Saltwater aquariums are fantastic, providing the opportunity to have a range of aquatic live in your home that just isn’t possible with a freshwater aquarium. However, such habitats require specific conditions, knowledge, and a certain amount of upkeep and maintenance.

One of the main concerns with saltwater tanks is the build-up of organics waste, which can be detrimental to the fish and other life that is within the aquarium. However, one of the best ways to deal with such waste is with a protein skimmer. Yet, with so many different types and sizes to choose from, knowing which is the right one for your aquarium can be difficult. Our panel of aquatic experts have created a list of the best protein skimmers to help you make the right decision.

A Quick Overview of 8 Best Protein Skimmers

Editor's PicksProduct NamePriceRating
Best OverallBubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Amazon4.5
Quick-Release NeckReef Octopus Classic Wheel Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Amazon4.7
Easy to SetupAquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Amazon4.4
Premium PickCoralife Super Skimmer With PumpCheck Price on Chewy5.0
Best Mini SkimmerAquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Chewy3.8
Easy CleaningSC Aquariums SCA-301 Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Amazon4.1
Best PowerInstant Ocean SeaClone Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Chewy4.1
Budget PickMarine Color Sunsun Aquarium Surface Protein SkimmerCheck Price on Amazon4.3
*Ratings are from Amazon, Chewy, and PetSmart at the time of publication and can change

1 Best Overall: Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Best Overall: Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Works with tanks up to 140 gallons
  • Skimmer fits most sumps easily
  • Skimmer measures 7.28” x 7.08” x 18.5”
  • Uses a Needle-Wheel pump system
  • Extremely quiet operation

The Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer is designed for use in saltwater aquariums up to 140 gallons. It is extremely efficient and works with a Needle-Wheel pump system. The skimmer is very quiet, creating next to no noise when working. It is also easy to set up, adjust, and clean with its quick-release collection cup; the skimmer also has a small footprint, particularly in relation to its power.

Easily sitting as one of the best protein skimmers, customers love how quickly this protein skimmer settles in and works with aquarium water. With the protein skimmer reviews mentioning the slimline design and excellent value for money, you can be sure that this is a great choice for making short work of those dissolved organic compounds. If you have a saltwater tank, this is the best protein skimmer for your needs.

What others say about it:

This thing is truly amazing for it’s size. Running on a RSM250 and in an eshoppes sump. It currently sits in about 6-7″ of water. At first I was worried about having sufficient depth in my sump for it, but it was the opposite for me. I had to raise it an inch or so to get it really going. Pulls out some really nasty thick sludge. Picture shows about 10 days of skimming. Water looks beautiful and corals couldn’t be happier.

  • Some of the best protein skimmer reviews
  • Quieter and smoother than most saltwater protein skimmer types
  • Quick-release suction cup for easy cleaning
  • Poor customer support
  • Very sensitive to depth changes
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2 Quick-Release Neck: Reef Octopus Classic Wheel Protein Skimmer

Quick-Release Neck: Reef Octopus Classic Wheel Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Ultra-compact design
  • 18-watt pump power
  • Easy maintenance
  • Aquatrance Needle / Pinwheel pump
  • Maximum flow rate 750L/PH
  • Output size 40mm

The Classic 11-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer from Reef Octopus is perfect for use in small aquariums that have limited sump space. The ultra-compact design has a cast acrylic body construction and runs through its own ‘air shredding’ Aquatrance pump. The pump produces the perfect mix of air and water for optimal waste removal, while a vented wedge offers precision control.

Cleaned water exits the Reef Octopus skimmer below the water level, meaning the whole operation is much quieted than it is with some protein skimmers. Additionally, water is drawn directly from the sump, meaning that a feed pump is not required. It is also easy to disassembly for maintenance.

What others say about it:

This is a plug and go. The assembly is like 3 piece super easy. I think it took less than 24hrs i was getting wet skim in the cup. My main concern was it being to small for the depth of my sump. So i sat it on top of my sponge. I recently had a Coralife Super Skimmer that was trash. I replaced it twice within a 2month period never got a wet skim going. Then i decided to stop being cheap and purchase this. I wish i could give it 6 stars.

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  • The Reef Octopus protein skimmer is known for being a quality option
  • High-performance features, with no feed pump required
  • Highly-rated limited sump protein skimmer pump
  • Directions for setting up the protein skimmers are unclear
  • Takes a while to break in, in the aquarium water
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3 Easy to Setup: AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

Easy to Setup: AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Dimensions length 7.5”, Width 3.5”, Height 17”
  • Fits aquarium rims up to 3/4”
  • Filtration rating: up to 90 gallons
  • AquaMaxx SHARK 1.0 pump with 11-watt power consumption
  • Cell-cast acrylic construction

If you are looking for a protein skimmer that is simple to set up and operate, then the AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer might be just what you are looking for. The skimmer is made of a cell-cast acrylic construction that improves its reliability, efficiency, and durability.

Sitting as one of the best protein skimmers, this option includes a movable collection cup that can be moved up or down, allowing the foam level to be adjusted from wet to dry. The skimmer is suitable for aquarium rims up to ¾ inch thickness and has a filtration rating of up to 90 gallons.

What others say about it:

This thing pulls out some NASTY stuff. I have it on a 72 bowfront with 20 gallon sump and it fills up with nasty dark skim everyday.

Super easy setup, basically silent operation. It was pulling skim the moment I turned it on. Its very well constructed and easy to adjust the internal water level.

My old skimmer was ridiculously loud, this one is quieter than my laptop fan. Buy this one, you wont regret it.

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  • Solid construction makes this one of the best protein skimmers
  • Movable collection cup makes it easy to adapt
  • Highly energy efficient
  • Low wattage can mean it struggles with larger tanks of aquarium water
  • Protein skimmer is designed for up to 90-gallons
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4 Premium Pick: Coralife Super Skimmer With Pump

Premium Pick: Coralife Super Skimmer With Pump
Key features:
  • Effective for aquariums from 65 gallons to 220 gallons
  • Works on a patented needle wheel aspiration system
  • Dual injection inlets to increase water/bubble contact time
  • Diffuser prevents micro-bubbles from flowing into the main aquarium
  • Adaptable for use in sump or on a mounting bracket
  • Effortless cleaning with wide neck collection cup tat includes an easy twist feature

The Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump from Coralife is suitable for use in aquariums from 65 gallons to 220 gallons. Its adaptable design means that it can be used either in-sump or on a mounting bracket on the side of the aquarium. The patented needle-wheel style impeller and aspirating venturi creates a high performing skimmer without excessive power demands.

Fine proteins and organic compounds are attracted to microbubbles within the reaction chamber and are deposited in the collection cup for easy removal. This is one of the most recognisable protein skimmer brands that handles algae growth like a pro.

What others say about it:

I installed this skimmer on my 70 gallon tank and it works fantastic. It was easy to assemble and started working almost right away with minimal adjustments, generating a lot of skimmate. Although it has many parts, I was impressed with the designd and everything fit together well. The powerhead and microbubble nozzles quickly generate a lot of foam but is also very quiet. It has dramatically helped reduce the nitrates in my tank in conjunction with a biopellet reactor.

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  • Can be used as sump protein skimmers or via mounting bracket
  • Easy to clean with wider neck for easier access
  • Flexible for a wide range of different tank sizes
  • Instructions for set-up are not clear for this protein skimmer
  • Incorrect set-up can lead to messy results – so be sure to check reviews for instructions
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5 Best Mini Skimmer: Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

Best Mini Skimmer: Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Measures 3” x 3-1/4” x 10-5/8”
  • Suitable for aquariums up to 30 gallons
  • Quick-lock design for easy opening for cleaning
  • Fits most rear overflow or filtration compartments
  • Can be mounted on the inside of the aquarium
  • Uses 8-watt needle-wheel impeller pump

A low profile, compact skimmer, the 115 Mini from Aquatic Life is ideal for nano-tanks up to 30 gallons. It can be mounted on the inside of the tank with a mounting bracket and suction cups. However, it is also the right fit for most rear overflow or filtration compartments and is a great choice for those seeking a nano protein skimmer for their small tank.

The 8-watt needle-wheel impeller pump maximizes contact between air and water and offers effective and efficient organic waste removal. As an added bonus, this protein skimmer is easy to clean, and a built-in channel hides the grounded power cord for safety.

What others say about it:

Got the 220g for my 125 g tank. Works amazing 10 minutes after setting it up I was getting froth an hour after setting up I was getting skimmate. The only thing I’m not a fan of is that instruction manual. They have the 65,120, and 220 all in the same booklet and the way they have it set up can be a little frustrating. But overall great piece of equipment

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  • Adjustable brackets for easy fitting
  • Easily mounted onto the inside of the aquarium
  • Excellent, quality protein skimmer pump for cleaning excess proteins
  • Will need cleaning more frequently due to cleansing abilities
  • Suction cups fall off quite easily
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6 Easy Cleaning: SC Aquariums SCA-301 Protein Skimmer

Easy Cleaning: SC Aquariums SCA-301 Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Easy to assembly, clean, and maintain
  • Drain tube prevents overflow
  • Suitable for use with tanks up to 65 gallons
  • Skimmer measures 4.25” x 7” x 17”
  • Includes air silencer

Designed to work with tanks up to 65 gallons, the SCA-301 Protein Skimmer from SC Aquariums includes 28-watt pump and air silencer. This makes the skimmer one of the quietest available. The easy assembly pump can be secured to the base of the aquarium using suction cups, which are included.

It then sits under the body of the skimmer, allowing the output to jet upwards into the chamber to create the necessary micro-bubbles. The collection cup is removable for easy cleaning and maintenance and includes a drain tube. The tube funnels away excess moisture and skimmate if weekly cleaning is missed for any reason.

What others say about it:

This skimmer is assembled very well the acrylic used is very clear. The dial to adjust the skimmer height is very easy to use. Does not create any micro bubbles in the display area. You do have to try and keep it in 6 inches of water or it doesn’t stat consistent I found best way is some pvc and egg crate. This skimmer fits in the rear chamber of there 24 gallon all in one

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  • Air silencer keeps everything quiet
  • Very easy to clean and maintain
  • Comes with a limited 90-day warranty for added peace of mind
  • Small gallon capacity compared to most protein skimmers
  • Burns out quickly, compared to other protein skimmers
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7 Best Power: Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer

Best Power: Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Works with up to 100-gallon aquariums
  • Hang-on or in-sump installation
  • A high capacity collection chamber
  • Easy installation

A great choice for larger tanks, this protein skimmer for aquariums is suitable for tanks up to 100 gallons in capacity. The high capacity collection chamber makes short work of keeping those extra bits and pieces captured and collected, without disturbing your fish.

While this in-sump or hang-on installation is super easy to set up, detach and reattach when required, some customers have noticed that this option can be a little loud. As such, it may not be suitable for those with sensitive hearing – fish, human or otherwise.

What others say about it:

Got one on my 125 got one on my 55 about to put one on my 40 gallon breeder works great with a canister filter if you have no sump

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  • Easy to install and detach for maintenance
  • 28-watts is powerful enough for most tanks
  • 6 levels of water flow
  • Is one of the louder protein skimmers on our list
  • Can be hard to source spare parts
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8 Budget Pick: Marine Color Sunsun Aquarium Surface Protein Skimmer

Budget Pick: Marine Color Sunsun Aquarium Surface Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • 1.4m power cord
  • Adjustable flow rate
  • Compact and ideal for smaller tanks
  • Works brilliantly to remove biofilm
  • Suction cups attach to sides

A great choice in protein skimmer for smaller tanks, this small but mighty option is powerful enough to keep on top of cleans, while remaining compact enough to stay out of the way of your fish. It’s easy to attach using the suction cups, but can take a little bit of time to get the fiddly task of attaching this piece, just right.

The 1.4m power cord provides plenty of room for smaller tanks, so you can have a little more freedom in placing your protein skimmer. Once it’s set up, customers have been delighted with the results and found this item quiet, easy to use and very effective in doing its job. This is a great choice for those looking for a nano protein skimmer.

What others say about it:

I added this to a 65g planted tank. Obviously it isn’t doing much as a filter per se in a tank that big, but it is a tiny all-in-one solution to several issues. It skims the surface, the outflow and bubbles agitate the surface to break up surface scum, the bubbles aerate the water, and it creates extra flow in the tank. One tip: do not rely on the tiny filter pads that come with it. I bought a bag of filter cotton and tear off a piece to stuff into the intake chamber. I replace the cotton once a week. It does make a bubbling sound, like an airstone: I have mine on a timer so it only turns on at night.

  • Cost-effective option that offers plenty of value for money
  • A highly adjustable option that can work in saltwater tanks and a freshwater tank
  • Very quiet and ideal for those who prefer a quiet protein skimmer
  • Lower maximum flow of 300l/h
  • Difficult to set up and attach compared to other protein skimmers
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9 Coral Vue Technology Octopus Protein Skimmer

Coral Vue Technology Octopus Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Suitable for tanks up to 210 gallons
  • 6-inch needle wheel/pinwheel skimmer
  • Easy water level adjustment with gate valve
  • In-sump only skimmer

The AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer by Coral Vue Technology is an easy to use in-sump skimmer designed for use in tanks up to 210 gallons, it uses an efficient 6-inch needle wheel skimmer for top-quality performance. The gate valve offers easy water level adjustments, while the 4-inch cone neck provides easy transition of proteins from the bubbles into the collection cup.

As well as all this, the skimmer cup itself is easy to clean with a quick-release neck. Not to mention that a feed pump isn’t required, as water is directly from the in-sump protein skimmer. All of this adds up to a compact option that works well in small and medium-size reef tanks.

What others say about it:

It’s true what they say… You get what you pay for. If you’re considering a protein skimmer for your tank you should absolutely consider one by reef octopus. I bought it based on reviews that I read about inferior products leaking and being loud etc. This unit is totally silent and very well constructed. I was horrified about the amount of garbage that was in my tank within the first few days of running this unit. You will not be disappointed if you buy the best.

  • Compact protein skimmer fits easily into most tanks
  • Water level adjustment fits well with up to 210 gallons
  • Easy to assemble, maintain and clean
  • An expensive option compared to some protein skimmers
  • Hard to find replacement parts for this protein skimmer
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10 SC Aquariums 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer

SC Aquariums 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer
Key features:
  • Dimensions 9” x 18” x 9.5”
  • Includes Atman 2000 pump needle impeller
  • Compact size
  • Designed to work with heavy load 180-gallon aquariums
  • Large collection cup

The SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer is designed to work with heavy load 180-gallon saltwater aquariums. It features an Atman 2000 pump needle impeller and its compact size means that it fits most sumps. The latest version of this skimmer features a larger collection cup as standard and is laser cut to allow for seamless assembly. Being so small, this is a good option for those who have a nano tank or are looking for a nano protein skimmer.

Customers love how this protein skimmer is easy to assemble and set up, while the large collection cup holds more organic compounds than other protein skimmer options. If you’re after a high-end protein skimmer that offers the best protein skimmer reviews, without the high-end price tag (although this is still a costly option, compared to some on the market).

What others say about it:
Would a reef octopus or some other well known brand be better? Maybe. But it’ll cost you another $100. If you’re reefing on a budget like I am this is a great option. I have this unit running on a 125 with a 55 gallon sump and what I would call a medium bio load. It works great. In the first week it pulled out as much gunk as my old skimmer would pull in a month. I did have to build a large skimmer stand to get it into a good working water level which for me is about 7”. It was also well packaged and arrived on time. Great job SCA!
  • 1-year manufacturer’s warranty is included with the purchase
  • Extra-large collection cup comes with a drain tube
  • Air silencer is included for quieter running
  • An expensive option compared to other protein skimmers
  • Not as durable as other options
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Best Protein Skimmer: Buying Guide & FAQs

Choosing the right protein skimmer for your saltwater aquarium is not just about knowing which the best products are, it is also about knowing why they are the best. In this part of the buying guide, we explore protein skimmers in more detail; looking at what you need to consider when buying a skimmer for your aquarium, what the benefits are of a skimmer and the different types that are available. Additionally, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these important aquarium devices.

Things to Consider When Buying Protein Skimmers

The right protein skimmer for your aquarium depends on a wide range of variables, from the size of your tank to how often you want to be cleaning the collection cup. However, there are some considerations that are universal. These include:


When considering the cost of a protein skimmer, it is not just the initial outlay that is important. There are also ongoing costs to budget for. Skimmers use pumps, which in turn require electricity. The amount of electricity, and therefore the level of cost, depends on the energy requirements of the pump. The more energy it requires, the more electricity it will use. Check the wattage and efficiency of any pump you are considering.

Similarly, do be sure that your skimmer has all of the necessary components. For example, HOB protein skimmers have many different designs, as the water pump sits outside of the tank. If you’ve purchased one type, you’ll need to be sure it comes with everything you need, as parts may be tricky to find later on. Meanwhile, for in-sump protein skimmers, you may even need to purchase a separate submersible water pump if this is your preferred method.


The size of the skimmer you require is dependent firstly on the size of the aquarium tank that you have. The water level is also a consideration as is the type of skimmer that you are considering. You need to consider a range of questions before you settle on the right size.

These include:

  1. Will your skimmer hang off the back of your tank or sit in a sump?
  2. If your skimmer is to work with a sump, what size footprint will it accommodate?
  3. How much headroom (space above the tank) do you have to accommodate a skimmer?
  4. If the skimmer is outside of the sump, does it require any additional or special plumbing?

Pump working capability

To work the skimmer needs to be supplied with air and water, this is the job of the pump. If the pump is not strong enough for the task at hand, then the skimmer will work slowly and ineffectively. The strength of the skimmer is directly related to the water flow that is delivered to it in relation to the volume of the aquarium.

The amount of air that is pumped through is also important for the formation of the bubbles. If the pump is pumping too much water in relation to air, the air bubbles do not have enough time to remove the proteins and other organic waste matter from the water. The result of this is organic waste returning to the aquarium, rather than being collected for removal.

Bubble size and quantity

The size of the bubbles produced by the skimmer affects the efficiency of the unit. Smaller bubbles are more efficient, and so the size of the air bubbles affects how efficiently it works. Similarly, you want to produce as many bubbles as possible as this increases the surface area for the proteins to attach to.

Decorative aquarium

Benefits of Protein Skimming

The main benefit of protein skimming is that it removes small particles of organic waste, such as food waste and other proteins from the aquarium habitat. This results in an oxygen-rich environment and improves the health and survival rate of the fish in the aquarium.

Using a skimmer also helps to remove nitrates and other materials that can easily result in further breakdown and lead to the appearance of algae or encourage it to spread. If not dealt with early, algae can be extremely difficult to control in saltwater aquariums, so using a skimmer to help prevent it from appearing in the first place is always the best course of action.

Dirt build-up in an aquarium environment can also lead to issues and affect the health of aquatic life. Dirt can cause the water to become cloudy and result in not enough light penetrating the water. A skimmer helps clear cloudy water and restore it to the optimal condition for the marine life within the aquarium.

If organic waste compounds are left to dissolve within the tank they can create unstable pH levels. If they become unfavorable for the marine life within the tank, it can have a detrimental effect on the health of the fish and other animals. An effective protein skimmer helps to maintain stable pH levels and supports the health and wellbeing of the occupants of the aquarium.

Types of Protein Skimmers

There are several different types of protein skimmers for you to choose from. The type that is right for you depends on a number of factors including the size and type of aquatic set-up you have or are considering. The most common types of skimmers are hang-on skimmers, in-tank skimmers, in-sump skimmers, and external protein skimmers.

Hang on Skimmers

This type of skimmer is designed to hang on the back of the aquarium – also referred to as a HOB protein skimmer. They are a good choice for aquariums that do not have a sump. They generally attach with suction cups and reduce the space required inside the tank, and are some of the most popular choices. One big brand associated with this type is the Reef Octopus (classic or otherwise).

In-tank Skimmers

In-tank skimmers are generally compact in size, so they can be placed in the tank without greatly reducing the space needed by marine life. As long as the right size is chosen, an in-tank skimmer is can be an effective choice. As such, you should always check the dimensions of your new purchase, as well as the dimensions of your tank.

In-sump Skimmers

If you have a sump in your tank, then this type of skimmer can be integrated into it. It is important to consider the footprint of the skimmer to ensure it fits the sump you have. These types make use of the line, protein skimmers naturally have – with piping often being the connecting sections.

External Skimmers

These are situated outside the aquarium and require additional plumbing. The water is fed into the skimmer, where it is cleaned and then returned to the aquarium. They might also be referred to as a hob skimmer, as the pump sits externally. These hob skimmers reduce the transmission of heat into your water, so have their own benefits with this design.

As well as these four basic types, there are also different internal workings to consider. Generally, skimmers operate as either co-current flow or counter-current flow.

Co-current Flow

In a skimmer that works through co-current flow, the air is introduced at the bottom of the chamber and comes into contact with the water as it rises towards the collection cup or chamber. Examples of co-current flow systems include:


This is one of the oldest forms of skimming where pressurized air pushes through the diffuser to produce a greater quantity of microbubbles. While an effective and economical choice, it is a higher maintenance system than other more modern approaches. The air stone is generally, an oblong block of wood that has been partially hollowed.

It is positioned at the base of a water column. Water is then pumped into the column and passes the rising bubbles to return to the tank. Such systems are not suitable for small home aquariums as to get the required contact time with the bubbles the units need to be several feet in height.


A venturi pump is used to create tiny bubbles in a water stream. Water from the aquarium is pushed through the venturi, where small bubbles are added before it enters the body of the skimmer body. The compactness and efficiency of this method make it popular with many aquarium owners. However, the venturi pump design is most often incorporated a more complex design, rather than being used as a stand-alone design.

Counter-current Flow Systems

These systems are more effective and efficient than co-current flow systems, which is why those on our best protein skimmer list use this approach. In counter-current systems, the air is forced into the system under pressure and moves against the flow of the water for a while before it rises towards the collection cup. The effectiveness of this type of system comes from the long period of contact between the bubbles and the water. Examples of counter-current systems include the aspirating skimmer.

Aspirating skimmers include those that use a pinwheel or needle wheel impeller. Pinwheel designs have impellers that consist of a disk with pins that are mounted at 90-degrees to a disk and parallel to a rotor. A needle wheel impeller consists of a series of pins that project from a central axis perpendicularly to the rotor. In both cases the impeller shreds or chops the air, which is introduced by either an external pump or a venturi apparatus. This motion creates micro-bubbles. Such skimmers are very popular with owners of home aquariums and work well with small tanks as they are compact, quiet, and easy to set up. They have lower power requirements than other skimmer setups because the pump is pushing a mix of water and air.

Cute white small fish in the aquarium


  1. Adam Denish, DVM, Freshwater Versus Saltwater Aquariums: What You Need to Know, PetMD


A protein skimmer is a device that is added to a saltwater aquarium to remove organic waste compounds, including food waste, from the water. In doing this it improves the quality of the water and creates the ideal environment for the marine life within the aquarium.

A protein skimmer works by creating micro bubbles that attract the dissolved protein particles. The resulting foam is pushed into a collection chamber or cup where it can be safely removed from the aquarium environment.

Your protein skimmer should be the first step in your filtration process. If you use an in-sump system, then its placement depends on where your sump is situated. A hang on system should be placed at the back of the aquarium at the correct water level for your specific system. You should always check the manufacturers guide for proper placement of your specific make and model.

Once you have the right skimmer for your aquarium set up, you need to determine the depth at which it should be placed. Use your manufacturers guide to achieve this as different skimmers have their own specific requirements. Next, allow the skimmer to fill with water and connect it to an electrical outlet. The best skimmers have an adjustable valve that allows you to vary the amount of air that enters the system. However, most experts recommend that you run the skimmer for a few days without adjusting the valve to let it settle in. After this time make small adjustments until foam is collecting in the collection chamber or cup. As the valve adjustments differ depending on the make and model, refer to your manufacturers guide for specific adjustments.

Protein skimmers have a collection chamber or cup, where the protein and other waste particles are deposited in the form of foam. In most cases the cup or chamber is removable, so you can detach it from the system and empty the foam before reconnecting the cup. Generally, this needs to be done once or twice a week, however, it varies depending on the amount of skimmate and the general health of your aquarium. For more general cleaning and maintenance refer to your manufacturer’s guide so that you do not invalidate any warranty that comes with your skimmer.

By following the guidance here and choosing the right protein skimmer for your saltwater aquarium, you can improve the health and longevity of your aquarium animals and enjoy watching them for years to come.

Whether or not you should run your protein skimmers 24/7 comes down to what kind of tank you have, as well as the size, and the nutrient levels you want in your water. For example, reef tanks will need less time spent with the protein skimmer on, as they will create their own nutritional balance.

However, owners should know that protein skimmers can take a while to set up and get going – often taking roughly 12 hours or more to run at optimal capacity. For this reason, it’s advised to keep your protein skimmer working with your aquarium water for a few days, to let it settle, before adjusting the settings/valves. This is the case, regardless of whether it’s an external protein skimmer (/HOB protein skimmer) or an in-sump skimmer.

So, if you’re wondering whether or not to keep your protein skimmer running in the aquarium water, the answer is as nuanced as the fish you keep! As such, check with the manufacturer’s guidelines for each, individual protein skimmer before setting up, as this is the only way you can be sure of the best management.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether you can use a protein skimmer in freshwater tanks. Since freshwater has a tougher time, when it comes to creating fine air bubbles, protein skimmers simply aren’t as effective. These air bubbles are essential to allow your protein skimmer remove phosphates, as well as algae, calcium and other nitrates, in order to keep your tank healthy.

As such, even a new protein skimmer will really only work best in a saltwater tank. Thus, it’s important to consider these factors, to avoid wasting money or disturbing your tank’s inhabitants. However, the best way to give yourself the best chance, is to opt for a protein skimmer that is designed for a freshwater tank, where possible.


There are a couple of reasons as to why your saltwater protein skimmers are overflowing – but the good news is that the majority of these are easily rectified. The most common causes all come down to the same, basic principle – which is that the surface tension of the water has changed, leading to microbubbles. So, even if the water looks clear in your collection cup, it could still be jam-packed with compounds, nitrates and phosphates.

This is often called “super skimming” and simply refers to over-abundant protein skimming (or overenthusiastic, if you will). If you use any additional chemicals in the reef tank or even freshwater tanks, then you may be more likely to struggle with super skimming. Some of the most common perpetrators include:

  • Red slime removers
  • Un-rinsed filter socks
  • Clarifiers (especially those included with live sand)
  • Certain foods (such as Selcon)
  • Bacterial supplements
  • Dechlorinators


Usually, if your skimmer isn’t foaming, it’s due to a lack of air. If your skimmer is new, try not to worry about this for the first few days – it can often take a while for new skimmers to “break in” and start to work at optimal capacity. If, however, it’s been a while (at least 1-2 weeks) and you’re still not seeing your skimmer foaming, it could mean that the air from your device is not mixing well with the water.

For new purchases, it’s worth trying to mess around a little with the settings and placement of your protein skimmer, before resorting to fixes or refunds. Of course, for new items, you should contact the seller to let them know you have a concern and ask for any advice specific to those protein skimmer manufacturers. However, there are also a few things you can do yourself, to try and resolve the problem.

Older skimmers can have problems with the pump or injector, which reduces the air being produced. In this case, it’s worth taking apart your skimmer and giving it a thorough clean. Remove the device from the water and break it down as much as you can (without damaging it and being sure to remember which part goes where!), and clean each component with a toothbrush.

Check the hose to be sure there are no blockages, such as a salt build-up, or some pinched sections, which can restrict air flow. If the blockages or dirt is extremely stubborn, then you may need to soak this in vinegar (or a vinegar/baking soda solution) overnight.


In short, a protein skimmer doesn’t work to remove nitrates from aquarium water in and of itself. However, the way a skimmer works (whether that’s a hob skimmer or otherwise) is that it removes waste before it has a chance to break down and produce nitrates. So, while the protein skimmer may not remove nitrates directly – it does work to reduce the level of nitrates in the water of your aquarium and makes the area much healthier for your fish friends.


Again, by removing the organics that build up within your tank, protein skimmers can reduce/remove the level of phosphates present in the water. They capture and allow you to dispose of organic materials which are created over time in your tank, which then break down and release phosphates/nitrates, which can alter the pH level of your tank and even cause health problems for your tank’s inhabitants.


Yes and no. As mentioned, protein skimmers work by removing all kinds of organic materials – including those which usually dissolve in high levels of water. However, in order to do that, it uses the injected air to “catch” the materials, which causes them to float to the top of the water and this is then slowly moved toward the skimmer cup, which holds the organic compounds.

That being said, a skimmer won’t (and shouldn’t!) remove all of the salt in the water, which is necessary to maintain a health tank – particularly for saltwater fish. As such, the levels often remain within a healthy range while using a skimmer – even in a reef aquarium or other specialist tanks.


Algae can be a huge problem (especially in “living” tanks, as you’d find in a reef aquarium), and definitely is a major benefit to purchasing a skimmer. Skimmers of all types help to reduce the waste which later develops into algae, helping to keep the tank free from pollutants and keeping you and your fish friends healthy and happy. They can even help promote coral growth, by removing potential contaminants, too!


As we know, air and water flow is an essential part of keeping your aquarium in top condition. However, skimmers don’t actually introduce oxygen to a tank – at least, not in its pure form. Instead, a reef tank might add this naturally, while others may struggle to maintain healthy oxygen levels. As such, the skimmers help to add elements of oxygen to the water through the bubbles.

Once introduced to the water, natural gas exchanges occur, which then produces oxygen. So, in short, protein skimmers do indeed add oxygen – but not directly. When your fishes produce carbon dioxide (which happens simply through their existence and is a part and parcel of working with living creatures!), the protein skimmers aid in pushing that CO2 to the surface. Less CO2 in the water means happier fish who are able to thoroughly enjoy a clean home!


By their very nature, a skimmer body can sometimes make more noise than you might like. Of course, opting for protein skimmers that are already quiet by their design is the best way to reduce the noise. Of course, if you’ve already bought one, you can also make a few changes to keep your skimmer body running as quietly as possible.

Some protein skimmer reviews note that you can add an air silencer to the design, in order to reduce the noise levels. However, some others have noted that changing the skimmer body slightly can have a major effect on the noise. Of course, it’s important that you do this within what remains as safe as possible, for the in-sump protein skimmer or external protein skimmer.

If your skimmer started off as fairly quiet, but has eventually become louder, then this could be due to an issue with build-up. This build-up is often quite easy to remove, but takes some time, patience and elbow grease, as you’ll need to take the skimmers apart to clean them thoroughly with a toothbrush. Alternatively, you can leave the parts in vinegar (or a vinegar/baking soda solution). Just be sure to rinse these thoroughly before reintroducing them to your water.

Some at-home solutions to making skimmers run more quietly revolve around sound-proofing the surrounding area. However, as with all things when altering electronics and devices, be sure that your adjustments are easy to maintain and safe to change – the last thing you need is a short-circuit or fire! You can also run the airlines through stands, cupboards or even under your flooring, which can help reduce the noise levels.


The best protein skimmers are worth their weight in gold, since they can easily and quickly remove dissolved organic compounds. Instead, they produce the tiny bubbles which attract organic pollutants in order to reduce the levels of nitrates and phosphates. Since both of these can be harmful to your fish, you can increase the overall health and wellbeing of your tank’s inhabitants by using a protein skimmer.

That being said, all owners are different and many people may prefer not to use a skimmer. This is entirely up to you! Many smaller tanks and beginner collections of fish can often live quite happily without one – providing your clean your tank often. Of course, for those who are very into their aquarium and are after more than the standard fish owner, a skimmer quickly becomes an essential bit of kit!

Wendy Young

A freelance writer and word nerd, Wendy is a content writer with a knack for getting into the nitty-gritty of pet ownership. For the past three years, she’s been researching and writing a huge range of different topics – but always comes back to her beloved pet articles. Lover of all things four-legged and owner of Harley, Pepper and Rush, Wendy is currently completing her MNSW at Edge Hill University.

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