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What to look for in a Protein Skimmer? Let us show you!

What to look for in a Protein Skimmer? Let us show you!

What features to look for in a protein skimmer: needlewheel, bubble plate, wineglass body, etc... we will show you what make one skimmer better than another.

You have probably heard that a protein skimmer is the heart of a saltwater aquarium’s filtration system and thought to yourself that you should probably have one. With so many brands and choices out there, how do you pick the right one?


Protein Skimmers

There are lots of great skimmers out there... but also some that are not so great. We will help you understand what to look for and make sure your skimmer investment is a good one.


Vario-S Needlewheel Impeller The first part of the skimmer we look at is the pump. Just as the skimmer is the heart of the filter system, the pump is the heart of the skimmer. You want a pump that will not only perform well but also be durable. Looking at the needlewheel can tell a lot about how well a skimmer will perform. In our experience, a needlewheel with tall and closely knit needles tend to produce finer and more bubbles for better performance. The more air bubbles and the smaller the air bubbles, the greater the surface area available to attract proteins/waste from the water. Both Nyos and Reef Octopus produce impressive-looking needlewheels that perform as well as they look.


The brand of the pump used is also a good indication of a skimmer’s quality. Companies willing to spend more to use a high-quality pump will usually use higher quality components elsewhere on the skimmer as well. Many of the best skimmer pumps are made in Europe: such as Sicce and Nyos. Although not made in Europe, the Reef Octopus Aquatrance and VarioS pumps have great reputations and have also been proven to be great pumps over time.


bubble blaster protein skimmer pump Sicce Protein Skimmer Pump

Be wary of pumps that are unbranded or brands that you have not heard of. Even a well-designed skimmer will perform poorly if paired with an inferior pump.

In our experience, skimmers using cheap Chinese pumps usually perform very well for the first month or two. After that, performance will decrease quickly and significantly. Most of these pumps seem to require VERY clean impellers to operate properly and power tends to drop off over time. Any slime or sludge that builds up on the impeller or the inside of the pump will cause the pump to slow down and the skimmer to not operate properly. We have had to take apart entire skimmers and pumps to clean the impellers as often as once a month! The decrease in performance over time and the inconsistent performance due to the frequent pump/impeller cleaning required makes them quite frustrating. For these reasons, we do not carry them nor recommend them.


Aside from the pump, there are several design features that make some skimmers perform better than others. First is the bubble plate. The bubble plate helps to disperse the turbulent water flow from the pump by spreading out the water flow going into the skimmer’s reaction chamber. Less turbulence in the skimmer is better as the bubbles can more smoothly attract proteins then travel up to the collection cup. Too much turbulence causes bubbles to pop or travel back down and releasing the protein. Nyos goes one step further by utilizing a “twister” to direct the water in a cyclone pattern to further reduce turbulence and giving the air bubble more dwelling time to attract protein/waste.

Reef Octopus Bubble Plate


Reef Octopus Skimmer The next is the skimmer body. The easier the bubbles can make their way up to the collection cup, the more efficient the skimmer. Skimmers with either a cone shape neck / body, or the popular wine bottle body will be most efficient as it offers the smoothest path for air bubbles to get to the collection cup. A larger reaction chamber will also help to improve performance by increasing the number of air bubbles inside the skimmer and giving the air bubbles more contact time with water to attract proteins.


Other optional features to look for are an adjustable air inlet that lets you fine-tune the skimmer, an easy to remove collection cup and a skimmer body that can be fully disassembled for easier cleaning.  If you are looking for a high-quality skimmer that is built to last, we would also recommend skimmers that are made fully of acrylic and/or PVC. Some skimmers have plastic parts that are not durable in saltwater environment and can become brittle and break apart over time.


protein skimmer collection cup Nyos Skimmer Adjustable Air Silencer


For sizing, skimmer rating can be all over the map. Some of the more consumer-friendly brands, like Reef Octopus, will give you ratings for different bioloads; which is very helpful. You can then compare one skimmer to another by physical size (skimmer body diameter and height). We recommend over-sizing slightly as most hobbyists tend to have higher bioloads than they think. However, do not oversize too drastically as there needs to be enough waste in the water for a protein skimmer to function properly.

Protein Skimmer Capacity Chart

By following these tips, you should now have the knowledge to pick out the perfect skimmer for your system. Or, you can just email us or give us a call and we will gladly help you pick one out!


reef tank




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