Even the most experienced aquarist can struggle to keep the water in their tanks clean and free of unwanted impurities. It’s incredibly easy for organic compounds to build up in aquarium water which, left unchecked, can eventually dissolve. When these compounds break down and become solvent, they can massively impact the quality of your tank water. This not only leads to less than ideal conditions for your fish and plants, it also impairs the viewing experience of aquarium owners.
While filtration systems go some way to keep tank water clean and free of impurities, they are not completely effective. A protein skimmer is often called for if you want to remove as much organic material as possible from your aquarium before it has a chance to dissolve and cause you more serious issues. Below, we will explore the key things you should be focusing on when choosing the best protein skimmer for your aquarium.
Protein Skimmers Explained
A protein skimmer is essentially a form of mechanical filter. Protein skimmers remove large particles of organic material from the water within your fish tank. This material could include waste toxins or substantial bacterial growth. It can also be residual food particles, as well as faecal matter produced by your fish. A protein skimmer serves as an effective solution for getting rid of this excess material before it dissolves and has a significant effect on aquarium water. Nitrate build-up and algae growth are just two of the things that can be kept in check by utilising a protein skimmer.
A protein skimmer has something called a reaction chamber, with this element producing a large amount of micro bubbles. These bubbles attract organic compounds in proteins, with the material adhering to the surface of these tiny bubbles. When the bubbles rise to the surface, they burst, distributing the previously attached organic material to the surface. This material can then be easily removed from your tank via a collection cup. The best protein skimmers also make use of needle wheel attachments and impellers that cut down produced bubbles into even tinier bubbles. A greater number of micro bubbles allows for even better capture and retrieval of organic compounds.
Protein Skimmer Varieties
Although most protein skimmers fulfil the same task, they come in a variety of different types. Hang on back (or HOB) skimmers are among the most popular. If your tank doesn’t include a sump as part of its design, a HOB protein skimmer is without doubt the best option available to you. These protein skimmers can be hung on the side of your tank, much like a power filter. Although effective, HOB protein skimmers are better suited to smaller tanks. If you have an aquarium with a capacity of 90 gallons or more, a HOB protein skimmer is unlikely to be fit for purpose.
Alternatively, you can consider a submersible protein skimmer that can be placed directly in your tank. These protein skimmers tend to be on the small side, making them suitable for even the most compact of tanks. If you have a tank that houses nano fish varieties, an in-tank protein skimmer is an effective option.
In sump protein skimmers are another worthwhile option. As the name would suggest, these protein skimmers are designed to be housed within aquarium sumps. You tend to find more model varieties when dealing with in sump protein skimmers. If you have a particularly large tank, an in sump protein skimmer is a good choice. These protein skimmers are not only effective, they are also fairly affordable. However, overall asking price will vary, depending on the individual features of any given protein skimmer.
Finally, you have external protein skimmers to consider. These protein skimmers are placed outside of your tank, with water being fed into the protein skimmer via the sump. When the skimmer has cleaned your tank water, it is then returned to the sump, which in turn forces skimmed water back into your aquarium.
Is a Protein Skimmer Essential?
Not every aquarist will need a protein skimmer, but there are some situations when such devices are essential. For saltwater tank scenarios, a protein skimmer is a must. Those aquarists who have coral housed in their tanks will almost certainly require a protein skimmer. You may also find a protein skimmer essential if you have a large stock of fish species that rely on a carnivorous diet. Ultimately, if you are experiencing high levels of nitrates and ammonia in your tank water, there is a real need for a protein skimmer.
Although protein skimmers are a crucial part of saltwater aquarium setups, they are also regularly used by owners of freshwater tanks. If your current filter system is struggling to keep on top of water quality and water clarity is suffering, a skimmer can serve as a helpful secondary support for your filtration system.
Protein Skimmer Benefits
The main benefit of a protein skimmer is that you will face less hassle in trying to maintain clean water conditions. They also provide an effective way of keeping toxicity low. If you are stocking your tank with large fish species or coral varieties, installing a protein skimmer will reduce the amount of painstaking maintenance required to keep such specimens healthy. If you are keeping any kind of species, be it plant or animal, that will suffer ill effects to even the slightest spike in nitrate levels, a protein skimmer is an essential purchase.
A protein skimmer will also help your filtration system perform optimally. Many aquarists find that, even with careful tank maintenance and regular filter cleaning, their filter systems are constantly pushed to their limits. With a protein skimmer working alongside it, your filtration system can focus on doing its job. By having the two systems working in tandem, you will not have to worry too much about manually retrieving excess food, or carrying out constant cleaning of your aquarium accessories.
Product Reviews – The Best Protein Skimmers
If you’re struggling to maintain healthy water conditions for your fish, it’s time to invest in a reliable protein skimmer. Below is a selection of some of the very best protein skimmers currently available.
Protein Skimmers for Saltwater Aquariums up to 130 Gallons Fish Tank, In Sump Protein Skimmer, Ultra Quiet Needle Pinwheel Pump, 15W for Big Tank Water Flow and Air Flow Adjustable
If you’re struggling to keep a larger tank clean, this protein skimmer from IOAOI is something to think about investing in. Although designed for use with big tanks, this highly effective protein skimmer is one of the most streamlined on the market. It slimline profile means you can place it within a tank, without having too sacrifice much in the way of swimming space for your fish. Despite its low profile, this protein skimmer makes effective use of a pin wheel pump to provide plenty of bubbles that will easily trap harmful debris and ensure it is filtered out of your aquarium water.
This protein skimmer features a conical diversion plate which will produce far more bubbles than more basic skimmer models. With more bubbles, you can look forward to improved reaction. The conical shape of the diversion plate also means that bubbles are less likely to escape back into the main housing of the skimmer itself. Despite being fairly powerful, this 130-gallon protein skimmer is very energy efficient and produces very little noise. This makes it a suitable choice for use in indoor aquariums. The high-grade acrylic housing also means you have a product that will serve you well for a long time. Meanwhile, the easily disassembled housing makes cleaning and maintenance a breeze.
This high-quality protein skimmer from Reef Octopus is a good choice for larger tanks. This effective protein skimmer makes use of a pin wheel design to produce a considerable amount of bubbles that will help remove harmful contaminants from your aquarium water and allow it to be easily filtered out of your tank environments. Easily installed, this protein skimmer can be used with tanks with capacities as large as 100 gallons. If you attempt to pair this protein skimmer with tanks larger than that, you may encounter subpar performance.
This protein skimmer is fairly compact, but it is not as low profile as other options in the market. If you are using it with a larger tank, it won’t prove too invasive. However, for smaller tanks, the rather cumbersome design may eat into precious swimming space for your beloved pets. Despite being fairly pricey and a little bulky, this Reef Octopus protein skimmer is a good choice for those after something reliable and hard-wearing. The impellers are particularly efficient, providing you with performance that is hard to rival.
This protein skimmer and pump combo from Coralife is an effective solution for getting rid of harmful contaminants from aquarium water. This protein skimmer makes use of a patented pin needle and aspiration system, while the wide collection cup provides plenty of capacity for collected debris. The collection cup also comes with a twist-lock feature that allows for easy removal and effortless cleaning. This first-rate protein skimmer also comes with dual injection inlets, which provides you with increased bubble output. This will ultimately lead to extended interaction time between bubbles and the water within your tank, allowing for more contaminants to be collected before being filtered out from your tank.
This protein skimmer also boasts a bubble production diffuser. This diffuser ensures that generated bubbles are prevented from being delivered into the main aquarium prior to filtering. Although a little large, this protein skimmer is a versatile choice. It can be used both in sump, or as a hang on back system. A mounting bracket is provided for those who want to go down the HOB route. This protein skimmer also comes in several models, with the most basic option proving effective with tanks with capacities of up to 65 gallons. If you have a much larger tank, you’d be better off investing in the 220-gallon model.
If you can afford to splash out a little more on a protein skimmer, the Red Sea Reefer 300 is something to consider. This high-quality protein skimmer combines a PSK pump, venturi, reaction body and bubble diffuser components to provide you with enhanced skimmer performance. This innovative design means that water and bubbles have more time to interact, ensuring optimal waste removal is achieved when your device is in operation. Although incredibly effective, the Reefer 300 is a good choice for the less experienced aquarist who may be unfamiliar with such hardware.
This protein skimmer is designed to produce minimal noise. The rubber connectors ensure vibration is kept to an absolute minimum, which will cause less disruption to your fish and ensure no excessive sound is produced. This device also boasts a FoamView window which lets you keep an eye on what’s being collected from your tank. A neck cleaner and valved waste tube also ensure the interior of the protein skimmer are kept well-maintained, meaning you have to worry less about manual cleaning.
If you have a small tank that is suffering from water quality issues, this hang on back protein skimmer from AquaMaxx could be the answer to your prayers. This popular protein skimmer model is designed for use with tanks with 1.5-gallon capacities. As with any HOB protein skimmer, this model is incredibly easy to install. Simply decide on the spot you wish to place it, hang it on the side of your aquarium and you’re good to go. Making adjustments to the protein skimmer is also straightforward. All you need to do to adjust the foam level of this protein skimmer is move the collection cup up or down.
Although inexpensive and rather minimal in its design, this protein skimmer is surprisingly durable and incredibly effective. The acrylic construction ensures all internal components are protected against water exposure and everyday wear and tear, extending operational life and ensuring you have no need to worry about undertaking extensive maintenance and regular cleaning.
While this protein skimmer is designed for smaller tanks, you will still need to ensure your aquarium provides sufficient clearance in order to install this device properly. The tinted acrylic housing may also prove unsightly to those who value transparent aesthetics. However, if your aquarium has been kitted out with a solid-colour backing or printed backdrop, this shouldn’t be an issue.
The WS-1 is another winning protein skimmer from AquaMaxx. This protein skimmer combines ease of use with effective operation. Adjusting the foam level of this protein skimmer between wet and dry is incredibly simple, with a simple adjustment of the collection cup all that is required. The compact design of this protein skimmer also makes this a great option for those with a small aquarium. This skimmer houses its pump within the main housing, resulting in less of a footprint within your tank. The concealed pump also means that your skimmer will produce less noise and disturbance to your aquarium.
Although the AquaMaxx WS-1 is fairly slimline in appearance, it contains all the core elements for effective protein skimming performance. A needle wheel impeller and Sicce Syncra pump work in tandem to remove waste debris from your tank water constantly. This protein skimmer is also built to last, with its cell-cast acrylic housing ensuring water exposure will cause little issues with the internal mechanics of this aquarium essential. The blue housing may bother some who prefer clear aesthetics, but the slimline silhouette means the protein skimmer will intrude very little on your aquarium landscapes.
If you don’t want to spend much money on a protein skimmer, this budget-friendly piece of kit from Besimple is a good option. Although inexpensive, this protein skimmer will still provide you with reliable performance. A high-quality acrylic construction makes this protein skimmer incredibly durable and easy to maintain, while the section cup mount make sit easy to install the device where it is needed most. Although this compact skimmer will only go so far when used in a larger tank, you can use multiple protein skimmers in tandem to tackle larger tank sizes.
This protein skimmer will effectively remove organic waste material and other proteins from your aquarium water. Even when at full power, this skimmer is very quiet, ensuring you and your pets are not disturbed by excessive motor noise. This protein separator is an effective solution for improving the exchange of oxygen within your aquarium, ensuring water clarity remains high and your fish enjoy a healthy environment in which they can thrive over longer periods of time. If you’re new to the world of protein skimmers and need something easy to use, this Besimple model is a good option. It’s incredibly simple to install and maintenance is equally straightforward.
Although a protein skimmer is by no means essential, they are worth considering if you want to spend less time cleaning your tank and carrying out maintenance of your filtration system. Saltwater aquariums will almost certainly need to be equipped with a skimmer, especially if you have established a coral reef or carnivorous fish species. A skimmer will keep on top of the nitrates and protein-rich waste such specimens produce. Freshwater aquariums can also benefit from a protein skimmer, especially if you struggle with overfeeding, or you have a large tank that is stocked with a large fish population.
When choosing your protein skimmer, consider the practicality of each main model type. If you want something convenient and easy to install, opt for a hang on back protein skimmer. If you only have a nano tank, a submersible model that can be installed directly in the tank is arguably your best option. For larger tanks, in sump protein skimmers and external skimmers are undoubtedly the best option.