capacity that outperforms many other devices in this category.
This protein skimmer is also fairly easy to install and prime. However, you will need to use with a reliable air pump to ensure it effectively absorbs organic particles and other elements that can lead to high levels of nitrate and other harmful chemicals. Therefore, you will need to consider the overall cost of purchasing the skimmer and a pump separately. If your budget is tight, you will be better off investing in a product that comes with its own air pump. Cleaning and maintaining this protein skimmer is easy. The collection cup can be quickly detached for carrying out cleaning, while the overall build quality ensures it will perform well for a long time.
Marine Color Sunsun Aquarium Surface Protein Skimmer 5W JY03 Aquarium Oil Film Processor JY-03 Oil Removal Filter Fish Tank Filter
The JY-03 protein skimmer from Marine Colour is an inexpensive option for those looking to maintain healthy aquarium conditions. Although not as powerful as other protein skimmers on the market, the JY-03 delivers surprisingly effective surface skimming performance. It also allows you to adjust the flow rate, making it suitable for use with a broad range of tank sizes. Maintaining this protein skimmer is also straightforward. The durable build means it will cope well with constant exposure to water, while the detachable housing means you can carry out extensive cleaning and in-depth maintenance when required.
This protein skimmer is also a user-friendly option. Installation is very simple, with the protein skimmer automatically adjusting to the water levels within your tank. If you are an inexperienced aquarist, this self-levelling installation will make your life easier. While this protein skimmer is easy to use and one of the cheapest around, there are some important things to consider.
Firstly, it only really provides effective protein skimming performance at the surface layer of the water. While this will eliminate a good deal of food waste before it can break down and contaminate your aquarium water, it won’t remove particles that are already flowing within the rest of your tank. It is also fairly small, so is a better fit for compact tanks and desktop aquariums.
AKKEE Aquarium Filter, Hang On Fish Tank Filter with Surface Skimmer Power Waterfall Suspension Oxygen Pump Filter for Fish Tank Quiet Working(53GPH)
This hang-on protein skimmer from AKKEE is another inexpensive way to keep your tank water free of nitrates and other harmful chemicals that can lead to health issues with your fish and plants. This device will provide reliable surface skimming, helping to keep your tank water clean and oxygenated. This filtration system is also very efficient, with two layers of sponge media and additional activated carbon helping get rid of agents that can lead to water discolouration. It also helps combat unwanted odours.
This skimmer is also very user-friendly. It will automatically adjust to the height of the surface layer, while it can also rotate automatically. This means you can always expect superior filtration and skimming performance, without having to constantly adjust the skimmer manually. The waterfall design of this skimmer also means that you can expect increased interaction between air bubbles and water, driving better performance.
A regulating switch is also included, allowing you to tailor water flow output to your liking. Despite being such a solid performer, this protein skimmer is incredibly quiet. The internal motor is sealed behind thick housing, dampening excessive noise that can disturb your fish.
If you’re dealing with a larger aquarium setup, you’ll need a heavy-duty protein skimmer. The BH-1000 Octopus from CoralVue Technology is a good option for those with larger aquariums that require superior protein-skimming performance. Easily installed to the outside of your aquarium, this protein skimmer is compatible with tanks with capacities of up to 100 gallons. However, it can also be used with smaller aquariums.
The build quality of this protein skimmer is particularly impressive, with sealed housing that can be quickly disassembled when it comes to cleaning or carrying out essential maintenance. The high-grade acrylic is particularly durable, with no need to worry about constant water exposure causing any issues.
Although expensive, this protein skimmer is an obvious choice if you need to maintain a larger aquarium. Provided you have installed it correctly and are carrying out other aquarium maintenance, such as water testing and occasional water changes, this protein skimmer should ensure nitrate levels are kept to an absolute minimum. If you have a smaller aquarium or desktop tank, this protein skimmer may be more than you need. While it can still be used with a smaller tank size, you may encounter excessive noise and rattling issues that will need to be dampened with foam.
Even if your tank maintenance is first-rate, a protein skimmer can make your hobby easier. A HOB protein skimmer is one of the least intrusive options for improving water quality and nipping organic build-up in the bud. Although a HOB protein skimmer will have a marginal footprint within your tank, the benefits far outweigh the cost.
Ultimately, a protein skimmer will drastically reduce the amount of time spent on tank maintenance and water upkeep. It prevents many of the worst issues faced by aquarists from ever occurring. By limiting the amount of unwanted nutrients and harmful organics in your tank water, you can prevent algae from ever becoming a real issue. This not only keeps your tank clear and benefits your fish, it also prevents you having to roll up sleeves and undertake big clean up jobs on a regular basis.
HOB protein skimmers are fairly easy to install, making them a suitable upgrade for the most inexperienced of aquarists. Although some models are somewhat noisy, those with whisper-quiet operation make them a suitable selection for even the smallest of tanks.