A good protein skimmer is essential if you want to have a clean and healthy aquarium.
As time goes on unwanted organic materials such as waste, uneaten food, and bacteria will accumulate in the water of your aquarium. Nitrate levels will also rise, and the water will get murky.
This will make your tank more susceptible to algae growth too. Once algae have gotten out of control it can be an absolute nightmare to get rid of.
If you don’t take care of this and keep your water clean it can compromise the overall health of your tank and the critters inside. The aquatic life you have can be very sensitive to nitrate, and swimming through small debris, particles, and cloudy water will lead to serious problems later on.
This is where a protein skimmer comes in.
- What Is A Protein Skimmer?
- How Do They Work?
- Different Types
- The Best Protein Skimmers
- AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer by CoralVue Technology
- BH-1000 Octopus by CoralVue Technology
- SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer By SC Aquariums (In Sump)
- 240DC Protein Skimmer By Simplicity
- Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer By Reef Octopus
- BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer By Bubble Magus
- Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer By Reef Octopus
- HOB-1.5 Hang On Back Protein Skimmer By AquaMaxx
- 9410.000 DOC Protein Skimmer By Tunze USA
- Super Protein Skimmer With Pump By Coralife
- Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer By NYOS
- Our Favorite
- How To Choose One
- Things To Remember
What Is A Protein Skimmer And What Does It Do?
A protein skimmer helps keep your saltwater aquarium clean by getting rid of these organic materials that build up in the water over time. This keeps your tank healthy and looking great!
The best protein skimmers do this so efficiently that having one is pretty much a requirement. In fact, basically all experienced saltwater aquarists use them.
And it gets even better:
Your skimmer will also minimize the amount of maintenance you have to do when keeping your tank clean. It’ll get more mileage out of your filter system as well!
How do they work?
Protein skimmers work to clean your tank using some neat, but straightforward technology.
Skimmers create bubbles in a reaction chamber that are released into your water. The organic waste and materials that you want to get rid of stick to the bubbles (via adsorption) and are brought to the surface.
Once on the surface, the waste is brought into a collection cup where it is removed from the aquarium.
The amount of bubbles your protein skimmer creates as well as the size of the bubbles can impact the kind of results you get from your skimmer. More bubbles mean more surface area that unwanted organic materials can stick to. Over time this turns into foam.
Types Of Protein Skimmers
Not all protein skimmers are designed the same way. As a matter of fact, there are a few different kinds you can get depending on what you’re looking for.
The right kind of skimmer is up to you and your setup. Make sure you have a good understanding of your aquarium and what it can accommodate before pulling the trigger and picking one up.
External protein skimmers
Much like the HOB, the name kind of gives it away. An external protein skimmer lives outside of your aquarium and sump but doesn’t hang on the back of the tank itself. These tend to be used for larger tanks and function by sending water back and forth from the sump.
Hang on back (HOB)
A hang on back or “HOB” protein skimmer is a skimmer that literally hangs on the back or rim of the aquarium glass. If you have a tank that’s under 100 gallons and don’t have a sump then this is probably the type for you.
It will keep things tidy, won’t get in the way, and will be easily accessible if you need to fiddle with it. The power that HOB skimmers have is really impressive too, so don’t worry about their strength if you intend on picking one up!
In sump skimmers
In sump protein skimmers offer a lot of flexibility in terms of options (as long as you have a sump). You can get really affordable units that do just enough to get the job done, or you can get a complete beast that shows your water no mercy. Assuming you have a sump, then an in-sump protein skimmer for saltwater tanks is likely the best option for you.
If you have a nano tank then you’re probably going to be getting an in-tank skimmer. These protein skimmers literally sit inside your tank and are quite small. We won’t go into this in depth since we’ve conducted another review series to find the best nano skimmers, so if you have a nano tank you should check out that page instead.
Best Protein Skimmer Reviews
It’s time to dig into our reviews of the best protein skimmers you can buy right now. We spent a lot of time researching to find out what was actually good, and what was just popular.
We started by finding a complete list of the saltwater protein skimmers that were being recommended online. Our source for these was the passionate aquarium community that already had a good batch to start with.
Then we added a few more to the list that we liked based on the research of specs and feedback from aquarists online. Once we had this list it was time to trim it down!
We looked at a number of factors like the technical output and efficiency, customer feedback, and flexibility for different tanks. Once we finished, we had our list!
Here it is:
AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer by CoralVue Technology (Our Favorite)
This is easily one of the best protein skimmers on the market right now, so it’s only right that we kicked things off with it!
The AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer by CoralVue Technology has a number of features that make it a fantastic buy if you’re looking for a high-quality protein skimmer. In fact, it’s one of the best-reviewed skimmers you can find online.
The needle wheel setup in this device is fantastic and produces a high-quality bubble count that can’t be matched by most other products. It’s also extremely reliable and easy to maintain.
The flexibility of this protein skimmer is another huge plus. You can basically drop this into any tank setup that’s under 200 gallons and be off to the races without much work on your part.
One thing to be aware of with this product is that it’s for in-sump use only. This means if you don’t have a sump for your aquarium setup you’ll have to look for another option. If you do have a sump though, it’s a really smart buy.
It’s also extremely easy to use and set up. We were blown away when we reviewed the instructions and saw it in use. This is something that cannot be undervalued in a saltwater protein skimmer.
One thing to be aware of is it’s a little on the loud side in regards to the pump. We wouldn’t consider this to be a dealbreaker, but it’s worth noting.
CoralVue Technology hit another one out of the park with this protein skimmer. Even though we only have two CoralVue skimmers on our list, they both easily deserve a spot in the top 3.
The BH-1000 Octopus is a hang on back (HOB) skimmer that’s designed to handle any aquarium tank up to 100 gallons. This means it will be pretty simple to get it installed with your tank setup.
Unlike a lot of other HOB protein skimmers, the BH-1000 has its pump mounted below and outside the body. The advantage of this is it allowed CoralVue to stick with a slim and compact design. It also means performing maintenance and cleaning on the pump is a breeze since it’s so easy to access.
Speaking to the quality of the protein skimmer itself, we can’t say enough good things about it. It’s incredibly well-built and extremely reliable.
When it comes to its pure tank-cleaning ability we think you’re going to be very satisfied with the BH-1000 Octopus. It does a great job thoroughly cleaning away any organic waste and muck that you need to get rid of.
Some people have said they think the noise of this protein skimmer is on the low side. We think this is more of a personal preference because in our opinion it sounded about average. Either way, it’s nothing to discourage you from picking one up!
The SCA-302 protein skimmer by SC Aquariums is an absolutely stellar piece of equipment that rounds out our top 3 without a doubt. It’s an in-sump skimmer that packs a punch when it comes to cleaning.
If you were a fan of any of the older models of these protein skimmers by SC Aquariums, then you’re probably going to be super excited about what this newer model has to offer.
The SCA-302 is rated for tanks up to 180 gallons, but you might not guess that based on its size. It’s rather compact for such a powerful protein skimmer, and unless you have an extremely small sump you’ll probably be able to find room for it.
The build quality of the skimmer plus the pump that comes with it (Atman PH2000) means you’re going to absolutely eliminate any organic waste that’s in your tank. The bubbles this machine produces are top-notch compared to a lot of the other protein skimmers in its class.
What makes the SCA-302 protein skimmer even more impressive is the price you pay for all the power it packs. That means this is not only one of the best overall protein skimmers on the market, but a value buy at the same time!
For some reason, the 240DC protein skimmer is one of the most overlooked products on the market. And we really can’t understand why.
This protein skimmer comes with a great needle wheel impeller that leads to some high-quality bubble production throughout the life of the machine. It’s also rated up to 240 gallons of light bioload and 180 for medium, so it can definitely handle a decent sized aquarium.
The price of this skimmer is reasonable for what you get, and it has gotten some great reviews from the rest of the aquarium community so far.
The 240DC is also very easy to set up and has an efficient design that reduces the size of the device rather effectively. The water pump is actually inside the body of the protein skimmer, and when you see the footprint of it you’ll be amazed at the size of the tanks it can clean.
The break-in process for the 240DC is very easy and once it’s taken care of you’re pretty much good to go. Using it is on an ongoing basis is straightforward and hassle-free, and it comes with a generous warranty as well.
The Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer by Reef Octopus doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the aquarist community. It’s a very high-quality in-sump skimmer that doesn’t require a lot of fuss to make work.
For tanks under 100 gallons, you’ll find that this protein skimmer by Reef Octopus will clean the water without any difficulty. It comes included with a strong pump and the footprint of the whole machine is very reasonable (10.5 by 6.6 inches) which gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to making it work with your setup.
The realistic break-in period for this protein skimmer has been marked at around two weeks, with the first few days being the most impactful in terms of progress (this is normal). You will see foam production pick up around that time.
The entire setup process is very simple and it’s easy to get the skimmer working out of the box. This makes it a fantastic option for enthusiasts that don’t want the pain of constantly fiddling with their saltwater protein skimmer just to make it work how they want. Once you make the initial adjustments you’re pretty much good to go!
The reliability of the Classic 110-INT is something that’s worth noting as well. We’ve heard from tons of people who haven’t had any issues with the function of theirs since they purchased it, which is exactly what we want to hear.
The BM-Curve 5 by Bubble Magus is a fantastic protein skimmer, and the reviews online certainly support this. As a matter of fact, it’s one of our personal favorites!
The essential details that you need to know about this machine are that it’s an in-sump skimmer that can be used in tanks up to 140 gallons. This gallon number provides a little bit of extra flexibility to cover aquarium owners who might have a tank just slightly above 100 gallons, which is very nice.
The quality of the BM-Curve 5 is fantastic across the board. It does a tremendous job cleaning and can do this all the way up to it’s recommended tank size. For any tank 100 gallons and under it completely demolishes waste and gunk.
A really nice feature of this protein skimmer is the complete lack of noise. This skimmer is whisper quiet compared to a lot of the other high-performance models on the market. While this might not matter a whole lot to some, for others this could be the main selling point. It’s honestly one of the best protein skimmers we’ve ever seen when it comes to staying quiet!
The overall size of the device is very manageable as well. This makes it easy to include in pretty much any tank setup, and also eliminates a lot of hassle when it comes to installation.
Our only concern about the BM-Curve 5 is that customer support is not something you can rely on. If you have any issues with the protein skimmer it’s going to be on you to sort it out. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but if that doesn’t turn you away then this might be the right pick for you.
If you’re looking for a compact and easy to install protein skimmer, the Classic 100-HOB by Reef Octopus is definitely worth considering. It can be used for tanks up to 105 gallons and comes with a very strong pinwheel pump as well.
The design of the body is pretty unique but affords you some benefits when it comes to placement. As a HOB protein skimmer it’s already pretty easy to set up and find space for, but this makes it even simpler.
The Classic 100-HOB is a very reliable protein skimmer for saltwater tanks when it comes to its ability to clean. It’s gotten great reviews online and we’ve struggled to find anyone who can report issues with the quality of the product.
It also has a large filtration capacity which is very commendable given its size. This makes it easy to maintain as well and allows you to spend less time checking on it over time.
It’s worth noting that there is some assembly required when you first get this protein skimmer. It shouldn’t be too difficult because the instructions are fairly clear, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like much assembly you’ll want to prepare yourself.
This hang on back protein skimmer is one of our favorites when it comes to visual appeal. The blue style is fun to look at and can add a little to the overall aesthetic of your aquarium setup.
The HOB-1.5 Hang On Back Protein Skimmer by AquaMaxx also packs a punch when it comes to function as well. It’s one of the best skimmers on the market when it comes to medium-sized tanks, and has a great track record of reliability.
The sweet spot for this tank with a medium bioload is 75 gallons, with 90 being the max with a light bioload. Due to the size of the tanks it can handle, it should come as no surprise that the footprint of this protein skimmer is very small as well (7.5 by 3.5 by 17 inches).
The HOB-1.5 comes with a SHARK 1.0 pump which is more than enough to get the job done. It’s also been reported to be a very reliable pump which means you likely won’t have to worry about frequent repairs after you get everything all set up. The fact that it’s housed inside the skimmer also helps keep things quiet.
It’s about as easy to use and maintain as you can imagine. The function is really not complicated at all. It honestly takes minutes to figure out, and after you break it in you won’t have to spend much time messing around with it.
Even though this is a protein skimmer designed for medium-sized saltwater tanks, that doesn’t mean it’s weak. Far from it. In fact, it’s probably one of the strongest “pound for pound” skimmers on our list!
If you have a larger tank and you need a solid protein skimmer that can handle it, this is a great option. The 9410.000 DOC by Tunze USA is a high-quality, reliable, and powerful protein skimmer that has gotten top marks from multiple reviewers in the aquarium community.
The 9410.000 DOC is designed to live in your sump and can work with tank sizes all the way up to 265 gallons (fish only for the upper limit). It also comes with a Hydrofoamer Silence pump that’s designed entirely with protein skimming in mind.
Despite its power and the tank size that this skimmer can handle, it’s actually on the small side of things. It’s only 16 and a half inches tall! This makes installation a piece of cake assuming you have a fairly standard sump setup.
Another unique feature about this protein skimmer is that it doesn’t use much power at all. For aquarists with multiple large tanks, this can be a life-saver because the cost of electricity can add up quickly!
Overall it’s a very reliable machine that will do a great job of cleaning your tank once broken-in. It’s also not a high-maintenance protein skimmer when it comes to reliability. Once you’re up and running you probably won’t need to return to make frequent tweaks.
The Super Protein Skimmer with Pump by Coralife is a little different from the other skimmers on this list. The reason for this is you have the flexibility to select a model that will fit with your tank setup perfectly.
With other protein skimmers if it doesn’t match with your aquarium tank size you’re out of luck and have to find another option. With the Super Protein Skimmer, that’s probably not the case.
You have the option to pick from three models that cover a wide range of tank sizes. The options are 65, 125, and 220 gallons. Across these three models, you’re probably going to find one that works for you.
Not only that, but you have the option to use this protein skimmer as an in-sump or HOB. This is very uncommon and extends the range of flexibility that it offers significantly. It also makes this skimmer super easy to get up and running.
This means if you like Coralife and the quality of their Super Protein Skimmer, you can probably use it with your setup. No sump? No problem. 80-gallon tank? You’re good to go!
It does a great job cleaning tanks of all sizes and offers a high-end fractionator which increases the effectiveness even more. They have a good track record of reliability too, so you’re probably not going to be stuck working on it much after you install it.
If you’re looking for a flexible option to use with your tank, the Super Protein Skimmer with Pump by Coralife is a very good choice.
The Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer by NYOS is another very solid option if you have a large tank. It can work with tanks up to 265 gallons and is an in-sump unit.
It’s a very effective skimmer that has no problem cleaning water in a variety of bioload situations. It has a hybrid impeller that results in very small bubbles and lower power usage than comparable units.
One of our favorite things about this protein skimmer is the physical design. The body is sleek and the clear components allow you to watch the machine work it’s magic whenever you want. It also has nice titanium buckles and components that provide an attractive accent to the whole product. If you’re someone who really cares about the look and feel of your protein skimmer, this should probably be near the top of your list.
It doesn’t require a lot of tuning in order to get Quantum 160 running how you want it, but it’s not completely hands-off either. Unlike some of the best protein skimmers on this list, it’s not completely plug and play.
There are a couple of downsides to this skimmer, however. The first is the size. While it’s not a dealbreaker by any means, if you have a limited amount of space or want to keep your setup lean you’re going to bump into issues with the Quantum 160 (it’s almost 21 inches tall).
The price will be another sticking point for some. It’s a touch on the pricey side and while we do think it’s a great product, it might be too much depending on your budget.
Our Picks For The Best Protein Skimmers
This list has probably narrowed down your possible choices by quite a bit, but what are our favorites? Which protein skimmers are the best?
Here’s our favorite:
Overall, we’re huge fans of the AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer by CoralVue Technology. It’s an absolute beast and the price is more than fair for what you get. As long as it matches your tank size and you have the room for it, we highly recommend picking up this protein skimmer.
Great fallback options:
If the recommendation above doesn’t work for your situation, here are a couple more we love. They’re some of the best protein skimmers in their own right and they definitely won’t let you down.
The BH-1000 Octopus by CoralVue Technology is a great option if your tank falls into the 100-gallon or lower size category. It does its job very well and has exceptional reliability.
Additionally, the SCA-302 protein skimmer by SC Aquariums is another great choice that fills out our top 3. It’s a powerful and reliable skimmer that will clean your tank without falling apart. Also, the price for the size of the tank it can accommodate is great!
How Do You Choose A Protein Skimmer?
We’ve listed out a ton of great options for you, but we understand that you might need a little more help deciding between them. After all, they’re all excellent!
Fortunately, deciding on a protein skimmer isn’t as tricky as you might think. In fact, it really comes down to just a few factors.
The size of your aquarium is the first thing you should look at when choosing a protein skimmer that works for you. This is because each skimmer has a limit to the size of the tank it can effectively clean.
This means you don’t want to get a 100-gallon protein skimmer if your aquarium tank is 200 gallons. It won’t have the power necessary to clean the water effectively.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to match the effective size the skimmer can handle with your tank size. If it falls under the protein skimmer’s magic number, it’s a candidate!
The actual size of the protein skimmer body is another important factor you need to be aware of when making your choice. Everyone has a slightly different setup and you don’t want to get a protein skimmer that can’t fit!
If you have a sump, make sure the protein skimmer can fit inside it. You would be surprised about how many people pull the trigger on an awesome skimmer, only to find out it can’t fit in their sump when it arrives. Do the math before ordering to save yourself from this nightmare!
The type of aquarium you have
If you’re looking for a saltwater protein skimmer, be aware that not all will be a perfect match. Understand your setup and compare it to the recommended use cases that the manufacturer of your protein skimmer lists out to be sure everything is good to go.
Things To Remember When Setting Up Your Protein Skimmer
Setting up a protein skimmer for saltwater tanks the very first time can seem rather intimidating. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be! If you stick to the tips we’ve listed below you’re going to be just fine.
Don’t ignore the instructions
It’s always tempting to ignore the included instructions that the manufacturer included and jump right in. It’s more exciting that way!
Despite the rush you might get from going it alone, we highly discourage this kind of rebellious behavior. Countless setup problems or break-in periods that never seem to end have been caused by missing simple steps in the instruction manual.
Swallow your pride and read the heck out of that thing. It’s designed to make your life easier.
Knock off any assembly first
Some protein skimmers require you to do a little assembly before the skimmer can be operational. If you stick to the included instructions you’ll likely avoid this problem, but we wanted to highlight it just to be safe.
Make sure you don’t try the “assemble as you go” strategy that some madmen seem to favor. It not only makes the assembly harder, but it can increase the risk of you breaking something inside your protein skimmer.
Don’t forget to find the correct depth
Protein skimmers all have a recommended depth where they should be placed in your tank. This varies from skimmer to skimmer, so it’s something you’ll have to nail down by checking the instructions given by the manufacturer.
Skipping this step is a common mistake that many new protein skimmer owners make, but all of them realize this eventually. This is because it simply will not function correctly if it’s not placed at the correct depth.
Let it get its mojo
Even the best protein skimmers have a time frame where they need to get broken in and warmed up before they reach full function. This can range from anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks based on the model.
As long as you read the included material that comes in the box you’ll know what to expect. If your protein skimmer isn’t working properly after the break-in period it’s time to start troubleshooting.
Some Common Questions About Protein Skimmers
We hope that this buyers guide has been pretty thorough so far, but we know that there are a handful of common questions that should be addressed as well. Understanding how to effectively use your protein skimmer can take a little time, so we hope that answering these questions will help speed up your learning curve!
How often should I run it?
You should be running your protein skimmer 24/7. They’re built to handle this kind of use, and it’s what is best for your tank as well.
The organic waste that builds up in your tank doesn’t take any time off. It’s happening all the time and can be rather relentless! If you want to stay ahead of it, running your protein skimmer all the time will go a long way in making this happen.
It won’t have to fight from behind when dealing with any buildup because it will be eliminating this organic material the instant it appears in the water. This is better for the quality of your water and the components in your protein skimmer.
What causes protein skimmers to overflow?
If your protein skimmer has too much foam and is overflowing it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. Chances are you just need to tweak the settings a little bit!
A lot of times the manual that comes with the device will give you some options for what to do in this case. We recommend following them as the primary option.
If they are unclear or you don’t have access to them there are a couple of things you can try. Raising the collection cup a bit will help the water in the cup drain a bit easier, which will help reduce the amount of foam that builds up.
You can also try reducing the amount of air that’s coming in. This can propel some of the foam up into the cup, causing an overflow. Both of these options are good places to start if you need some additional with an overflowing protein skimmer.
What’s with all the bubbles?
Bubble production is a necessary function of any good protein skimmer, especially early on. As we explained at the beginning of the guide these bubbles help send organic waste and unwanted materials to the surface.
It’s normal for bubble production to fade away after you break in the protein skimmer. If you notice this change after you finish the initial break-in phase, don’t worry.
Is there a way I can reduce the noise my skimmer makes?
Depending on the model and your tolerance for noise in your home, the sounds a protein skimmer makes might get annoying. If this is the case there are a couple of things you can try.
The first is to make sure you don’t have any old parts that need to be replaced. Old components can get loud over time and a newer version might do the trick.
You can also try to muffle any rattling that the skimmer makes by placing foam or rubber pads in select areas to quiet things down. Don’t place these neat any electrical components though!
How often should I clean it?
Due to the nature of the job your protein skimmer does for your aquarium, it’s expected that it will get a little dirty.
Ok, that’s actually an understatement. It will get pretty darn filthy.
This means you need to give it a thorough cleaning every six months if you want it to continue working effectively and last a long time. Six months is the maximum amount of time you want to push it before you could end up doing damage to your protein skimmer.
If the manual doesn’t give you instructions there are plenty of great guides out there on how to clean your protein skimmer. It’s not rocket science, just something that you need to do.
Do they cause oxygenation in the water?
Due to the number of bubbles that protein skimmers produce throughout the day, they do impact the level of oxygen that’s found in the water. However, the amount of oxygen they add is rather small and won’t make any major changes when it comes to the state of your tank.
Will protein skimmers get rid of salt in my tank?
This is a very common question that we get about protein skimmers from first-time aquarists and tank owners. It’s a natural concern since salt levels are top of mind for anyone who is thinking about getting a protein skimmer for saltwater tanks.
The answer to this question is no. Running a protein skimmers will not impact the amount of salt in your tank in any noticeable way.
Will a protein skimmer work with my freshwater tank?
Protein skimmers can be used in freshwater tanks, but it’s not something that’s done very often. The reasons for this are the level of organic material is often much different than saltwater tanks, and there are also surface tension issues with the tank setup.
This means the effectiveness of your skimmer is greatly reduced to the point where it typically doesn’t make sense to have one in the first place. There are plenty of other options you can explore if you want to clean up the water without a protein skimmer.
Do protein skimmers get rid of nitrates?
This is a little bit of a tricky question to answer because it’s not straightforward. The short answer is yes, but not in the direct way that you might think.
Protein skimmers need to move a physical organic substance into the collection cup, and that means nitrates don’t qualify. Nitrate is a chemical that isn’t organic in nature which means they are immune to saltwater protein skimmers right?
By removing organic waste that can turn into or aid nitrate production, a protein skimmer will absolutely help lower the level of nitrate in your saltwater aquarium. This is just done as a byproduct of other actions.
How long will it take before my new skimmer produces foam?
The typical answer to this question is a few days. This is called the break-in phase and you can find a more accurate estimate in the information that comes with your protein skimmer.
It’s only natural to be anxious and ready to rock when you install your new protein skimmer, but it’s smart to wait until the break-in phase is over before you start to make any adjustments. What you might think is an issue could sort itself out after a day or two.
Is it possible to remove algae with my protein skimmer?
Your protein skimmer will absolutely remove algae from your aquarium, but you need to manage your expectations. It’s impossible to remove all the algae in your tank so don’t strive for 100% elimination.
The reason why the best protein skimmers help remove algae from your tank is simple, they get rid of the food that algae need in order to grow. The organic materials and waste that protein skimmers get rid of each day are all ideal nutrients for algae to use for growth. No nutrients = no algae.