Best Protein Skimmers For Aquariums (2024 Complete Guide)

Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: May 13, 2024
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We conduct hands-on testing for all the products highlighted in our reviews and guides. Through anonymous product ordering and involving an independent team of testers, we gather direct experience to offer recommendations backed by data.

A protein skimmer is an extremely beneficial, though often overlooked, tool for a saltwater tank. This useful device aids in the removal of dissolved organic compounds, thereby promoting a clean and healthy environment in your aquarium.

However, choosing the right protein skimmer for your tank needs careful consideration as you need to think about things like its features, performance, and pump.

When I bought my first protein skimmer for my reef tank over a decade ago, I failed to do my research on the product and ended up with a device that was both underpowered and poor quality (it broke after just a few months of use!), leaving me out of pocket.

That’s why I’ve created a list of the best protein skimmers on the market to ensure this scenario doesn’t happen to you. I’ll also be covering some vital information about protein skimmers like different types, benefits, and disadvantages later on if you’d like to learn more about how these devices work. Let’s jump in!

Article Summary

  • Protein skimmers are essential for maintaining good water quality in saltwater aquariums by removing waste and dissolved organic compounds.
  • There are different types of protein skimmers, including external, hang-on-back (HOB), and in-sump skimmers, each suited for different aquarium setups.
  • While protein skimmers reduce the need for frequent water changes, occasional water changes are still necessary for overall aquarium health.

On to the Protein Skimmer Reviews…

Top Pick

Coralife Super Protein Super Skimmer

The Coralife Super Protein Skimmer excels at protein skimming as it features a superior foam fractionator equipped with a needle-wheel impeller and aspirating venturi.

Top Pick: Coralife Super Protein Super Skimmer

One of the best skimmers to use for a saltwater aquarium is the Coralife Super Protein Super Skimmer, which boasts a powerful foam fractionator with a needle-wheel impeller, alongside an aspirating venturi.

This allows the device to quickly and effectively remove dissolved organic compounds from your aquarium water. It features a wide neck collection cup that is super simple to twist so you can clean the unit with ease.

It can be used either in-sump or hung on the edge of your aquarium via the provided mounting bracket. The device comes in a few different sizes, though this specific model is suitable for marine aquariums up to 65 gallons.

My favorite aspect of this powerful protein skimmer is its needle-wheel system as it creates a vortex of tiny bubbles inside the reaction chamber.

Here, the bubbles draw in fine proteins and organic compounds and release them into the collection container for pristine, clean water.

Better yet, this protein skimmer has dual injection inlets that increase the amount of time the device is in contact with water/bubbles. There is also a bubble production diffuser that stops the flow of microbubbles going back into your main tank.

While the Coralife Super Protein Skimmer is a fantastic protein skimmer, the unit is a little bulky, so it can take up a chunk of space. It can also be quite difficult to assemble as the instructions are unclear.

Specs

  • Weight: 0.25 kg
  • Tank Size: Up to 65 Gallons
  • Dimensions: 4.25” x 5.5” x 20.75”

Pros

  • Dual injection inlets
  • Bubble production diffuser
  • Aspirating venturi for optimal results
  • Wide collection cup for easy maintenance

Cons

  • Bulky design
  • Can be hard to assemble
Best Value

AQUATICLIFE 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

The AQUATICLIFE 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer/Filter is the best protein skimmer for aquarists on a budget due to its amazing value for money. Not only is it effective at protein skimming, but it’s also energy efficient due to its compact size and low energy consumption!

Best Value: AQUATICLIFE 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

If you’re in need of a good protein skimmer that’s also budget-friendly, the AQUATICLIFE 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer/Filter is the best protein skimmer for you. It’s ideal for smaller saltwater tanks or nano tanks up to 30 gallons due to its compact design (this also makes it energy efficient and quiet during use!).

It keeps your tank clean by effectively removing dissolved organic compounds. This best budget protein skimmer unit has an 8-watt needle-wheel impeller pump to maximize its air-to-water contact, alongside a clear collection cup, suction cups, and a mounting for easy installation.

This compact protein skimmer is suitable for most aquarium rims and can fit inside the majority of rear overflows and filtration compartments that are at least 4 inches by 4 inches.

I really like how easy the protein skimmer is to clean, unlike some other protein skimmers. It features a quick-lock design that gives you full access to the skimmer body to make maintenance a breeze!

The main downside of this small protein skimmer is the low-quality suction cups it comes with – they don’t attach very well, causing the unit to slip around.

Specs

  • Weight: 1.55 lbs
  • Tank Size: Up to 8 Gallons
  • Dimensions: 3.25” x 3.5” x 10.63”
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Quiet operation
  • Ideal for small tanks
  • Low power consumption

Cons

  • Suction cups are not the best quality
Editor’s Choice

NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

The NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer is one of the best skimmers on the market. It easily removes organic waste while also being energy efficient.

Editor’s Choice: NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

While the NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer is a hefty investment, I think it’s well worth its price tag due to its outstanding performance. This is the type of protein skimmer that will last you a long time (and produce great results in the process!).

The skimmer body oozes high quality and looks stunning – it has a clear acrylic design that allows you to view inside. This also makes it easy to clean and maintain.

It boasts quiet operation despite being energy efficient and powerful, which is exactly what you want in a quality protein skimmer. The device does a superb job at removing dissolved organic waste and compounds to keep your saltwater tank sparkling.

However, this protein skimmer does have a fairly small collection cup that can be difficult to remove at first. That being said, once you know how to remove it, then it becomes a non-issue due to its high-quality construction!

Specs

  • Weight: 11.6 lbs
  • Dimensions: 28” x 17” x 9.2”
  • Tank Size: Up to 265 Gallons

Pros

  • Energy efficient
  • Quiet operation
  • Clear and appealing design

Cons

  • Skimmer cup is a little small and hard to remove

Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-sump Protein Skimmer

The Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-sump Protein Skimmer is a solid option for saltwater aquariums up to 65 gallons. It’s easy to use and clean, and effectively keeps your tank water clean.

Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-sump Protein Skimmer

Next up on this best protein skimmer reviews list is the Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-sump Protein Skimmer, which features a compact design as it has the water pump for the unit placed inside the skimmer itself! This not only saves you space, but it also reduces the noise of the device while in use.

This in-sump protein skimmer is super simple to maintain and use – all you need to do is move the collection up or down to select your desired foam level (wet or dry).

The protein skimmer runs on an Italian Sicce Syncra water pump and an impeller with a needle wheel design that thoroughly removes organic waste from your aquarium water. It’s suitable for lightly stocked saltwater aquariums up to 65 gallons or heavily stocked tanks up to 30 gallons.

My main gripe with this in-sump protein skimmer is that it can take a while to break in (around 2 weeks). However, once it has finished breaking in, it performs well and is a very effective skimmer.

Specs

  • Weight: 5.1 lbs
  • Tank Size: 65 Gallons
  • Dimensions: 19.7” x 11.2” x 6.9”

Pros

  • Simple to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Compact skimmer

Cons

  • Can take a while to break in

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

The Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer boasts a needle-wheel pump, venturi intake, quick-release collection cup, bubble plate, air silencer, and even a drain in one compact package.

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

The Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer boasts a needle-wheel pump, venturi intake, quick-release collection cup, bubble plate, air silencer, and even a drain in one compact package.

The Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer is a solid choice for tanks up to 140 gallons in volume.

It sports a needle-wheel pump with a venturi intake that creates a steady flow of micro bubbles, alongside a bubble plate that prevents turbulence in the reaction chamber.

I really like the unique curved design of this protein skimmer as it allows the foam to precisely rise to the collection cup, the latter of which is quick-release to make it easy to clean. It also features an air silencer to reduce the amount of noise the device makes during use!

Better yet, the collection cup comes with a drain so you don’t have to maintain it as regularly, which is a great feature if you’re someone like me who has a busy schedule.

Unfortunately, this skimmer can be a bit difficult to set up as the instructions it comes with are a bit vague.

Specs

  • Weight: 5.51 lbs
  • Dimensions: 26” x 9” x 10”
  • Tank Size: Up to 140 Gallons

Pros

  • Small footprint
  • Unique curved design
  • Easy to clean and maintain

Cons

  • Assembly instructions are a little vague

Reef Octopus Classic 150 Protein Skimmer

The Reef Octopus Classic 150 Space Saver Protein Skimmer is the best protein skimmer if you need efficient skimming in your saltwater tank but have limited space.

Reef Octopus Classic 150 Protein Skimmer

Another one of the best protein skimmers to use for saltwater aquariums is the Reef Octopus Classic 150 Space Saver Protein Skimmer. As its name suggests, this skimmer has a sleek and space-saving design that allows it to fit in even the smallest of places.

It comes with a pinwheel pump that has a max flow of 140 GPH, making it suitable for tanks up to 100 gallons. The construction of the skimmer housing looks and feels high quality and is also extremely easy to assemble.

I appreciate how easy the maintenance is for this protein skimmer – simply empty out the skimmer cup when it is full. Fine-tuning the skimmer is also a breeze as it comes with a wide range of calibration features, including wet and dry skimming.

However, the pump on this protein skimmer can break within a couple of years of use, so you may need to replace it semi-regularly.

Specs

  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Dimensions: 10” x 13” x 20”
  • Tank Size: Up to 100 Gallons

Pros

  • Simple to clean
  • Easy to assemble
  • Space-saving design

Cons

  • Pump can break after a couple of years

Tunze 9410.000 Doc Skimmers

This protein skimmer from Tunze is a good pick for large saltwater tanks or SPS aquariums. It’s easy to maintain and doesn’t use up too much power compared to larger protein skimmers with a similar performance.

Tunze 9410.000 Doc Skimmers

Tunze 9410.000 Doc Protein Skimmers are your best bet if you have a large reef tank as they are suitable for fish-only setups up to 265 gallons. Alternatively, you can use these skimmers for heavily stocked SPS (Small Polyp Stony) coral tanks up to 80 gallons.

It has a large, removable collection cup for stress-free maintenance, as well as a removable post filter. My favorite feature, however, is its low power consumption. It only uses 15 watts of power, which is considerably less than most protein skimmers of a similar size!

That being said, the device can be fairly difficult to tune and the impeller can break easy.

Specs

  • Weight: 5.36 lbs
  • Tank Size: Up to 265 Gallons
  • Dimensions: 9.8” x 7” x 16.3”

Pros

  • Simple to maintain
  • Low power consumption
  • Ideal for fish-only tanks up to 265 gallons

Cons

  • Can be hard to tune
  • Impeller can break prematurely

RUIYUXIN USB AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

The RUIYUXIN USB AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer effectively removes tiny organic particles from your tank thanks to its powerful pump.

RUIYUXIN USB AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

This external protein skimmer from AquaMaxx offers an efficient and durable experience, making it one of the best HOB protein skimmers on the market. It’s simple to set up as you only need to move the collection cup up or down to adjust the foam level.

It has a thick cell-cast acrylic construction and powerful Shark 1.0 skimmer pump that’s suitable for tanks up to 90 gallons (80 gallons if your tank is heavily stocked!). It has a large conical bubble diffuser and reaction chamber, allowing it to take full advantage of its strong pump.

This HOB skimmer is straightforward to clean and maintain thanks to its easy-to-remove collection cup. It also comes with a drain fitting so you can set up a separate reservoir for the skimmate.

As much as I like this protein skimmer, it can suffer from overflowing. The protein skimmer overflowing is commonly caused by the huge amount of foaming and tiny air bubbles it creates during use.

Specs

  • Weight: 7.8 lbs
  • Tank Size: Not Specified
  • Dimensions: 7.5” x 3.5” x 17”

Pros

  • Powerful pump
  • Comes with a diffuser plate
  • Easy-to-remove collection cup

Cons

  • Produces a lot of micro bubbles that can cause it to overflow

Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Skimmer

Featuring a powerful pump and easy maintenance, the Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer is an excellent protein skimmer to use for your tank that will last you for many years.

Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Skimmer

Featuring a powerful pump and easy maintenance, the Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer is an excellent protein skimmer to use for your tank that will last you for many years.

This protein skimmer from Reef Octopus boasts high performance (suitable for 211 gallons) and easy maintenance in one simple package, just like the Reef Octopus Classic 150 Space Saver Protein Skimmer I reviewed earlier.

It boasts a 6-inch needle-wheel impeller for optimal results, as well as a 4-inch cone neck that makes it easy for the air bubbles to travel to the collection cup. The neck is also quick-release, which makes cleaning it easy.

The skimmer has a gate valve that allows you to make precise water level adjustments too! Bear in mind that this skimmer is designed for an aquarium sump only.

Unfortunately, the plastic nipple that holds the drain tube on this skimmer is pretty flimsy, so you need to be very careful when removing the hose to avoid breaking it.

Specs

  • Tank Size: 211 Gallons

Pros

  • performance
  • Low maintenance

Cons

  • Plastic nipple holding the drain hose is very flimsy

What Is a Protein Skimmer?

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer plays a crucial role in maintaining good water quality by effectively removing waste and dissolved organic compounds from your tank water. This promotes a stable pH level, enhances gas exchange, and contributes to overall aquarium health.

Protein skimmers work by putting the water from your aquarium into contact with a high volume of tiny air bubbles. The foam from this process is deposited into a collection cup, which you can then remove.

NOTE

Protein skimmers are most effective in saltwater aquariums, specifically reef setups, as freshwater tanks do not create as much foam or bubbles.

Types of Protein Skimmers

There are a few types of protein skimmers you can use for a saltwater tank, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. The right type for you will depend on your specific setup, aquarium size, and the amount of space you can put aside for this device.

External Protein Skimmers

External skimmers are commonly used in very large reef tanks and public aquarium systems. They tend to have one or multiple recirculating pumps that work with a venturi to combine the water and air.

It’s best to use a drain tube with an external protein skimmer to prevent skimmate leeching onto your floor.

Hang-on-Back (HOB) Skimmer

Hang-on-back (HOB) protein skimmer types are placed on the back of your tank. They add more flow to your tank, which assists with filtration (I personally use the Fluval 406 for my reef tank!). This type of protein skimmer is ideal for a nano reef aquarium with no sump, as well as all-in-one setups like the Coralife Biocube.

In-Sump Skimmers

Sump protein skimmers are submerged inside your sump. They are easy to set up and are at zero risk of leaking, though you’ll need to monitor your water level – that’s why you should use an in-sump skimmer with an auto top-off system.

What’s the Best Protein Skimmer?

The best skimmer for your tank ultimately comes down to your aquarium size and bioload. You’ll also need to consider how much room you have and whether you want to use the skimmer with a sump or not.

However, for most setups, I recommend the Coralife Super Protein Super Skimmer as it’s available in a few different sizes and does a fantastic job at keeping organic matter in your tank to a minimum.

How Do I Choose a Protein Skimmer?

Beautiful Reef Tank

Choosing a new protein skimmer for your tank can be tricky as there’s so much that you need to consider, such as the type of skimmer, your aquarium volume, and the bioload of your tank.

Below are some things you should keep in mind to ensure you select the right skimmer for your needs.

Aquarium Size

You should select a protein skimmer that is designed for the capacity of your aquarium (it shouldn’t be undersized or oversized) to ensure it performs well consistently.

Build Quality

A good-quality skimmer should look and feel durable. It shouldn’t be made from cheap materials or feel flimsy when you handle it. If the skimmer is thin or looks like it might fall apart if you touch it, then steer clear of it!

Features

Check what features the protein skimmer comes with. Does it have a bubble plate to stop the flow of bubbles reaching inside your tank? Does it include a powerful pump or wide collection cup to make cleaning easy?

Are Protein Skimmers Worth It?

Yes, skimmers are worth it as they help promote a clean and stable marine environment. Their pros heavily outweigh their cons (the only downside is that some corals work best without one!), and they are extremely useful in large reef tanks that produce lots of organic matter.

Benefits of Using a Protein Skimmer

Reef Aquarium Fish

The biggest advantage of using a skimmer is that they remove organic matter from your tank water, which improves your water quality and enables your filter to do its job better.

However, there are many other secondary benefits of using this device, such as:

  • Lowers phosphate levels to prevent algae
  • Helps keep your pH level stable
  • Promotes healthy gas exchange and increases oxygen levels
  • Eliminates biological toxins released from algae, corals, and invertebrates
  • Gets rid of oily surface wastes to increase the amount of light your tank receives
  • Helps support aquariums with big bioloads
  • Enhances REDOX
  • Decreases disease outbreaks if used with an ozonizer

FAQS About Protein Skimmers

Do Protein Skimmers Remove Nitrates?

No, skimmers don’t remove nitrates, but they will remove dissolved organic and particulate organic matter, which will contribute to lower nitrates and phosphate levels overall.

Biopellets, however, will remove nitrates, so they are very useful in saltwater tanks.

Do Protein Skimmers Remove Algae?

While skimmers don’t remove algae, they do get rid of organic matter, which reduces phosphate levels and consequently decreases the risk of algae blooms.

Should I Oversize My Protein Skimmer?

No, it’s best to use a skimmer that is an adequate size for your fish tank. Using an oversized protein skimmer can lead to inconsistent results as it will skim well for several days, then slow down once it has removed all the organic waste from your tank.

Ideally, protein skimmers run all the time for optimal performance!

How Long Should I Run My Protein Skimmer?

You should run your protein skimmer 24/7 for the best results. Some aquarists with low-nutrient tanks leave their skimmer on for a few hours a day, though I personally wouldn’t advise this as it can affect your tank’s pH.

It’s better to increase the amount of fish food in your tank or use nutrient additives to increase the nutrient level of your tank and leave your protein skimmer on 24/7.

TIP

The only times you should turn off your skimmer temporarily (for around 30 to 60 minutes) are when using specific coral foods, additives, and medications so they are not instantly removed by your skimmer.

How Often Should I Clean My Protein Skimmer?

You should empty the collection cup on your protein skimmer at least twice a week or whenever it is full of foam (this will be more if your tank produces a lot of organic matter). However, you only need to clean the body of your skimmer around every 6 months or so.

Do I Need to Do Water Changes If I Have a Protein Skimmer?

Skimmers help you achieve cleaner and clearer tank water for longer, so you won’t need to perform as frequent water changes. That being said, you’ll still need to change the water in your aquarium around once or twice a month to keep your aquarium healthy.

What Causes Protein Skimmers to Overflow?

One of the main reasons why skimmers overflow is when the water level in your sump or tank is higher than the skimmer is designed to operate. This can cause the foam to overflow from the cup.

Additionally, a small change in your water chemistry (such as by adding certain foods or additives to your tank) can affect how well your protein skimmer performs, which can lead it to overflow.

What Are the Disadvantages of Skimmers?

The main disadvantage of skimmers is that they can remove some desirable dissolved organics, as well as filter feed food and possible bacterioplankton. Some corals such as capnella and xenia thrive best in unskimmed setups.

  • Powerful performance
  • Dual injection inlets
  • Large collection cup
  • Quiet operation
  • Energy efficient
  • Great option for small tanks
Best Value
  • Quiet operation
  • Stunning design
  • Energy efficient
Editor’s Choice

Final Thoughts

I hope you found this guide on the best protein skimmers helpful and were able to choose the right one for your needs. Although they might seem like an unnecessary piece of equipment, I fully recommend using one if you have a saltwater aquarium.

My reef tank has never looked cleaner since I started using a protein skimmer – it’s made maintenance much easier and quicker!

Which protein skimmer is your favorite from the list above? I look forward to hearing your comments on our social media platforms. Be sure to share this post with your friends and family, too!

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