In saltwater aquariums, especially reefs tanks, installing the best protein skimmer available is essential.

Protein skimmers filter the water and work to remove organic waste such as food and waste compounds before they break down into dangerous nitrogenous compounds. 

If you remember from the aquarium nitrogen cycle, as organic matter decomposes bacteria which break down the organic waste produce ammonia. If organic waste isn’t removed, eventually nitrate levels will accumulate, and phosphate levels will rise as well. 

Increased nitrate and phosphate levels greatly increases the likelihood of an algal bloom in your saltwater tank, and you are also at risk of getting very cloudy water. Not just this but high phosphate levels interfere with corals ability to absorb calcium carbonate. 

Ensuring you have the cleanest and clearest water is essential for a healthy reef tank, as important as appropriate LED lighting. Which is where the best protein skimmers come in. They will provide your tank with clean and clear water.

I’m this article we will detail exactly what protein skimmers do in the saltwater aquarium, how to choose the best protein skimmer for your tank setup, and then will review the 15 best protein skimmers on the market at the moment before answering some of the most frequently asked questions. 

IN THIS ARTICLE

Summary: 3 Best Protein Skimmer Products

Protein Skimmer General Information

What does a protein skimmer do?

A protein skimmer basically does exact what it sounds like it does. It “skims”, or removes, proteins and other organic waste that build up in any saltwater tank. 

Now saying that it removes proteins sounds quite fancy and scientific, but it really isn’t. Proteins are found in everything that is organic; fish food, fish feces, plants etc. When these proteins, or organic wastes, decompose in the tank, they go through the nitrogen cycle, as they would in nature. 

Bacteria “eat” the organic waste and metabolize the proteins, forming ammonia. Ammonia, as we said in the introduction, is extremely toxic and even at low concentrations causes ammonia poisoning in fish. Nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia to nitrite, which is also highly toxic to fish. Different nitrifying bacteria convert nitrite to nitrate, which is much less toxic. At high concentrations though fish can suffer from nitrate poisoning

Phosphate is also released into the water column as organic waste is broken down by bacteria.

Nitrate and phosphate are important sources of nitrogen and phosphorus respectively for plants and algae; high nitrate and phosphate levels leaves your saltwater reef tank at a high risk of an algal bloom. Phosphate also interferes with coral’s ability to absorb calcium carbonate, the compound used to make their exoskeletons. 

Protein skimmers remove the organic waste and proteins before bacteria have a chance to “eat” them and decompose them, stopping the release of phosphate and nitrogenous compounds ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. These wastes can also cause the water to become cloudy and murky. They remove dissolved waste though, for waste accumulated on the substrate you should use an aquarium vacuum cleaner like the Python water changer.

Therefore the use of a protein skimmer allows the reef tank water to remain clear and clean. We need to stress that while you can choose not to have a protein skimmer in your saltwater tank, it will make your life a lot easier! Though a protein skimmer removes dissolved organic wastes it shouldn’t be the only filtration you have. They should be used in conjunction with other filter types, such as canister filters or power filters.

How does a protein skimmer work? 

It is really quite fascinating how protein skimmers filter the water. Have you ever seen foam along the shoreline of oceans, rivers, or lakes? This is the result of water movement and wave action that mixes dissolved proteins and waste and then produces foam. Protein skimmers essentially do exactly the same thing. 

Skimmers create tiny bubbles, which the proteins in the water stick to and are carried to the surface along with the bubbles. A foam is created on the surface, which is then skimmed into a collection cup.

Protein skimmers use the polarity of proteins to filter them and remove them from the water column. Different parts of proteins will be repelled or attracted to the water-air interface, which is how the skimmer uses bubbles to remove them from the water. As such, more or finer/smaller bubbles mean a greater water-air interface, which means a higher amount of protein removed.

Water is drawn into a reaction chamber, where a stream of bubbles is generated. As the bubbles move through the water they collect the dissolved proteins, as they adhere and stick to the fine bubbles. The bubbles then move up to the top of the reaction chamber they also move the proteins that are stuck to them. As the bubbles get to the top of the reaction chamber they form a foam, which is collected in the collection cup.

The foam which is deposited in the collection cup can then be easily removed and disposed of.

Best Protein Skimmer Table

How To Select the Best Protein Skimmer

We thought that it would be useful, before viewing the list and reviews of the best protein skimmers available on the market, that you know what basic things to look for in a protein skimmer.

Here are a few easy points that you can look at quickly so you can easily tell if a protein skimmer is appropriate for you. 

Budget 

The first thing that you should be on the lookout for is the price. Always ensure that the protein skimmer is within your budget. It is important to get the best protein skimmer for your saltwater tank so that you provide a clean and healthy environment for your fish and corals. 

However you shouldn’t get a skimmer that is out of your means. Do your research and budget for a protein skimmer that is appropriate and will fulfill the requirements that your tank needs. Protein skimmers are an essential part of a saltwater aquarium setup, and you should budget accordingly.

Size of your fish tank 

If you don’t know the size of your fish tank, then check! You can measure your tank and find out how many gallons of water it holds. The size of your tank and the volume of water that it holds will determine if you can or cannot use some protein skimmers. There is no point using a protein skimmer which can clean 100 gallon tanks on a 20 gallon tank; it will be physically larger firstly and will also be more expensive and therefore wasteful.

Conversely you do not want to risk purchasing a cheaper smaller volume skimmer for a larger tank. A smaller volume protein skimmer won’t be able to handle a water volume larger than that specified, and it will be your fish that pay the price as toxic compounds build up. 

Dimensions of the protein skimmer (Footprint)

Following on from the size of your tank, the physical size of the protein skimmer, otherwise known as the footprint, you are looking to buy should be an important aspect that you look out for. 

It’s devastating, and a complete pain, to buy a skimmer for your reef tank and then find out that it doesn’t fit the space you have reserved for it. More often than not the footprint of a protein skimmer will actually end up being one of the reasons why you decide to buy or not buy it!

Many skimmers are designed for use in sump tanks, which are often housed in cupboards below the aquarium. Seriously, do double check how much space you have in there! Even for hang on back protein skimmers you will need to ensure that it will fit on your tank. 

Protein skimmer reviews 

A final thing that is recommended to do is to read the reviews of the protein skimmer you intend to buy. This will give you an idea on what to expect about the quality and functionality of that product. Many reviewers post pictures of the setup product. However be wary, and don’t be scared off by a random bad review, if the positives outweigh the negatives then most likely that it is a sound product. People are much more likely to write about a bad experience out of frustration than a good experience. 

Protein Skimmer Types

There are a few fundamentally different types of protein skimmer that you should be aware of. Each type has its use in different tank setups and have different positives.

HOB Protein Skimmer

HOB stands for hang on back. These HOB protein skimmers mount on your tank exactly as you might expect; they simply hang on the back of the aquarium glass. 

A HOB protein skimmer will then draw water into the reaction chamber where the dissolved organic compounds will come into contact with the bubbles.

The downside is that as they are just hanging on the glass, they can be visually not the best. Generally though HOB protein skimmers are designed for smaller tanks, so tend to be small themselves. 

In Sump Skimmers

In sump protein skimmers are installed in the sump tank. Sump tanks are considered by many to be another essential component of saltwater tank setups. What is great about sump tanks is that it allows you to install aquarium heaters, calcium reactors, and in sump skimmers in this extra tank rather than the main show tank. This allows your aquarium to look great without the eyesore of essential equipment.

External Protein Skimmers 

External protein skimmers are the rarest and most unusual of the skimmer types, and tend to only be useful for small reef tanks. In these skimmers, water is pumped from the tank to the body of the skimmer, which is housed externally. 

As said, these skimmers are mostly used in small reef tanks which don’t have the space for a HOB protein skimmer or in sump skimmer. 

Best Protein Skimmer Reviews

In the following section we list and review what we consider to be the best protein skimmers available on the market at the moment. 

The parameters we used to decide this list were functionality, performance, value for money, and specifications. 

If you think we have missed any out or want our opinion on a skimmer that we haven’t reviewed then please leave a comment. 

So let’s dive straight in to the best protein skimmer reviews! 

1) Red Sea Reefer Protein Skimmers

Pros:

  • Quiet operation
  • Ergonomic diffusion chamber
  • Built-in manual neck cleaner
  • Precision geared valve for positive flow regulation
Cons:

  • Expensive

The Red Sea Reefer protein skimmers are one of the top protein skimmer ranges available for larger saltwater tanks. They are known for their incredible performance that is powered by a Sicce PSK pump, proportionally sized venturi, bubble diffuser, and large reaction chamber. Together these create the ideal ratio of air to water (1:2) in the reaction chamber, as well as optimizing the contact time between the bubbles and water. This all means that you can be sure that these skimmers are removing the maximal amount of dissolved proteins from your tank; a stable foam skimmate is produced which is trapped in the collection cup.

There are three Red Sea Reefer Protein Skimmer size options available; the Red Sea Reefer 300, Red Sea Reefer 600, and the Red Sea Reefer 900. These each have their own capacities, with different maximum sizes for SPS and LPS coral tanks, mixed reef tanks, and fish only tanks. The Red Sea Reefer 300 has a capacity of 80 gallons for SPS tanks, 160 gallons for mixed reef tanks, and 240 gallons for fish-only tanks. The Red Sea Reefer 600 has a capacity of 160, 320, and 500 gallons, while the largest Red Sea Reefer 900 has a capacity of 240, 500, and 740 gallons for the different reef tank setups. 

These protein skimmers are also very quiet when operational. This has been achieved by dampening the vibrations that occur during use through attaching rubber connectors and feet as well as attaching a strong silencer.

Maintenance is also incredibly easy with these skimmers, which helps to maintain the extremely high standards of cleaning. The built-in neck cleaner allows you to clean the neck of the skimmer without removing the collection cup; this is incredibly useful as you simply turn the handle and the residue is removed! There is a cleaning hose which allows you to remove skimmate easily, and the pump can also be removed easily for simple deeper cleanings.

Installation of the skimmer is also made easily as you can choose between three options to position the venturi inlet and regulator to best suit your sump design. As the base can be moved, the footprints of the skimmers are as follows; 9.1″ x 8.3″ or 9.8″ x 7.1″ and a height of 21″ for the Red Sea Reefer 300; 10.2″ x 9.4″ or 11.4″ x 8.3″ and a height of 22″ for the Red Sea Reefer 600; and 11.4″ x 10.6″ or 12.6″ x 9.4″ and a height of 23″ for the Red Sea Reefer 900. Ensure that you have sufficient space in your sump tank.

2) Simplicity Skimmers with DC Pump

Sale
Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer
  • Adjustable DC pump speed
  • For tanks up to 320 gallons
  • Small foot print
  • Cone shape design
  • Collection cup drain with cap

Pros:

  • Hybrid cone design which increases contact time between the bubbles and water
  • Built-in collection cup with overflow drain
  • Controllable pump and needle wheel
  • Brilliant warranty and customer service
Cons:

  • The pump and needle wheel controls are sensitive.

Simplicity Protein Skimmers are brilliant skimmers which offer amazing cleaning power. There are multiple models available; The 320DC model is suitable for extremely large saltwater tanks of up to 320 gallons. There are also smaller and larger models of Simplicity Skimmers, such as the Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer suitable for 120 gallon tanks, if you have a larger or smaller saltwater setup. 

A hybrid cone design has been used to maximize the contact time between the micro bubbles produced and the water. This therefore gives the dissolved proteins the maximum amount of time possible to adhere to the bubbles and be removed from the water column. This hybrid cone design also concentrates the foam that forms as proteins stick to the bubbles. Basically this means that more foam and protein can be collected in the collection cup.

Simplicity Skimmers make use of a controllable DC pump. This pump allows you full control over the amount of air passed through the protein skimmer. You can lower or raise the water flow via the pump control as and when you need it, or you can turn off the pump altogether. During coral feeding times it is useful to turn off the skimmer. 

The needle wheel which is utilized whips the air into a stream of incredibly fine micro bubbles. These micro bubbles ensure that there is a very large surface area for protein capture, and so ensures quality water cleaning. 

A very easy thumbscrew assembly means that taking Simplicity Skimmers apart for cleaning and maintenance is very simple and quick. The collection cup has a built in overflow drain, so you don’t need to worry about spillage or leakage. 

The footprint of Simplicity Skimmers is small; for the 320DC model the footprint is 9 x 8.25 inches with a height of 21.25 inches. For a skimmer which has a DC pump and this functionality that is very good. It is also good value for the money; it has the functionality of a high end protein skimmer but the price tag of a mid-range skimmer. 

Another highlight is Simplicity’s customer service. They are extremely efficient, much like their skimmers! And if anything does go wrong with the product they will be on hand to rectify it.

3) Reef Octopus Classic 150INT In Sump Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 150INT In Sump Protein Skimmer
  • In-sump protein skimmer for aquariums up to 150 gallons
  • Aquatrance 2000 Pinwheel Pump - offers super efficiency and the very best in performance
  • Bubble Diffusing Chamber and Full Cone Body that naturally reduce and stabilize the foam production; This means less turbulence in the neck area and more contact time for organics to rise and collect
  • Turbulence reducing bubble plate
  • Small Footprint: 12.4" x 8.7"; Body Diameter: 6"; Height: 22"

Pros:

  • Cone neck design for better foam collection rate
  • Ease of installation and use
  • Needle wheel impeller creates micro bubbles
Cons:

  • Slightly loud operational noise

Part of the Reef Octopus Classic series, the Reef Octopus Classic 150INT Protein Skimmer is a brilliant skimmer which has great reviews and brilliant features.

It is designed for in-sump use in saltwater tanks. The capacity of this skimmer depends on the bioload of your tank. If you have a heavy bioload, then this will function well for tanks of 110 gallons. For medium bioloaded tanks, it can handle up to 150 gallons, and for light bioload tanks it can handle up to 210 gallons. These capacities don’t include the sump tank itself, just the main tank.

The Classic 150INT is constructed with high quality cast acrylic, and features a strong air shredding Aquatrance 2000s pinwheel pump and air silencer. The pinwheel pump cuts the air flow to generate a stream of fine microbubbles which creates maximum surface area between bubbles and water. The high-performance venturi air injection system provides brilliant performance. While there is an attached air silencer, there is still some operational noise.

The water flow through the system is easy to adjust to your personal preference and tank requirements through the easy to adjust gate valve. 

A quick release neck makes for a very easy to remove collection cup so there is no difficulty in regularly removing the waste that builds up. The collection cup also features an overflow drain so that there is no leakage. 

The half cone design of the skimmer body and the four inch cone neck are designed to allow the bubbles and foam created to rise to the top successfully and without incident, and also to ease the foam into the collection cup. This all makes for a better rate of foam collection in the cup. 

The footprint of the Classic 150INT is 12.4 x 8.7 inches, and the height is 22 inches. The recommended sump water height is 6-8 inches. 

If this model is the wrong size for your aquarium, there are larger and smaller models available. The Reef Octopus Classic 110INT is suitable for 60-130 gallon tanks depending on bioload, while the Reef Octopus Classic 200INT is suitable for 150-250 gallon tanks.

4) Bubble Magus Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer
  • High performance pump included
  • Tanks up to 140 gallons
  • SP1000 internal pump

Pros:

  • Small footprint
  • Equipped with a silencer for quiet operation
  • Design delivers high functionality
  • Quick release collection cup
  • Price
Cons:

  • Problems with customer service
  • Break in period

The Bubble Magus Curve 5 Protein Skimmer is part of a brilliant series of in-sump skimmers. At the price point they are, they offer high functionality and great features. There are multiple models for different sized tanks. This model is Bubble Magus Curve 5 for tanks up to 140 gallons, then there is the Bubble Magus Curve 7 for tanks up to 240 gallons, and the Bubble Magus Curve 9 for up to 400 gallon tanks. These maximum capacities are for tanks with light bioloads; the capacity lowers if the bioload is heavy.

The needle wheel pump offers very high functionality; with a venture intake it can generate a very powerful stream of fine bubbles. The small size of the bubbles formed in the reaction chamber maximize surface area for protein uptake. A bubble plate reduces turbulence in the reaction chamber to prevent bubbles from breaking before becoming saturated with proteins and reaching the surface. The curved body of the Bubble Magus Curve 5 is designed to allow the foam that is created by the action of the skimmer to rise smoothly to be collected in the collection cup.

An air silencer is installed on the Bubble Magus Curve 5 which ensures silent operation. The usefulness of this cannot be understated! There is nothing worse than a beautiful tank tainted by loud filters. 

Maintenance is very easy; the collection cup is on a quick release for ease of emptying, and the body also is easy to open up and clean. The collection cup has an overflow which reduces the frequency it needs emptying.

Another huge plus point is the year warranty on the Bubble Magus Curve 5 skimmer and pump motor. There is also a 6 month warranty on the impeller. While there has been talk of some customer service delays with these warranties you are covered.

The footprint of the Bubble Magus Curve 5 is reasonably small which makes it very easy to install in the sump tank. The footprint is 7.3 x 7.1 inches with a height of 18.5 inches.

A downside is the length of the break in period. It can take a number of weeks for this skimmer to begin to produce proper skimmate. The pump used in this model isn’t bad by any means, but Bubble Magus have upgraded this in the Bubble Magus Curve 5 Elite.

Overall this is an extremely good protein skimmer!

5) Tunze 9410 DOC Protein Skimmer

Tunze 9410 DOC Protein Skimmer
  • Easily removed, large capacity skimmer cup
  • Low power consumption
  • Removable post filter

Pros:

  • Low electricity use
  • Large capacity
  • Very easy to clean
Cons:

  • Noise of operation

The Tunze 9410 DOC Protein Skimmer has some very good features which make it a brilliant protein simmer. Both the water and air flow are adjustable, and so you can customize the skimmer to be perfect for your tank setup.

The capacity of the Tunze 9410 DOC depends on how heavily stocked your fish tank is. For tanks stocked with small polyp stony corals, SPS corals, this protein skimmer can be used for tanks up to 80 gallons. For fish only marine tank setups, the Tunze 9410 DOC can be used for tanks up to 265 gallons. 

The collection cup is large and can contain a lot of skimmate. It can easily be removed for cleaning. 

The Tunze 9410 DOC can be electronically controlled through the included Turbelle controller. This controller allows you full control over both the water flow and air flow through the skimmer. There is also a booster ring which allows fine adjustment of performance, for example adapting the water level inside the skimmer for the production of wetter foam.

A major plus is that the power consumption is very low. At only 15W this protein skimmer isn’t a power drain, and so won’t cost a fortune to run. 

The main function of a protein skimmer is to bind organic material, and the mixing chamber is designed for the capture of a high volume of dissolved organic substances. In addition to this, the outlet of the skimmer can be installed with a removable post-filter. This post-filter enables mechanical filtration through 300 µm (11.8 mil) nylon mesh with only a little biological action. This filter ensures that any material is removed from the water column that will otherwise be a nitrate or nutrient source. The filter sock can also be filled with chemical filtration media such as activated carbon.

6) SC Aquariums In Sump SCA 301 Skimmer

SCA 301 Protein Skimmer
  • This skimmer is designed to work for salt water tanks up to 65 Gallons of salt water
  • Air Silencer is included
  • Skimmer Size: 4.25" L x 7" W x 17" H Ideal Water Level is 6 to 7"
  • 1 Year Limited Manufacture Warranty
  • Pump specs: 110-120V/60Hz 28watt, (1380 L/h)

Pros:

  • Price tag
  • Reviews
  • Neat and compact design
  • Strong pump
Cons:

  • Needs to be installed at specific depth in the sump tank, so be aware!

The SCA 301 skimmer is designed for use in aquariums of up to 65 gallons. It needs to be used in a sump tank, so ensure that you have the appropriate sump. The footprint is 4.25 inches by 7 inches in length and width with 17 inches of height. Make sure that the sump is large enough to accommodate it! The ideal water level of the sump is 6-7 inches. 

The collection cup is large and can accommodate a high volume of skimmate. It can be easily removed for quick and easy cleaning and maintenance; a very good thing indeed! The collection cup also comes with a drainage tube so that it won’t overflow. 

There are six levels of water flow adjustment so that you can adjust the SCA 301 skimmer to work perfectly for your marine reef tank. Another brilliant feature is the air silencer that is included. This ensures that the operational noise is kept to an absolute minimum. 

The real highlight of this skimmer are the sheer amount of positive reviews that can be found. It is nice knowing that when buying the SCA 301 skimmer you will be getting a very high quality and functional product.

7) Reef Octopus Classic 1000 HOB Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 1000 HOB Protein Skimmer
  • Coral vue octopus with external 1000 pump 100gal
  • This design also allows for easy removal of the pump for cleaning and maintenance
  • They are built with high quality acrylic

Pros:

  • Low profile body
  • Pump housed outside body of skimmer. This allows for easy maintenance, and prevents heat exchange.
Cons:

  • Operational noise

The Reef Octopus Classic 1000 HOB Protein Skimmer is the second skimmer by Reef Octopus on this list. This shows just how popular and highly rated the skimmers by this company is. Whilst the first was an in-sump skimmer, this model is a hang on back skimmer. It is simply hung onto the glass of the fish tank, where it skims water off the surface. 

It is rated at a maximum capacity of 130 gallons for a light bioload tank, 80 for a medium bioload, and 60 for a heavy bioload. If you aren’t sure of what bioload means, it is how heavily stocked your tank is. Everything, corals, sponges, mollusks, echinoderms, and fish all produce waste and add to the bioload of the tank. 

A great feature of the Classic 1000 HOB Skimmer is the pump which is mounted exterior to the main body of the skimmer. It is housed below the body, which greatly limits heat transfer between the pump and the water. This prevents heat from the pump from heating the tank. Having the pump below the skimmer body also allows the skimmer itself to be a lot thinner and sleeker than it would be otherwise, so it needs less room behind the tank.

The collection cup is very easy to remove, which makes regular removal of waste quick and easy. 

8) Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer

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Instant Ocean SeaClone 100 Protein Skimmer, For Optimum Skimming Efficiency
  • PROTEIN SKIMMER Mini vortex skims and removes dissolved wastes from marine aquariums
  • POWERFUL & EFFICIENT Turbo-Venturi Injector System with Maxi-Jet 1200 pump form protein-laden bubbles
  • VERSATILE INSTALLATION External hang-on or in-sump installation
  • CAPACITY Works with any marine aquarium up to 100 gallons

Pros:

  • Can be assembled in-sump or hang on back.
  • Price
Cons:

  • Difficult to fine-tune
  • The Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer is a great model for mid sized reef tanks of up to 100 gallons.

This model uses a turbo-venturi injector system which helps to generate maximum skimming efficiency and improved gas exchange. The Vortex Reaction Chamber enables a swirling vortex of water to be generated, which enables the bubbles produced to quickly adhere dissolved proteins and draw them from the water column.

A huge plus point to the Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer is that it can either be installed in-sump or HOB. This flexibility of installation gives you extra options and enables you to accommodate a good capacity and powerful skimmer, especially if you have a small sump which is unable to fit it. 

The vortex of water that is created also aids in bringing the waste gathered to the top to be collected in the collection cup.

9) Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump

Coralife 05272 Super Skimmer with Pump, 125-Gallon
  • Effective addition to saltwater or reef aquarium filtration
  • Patented needle wheel system creates a spiraling vortex of water to remove fine proteins and organic compounds from the aquarium water
  • Highly effective at removing dissolved organic compounds from saltwater aquariums
  • Wide neck collection cup with easy twist Feature for effortless cleaning
  • Bubble production diffuser to prevent the flow of micro-bubbles into main Aquarium

Pros:

  • Three size options
  • Dua injection inlets for increased contact time between bubbles and water
  • Can be installed as in sump or HOB
Cons:

  • Salt buildup issues requires regular cleaning
  • Customer service

A huge plus point with the Coralife Super Protein Skimmer is the flexibility of installation. It can either be fitted in the sump tank or on the back of the aquarium glass. This flexibility is brilliant if you don’t have a sump tank but want a strong, powerful, high-capacity skimmer. Many of the HOB skimmers are designed for smaller saltwater tank setups. There is also a choice of three models sizes, with capacities of 65, 125, and 220 gallons. 

Dual injection inlets have been fitted which increases contact time between the bubbles and the water. This helps to greatly improve performance and increase the amount of dissolved proteins that are removed from the water column. The patented needle-wheel impeller and aspirating venturi creates a spiralling vortex of water which enables the Coralife Super Skimmer to be a very high-performance foam fractionator.

The collection cup has a wide neck which enables it to have a higher collection volume. It also has an easy twist feature for a very quick and easy release for cleaning. While this may seem a small insubstantial feature, it is actually a lifesaver. If you’ve ever had a protein skimmer where you’ve had to sweat and strain to get the collection cup off you’ll know what we mean! 

Coralife has also fitted a new energy saving pump on this model, which has lowered the power usage which also increases performance simultaneously. Lowering power usage means that it will cost less to run.

10) IOAOI Ultra Quiet Protein Skimmer

IOAOI Ultra Quiet Protein Skimmer for Saltwater Aquariums
  • Coral vue octopus with external 1000 pump 100gal
  • This design also allows for easy removal of the pump for cleaning and maintenance
  • They are built with high quality acrylic

Pros:

  • Well constructed
  • Quiet
  • DC pumps allows full control of air and water flow
Cons:

  • Controller repurposed from a wave maker. Has a wave button which could damage the skimmer if pressed.

The IOAOI protein skimmer is a brilliant option for saltwater tank setups of up to 210 gallons. It has some amazing and rave reviews, which isn’t surprising considering the features that it possesses.

The feature that sets the IOAOI skimmer apart is the LED controller and the 20 gears to choose from. Using this control you have full command over the water flow, and so can modify the skimmer to exactly suit your needs. The flow speeds range from having 1W to 20W of power consumption. At the highest gear the skimmer can be used for 210 gallon aquariums, but be aware this is for lighter bioloads.

It is designed for in-sump use only, so ensure that you have a sump tank set up and large enough to accommodate this model. The model has a footprint of 9″ x 6.9″ along with a height of 20″., and the recommended sump depth is between 7 and 9 inches.

Performance and functionality are very high indeed, with a patented needle-shaped diversion plate which generates very fine bubbles and allows for a much greater contact time between the bubbles and water. The diversion plate also prevents bubbles from re-entering the reaction chamber.

Construction is very good; the skimmer feels very solid and stable and not at all flimsy. This solid construction comes from the high quality cast acrylic that is used to produce this protein skimmer. 

As you can imagine from the name, this skimmer is very quiet when operational. Standard positive rotating wave technology is used to achieve the quietest operational volume possible, while advanced frequency conversion technology has been adopted which greatly increases energy efficiency, saving a lot of electricity in the long run.

There is a major downside to the IOAOI protein skimmer however. While the controller allows for changing the rate of flow, it is actually a repurposed wave maker controller, and so has a wave function as well. However this obviously isn’t intended for the skimmer, and if you press it can actually damage the skimmer! There is a triangle button which turns the skimmer on.

11) AquaticLife 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

Sale
AquaticLife 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer
  • EFFECTIVELY REMOVES ORGANIC WASTE: The Aquatic Life 115 Mini Protein Skimmer for aquariums effectively removes organic waste and...
  • COMPACT FOR NANO TANKS: This compact protein skimmer for nano-tanks measures only 3 1/2 x 3-1/4 x 10-5/8 inches. It’s great for...
  • POWERFUL AND HIGHLY EFFICIENT: The internal protein skimmer for aquariums is powered by an 8-watt needle-wheel impeller pump for...
  • SIMPLE TO INSTALL: This small protein skimmer is easy to set up and runs a super-quiet operation. The suction cups provide...
  • QUICK ACCESS FOR EASY CLEANING: A quick-lock design on the protein skimmer allows full access for maintenance and easy cleaning....

Pros:

  • Small footprint
  • Quiet operation
  • Simple to install
Cons:

  • Possible quality control issues

The AquaticLife 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer is a brilliant internal skimmer which is suitable for nano tanks of up to 30 gallons. It is designed to fit and be mounted in rear or hidden filtration compartments. Due to this design it is perfect for the Fluval Sea Evo 13.5 gallon tank. 

This skimmer is very simple to set up and install. There are suction cups for easy and convenient placement, as well as an adjustable mounting bracket which fits all standard aquarium frames. 

The AquaticLife 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer is powered by a needle wheel impeller pump which generates very fine microbubbles and also helps to increase the contact time between the bubbles and water. This enables this skimmer to punch well above its small weight, delivering maximum protein collection. The collection cup is easily accessible for easy cleaning.

12) NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

Pros:

  • Ease of maintenance
  • Quiet operation
  • Appearance
Cons:

  • Price – It is expensive
  • Length of break in period
  • Cheap thin feeling plastic

The NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer is an effective and sleek looking option for larger tanks of up to 265 gallons. 

A clear plastic design allows this protein skimmer to not only look very professional and sleek but also to not impose too much in the sump. Clear plastic also makes it very easy to know when to clean the skimmer. A downside is that the plastic does have a bit of a thin feel to it. 

This model needs to be installed in a sump tank. The sump tank water needs to be between 8 to 10 inches in depth. The footprint is 8 by 10 inches, with a height of 21 inches. While it almost goes without saying, make sure that you have enough space in the sump tank to accommodate this skimmer. 21 inches is quite tall, so ensure that there is enough headroom before you buy.

While the break in period is fairly long, averaging around two weeks, so have a little patience during this period until proper skimmate is created.

The functionality of this skimmer is exceptional, as you would expect from a product commanding this price tag. This is why it can easily clean tanks up to 265 gallons. Maintenance is also made simple, so you can easily ensure that you get a long life from the skimmer.

13) AquaTop Xyclone Mini Protein Skimmer

AquaTop Xyclone Mini Protein Skimmer PS-170 for Aquariums Up to 55 Gallons
  • Max Capacity: Up to 55 Gal.
  • Max Flow: 174gph
  • Dimensions: 4.13"x3.54"x13.38" (LxWxH)
  • Power: 10W
  • Variable Mounting: In-Sump/ Hang-on

Pros:

  • Small footprint
  • Simple to install
  • Variable installation
Cons:

  • Expensive for small capacity

The AquaTop Xyclone Mini Protein Skimmer is an exceptionally good skimmer for small tanks. It has a capacity of up to 55 gallons in tanks with a light bioload, such as fish only tanks. In tanks with corals and a high bioload the capacity will be smaller. 

It has a footprint of 4.1″ x 3.5″ x 13.4″ inches. What is very useful is that the AquaTop Xyclone Mini can be installed either as an in-sump skimmer or as a hang on back skimmer. Some smaller reef tanks may have a small sump tank or not have one at all. While it is always recommended to have one, the two installation options offers greater flexibility. The small footprint also means that more than likely there will be room in the sump if you have one.

The needle wheel impeller and submersible pump offer extremely high functionality, so you are guaranteed to have the maximal amount of dissolved proteins removed from the water column. A removable collection cup allows for simple and easy cleaning and maintenance. 

14) IceCap K1 Nano Protein Skimmer

IceCap K1-Nano Protein Skimmer
  • Footprint: 2.75" x 3.2" | Reaction Chamber: 2" | Height: 13"
  • Skimmer Pump: DCair 200
  • Magnet Mount: Up to 1/2in thick

Pros:

  • Magnetic mount makes for easy installation
  • Quiet operation
  • Design of the body reduces turbulence
Cons:

  • Size of collection cup

The IceCap K1 Nano Protein Skimmer is designed with smaller saltwater tanks in mind. For tanks with a heavy bioload it should be used in 10 gallon tanks. For those with a light bioload it can be used in tanks up to 30 gallons.

Produced by CoralVue along with the Reef Octopus skimmers, you know you are getting a well-made and durable product, tried and tested by many aquarists. Crafted from robust PVC and high-quality acrylic this skimmer will last a long time.

The IceCap K1 Nano Protein Skimmer is an in sump skimmer, and needs a water depth of 6-9 inches to function correctly. The footprint is very small, only 2.75 x 3.2 inches with a height of 13 inches. Easy installation is provided through a magnetic mount, which allows for attachment to surfaces up to half an inch thick. 

At the heart of the IceCap K1 is the  DCair 200 skimmer pump which is built and designed to provide efficient performance. This pump provides small tanks with excellent power to remove organic material from the water column. 

A pipeless outflow at the base of the skimmer offers fine-tuning and also quiet operation. As the flow is directly straight back into the water you don’t get any splashing. A pipeless design both saves space and hassle. 

The pipeless output offers fine-tuning and trouble-free underwater outflow plus quiet operation. Our pipeless design not only saves on space but also allows the outgoing water to exit on the side of the skimmer and below the water surface providing splash-free circulation in the sump.

It also disassembles very easily for cleaning and maintenance. 

15) Marine Sources RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer

Marine Sources RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer
  • Fashionable design: All skimmer is built with high quality RED and white pipe fittings
  • High Efficiency pin wheel pump
  • Complete standard cone reaction chamber designs make the skimmer collects bubble smoothly and stable
  • Saving area footprint design is especially suitable for using in small footprint sump.
  • All material is made of high quality CAST ACRYLIC. And our professional laser engraving machine ensures the reliable quality and accuracy of every products

Pros:

  • Solid construction
  • Small footprint
Cons:

  • Not much in the way of instructions

The Marine Sources RDC 250 is a brilliant protein skimmer for medium sized tanks. The capacity of this skimmer ranges depending on bioload. It can be used for tanks up to 66 gallons with a light bioload or tanks up to 13 gallons with a high bioload. 

A high efficiency internal needle wheel pinwheel pump is present in the form of the Red Devil SP1 pump. This pump runs on a 7.8 W motor and has a maximum intake of 47 gallons per hour. 

The standard cone reaction chamber design enables the bubbles generated by the pump to be funneled upwards smoothly and without breaking towards the collection cup. 

The Marine Sources RDC 250 is an in sump skimmer, with a footprint of 5.6 x 4 inches and a height of 16.5 inches. Ensure that this footprint is small enough for your sump tank. It should be, but there’s no harm in double checking!

The construction is very good; all parts are constructed using cast acrylic. For extra care a laser engraving machine ensures that the quality is consistent and reliable.

A downside is that instructions aren’t exactly forthcoming with this model. Setup and installation is easy, but instructions would be good. Therefore if you have previous experience of protein skimmers this unit will be a breeze, but if you don’t then you may need to use common sense.

Our Recommendation For The Best Protein Skimmer

All of the 15 protein skimmers that we have listed and reviewed above are brilliant products, and will function well to keep the water of your saltwater tank clean. 

However in a review list like this we have to give a recommendation for which product we personally think is the best protein skimmer. 

For us, this would have to be the Red

It is a fantastic range of products which offers incredibly powerful protein removal. Everything has been fine tuned and designed to perfection to allow these products to work continually at maximal effectiveness. While on the more expensive side, this is simply because they are well worth the extra money as you get an extra layer of functionality and effectiveness. 

How to Install a New Protein Skimmer

Installing a brand new protein skimmer can easily be a little daunting, especially if you haven’t kept saltwater fish before. 

However don’t get stressed about it; everyone who owns a saltwater tank has managed to install one so it can’t be too hard!

We have laid out the following steps you can follow to make the installation process go smoothly and easily.

Read the instructions over carefully. Twice

While telling you to read the instructions might seem like telling a child to eat their greens, you really should heed this advice. Some protein skimmers require a bit of putting together, and if you don’t do it exactly right you could end up with a product not functioning fully, or not functioning at all. 

So seriously please do read the instructions twice before starting to build it! Make sure you know what goes where, and if you’re not sure, ask! 

Knowing exactly what needs to go where and at what depth etc is half the battle to installing a skimmer which will work well and provide you with clean and clear water.

Assemble fully before installation

Assembling your new protein skimmer before installing it in the tank or sump is a must. Fiddling with bits and pieces when you are likely working in an enclosed space is a nightmare, and you are likely to drop or incorrectly assemble the skimmer. 

Double check it is at correct depth

Most protein skimmer models need to be at a specific minimum depth in order to function properly. Ensure you double check the depth requirements of the model you are looking to purchase and whether your tank or sump fits the measurements. If you install a skimmer in a sump tank with too little water it won’t function properly.

Break it in

Just like a pair of good boots, protein skimmers have a break in period. This break in period will vary depending on the make and model, but expect it to last a solid week or two.

So if you have a newly installed protein skimmer don’t worry if it doesn’t work how you expect immediately. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and after the break in period you should see plenty of foam being collected. If there is no change in a few weeks after installation and after the break in period should be over then you can start to troubleshoot the potential issue. 

Protein Skimmer Frequently Asked Questions

In this last section we will try to answer the most frequently asked questions we have had, and have heard, about protein skimmers. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for or want us to expand on an answer please feel free to leave a comment!

Can protein skimmers be used in freshwater tanks ?

While technically yes, protein skimmers can be used for freshwater tank setups, it isn’t considered essential or even necessary. Freshwater doesn’t form foam in the same way as saltwater, so the performance of the skimmer nosedives from the outset. And in freshwater tanks, the pH can be lower than in reef tanks, which makes ammonia form the non-toxic ammonium, so organic waste is a lot less harmful. Nitrate levels can be considerably higher than in saltwater tanks, so there is less need again to remove the organic waste that protein skimmers remove.

Do protein skimmers control algae?

Yes. Installing a protein skimmer will control algal growth. While the skimmer will physically remove a small amount of algae, the main way that they control algal growth is through nutrient load management. 

Algal blooms are fueled by high concentrations of nitrate and phosphate, which provide an important source of nitrogen and phosphorus respectively for algae. As organic waste decomposes, it will release phosphate, and ammonia which is converted to nitrate, into the water column. 

Protein skimmers remove this organic waste before it breaks down into phosphate and nitrate, thereby removing algae’s nutrients at source. However, while skimmers are useful in preventing algal growth, algae is extremely hard to get rid of, so a multi-tiered approach is needed if you have an algae problem.

Does a protein skimmer lower nitrate concentration?

If you’re reading these FAQs in order, then you’ll have an idea of the answer for this, as it is similar to the algal control answer. 

Yes, a protein skimmer will lower the nitrate concentration of your saltwater tank, but it won’t do it directly. Lower nitrate levels are a consequence of the protein skimmer removing organic waste from the water column that would otherwise be broken down to nitrate via the action of nitrifying bacteria. 

So while a protein skimmer won’t take nitrate from the water column it will remove the source of its production. 

Does a protein skimmer lower calcium concentration?

As protein skimmer removes some algae, they do remove a degree of calcium carbonate which is used by some algae in their exoskeletons. But it is an incredibly low amount, and not even something you will notice or be able to measure. So it won’t affect carbonate hardness or calcium concentration.

If you have a reef tank the corals you keep will take a huge amount more calcium than the protein skimmer ever will!!  

Do protein skimmers remove salt?

No protein skimmers won’t remove salt or affect the salinity or specific gravity of your tank. 

This is an important thing to know, as the salinity of saltwater aquariums is very important. The salinity if the water affects how much your fish “float”, the specific gravity of the water. You aim to recreate the conditions of the ocean as close as possible, and salinity is an important part of this. 

Be safe in the knowledge that your new protein skimmer won’t remove salt!

Does a protein skimmer lower phosphate concentration?

Similarly to nitrate, an aquarium protein skimmer won’t remove phosphate from the water directly. Protein skimmers remove organic waste, and phosphate is an inorganic compound. 

However they will indirectly help to lower phosphate concentrations in your saltwater tank. As your protein skimmer removes organic matter, it removes what would otherwise be broken down and release phosphate into your tank. 

As a small amount of algae is also removed as well, phosphate will be tied up in this algae which will be removed too. 

However as protein skimmers don’t directly remove phosphate, if you are reading high levels during testing you should work in other ways to lower it. Phosphate is dangerous to corals as it inhibits their uptake of calcium carbonate, the compound they use to build their hard exoskeleton. To quickly reduce phosphate levels, use a phosphate remover.

Does a protein skimmer lower ammonia levels?

Ammonia is incredibly toxic to fish, and needs to be at 0 parts per million to be healthy in any tank. As such, if you discover during your routine testing that you have any level of ammonia, you should work to lower it immediately. If you leave ammonia in the tank your fish will suffer from ammonia poisoning.

Protein skimmers cannot be relied on to reduce ammonia. If you have a protein skimmer running already, and are still recording ammonia, then something else has gone amiss. If you are expecting instant lowering of ammonia by installing a protein skimmer in your tank then lower your expectations!

What a protein skimmer will do however, is help to prevent ammonia from building up and getting to a detectable level in the first place. They will remove the organic waste which will otherwise decompose and release ammonia into the water.  

How do I quieten a noisy protein skimmer?

A protein skimmer could be making excess noise for a number of reasons. They work using pumps and gears, so there is always going to be a noise level which comes with this. However the workings of the skimmer will also make it vibrate, and this could make a lot of noise. If the skimmer isn’t firmly fitted, noise could come from the skimmer hitting off the glass or walls as it vibrates. Placing rubber mats between the skimmer and the glass is great at reducing this noise.

Another common cause of excess noise is wear and tear. If your skimmer suddenly starts making lots of noise it’s a sure sign to check it over and make sure nothing has become loose or has broken. If there is no sign of that, ensure to clean it properly before turning it back on.

How often should I run my protein skimmer?

A protein skimmer isn’t there as a treatment for poor water quality, it is used as a preventative. Therefore it should be run constantly, the same as the heater. 

Organic waste is being produced 24/7 in the tank, and so you want to be running your skimmer the same. It is an extension of the aquarium filter system after all, so leave it running!

There are certain times of course you will need to switch it off, but always remember to turn it in again after you are done doing what you need to. Cleaning and maintenance of the skimmer and tank as a whole is one example of where the skimmer should be turned off. Coral feeding is another time you may want the filtration system to take a break!

How often do protein skimmers need cleaning?

The collection cup needs emptying and cleaning a minimum of once a week. Left more than a week and the collection cup will begin to overlie and start to leach the proteins back into the water, greatly reducing the effectiveness of your protein skimmer.

Once a week cleaning is only for the actual collection cup where the foam and debris is collected. A full deep cleaning of the skimmer body and all other components needs to be done around every four months. It can be done more often, but isn’t really necessary. 

Conclusion

We hope that this complete 2021 guide to the best protein skimmers available has been useful and informative. A protein skimmer is an essential part of a saltwater reef tank so getting the right model for your individual tank set up is very important, and with all the choice that is available can be extremely daunting too! 

You may find the answers to any questions that you have in the protein skimmer FAQs. If the answer to yours isn’t there don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below and we will work hard to get back to you quickly with helpful information!

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CoralRealm Staff

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